Friday Night Discoveries

Over the last couple of years a table in our basement has regularly turned into Jigsaw Puzzle Central. We tend to tackle 1000-piecers; the most recent effort–a collage of seashells that shows some promise of challenge–began a couple of evenings ago. If we aren’t listening to an AT40 rebroadcast while we work on puzzles, chances are strong I’ll be browsing the CD shelves for background music. On Friday, I plucked off two disks that I hadn’t listened to before, and found a few interesting tunes that were new to me. Let’s hit some highlights.

Eighteen months ago I wrote about several slabs of vinyl that a Lexington record store donated to my college radio station (it’s where WTLX purchased its 45s). One of those was the EP Party of Two, from the Rubinoos. Until the middle of last week, I’d completely forgotten that somewhere along the way I had acquired the Wounded Bird reissue of it, complete with three bonus tracks and three demos. While I was thrilled to realize I had a copy of “If I Had You Back,” I found other fun tracks as well. I think my new favorite song is “The Girl.”

Easy to hear the influence of Rundgren, who produced. A mighty swell bonus track is “Stop Before We Start,” a tune about nipping an affair in the bud–amazing this almost never saw the light of day.

I highly recommend this disk if you come across a copy somewhere.

After we were done with the Rubinoos, I slipped a compilation from EMI/Capitol Special Markets into the player called Lost Hits of the ’70s. I’d purchased it well over a decade ago because it includes Cheryl Ladd’s “Think It Over” and it’s the one CD I could find out there that has it (part of my quest to collect all the Top 40 songs that hit between June 1976 and May 1986). All told, twelve of the collection’s twenty songs hit the Top 40, and I was familiar with a couple of the eight that hadn’t. Among the remainder, three stood out on first listen.

McGuinness Flint was named after two of its members, bassist for Manfred Mann Tom McGuinness and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers drummer Hughie Flint. “When I’m Dead and Gone” was a big hit in the UK and made it as high as #47 here in February 1971.

Another group made up of musicians formerly of other bands is American Flyer. Past affiliations included the Blues Magoos, Velvet Underground, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. They hit #80 in November 1976 with “Let Me Down Easy.” If the vocalist sounds familiar, you heard Craig Fuller sing “Amie” with Pure Prairie League a year or two before.

This has a nice, smooth sound, but I confess that I’ve become less enamored in recent years of the use of “woman” in song lyrics to address one’s mate (Cliff Richard’s “Dreamin'” is a prime offender in this regard). I get that not using an actual name might be a way to have the song speak to a more general audience, but neither my wife nor I can imagine me addressing her that way. (Yes, “The Girl” has related issues.)

Lastly we have twins Cherie and Marie Currie with a Russ Ballard composition, “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Cherie had been the vocalist for the Runaways; after they split she got together with Sis to record a few tunes. This one reached #95 for three weeks in October and November of 1979. It feels like maybe I’ve heard it a time or two before? I’m digging on it pretty hard right now, particularly the unexpected guitar chord downward progression in the chorus.

(Their album Messin’ with the Boys includes a straightforward but inferior cover of “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).”)

I don’t know if there are future installations of Music Found While Puzzling in the wings–wouldn’t shock me, though.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Five

When I sent off my list of favorites to Erik a few weeks ago, I’ll admit I was curious as to how many we’d have in common. I jokingly included an over-under line (7.5) in my email to him; I correctly took the under.

With so many possibilities, maybe it’s an upset that we even agreed on four selections. They’re a wide-ranging and interesting mix, that’s for sure. In chronological order:

Nilsson, “Without You” (February-March 1972, 4 weeks)

This is one I loved from the get-go—it simply feels like it’s always been there in my life. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I heard Badfinger’s original version. Their approach is perfectly fine, but I think the song demands Nilsson’s light, emotional touch on the verses and fantastic range for the chorus. I’d forgotten that Mariah Carey did a cover—she used the same arrangement, but Mariah is simply no match for Harry.

Love Unlimited Orchestra, “Love’s Theme” (February 1974, 1 week)

I hear the opening twenty seconds and I’m taken back to our living room in Walton, watching mid-70s weekend golf coverage on ABC—they’d chosen it for background music leading into or out of commercials. It’s such a smooth and easy piece—I think I could easily listen to a ten-minute extended version. To my mind, this is Barry White’s finest moment.

The Hues Corporation, “Rock the Boat” (July 1974, 1 week)

I had to restrain myself a little from placing some complete schlock, mostly from 1974, on this list (“Seasons in the Sun,” “The Night Chicago Died,” even “The Streak”). You’re welcome. “Rock the Boat” may get the eyeroll from some of you, but it’s a super catchy number, and the metaphor in the lyrics has held up well over the years. (Listening to this again I’m reminded that I’ve been meaning to research how many songs include the phrase “your bad self,” particularly to identify the first one to do so.)

I may have been introduced to “Rock the Boat” by a babysitter that summer of ‘74, a high schooler from our church. I can envision us hanging outside with her when it came on the radio she must have brought along—maybe she began dancing to it in our front yard?

The Knack, “My Sharona” (August-September 1979, 6 weeks)

The LP version is a must because of Berton Averre’s amazing extended guitar solo. At some point I began referring to “My Sharona” as the first song of the ‘80s, I suppose mainly for its mainstreaming of new wave sensibilities. When I staked this claim in a conversation last year with the brain trust over at The CD Project, he immediately countered that the Cars’ debut album should be considered the ground zero moment. He’s got a point.

I began putting this collection of songs together last summer. If you look back at these posts, you’ll notice that each year of the decade was represented either two or three times. That was intentional, but in the end I don’t it had too much of a distorting effect on my choices.

Erik and I also decided to tack on a few “honorable mention” selections. In coming up with them, I avoided songs from Erik’s twenty-five that I’d considered for inclusion on my list. I also refrained from choosing any that got mentioned in one form or another in our comments along the way. Here you go; I could write a little about each but I’ll let them speak for themselves.

