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.

Modern Rock Tracks, 12/2/89

Last month I indicated that quarterly reviews of Hot 100s from thirty years ago were unlikely to continue. There’s just not enough familiarity with the hits of that time to warrant my efforts, especially since I’d too often want to take potshots at the stuff I do recognize. The bimonthly forays into the Modern Rock Tracks charts I started back in April, though–that’s been fun. There’s plenty I don’t know on them as well, for sure, but the fruits of my research are much more in line with my tastes of the day. It’s a feature I hope to keep going for a good while.

Let’s take a look at a dozen of the songs on the 12/2/89 chart.

30. The Del Fuegos, “Move With Me Sister”
Band out of Boston with what turned out to be their final modicum of success prior to breaking apart. Warren Zanes, brother of leader/vocalist Dan, had already bailed on the band by this point; he’s now a VP at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While I was dimly aware the Del Fuegos back in the day, I must confess that for more than a quarter of a century, hearing their name has immediately brought to mind a different song with the word “sister” in its title. The link takes you to an affecting oral history of the Juliana Hatfield Three hit published in Spin five years ago–you won’t regret clicking through to it.

28. The Primitives, “Secrets”
Another pop charmer from the Coventry quartet. In a more just world, folks would have been listening to this instead of NKOTB.

22. David Byrne, “Make Believe Mambo”
Byrne released his first post-Heads solo work, Rei Momo, a little over eighteen months after Naked. It’s chock-full of Latin rhythms and dance styles, and perhaps pointed him in the direction of the amazing Brazil Classics series he began curating shortly thereafter.

I was today years old when I learned that personal fave Kirsty MacColl is singing backup on this song (then-hubby Steve Lillywhite helped Byrne with the production of Rei Momo).

17. Deborah Harry, “I Want That Man”
Toward the end of 88, The Escape Club had a #1 hit with the odious “Wild Wild West,” a song that featured the forward-looking phrase, “Heading for the 90s…” One year later and a decade ahead of its time, Harry is warning us, “Here comes the twenty-first century…” Granted, King Crimson beat her to this punch by two decades, but I do wonder: how many other songs were out there around this time, or earlier, referencing the upcoming century?

“I Want That Man,” written by Thompson Twins Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie, was a big hit in Australia but hardly made an impression here in the States. I think Harry under-sings it a bit, but it’s a darn catchy tune.

16. Dramarama, “Last Cigarette”
Band from Jersey. Had a few songs get some Modern Rock chart action, but this ode to the day’s final nicotine fix is the one I know best.

11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground”
RHCP’s campaign to conquer the music world entered its next stage with the release of Mother’s Milk late in the summer. Impossible to better the original version of this song, but they gave it a more than credible effort.

9. Lenny Kravitz, “Let Love Rule”
I’m not a big Kravitz fan but do appreciate his approach to the craft. This was our first peek at his retro stylings.

7. The Mighty Lemon Drops, “Into the Heart of Love”
This band from the UK had made some noise a year earlier with the very good “Inside Out.” While this tune isn’t quite as memorable, it is reminding me I should dig a little into their catalog.

Back in 91, I ran across their epic cover of “Another Girl, Another Planet,” on the Just Say Anything sampler from Sire Records. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure I like it better than the original.

4. The Smithereens, “A Girl Like You”
A bit of a breakthrough, as this lead single from 11 became the Smithereens’ first Top 40 hit (one of two). Really solid band that never received their due measure of success.

3. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Blues from a Gun”
Another band that featured a pair of brothers, this time from Scotland. I knew them by name back then but hadn’t bothered to check ’em out. Big mistake–I would have been all over this blistering track if I’d been paying attention.

2. Kate Bush, “Love and Anger”
Between hearing “Running Up That Hill” at the end of 85 and getting the compilation LP The Whole Story a little over a year later, I felt like I’d become a big Kate Bush fan. A little dabbling into her back catalog hadn’t impressed as much, however, though I took the plunge and bought The Sensual World soon after it was released anyway. It did not go into heavy rotation, and I think I eventually sold it. Listening to “Love and Anger” again these last few days is giving me stirrings of regret over that decision; I didn’t fully appreciate the greatness of this song back then.

Yes, we have a David Gilmour sighting about two-thirds of the way through the vid.

1. Ian McCulloch, “Proud To Fall”
First solo hit from the (former) lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen, in what turned out to be a non-permanent parting of the ways. Not a bad tune, but I can’t say it leaves a strong impression, either. They didn’t play it when I saw E&tB in concert in the summer of 18. In its fourth and final week at the top; “Love and Anger” would replace it.

The More I Know, The Less I Understand

I’ve been using the Destination 89 tag in part to construct an after-the-fact diary of some of the things I think I remember from that year. While there are still additional music-only-related posts in the series to come in December, this one discusses the last two specific events I can recall from thirty years ago; both occurred Thanksgiving week.

