(Pictured: Atlantis blasts off for the final space shuttle mission, 2011.)
On January 19, 1974, the astronauts orbiting the Earth aboard Skylab were awakened by a medley of appropriate music. For the military men aboard, Commander Gerald Carr and pilot Bill Pogue, the ground crew relayed recordings of the Air Force song “Wild Blue Yonder” and the Navy standard “Anchors Aweigh.” For the civilian scientist, Ed Gibson, they played Steppenwolf’s “Earschplittenloudenboomer.”
Popular Mechanics recently published a fascinating story on the history of astronaut wakeup music, which you should read. The tradition began in 1965 during the mission of Gemini 6, when Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford were awakened by a special version of “Hello Dolly,” modified to “Hello Wally,” and recorded by Jack Jones. Although not every crew was awakened by music every morning, the tradition continued through the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. An 89-page NASA report, compiled in 2015, lists all of the songs, which were generally selected by the leaders of the ground crew, who were astronauts themselves.
Often, the music had some connection to the flight crew, military songs or college fight songs, or they refer to some aspect of the mission. The music on the last day of one space shuttle mission was “The End” by the Doors; for another mission, Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home.” But the Doors actually made their first appearance in 1972, when “Light My Fire” was used to wake the astronauts aboard Apollo 17 on the day they made a rocket burn to leave lunar orbit. Some other surprising choices from the early years—surprising given that the astronauts would have been members of the pre-rock World War II/Korean War generation: “Eli’s Coming,” “Joy to the World,” and “Out in the Country” by Three Dog Night, Jim Stafford’s “Spiders and Snakes,” “Paralyzed” by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy (sent to the crew of Skylab in November 1973), and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Redneck Mother,” which awakened the American crew of the Apollo/Soyuz mission on July 24, 1975.
In November 1981, the crew of the second space shuttle mission was awakened by specially produced episodes of “Pigs in Space,” a feature from The Muppet Show. A vogue for humorous wakeups and parody songs continued for the next several years. In 1988, a Houston radio producer and part-time tour guide at the Johnson Space Center, Mike Cahill, put together a number of elaborate productions for the crew of the space shuttle Discovery. Not long after, NASA issued an edict to cut the comedy, believing it made the shuttle program look frivolous. But the tradition of daily wakeup music continued. By the late 90s, the selections were often pretty hip—not surprising considering that one of the people selecting them was the esteemed Chris Hadfield, who would become the Internet’s favorite astronaut with his performance of “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station in 2013.
Some other cool tunes that awakened the astronauts: “Mr. Spaceman” and “Eight Miles High” by the Byrds (on a 1982 shuttle mission), Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (on numerous occasions starting in 1984), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1989), Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day” (1992), “Starship Trooper” by Yes (1994), “Time for Me to Fly” by REO Speedwagon (1996), and “For Those About to Rock” by AC/DC (2001). A 2002 mission included “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher, which, thanks to its inclusion in the movie Groundhog Day, became a regular wakeup song whenever a mission had to be extended due to bad weather on the ground, requiring astronauts to repeat their pre-landing routine an additional day. In 2005, Paul McCartney performed a live wakeup of “Good Day Sunshine” during a concert in Anaheim, California, which was beamed to the International Space Station and broadcast on NASA TV.
On July 21, 2011, the final day of the shuttle program, the Atlantis astronauts were awakened by Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America,” dedicated to all of the men and women of the three-decade shuttle program. By that time, however, the tradition of the musical space wakeup went back nearly 46 years.
(Pictured: Steely Dan on ABC-TV’s In Concert, 1973.)
When Steely Dan’s “Peg” hit the radio late in 1977, I fell in love. I got Aja for Christmas that year, and over the next few months, I bought all of the other Steely Dan albums. One of the first things I bought after I got my first CD player was the compilation A Decade of Steely Dan; I digitized the whole Dan library with Citizen Steely Dan in 1994. Seeing them live in 2000 was a bucket-list event; seeing them twice since then (plus Donald Fagen’s Dukes of September group with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald once) was icing on the cake. Counting the many bootlegs, I have something like 600 Steely Dan tracks in my music stash. They’re my favorite band of all time, is what I’m saying. And they have been my favorite band for nigh unto 40 years now.
So when I got the opportunity to write about a new book called Steely Dan FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About This Elusive Band, I leapt at it.
