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The Leftovers

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It’s leftovers day today, in which I resurrect a fragment or fragments from my drafts folder and call it a post. This next is something I started after writing about Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” last month. Fifty years ago this week, the record hit #1 on the Hot 100. 

Goldsboro’s first major professional gig was touring as a guitarist with Roy Orbison in the early 60s, a gig he gave up when his solo career began to take off. He hit the Hot 100 26 times between 1963 and 1973, but apart from “Honey,” he made the Top 10 only one other time, with “See the Funny Little Clown,” which rose to #9 during the week of March 21, 1964, when the Beatles had the top three songs on the Hot 100 and the Four Seasons and Beach Boys were also riding high. He would eventually open shows for both of the latter acts, and according to his website, he also opened for the Rolling Stones on their first American tour in the summer of ’64.

Apart from “Honey” and its five weeks at #1 in 1968, Goldsboro hit the Top 20 just two other times, with “Little Things” in 1965 and “Watching Scotty Grow” in 1971. The latter was an enormous hit; it did six weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, where “Honey” had done only two, and went to #7 country. Goldsboro was a dominant Easy Listening act from 1968 to 1971, hitting the Top 10 eight times in all, including the #2 followup to “Honey,” “Autumn of My Life.” His final Hot 100 hit came in 1973, “Summer (The First Time),” which made #21 on the Hot 100. He would bubble under with some of his later releases, and he’d last long enough for me to play a couple of his final country hits on the radio in 1980 and 1981.

Goldsboro’s success eventually got him a syndicated TV show, The Bobby Goldsboro Show, a weekly half-hour of music and comedy that ran from 1973 through 1976. He was a frequent guest on other TV shows during the 70s, but at the same time, he was building an empire in music publishing. His last high-profile gig was providing music for the Burt Reynolds sitcom Evening Shade in the early 90s. (He’d known Reynolds for years, producing an album of Burt’s in the early 70s.) In recent years, he was been painting and writing children’s books. He’s now 77 years old.

I listened to several Goldsboro tunes while whipping this post into shape, and I can tell you that I’d rather listen to “Honey” 100 times than “Watching Scotty Grow” once. 

What’s next is something I wrote this morning, following up on a remark in my Friday post about the Elton John tribute album Restoration

Miranda Lambert won the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year award for the ninth straight year last night. Nevertheless, I stand by my contention that mainstream country has moved on from her. It’s true that “Vice,” the first single from Miranda’s most recent album, The Weight of These Wings,” was a success. But the next two, including ACM Song of the Year “Tin Man,” struggled. In fact, Miranda hasn’t been a big deal on country radio for over three years, and in an environment where top stars are on the singles charts almost continuously, that’s not a good omen.

Country’s “woman problem” has been widely reported over the last few years. There are lots of female artists making really good country music, but they can’t get on the radio, and the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association generally don’t waste nominations or awards on artists the general run of country fans aren’t hearing every day. (That tendency is what made Chris Stapleton’s wins a couple of years ago for his album Traveller so shocking.) So the ACM has a shallow pool of women to nominate from. Only one other Female Vocalist nominee, Carrie Underwood, is remotely in Miranda’s league, but she didn’t have a hit single in 2017; although she still moves albums (and hosted the ACM show last night), Reba McEntire hasn’t been on the radio in eight years. Beyond those three, the stature gap is enormous: Maren Morris is a lightweight and Kelsea Ballerini is a cipher. I suspect Miranda Lambert got the award last night because the ACM basically had nobody else to give it to.

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The Spotlight’s Hittin’ Something

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(Pictured: Maren Morris performs at the Grammys’ tribute to Elton John broadcast earlier this week.)

Many thanks to friend of the blog Jeffrey Thames at KPFT in Houston for sending along the two new Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute albums, Revamp, featuring pop stars, and Restoration, featuring country stars. What follows are first impressions while listening to them amidst the day’s usual fking around.

