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Are you ready?

Having written pop fantasies set in the fall of 1979 and the spring of 1975, we now go back to this time of year in 1970. I was too busy having a functional, pleasant visit with my family to get this written in time for Thanksgiving, but I like to imagine no one will really care.

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The mood in the three-bedroom ranch house has already been festering for months. There have been harsh words back and forth, and insults, and silent rejection, and tears.

It’s 11:30 on Thanksgiving morning — November 26, 1970, to be specific — and the teenage boy of the family still hasn’t made an appearance. His father begins to pace around the living room, an increasingly familiar anger building inside him; the relatives will be here soon.

Then, from the farthest room down the hall, a muffled, distorted din erupts … a sound that combines rolling tanks and roaring voices and mass frenzy.

Dad runs down the hall at a sprint and throws the door open, bringing the sound into point-blank trebly sharpness.

He has not heard a cacophony quite like it since he shouldered a rifle for Uncle Sam … and out of reflexive habit, he summons a voice he has not used since the last time he had to make himself heard over enemy fire.

“WHAT … IN THE FUCK … IS THAT NOISY SHIT?”

His son, slumped on the bed in a pool of long hair, doesn’t say anything. He just lets his dad get an abrasive faceful of the noise.

And it sounds …

(this is the point in the story where you turn the speakers on your computer up real, real high)

… like this.

# # # # #

Lester Bangs once described Metal Machine Music as “the all-time guaranteed lease breaker.” I believe Grand Funk’s altogether less heralded Live Album might have been — as described above — one of the all-time guaranteed Thanksgiving breakers.

Here are the ingredients that make up my theory:

The generation gap. It’s pretty well-established at this point that the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

That’s not to overstate things — not every household was a generational war zone — but there were plenty of homes where parents and kids saw life from vastly different, and difficult-to-reconcile, perspectives.

The voice of teenage America. Every Grand Funk review I’ve read from the group’s first period of success (1969 to 1971) comments on the band’s remarkable connection with a youthful audience, and its complete inability to connect with anyone older. It’s as if Mark, Don and Mel broadcast on a frequency that didn’t come through clearly unless you were somewhere between 13 and 21.

So great was the disconnect that Lenny Kaye, reviewing Live Album for Rolling Stone, devoted 95 percent of his review to verbatim quotes from Grand Funk fans explaining why they liked the band — closing with the logic, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Or, take the aforementioned Lester Bangs, reviewing the Survival album in Rolling Stone later that same year:

“Grand Funk are one of the very few groups rising recently that do reflect the aspirations and attitudes of their audience in that most basic way. And they’ve achieved that vast consensus not only through hype but because they are that audience, are the rallying point for any sense of mass identity and community in Teenage America circa 1971.”

So, in a nation divided along generational lines (among others), Grand Funk carried the banner for one side about as strongly and divisively as any other American band.

Timing. After releasing three successful studio albums in a year’s time, GFR decided to commit its live show to vinyl. Two shows in Florida were recorded in June 1970, and the resultant live double album was released on Nov. 16 of that year — with no overdubs or other fancy sonic processing, according to the liner notes.

According to the RIAA’s searchable database of gold and platinum records, Live Album was certified gold on Nov. 23.

This suggests that a decent number of those American teens who’d tuned in to Grand Funk’s frequency had the record in their hands by Thanksgiving, and were primed and ready to give it a good loud spin if they wanted to.

Pure din. None of the above would have been an issue had Grand Funk gone back and neatly recut all their parts in the studio, the way major artists were already doing on their live albums in 1970. (GFR appears to have given in to the overdub temptation on its second live album, 1975’s well-manicured Caught In The Act.)

Instead, Live Album is — with a few exceptions — pretty much sheer jet takeoff from start to finish.

Grand Funk was never blessed with lyrical or melodic excellence. But they had amps enough to reach the back row of any festival, enough to make Nigel Tufnel look like Bert Jansch, and they didn’t believe in letting anyone in the same area code go home without getting the full experience.

