Some Gotta Win, Some Gotta Lose

(Pictured: Danny O’Keefe, who Gets It.)

Yesterday was the first day of fall. So let’s look at a few Billboard Hot 100s and what was at #40 on some autumnal equinoxes gone by, just to see what there is to hear.

1961: “Let’s Get Together”/Hayley Mills & Hayley Mills (up from #69, third week on). That’s how the record was listed in Billboard; in the movie The Parent Trap, it’s sung as a duet between the twins Mills played in the film. It would reach #8 in October, and sweet mama it’s terrible.

1964: “Let It Be Me”/Betty Everett & Jerry Butler (up from #54, third week on). The Everly Brothers had taken “Let It Be Me” into the Top 10 in 1960, and this duet would make the Top 10 as well. It would chart again in years to come . . . as you’ll see.

1966: “God Only Knows”/Beach Boys (up from #42, sixth week on). If Brian Wilson felt as though he was in competition with the Beatles after Rubber Soul and Revolver, he bested them with this. Paul McCartney admired it, perhaps because as gifted as he was, he couldn’t do anything like it.

1967: “Pleasant Valley Sunday”/Monkees (down from #25, 10th week on). In 1967, social consciousness popped up in the most unlikely places.

1970: “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five (debut). New on the Hot 100 at this lofty position, and a miracle that will last forever.

1971: “Yo Yo”/Osmonds (up from #85, second week on). Similarities between the Osmonds and the Jackson Five abound. When ABC launched an Osmonds cartoon series in the fall of 1972, the production company reused some of the animations from the Jackson Five series, figuring that dancing kids were dancing kids.

1972: “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”/Danny O’Keefe (up from #51, fourth week on). A beautiful, world-weary song we’ve always dug around here, and the world-wearier we get, the more we dig it.

1975: “Who Loves You”/Four Seasons (up from #50, fifth week on)Not every group from the 60s, particularly a group as distinctive as the Four Seasons, could comfortably update their sound for the 70s, but the Seasons did it as well as I can imagine.

1976: “Sunrise”/Eric Carmen (up from #43, sixth week on). “All By Myself” was an epic power ballad, “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” a standard pop weeper. On “Sunrise,” after a brief interlude of overwrought guitar, Eric Carmen gets his Raspberries on.

1977: “The King Is Gone”/Ronnie McDowell (up from #89, second week on). McDowell’s tribute to Elvis was on the radio within three weeks of the King’s passing. “The King Is Gone” would rise to #13 on both the pop and country charts. It started McDowell’s career, although he took a while to find his stride. Between 1981 and 1986, he would put 17 straight singles into the country Top 10, and an 18th would peak at #11.

1982: “Let It Be Me”/Willie Nelson (up from #45, seventh week on). Ever since Stardust in 1978, Willie sprinkled his list of single releases with classic pop songs. Willie’s version of “Let It Be Me” would peak at #40 on the Hot 100 but reach #2 country.

1983: “Suddenly Last Summer”/The Motels (up from #44, third week on). There has never been anything else that sounds like this.

1984: “Strut”/Sheena Easton (up from #45, fifth week on). In which Sheena, who had been mostly a virginal pop balladeer up to this point, gets her swagger on. “Strut” is a great radio record.

1985: “Sunset Grill”/Don Henley (up from #42, fourth week on). Where the Eagles’ “The Sad Cafe” is a place for sweet nostalgia and even hope, “Sunset Grill” is on a dead-end street, where everything’s a little bit sleazy and people stay because they can’t think of a good reason to leave.

1987: “Bad”/Michael Jackson (debut). Me, 2012: “To Jackson’s credit, he didn’t try to make Thriller II. Bad is supposed to be the next thing, on its own. Maybe Bad sounds [less exciting than Thriller] because Thriller changed the world and Bad merely lived in the new world that Thriller had changed.”

1989: “The End of the Innocence”/Don Henley (down from #23, 14th week on). As the Reagan Era shades into the new decade of the 90s, everything’s a little bit sleazy and people stay because they’re too exhausted to leave.

That feels like an appropriate ending to this post, except to add that sometime this week, we passed the threshold of 800,000 hits on this blog since 2007. I am grateful for all of them.

Iowa City Love Letter

(Pictured: the Old Capitol, the iconic centerpiece of the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.)