There are many, many volumes in the FAQ series, published by Backbeat Books. They are aimed at obsessive fans such as I, people who are presumably interested in “all that’s left to know,” beyond what we already know, about the bands we love. But because author Anthony Robustelli doesn’t try to prioritize what’s worth knowing about Steely Dan, his book ends up pushing even an obsessive fan over the brink of frustration.
Irrelevant tangents abound. For example: sometime around 1970, a friend of Becker and Fagen’s, Richard Lifschutz, got the idea of writing a musical that would have included some of the duo’s early songs, which existed at that time only as demos. He finished the book for the musical, Walt and Don read it, they didn’t pursue the idea, and that was that. But it takes Robustelli two pages to explain what I just did in two sentences. He includes an unnecessary detour into the history of rock operas (Tommy, Godspell, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar) and a followup on what became of Lifschutz, a guy whose life story would be of interest only to members of his family.
(Robustelli also makes the dubious contention that the unproduced musical, Ego, was actually the precursor to the current fad of musicals created from existing pop songs. Precursor in that it happened before others did, yes. Precursor in that Ego could have had the tiniest bit of influence leading to their creation, you gotta be kidding, dude.)
If you think you might want to read Steely Dan FAQ, be selective. The chapters on individual albums and tours are the most worthwhile. Your mileage may vary on the ones about Becker and Fagen’s early years—this is one place where pointillist detail is helpful in fleshing out character, but there might be too much for some readers. Skip the ones profiling session musicians, which cover absolutely everybody who ever played on a Steely Dan project in positively numbing detail. I flipped through the chapter detailing Becker and Fagen’s appearances as sidemen for other artists and took a hard pass. These chapters suffer most egregiously from the book’s main problem: a surfeit of detail, and an unwillingness, or an inability, to differentiate between what’s worth knowing and what isn’t.
If Steely Dan FAQ exasperated me—a Steely Dan super-fan—it’s likely to do the same to more casual fans, and even faster than it did it to me.
(Pictured: John Lennon’s handwritten draft of “A Day in the Life,” up for auction in 2006.)
In 1972, a New Jersey-based company called Audiotape, Inc., took advantage of the patchy nature of copyright law to put out a massive Beatles collection called Alpha Omega: four vinyl discs, also available on 8-track tape, containing 60 songs, ranging from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to solo recordings (“Imagine,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Bangla Desh”), sourced from American Capitol albums. It was advertised on TV and radio, and plans were made for a second set before the Beatles and their barracuda manager Allen Klein stepped in to stop it. The demand for Alpha Omega led Capitol/EMI to release two official Beatles compilations in April 1973: the red 1962-1966 and the blue 1967-1970.
As I have written before, I just missed the Beatles as a going concern. “The Long and Winding Road” ended its run on the Hot 100 after the week of July 25, 1970 (falling clear out from #21), and I started listening to the radio about six weeks later. I’d heard of them, of course, having watched the cartoon series based on their exploits. heir songs remained staples of Top 40 radio after July 1970, and I undoubtedly heard plenty of them. Beatle music was as ubiquitous as light and air, whether you could remember hearing them as Top 40 hitmakers or not.
I eventually bought the blue album, but I don’t think it was in 1973 because I was still buying only singles then. However, when I visualize first listening to it, I’m in the downstairs bedroom I shared with my brother, but I’m not sure that’s possible, unless we moved to separate rooms upstairs somewhat later than I’ve always believed.
Which songs on 1967-1970 were most familiar to me at that moment I don’t remember. I was fascinated by “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day in the Life,” and I didn’t know quite what to think about “I Am the Walrus,” so I am guessing they were new to me. (My favorite “new” Beatles song, however, was “Across the Universe.”) I was surprised to learn that “Fool on the Hill” was a Beatles song: at that point I knew it only from the 1968 version by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 that I would have heard on my parents’ radio station.
When The Mrs. and I became Mr. and Mrs. and merged our record collections, she had a copy of 1962-1966. Because it spans the years when the US and UK versions of Beatles recordings were often very different, the vinyl 1962-1966 contains some oddballs, including fake stereo versions of “Love Me Do” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which were replaced for the CD reissues in 1993 and 2010. (Wikipedia runs down the differences here.) The 1967-1970 album contains less of this kind of thing, although it does contain the first album releases of the single versions of “Let It Be” and “Get Back.”