Revamp:

“Bennie and the Jets”/Elton with Pink and Logic. Pink sounds great, but Logic’s rap says nothing and adds nothing. (Elton’s presence, as best I can tell, is only in a processed sample from the original “Bennie and the Jets.”)

“We All Fall in Love Sometimes”/Coldplay. This is the best Coldplay performance I’ve ever heard, and whatever’s in second place isn’t close. (Spoiler: there is nothing in second place.)

“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”/Alessia Cara. Behold a person singing without actually using her lungs. Cara’s voice is all tongue, lips, and throat—which is a fabulously difficult way to sing.

“Candle in the Wind”/Ed Sheeran. Thanks for coming in, Ed. The check will be in the mail.

“Tiny Dancer”/Florence and the Machine. Hey Alessia, this is how a singer does it.

“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”/Mumford and Sons. As I’m not big on Mumford and Sons, I was prepared not to like this version at all but holy smokes was I wrong.

“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”/Mary J. Blige. I can’t say I like this, but it’s a lot more interesting than Elton’s morose original.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Q Tip with Demi Lovato. When this started out OK, I kept waiting for it to get terrible, but it didn’t.

“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”/The Killers. Brandon Flowers sounds so much like Elton in spots that I thought maybe they’d sampled some lines from the original.

“Daniel”/Sam Smith. I was ready to say this was making no impression on me until the beautiful piano solo in the middle.

“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/Miley Cyrus. This is making no impression on me.

“Your Song”/Lady Gaga. What’s with the exaggerated enunciation? Gaga sounds like she’s trying to impersonate Barbra Streisand.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”/Queens of the Stone Age. More interesting than Elton’s original.

Restoration:

“Rocket Man”/Little Big Town. The vocal harmonies are gorgeous, although I could do without the electronic drumbeats.

“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”/Maren Morris. After her magnificent debut single, the soulful “My Church,” Maren Morris immediately started running away from country, and she’s been releasing singles that chase pop stardom. There’s more pop than country in her version of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” but at least it sounds like she’s singing with a real band.

“Sacrifice”/Don Henley and Vince Gill. I’m not blown away by either singer’s performance, but “Sacrifice” is a beautiful song and this is a great arrangement of it.

“Take Me to the Pilot”/Brothers Osborne. What “Take Me to the Pilot” would have sounded like if Lynryd Skynryd covered it in 1977, and that’s a good thing.

“My Father’s Gun”/Miranda Lambert. Prediction: now that mainstream country has moved on from her and she doesn’t have to conform to what country radio expects, Miranda Lambert is going to blow people’s minds with what she can do.

“I Want Love”/Chris Stapleton. I’d like to hear Stapleton do “My Father’s Gun,” actually.

“Honky Cat”/Lee Ann Womack. That Lee Ann Womack is singing this song and not practically any other song in the collection isn’t the weirdest thing about this song.

“Roy Rogers”/Kacey Musgraves. I can’t think of another song in Elton’s catalog that would be a better fit for Kacey Musgraves.

“Please”/Rhonda Vincent and Dolly Parton. I tag songs in my music stash based on sound, and this is the first one from Restoration that I’ve tagged “country.” It’s also the deepest cut on the album, a song from Elton’s 1995 album Somewhere in England.

“The Bitch Is Back”/Miley Cyrus. This is fine, I guess.

“Sad Songs Say So Much”/Dierks Bentley. Thanks for coming in, Dierks. The check will be in the mail.

“This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore”/Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris. I’ve heard Rosanne sing better, but if Emmylou is harmonizing with her, I’m there for it all day.

“Border Song”/Willie Nelson. Come on, people, Willie’s almost 85 damn years old. Don’t make him yell over the backing track.

Premature verdict: Going in, I expected to like Restoration more than Revamp, but I’m surprised to tell you it turned out just the opposite. Based on a first listen, the best revamp belongs to Mumford and Sons; the best restoration is Miranda Lambert’s. The best revamp on Restoration is “Honky Cat,” and the best restoration on Revamp is “Tiny Dancer.” But check back after I listen a few dozen times more.