The Carpenters, “(They Long to Be) Close to You” (July-August 1970, 4 weeks)
–The Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You” (November-December 1970, 3 weeks)
–The Honey Cone, “Want Ads” (June 1971, 1 week)
–David Bowie, “Fame” (September-October 1975, 2 weeks)
–Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, “A Fifth of Beethoven” (October 1976, 1 week)

I’m not sure what it says that out of the thirty songs I’ve highlighted across these five posts, nine come from the first two years of the decade, when I was really too young to know about music in any depth.

You can see Erik’s comments on our four joint selections and his HM selections here. Many, many thanks to him for agreeing to participate in this project. It’s been a blast, and we’re already kicking around ideas for future collaborations.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Four

The fourth installment in this look back to #1 songs from some of my formative years features some all-time greats: a stone cold R&B classic, the fellow who’s been involved in writing more #1 songs than anyone (pre-streaming era, anyway), one of the biggest international sensations of all time, and two tracks from one of the biggest selling soundtracks ever. Let’s start things off with a couple from lots of folks’ favorite left-handed bassist.

Wings, “Silly Love Songs” (May-July 1976, 5 weeks)

WH: A sentimental choice, as I’ll forever associate it with the spring I fell hard for AT40. At the time, you could find me listening to WSAI on my AM transistor radio practically everywhere I went. They played both the 45 and LP versions at the time—I’ve always favored the longer one.

EM: And I associate this one with the Bi-centennial summer. I was hooked on this one cause 1.) It’s Beatle Paul and 2.) and the crazy sound effects during the intro. What was up with all the squinches and galonks? Was it to prove that writing a love song was arduous work? An inside jab at Lennon? Or just another day at the office?

Paul and Linda McCartney, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (September 1971, 1 week)

WH: Macca’s the only artist who appears on my list more than once. “Band on the Run” was a legit contender for selection, but McCartney’s most Beatles-sounding hit won out. It’s true, however, that I’d always thought that Admiral Halsey had to have a bath or he couldn’t get to sleep.

EM: My uncle, who was nine years older, was a big McCartney fan. He had a sweet powder blue t-shirt with the Wings logo in silver glitter on the front. I think of him whenever I hear 70s Macca, especially this one, as he would randomly whisper, “the butter wouldn’t melt, so I put it in the pie” in my ear.

Personally, I dig just about everything Paul’s created, but I only included one of his on my list. And for the record, if I go by feels, “With A Little Luck” would have been my second choice.

ABBA, “Dancing Queen” (April 1977, 1 week)

WH: Likely not my favorite ABBA song, but I cannot deny that it’s pop music heaven.

As noted above, there’ll always be a special place in my heart for the hits of 1976. However, I’ve come to decide in recent years that I like the scene in 1977 just a little better. I don’t think it’s because I have fonder memories of the time—I was in the middle of puberty and junior high, after all. I’m guessing one big reason is that was the year I played 45s (including “Dancing Queen”) to death on the portable turntable I’d gotten for Christmas at the end of 1976. Those songs, and many that charted alongside them that I didn’t buy, have really stuck.

EM: I love ABBA. I grew up on it. I was down when it wasn’t cool. And their reacceptance heartened me. I also cannot deny this is a beautiful piece of music. The vocals are just frosting on top of this prinsesstårta. And because I listened to so much of the group’s music, this one never stood out for me. I loved it, no more or less than the others. But if you push me, I would want to hear “Mamma Mia,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” and “The Winner Takes It All” before I listened to this one.

The Chi-Lites, “Oh Girl” (May 1972, 1 week)

WH: The melancholy harmonica sets the scene perfectly. The guy knows he’s messed up and that he has no defense. The resignation in Eugene Record’s voice when he sings “I guess I better go” is one of the most achingly sad-yet-somehow-beautiful moments in all of 70s music.

EM: Here’s another Soul group that doesn’t get the love they should, especially their deeper cuts. That’s why I was happy when Beyonce lifted that horn sample from “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)” and hopefully sent Eugene Record a few dollars his way. My only memory of this as a child was that I would confuse it with the Deputy Dawg bumper music, probably for the similar harmonica bits (kids are dumb). I’ve since come to respect its languid charm.

The Bee Gees, “You Should Be Dancing” (September 1976, 1 week)

WH: The Bee Gees had more #1 songs than anyone during the Me Decade—9—and settling on a favorite of theirs is tough. “You Should Be Dancing” winds up getting the nod. It’s a notable moment in their disco evolution, the first hit on which Barry fully embraces his falsetto. If this had been a “best #1 hits of the ‘70s” list, though, “Stayin’ Alive” would have been chosen instead.

EM: Let’s get this straight. The Bee Gees were always an R&B group disguised a folk-rock outfit. Arif Mardin recognized and encouraged their direction towards soul. It just so happened that Disco was getting added into the mix in the mid-70s, especially down in Miami, where they recorded. Such tracks like this ended up getting created and recorded, if not with intention, then by osmosis. And had they not written “How Deep Is Your Love,” this burner would have been on my list. More than anything newly recorded for Saturday Night Fever, this song was the true musical star of the film.

Yvonne Elliman, “If I Can’t Have You” (May 1978, 1 week)

WH: Barry snags his third songwriting credit here. I love the energy of the intro and the underlying rhythm in the verses. Sometimes I wonder how Elliman’s career might have panned out had she not hitched her wagon to the Gibbs—would she have found a different path to chart success? I can’t argue with results like this, though.

EM:  The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was a big part of childhood, at least most of it was. Since we had it on 8-track, we would skip the instrumental sections and play the same songs repeatedly until they were memorized. Yvonne’s take, which I prefer over the Gibbs’ version found on the B-side of the “Stayin’ Alive”45, breaks up the machismo with a soft yet confident vocal over lilting Philly-soul styled rhythm. And I was fascinated that her name started with a Y.