Check out the version of “Paranoid” from Live Album — in particular, the point starting at about 3:40, when Mel Schacher’s overloaded-truck bass and Mark Farner’s thousand-pound-violin guitar get moments in the spotlight:

Out of concern that computer speakers do not do Live Album justice, I step in with a first-person testimonial, as someone who owns the record on original vinyl:

This is as grungy and simplistic as a major American rock band has ever gotten on record. And when played through a half-decent stereo system — or, even better, a deficient one — this is music to make the Sinatra generation feel like they’re passing through a garbage disposal, headfirst and slo-mo.

# # # # #

Which brings us back to our aggrieved father and his passive-aggressive son, in their ranch house in Agawam or Omaha or Fresno or wherever.

What they do in the short term — at very least a pulled power cord, at most a fistfight — doesn’t really matter that much.

Nor does what they do in the long run. (I like to imagine the kid grows up and gets a job on the line at the local brewery, and years later, before lung cancer kills the old man, they share six-packs and shake their heads at the emotions that used to feel so strong.)

Instead, we’ll leave the moment unresolved on the knife’s edge, with rage surging on both sides, family ties forgotten, and the clamor of festival-level tube-driven white noise claiming sensory primacy over the scent of roasting turkey.

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

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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.

Tuna

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?

Encore Performances: When British eyes are smiling.

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The smiles seem to be coming harder and harder lately so I am turning to the old blog for help. Originally published September 2010. I actually did get a comment or two on the original post; feel free to jump in.

Time for some audience participation, folks.

Who among the following performers has the Best British Rock Smile of the Seventies?

Tom Evans, Badfinger: Several times in this TV performance clip of “Come And Get It,” Evans breaks into a wonderful, completely unforced, somewhat lopsided smile.
(Watch around 0:35, and especially around 1:12. It really looks like he’s trying to hold back his pleasure, and failing miserably.)
This, of course, was the band’s first hit; and it’s easy to imagine that Evans might have been totally jazzed to be singing (or at least lip-synching) on Auntie Beeb.

Given the turbulent future that would await Badfinger, this clip gets extra points for sentiment … these guys wouldn’t have much to smile about in the years to come.

evansStuart Tosh, Pilot: Tosh’s bandmates in Pilot weren’t much to look at; you’ll notice that keyboardist Billy Lyall doesn’t even get face time in this TV clip.
No matter.
Tosh looks up at about 0:20 and gives a big, winsome, look-Mum-I’m-on-the-telly smile, and you just want to ruffle his hair and send him out to play until dinner.

toshColin Earl, Mungo Jerry: The keyboard player for the immortal Mungo Jerry has a certain rugged handsomeness that reminds me of … somebody, like maybe a character actor I can’t quite put my finger on.
(He looks a little bit like Robinson Crusoe after ten days on the island, is what he looks like.)
Anyway, at about 1:14 and again at 2:08, he looks to be laughing at the absurdity of something — perhaps at the appearance of MJ frontman Ray Dorset, who looks like a berserk Juan Epstein.

earlNorman Watt-Roy, Ian Dury and the Blockheads: Look quick at about 0:15, and you’ll see a big grin spread across the bass player’s face as he locks into the trench-deep groove. It’s another one of those “they pay me to do this!” moments.

wattroy(While we’re at it, Watt-Roy also flashes a totally different but still wonderful grin about one minute into this live performance of “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.” He looks ecstatic and totally drained.)

wattr2George Harrison: The “Crackerbox Palace” video features the Quiet/Somber/Reticent Beatle flashing a crazed smile at about 2:12 (as he murmurs, “It’s twue, it’s twue!,” a completely irrational “Blazing Saddles” reference.)
The smile at the very beginning, when Neil Innes is pushing him in the baby carriage, is kinda charming too.
And then there’s the bizarre moment at about 3:00 in, when George is shimmying and driving the lawn tractor at the same time.