I Got Swag

I see stuff on Twitter all the time, and I say stuff on Twitter all the time. What I didn’t do in the case of the transistor radio above was to go on eBay and see if I could find it. But my friend HERC did.

And then he sent it to me. “Keep your money,” he wrote. “But promise me you’ll enjoy the everloving crap out of this.”

I am gobsmacked by HERC’s generosity. This isn’t the first gift he’s sent me—a year or so ago he sent along a fascinating history of Tucson radio. And it’s not just HERC who’s been generous. Dr. Mark of My Favorite Decade sent me a swag box a year or two ago. And just the other day, Bean Baxter from KROQ in Los Angeles sent me a copy of Yacht Rock: The Oral History of the Soft, Smooth Sounds of the 70s and 80s by Greg Prato. I have been sitting on two complete editions of Humble Harve’s National Album Countdown that came to me from longtime reader Paul, and I hope to write about them eventually. Gary has repeatedly gifted me with mp3s from his collection of 45 edits. Miles has sent me a couple of fantastic airchecks. And others whose names I am neglecting to mention have been just as generous in other ways.

I have not expressed sufficient gratitude for these gifts, I don’t think, but I am blown away by them. I am not sure how best to pay them back, except maybe to pay them forward. This is a lightly trafficked corner of the Internet, but those who come around mean a great deal to me. It’s been my privilege to meet a few of you in the real world, and I hope to meet others, someday, someway.

And buy drinks. Many, many drinks.

Again, thank you HERC, Mark, Bean, Paul, Gary, Miles and all the others. Thank you all.

(One more thing: there will be a new post at One Day in Your Life today, and by the time you read this it might already be up.)

The Lives We Led

The house was built in 1939. Although it stands out a little bit from the others on the block thanks to its stucco exterior, flat roof, and distinctive shade of grayish blue paint, it fits the neighborhood. There’s a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, and living room with a fireplace downstairs, and three bedrooms upstairs. It’s the sort of place where a local businessman and his wife—let’s say, for example, that he owns a furniture-and-appliance showroom and she clerks in a department store—would raise their kids and be happy doing so. It’s not perfect; it’s located on a busy street, and the grade school is several blocks away (although the high school is much, much closer). But a young Minnesota family of the 1940s and 50s would not be so bold as to expect perfection.

This is not just any random house, of course. Although it is long since out of the family, 2425 7th Avenue East in Hibbing, Minnesota, was once the home of Abe and Beatty Zimmerman. They bought it in 1948 after moving from Duluth with their two sons, Robert and David.

The ambivalent relationship between Hibbing and its most famous son, the erstwhile Robert Zimmerman, has been well-chronicled over the years. In 1965 he famously said, “I knew I had to get out of there and not come back.” When he returned for his 10-year class reunion in 1969 as one of the most famous people in the world, he and his wife left early after a few of his classmates told him they disapproved of his presence. (He was invited to his 50th reunion in 2009 but didn’t attend.) Today, the local public library has put together a walking tour of Dylan landmarks and has an exhibit of memorabilia, but there’s no historical marker, no statue, no annual Dylan festival, no businesses borrowing his name (although there used to be a bar called Zimmy’s.) If you didn’t already know Bob Dylan was from Hibbing, it wouldn’t be obvious from visiting. —although in recent years a small “Bob Dylan Drive” sign has been posted on the 25th Street side of the former Zimmerman house, and a local group is working to find an appropriate way to honor him. Attitudes have changed in a half-century, but when young Bob Dylan was ready to leave Hibbing, Hibbing was ready to have him gone.

As I parked across the street to snap my picture of Dylan’s childhood home, I couldn’t help thinking about my own. My parents moved into their house in 1959, shortly after they got married. They’re still there, so I can return anytime I want. I can still sleep in my old bedroom, eat in the same kitchen, noodle with the piano I learned on. If you were to ask me where my home is—and if you wanted the truest possible answer—I would tell you that it’s there, on Melvin Road, even though I have had 10 different addresses since I moved away in 1980, and I’ve been at my current one nearly as long as I lived with Mother and Dad. It is the place that most strongly reminds me who I am and what I am supposed to be.