So, that’s 21 of the 25 I selected. To see Erik’s next set of choices, click here.

Why six today? Well, we elected to give the four songs we both picked their own post. A hint, if you care to spend any time on speculating what they might be: one is from 1972, two come from 1974, and one hit in 1979. Come back on Monday for those, plus maybe some odds and ends as the series wraps up.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Three

We’re crossing the halfway point of this exercise where Erik Mattox and I reflect back on charttoppers of the 1970s that still (sometimes, I suppose it’s now) mean a lot to us. This time, my set of five includes two long-running #1s from the early part of the decade, the biggest hits in the careers of two legendary performers, and one chart ascent that the artist never came close to duplicating. Let’s get on with the show:

Simon and Garfunkel, “Bridge over Troubled Water” (February-April 1970, 6 weeks)

WH: I can remember my father playing this album on his hi-fi when I was six years old. Hearing “Sail on, silver girl” puts me back in our living room in Stanford, the room where I’m introduced to music surging from a diamond needle applied to vinyl. I guess sometimes it’s the earliest memories that imprint themselves and wind up influencing how you feel about stuff even after a half-century. If I were giving you a ranked list in this series, “Bridge over Troubled Water” would slot in at #1.

I will go out on a limb to say this: it’s the classic it is in large part because Art sang it.

EM: This is one that I’ve come to appreciate a lot more with age and experience. As a kid, it would bore me to tears. My childhood connection to it would be sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. It’s a hard song to sing, but Art’s tenor effortlessly soars over a beautiful arrangement performed by the Wrecking Crew. A nice break-up gift from Paul to Art, netting them four Grammys and a lot of subsequent Simon jealousy.

Rod Stewart, “Maggie May” (October 1971, 5 weeks)

WH: The storytelling in “Maggie May” is remarkable. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of Rod’s–he had the look and the chops, but I think that all too frequently the material he chose was beneath his talent. Stewart sure ended up with quite a career, though. This, the song of a lifetime, was easily its peak moment.

EM: “Maggie May” is truly a high point in Rod’s catalog, but still not in my Top 25. It was so high he realized he could never top it, so instead, he went low with “Tonight’s The Night” and even lower with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” both of which hit #1. Now and then, Rod puts out a single that I enjoy [“Baby Jane,” “The Motown Song,” “Leave Virginia Alone” ], but I’d just as easily prefer to listen to a Faces album.

Thelma Houston, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (April 1977, 1 week)

WH: By my count, I chose five covers. We saw two last time (from the Captain and Tennille and Manfred Mann) and between this song and the one immediately following, there are two more today.

No offense to Teddy Pendergrass, but Houston just brings it on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Three years ago, I wrote about it, “I was either too young or too naïve to get exactly what Houston was going on about (in 1977), but her vocal performance is so visceral that I should have figured it out anyway.” Yep.

EM: After “Disco Duck” reached #1 in late 1976, Top 40 radio regarded disco as a fad and began to turn towards the California rock of The Eagles & Fleetwood Mac. Between Rick Dees (who was nuts) and the fever of Saturday night, fewer dance songs crossed over to Pop radio, making Thelma’s smash a more significant triumph than many regard it. It’s so much more potent having a woman sing this. Hats off to Henry Davis, who plays a propulsive yet rubbery bassline that I’m sure influenced Chic’s Bernard Edwards.

Linda Ronstadt, “You’re No Good” (February 1975, 1 week)

WH: Ronstadt’s extended period of commercial success began around the time when the radio started commanding more of my attention. Were I to go back and rank Ronstadt’s Top 40 singles, it’s a virtual certainty “You’re No Good” would come out on top. I’ve noted before it’s the instrumental segment at the end, which comes almost out of nowhere, that got me interested in the rest of the song.

EM: Another one that could have been on my list. 1975 was such a fantastic year for chart-toppers; I could have compiled a Top 25 from those twelve months alone. And I was starting to intently pay attention to Top 40 songs, who sang them, the lyrics, intros, solos, and endings. I heard that Linda was singing this live for a few years before she recorded for Heart Like A Wheel, easily one of the most inspired covers she performed. Linda is definitely the star here, but let’s also credit Andrew Gold, who plays electric piano, drums, and the guitar solo.

Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia” (October-November 1973, 2 weeks)

WH: One of two #1 hits from 1973 whose title mentions the Peach State; you might notice the other one, by a certain colleague of Carol Burnett, is nowhere to be found (and would be a contender for a bottom 25 list).

The call-and-response arrangement of “Midnight Train to Georgia” makes the song come alive. It’s another case where my favorite song by an act is also their biggest hit.

EM: Originally recorded as “Midnight Plane To Houston” by songwriter Jim Weatherly, Cissy Houston’s producer asked to change it to its well-known title. Gladys and company heard it, crushed their take, and became her signature song. Still don’t know what a pip is, but I’m always down for some air train whistle during the “woo-woo” part.

Erik’s next five can be found here. You’re invited to check back on Thursday for our next installments.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Two

On Monday, Erik Mattox and I began surveying chart-toppers from the 1970s that are near and dear to us, and now we’re back with another batch of fine tunes. This time my selections run the gamut from Motown and Philly soul to pure pop and AOR. When you’re done here, click over to Erik’s pad and to check out his next set of picks.

The Captain and Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together” (June-July 1975, 4 weeks)

WH: My sister and I loved this so much when it came out and, like hordes of others, we became huge Toni and Daryl fans almost instantly. I’ve noted before that by 1975 I was getting old enough to consider there might be such a thing as a “#1 song of the year,” and that, based on my own anecdotal radio listening experience, “Love Will Keep Us Together” had to be the top song for ‘75. (Even if my logic wasn’t sound, I turned out to be right.)

EM: I watched tons of TV as a kid, more than I listened to music. And I was a sucker for variety shows, which would quench my thirst for both. So, I always made sure to catch Daryl & Toni each Monday night they were on. They used this as their theme, and why wouldn’t they? This keyboard-driven tune is easily the best pop single they recorded. Also, it’s the last #1 that drummer and Wrecking Crew member Hal Blaine played on.