1) On Tuesday, November 21, the Illini Bridge Club ran a game that was the first stage in the North American Collegiate Bridge Championship, sponsored by the American Contract Bridge League. The scores of the winning pairs in each direction would be combined and compared to those of the other competing schools in our region (one of six continent-wide); the top team from each region would be flown to the next ACBL national tournament, which was to be in Fort Worth, in March, for a friendly competition. Illinois had won the whole she-bang the previous spring. That team included my new friend Mark L, but they’d lost two members to graduation and were looking for suitable replacements. Mark L recruited Milind, a CS grad student and a very thoughtful player, to form a partnership. For some reason, he asked me that fall to work with Mike, a senior history major and the other returning member from the defending champs.

Mike was a strong player, and extremely patient with me (though he’d let me know when I made an error, sometimes in no uncertain terms, he was very good about moving on to the next hand). He taught me as much as he could in the few weeks we had to work out a system, and occasionally I’d even remember some of it. The biggest issue was that I was still too inexperienced to have some things come naturally.

Anyway, the plan was for Mark L and Milind to be the top pair sitting North-South, while Mike and I won East-West. We then hoped to parlay that by beating the best foursomes at the other schools in our region to go to the nationals. (The same hands were played on all participating campuses, with the possible outcomes for each hand translated ahead of time into points on a 0 to 100 scale. After finishing a hand, you consulted a table printed on a slip of paper to determine your score for that deal.) 

The game in the Illini Union turned out to be close all around. On the last hand of the night, the director had to come to our table to sort out questionable declarer play on my part and perhaps equally questionable defensive play by the opponent on my right. Her ruling ended up going in our favor, and that turned out to be the difference in both pairs winning. The first hurdle had been overcome.

I headed back to Kentucky the next morning for Thanksgiving with the folks. I was too impatient to wait until I got home to find out if we’d qualified for Fort Worth, so I used a pay phone about an hour down the road to call the ACBL offices in Memphis, where I learned that we had indeed won our region. I won’t keep you in suspense about how things went down in Texas: we came in fourth in the round-robin first round, earning a spot in the semi-finals, but got crushed there by eventual champion Harvard. 

2) The day after the big meal with the fam, I headed down to Louisville, where one of my good college friends was getting married (the first of two consecutive Turkey Day weekends I went to a wedding). It turned into a mini-reunion, of course, hanging with Transy friends, a few for the first time in a couple of years. It also marked the last time I would see some of them for a while, perhaps until my own wedding six-and-a-half years later, or even longer.

I’ve bypassed the opportunity to this point to bring up Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence, one of the more notable LP releases of 89. I enjoyed the title song a fair amount, and thought “If Dirt Were Dollars” was pretty good. But the track I liked best—by far—was the third single, “Heart of the Matter.” Pretty sure that some review I read when the album first came out touted it as a real highlight, and I recall looking forward to hearing it. But did it get any play on Champaign radio in the fall of 89, when it wasn’t released as a single until right after 90 dawned? I’m going to assume so, if for no other reason than to shoehorn it into my retrospective. Nonetheless, the song does feel of a piece with seeing my classmates in Louisville.

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness some lately; maybe it comes with the territory as one gets well into middle age and scrutinizes one’s screw-ups. It’s occurred to me that, for whatever reason—maybe a combination of cluelessness, carelessness, and dumb luck—to date I haven’t often had to consider forgiving someone else for something even moderately-sized. When I am on the receiving end of hurt, I tend to believe it’s been earned.  Henley’s song is about dealing with the aftermath of a failed romance, but could his claim be getting at a portion of the truth in the larger picture? Recognition that one has wronged another, working on becoming a better person, understanding where that other person is coming from—those are absolutely important, and they’re all areas where I decidedly continue to have room for growth. However, I’ve come to believe that striving toward self-forgiveness is also a piece of the puzzle, and I wonder: could that be the heart of the matter, at least sometimes? 

Eagles-related material is some of the scarcest on YouTube; I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no clip of “Heart of the Matter” available for embedding. I did find a link to a performance that Henley gave on Austin City Limits four years ago—you can watch it here.

When You Look Through The Years…

Easter and Christmas dinners were always at my grandparents’ farmhouse. Those events comprise many of the fondest memories of my youth, even if Amy, Alan, and I, the three youngest of our generation, were forever consigned to the kids’ table come mealtime. The location and attendees for Thanksgiving gatherings, though, were much more variable. I’m guessing this was a function of obligations various relatives occasionally had to spend the day with the ‘other’ side of their families (the daughters of my mother’s older sister are eight to sixteen years older than I, and by that time were married and beginning to have children). 

For a while, trips to my great-aunt’s house in Warsaw were part of our Turkey Day rotation. She was my father’s only family after his mother died in early 75. Eventually, though, playing host to a meal like that became too much of a burden; in later years she traveled with us, going wherever we did. A few times we took Aunt Birdie and my mother’s parents north to the outskirts of Dayton, OH, to spend the day with Mom’s younger sister and her family—after stuffing ourselves while catching up, we’d watch the end of the Lions game and the start of the Cowboys game before packing up to head home.  

And once—my perhaps-faulty memory is telling me it was 79, when I was 15 and a high-school sophomore—we gathered at the home of my cousin Becky. If I’m right about the year, there would have been a five-month-old in the house, the third member of the next generation on Mom’s side of the family. (That infant is now, of course, 40 years old and a father of four; he works in Cincinnati for a well-known non-profit.)

