As I’ve written here before, Walter Cronkite was a nightly presence in our house, just as he was in millions of others during the 60s and 70s. (I have always wondered if the years since would have seemed quite so barking mad if he’d been there every night to tell us about them.) Historian Douglas Brinkley recently published a biography titled Cronkite, and I can’t recommend it enough. The outlines of Cronkite’s anchorman years, from the early 50s to the early 80s, are pretty well-known, yet riveting anyhow in Brinkley’s telling. But the stories of his life after leaving the CBS Evening News in 1981 are the most interesting of all.
Late in life, Cronkite made an unlikely friendship with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. In 1987, Hart and Stephen Stills had been hired to score a sailing documentary Cronkite was producing. They bumped into one another at the studio one day, and Hart asked to hear Cronkite’s narration so he could write the music around it. At the end of the day (on which Stills failed to show), the two men ended up having dinner. A mutual interest in sailing and environmentalism cemented their friendship. When the Dead played shows in New York that year, Cronkite and his wife Betsy attended. After that, Cronkite and Hart occasionally sailed together. And not only that: “We played drums together a lot,” Hart said. “I was amazed one time to see that he had twenty drums set up in his living room.” Hart believed that drumming had positive health effects for Cronkite; after Cronkite’s 1997 open-heart surgery, Hart brought him 17 different drums to play. “The music made him alive as he as losing his facility,” Hart said. “The music connected him to life and the world at large.”
Cronkite befriended another fellow sailor during this period: Jimmy Buffett. The two men met at the America’s Cup race in Australia in 1987 and remained friends for the rest of Cronkite’s life. “I’d have him as my guest at Madison Square Garden,” Buffett said of his New York shows. “I knew how to make him happy. I sat him by the showgirls.” When Cronkite worked CNN’s coverage of John Glenn’s 1998 space-shuttle flight, Buffett dropped by the anchor booth in Florida. Cronkite invited him to sit in for a while, on the air. “Son of a Son of a Sailor” became one of Cronkite’s favorite songs, and Buffett performed it at Cronkite’s funeral in 2009.
Cronkite had been an admirer of Rolling Stone‘s journalism since Hunter S. Thompson battled Richard Nixon, and in later life he befriended the magazine’s founder and publisher, Jann Wenner. He briefly collaborated with jazz pianist Dave Brubeck on a documentary project, and he got to know Andy Warhol a little. After Betsy Cronkite died in 2005, he spent the rest of his life in the company of Joanna Simon, sister of Carly Simon, a trained opera singer who’d been his New York realtor.
Any person as famous as Walter Cronkite moves in a celebrity-filled circle. Nevertheless, his musical connections are interesting. The Most Trusted Man in America was neither a marble monument nor a model of propriety: one of his producers affectionately called him a dirty old man, and he liked to recite obscene limericks in the same tone he used on TV every night. He was, in fact, an everyman as regular as the guy next door. If nearly everybody who watched him on TV liked him, the same seems to have been true of everyone who met him in the flesh.
Last week, I wrote about the Rolling Stones’ six appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show between 1964 and 1969. All six are available on DVD, and the DVDs contain not just the Stones’ performances, but other acts from the shows on which they appeared. They aren’t quite the complete shows, as you’ll read below, although they do include some of the national commercials that ran.
The October 7, 1964, show features comedy performances by Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara and by London Lee, who appeared with Ed 32 times over the years. Also appearing that night, but not on the DVD: the Cambridge Circus, which featured John Cleese and Graham Chapman years before Monty Python. There was classical music by Itzhak Perlman, tap dancing by Sullivan regular Peg Leg Bates, and the international acts Ed loved: the Kim Sisters from South Korea (doing the spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”) and the Berosinis, an acrobatic troupe from Czechoslovakia. The oddest guest spot belonged to actor Laurence Harvey, who recited Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
On May 2, 1965, the hipness factor was slightly higher. The Stones shared the musical bill with Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones, although their performances on the DVD are apparently not the ones broadcast that night, but other songs from other shows. There was also the usual round of kinetic acts, including Gitta Morelly, who’s described by the Internet as either as a balancing act or a contortionist, and the Half Brothers jugglers. British comedians Morecambe and Wise and another frequent Sullivan guest, Totie Fields, provided the comedy. The show opened with Topo Gigio, the puppet mouse who became an international sensation after appearing with Ed, and who was very popular at our house. (Wikipedia claims Joan Rivers wrote some Topo Gigio sketches as one of her first professional gigs, but I’m skeptical.)