Despite what he said in 1965, Bob Dylan has been back to Hibbing a few times over the years, reportedly going incognito. But whether or not we actually return to the places we remember, we never entirely shake the lives we led there. Hibbing aside, Minnesota is still very much a part of Bob Dylan—he once gave an interview in which he talked about the influence of his home state, and he has owned a farm just west of the Twin Cities for over 40 years. The places that call to each of us—the places that help define who we are and what we value—needn’t be old addresses. Yours might be a school, a workplace, a city you visited, or the site of some formative or life-altering experience. Each of us knows where our places are, on the map and in the heart.

I’d Love to Turn You On

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Joe Goodden founded the Beatles Bible, one of the most comprehensive Beatles sites on the Internet. Last year he published Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs, a fascinating exploration of the chemicals the Beatles used and their impact on the band.

The story begins with schoolboys, alcohol, and cigarettes. Ringo says he got drunk for the first time at age 9 and started smoking at 11. Paul remembered that John smelled of beer on the day they met in 1957. All four Beatles smoked cigarettes by the time they were teenagers. The boys discovered benzedrine in 1960 and the stimulant Preludin not long after that, on a trip to Hamburg. Uppers were their drug of choice for the next several years: although John consumed them like popcorn, all four Beatles powered through the early 60s on pep pills, often mixed with alcohol and always with cigarettes.

According to Goodden, the famous story about Bob Dylan being the first to introduce the Beatles to marijuana isn’t true. John told an interviewer that he had first smoked it in 1960, although it’s unclear whether any of his bandmates did. Early in 1962, all four Beatles smoked with some fellow musicians in Liverpool, but George claimed to have been unimpressed, just as John had when talking about his 1960 experience. Whatever weed Dylan scored for them in 1964 was far more impressive than what the boys had had before. Paul and George both spoke of the night as a pivotal one in their lives; within months, “She’s a Woman” contained the Beatles’ first overt drug reference: “turn me on when I get lonely.”

In the spring of 1965, John, Cynthia, George, and Pattie attended a dinner party hosted by their dentist, John Riley. Without telling them in advance, Riley dosed them with LSD, and then he accompanied them on what turned into an extremely bizarre night on the town in London. Lennon was entertained by what George came to call “the dental experience.” George, however, called his first trip “a very concentrated version of the best feeling I’d ever had in my whole life.” He viewed the experience as a key to greater enlightenment. “I took [LSD] lots of times,” he would joke in later years, “but I only needed it once.” Later that year, John, George, and Ringo tripped again, at a party in Los Angeles attended by such luminaries as Peter Fonda and members of the Byrds. John’s Los Angeles experience led him to write “She Said She Said,” which would appear on Revolver in 1966 along with “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and “Doctor Robert,” all of which were inspired by various drugs.

Paul remained an LSD holdout for several months, finally taking it for the first time in December 1965, although he would never embrace it as fervently as John and George. Marijuana was his drug of choice, although he sometimes tripped in the seclusion of the house he shared with Jane Asher. He and John didn’t trip together until 1967, after the famous incident during the recording of Sgt. Pepper, in which a tripping Lennon went to the roof of Abbey Road Studios and the other Beatles feared he might try to fly off of it. In later years, John would claim to have been tripping when the Sgt. Pepper cover photo was taken.

(Ringo says he took “everything” in the 60s, although Goodden says cigarettes and scotch were the primary drugs of choice for Ringo and his then-wife, Maureen.)

The Beatles had been introduced to cocaine as early as 1961; in A Hard Day’s Night, John holds a Coke bottle to his nose and takes a sniff. Paul became the first Beatle to use cocaine regularly, in 1966 and 1967, and surprised his bandmates at his eagerness to use it, in contrast with his reticence about LSD. John took up cocaine in 1968 and got into heroin at about the same time. Both he and Yoko were straight-up heroin addicts for much of 1969 (snorting instead of shooting, John claimed) before deciding to kick in August. Getting clean didn’t take, however, until Yoko got pregnant early in 1970.