hari

Ray Davies and John Gosling, the Kinks: In the early to mid-’70s, the song “Alcohol” was a highlight of Kinks stage shows, with Ray Davies drawing the drama of the verses out to absurd lengths, balancing bottles of ale on his head, and generally camping about to the ragtag strains of the band’s in-house horn section, the Mike Cotton Sound.
This particular clip, representative of the era, uses split-screen to give us simultaneous smiles from the gap-toothed Davies and his accompanist, keyboardist John “The Baptist” Gosling. They’ve had a couple, and they know what’s coming.

goslingdaviesPete Budd, The Wurzels: It would be easy to dismiss the frontman of this West Country novelty act as either infantile or maniacal.
But I like his style, me.
He buys merrily and completely into the weirdness of his own particular schtick.

buddAny other nominations? You know where the Comments section is.

Colonial echoes.

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How much of America’s rock n’ roll history lies closed within the pages of old yearbooks?

You might remember how, a year or two ago, a Texas high school’s circa-1970 photo of a young “Zee Zee Top” made the online rounds.

Kinda makes you wonder how much similar goodness is sitting on the shelves of college and high school libraries, waiting to be discovered.

Concerts are a big part of the annual social calendar at many schools, and when something big happens, there’s usually a staff photographer on hand. So who knows how many glimpses of musicians — famous and forgotten — get captured that way?

I had that thought the other day when I stumbled on the College of William & Mary’s 1974 yearbook, the Colonial Echoes, on archive.org (which has a remarkable stack of high school and college annuals available for browsing).

The school must have had a big budget and a lot of students eager to rock, because it hosted a run of concerts that year that wouldn’t have embarrassed a mid-market city — Chicago, James Brown, the Grateful Dead, and Crosby and Nash, if memory serves.

Browsing 20 years of the Colonial Echoes, you could see the state of collegiate entertainment evolve from well-trimmed vocal groups to big-name, chart-topping rock stars. I doubt anyone got that perspective at the time — most people only stay for four years, after all — but it made for an interesting historical view.

Here, then, are pix from various editions of the Colonial Echoes that trace the evolution of on-campus concerts, while also offering some cool, probably rarely seen views of artists in their prime.

Two caveats:
– Material printed in the Colonial Echoes is, I assume, the property of the College of William & Mary. I’m presenting it here because it’s historically interesting, and because I think my small screenshots made on an ancient PC are too low in quality to be stolen, reused or abused. That said, if I get anything resembling a copyright claim, I’ll take the post down.
– The years given correspond to the year the yearbook was issued, not the year of the performance.

The Lettermen, 1967.

The Lettermen, 1967.

Here's a contrast. Top: Ian and Sylvia. Bottom: The Swingin' Medallions, of "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)" fame. 1968.

Here’s a contrast. Top: Ian and Sylvia. Bottom: The Swingin’ Medallions, of “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” fame. 1968.

Top: Rhinoceros, described as the first rock group to play W&M. Bottom: Martha and the Vandellas. 1970.

Top: Rhinoceros, described in the yearbook as the first rock group to play W&M. (Not sure what they thought the Swingin’ Medallions were.) Bottom: Martha and the Vandellas. 1970.

1972. The concert scene explodes at W&M: Just check out the caption. The musician is not identified, but he looks a whole lot like the late Chris Squire of Yes.

1972. The concert scene explodes at W&M: Just check out the caption. The musician is not identified, but he looks a whole lot like the late Chris Squire of Yes.

weir74

Bob Weir, 1974. The Dead enjoyed their September 1973 gig at W&M so much that they booked a second one on short notice and did it again the next night.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship, 1975.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship, 1975.

Grace Slick and Starship again, '76.

Grace Slick and Starship again, ’76.

The caption says "one of Zappa's Mothers;" I'm fairly sure it's Napolean Murphy Brock. 1976.

The caption says “one of Zappa’s Mothers;” I’m fairly sure it’s Napoleon Murphy Brock. 1976.

