Much Better Than Christmas

This song features jingle bells and repeatedly mentions the holiday many of us celebrate on December 25, but it’s hardly a Christmas song. I guess I’d call it an ode about possibly unrequited love/lust?

“Blow Me Up,” by the now-unknown Will and the Bushmen, is one of the many delightful tunes tossed my way via the friendship I struck up with Greg, now almost thirty years ago; it wound up on a favorite mix tape I made a year or so later. I find it catchy as hell, but it’s (to me) shockingly obscure today.

Will Kimbrough’s just about three months younger than I. According to his Wikipedia page, he hangs out in Nashville these days, writing, recording and producing. While I don’t think Kimbrough’s ever really broken through, it feels like he’s living his dream.

The year that Greg and I roomed together, Will and the Bushmen released their followup and final album, Blunderbuss. Greg, forever aspiring to completism with regard to the artists in his CD collection, had to pick it up. I assume the first track, “D.C. to Moscow,” was written right after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It’s a fairly political song–the chorus, such as it is, goes, “D.C.’s turning into Moscow/Moscow’s turning into D.C.” We laughed about that line at the time.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/16/78: Lindisfarne, "Run for Home"

I’ve written before about songs of the last half of the 70s with which I fell in love solely from hearing them a very few times on AT40—tunes that Cincinnati radio never touched (Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Girl of My Dreams” and Sweet’s “Action” come immediately to mind in this regard). This week it’s another nugget from that treasure trove, a song hanging on at its peak of #33 in its fourth and final week on the show. Gotta say that “Run for Home” still sounds amazing to me, especially now that I’m paying attention to the swell of the strings and that oboe line in the chorus.

Being ignorant about British geography back in the day (and still, to be honest), I had virtually no chance of getting the band’s name right from Casey when they debuted on the 11/25 show. (I didn’t know that Lindisfarne is a tiny island rich in history just off the northeastern coast of England, not too far away from Scotland.) Perhaps someday you’ll get to see in a Charts post how I dubbed them “Lindasparn” for one week. 

Lindisfarne, the musical endeavor, has been an on-and-off thing for just a little over 50 years now. Their greatest commercial success in the UK was in the early 70s; “Run for Home” was a comeback hit, from the LP they recorded following their first reunion. One original member, guitarist Rod Clements, is still playing with the band (Alan Hull, who sang “Run for Home,” died of a heart attack in 95).

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: The Roches, We Three Kings

Today it’s a Christmas CD that came along for the ride when Martha and I got together. The Roches released We Three Kings in 90, on the not very long-lived Paradox subsidiary of MCA Records (I think the only other Paradox release in our collection is Marshall Crenshaw’s Life’s Too Short). It’s got a robust twenty-four tracks, though several clock in at under two minutes. We Three Kings is very much in our house; we haven’t broken it out yet this year, but I’m thinking that’s about to change.

Maggie, Suzzy, and Terre offer up a choice mix of religious and secular tunes. The arrangements are consistently creative and often fun; the harmonies are as exquisite as you’d expect. One of my favorite stories about Ben involves the title track. Here are four others I like a bunch. The haunting “Star of Wonder” is one of two original songs on the disk.

Songs Casey Never Played, 12/6/86

In December of 86, I was just about to muddle through a grad school finals week for the first time. Checking out the Hot 100 posted at Record Service in Champaign was very much an every week thing for me that fall–what did I see in the bottom half of the chart this time?

91. KBC Band, “It’s Not You, It’s Not Me”
We all like to dunk on Starship, and for good reason: they were the final devolution of a one-time pretty important and pretty good band. They gave Diane Warren her first #1 hit, for heaven’s sake! (Never mind that you might catch me singing along to “We Built This City” every once in a while…)

Anyway, after Paul Kantner departed the scene (taking ‘Jefferson’ with him), he hooked back up with fellow former Airplaners Marty Balin and Jack Casady to record one album. I remember seeing the resulting LP at Record Service and hearing the anthemic “It’s Not You, It’s Not Me” a few times on WPGU. It’s hardly a world-beater, but it’s at least two orders of magnitude better than the almost contemporaneous “Nothing’s Going To Stop Us Now.” Would only get two spots higher.