Did you know that the song’s writer Neil Sedaka originally recorded this in England in 1973 and was backed up by 10cc?

Dawn, “Knock Three Times” (January-February 1971, 3 weeks)

WH: There is no question that side one of K-Tel’s 20 Power Hits Volume 2 (an album my father picked up along the way) plays an outsized role in my memories and feelings about the music of the early ‘70s. “Knock Three Times” is the only #1 hit on that compilation. Despite all the lyrical clues, my seven-year-old brain screwed up where Tony’s apartment was relative to that of the object of his affection. It took years to unlearn the mistaken thought that she lived above him.

EM: Even though Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown stole a lot of this tune from the Drifters’ “Spanish Harlem” (and Dawn’s previous hit, “Candida”), I can’t deny how catchy this is or how it gives me a burning desire to smash things during the chorus. I do wonder what situation they imagined Tony Orlando (or us) to be in where we would have exposed pipes in our house to bang on and how tall we were or how low our ceilings were.

The O’Jays, “Love Train” (March 1973, 1 week)

WH: It’s great when such joy and positivity gets rewarded. Forget about the Coors Light commercials of the last decade or so; just join hands and climb on board.

Its trip to the top prevented Roberta Flack from having a second song spend six weeks at #1 .

EM: The biggest triumph for Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff has been co-opted so many times in the decades since. It’s easy to forget the significance of this slice of proto-Disco as a rallying plea for gender and racial equality and as the smoothest anti-war tune, you’ll ever hear. Lyrically, its strength lies in telling what you should do rather than what you shouldn’t. And I don’t care who has covered or will cover this tune. You are never gonna beat the choral sound of Walter Williams, William Powell, and Eddie Levert’s voices blended together.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded by the Light” (February 1977, 1 week)

WH: Here’s another song that snapped me to attention when I began hearing it on the radio; bought the single early in its chart run. My sister and I tried our best to decipher the lyrics that winter, to little avail. It took buying a copy of Song Hits magazine to knock out some of the more obscure passages, and even then, it was what Springsteen had written and not what Chris Thompson sang.

EM: As soon as I hear Manfred’s organ stabs, I’m transported to my backyard, rolling around the grass and running through our forsythia. When the verse was finished, and the guitarist played his triplet licks, I would run across the lawn as fast as I could before that Minimoog lead slid up to the top note, and as it wavered, collapsing to the ground while I stared into the Spring sun. Cause that was where the fun was.

And while everyone got caught up in the ‘was it deuce or douche’ discussion, I thought for sure Thompson said that “little Early Pearly gave me anus curly wurly, not “came by in his curly-wurly.” Mine makes more sense, especially since Bruce is writing about the music business.

The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back” (January 1970, 1 week)

WH: The song that launched/paved the way for quite a few careers, most notably that of precocious, eleven-year-old Michael. The intro is smoking, with a bass line to die for. MJ’s “All I need!” toward the end is simply the cherry on top.

EM: Thanks for including this, William. I didn’t put any MJ or his brothers in my list, but I will fully admit that their records are the only bubblegum that transcended the genre. I loved their cartoon and would watch reruns any time that I could. So, when I hear this single, or “ABC” or “The Love You Save,” all I can think about is the show’s theme song, a sped-up medley of all their hits at the time, while the band members flicked across the screen placed in their respective hearts along with Rosie the snake and the two mice, Ray & Charles.

The third installment is slated to go live early next week.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part One

Last May I came across an article at Cleveland.com by Troy L. Smith entitled, “Every No. 1 song of the 1980s ranked from worst to first.” Smith not surprisingly uses the Billboard Hot 100 as his source; he starts with “We Are the World” at #231 and, several thousand words later, lands on “Billie Jean” as his pick for best, a worthy choice in my opinion. I enjoyed reading the piece plenty—I’ve always been a sucker for lists—and forwarded the link on to my friend Erik Mattox, proprietor of the blog Music in the Key of E and The UnCola radio show/website. We’d already arranged to have a virtual meet-up at the end of the month and I thought what Smith had written would be good grist for the conversation mill.

It was, and by evening’s end, we decided to each take a stab at doing something analogous for #1 songs of the 1970s. Neither of us had the time or inclination to try putting 253 songs in order. But writing about 10% of that? You bet, though instead of identifying the 25 best chart-toppers of the 1970s, we agreed to write up blurbs about favorite #1s.

Time slipped away from us both, but recently we re-committed to finishing the project. And now we have. (In the meantime, Smith published his complete ranking of 1970s #1s in December. I haven’t read it yet but will soon.) Our choices will be presented in five chunks over the next 2-3 weeks, and as a bonus, we’re both reacting to the other’s picks. Let’s get going with the first installment.

Andy Gibb, “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” (March 1978, 2 weeks)

William Harris: The youngest brother Gibb doesn’t have all that much of a voice, but he blew up during my formative age 13-14 period, so what can you do? Of his three #1 hits, this one is the fave, partly due to its slightly unconventional song structure, but also for its very low Barry quotient on backup vocals. It’s one of the songs that takes me back to snow days during the harsh winter weather of January 1978, my sister and I building snow forts and tunnels, playing board games, and working on jigsaw puzzles.

Erik Mattox: Under the category of timing is everything, Andy surreptitiously launched his solo career just before the Bee Gees were about to dominate in 1978. This track splits up a twelve-week run of Bee Gees #1s between “Stayin’ Alive” & “Night Fever.” This was written and recorded a full year before it was released and was a great follow-up to “I Just Want To Be Your Everything,” showing off Andy’s sensitive side to his teen idol worshippers. It gets lost in history even with a great hook with a nuanced vocal performance. So I’m glad William chose it.

