Category Archives: Links and Notes

Mr. October

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(Pictured: Van Morrison and his harmonica, 1999.)

Many years ago, a reader suggested—and not in an especially complimentary fashion, if I’m recalling correctly—that I should just call myself Mr. October and stop talking about it. Anybody who’s read this blog for the 13 years (!) of its existence probably remembers that October has a hold on me that other months do not (but read this if you’d like to know why). Certain music soundtracks this month for me every year: songs from the most significant Octobers of long ago (1976, 1974, 1971, 1970) and others that simply sound like October to me regardless of when they came out. Some full albums make the list, too.

Van Morrison’s 1999 album Back on Top is in heavy rotation at my house every October, but two songs travel with me the rest of the year as well. “The Philosopher’s Stone” sounds like a song about life on the road. The other day, however, I heard it differently, and the following lines in particular: “Even my best friends / Even my best friends / They don’t know / That my job is turning lead into gold.” It strikes me that “The Philosopher’s Stone” is also about the desire for somebody to listen to us, the desire to be heard, and ultimately the desire to be understood. You don’t know what I’m doing here, what I’m going through, what I have to face every day, and I wish you’d take the time to find out. Van’s wheezy harmonica tone doesn’t always serve his songs well, but he sounds great here, expressing a desire for connection so powerful it knocks you sideways.

And by “you,” I mean me.

In “When the Leaves Come Falling Down,” Van remembers colorful autumn days and asks his lost love (for surely she is lost) to “follow me down to the space between the twilight and the dawn,” an image not unlike one in “Stardust,” from the introductory verse about the purple dusk of twilight time: “You wander down the lane and far away / Leaving me a song that will not die.” All we have left to remember—you, me, Van, and Nat King Cole in his magnificent 1957 recording of “Stardust”—is the music of the days gone by.

If I misted up a bit in the car on a golden October afternoon while listening to these songs, you shouldn’t be surprised.

Other songs on Back on Top reflect an autumnal theme: “Reminds Me of You,” “High Summer,” “Precious Time,” “In the Midnight.” One song that seems like it should, “Golden Autumn Day,” doesn’t, really—although the music is gorgeous and the refrain is perfect, the verses were inspired by a mugging and are mostly about Van’s desire to get revenge on his attackers. On any album, no matter how beautiful, Van’s gotta Van.

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Interesting/Not Interesting

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(Pictured: Taylor Swift onstage in 2008, still a regular person.)

I’m gonna start this post with stuff I’d normally put at the end because this stuff is actually interesting.

—Over at the Hideaway, HERC is counting down his personal Top 100 of 1977. It’s great reading, great listening, and hot damn it looks great, too. The easiest way to find the various installments is probably to click here to see them and other Hideaway 100 projects.

—Friend of the blog William has converted something he started on his Facebook page into a blog called The Music of My Life. If you dig the music-as-memoir schtick at my blog, you will enjoy William’s as well.

—Another friend of the blog, John Grinde, has written a book called “Your First Concert Was Hendrix?” and Other Musical Adventures. John grew up in the Madison area, so his story has plenty of local flavor for those of us who live around here. Even if you’re not from around here, you’ll recognize your own experiences in his book, and I recommend it. His stories about listening to the radio, buying records, and going to concerts will make you laugh, and will also make you think “Dang, I’d forgotten all about that.”

A new post showed up at 7 Inches of 70s Pop this week. It seems impossible that it’s been over three years since the last one. Welcome back, Adrian.

On the flip is something not guaranteed to be interesting, and which could be completely wrong.

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From One to the Other

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(Pictured: Is this a good time for a picture of Linda Ronstadt? Hell yes it is always a good time for a picture of Linda Ronstadt.)

This past week, man . . . you don’t want to know. To provide fresh content so you don’t give up on this Internet feature, here’s a quick rundown of some interesting stuff that’s passed through my Twitter feed recently. It’s the best post I can do under the circumstances.

The best thing I’ve read lately is this excerpt from a forthcoming book on rock music and race relations discussing how the Rolling Stones, despite being considered an R&B band (late edit: at least at the start), despite their well-publicized love for the blues, were the engine that drove the racial segregation of rock. Telling statistic about that segregation: when New York classic-rock station Q104.3 (which I listened to a lot during a recent trip to the area) picked its top 1043 songs of all time, only 22 of them were by black artists, and 16 of them were by Jimi Hendrix.