Here’s another Off-Topic Tuesday piece. During the 1995-96 academic year, while I was working on my teaching certificate at the University of Iowa, I wrote a regular op-ed column for the student newspaper, the Daily Iowan. I found this piece in an ancient electronic file of drafts, but it’s not in my pile of clippings, so I’m not sure it ever ran. But it adequately captures how I felt about that place. 

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Songs in the Key of Lawrence

(Pictured: Lawrence Welk, onstage in 1980. Considering the appearance of his musicians, he’d come to terms with longer hair by then.)

Clearly we need another Links and Notes post, because a lot of stuff that’s worth your time has been spinning through my Twitter feed too quickly to keep track.

From The 1976 Project: this interview with Candy Clark, who co-starred with David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, released that year (and re-released this year). Bowie is rumored to have worked on some music for the soundtrack, but it was never released. The actual soundtrack was written and performed by a celebrated 60s figure you may never guess.

This month is the 40th anniversary of ELO’s A New World Record, which is probably my #2 or #3 favorite album of all time, and Ultimate Classic Rock remembered it. FWIW, my #1 album is Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy; George Harrison’s Thirty Three and 1/3 is either #3 or #2.In the summer of ’76, just months before the release of the latter, George was found guilty of unconsciously plagiarizing his most famous solo hit, although the legal decision didn’t mark the end of anything: litigation continued for another 22 years, nearly to the end of his life.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary later this month: Songs in the Key of Life, the subject of a retrospective at Pitchfork.

Pitchfork also published a good, broad overview of the music from the summer of 1976, but perpetuated an error I have seen elsewhere this summer, one that drives me crazy: talking about ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” as part of the 1976 landscape. That’s only in the UK, where it was #1 late in the summer. “Dancing Queen” didn’t hit American radio in a big way until December, and it reached #1 in April 1977, so it’s simply wrong to lump it with the influential American hits of 1976.

On September 16, 1976, Larry Lujack returned to the morning show on WLS after six months spent playing elevator music on WCFL. The day before, he and WLS colleague Bob Sirott appeared on a Chicago TV morning show.

An aircheck from WCFL on September 8, 1971, features longtime Chicago jock Dex Card dropping the needle on a brand-new song by John Lennon, one day before his new album’s official release. You can hear Card play “Imagine’ at the 6:15 mark if you go here. If you listen to the whole thing, you will hear him play many other fine songs popular on that long ago late summer/early fall day.

Friend of the blog Tom Nawrocki told the story of Toni Basil, whose career involves far more than just making “Mickey.”

Another interesting story you may not know involves the husband-and-wife duo Nu Shooz and how “I Can’t Wait” became a hit 30 years ago this summer.  (I could not have loathed that record more back then, but I’m over it.)

I blogged recently on topics from David Hepworth’s book about the music of 1971; now British author Jon Savage has published a book about the music of 1966. Robert Christgau recently reviewed it.

Also from 1966: Rebeat Magazine remembered when Frank Sinatra hit #1 on the singles chart with “Strangers in the Night,” a song he didn’t like—and one proving that however explosive rock was in 1966, the old guard was still powerful, and popular.

There’s a new autobiography of Leiber and Stoller, and Jim Booth reviewed that. Leiber and Stoller’s great contemporary, Sam Phillips, was the subject of an Esquire piece on how he got the unique sound of the records he produced.

If you have attended a sporting event, major league or minor league, in the last 40 years, you have probably seen the Famous Chicken, who started as the San Diego Chicken back in the 70s. The man in the suit, Ted Giannoulas, is retiring, and looking back.

Also retiring is veteran sportscaster Dick Enberg.

Block out the weekend to read this: Vulture’s ranking of all 314 Bruce Springsteen songs, worst to best.

Carole King’s demos for the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and other hits are every bit as good as you’d expect. Hear ’em here.

King and her songwriting partners over the year always found the right words for the melody. Many of today’s songwriters don’t bother.

Rolling Stone put together a list of 20 songs that defined the early 70s, and they do.

It’s About TV looked inside the 1970 Fall Preview edition of TV Guide.

In the fall of 1969, Lawrence Welk opened his new TV season with a new look. Video like this really makes drugs unnecessary.

To see more in a timelier fashion, follow me on Twitter.

The Mundane Details of Life

Another Off-Topic Tuesday post.

