From 2002 till 2011, Patrick and I saw thirty SY (and related) shows in eighteen cities over three continents. (I'm pretty sure anyway; I tallied the numbers whilst hungover.) All of these shows have been written about, featured in 2009's "No Setlist" and the forthcoming "Spirit Desire." For the latter book, I had bandied about the idea of Patrick and myself revisiting some of our favorite extracurricular activities during those travels, which would be used as breaks in between chapters. When I put this idea underneath the lights, though, a multitude of flaws became exposed. So here, in this space instead, I invite you to enjoy a chronological "best of" the stuff that wasn't the show...and, in some cases, outshone the so-called "main attraction."
2002: Towson, MD. It was here, in the city that isn't Baltimore but is close enough to Baltimore so you can tell someone from out of state that it's Baltimore, that J met P. We walked, we ate fries, we left a whole bottle of water untouched by our lips.
2003: Pittsburgh, PA. Great view of Heinz Field from across the river, much lovelier than thousands of ugly hand towels waving virtually non-stop. The local art festival was more interesting than innovative.
Cincinnati, OH. The Millennium Hotel is still the only hotel where I have eaten pizza and Pop Tarts (not at the same time, mind). The neighborhood around Bogart's was sketchy, so it was downright relieving to return to a beautiful building that granted us a superb glance at other beautiful buildings. And I saw a horse-drawn carriage on the street below stopped at the red light.
2004: London, England. ATP was in East Sussex, but the day before, we (and other mates) checked into Piccadilly Hotel. Our mates were a bit more savvy, and knew to request a room with a bath when booking reservations. Meaning, Trick and I ended up sleeping in a closet that had its own closet, with a window that looked out to another window. Walking the city left us with little energy to complain, however. Also, how rude would that have been?
For ATP we were powered by terribly greasy chicken, edible pizza, and Burger King Simpsons watches.
2005: Los Angeles, CA. The year of Arthurfest. Patrick's first time out West. Ah, the sunshine! The lack of reliable public transportation! Doesn't matter, this trip was all about the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Basquiat exhibit. At least, when it wasn't all about Hollywood Boulevard and the homeless guy sleeping outside of Mutato Muzika.
Hoboken, NJ. Never would I have predicted my virgin voyage to the Garden State to go so splendidly. We had to park ten blocks from Maxwell's, but hey, I was a super fat ass then, and whatever physical activity didn't kill me made me realize I didn't want to go on being a super fat ass! The Hoboken Day parade was winding down as we made our way up, which gave us plenty to talk about as well. The second SY's shows finished close to 1 AM (the first ranks among the very best either of us have seen). Instead of finding a place to stay, we walked the ten blocks to the car, and Patrick stayed awake for the whole six hours whereas I lost consciousness a minute after strapping into my seat belt and vowing, "I won't let you fall asleep behind the wheel!"
2006: Atlanta, GA. An utterly average show, but one of the best times I've ever had with my best friend. The Atlanta Aquarium turned us into giddy little kids. It wasn't just about what we saw, but what we heard, mainly the most Tennessee accent ever. The Coca-Cola Museum featured a lot of what you would expect, but who could ever prepare themselves for the World of Coke, offering visitors a taste of what soda lovers in other countries sip. Internet reviews will insist that Italy's Beverly Soda is the worst on tap, and I can tell you that....yeah, it tasted like radish juice and anti-freeze.
Minehead, England. Another ATP. All I can tell you, I woke up one day at nine, showered; enjoyed Pringles and Heinekin for a ten o'clock brunch; and saw Dinosaur Jr. play live at 1 PM.
Seattle, WA. West Seattle made us envy everyone who lived within its limits. Easy Street Records and Pike's Market. So much hills, but oh well, we got strong ankles as a result. Seriously. Run up on either of us, try to break one of our ankles.
2008: New York. Our last ATP, held at David Lynch Summer Camp (formerly Stanley Kubrick Family Resort and Spa). Arrived a day before, threw our shit in a hostel, and walked parts of Manhattan we hadn't seen before, culminating in a wind-whipped glimpse of the Hudson River.
2010: Riverside, CA. A Mexican lunch followed by a trip to The Mission Inn. This structure's boggling complexity is matched by its enchanting elegance.
2011: Brooklyn, NY: Of all the visits to the Museum of Modern Art, 2011's takes the cake, pie and pudding. Why? The Willelm de Kooning exhibit. I'd been obsessed with his "Woman" paintings ever since reading about them, and seeing them reprinted in art texts, so to get up close at last meant a great deal.
This was the same trip that featured a Scrabble game driven by red wine and cheesecake.
Queens, NY: Sripriphai. The best Thai food we've ever eaten. The only reason I'd be upset if the borough of Queens evaporated.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
MTV used to be watchable. Wildly so, in fact. No more so than in its first decade of life. The secret to their success wasn't a secret at all: Music Television delivered what on its promises. Careers were made, re-made, and destroyed based on what artists old new and in-between chose to do with their 3-4 minute chunk of audiovisual promo.
I sucked it all up, usually with some junk food and junkier drink. I needed my MTV.