Those of us who live in the North often dismiss the South as a redneck redoubt that’s stuck in the Jim Crow Era, where people strut like their side won the Civil War. (Or maybe that’s just me, the three-greats grandson of a Union veteran wounded on Missionary Ridge who lives in a state governed by a gaggle of neo-Confederate politicians who are working to turn my state into Mississippi without the accent.) But the New York Times published a useful corrective about the political progressive-ism of a number of Southern musicians, including Drive-By Truckers and Shovels and Rope. Perhaps a younger generation will save us from the sins of our fathers after all.

It’s important to differentiate between “rock ‘n’ roll,” the genre that was born in the middle of the 1950s from the marriage of R&B and country, and straight up “rock,” which was born in the 1960s out of youth culture’s new seriousness. An NPR piece about the new Jon Savage and David Hepworth books about 1966 and 1971, respectively, discusses the transition from one to the other.

Someday somebody will make a movie about the soap opera that was Fleetwood Mac. The epic dysfunction of the Rumours era is well-known, but when the group reconvened in 1981 to make Mirage, things were no less dramatic.

If you have ever seen the video for Hall and Oates’ 1976 hit “She’s Gone,” you’ll probably remember it, even though it was never broadcast anywhere until the Internet era. Daryl Hall (who turned 70 earlier this week) says, “They thought we were completely insane.”

Although it never made it onto your typical good times/great oldies radio station, Petula Clark’s “Downtown” is one of the landmark hits of the 60s. Clark and writer/producer Tony Hatch recently told the story of its creation.

Tom Cox is the author of several hilarious and charming books about his cats and his life in rural England, most recently Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. He also hosts an online radio show that focuses on 60s and 70s folk rock, and he wrote an insightful appreciation of the early Linda Ronstadt that is also a lot of fun to read.

Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic” is widely considered to be one of the greatest comedy sketches ever put on record. And it’s funny even when performed by two voice synthesizers, one of whom sounds like Stephen Hawking.

That’s all I’ve got today. Please visit again sometime, when I may have more.

Songs in the Key of Lawrence

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(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.

Jazz From Hell

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(Pictured: In 1985, Frank Zappa and Dee Snider review documents from a Senate hearing on explicit lyrics. They don’t seem impressed.)

Once upon a time, I aspired to write one of these Links and Notes posts each month. That hasn’t happened, of course, but here’s one. In this post are links to worthwhile stories I have mentioned on Twitter in the relatively recent past.

I have tipped you before to stuff by Michele Catalano. Recently, she found herself listening to the first Boston album, which prompted her to tweet, “‘More Than a Feeling’ is the sound that comes out of your heart if you squeeze it tight enough.” She followed with an essay called “A Requiem for the 70s,” in which Boston soundtracks a defining moment of her life. If you enjoy the memoir-style essays I type up for this blog, you must read hers. Another of Michele’s essays that’s worth your time is one about sharing music with her children, in the past and right up to this summer.

My Favorite Decade live-blogged MTV’s first hour, which was rebroadcast to launch MTV Classic, the former VH1 Classic, earlier this month. MTV Classic seems like an excellent idea, except it’s going to be aimed at people who watched MTV in the 90s and 00s, which means it will focus on the entertainment programs that marked the channel’s transition from music source to lifestyle brand, about which I could not care less. Also from Mark: an annotated mix tape of hits from the summer of 1985.

That summer, I was program director of a Top 40 station, about the time the Parents’ Music Resource Council went on the warpath against explicit lyrics. The records that most offended the PMRC didn’t fit our format and weren’t getting on our air (and in fact, precious few radio stations played them in regular rotation), but I paid close attention to the issue because I considered it my job to be attuned to what some members of my audience may have been thinking. I confess I was not especially bothered when the PMRC succeeded in getting “Explicit Lyrics” stickers placed on albums—at least not until Frank Zappa’s all-instrumental Jazz From Hell got one, at which point the entire movement jumped the shark. Open Culture explained how it happened.

The year 2016 has seen so many significant losses that many obituaries fall through the cracks. Few people noticed the passing of Lewie Steinberg, original bassist with Booker T. and the MGs, who died last month at age 82. Also Gary S. Paxton, a fascinating figure who produced the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash” and wrote over 2,000 songs. He eventually became a gospel star, but that career was sidetracked after he reportedly fell into a relationship with evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. His life story is worthy of a movie, except nobody would believe it.

The writing of “Heartbreak Hotel” was inspired by the suicide of an anonymous man who left behind a note saying, “I walk a lonely street.” After 60 years, the man’s identity has finally been determined, and Rolling Stone got it right with the subtitle “the story is stranger than anyone could have imagined.” A Rolling Stone article I liked less was a Cameron Crowe piece from 1976 about Linda Ronstadt, a condescending profile that paints Linda as if she were an artistically precocious teenager who barely understands the world. Back then, the unconscious paternalism of Crowe’s article was so ingrained in the culture that few noticed it, although it screams at us now.