Blondie, “Heart of Glass” (April 1979, 1 week)

WH: It’s not my favorite Blondie song—that’d be “Dreaming”—and I’m not 100% certain it’s my favorite #1 Blondie song (probably “Rapture”). But “Heart of Glass” leapt out of the radio the first time I heard it on a Saturday morning in mid-March 1979, right before either Mom or Dad drove me to Xavier University in Cincinnati, to the BASIC programming course for high schoolers I was taking at the time. It was my first encounter with Debbie Harry and company (perhaps I’d led a sheltered radio life to that point).

EM: Just as disco started to oversaturate the market, here came these downtown New York darlings to show us the way forward. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were inspired by the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” to write this, which is probably why I liked it so much. This song created the bridge from Studio 54 to the Mudd Club and Hurrah, elevating the form of New Wave dance music.

Gordon Lightfoot, “Sundown” (June 1974, 1 week)

WH: One of several tunes from 1974 that makes me think of my sister and me riding along with Mom in her blue 1970 Ford Fairlane. It’s also one of the first songs to which I paid close attention to the lyrics, not that I could fully understand them. One of these days I’m gonna do a deep dive on Gord’s catalog, as I don’t think I’ve disliked anything of his I’ve heard.

EM: 70s folk-rock was such that you could write a tune that sounds lyrically agitated but sounds musically mellow. Gordo was a tortured buddha. I thought this song was called ‘sometimes’ for years because I could never hear him sing the word ‘sundown’ clear enough. Also, “sometimes you better take care” makes a lot more sense to me.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Tears of a Clown” (December 1970, 2 weeks)

WH: One of the greatest intros of the era, from the calliope-like big top melody line down to the bari sax foundation. It wasn’t until researching for this writeup that I learned “Tears of a Clown” was already over three years old when it was released as a single (in response to it becoming a #1 in Britain earlier in 1970). Absolutely brilliant songwriting, though that shouldn’t be a surprise with Smokey and Stevie on board.

EM: Smokey is one of my all-time favorite voices, so it hurts me that I didn’t include this. I think it’s hard for me to remember this as a 70s song, probably because it was initially recorded in 1967. Its success made Smokey, who was about to leave the Miracles, hang out with the group for another two years. Four years later, the Robinson-less quartet would ride their “Love Machine” to #1, but Smokey would never see the mountaintop again.

Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain” (January 1973, 3 weeks)

WH: Maybe it’s the mystery surrounding the identity of its subject that have kept it near-and-dear all these years? Nah, it’s Simon’s ability to combine ice and fire. She’s obviously a woman scorned, yet in her disdain she’s still able to maintain some level of cool detachment about the man who’s done her wrong.

For what it’s worth, there was a total eclipse of the sun visible in Nova Scotia on March 7, 1970.

EM: It’s a shame that many have intertwined Carly’s career with James Taylor’s. For my money, she possesses a lot more soul in her work than he does, and it’s high time that it’s acknowledged and counted for on its own terms. The only thing they had in common was they were writing about the same person – him. I bet she cocked her head back and laughed like a maniac when she came up with that chorus.

I took songs like this literally, probably the same way someone on acid would. Your scarf was an apricot? There are clouds in your coffee? That was enough to jumpstart my imagination and hop into her world.

Come back later in the week for installment #2, and please hop on over to Erik’s place to check out his first five songs (and my reactions).

A New Best Friend

After we lost Buddy this past summer, I think we expected someday, eventually, to welcome another dog into our household. Grieving took time, part of which was removing reminders of his presence. Most–the food and water bowls, the crate in the basement, the bed in front of our living room fireplace–were put away quickly. Others took a little longer to get around to, either out of sheer sentimentality (nose smudges on car windows and the front storm door) or obscurity (pet hair can lodge itself in the darndest places). But Martha and I also needed space and rest. The last few months with Buddy had been wearing as his health issues worsened. While it was hard in respects not to have a canine friend in the house, we welcomed the freedom to (more or less) come and go as we pleased again.

There came a point in the fall, though, that we began to think about a new pup. Martha discovered petfinder.com, where one could browse through pages of available dogs within a 100-mile radius. Eventually I also started visiting the site, and before long we were sharing potential pooches we’d identified. We agreed that, since we were only going to be getting older, there had to be an upper bound on size and weight (sixtyish-pound Buddy had been awfully hard to manage toward the end). Martha expressed interest in looking at low-shedding breeds. As far as personality goes, gentleness was a must. And we weren’t too sure how much we wanted to try our hand at training a puppy.

The pace of visits to petfinder.com and the websites of local shelters and rescues we learned about through it picked up through December. Occasionally we lamented missing an opportunity to put in an application on a particular dog, but mostly we felt paralyzed–what were we looking for? And how much could we really know about a dog from a picture or two and a thumbnail sketch?

Once we got through Christmas and put all the decorations away, things became more serious, to the point that we began making arrangements to see dogs. Martha and I started this past Thursday at the local animal shelter, checking out a couple of strays: a Schnauzer mix that had recently been picked up in the parking lot at Big Lots and a feisty Feist mix who was literally bouncing herself (and a toy) off the walls. The former had possibilities, but the latter, while exceedingly entertaining, was just a bit (understatement alert) too wild for us.

In the meantime, we’d submitted an application to a rescue about fifty miles away. Over the weeks we had identified several dogs of interest at this rescue, the latest being a bit of a surprise, a ten-week-old border collie mix. Their application asked for quite a bit of info, including the name of the vet we used, a character reference, how many hours a day we expected to leave the dog at home by itself, etc. We found out just before our animal shelter visit that our application to the rescue had been approved, along with a would you like to visit on Saturday morning and might you also want to meet this other, six-month-old puppy?

