Five for the Record: Dr. John.

News item: New Orleans singer-songwriter Dr. John, born Malcolm Rebennack, is dead at 77.

Another piece of my kids’ childhood is gone.

A weird way to remember Dr. John, I suppose, but that’s how it works around here.

When our first son came along, my wife and I were adamant that we wouldn’t give in and listen to crappy kids’ music. We knew that bland singalongs and squeaky voices and little-kid gimmickry would drive us mad if we heard it again and again.

No, we were gonna feed our son’s ears the same music we liked. Go straight to quality. Now for the good stuff, later for the garbage, as John Lee Hooker used to say.

We discovered, sadly, that it is in kids’ nature to demand what they like over and over again, no matter what that thing is.

So instead of getting sick of Barney and the Wiggles played ten times through, we got sick of Bruce Springsteen’s greatest hits and Dr. John’s best-of Mos’ Scocious and a couple of Los Lobos albums played ten times through.

Enough time has passed since then that I can stand to hear Dr. John again. And so, in the tradition of my long-simmering Five for the Record feature, I offer five of my favorite Dr. John tunes to send the man off.

(OK, one other point to address before I get to that. I’ve gotten a dim sense over the years that some musicians in New Orleans resented Dr. John for the same reason that some people resented Elvis Presley. Musicians of color created the musical culture; a white guy made money from it. I can understand those complaints, but I think it goes both ways. I suspect Dr. John — who was good about giving credit to his inspirations — sold plenty of New Orleans records for others, serving as a sort of gateway drug for the likes of Professor Longhair. If you disagree, feel free to flame me in the comments.)

Let’s get ready to rhumba:

1. “Mama Roux.” What’s cooler than David Bowie yelling, “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am”? Maybe, just maybe, Dr. John’s stroked-out “Wham, bam / Scraaam, Sam.” He sounds like he’s chasing a little kid away from the back door of a cathouse. Perhaps he is at that.

Anyway, this is about as low-key funky as music comes, like they scraped it off the bottom of the river at midnight. Extra points for the use of New Orleans nonsense patois in the “oola malla tralla walla” verse. I get the sense that you either know what that means, or you don’t.

2. “Junko Partner.” I originally bought the Mos’ Scocious collection for my dad. It ended up back with me because, as I recall, many of the songs were a little too poppy or rocky or mainstream. It didn’t go heavy enough on that courtly, sidewinding N’Awlins funk that my dad (and many others) find so irresistible.

This old New Orleans heroin song is one of those on Mos’ Scocious that makes it abundantly and unmistakably clear where the singer came from. Features a great greasy sax solo (what exactly is Dr. John doing on piano behind the first chorus?) As the man says: “Give me heav-vunnnnn / Before I die.”

3. “Sahara.”A funky, offbeat instrumental released under Rebennack’s own name, before he adopted the Dr. John persona. Sometimes the best tunes are the simplest and this is one example.

If I were a relief pitcher, this would be my coming-in-from-the-bullpen music.

Seriously: When I hear it I imagine Fenway on a stinking humid Friday night in July, with thousands of beer-loose people dancing in the bleachers, while yours truly jogs implacably in to lay his knuckleball on some hapless Orioles or Tigers with the unknowable, potent force of a John the Conqueroo.

(If you’re gonna be Walter Mitty, do the hell out of it, says I.)

4. “Mardi Gras Day.” The only time I ever went to New Orleans was about three months after Hurricane Katrina. I remember houses with those bright orange quadrant logos spray-painted on them (the ones that signified whether the house had been searched, and whether bodies had been found there), and little stores in the French Quarter with their entire inventories piled on the sidewalk, water-trashed.

It would have been nice to know the New Orleans that comes to life in this song, which is so loose that “loose” seems an insufficient descriptor.

The tempo gets faster and slower, mostly slower. Dr. John croaks his entrance at 3:30 like a parched partygoer. And there’s what sounds like the entire Ninth Ward shit-talking each other in the background.

If this was the final version they put on the record, I would love to hear what they sounded like when they were warming up.

5. “Wash, Mama, Wash.” I guess I oughta put one song on this list that isn’t a slice of High Delta Weirdness. There’s a conventional song at the heart of this, overlain with some offbeat New Orleans funk and a little soul. “After you rub it a while, you dub it in the tub,” our hero proclaims with great good humor, after warning his heroine away from playing the numbers.

This was, apparently, a Top 15 hit in Louisville, Kentucky, in July 1970, riding the charts alongside “Ball of Confusion,” “The Love You Save,” “The Wonder of You” and “Make It With You.” A most agreeable city, Louisville, and not without musical discernment.

Five For The Record: Participation trophies.

I have a low tolerance for cliches, especially when they’re trotted out in an attempt to teach me something about the world I live in.

Tonight, after reading a motivational book for a work assignment, I’ve discovered another phrase I think belongs in the burn-pile of threadbare sentiments:

“Kids today get trophies just for participating in sports, and this makes them weaker of mind, flabby of spirit, and less determined to succeed.”

(Or some bushwah like that; phrase the consequences however you want.)

I think this idea might have a kernel of truth in certain specific situations, but it’s now reached the point where it’s dragged out as a ready-made in lieu of actual thought.