During the week of May 26, 1973, 1967-1970 hit #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, taking out Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. The 1962-1966 album sat at #3, its chart peak. The next week, 1967-1970 would lose its place to Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, which would be taken out by George Harrison’s Living in the Material World three weeks later.
The top of the Billboard 200 was pretty solid during that Memorial Day week, also including the Edgar Winter Group’s They Only Come Out at Night (with the current #1 single, “Frankenstein”), Dark Side of the Moon, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, and The Best of Bread. Also within the Top 20: Talking Book by Stevie Wonder, Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, The Captain and Me by the Doobie Brothers, and Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill. Stevie, Elton, the Doobies, and the Dan would be among the top acts of the next decade, but in the summer of 1973, they all were left in the dust by the top act of the preceding decade.
The compilation I named “Drive All Night” was born more than 20 years ago, I bet. It began as a C-90 cassette but had to be cut in the CD era to 79 minutes. It’s made up of songs with lyrics that speak to me in some way, and/or songs that conjure up a contemplative and/or autumnal vibe.
Not long ago, I discovered a forgotten version of “Drive All Night.” In 2014, I expanded it to four CDs, 56 songs in all, everything from the original and other songs that fit with them. It’s possible I may never have listened to it—that I burned it, put it in a box, and forgot about it. But it’s been riding in the car with me these last few days, and I noticed something about it that I find quite interesting.
But before I can tell you that, I have to tell you this: I am a fortunate guy, really. I have been married for almost 34 years to a woman who had yet to murder me in my sleep as I so richly deserve. She has put up with the peregrinations of my career, up and down the radio dial when we were young, and more recently in the up-and-down world of the gig economy, all the while going to work at her own job every day to bring in a steady paycheck and carry the health insurance. We have a roof over our heads and money in the bank. We have friends we cherish, and while we have no children of our own, we have lots of nieces and nephews and honorary grandchildren, and it’s a lovely thing to watch them grow up.
But as I listen to “Drive All Night,” I notice that many of the songs, express a powerful sense of loss: Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn” (and the Moody Blues’ “December Snow,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “Your Wildest Dreams”), “I Was Only Joking” by Rod Stewart,” “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart” by Gerry Rafferty, “The Last Resort” by the Eagles, and “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne, to name a few. There’s a desire to stop time or turn it back (“Time Passages” by Al Stewart, “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder, and “The Sad Cafe” by the Eagles), expressions of road-weariness and/or the urge to go home (“Philosopher’s Stone” by Van Morrison, “Memory Motel” by the Stones, “Run for Home” by Lindisfarne, and “Carey” by Joni Mitchell), and the ever-popular pining for love lost (“Lost Her in the Sun” by John Stewart, Crystal Gayle’s “I’ll Get Over You,” and Maria Muldaur’s “Oh Papa”).
So despite all of my good fortune, I like an awful lot of songs that wish what is lost would be found, or that what is past could return.
That’s not the whole thing, though. Gerry Rafferty’s “Days Gone Down” is about loving someone with whom you have traveled countless miles; in “I Believe in You,” Don Williams promises that when you can’t depend on anything else, you can depend on each other. Susan Tedeschi’s “Sweet Forgiveness” is about love that sees the worst in us and doesn’t give up on us, and Marc Cohn’s “True Companion” is about love that will not be dimmed by age, or even by death. Fleetwood Mac’s “Warm Ways” feels the way you do after you make love to someone you love, a languid vibe also evoked by Elton John’s “Blue Eyes” and “We’re All Alone” by Rita Coolidge. There are happy times, as on “All Day Music” by War and Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” and deeply romantic interludes, as on “When the Leaves Come Falling Down” by Van Morrison. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Late for Your Life” and “This Is Love” are hopeful songs about making the best hand you can out of whatever cards you’re dealt.
And there are other songs different enough from all of these to make it possible that my characterization of this compilation is totally wrong.
But first impressions mean something, so my first impression of “Drive All Night” must have some truth to it. My writing has always been about the difference between here and there, and between now and then. It is also about trying to recapture “there” and “then.” And what’s that, if not a wish for that which is lost—times, places, people, experiences?
I’m busted. You caught me.
Here’s something you don’t know: the future of this blog has been in doubt the last few months.
I have been repeating myself for quite a while. Over the last year or two, it has become progressively harder to come up with new material. The feeling of shouting into the void has rarely been stronger than lately, and if you saw my traffic statistics, you’d understand why. I actually wrote a farewell post over a year ago, and I’ve had it scheduled since sometime last summer, thinking that the end of 2016 would be a good time to quit.