On February 13, 1966, the comedians were Senor Wences, old-time comic and Sullivan regular Eddie Schaeffer, and Sandy Baron, best remembered now for playing the curmudgeonly Jack Klompas on Seinfeld. The kinetics were provided by the Romanian Folk Ballet, and there’s an act listed as “Les Olympiades–Adagio Act,” about which I can find nothing. And on a show where the Stones performed “Satisfaction,” “As Tears Go By,” and “19th Nervous Breakdown,” Hal Holbrook recited Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
Later that year, on September 11, the Stones got the opening slot on a star-packed season premiere, alongside Louis Armstrong, Robert Goulet, Red Skelton, and Joan Rivers. Also on the bill: Holiday on Ice (another performance snipped from the DVD, replaced by a pair of Italian opera singers) and the Muppets.
On the famous January 15, 1967, show (broadcast on the night of the first Super Bowl game), it looked as though Ed Sullivan was catching up with the times. In addition to the Stones, singer Petula Clark appeared, riding a long string of hits over the previous couple of years. A group of 44 Pennsylvania nuns called Sisters ’67 sang “Kumbaya,” then gaining popularity thanks to the counterculture. Flip Wilson, about to become a major star, was also on the show, but so was more traditional comic Alan King. The Muppets were back along with clog dancers and acrobats.
The Rolling Stones’ last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was on November 23, 1969, taped in Los Angeles. Apart from the Stones, the other musical guest was Ella Fitzgerald. Rodney Dangerfield appeared; so did Robert Klein, then just beginning a standup career that would influence a large number of big-name comics of the 70s and 80s. Topo Gigio was back, along with a couple of novelty acts that sound made-up: from the Hawthorne Circus, a tiger riding a horse, and Lucho Navarro, a Mexican comedian whose main schtick seems to have been making car noises.
The list of performers on these episodes of Sullivan are pretty typical. The lineups open another fascinating window into the small-d democracy of variety television in the three-channel universe. There was once a time when it wasn’t possible to personalize every aspect of one’s world—when, as the Stones sang, “you can’t always get what you want”—but if you sat through the Czechoslovakian acrobats, you eventually might get what you need.
Ed Sullivan did not care much for the Rolling Stones, but he knew that his audience did, and so he brought them on his long-running Sunday night CBS variety show not just once, but six times between 1964 and 1969.
The first time, October 25, 1964, Stones fans went so crazy after “Around and Around” that Sullivan had to ask for quiet to continue the show. After “Time Is on My Side” at the end of the show, Sullivan followed an old showbiz reflex by saying, “Come on, let them hear it!” No more unnecessary exhortation has ever been given to any audience anywhere. The resultant screaming made it difficult for Sullivan to talk briefly to Mick Jagger and plug the next week’s guests. The crazed audience disturbed him; so did the Stones’ dress and deportment, which caused a few viewers to write and complain. After the show, Sullivan is said to have remarked, “I promise you, they’ll never be back on our show.”
Shrewd as he was, however, Sullivan was willing to listen when the Stones’ management approached him about another appearance. But he wanted something in return: “Before even discussing the possibility of a contract, I would like to learn from you,” he told them, “whether your young men have reformed in the matter of dress and shampoo.” They had. Here they are on May 2, 1965, wearing jackets and performing to an audience far less amped that the one that had greeted them seven months before.
On February 13, 1966, the Stones appeared for a third time. This time, the show’s director cut to screaming girls in the audience as the band performed “Satisfaction,” which had been a #1 hit the previous summer, and he focused mostly on Mick in closeup. Later in the show, Jagger and Keith Richards performed “As Tears Go By” as a duo, and the band closed with “19th Nervous Breakdown.”
On September 11, 1966, the Stones were among the guests for Sullivan’s season-opening show. Heedless of their superstar status, Ed ruled them with an iron hand, demanding that the members wash their hair before going on. But they were rebellious rock stars, too, and so they refused Ed’s edict to stay in the theater between the dress rehearsal and the live show. They ended up having to escape from a mob of fans in the street before performing “Paint It Black, “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby,” and “Lady Jane.” Sullivan told the audience, “You’re screaming much better this year.”
So: after four appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and with a firm understanding of both the show’s value to them and the quirks of its host, you might think the Stones would cruise through later appearances without a hitch. But their January 15, 1967, appearance was the most rebellious of all. On that night, Sullivan did not want the Stones to sing the title line of their hit, “let’s spend the night together.” He told them to sing “let’s spend some time together” instead. Jagger agreed, but was annoyed when the show’s talent coordinators kept reminding him about it during the dress rehearsal. On the air that night, he did as he was told, but he exaggerated the line and rolled his eyes as he sang it.
(It’s often said that Mick agreed to sing the altered lyric, but then sang the original lyric on the air. Not true. That was Jim Morrison on “Light My Fire,” eight months later.)