So, in a variant on my usual Five For The Record format — a more typical example can be found here — I take, fed up, to the keyboard to lay out five reasons why participation trophies are not leading our country down the path to hell and people need to find something else to whine about.


1: A question of value. Playing sports through the ’80s and into the early ’90s, I might have been in the first generation of kids to receive the much-maligned “participation trophies.” I remember them well.

There was the little trophy I got in youth soccer in second or third grade, for instance. It was made of plastic, it leaned slightly to one side, and it would not have been out of place in a gumball machine.

And then there were the “finisher” ribbons I occasionally received for high-school cross-country races. They were scraps of cloth that probably came 100 to a five-dollar bag.

My point: These rewards were cheap handouts. They looked it. I recognized it. So do kids today. Do you really think kids allow 10 cents of Chinese plastic to warp their value systems for life and turn them into mediocre adults?

Today’s participation trophies are a little fancier, but they’re still cheap. Or at least, the ones my kids have are.

And I can tell you from the layers of dust on ’em that my kids aren’t making deep, life-shaping personal connections with theirs, any more than I did with mine. (Keeping something on a shelf and taking it to heart are two different things.)

2: Philosophy. “No, no,” I hear people saying irritably. “It’s not the actual item the kids receive that corrupts them. It’s the philosophical idea that they get something for nothing, or praise for being mediocre.”

First of all, they don’t get something for nothing. They put in time and effort — quite a bit of both in some cases.

And second, as I just said, the “something” they get is generally not a whole hell of a lot. (There is probably some crazy hyper-affluent suburb where every Little Leaguer gets a World Series ring, but this is the exception and not the rule.)

As for the idea of kids getting rewarded for being mediocre, this is also an exception, rather than a rule.

Remember: Kids spend nine months a year in school, a setting where they are constantly graded, week after week. Most of them have a strong and well-developed sense of what it’s like to be evaluated, what it’s like to be found wanting, what rewards await success, and what punishments follow failure.

To a kid, getting a prize for being an also-ran on the sports field is not a defining example of how life works. Rather, it’s a welcome vacation from the constant grind of performance evaluation. And who couldn’t use the occasional break from that?

3: Incentives. I accept it as fact, not cliche, that American kids as a whole are overfed and underexercised, and that their health suffers — and will continue to suffer — as a result.

With that in mind, something that pats kids on the back and says, “Hey, coming out and running three times a week was a great thing to do!,” is a worthwhile prize. It’s certainly a more positive end-of-year reward than a pizza and ice cream party.

(Yes, I grant the fact that not every kid who comes out for a team works hard and gets good exercise. Just getting off the couch puts them ahead of millions of other kids.)

Same deal with commitment. Kids need to know that they can’t just ditch what they start if it gets tough. Something that says, “Thanks for showing up every week for three months, being present for your teammates, and sticking it out!” doesn’t send the worst message in the world.

Sure, you don’t really get a prize for sticking it out at work year after year once you’ve grown up. But our treatment of children does not have to be 100 percent geared toward preparing them to be adult wage slaves.

4: Deflated self-worth. Another occasional argument of the anti-trophy folks is that kids will hyperinflate their perception of their own skills because they got a trophy. In other words, they’ll think they’re good when they’re not.

Again, I’m working off a limited sample size here … but based on my experience and that of my kids, I’m convinced that children have a pretty damn acute sense of how good or bad they are, and how good or bad their friends are.

Rare is the kid who genuinely thinks he’s Johan Cruyff because he got a trophy at the end of the season. If there are swelled heads in youth sports, it’s probably the result of ongoing coddling by a parent-coach, not a participation trophy.

5: The parents, not the trophies. Which brings me to the last argument for participation trophies: It’s the coaches and parents that shape a kid’s outlook and chances for future success, not the trophy at the end of the year.

It’s possible for a kid to lose all his games, get a trophy, and still turn out OK — if his parents and coach send the right messages and frame the season, and the kid’s effort, in the right way.

It’s also possible for a kid to lose all his games, get no trophy, and get his psyche stepped on by his coaches and parents in a way that screws him up worse than any little metal ballplayer bolted to a fake granite base could ever do.


Five For The Record: Terry Kath.

News item: Chicago is one of five performers voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I say I do not care about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I genuinely believe that to be true.

Still, the news that Chicago has been chosen to enter the hall puts me in mind to listen to their Seventies albums – and to think about the one member of the original septet who’s not around to mark the group’s acceptance.

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Terry Kath is most often remembered outside the band’s circle of fans for the shocking and unexpected nature of his death. There was much more to him than that, as anyone who knows the band’s first 11 albums can tell you.

Five For The Record is a recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today, then, we give Terry Kath five:

1. The hockey. In the last few years of his life, Kath was often seen onstage sporting the jerseys of hockey teams, including the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues. Kath’s modified Fender Telecaster also carried the Indian-head logo of his hometown Chicago Blackhawks on its upper bout.

I don’t specifically know how deep the guitarist’s attachment to hockey went. (I suppose it’s possible he opted for generously cut hockey jerseys to accommodate his increasing weight.)

Still, as something of a hockey fan, I don’t think you see nearly enough rock stars sporting hockey gear onstage.

And I like to imagine going to a Blackhawks (or maybe an L.A. Kings) game in the Seventies and finding the beefy guitarist at the beer stand between periods. The band members were pretty low-profile when offstage, and it seems like a believable rock n’ roll fantasy.