Springsteen, 1977, riding out his lawsuit period on the road.

Springsteen, 1977, riding out his lawsuit period on the road. The caption says “Quality Not Quantity” — referring to a lean year for concerts, not to Bruce’s performance.

Smoke from a distant fire, 1978. Mike Love of the Beach Boys, left; the Sanford-Townsend Band, right; and the Little River Band's singer's torso at top left.

Smoke from a distant fire, 1978. Mike Love of the Beach Boys, left; the Sanford-Townsend Band, right; and the Little River Band’s singer’s torso at top left.

Tom Scholz of Boston, 1979, ending the decade with the sound of corporate rock.

Tom Scholz of Boston, 1979, ending the decade with the sound of corporate rock.

Two whole pages devoted to "Rust Never Sleeps"-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse. 1979.

Two whole pages devoted to “Rust Never Sleeps”-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They were not wrong to do so. 1979.

Billy Joel, 1980. It is, quite clearly, still rock and roll to him.

Billy Joel, 1980. It is, quite clearly, still rock and roll to him.

Sting, 1986. Yeah, this seems like a good place to get off.

Sting, 1986. Yeah, this seems like a good place to get off.

Behind.

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The Internet remains a wonderful tool for solving all of those little mysteries I’ve been carrying around for years. God only knows what I’d be without it.

Speaking of which, the ‘webs tonight have cleared up something I’ve wondered about for close to 30 years … a rock n’ roll mystery, and thus fair game for discussion on this blog.

photo

Years ago, somebody (possibly a Beach Boys-loving cousin) gave my dad a copy of the band’s 1973 live album The Beach Boys In Concert. He’s never been a BBs fan, but I took a shine to some of their music, and as a kid, I remember hearing the album several times.

In Concert, while surely improved by studio sweetening, is an excellent document of the band’s live show before it completely toppled over into nostalgia. Plain and simple, the record rocks. Compare the studio version of “Marcella” with the onstage version and tell me you disagree:

Not only was the music good, but Ed Caraeff’s cover photography provided evocative images of the live experience for a kid who hadn’t been to a concert yet. In particular, there’s one shot of Carl Wilson at the mic, spotlights bouncing off his hollowbody Epiphone Sheraton, that nails the touring-troubadour vibe as well as any live photo I’ve seen. He looks simultaneously like he’s working magic, and like he’s just another guy doing his daily job.

(Remarkably, it doesn’t seem to be on the ‘Net. Maybe it doesn’t speak to anyone else the way it spoke to me. Go buy the record and you’ll see it. — Edit: Actually, you can see it front and center in the video for the live version of “Marcella.” It appears at about 1:45 in.)

Caraeff’s gatefold photography also offered a curious glimpse at the petty bitchiness of the rock n’ roll life, in a clue the average listener could only guess at.

One of his backstage pictures shows early-’70s Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar slumped down in a chair in some interchangeable sports-arena dressing room, accompanied by an unidentifiable man in a football jersey.

I say “unidentifiable” because — in a crude bit of pre-Photoshop photo manipulation — the other guy’s face is blocked by the random and somewhat jarring image of an eight-ball.

Of course I knew the meaning of the term “behind the eight-ball” as a kid. I could only wonder what sort of backstage backstabbing could lead to such treatment. I assumed that the person pictured must have been well and truly on the outs with the BBs organization.

eightballI wasn’t the only person who wondered about it. A Google search turned up all manner of online speculation among Beach Boys fans. Among the leading candidates:

– Jack Rieley, the band’s short-tenured manager around that time. (Nope, the Internet chorused; Rieley is bulkier of build than the guy behind the eight-ball.)

– Brian Wilson, then making only occasional live appearances — and, by some tellings, only occasional contact with reality. (Nope again. ’72 Brian was also larger than the man in the picture, and at any rate, the Beach Boys didn’t have any clear reason to punk him that way.)