Goodden’s story of the Beatles and drugs continues after the breakup to the present day. Riding So High contains a lot of stories I’d never heard before and additional detail about stories I thought I knew. Goodden doesn’t glorify the Beatles’ drug use, but he doesn’t judge, either. He leaves that for his readers—and you should become one of them.

The Story of Rock

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(Pictured: Prince and friends burn down the theater at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2004.)

On our recent vacation, we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. A few random observations follow.

—Like the best rock and roll shows, the Hall will overload your senses. Music and video blast in nearly every exhibit area, and when areas are close together, the collision of sounds is cacophonous. I actually found it a little hard to concentrate sometimes.

—Concentration is needed because the Hall is a text-heavy experience. Objects displayed in museums require context, but curators and exhibit designers usually try to keep the text providing that context as succinct as possible. My sense is that the Hall does not concern itself overmuch with that goal. Exhibits are introduced with lots of text on walls; exhibit labels offer a significant amount of detail about the artifacts on display. Some of the artifacts themselves are text-heavy: letters, contracts, lyrics, etc.

—The first gallery you visit honors early influences: those artists who predate the rock era but who helped to shape it. It includes Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Louis Jordan, Hank Williams, and others, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who goes in this year. But it also includes a couple of perplexing honorees, chief among them Nat King Cole, who made no secret of his dislike for rock ‘n’ roll, and who would wonder why he was there.

—Elvis Presley gets the biggest gallery. The Beatles share one with the Rolling Stones. On the day we visited, however, a gallery devoted to the career of John Mellencamp dwarfed them all. The Mellencamp exhibit is temporary, on display only until early February.

—John Mellencamp has long been #1 on my list of Hall honorees who don’t belong. He didn’t do anything groundbreaking; he isn’t an exemplar of any particular style; he has no lasting influence on artists in his wake. His records sell, but his greatest achievement is Scarecrow, recorded over three decades ago, and it’s been over 20 years since his last single of any consequence. But if the giant building on the lakeshore in Cleveland was the Hall of Sold a Lot of Records, or the Hall of Sticking to Your Job for a Long Time, you’d put Mellencamp (and lots of other inductees) in right away.

—We made it a point to visit the Alan Freed Studio, where jocks on the Sirius/XM Classic Vinyl and Deep Tracks channels do regular shifts. There’s a separate exhibit hall devoted to Freed and his early years in Cleveland. He shares the gallery with Sam Phillips and Les Paul as innovators, and with an exhibit on the history of musical technology. Altogether, it’s one of the most interesting parts of the museum.

—Critics of the Hall are often critics of Rolling Stone founder and Hall impresario Jann Wenner, suggesting that the honorees’ list reflects Wenner’s taste as much as it reflects the inductees’ place in history. Wennerphobes will be neither surprised nor pleased to learn that right now, two entire floors of the museum are devoted to an exhibit honoring the 50th anniversary of Rolling StoneRolling Stone‘s significance from the 60s to the 90s can’t be overstated; its significance since the 90s probably can be. But there’s no way the Hall was going to ignore the magazine’s 50th, so it’s fine.

—The best part of the museum is the last film Jonathan Demme directed before his death in 2017: the short Power of Rock, which is shown with audio at concert level in a theater dedicated for the purpose. It features performances from various Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, all-star jam sessions that in some cases have become legendary. The single longest segment in the film is from Prince’s induction in 2004, when he was joined by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Dhani Harrison for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and on which Prince shows himself the equal of the greatest dudes who ever strapped on a guitar, Hendrix, Clapton, anybody. At one point, Petty is seen whispering to Prince, “You ready to wrap it up?”, to which Prince responds, “No,” and continues to wail.

If you read this blog, you should visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s not really necessary for me to say that; chances are that if you read this blog, you’ve either already been there or it’s on your bucket list. And on the day you cross it off, you’ll be glad you did.

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