2. The sparkplug. Kath’s role in the band declined in his final few years, as his vocals and guitar no longer occupied center stage on the band’s hits.

(One nadir: The band’s performance of “Harry Truman” on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve 1975 special found Kath — rendered irrelevant by the song’s old-timey sound — holding cue cards for a crowd singalong.)

That said, his last two albums with Chicago both lead off with Kath songs that showcase the groove and energy he brought to the band.

1976’s Chicago X starts with “Once Or Twice,” a barnburner that reminded anyone listening that the band hadn’t given itself all the way over to ballads just yet:

And 1977’s Chicago XI kicks off with “Mississippi Delta City Blues” — a bit slower, a bit funkier, featuring impassioned vocals and multiple layers of slice-and-dice rhythm guitar:

Terry Kath could make his band break a sweat. No one in the years since has had quite the same ability, to the band’s long-term detriment.

3. The spam. 1971’s Chicago III, decreed to be a double album like its predecessors, found the road-weary group struggling to come up with worthy material.

Kath contributed a five-minute mini-suite called “An Hour In The Shower,” a tribute to a working stiff’s day at home and on the job, featuring some memorable lines sung with his usual gravelly brio:

Now I usually have my breakfast
Which consists of tasty spam
Yeah, I could eat it all day long
But I only love one brand
And I can’t find it way out here
So I have to take a pass
And settle for some hash

Seventies Chicago, with its multi-part suites, hits by Varese and detailed horn arrangements, was a pretty cerebral band. There are not a lot of purely random what-the-hell-was-that? moments in their discography.

So Kath and his ode to inaccessible canned meat stand out as a rare off-the-wall moment. While it’s far from my favorite Chicago tune, I can’t think of it without smiling.

4. The grunge. Kath was also responsible for another bizarre and unique song that stands out in the band’s repertoire.

“Free Form Guitar,” from the Chicago Transit Authority album, consists of almost seven minutes of atonal live-in-the-studio feedback and whammy-bar abuse.

It is — how best to put this? — a bracing listen, and an acquired taste. While I don’t put it on a lot, I do like it, and I suspect Jimi Hendrix — who is often said to have been an admirer of Kath — would have said the same.

Kath was also capable of adding dissonance within the structures of the band’s more formal compositions.

Song For Richard And His Friends,” from the At Carnegie Hall live album, features Kath wrenching howls of feedback over an ominous horn riff. And “A Hit By Varese” kicks off the band’s finest album, Chicago V, with a whammy-bent chord that dissolves into feedback.

5. The memories. Chicago keyboardist and singer Robert Lamm has spoken often of his connection with Kath and his ongoing feelings of loss. A few years ago, he recorded a song, “Out Of The Blue,” in tribute to his former bandmate.

Lamm contributes a heartfelt vocal that helps make up for the song’s slick electronic sheen. And his words describing Kath’s ongoing presence in his life — presented in the video as captions — are touching.

It’s one of the best things I’ve heard from Lamm in a while. If it’s true that you write best about what you love, it’s clear that Terry Kath left a deep impression on those closest to him.

Five For The Record: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Animated prime-time special featuring the characters from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip. First aired Nov. 20, 1973, two days before Thanksgiving, and has been shown annually since. The 10th “Peanuts” prime-time special and the last of the Holy Trinity of “Peanuts” holiday specials (the others being 1966’s It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas).


And here’s why I like it:

1. A quick death. Thanksgiving is lousy with football — from high-school rivalries to embarrassing Detroit Lions losses — so it’s appropriate that this one opens with the Lucy-holds-the-football gag. Offered the chance to kick the football, Charlie Brown responds:

“Hold it. HA! You’ll pull it away and I’ll land flat on my back and kill myself.”

So, thirty-one seconds into the show, the Everyman lead character with whom we are all supposed to identify is already contemplating his own death.

Yes, I know he is speaking metaphorically. But he picks the ugliest, bleakest possible metaphor — he doesn’t say, “I’ll land flat on my back and hit my head.” When you’re as put-upon as Charlie Brown, why not take every situation straight into the crapper from the get-go?

I love “Peanuts.”

2. The theme. Vince Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas is rightfully celebrated, but it’s not his only memorable music.

I’ve long liked the theme song to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The main theme reminds me of a Moebius strip; its return to the home chord makes perfect sense, and yet the path it takes to get there never fails to surprise me. And the gentle, drifting middle section reminds me of leaves falling, or even early snow.

(Guaraldi also gets extra points for some tasty, desolate Fender Rhodes-ing elsewhere in the show, as well as for the clavinet-driven “martial” music that accompanies Snoopy and Woodstock’s pilgrim scene.)

3. With friends like these. We all know how Lucy and Peppermint Patty, ostensibly Charlie Brown’s friends, dump or impose on him at various points in the show.

But it is Linus, the one character reliably on Charlie Brown’s side, who gets him deeper into trouble by suggesting the idea of holding a special dinner just for Peppermint Patty and her self-invited guests.

Better answers might have included: “No, Charlie Brown. Call her back and make yourself heard if you ever want to stop getting stepped on,” or, “Tell you what. I’ll talk to her and get her off your back, and you can owe me a box of Zingers for my trouble.”