– Dennis Wilson, who — bereft of drumming duties — was kind of a man without a country in the ’72-’73 Boys’ live act. (Very likely nope. Dennis appears unaltered on the front and back covers, and in at least one gatefold shot.)

– Ed Carter, Beach Boys road guitarist. (I forget what the nope here was, but it wasn’t him either.)

It turns out that the guy behind the eight-ball wasn’t persona non grata after all. In fact, he would continue to be part of the band’s live show for the better part of the next decade.

According to multiple sources, the censored dude next to Fataar was keyboardist Carli Muñoz, who toured as the band’s keyboardist from 1970 to 1981. (Muñoz is one of several sidemen credited in the liner notes to In Concert, though his name is misspelled “Carly.”)

I’d heard of Muñoz before — most recently in the liner notes for Dennis Wilson’s reissued Pacific Ocean Blue album. Muñoz worked extensively with Wilson on Bambu, the never-released follow-up to Pacific Ocean Blue, until Wilson’s self-destructiveness drove him away. Five songs written or co-written by Muñoz appear on the bonus disc of Bambu recordings issued with the Pacific Ocean Blue re-release.

As is so often the case with sidemen and support players, Muñoz’s story is deeper and more interesting than that.

A native of Puerto Rico, he played in an early band with Jorge Calderon, who went on to become Warren Zevon’s longtime sideman and co-writer.

Muñoz also played with a wide-ranging variety of acts in addition to the Beach Boys — among them Wilson Pickett, Peter Cetera, the Association, and jazz drummer Chico Hamilton.

Today, he plays and records jazz and owns his own restaurant and nightclub in San Juan, where he often performs. (The site hasn’t been updated in a little while, so perhaps this is not the latest information.)

I cannot find a circulating explanation of Muñoz’s treatment on the In Concert cover. But he has confirmed to Beach Boys fans that it was him behind the eight-ball, and has even been known to autograph the picture, which is pretty cool of him.

Now that I’ve cleared this up, maybe I’ll spin the vinyl this weekend. Usually my ears gravitate to the vocals, but this time I’ll listen for the piano and organ parts, now that I know who’s playing them.

Even if I don’t know what he looked like.

Unsatisfied.

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My man Jim Bartlett posted a piece yesterday about The Smoking Gun’s online archive of tour riders, which provides a wonderful look into the backstage demands and vanities of well-known performers.

(One of my favorites: B.B. King’s request not to have dinner supplied. This could be for any number of reasons. I like to think it was B.B.’s response to hard-earned success: “I’m through eating rubber chicken in the dressing room. When I’m done with this gig, I’m gonna take my walking-around money someplace classy and buy myself a lobster. No, make that two.“)

I’ve been to the Rider Archive before. But this time I found myself asking some obvious questions that had never occurred to me.

Anyone who knows the music industry is welcome to enlighten me on these, using the Comments section.

Or, if you don’t have any firsthand knowledge, I welcome wild and scurrilous speculation:

1. How common is it for a promoter to fail to live up to the terms of the rider?

And, related to that …

2. What happens if an artist doesn’t get what they want, to some greater or lesser degree?

I’m led to believe that tour riders can specify all kinds of things, from technical details of sound and staging to the flavor of bubble gum in the dressing room.

That means a promoter could violate a rider in any number of ways, large or small.

It could be anything from failing to hire enough security and support staff … to not sufficiently preparing the stage in some way … to stocking the backstage coolers with RC Cola instead of Pepsi.

Now, if the promoter does something that truly imperils the band or audience, or makes a professional stage presentation impossible, the band would presumably refuse to play.

(That promoter probably wouldn’t be in business long, either.)

But if the promoter breaks the contract in some other, lesser way … well, that’s another question:

3. How much blatant defiance of their backstage rider will a performer accept before he or she refuses to take the stage (or get off the tour bus)?

This might vary from performer to performer: Some are divas, others are troupers.