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Here Come the Beagles

TheBeagles-TVLP600In 1965, ABC launched The Beatles, a cartoon series based on the most famous musical group in the world. Because no good idea ever goes without being imitated, a series called The Beagles premiered on CBS 50 years ago this weekend, on September 10, 1966. It centered around two singing dogs and their manager, who came up with crazy schemes to make them famous. Although the songs performed in each episode bore a striking resemblance to Beatles tunes, the characters of Stringer and Tubby were not modeled after real Beatles. (Stringer’s speaking voice may remind you a little of Bing Crosby.)

In 1960, New York ad men W. Watts “Buck” Biggers and Chet Stover created the cartoon series King Leonardo and His Short Subjects to sell cereal for General Mills. With its success, they left Dancer Fitzgerald Sample and formed Total TeleVision with Treadwell Covington, another ad man, and Joe Harris, a character designer and storyboard artist. Over the next several years, Total TeleVision created anthology shows featuring several different cartoon elements. Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, and The Beagles all appeared on network schedules, but each included episodes of The World of Commander McBragg, Klondike Cat, Tooter Turtle, and/or Go-Go Gophers, as well as King Leonardo. They were animated by Gamma Productions (which also did the various Rocky and Bullwinkle shows at the same time), and had a look that was cheap, but distinctive. Like other Total TeleVision shows, The Beagles featured the voice talents of Kenny Delmar, a veteran radio actor who had played Senator Claghorne with Fred Allen in the 40s; Allen Swift, who had been a voice actor and writer on Howdy Doody; and Sandy Becker, another veteran of old-time radio and 1950s TV.

The Beagles ran for two years, one season on CBS and one on ABC, before going off the air in 1968. For a long time, the original masters of the show were believed lost, although Biggers told an interviewer in 2007 that nine episodes (which is all that were made) still existed, but not in complete form. They would have to be reassembled from pieces before they could be reissued. As of 2007, the rights to the show were owned by Lorne Michaels’ company, Broadway Video.

In 1967, the Harmony label, a Columbia subsidiary, released 10 songs on Here Come the Beagles (pictured above). As you might expect, it’s pretty rare. (In 1995, the songs were reissued along with songs by another made-for-TV group, the Banana Splits, but in a thousand-copy limited edition.) The identities of the musicians who performed as the Beagles are long lost. The songs were arranged by Charles Fox, who would go on to score dozens of movies and TV shows. It’s possible that Fox sang on them, although that’s unclear. The four principals in Total TeleVision are credited as songwriters. Biggers died in 2013; his obituary indicates that he wrote the songs and shared the credits with his three partners.

The show’s main theme, “Looking for the Beagles,” has an oddly downcast lyric for such a silly show: “Lookin’ for the Beagles / Not where rich men go / Rich is for the regals / Woe is all the Beagles know.” Many of the Beagles’ songs sound like straight-up garage rock, such as “Humpty Dumpty,” heard in this existing clip from the show. Some add a flute, which seems a little incongruous, as on “I’d Join the Foreign Legion,” which you can hear in the clip here. But the gem among the Beagles’ songs is “Thanks to the Man in the Moon,” on which the anonymous lead singer nails his John Lennon impression. Any resemblance to “This Boy” or “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is almost certainly intentional. You can hear some of it, and see a toy commercial from 1966 to boot, in this clip.

Whoever they were, the musicians behind the Beagles (thanks to the songwriting talents of Buck Biggers) managed to channel the sound of the British Invasion and the Beatles themselves into a handful of well-crafted pop tunes. And whoever they were, they would likely be surprised to learn that a half-century later, a few people are still listening to them.

(Based on a 2008 post, but mostly new.)

Advice for the Freshman Class

It’s time for another Off-Topic Tuesday post. In 1995 and 1996, I wrote a column for the Daily Iowan, the student newspaper at the University of Iowa, which I attended from 1995 to 1997. I have an electronic version of this but I can’t lay hands on a clipping, so I am not sure whether it actually ran, or if it was just a draft. If it ran, it appeared 20 years ago this month. I’ve edited it a little.

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of everybody who’s been here for a while, let me welcome you to the University of Iowa. During your orientation, you paid close and careful attention to everything you were told. You may have convinced yourself that you know exactly what to do, where to go, and how to cope. But what you have done so far to prepare for college life is not unlike preparing to ride a bicycle by reading about how to do it. Now, you’re actually getting on the damn thing and trying to keep your balance, and you may find that the instruction manual skipped a few useful items. But that’s why I’m here.

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