But nooooooo, for all his book-learnin’, the middle Van Pelt sibling can’t provide the necessary backbone when his friend needs it.

In that same conversation, Linus also gets off one of the best diss lines in the televised “Peanuts” canon:

Charlie Brown: I can’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner! All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast.
Linus: (thoughtfully) That’s right, I’ve seen you make toast. You can’t butter it. But maybe we can help you!

4. The (first) supper. There are all kinds of ponderables here:

  • Even in the suspend-your-disbelief world of “Peanuts,” I love that they said: “Cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner? We’ll have the dog do that.”
  • The dog who’s human enough to cook knows what humans eat for Thanksgiving dinner. He cooks himself a nice turkey at the end of the show. But, pressed into service to cater to his master’s guests, he serves toast and junk food. (Charlie Brown and Linus make no effort to redirect him.)
  • What’s in the cherry-topped cups at the table? I don’t believe we see the kitchen crew assemble those, and they tend to get left out when people recall the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving menu. Wiki would have us believe it’s vanilla ice cream, and perhaps it is.
  • We don’t actually see the mystery ice-cream cups arrive at the table; they simply appear while everyone is blinking at each other, trying to come up with a suitable grace to say.
  • Snoopy is awfully quick to cower when Peppermint Patty berates him about his cooking. A more delightfully puckish, yet still totally characteristic, response would be for him to shrug and start eating her unwanted jellybeans.
  • A station wagon that seats six kids comfortably in the wayback is my kind of car. But where’s Lucy?

icecream5. Skies of America. One of the great things about Great Pumpkin is the backgrounds — wild, lurid autumn skies of orange and red and lavender and star-streaked dark gray. Most of the outdoor scenes in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving can’t compare, with the skies the same uniform color of washed-out blue-gray.

At the end, though, Snoopy and Woodstock enjoy their own holiday meal al fresco, under a gorgeous salmon-pink sky gently shot through with clouds. (In a nice if probably unintentional touch, the sky gets gently darker when the turkey is served and stays that color throughout the closing credits.)

For the last two-and-a-half minutes of the show, there is no human speech — just a small-group arrangement of that wonderful theme, while two best friends enjoy a meal in an autumnal wonderland.

With no disrespect meant to Charlie Brown’s grandma, I know which dinner I would have wanted to attend.


Five For The Record: Hot Tuna, “America’s Choice.”

A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Fifth album by Jefferson Airplane spinoff band led by guitarist/singer Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, who chose the occasion to morph from a singer-songwriter/ragtime-blues collective to a wall-shaking hard-rock band. Released May 1975. Reached No. 75 on the U.S. album charts. Included “Hit Single No. 1,” but no actual hit singles. Contained obligatory ’70s “play loud for maximum effect” warning. They loved it in Columbus.


And here’s why I like it:

1. Oooh, sudsy. I love the album cover. Love love love it. Right up there with Chicago X in the band-as-brand sweepstakes. Except Chicago was a platinum-selling juggernaut — the Top 40 equivalent of a corporation, and just the sort of band you’d expect to adopt a fancy sell — while Hot Tuna was a scraggly bunch of noncommercial post-hippie freaks.

Seriously, that cover is wicked eye-catching. Plus, by likening the band to laundry detergent (an odd linkage, but whatever), it implies that America’s Choice belongs on the shelf in every home. It’s not just an album — it’s a household necessity. What, you don’t have one yet? You must have … ring around the collar.

2. Plastic blues. I will probably not find the words to describe exactly what I’m thinking … but track three, a throttling of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues,” attains a plastic-blues nirvana that I find oddly appealing.

For all its distortion, the song carries the soul and passion of a glass of Tang, and feels just as processed. It is polished, professional and perfunctory. These are musicians who can spit out 12-bar variations in their sleep, and for five minutes and twenty-four seconds, they might well be doing just that.

I’m not making much of an argument as to why anyone should like that … then again, there aren’t a lot of arguments for why people should like Tang, either, and it’s still on store shelves.

Maybe it’s the lack of hot-dogging or over-emoting. I’d rather hear Kaukonen’s understated drawl than somebody who sounds like his toenails are being pulled out.

Or maybe it’s a sort of nostalgia. This is State-Of-The-Art 1975 Rock-Blues, flawlessly recorded (and available in quadraphonic, if you care to look!), and listening to it has a certain period charm for those with imagination.

Just as Tang is the pure distilled essence of laboratory-created orange flavouring, “Walkin’ Blues” is the pure distilled essence of famous people in the Ford Administration playing the blues. So make Hot Tuna part of your nutritious breakfast!

3. Tones. Speaking of “Walkin’ Blues,” Kaukonen achieves a tone on his second solo I don’t think I’ve ever heard come from a guitar. As a guitar freak, I’d say that’s worth the price of admission all by itself. (You can hear it here, starting at about 3:05 in. I’m sure it’s some fairly common effect, but it perked up my ears when I heard it.)

If you’re a tone aficionado, the album is full of cranked-up, tube-glowing guitar sounds. Check out the spitting-hornet wah licks about 5 minutes into “Funky #7,” for instance.