It might also vary from era to era. In the druggy, pampered ’70s, American cheese on the deli tray instead of Muenster might have been enough to trigger a Nigel Tufnel-style flip-out. I’m guessing (based purely on gut) that today’s major performers have at least a little more tolerance for not getting exactly what they want.

Still, canceling a concert can cost a performer a fair amount of money and, maybe, fan loyalty as well.

So how much will they put up with? The wrong brand of beer? A lousy catered dinner — or no dinner at all? No dressing-room Wi-Fi? No backstage runner with a van, ready to take band members on any errand they want?

I am guessing that most bands will put up with just about anything, because the show must go on.

If they truly get shafted by a promoter, they’ll probably just make a mental note never to work with that person again. They may also take their frustration out on the audience with a half-hearted show.

Which leads to a final question …

4. Was that shitty, uninspired Santana concert I sat through in 1993 so lame because the promoter insisted on loading the deli tray with pressed turkey loaf?

A stop in Excelsior.

Blame my man Jim Bartlett for this post; I had forgotten a brainwave I had until he reminded me the other day.

He’s been reading what sounds like an interesting book about Eric Clapton and the rise of British blues in the Sixties. And the other day he wrote a post about Cream’s 1968 U.S. tour, a grueling affair that brought the future icons of Limey blues-rock to such obscure places as Beloit, Wisconsin; Wallingford, Connecticut; and Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Tour itineraries are fascinating to me (JB writes) —where bands went, who they played with along the way, what happened to them while they were on the road.

I would second that. And I find tour itineraries from the Fifties and Sixties particularly interesting, because they capture the unusual places rock bands used to play before the music became truly big business.

There appears to have been a point — I’ll arbitrarily set it at maybe 1972 or ’73 — when the rules and economics of the arena-rock business solidified.

If you were a megastar like Zeppelin or the Stones, you played Madison Square Garden, the L.A. Forum, the Philadelphia Spectrum and similar venues.

If you were big but not quite so big, you mostly worked a circuit of less prestigious hockey rinks — the New Haven Coliseum, the Hartford Civic Center, and a lengthy list of places whose names interchangeably jumbled the words “War,” “Veterans,” “Memorial,” “Arena,” “Coliseum” and “Center.”

But before then, a tour itinerary was more likely to be a mix of whatever ballrooms, clubs and theaters were in the mood to accept live rock n’ roll crowds at that particular point in time.

When the Rolling Stones announced their 50th anniversary shows in Newark and London, I had an idea to do a little research and write a list of 10 Places You Wouldn’t Guess the Rolling Stones Ever Played. I figured I’d go back to the early days and look up some of the places that made do as rock n’ roll venues before the music grew into Madison Square Garden.

The list ended up at five instead of 10. Like the Beatles, the Stones got big enough early enough to play good-sized venues.

Still, here’s a tour itinerary that brings back the good ol’ days of stuffing four or five long-haired English lads in a station wagon and seeing who would book them:

1. Excelsior Amusement Park, Excelsior, Minnesota (June 12, 1964) — Rock music and amusement parks have a long, rich history, from “Palisades Park,” to KISS and the Phantom of the Park, to Milli Vanilli‘s fateful gig at the Lake Compounce amusement park in Connecticut.

Yes, it only makes sense that music should go where the kids are. Still, I bet there are people whose grandkids refuse to believe they once saw Mick and Keef play at an amusement park 20 miles outside Minneapolis.

2. Worcester Memorial Auditorium, Worcester, Massachusetts (April 30, 1965) — The Stones did not play Boston proper until November 1965. I’m guessing this obscure 3,500-seat civic hall was chosen as a stopgap alternative to Boston Garden and other indoor venues (such as college gyms) that may have made themselves unavailable to the band. In a measure of its significance and esteem in its community, the building is now used to store state trial court records.