I’m not going to quit, though. I am pretty sure that if I did, it wouldn’t be long before I came crawling back because I found something I wanted to write about.
My compromise position is to stop listening to the nagging little voice that has always urged me to feed the content monster on Mondays, Wednesdays, and/or Fridays. I’ll post here when I’ve got something worthwhile to write about, and not because it’s a particular day. That means postings here will be less frequent in the future, unless and until the muse starts putting in overtime.
Also: I have decided to spin off One Day in Your Life into a separate blog, to be called—wait for it—One Day in Your Life. The first post at the new site is up right now. It’s not going to be as labor-intensive as this blog has been. It will consist mostly of rebooted One Day in Your Life posts from here, revised and updated as required. However: because One Day in Your Life is my single favorite thing to write, I plan to write new ones from time to time, which will appear only at that blog. Because I have a finite amount of stuff to reboot, the One Day in Your Life blog will have a limited lifespan, and will likely fizzle out sometime in 2018.
(As all of us might, if we’re fortunate enough to last that long here on Planet Trump.)
So that’s a map of the new road I’m taking in the new year. Traveling this old road has been a far more rewarding experience than I could have imagined when I started the journey on July 11, 2004. That’s entirely because of the readership, many of whom I know only through usernames and unique points of view, but some of whom I have gotten to know in the real world. I hope all of you will continue to patronize this blog, such as it is, and that you will visit the new one, such as it is.
(Pictured: David Bowie, 1973, in the middle of a good run.)
This morning I tweeted an Ultimate Classic Rock story about the anniversary of the release of the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed and asked if any band other than the Beatles ever released three albums in a row better than Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. I got several suggestions, and here are some of them:
From a couple of people, including friend of the blog Bean Baxter at KROQ in Los Angeles: Springsteen’s Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The River.
From Tim Rolls: David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane.
From Trey Andrews: Something Else by the Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, and Arthur.
From Sly_3 and Derrick Hinton: Radiohead’s The Bends, Kid A, and OK Computer.
From J. Daniel Rollins: Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty, and Skull and Roses by the Grateful Dead.
From Patrick Kelleher: Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy by Pearl Jam.
From Citylife80: U2’s War, The Unforgettable Fire, and The Joshua Tree.
What I do not know about rap and hip-hop music is, well, everything. Steven named Graduation, 808s and Heartbreak, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. Cardigan Spumante suggested the 1997-2002 run of The Untouchable, Last of a Dying Breed, and The Fix by Scarface. Another person suggested three by Ice Cube: Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate, and The Predator. Another suggested any three albums by Insane Clown Posse, which I suspect may be arguable. A different suggestion about which I don’t know enough to comment included the first three albums by Creed (My Own Prison, Human Clay, and Weathered).
Sportswriter Doug Farrar (to whom I wave hello and say “love your work”) suggested a pair of threesomes: Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix and Tommy, Live at Leeds, and Who’s Next by the Who. This led another person to suggest that Quadrophenia would make that four in a row by the Who.
Others also suggested four in a row. Friend of the blog Brian Rostron and music writer David Cantwell (one of my favorite writers and a follower I’m pleased to have) both suggested that my list of Stones albums should be expanded, adding Beggar’s Banquet before Let It Bleed. Similarly, Patrick Orr would add Nebraska to the list of Springsteen albums. And on the subject of four-album runs, JMRF nominates Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.
Nick Beck suggested a run of five: Led Zeppelin’s first four plus Houses of the Holy. And the CD Project suggests the Miles Davis period from 1959 through 1970, which covers 13 albums, from Porgy and Bess through Bitches Brew.
A few of respondents named performers without naming albums: Prince, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, and Outkast. Regarding Steely Dan, my three would be Katy Lied, The Royal Scam, and Aja, but you could persuade me that it should be Can’t Buy a Thrill, Countdown to Ecstasy, and Pretzel Logic. I presume the Joni threesome would be Blue, For the Roses, and Court and Spark. My guess for Prince would be 1999, Purple Rain, and Around the World in a Day. With Outkast, you’d have to tell me.
I should probably Storify all of the tweets I got, but that’s going to take longer than I have today. If you’d like to add your own run of three (or more) albums that you think can rival Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street, please put it in the comments.