4. Firmly committed to their limitations. Hot Tuna would have been much more commercially successful — and a measurably better band — if it had hired a good singer and songwriter and confined Kaukonen’s contributions to guitar. (Marty Balin, who filled both bills, was briefly a member in the group’s earliest days, but it didn’t stick.)

And yet, for most of the Seventies, the band plugged on, apparently content with what it was, rather than pursuing what it could have been.

This could represent anything from stubbornness, to self-centeredness, to the band’s Zenlike peace with its own essential identity.

As long as I don’t have to hear Kaukonen’s pinched, nasal singing every day, I prefer the last of those explanations.

A turtle does not aspire to fly, nor a stone to conduct an orchestra; nor should an assemblage of musicians aspire to become anything more than the sum of its parts, however frustrating or one-dimensional that sum might be.

(Hot Tuna was not completely immune to outside pressures: The producer of the band’s last Seventies studio album, Hoppkorv, press-ganged them into doing Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly covers. Perhaps it was that soul-wounding acquiescence to the market that ultimately pushed Hot Tuna to the sidelines, rather than the group’s limited sales and apparently eternal banishment to the small-theater-and-college-gym circuit.)

5. Speed-skating. This last item has nothing at all to do with what’s on the record … but truly, I am hard put to find five objectively good things to say about America’s Choice, even though I feel kindly toward the album, have had it in semi-regular rotation since I bought it, and will probably break down someday and buy Yellow Fever and Hoppkorv to keep it company.

Anyway, the liner notes of the CD restate a story I’d heard from other sources:

During Tuna’s glory years, Kaukonen and Casady became hooked on speed skating, to the point where they’d knock off from work starting in November, go up to Scandinavia, and spend a couple of months of winter on the ice oval.

(In his book about the Airplane, writer Jeff Tamarkin reported that David Freiberg — the Bay Area multi-instrumentalist drafted into the band during its dying days — took up speed skating himself in an attempt to befriend Kaukonen and Casady and draw them back toward the Airplane. It didn’t work … but that must be the furthest any rock n’ roll musician has ever gone to foster interpersonal harmony.)

Kaukonen apparently picked up the sport from his Swedish wife, while Casady became interested while watching the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. That in and of itself is a vision worth pondering — Casady, as purely Frisco-hippie as any musician ever, sitting in front of his TV with an Anchor Steam and a joint, glued to the short-track action.

I guess that’s one thing you can say about America’s Choice: It’s the best heavy-blues album ever recorded by speed skaters.

Hey, somebody’s record had to be, right?

Five For The Record: Blue Oyster Cult, “Burnin’ For You.”

A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: 1981 single by veteran American hard-rock band, taken from the album Fire of Unknown Origin. Managed to become both a minor pop-radio hit and a staple of classic/hard-rock radio programming, at least back in the ’80s and early ’90s, when I still listened to classic/hard-rock radio.

And here’s why I like it:

1. The epic opening. The early to mid-’80s would not treat Seventies rock dinosaurs well. Some would slip off the charts, while others would adopt Eighties trappings in an attempt to stay relevant.

Set against that canvas, the opening of “Burnin’ For You” plays like one last shot of the old grandiose medicine.

Harmonized lead guitar, choral samples (at least, I assume that’s not a real choir) and rolling drum fills create a classic tense-yet-melodic hard-rock intro. Plus, there are no identifiably ’80s production touches, which means it ages well.

2. A private grumble. In the second verse, singer-guitarist Buck Dharma sings about “time everlasting,” followed by a clearly enunciated (perhaps even bitten-off) line: “Time. To. Play. B-Sides.” You can practically feel a nudge in the ribs as he sings it.

I have no idea what his complaint is; but clearly, he’s airing out some sort of private beef. Which I find kinda funny and entertaining.

Plus, he does it in the course of a hit song — so he got his dig in over a million American radios.

Whatever his behind-the-scenes argument was, I hope he won it.

3. Number Two. Speaking of hits, as indeed we were: “Burnin’ For You” reached the Top Forty by the skin of its teeth, placing at No. 40 for several weeks in October 1981.

This officially handed the BOC their ticket out of One-Hit Wonderland, thereby exempting them from all those snarky VH1 countdowns of Biggest One-Hit Wonders.

(The band’s first and biggest Top 40 hit, of course, was 1976’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” also written and sung by Senor Dharma.)

A band as catchy, sardonic and cool as Blue Oyster Cult doesn’t belong in the same discussion as Los Del Rio or the Singing Nun. And thanks to “Burnin’ For You,” it doesn’t have to be.

4. Call-and-response. Every good hit single has one or two instrumental details that catch the ear.

In “Burnin’ For You,” my favorite touch is the wry little guitar bend, low in the mix, that follows the fourth line of each verse (“Ain’t no home for me” in the first verse, “Got no time to slow” in the second.)

A close listen on my computer speakers suggests the bend is not being played by the same guitar that’s playing the crisp, tightly reverberant rhythm chords on beats two and four.

So now I’m imagining Dharma (one of my favorite rock-and-roll noms de guerre, by the way) doing an extra track of guitar overdub just to add those two bends.

It was worth his time.

4 1/2. Another cool production touch, if you wanted me to name one: The way Dharma’s lead guitar swoops in at about 2:49 to start the solo.