3. Manning Bowl, Lynn, Massachusetts (June 24, 1966) — Another attempt to book a Boston-area concert without having to deal with the Gahden or the civic fathers, I’m guessing.  A high-school football stadium in a Boston suburb known as the City of Sin, Manning Bowl’s sole other claim to fame was having hosted the home games of a former NFL team called the Boston Yanks. (The NFL of the Forties, like the Rolling Stones of the Sixties, was not the juggernaut it would later become.)

4. Lagoon Amusement Park, Salt Lake City, Utah (July 23, 1966) — What’s worse than playing an amusement park outside Minneapolis? Playing one outside Salt Lake City, two years later, after you’ve had a half-dozen Top Ten hits and gotten a taste of big halls like Maple Leaf Gardens. This venue is frequently listed as “Davis County Lagoon,” which may have been its name in the Sixties.

5. Rubber Bowl, Akron, Ohio (July 11, 1972) — I’m cheating a little bit here; the Stones were certainly not up-and-comers traveling in station wagons when they played this gig. Still, the Rubber Bowl is no one’s idea of a prestigious music venue.

Exactly one week after playing Washington, D.C.’s huge Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the band washed up at the good-sized but thoroughly obscure Rubber Bowl, in a city I’ll bet none of the five Stones could find on a map.

The band skipped both Cincinnati and Cleveland on the ’72 tour. I like to imagine their booking agent on a long-distance phone call during tour scheduling: “No Cleveland? No Cincinnati? Bollocks. What else is there in Ohio? (pause) The Rubber Bowl? (lascivious chortle) We’ll take it!”

I read it too. What does it mean?

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This past week, music-loving bloggers everywhere shared their memories of the late Levon Helm — singer, drummer, mandolinist, roots-rock pioneer, actor, and Time magazine coverboy.

While it wasn’t at the top of his CV, it’s true that Levon and his Band-mates made the cover of America’s largest and longest-running general news magazine the week of Jan. 12, 1970.

I imagine they groaned when they looked at the cover illustration, which made Richard Manuel look like Baba Yaga’s late husband.

(Interestingly, the Jan. 5 issue declared Middle Americans the Men and Women of the Year — a roots move of which Robbie Robertson would have approved.)

The cover of Time doesn’t have quite the same pop-cultural cachet as the cover of the Rollin’ Stone. Still, it’s something of an accomplishment. Not many pop music performers have landed inside that famous red border over the years.

I decided to go through the magazine’s online gallery and pick the five best and worst Time magazine pop-music covers, based on:

  1. The cover photo.
  2. The cover design.
  3. My perception of the worth of the subject.

My judgment does not take into account the contents of the actual cover stories, which I don’t believe I can read without a subscription.

Also, I have not reproduced the actual cover images here because of copyright concerns. Each link opens up in a new window, though, so you can check out each image without losing the thread here.

So here we go:

The Five Best Time Magazine Pop Music Covers

1. Rock n’ Roll, May 21, 1965. In hindsight, parts of this cover are kinda questionable. (Trini Lopez? Petula Clark?) But I love the snapshot approach. Rather than choose one act and try to make them Officially Anointed Representatives of Rock N’ Roll, the cover collage captures all the different sounds that people were mixing into pop music at the time. Soul, Motown, teenie pop, little symphonies for the kids — it’s all there. And the shot of the “Shindig” dancers used at the top of the cover conveys the most important message — youthful energy.

2. Aretha Franklin, June 28, 1968. What do I like most? Is it the immense corona of hair? The enigmatic Mona Lisa-ish expression? The use of a subdued painterly approach, rather than some sort of disjointed attempt at pop art? The word “TIME” rendered in pink, as befitting a natural woman? Could be all of these and more. The bottom line: A classic (dare I say “respectful”?) cover for a classic performer.

3. Bruce Springsteen, Oct. 27, 1975. I’m not sure what I think of the neon/stage light treatment. But the cover image absolutely nails the Springsteen I love — the loose-jointed, golden-tongued Boardwalk Bard. He looks like he’s having a fantastic time, and he’s going to make sure that everyone in the room does the same.