89. Grace Jones, “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You)”
Model, actress, singer–Jones had a long career with varying degrees of success in these fields. I confess I’m more familiar with “Demolition Man” from binge sessions of MTV in the Transy student center. “I’m Not Perfect” is the third and final time Jones hit the Hot 100 (the other two were back in 77). It would peak at #69 in a few weeks.

73. Debbie Harry, “French Kissin”
The second week in a row here at the blog with an appearance from Harry, whose solo career just never got on track (though who could ever un-see the cover of Koo Koo?) This sorta catchy lead single from Rockbird would climb to #57.

69. Paul Young, “Some People”
Just a year earlier, Young had the world on a string, coming off a series of Top 10 hits in the UK and the #1 “Everytime You Go Away” here in the States. A weak chorus in an otherwise decent, shuffling tune doomed “Some People,” the lead single from his next album Between Two Fires. It would get just four positions higher, and seemed to derail Young’s career–the big hits were much harder to come by for him on both sides of the pond after this.

68. Eurythmics, “Thorn in My Side”
Speaking of acts running out of steam… This follow-up to “Missionary Man” would get no higher, the biggest injustice we’re encountering today. “Thorn in My Side” made #5 in the UK, but it was Annie and Dave’s last Top 10 hit there; folks were just moving on, apparently.

64. The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86”
Even though the boys in the Police had parted ways following the Synchronicity tour, they got back together briefly a couple years later to update one of their earlier hits for a GH album. It was not so easy to be the teacher’s pet a second time, though, as ’86 is already coming down off a #46 high. I think this Godley/Creme vid could have been shot without Andy, Stew, or Gordon having to spin ’round the set at the same time.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/4/71: Coven, "One Tin Soldier (The Legend Of Billy Jack)"

On the Wikipedia page for a song from this past weekend’s 70s rebroadcast is this somewhat odd sentence:

The single went to number 26 on the Billboard pop chart before it was pulled from radio by the film’s producer. 

The single in question is Coven’s cover of “One Tin Solder.” The film is, of course, Billy Jack, and the producer was also its director, co-screenwriter, and lead actor, Tom Loughlin. On the surface, the twelve-week Hot 100 run of the song doesn’t exactly scream support for the above claim: 87-80-64-52-43-41-39-30-29-27-26-30. There’s no surge up the chart followed by a sudden collapse. Additionally, it was not uncommon at all in the early 70s for songs to tumble out of the Hot 100 from within the Top 40 (on this chart, the songs at #35, #29, #26, and #23 do the same).

On the other hand, it is true that Loughlin was having trouble with Warner Brothers, Billy Jack’s distributor—it appears that perhaps the movie was taken out of theaters suddenly. Loughlin eventually gained control of the distribution rights and re-released it himself, to significant success, two years later. (I’ve never seen it; I don’t find this synopsis of the plot enticing, either.)

And this is where I think my memories of encountering “One Tin Solder (The Legend of Billy Jack)” begin. Even though it didn’t get all that high on the charts in 73 (more on that shortly), based on my mind’s eye, there had to have been stations in Cincinnati playing it then. My sister and I were known to sing along robustly with the chorus; I’m still pretty fond of it.

Some other stuff I’ve gleaned from working the Internet the last couple of days (yes, mostly Wikipedia, I fear), in bullet form:

–Even though Coven is credited on the 71 single, it’s really just their vocalist Jinx Dawson in the studio with an orchestra. Coven did record the song for themselves around the time of Billy Jack’s re-release. The new take peaked at #79 in August of 73. (The Dawson-only version that hit in 71 was also put back out there a few months later; it reached #73 in January of 74.)

–I had a conversation with my friend Warren about the song a couple of years ago. He doesn’t like it at all, for reasons I think I can guess (I’ll let him say why, though, if he wishes). But he had a theory for the song’s appeal: its trochaic meter, alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. (“LIS-ten CHIL-dren TO a STO-ry THAT was WRIT-ten LONG a-GO”). I don’t know if that’s really what makes it attractive, but I definitely learned something about poetry from the discussion.

–The first version of “One Tin Soldier,” by Canadians the Original Caste, was a Top 10 hit in Canada at the end of 69 (it made #34 here in the U.S. in February of 70).

–I know you’re dying to watch Cher’s medley of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “One Tin Soldier,” doubtless from a December 73 episode of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

Lots of other versions out there, but here’s the one that got to #26 (it was at #30 on its way down on this show).