So, yesterday Martha, Ben, and I drove to Adopt Me! Bluegrass Pet Rescue in Crestwood, KY. Before we walked into the place, I was conservatively estimating the probability of walking out with a dog at 75-80% (conservative because we’d begun discussing names). Within ten minutes, I could tell it had shot up to virtually 100%. Our host at the rescue chose to bring out the six-month-old first. She’d been brought to the rescue less than three weeks earlier, along with her brother (they’d been informally christened as Bonnie and Clyde). The two had been found alongside a rural road in the area, huddled not far away from their deceased mother. The speculation was that the three had been dumped in the countryside; the mother had been hit and killed by a vehicle.

“Bonnie” charmed us immediately with her submissive nature, rolling over on her back to receive pets. She played with toys a little, but mostly she was eager to please and simply seemed to want to be loved. When Martha let slip an “I love you” while Ben was holding Bonnie, you could tell where things were headed. We did also visit with the border collie mix. “Violet” was completely adorable, though much more interested in playing than wooing us. She will be a fantastic dog for someone. After a few moments of discussion, it was unanimous to adopt Bonnie. On the way home, we settled on a new name for our new friend: Sadie.

Sadie!

We’ve had Sadie home for less than thirty-six hours, and already she’s growing more comfortable in her new surroundings. Yesterday she spent a lot of time in her crate; today she’s learned that sitting on the couch next to Martha is mighty comfy. Housebreaking is going decently so far (knock on wood, of course). I think stairs are new to her but going up them has become a breeze (going down still inspires a little trepidation). She really likes going outside to chase and fetch a squeaky toy. Inside, well, she’s already destroyed a couple of new toys via aggressive chewing. Who knows what developments await us tomorrow?

I’ve been reminding myself that we’re not trying to replace Buddy–we’re simply wanting to offer love to another dog. Sadie doesn’t check all the boxes we might have had in mind originally, but the most important one, the demeanor, is there in spades. She is quite possibly the last pet I’ll own; I’m excited that we’ll be going through the next decade-plus with her.

Bearing A Gift Beyond Price, Almost Free

A couple of years ago, my college hired a new professor for our Department of Communication and Media Studies. Among her duties was to resuscitate and serve as advisor for WRVG, our college’s small low-power station, which had lain dormant for much of the 2010s. She’s done a lot in a short period, figuring out how to get the station back on the air (first on campus and more recently as a stream), conducting fundraisers to refurbish the studio (yes, there’s a skeleton that serves as a mascot–his name is Otto, in honor of music going on auto-play when there’s no one around), expanding the library, and overseeing a small cadre of student DJs and other workers, mostly in the midst of a pandemic.

Not long after she started, I reached out to my new colleague to learn a little about the task before her. WRVG had been around in some form much longer than I’ve been at Georgetown (it’s actually got quite a history, only part of which is told at the station’s Wikipedia page), and despite my past experience and long-standing interest in radio, I’d never previously sought to become involved. Maybe a combination of things–our nest had just emptied, some of the folks I’ve met through blogging, learning about the demise of the station at my undergrad institution–raised my interest this time. While dealing with COVID’s impact on my teaching duties has kept me plenty occupied for the past eighteen months, I didn’t forget about WRVG; truth be told, I was harboring hope of hosting a weekly show.

My colleague was receptive to the idea when I emailed her over the summer. Last week she showed me how to work the board, yesterday I watched one of the student DJs for a while, and this afternoon, I turned on the mike and let it rip for sixty minutes. In spite of a technical issue or two and stumbling over my own tongue here and there, I had a blast. The current plan for the fall semester is to mine the contents of my digital library from 2:00-3:00pm Eastern each Thursday that school is in session. I can record my shows, and so I’m hoping to post links to them here–we’ll see. In the meantime, you can listen to the stream anytime you like at wrvg.radio12345.com. I’m definitely planning on tuning in more often.

The show today was a mix of pop/AOR tracks from 1979-1986 and songs I discovered after digging on Pandora around 2008. Here’s one of the latter, the delightful “Falling,” from Texan Ben Kweller’s 2002 album Sha Sha.

Let Me Hear You Through The Heat

This past weekend I spent my first night away from home since November 2019. Friday morning, I pointed the car first north and then west, toward the Land of Lincoln. It took much longer than expected to get there (first an accident and then construction led to more than an hour of sitting still on the interstate), but eventually I strolled back into Champaign-Urbana, home away from home during my mid-20s.

I’d made arrangements for a couple of meet-ups, first with Bruce Reznick, my advisor. Next year will be thirty years since I completed my doctorate, but Bruce is yet to retire (he’s about a decade older than I). Due to some long-planned renovations in Altgeld Hall, the math building, he’s having to move offices this summer, so I met him on campus. We walked around, got carry-out of some fine Asian cuisine for dinner, and sat at a nearby picnic table to eat and talk.

After checking out of the hotel Saturday morning, I met up with my grad school roommate John, who drove down from Chicago with a friend to hang out for a few hours. We did the Urbana Farmers Market, had lunch at an old haunt, revisited various campus sights (though due to COVID restrictions, we couldn’t enter any buildings other than the bookstore), went to a goat farm/creamery just outside of town, and hit up our favorite frozen custard stand (vanilla with banana and cold fudge–pretty tasty).

I remarked both to Bruce and John how much I enjoy being back in Champaign-Urbana. Obviously, so much has changed in the almost thirty years I’ve been gone, but yet, so much hasn’t–the quad on campus, the area around the park where I took my walk Saturday morning, downtown Urbana. What I came to realize in talking with them was that it’s really being back in Champaign-Urbana in the summer that’s especially enjoyable. Sure, it’s usually a little hotter than one might like (it was sunny and around 90° on Saturday), and not as much goes on culturally as during the school year, but honestly there’s much to recommend about a university town when its 33,000 undergraduates aren’t around. My official duties over the summer were lighter then than on average, so it was easier to be spontaneous (within budget, of course).

On the way back to KY on Saturday night, I kept the car radio off and meditated more on how many of my best feelings about and memories of the grad school years are concentrated in the summers. It wasn’t hard to begin assembling some thoughts about each of those six years, as well as some music that still takes me back there.