4. David Bowie, July 18, 1983. This is one of the few occasions on which Time’s cover featured a performer I liked, at the time I liked him. I remember reading this issue, so I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for this one. Personal connection aside, I do think it’s a pretty good likeness of the man, down to his green and blue eyes. And his stylistically varied career (careen?) up to that point made him a deserving cover choice.

5. U2, April 27, 1987. By contrast, I couldn’t stand U2 when they appeared on the cover of Time.  But the cover works well in retrospect, even if it made me groan then. I like the simple design and the fittingly emblematic/symbolic fire treatment. The subhed, meanwhile, plays off the fire theme without being (IMHO) gimmicky or heavy-handed.

Also, the cover shot bears none of the hallmarks of Anton Corbijn, U2’s official court photographer and keeper of their visual iconography. The band seems to be looking suspiciously at the camera, wondering whether the unfamiliar person behind the lens would capture the power, the mystery and the hammer of the gods. (The shot? It’s OK.)

On the flip side …

The Five Worst Time Magazine Pop Music Covers

1. The Beatles, Sept. 22, 1967. If Richard Manuel had cause for complaint against Time magazine, Ringo Starr had grounds for a lawsuit. The world’s most revered pop drummer at the time looks like a sozzled, spiky-haired Muppet in Gerald Scarfe’s cover caricature — not that any of his bandmates come off better. (Random trivia note: Scarfe later married Jane Asher, who was engaged to Paul McCartney at the time this cover appeared.)

The only word for this cover is “ghastly.” Nowadays, the managers of best-selling pop acts probably demand veto rights on magazine covers — and would reject this one out of hand.

2. Joni Mitchell, Dec. 16, 1974. I adore “Court and Spark,” and I love the idea that La Mitchell landed on Time’s cover at her moment of greatest pop success. The only trouble is this: The orange lady pictured huge in the background looks damn near nothing like Joni Mitchell.

The smaller woman in the foreground looks somewhat more like Joni. Though, what she really looks like is the earnest young librarian who used to tote her guitar to the Saturday-night coffeehouses at the Youth Center in 1974, and whose presence there increased teen-boy participation by 250 percent before she moved out to southern California to live with her sister.

3. The Who, Dec. 17, 1979. In a world with the likes of Pere Ubu, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and Public Image Ltd doing business, the notion that a tired, sodden bunch of veteran corporate rockers could represent “Rock’s Outer Limits” is laughable.

The design touches (checkerboard, graffiti) also smack of a sort of late ’70s-early ’80s Urban Gothic aesthetic, a kind of post-disco return to blue jeans and muted New Wavey guitar licks and hollow, hostile amphetamine stares. I’m sure it looked Bold and Edgy and Real back then … but seen from today’s perspective, that visual style is about as fresh as Jim Carroll’s unwashed Chuck Taylors.

4. David Byrne, Oct. 27, 1986. In some ways this is actually kinda cool. The idea of using multiple, somewhat out-of-sync close-up shots to make up a larger picture has to be an homage to the cover of “More Songs About Buildings and Food.” Five points for conceptual continuity.

Unfortunately, I find the multi-colored photo treatment so thoroughly jarring and unattractive that it kills the whole package. I also can’t help but think that maybe Time went a little overboard on the whole “Renaissance man” thing: How much of Byrne’s film direction or design work still holds up in court 25 years later?

5. Jewel, July 21, 1997. Combine a blah cover shot; a lame headline (I assume it’s a pun on “Kool and the Gang,” which is to say it’s totally irrelevant wordplay for wordplay’s sake); and an earnest, polarizing subhed (“Macho music is out. Empathy is in”), and the result is a cover that makes you avert your eyes and wish you could un-see it.

I also find it kind of doubtful that Jewel represented the best and most promising performer in her genre. And, if you’re gonna pick one performer to represent an entire genre, you need to pick the best one if you want your choice to stand the test of time. (See Pearl Jam, 1993; Merle Haggard, 1974; or The Band, 1970.)