5. The epic ending. Well, sure, why not? You gotta get out of a song as stylishly as you got in.

To end “Burnin’ For You,” we get a last taste of that malevolent harmonized guitar lick, followed by the “choir” fading out on an ominous chord.

Not genuinely evil or scary — it’s only rock n’ roll, after all.

But at a time when hit-radio stations were playing Al Jarreau, Juice Newton, Quincy Jones with James Ingram, Dan Fogelberg, Kenny Rogers, Sheena Easton, Ronnie Milsap and Christopher Cross, “Burnin’ For You” might have been the only song in regular play with an edgy or mysterious touch … the only one that made the listener think, “What was that, and where did it come from?”

Rock n’ roll is all about that fire of unknown origin, after all … and we takes it where we finds it.

Five For The Record: Judy Collins, “Cook With Honey.”

The return of an occasional feature in which I pick something I like, and force myself to explain five reasons why.

Today’s subject: Hippie-ish first single from popular folksinger’s album True Dreams and Other Stories. Written by singer Valerie Carter. Minor Top 40 hit (No. 32) in early 1973.

And here’s why I like it:

1. It’s happy and homey. The Great Commune Dream was pretty much shot by ’73, I think, but the Back-To-The-Land Ideal was not.

And this song makes me think of some family — or maybe a group of ’em — up in Vermont somewhere, shearing their own sheep and spinning their own fabric and eating whole-grain muffins and generally living in an idyllic self-sufficient granite-ribbed world where Pontiac Catalinas dare not tread.

That’s not my dream in life, particularly; but it is all charming and cozy and hearth-fired, and a pleasant thing to come across in three-minute doses on pop radio.

2. No, it’s neither happy nor homey. My perception of the song depends on whether White Kurt or Black Kurt is in control when I listen; and my darker interpretations are at least as entertaining as my lighter ones.

The preternatural calmness in Collins’s voice, and the way she keeps switching from “I” to “we” on the chorus, suggests that she’s part of a chorus of center-parted Stepford Hippie farm wives dedicated to organic cooking for the Greater Good. (Whaddya suppose they put in that “sweet wine before dinner”?)

Less absurdly, I also imagine her narrator as a woman who ditched the plasticity of suburbia and family life for some sort of rural communal ideal … only to find out that she still spends eight goddamned hours a day cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.

3. Two great chords, three great minutes. The best songs aren’t always the simplest, but there’s a pretty good correlation there. You don’t need a single chord change to write a classic pop song, if you’re creative enough. (“Everyday People” says hi.)

“Cook With Honey” consists of two chords. No bridge, no modulation up, just two chords, strummed all day. (The Internet says Gmaj7 and D, if you’re scoring at home.)

Easy enough for every first-grade teacher in San Rafael to strum and sing to her kids during gather-’round-the-rug time. And what’s so wrong with that?

Edit: On further listening, it appears that a third chord makes a brief, furtive appearance near the end of the flute solo. But its presence is easily enough omitted or ignored.

4. Is that … a double-entendre? It must be Black Kurt who hears, “Finding favor with your neighbor / Well, it can be so fine” and thinks of Seventies-style wife-swapping. Hubba hubba.

OK, that’s probably a misread on my part. That line’s probably a totally straight-faced paean to going across the way to meet a new neighbor with an apple pie and a smile … just as the entire song’s an ode to generosity, neighborliness and home cooking.

Doesn’t mean I can’t throw it the side-eye, though. Especially when Collins asks, “Tell me, how’s your appetite / For some sweet love?”

5. Hey, a new (old) tune! Seems clear that White Kurt and Black Kurt are fighting for control of this entry. Well, they can both agree on Point Number Five.

I came across “Cook With Honey” some years ago while listening to a satellite radio rebroadcast of a Casey Kasem American Top 40 show. I had no recollection of the song at all. It was a surprise, and (excuse the cliche) a fairly sweet one.

I’m enough of a pop-music junkie to know most of the stuff I encounter on ’70s satellite radio, usually within the first 30 seconds. So, it’s a rare pleasure to come across a buried nugget — a song that is unknown to me and yet not totally obscure.

I haven’t heard the song much at all since then, either. So it still has that refreshing cinnamony air of a fresh muffin … er, I mean, of an out-of-the-ordinary pop surprise.

Five For The Record: The Beacon Street Union, “The Clown Died in Marvin Gardens.”

A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Title track of second and final album released by “Bosstown sound” mainstay band. Released August 1968. Failed to chart in any city, state, country or other jurisdiction I know of, though I imagine the hip Boston stations probably gave it a couple spins.

And here’s why I like it:

1. Highbrow allusions for the win. It took me three listens to catch the musical references to Chopin’s Funeral March. For a psychedelic band, that’s pretty subtle: Most of the BSU’s peers would have had a fuzztoned lead guitar play three minutes of variations on it.

2. An arranged marriage. I dunno whether the BSU did their own arrangements, or hired an outsider.

Either way, “The Clown Died…” gets much of its charm from an interesting and relatively light-handed arrangement.

It’s full of musical touches that come and go — the four bass-drum booms as the cortege treads slowly by; a carnival organ that submerges and rises again; a harpsichord; strings; some dark, eerie flute licks; lead singer John Lincoln Wright’s one-word break into harmony on the word “hotel;” and those never-ceasing maracas (or whatever it is that sets the percussion groove.)