It would be nearly three years before the Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for a final time. On that occasion, Ed went to them, flying to California where the band taped performances of “Gimme Shelter,” “Love in Vain,” and “Honky Tonk Women.” On November 23, 1969, Mick “laid a divorcee in New York City” without incident, Keef looked spectral, the audience screamed, Ed promised to visit the band backstage later in the week, and the Sixties were nearly over.
(Put together from a series of posts in my WNEW.com archives.)
Every once in a while I go through my file of drafts and stitch some bits together like I was Dr. Frankenstein to make a whole post. This first bit is expanded from something I wrote a few years ago for WNEW.com.
In 1976, Boston made one of the most successful debuts in rock history with their self-titled album. Because every last cut on it has gotten burned out by radio airplay, it’s hard to hear it today as people heard it back then, but it’s a remarkable record. Tom Scholz invented a new guitar sound, massively heavy but full of space at the same time, and he used it on some pretty good songs: “More Than a Feeling,” “Peace of Mind,” “Hitch a Ride.” Two years later came Don’t Look Back, which picked up right where Boston left off, sonically. The songs aren’t as strong, but that’s the difference between a project slaved over for several years and one that’s made necessary by a successful debut. But Scholz would not be hurried again. It took eight years, until 1986, before another Boston album came out: Third Stage.
Eight years, that is, if you don’t count the lost Boston album.
Several people were caught up in Tom Scholz’s obsession: his bandmates in Boston. And after a while, they got tired of waiting around for their next project. So in 1980, guitarist Barry Goudreau made a solo album with Boston lead singer Brad Delp and drummer Sib Hashian. Barry Goudreau was released in the fall. When the lead single, “Dreams,” hit the radio, listeners across the country had the following reaction: “I’ll be damned—this sounds exactly like Boston.” Some record-label promotion for the album also stressed the similarities. Scholz was not amused, and his displeasure may have contributed to Goudreau’s departure from the group in 1981. (Scholz apparently held no grudge against against Delp or Hashian, who remained in the band, or Goudreau’s bandmate Fran Cosmo, because years later, he invited Cosmo to join Boston.) Goudreau’s album reached #88 in Billboard during an eight-week run from September to November 1980. “Dreams” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for a single week in October, reaching #103.
Maybe Portrait Records, a sister to Boston’s label, Epic, under-promoted it as a favor to Scholz. Or maybe the listening public wasn’t as thirsty for new Boston-style music as Goudreau and his mates imagined. One thing’s for sure, though: “Dreams” really does sound exactly like Boston. Also worth a listen: “Mean Woman Blues.” It’s not the Roy Orbison/Elvis Presley song but a Goudreau/Delp original about an abusive relationship.
When I got back into country radio a few years ago, I was surprised to find my station doing something that I thought nobody did anymore: pitching up the music. I intended to write about it, but this is as far as I got.
Back in the mid 70s, toward the end of the great Chicago Top 40 duke-out between WLS and WCFL, there was one significant difference between the two stations: WCFL pitched up its music, playing it at a slightly faster speed than it was recorded, say 48RPM instead of 45. For years thereafter, a lot of hit songs I first heard on ‘CFL didn’t sound right to me on any other station, where they played at normal speed.
And that’s the point. Pitching up records is mainly intended to make your station sound brighter than your competition, which sounds draggy in comparison. It is not—as I was once informed by a supercilious colleague at one station I worked for—so the station can play more music in an hour. True, this canard makes sense, until you do the math. If you’re playing 45 minutes of music in an hour, that’s maybe 10 songs. Pitch up each record by two percent and you gain a whole minute.
At a minute per hour, you can play one extra song in a four-hour show, which is something, but just barely.
Rather like this blog: it’s something, but just barely.
Now THIS is a radio survey: from WIBG in Philadelphia, dated April 17, 1967, it’s the top 99 records of the week, divided between the Top Fifty and the Future Forty-Nine. That’s a lot of music, and somebody smarter than me with more time to do the research will have to tell the whole class whether WIBG (known then and fondly remembered now as “Wibbage”) really played all 99 of them, and how often.
Beyond the legends at the top—which, given that it’s 1967, are plenty damn legendary—are some fascinating records further down. For example, there’s the marvelous “Nothing Takes the Place of You” by Toussaint McCall, which I’d rank as one of the great soul singles of all time. It stalled in the 50s on the Hot 100 but is at #23 on this chart. But the Future Forty-Nine is what interests us the most. Some will become famous: “My Back Pages,” “Happy Jack,” “Hip Hug Her,” “Creeque Alley,” “Mirage,” and “Him Or Me—What’s It Gonna Be?” among them. The majority will not, however—and some of them are the sort of oddball records we like around here.