The Guardian has a series called Frozen in Time, which features photographs of the famous, some candid and some not, and the stories behind them. A recent installment discussed a 1975 photo of Elton John taken during the frantic period in which he was recording Rock of the Westies in Colorado. The article is worth a click, as are all of the links within the article.

Seymour Stein was co-founder of Sire Records, the label that signed a number of significant new-wave acts in the 70s and launched Madonna’s career in the 80s. But when he was a high-school student, he worked at Billboard, and he was present at the creation of the Hot 100 in the summer of 1958.

Follow me on Twitter for more of this stuff. Or not. Up to you.

Gremlins and Wormwood

72 gremlin_cropped further(Pictured: part of an AMC Gremlin print ad. Full ad linked in the post below.)

I have not done one of these Links and Notes posts for a while. But as we have been a little short on content here lately, it’s as good an idea as any. All of the stuff below has passed through my Twitter feed recently and is worth your time.

The best thing I have seen on the Internet lately appeared at the AV Club last week: “‘You Stupid Darkness!’ and 29 Other Peanuts Quotes for Everyday Use.” It should put to bed for all time the idea that Peanuts is just entertainment. Charles Schulz was a dark, damaged genius working out a fairly grim philosophy of life one day at a time for 50 years, and was able to invest seemingly innocuous quips with deep meaning. Any artist with the stones to put the words “Even my cold cereal doth taste of wormwood” into the mouth of a child is an artist we should bow down to. Also worth bowing to: AV Club writers Donna Bowman and Noel Murray for the idea and the execution.

Schulz’s best work is timeless, but occasionally he was tempted to be topical. This 1976 CB radio-themed strip, from the highly worthwhile Twitter feed RetroNewsNow, knocked me sideways—I thought for a second it was a parody or something. Also for Peanuts fans: the Twitter feed Peanuts on This Day, reposting Schulz’s work day-by-day exactly 50 years back.

Another landmark piece that you should read is “Why the Death of Greatest Hits Albums and Reissues Is Worth Mourning” by Stephen T. Erlewine. Millions of us started building our music libraries with greatest-hits albums, because they offered kids on an allowance a better value than buying all of the singles or all of the albums by our favorite artists. As Erlewine writes, the process of discovery, and of revisiting that past once discovered, will be a lot different in an era of downloading and streaming.

Every time I do one of these, I end up linking to a bunch of stuff at Rebeat Magazine, and here I go again: 10 Rock Bands on 60s TV digs up some odd, anomalous ways in which TV producers, who were inevitably members of the pre-rock generation, tried to graft the kids’ music into their programs. Rebeat’s piece included a mention of the Buffalo Springfield’s appearance on Mannix, which I blogged about two years ago. (My post discussed another Mannix guest shot that Rebeat missed, so go read it.) Also good: their look at the Stories album About Us. It’s the one containing “Brother Louie,” but “Brother Louie” is vastly different from the rest of the record.

Yet another of my most-read sites is Dangerous Minds, which is required for anyone interested in the obscure and/or weird side of rock culture. A recent piece on Christopher Cross revealed that behind the adult-contemporary schlock-meister was the sort of guy you wouldn’t expect. Also worth your time: an introduction to Wilma Burgess, the first openly lesbian country singer, and a profile of the Liverbirds, an all-girl rock band that emerged in the UK at the height of the rockin’ 60s.

One of the most effective ways of understanding how we used to live—which is one of the things this blog is about—is through old ads. The Twitter feed Old School Ads posts a lot of evocative ones. They recently dug up a print ad for the new 1972 AMC Gremlin, and if you can look at that picture and tell me that’s not a beautiful car, we probably shouldn’t see each other anymore. Bionic Disco is another source for old ads, including TV spots, and recently featured a local TV ad from 1978, in which then-Packers coach Bart Starr shilled for the new 1979 Lincoln Versailles and his Alabama car dealership. Flashbak.com also posts a great deal of advertising, some from America and some from the UK—their recent compilation of T-shirt ads was spectacular. (Does anybody still sell iron-on transfers?)

Also good for understanding the past: old pictures. Flashbak posts several galleries a week, often with hilarious commentary. Retronaut’s recent gallery of 1969 California high-school students made me want to climb inside and live there.

That takes us back only about three weeks. If you like any of this stuff and you want to get some more of it in real time, best follow me on Twitter.

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