1987: I took a couple of classes in the first half of the summer. Math grad students were required to demonstrate reading proficiency in two foreign languages (the options were French, German, and Russian). The two French classes I took my senior year of college placed me in the second half of French for Reading, which went well enough. I also took a course in Probability Theory, in part to get me back on track for dropping a course in the spring.

A couple of years ago I wrote about an early July foray to Chicago with John. He reminded me this weekend that on our way back to Urbana from that trip on I-57, we witnessed any number of cities’ firework displays (it was July 4 weekend, after all). Since it was my Summer of Suzy V, he recalled the dubbed cassette containing her first two albums was playing on my ’86 Camry’s tape deck as we watched the parade of pyrotechnics heading south.

1988: In the spring I’d taken the first Russian for Reading course. Since I didn’t have any summer teaching duties and wouldn’t be dealing with prelim exams until January, I took Professor Hill, the Russian instructor, up on an offer: if I could translate two page-long mathematical passages sufficiently well in a timed setting (dictionary allowed), he would certify I didn’t need to take the second course. I spent a few weeks practicing–I picked a few books off the shelf in the math library, photocopied a page or three from each, and then, with trusty Russian-to-English dictionary in hand, powered through them. Imagine my shock when I got the two passages from Comrade Hill (as my officemates and I had semi-affectionately taken to calling him) and discovered that one of them was a page I’d already worked on in my practice sessions! It has to be the most similar thing I’ll ever experience to winning the lottery. The greatest stroke of luck was in choosing the book; I imagine that its spine had some degree of “memory” from having been opened wide previously (by Professor Hill?), making it more likely I’d get the ‘right’ page. I didn’t let on to him about my fortune (nor did I tell anyone in the math program)–I just accepted the passing mark. Preparation meeting opportunity, indeed.

This was a memorably hot summer, the hottest of my years in C-U, but that didn’t stop John and me from getting out to the golf course frequently. It was the year I recorded my personal best 18-hole score (45 on the front, 40 on the back, and yes, I still have the scorecard).

Union, the debut disk from Toni Childs, was one of many albums getting frequent play at that moment.

1989: In many ways, the lost summer of these years, treading water as I prepared to transition to reading papers with Bruce. Two years ago, I covered much of what went down that summer: playing math camp counselor, getting back into bridge, trips east and west. (There was plenty of golf, too.) When I was in the apartment, I was giving Blind Man’s Zoo more than the occasional spin.

1990: I’ve revisited this summer plenty enough, too: witnessing baseball history in Boston before tending to some bridge business, making the first bits on progress on dissertation research. John got married and settled back into Chicago life; in August I moved into a one-bedroom apartment and was hanging out at Sunday afternoon “barbecues” with relatively new friends.

Kirsty MacColl’s Kite was easily the album I was listening to most then.

1991: Thirty years ago this week I was in Vegas for the first time, with Mark L, Milind, and Chris, as we tried again–unsuccessfully–to win the Flight C (non-Life Master) Grand National Teams at the summer North American Bridge Championships. We stayed in a little hotel on the Strip called Westward Ho, just behind the Circus Circus and across from the Riviera. While I had some minor success at low stakes blackjack tables, I was pleased not to be bitten by the gambling bug. Had the biggest airplane ride scare of my life on the return, somewhere in Iowa: the pilot pulled up suddenly and rapidly out of descent when we were pretty close to touchdown, to circle around and try again. Clearly, I lived to tell.

More about that summer next week, but it was another Season of MacColl, as Electric Landlady had been released in late June. This is not the T-Rex/Violent Femmes song; Kirsty wrote it with Johnny Marr, and has something else entirely in mind.

1992: I didn’t defend my dissertation until late June (on my father’s birthday), but defend I did. A LOT of time that summer was spent in the car, back and forth between IL and KY as I began planning to move back for my new job, and to Canada for another bridge trip. I was listening to pop radio while on the road a little more than usual then, and invariably cranked it when Sophie B. came on.

From time to time, I think about the possibility of spending a few weeks in Champaign-Urbana, most likely during a summer break. (Nostalgia, as you know, is clearly a thing in my life.) One of the larger obstacles to doing so would be figuring out the logistics of living arrangements–could I feasibly find a UofI faculty member who’s going to be out of town for an extended period willing to ‘rent’ to a late-period mathematician and his wife? What about our house?

Maybe it’s a dream that won’t come, perhaps shouldn’t come, to fruition. After all, deeper reflection makes me aware that maybe 90% of what made C-U summers so memorable and enjoyable, so treasured now, were my friends.

Leave In Control Room

My guess is it’s not uncommon for folks who work at college radio stations to take a souvenir or two on their way out the door—given the state of the WTLX library in the fall of 1983, surely those who came before us had absconded with much of the good stuff that had at some point been there (there were hundreds of LPs in a closet, very few of which looked interesting to this then-Top 40 snob; as I believe I’ve noted before, there was no doubt a failure to recognize many quality platters). At least some of my peers and, I must confess, yours truly, may have also succumbed to this temptation. My roommate James trundled off with a few Dr. Demento disks from the 1983-84 school year and a multi-LP history of Canada, but I think he considers the big prize to be an album from West Virginia psychedelic/Christian band Mind Garage (side one of 1970’s Mind Garage Again! includes covers of “Tobacco Road” and well-known hits from Little Richard, Elvis, and the Stones, while side two was comprised of the band-penned The Electric Liturgy).

Warren took something completely different. One Saturday night in the spring semester of 1984, he, James, and I were hanging down in the station, rummaging around the library, looking I suppose for hidden gems (WTLX was off the air on Saturdays). Among a stack of reel-to-reel tapes was one with a handwritten title that immediately raised eyebrows: Uncle Pervy. Well, you know we had to check it out. Fortunately (?), the station’s ancient reel machine was still functional, and soon we were learning about the, er…, unseemly proclivities of the title character and hearing a lot of heavy breathing. It went on for several minutes, clearly sprung from the fevered imaginations of a couple of our predecessors at the station. I’d guess it was done sometime in the mid-to-late 70s; one wonders about their level of sobriety at the time of recording. I’ll admit the three of us were much more entertained by this discovery than perhaps we should have been, and that name became part of our shared lexicon over the next couple of years. Warren reports the tape is currently buried in a closet at his house.