3. Mind your ah’s. Lead singer Wright — born in Boston; raised in Sanford, Maine — handles his R’s pretty well for most of the song. They lean a little toward H’s, but acceptably so, in a standard semi-tough lead-singer sort of way.

Then we get to the payoff line of the song, and Wright coughs up some Beacon Street:

The ground dried and hardened
After the clown died in Mahvin Gahdens.

I mean, he doesn’t even try to pretend he’s from anywhere except New England. The Bosstown sound, indeed!

4. High concept. A mashup of circuses and Monopoly as some sort of comment on the human condition? I have no idea what it means but I’ll buy it for a dollar.

The album cover is pretty good, too — five longhairs and a dead clown. I woulda taken a flyer on that if I’d stumbled across it in a record store bin in 1968.

(Unfortunately, they devoted Side Two of the album to throttling “Baby Please Don’t Go,” rather than further exploring their Ringling Brothers Barnum & Boardgame motif.)

5. Turn it up. BSU guitarist Paul Tartachny is not usually ranked with Joe Perry and J. Geils among Boston’s great guitar exports, but he rips off a good solo when he finally gets a chance.

(Any time the lead singer says something about “a lion trainer that’s gone maaaaaaad!” and looks in your direction, you gotta deliver the goods.)

Some of it is the same kind of scrambling modal raga-ish stuff every lead guitarist this side of Nigel Tufnel was serving up in 1968.

But it builds up a good head of steam, especially when Tartachny whips out some stuttering licks that bring to mind Berton Averre on the long version of “My Sharona.” (Listen at the very end and you’ll hear them, over what sounds like a berserk funeral procession.)

Five For The Record: The DeFranco Family, “Heartbeat (It’s A Lovebeat).”

A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Earnest, infectious first single by bubblegum pop act made up of five Italian-Canadian siblings, led by 13-year-old Tony. A U.S. Top Ten hit this week 40 years ago.

And here’s why I like it:

1. I’m Roger Grimsby; here now the news. “Heartbeat” is famed among pop geeks for featuring a hyper-dramatic strings-and-harpsichord instrumental introduction. (So dramatic, I’m told, that some radio stations actually adopted it as the lead-in to their top-of-the-hour news breaks.)

It’s a little bizarre, and it has nothing in particular to do with the rest of the song.

But I see it as the spiritual heir of another totally unrelated instrumental intro that leads into a classic pop song. There’s a precedent for that sort of thing, if you look at it the right way.

Plus, the intro to “Heartbeat” connects thematically to a tense, dissonant 10-second swirl of music that links the Big First Chorus to the Catchy Second Verse. A lovebeat may be a good vibration, but it’s also turning Our Narrator heels over head.

For all the giddiness in its chorus, “Heartbeat” acknowledges the unfamiliar and disorienting effects of young love. Not bad for a song most people above 13 probably wrote off as pap back in ’73.

2. Tony the tiger. There’s a point about a minute into the song when sweet-voiced Tony DeFranco digs in and growls: “Can’t hold back any longer.”

That doesn’t make any sense either: It doesn’t really play convincingly as emoting. It’s like listening to the very earliest Stones records and hearing Mick Jagger try to enunciate like Chuck Berry (or Howlin’ Wolf).

Still, it comes and goes in a moment; and it’s endearing enough. I like to think young Tony was so eager to please the producer that he was digging everything he could think of out of his trick bag.

Three more takes, and he might have yodeled.

3. One for the JV team. I’ve seen clips of the Osmonds and Jackson 5ive in their prime. I’ve seen clips of the DeFranco Family, too.

And it’s my semi-studied opinion that the DeFrancos just didn’t have the same skills, magnetism and charm as the bigger names in the booming Seventies market for family-pop.

Check ’em out on Jack Benny’s show. They’re polite, winsome, but they don’t have that steamroller quality. Would Donny or Michael have pulled out the fist-pumping move Tony DeFranco whips out when he hits the chorus?

I see the DeFrancos’ relative shortcomings as charming, though.

The Jax 5ive and Osmonds come across like superstars — well-drilled, thoroughly professional performing units who could rock any stage, and who probably surrendered a fair portion of their childhoods to reach that status.

The DeFrancos, by comparison, come across as lucky hometown kids — the kind who maybe won a regional talent show on the night a Hollywood agent was in the audience, rode their Big Break as far as it would carry them, and then settled down (with the odd bump or bruise) back into normal life.

And, just like it’s cool to watch a No. 14 seed take out some favored opponents in March Madness, there’s something to be said for a bunch of kids from the gray anonymity of Ontario scoring the spotlight.

4. Let there be drums. For the most part, the instrumental backing to “Heartbeat” is standard-issue studio stuff, slick but not noticeable.

I tend to take notice of the drum part when I listen, though. It’s creative and propulsive without sticking out. (Perhaps that whipping motion Tony DeFranco makes is meant, consciously or unconsciously, to evoke the drummer’s shift to the ride cymbal.)

If the interwebs are to be believed, the DeFrancos worked with legendary session drummer Hal Blaine, whose resume boasts 150 Top Ten hits.

Blaine probably doesn’t remember this session, given all the records he cut. His performance here is a pretty good calling card for his talents, though.