61. “I Want You to Be My Baby”/Ellie Greenwich. Famed as a songwriter with Jeff Barry (many of the great Phil Spector hits, including “Be My Baby,” “And Then He Kissed Me,” “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” “River Deep, Mountain High,” plus songs for others including “Chapel of Love” and “Hanky Panky) and as a producer, Greenwich started her recording career not with one of her own songs but with “I Want You to Be My Baby,” a garage-style version of an old Louis Jordan number that will kick your ass, go around the block and kick all your neighbors’ asses, and then come back to kick your ass again. It would be her only charting single.
82. “Beautiful Girl”/Ed McMahon. Yup, THAT Ed McMahon, tipped in a late April issue of Billboard as the newest artist on the Philadelphia-based Cameo/Parkway label. He made a whole album called And Me . . . I’m Ed McMahon, on which he recorded versions of several well-known songs, including “They Call the Wind Maria,” “Try to Remember,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Georgy Girl.” I can’t find a lick of it anywhere online, so you’ll just have to imagine how it sounds.
87. “The Beat Goes On”/Lawrence Welk. Welk made an album called Hits of Our Time in 1967, which also includes “Georgy Girl” (a remarkably popular song back then, covered dozens of times), “Somewhere My Love,” “Strangers in the Night,” and “Music to Watch Girls By.” I can’t find Welk’s original recording of “The Beat Goes On” anywhere online, although it is on this tap-dance routine from the Welk show, date unknown. Cheese factor: extremely high.
90. “If I Had a Hammer”/Richard “Groove” Holmes. The late 60s were the golden age of the soul-jazz 45. Holmes charted a couple, most famously “Misty.” Despite the ocean of Hammond B3 jazz in my files, lots of it by Holmes, I don’t have this particular song, and it ain’t online anywhere, either. C’mon, YouTube, you’re letting me down.
96. “Flashback”/The Spokesmen. Best known for recording an answer to Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” called “Dawn of Correction,” the Spokesmen had released several singles on Decca, but “Flashback” was on a little label called Winchester, distributed by Cameo/Parkway. (You want trivia, you got it.) It, too, is sufficiently obscure to have avoided being posted at YouTube.
So it looks to me like the Future Forty-Five is where Wibbage put everything but the kitchen sink in hopes of seeing some of it catch fire. Some of it did. Lots more of it didn’t. Which is probably why we talk about Top 40 radio and not Top 99 radio.
(Slightly edited since first posted.)
As college pranks go, it does not rival putting a horse in the dean’s office. It was, however, uniquely satisfying to those involved. And when the story was retold a few years ago by one of the perpetrators, I laughed harder than I ever have at anything else.
I will never be able to tell it so well, but here goes.
I attended college in a small Wisconsin town, where our broadcasting classes frequently welcomed local media people to speak. But since none of us planned to spend our lives in a small town like they had, we often wondered what they could possibly say to us that would be worthwhile. We know now, of course, that they deserved more respect than we gave them, although one of them did blow a little harder than he should have. One fine day in class, circa 1980, the publisher of the local newspaper made a bold claim for the quality of the journalism therein: he stood by every last word in it. If it appeared in his paper, it had to be true.
To some radio friends of mine, this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
A unique feature of the small-town weekly used to be the community news column. Often, the news was extremely mundane: Mrs. So-and-So traveled to Chicago this week to visit her niece, the Such-and-Such’s son has completed basic training and has now been assigned to Fort Hood, and so on. Each small town in the area had a correspondent who collected such information and forwarded it to the paper. Surely it would be fairly easy to sneak a fake item into one of these summaries, thereby proving the publisher’s boast to be hollow.
So my friends concocted a story and sent it to the correspondent for Belmont, a tiny town not far away. And they waited.
When the next week’s paper arrived, two of the perpetrators eagerly scanned the Belmont column, but were disappointed to see that their item did not appear.
Then a third perpetrator glanced at the paper and said, “It’s on the front page.”
Sure enough, under its own headline, next to an item about a couple of locals who had become naturalized citizens and above one about a local florist who had been selected to participate in some kind of design competition, was their item, which read as follows, just as they had written it:
Lassie Visits Belmont
Lassie, the famous film dog, paid a visit to Belmont last Saturday. Mr. and Mrs. Zelmo Beatty, present owners of the dog, visited Mr. and Mrs. Norman Nixon.
Zelmo Beatty and Norm Nixon were prominent pro basketball players. The Nixons did not live in Belmont. My friends had no idea who actually owned Lassie, nor did they care.
One of the guys involved has been a newsman for over 30 years now. Another interned at CNN. Journalists, in other words.
I heard yesterday that the publisher of the newspaper died this week. And I’m sure he really did. If it’s in the paper, it must be true.