(Aside: I wonder if the perpetrators of the UP tape have stayed in touch over the years, or see each other at reunions. Do they have a laugh about that drunken night in the radio station? There’s zero chance they’ll ever see this article, but maybe they didn’t realize they left the evidence behind, never thought someone might come across it?)

(Another aside: In messaging about all this with my friends earlier this month, Warren mentioned an album from the library he coveted but didn’t take, only to find the station’s copy (a magic-markered ‘WTLX’ on the cover was a dead giveaway) for sale a few years later at one of the used-record stores in Lexington. Makes me realize that folks weren’t always getting stuff from the station for personal collections—I imagine some of it turned into cash for Budweiser, Thunderbird, or pot.)

As for me, I didn’t (as far as I recall) spirit away any vinyl or reels when I graduated. No, I’d long had my eye on the single copy of Billboard I noticed the first time I ever set foot in the station. Dated 1/31/81, it was more than five years out of date when I liberated it from the basement of Clay Hall—despite the admonition in the upper left corner of the front page, I guess I figured no one would need it anymore or miss it. (That no one had disturbed it in the interim probably says something about the level of housekeeping we maintained.)

It’s now forty years old, and of course I still have it—let’s celebrate its birthday by taking a gander at and sharing a few of the goodies inside.

–On the cover is an advertisement for Grace Slick’s latest solo record, Welcome to the Wrecking Ball. Take a look at the breathless copy her record company provided.

Au contraire, said Steve Simels about six months later in Stereo Review: words he used to describe Slick’s efforts include ludicrous, sad, pointless, posturing, desperate, and depressing. (I’ve never heard anything from it, so I can’t weigh in.) She’d be back with the Starship within eighteen months, eventually enjoying maximum success singing about corporation games.

–The first installment of a five-week series on the 1981 Grammy nominees for Record of the Year is in this issue. They’re leading off with the eventual winner, “Sailing.” The article recaps Cross’s difficulty in landing a contract and mentions that the original choice for second single was “I Really Don’t Know Anymore” (Michael McDonald apparently put the kibosh on that). Hindsight and all that, but I can’t imagine that one being much of a hit.

–“Plasmatics Melee in Milwaukee” recounts an incident at the Palms on 1/18. Wendy O. and the band’s manager faced multiple charges, including battery, and in Williams’s case, “suggestive stage movements with a sledgehammer and with her own body” violated a city ordinance. The article includes allegations by the manager that police officers engaged in an “aggressive body search” of Williams; when she fought back, she was hit with resisting arrest. You can find additional information here.

–In “Doors Selling,” a VP of sales for Elektra notes that all twelve of the LPs from Jim Morrison and company sold more in 1980 than any year previous; ten are now gold.

–The Singles Radio Action sheet reports that nationally the Prime Movers are “9 To 5,” “Woman,” and “Hey Nineteen,” while the Top Add Ons are “Hello Again,” “Hearts On Fire,” and “What Kind of Fool.”

–WLUP in Chicago is running a contest featuring five “montage(s) of rock song snippets aired as sonic puzzles to be deciphered by listeners.” The first solver of each wins a cool $100K. The article focuses on the efforts of rival station WMET to play spoiler by ‘decoding’ the montages for their audience.

–Under Hits of the World, Ultravox’s “Vienna” is #16 in Britain, “Looking for Clues” from Robert Palmer sits at #17 in Canada, and Kate Bush is #3 in France with “Babooshka,” all evidence that taste in music here in the States at this moment was rather lacking.

–On the album reviews page: 1) Top Pop Album Picks are Marvin Gaye’s In Our Lifetime and the triple-LP Sandanista! from the Clash; 2) First Time Around, which highlights debut disks, features Stiv Bators, The Teardrop Explodes, and Yello; 3) Recommended LPs include The Skill by Australian AOR band The Sherbs (which found a spot in my collection within a year) and the latest effort from a struggling singer who’d recently scored a gig on General Hospital, playing some cat by the name of Noah Drake. Working Class Dog is described as “Catchy, mainstream rock produced by a young pro that sounds like perfect AOR fare.” Notably, “Jessie’s Girl” is not listed among its ‘Best Cuts.’

–The Hot 100 is missing, perhaps cut out to be posted on a wall at the station (alas, reviews of new singles were on the other side of that page). We do have the album chart, though. LPs in the Top 50 I eventually owned are Crimes of Passion (#2), Hi Infidelity (#12), Making Movies (#26), Christopher Cross (#31), Glass Houses (#35), and Remain In Light (#50). (My sister had Paradise Theater, which is bowing in at #18.) In the wake of John Lennon’s murder, there are scads of Beatles and Lennon albums strewn throughout the chart (and of course, Double Fantasy is #1). Dark Side of the Moon is in its 348th week on the chart, holding steady at #137 (Second in longevity is The Cars—136 weeks—barely hanging on at #198.)

If you want to view this issue in its almost entirety, you can find it (minus the Hot 100) at worldradiohistory.com

I’ve wondered from time to time how it is that magazine wound up in WTLX’s studio, and maybe why there weren’t any others. How active had the station been during the 80-81 school year? Were they trying to do a pop hits format? If so, why were there so few records, including 45s, from that time frame just two years later? I suppose I speculated about this last question up at the top; I’m just sorry that whatever momentum there had been before my cohort’s arrival on campus had stalled out.

We don’t play nearly enough Kate Bush around here, so even though I wouldn’t hear it for another six years (until I purchased The Whole Story), here’s “Babooshka”—a dark inversion of Rupert Holmes’s “Escape.”