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Stan Freberg, "Green Chri$tma$"

I’ve noted before that my dad was a big fan of Stan Freberg’s comedy recordings: the compilation album A Child’s Garden of Freberg was a formative part of my childhood, and certainly helped cement the bond between father and son. I confess I was less interested in Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years, though I still know a couple of the biggest gags on it. I purchased Tip of the Freberg, a 4-CD retrospective, likely as a Christmas gift twenty years ago, so that Dad didn’t have to dip into his vinyl collection when he wanted a good laugh. I’ve kept all of the above.

Anyway, today’s a day on which I’m thinking of my father, so in honor of him and a performer that he really enjoyed, I offer up “Green Chri$tma$,” a piece that the sales departments of many radio stations definitely did not want their DJs to play after it came out at the end of 1958. Ironically, Freberg soon moved into the advertising business, and was incredibly successful at it.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/29/80: Randy Meisner, "Deep Inside My Heart"

The music of the Eagles has both very loud supporters and detractors. I’m not a hater, but I’m not all that much of a fan, either—so many of their songs are played to death on retro stations, and there are only a very few I’m actively not unhappy to listen to when they pop up on the radio. What about the solo stuff, though? Some of that’s been overplayed as well, but is any of it any good? Let’s take a crack at checking things out.

All told, there were twenty-three solo Top 40 hits by five of the guys who at one time or another were members of the Eagles: eight by Don Henley, seven by Glenn Frey, four by Joe Walsh, three by Randy Meisner, and one by Timothy B. Schmit. Only Henley (four times) and Frey (twice) made the Top 10 (though Henley also had Top 10 duets with Stevie Nicks and Patty Smyth); none went all the way to #1. 

I’ve picked three honorable mentions and an unranked Top 5 Eagles solo hits; a top one-third seems like a reasonable cutoff, maybe before things start smelling a bit. While I’ve tried a little to avoid overweighting personal preference, that can’t help but creep in, I’m sure. Before I get to those eight,though, a small shout-out to Schmit, whose “Boy’s Night Out” came nowhere close to making the cut: he did a fair amount of notable backup singing and session work throughout the 80s, and his “I Can’t Tell You Why” is one of those Eagles hits I can still bear to hear.

Honorable mention:
Joe Walsh, “Rocky Mountain Way,” Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer,” Glenn Frey, “The Heat Is On.”

“Rocky Mountain Way” pre-dates Walsh’s time with the Eagles, and I guess actually isn’t a solo cut (credit really goes to Barnstorm, his band at the time), but label attribution is 90% of the law, no? I’ve always liked “The Boys of Summer” and its oh-so-serious video; I had a couple of college friends who thought the lyric “Remember how I made you scream” was awful, and they may not be wrong. The Frey piece, from the beginning of his Hollywood phase, was in the Top 10 with “The Boys of Summer,” back-to-back at #8 and #9, on 2/16/85.

Top 5, in chronological order:

Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good.” Walsh wasn’t content to do only Eagles work after he joined the band. This humorous take on self-destructive rock star behavior probably points toward Walsh’s own excesses, but it’s justifiably a classic. LP version only, please.

Randy Meisner, “Deep Inside My Heart.” I was huge on “Never Been in Love” in the late summer/early fall of 82, but this is Meisner’s best single, and it isn’t that close. A greatly underrated rocker; if I were ranking these, I’d be sorely tempted to put it at #1. It’s a travesty that Kim Carnes gets no label credit (not even a “with”)—without her interplay on the chorus, this wouldn’t be nearly so good.

Glenn Frey, “The One You Love.” I’ll confess I’m letting my bias show here—I just really like this song and the emotions it conveys. If you want to put “The Heat Is On” in this spot instead, I won’t complain too much. I’m realizing now how important the sax parts are to those two Frey hits, as well as “You Belong to the City.”

Don Henley, “The End of the Innocence” and “Heart of the Matter.” No real surprise if you read what I wrote last Saturday. Pretty, mature songcraft in both instances. There’s a strong case to be made that Henley ran laps around Frey in their post-Eagle years.

“Deep Inside My Heart” made it to just #22 (it was #25 on this show). The audio on the clip below is great, while the quality of the video is anything but. Nonetheless, we get a sense of how Carnes helped take the result up a few notches.