5. Bad wordplay. In my days as a newspaper reporter, I delighted in slipping in-jokes and pop-culture references into my copy. Nothing salacious, mind you; just something for a giggle here and there.

(I have since learned that reporter in-jokes are annoying, and that no one anywhere ever bought a newspaper to check out the wise-ass reporter. I didn’t have that perspective then.)

Anyway, I used to write a twice-weekly column about retail development in the Lehigh Valley — new restaurants, store openings, store closings, what have you.

One week, news of two art-gallery openings landed on my desk. I didn’t get many of those, so I decided to lead my column with them, combining them into one item with info on each.

I wrote about one gallery; then segued into the other as follows:

While we’re on the art beat (it’s a lovebeat), Galleria Famiglia has opened at 12 XYZ St. …

I don’t think anyone in the entire Lehigh Valley got it; or if they did, they never told me. But, of all my self-conscious wiseassery, that’s probably the moment I’m least ashamed of.

Five For The Record: The Left Banke, “Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina.”

A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: First album by New York City-based baroque-pop quintet.  Released February 1967. Spawned — or, perhaps, collected — two Top 20 singles (both of them mentioned in the album title, but more on that anon.) Peaked at No. 67 on the Billboard album charts.

And here’s why I like it:

1. Long, long, long. Of all the rock bands in all the gin joints in all the world, few have ever captured the sound and feel of longing quite as well as the Left Banke.

Both of their big hits (did I mention they’re both in the album title?) deal with a young man trying none too successfully to clear his mind of a departed but still revered young woman.

“Walk Away Renee” was the bigger hit. I acknowledge a certain genius at work there, but I’ve always found the song a little too weepy, too delicate and perhaps too string-sodden to become a real favorite.

“Pretty Ballerina,” on the other hand, is gentle and heartwrenching and mesmeric.

Unlike the narrator of “Renee,” who seems to be coming to terms with Renee’s departure, the narrator here still seems under a spell. He hasn’t gotten over the pretty ballerina, and he doesn’t seem to know a way out; we can’t be sure how long she’s been gone, but at the end of the song, he’s still closing his eyes and seeing her.

“I called her yesterday / It should have been tomorrow” captures romantic desire about as well as anybody ever has in nine words, too.

2. The non-hit. After leading off with “Pretty Ballerina,” the album shifts gears, going uptempo — though no less emotionally complicated — with “She May Call You Up Tonight.”

It’s another dose of gorgeous, chiming, regretful pop, with ingenious one-note high harmony on the chorus.

The lyric, meanwhile, is half-sketched in the classic tradition. We learn neither the roots of the situation nor its resolution; we get only a snapshot, a snatch of conversation, to work from.

Wiki says the song peaked at No. 120 on the singles charts (do they even go that low?), which can only be interpreted as a stunning gap in taste among American pop listeners.

The invaluable ARSA database tells us that “She May Call You Up Tonight” bordered on hit status in Oxnard, California, for much of July 1967. A feather in Oxnard’s cap. Forsooth!

3. Uneasy bedfellows. When I learned about the Left Banke’s reputation as a “baroque-pop” band, I kind of put them on a pedestal of lofty velvet-parlor artiness.

But until I heard the record, it never occurred to me that they were twentysomethings in the Sixties writing songs for teens.

Which means all the harpsichord flourishes and oboe solos coexist with rockheaded lyrics about saying goodbye to that Sixties archetype, the No-Good Girl. (“I’ve got to make you see, you’re not the girl for me / And I will prove it to you / So that you will see.”)

The clash is most delicious on “Evening Gown,” in which a bouncy, jingling harpsichord riff meets a Nuggets-raw vocal about a young lady dressed for a night at the cotillion.

The third verse ends with an open-throated “WHAAAAAOOOOOOOWWWWW!” worthy of the Chocolate Watch Band, the Troggs or some other knuckle-dragging garage-punk outfit. It’s great.

(There’s a totally random YouTube video that sets the song to some sort of animated asylum fantasy; I suggest cueing up the video and then doing something in another browser while the song plays.)

4. Stylistic pioneers. Sure, the garage-pop elements of the record took me by surprise.

But I was even more slack-jawed to come across “What Do You Know,” a straight-ahead country-rock tune that anticipates most of what Buffalo Springfield ever did.

(For maximum stylistic dissonance, “What Do You Know” is placed directly after the epic baroque ballad “Walk Away Renee” at the start of Side Two.)

It’s an OK song but not tremendously memorable, truth be told. It’s not the absolute first in its field either — the Byrds did this sort of thing earlier, as did the Beatles when they cut “Act Naturally.”

And whether an antecedent of country-rock is something to celebrate or something to revile is up to you, the listener.

I was just surprised the Left Banke went down that particular avenue at all, especially given they were there before a lot of other bands.

5. Just the hits, ma’am. In 1966-67, bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys and Rolling Stones were starting to expand the possibilities of the album title, coining wry puns (Revolver) and outright non sequiturs (Between the Buttons) that had little to do with anything on the record.

But less influential or popular bands were still stuck with whatever album title the record label coughed out. And often, the title of the big hit or hits was the obvious choice.

And so, we have an album title whose unimaginative, move-’em-out bluntness is just as much a remnant of its time as the swirling string arrangements on the vinyl.

I wonder what the guys in the band might have called the album, if they’d had a choice.