I believe the next time I was at Becky’s house on Thanksgiving was in 2013. The various branches of Mom’s family spent fewer holidays together following the passing of my grandmother in 2001, so it had been awhile since I’d been with my cousins on Thanksgiving. But that year my father was under hospice care, a little over a week away from dying. Becky lived a very few miles away from the hospice facility, and she kindly invited Mom and my family to join their gathering, six years ago today. It was a moment of grace and welcoming fellowship in an otherwise somber and not-very-fun time. I remain quite grateful for that.

Regardless of where I was for Thanksgiving of 79, I can say with certainty that Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” has always been linked with the day—I had to have heard it that morning. The third single from Breakfast in America was very much a favorite in the moment (I’ve steadfastly liked it somewhat less than “The Logical Song” but a fair amount more than “Goodbye Stranger” across the decades).  The sound of piano and mournful harmonica on both intro and ending still evokes the chill of a cloudy, late fall day.

That association was so strong that I thought about “Take the Long Way Home” through much of Thanksgiving Day in 80. I hoped, maybe even expected, to hear it, that it would become one more annual tradition. For at least one year, it was—the song came on over the portable radio I kept in my bedroom just before I called it a night.

Wishing all of you a joyous Thanksgiving; may your ways home be as short as you want them to be.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/28/81: Chilliwack, “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)”

One of the special things for me about the music of my high school and college years is how certain songs wound up getting linked to moments, important or otherwise. Sometimes those associations are incredibly specific; other times, things are a little broader or fuzzier—a tune may simply conjure up a season, an ambiance, a feeling, an emotion.

Another kind of connection occurs when two songs get fused together in my brain’s filing system. While this can happen because they both were played on the radio that one time I was doing thing X, today I’m thinking about a pair of tunes that had pretty similar chart runs on AT40 at the end of 81: “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone).”

The two songs debuted at #40 one week apart, the Go-Go’s going first on 10/24. Counting the frozen chart of 1/2/82, they spent eleven weeks together on the countdown, and except for 1/9, the last of those, they were always within three spots of each other (only once, on 11/7, was Chilliwack ahead). They both peaked the weeks of 12/12 and 12/19, OLAS at #20, and MG(GGG) at #22.

But it was more than that, because these two hung close to one another on my personal Top 50 for a long time, too. On 12/5, they both made big jumps, OLAS from #25 to #10, and MG(GGG) from #21 to #13. Starting on 1/9/82, they were 1-2 for three weeks, Chilliwack being on top for the first of those. From there, they both held on more than two months after they’d departed Casey-land, until 3/20. For all but one of those weeks, they were back-to-back. Frozen in time together, indeed.

The broader real-life picture is a little different, though. “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” had a reasonably standard ride up and down the Hot 100 for a song that spent eleven weeks on the Top 40 in this period: it hit the show in its sixth week, and hung around the lower 60 for only three more weeks on the way down. “Our Lips Are Sealed,” on the other hand, was much slower going about its business. It took nine weeks to climb to #40 (on top of three weeks Bubbling Under), and would linger for nine more weeks after finishing its thirteen appearances on AT40—a total of thirty-three weeks, counting Bubbling Under time. A true sleeper hit, bigger than might have seemed superficially. On the 1982 year-end countdown—really a November 81 to November 82 affair, I suppose—“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” was nowhere to be found, but “Our Lips Are Sealed” finished at #78.

You can hear OLAS just about any time you want these days, so I’m raising a glass now to the Canadian trio who were finally breaking through stateside after a few minor hits and more than a decade together. That street corner-like section toward the end, with its sweet harmonies flowing into the modulation, makes the song for me. For the record, it was #26 on this show, three positions behind OLAS.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/23/74: Prelude, “After the Gold Rush”

Here’s a song that’s in two pretty exclusive clubs.

1) At least a couple of times in recent years, I’ve heard on the weekly rebroadcasts Casey read a listener question about a cappella songs that hit the Top 40. Each time, he said there’d been two, and played a small bit of both: Judy Collins’s “Amazing Grace,” which hit #15 in February of 71, and Prelude’s “After the Gold Rush,” sitting here at #24 and ready to peak two spots higher the following week. A sorta thorough tour through my copy of Pete Battistini’s American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1980s) turned up at least three occasions this question was addressed: 5/30/81, 10/27/84, and 7/26/86 (the 81 show played earlier this year). I confess that I’ve not attempted to track post-summer-of-86 instrument-free hits.

2) “After the Gold Rush” is, of course, a remake of the title track of Neil Young’s classic 1970 album. That got me wondering how many times Young covers made AT40. Again, I didn’t research it heavily, but the only other one I could think of/readily discover was the excellent “Lotta Love,” from early 79, by Nicolette Larson. It’s certainly possible I’m missing something, though—please feel free to let me know.

(Two enjoyable covers of other tracks from After the Gold Rush graced tapes I made in the early 90s: Anne Richmond Boston’s version of “When You Dance I Can Really Love,” and St. Etienne’s club take on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”)