In early 1986, the network ran a weekend-long marathon of The Monkees, a sitcom that my (much) older sisters had watched during its initial late 60s run. Well, I hardly needed their testimony. One (maybe two) eps and I was hooked: four cute goofs with ADD who also happened to comprise a band that delivered their songs from down on one knee. The screwball package--loony humor, loonier fashion--hit me square between. (I love my mother but I will never forget her making me go to bed in the middle of "Love Is Only Sleeping." MIke's always been my fave, despite the havoc his wool hat wreaked on my color blindness.)
I was far from alone. Monkeemania, to MTV's ecstatic shock, had struck America again. The group once derided as "The Pre-Fab Four" had been blessed with something their English progenitors never had: a second act.
To understand Headquarters, one must be aware of the controversy that erupted when the media (with no shortage of relish) "exposed" the Monkees for being faking fakers who faked fakingly on their way to superstardom. Yep, the "American Beatles" were nothing more than machine-manufactured meat puppets. They not only didn't write their own material (whaaaat?) they used session musicians! Never you mind that many "legitimate" groups used one or both of these so-called "cheat codes" on their records. The Monkees lied to the public and the media. Gasp horror shock.
Each of the guys had musical backgrounds, with Peter and Mike the most accomplished at the time. The latter Monkee-man led the revolt against manager Don Kirshner, who didn't want to see his guys ruin their good looks. The band instead told him "Listen chief, we're taking the china shop by the cash register," and their third album did indeed feature mostly songs written and performed by the madcap teen idols. Headquarters debuted on the Billboard charts at #1 before being overtaken the following week by Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Your eight-year-old blogger-to-be adored Headquarters. Wore that tape out. Haven't given it a full listen since. So what will adult me think? Enter the giant head, split four ways….
"You Told Me" - A good first--be it song, sentence, or sweat--is vital to a time well-spent.
Straightforward country pop courtesy of the tall guy in the hat may not be what listeners expected when the needle dropped, but time has been kind. Nez done had it up to the sideburn flare with "girls and all the games" and as much as I want to beat the drums for my gender, he sounds so warm and wooly, so--she said she said, she lied she lied, he tried he tried.
The Beatles gave listeners George on the sitar. The Monkees, Peter on the banjo. Advantage: PUSH.
"I'll Spend My Life With You" - Micky's antsy mic ways make lyrics such as "The road is long, the road is rough/I do believe I've had enough" stick to the cabinet doors.
"Forget That Girl" - Davy forgot more about hate than he ever learned about love, so this slice of sugar pie with honey drizzle is all the fun of trying to dance one's way out of a snare made of dryer sheets and cobwebs.
That's a compliment. This is a very good song, shiny and pretty just like pennies used to be.
"Band 6" - Lotsa goofin' circlin' transpired during the sessions, and this sub-60 instro is but Exhibit the First.
"You Just May Be the One" - Mike's hale and hearty, but Pete's arterial bass refused to lean on its laurels. Giddy-up and go for the golden morning, young man.
The version that played on the show featured session musicians and a distressing lack of a MIke/Micky bird-tickling contests. Still good either way, though, since dust storms stirred 'neath star-sick skies by lean Texans incite unforgettable coughing spells.*
"Shades of Gray" - The only song on Headquarters exceeding 180 seconds is arguably the only skippable one on it as well. The presence of cello and French horn distinguish what is otherwise a dreadful, sapping Peter/Davy duet. Innocence lost? Probably just paradise misplaced.
"I Can't Get Her Off My Mind" - Cane a-twirl, fingers and toes snappin' and tappin', oh my yes the low-to-the-floor English lad is right at home (complete with butler).
Davy always sounded his comfiest when at his corniest, singing delicately and dashingly about girls whose games he couldn't wait to play. This squeaks (if and) when you scrub it, but the sound jibes tidy with that piano melody.
"For Peter's Sake" - Flip the cassette over!
Co-written by Peter and co-piloted to an island orgy by Micky, "For Peter's Sake" is most famed as the closing credits music for Season Two of the show. It is also insanely dated, an aural equivalent to the Nehru jackets and love beads they wore.
This is music with a message, all right, one of hope and unity. Such an unabashed espousal of the "kisses hugs and tons of drugs" ethos could have been a laughable disaster, but it turned out to be my favorite song on the entire album, then and now.**
The idea of a universal moral obligation is by turns intriguing and infuriating. It assumes utopia as a goal. Utopia's desirability is irrelevant; given the sheer body count, and value systems spread over countless cultures, utopia's plausibility is nil. So I don't buy (or even go halvsies) on "We were born to love one another…All we have to be is free." But, I won't snatch it off the shelf and break it into pieces and bits, either. Our world is a big world--leap how you feel.
My review of Magical Mystery Tour featured a pretty harsh takedown of "All You Need Is Love" but something about "For Peter's Sake" causes me to lower the silver-plated hammer not upon an unsuspecting noggin, but to my side, where I let it slip from my grip onto the ground. Probably blame the organ. Or, whoever spiked Mick's chocolate milk with ephedrine. Oh, who do I kid--that guitar is coming for the crown.
"Mr. Webster" - Of all the boxes Boyce and Hart placed under the tree, none was more oddly-shaped than "Mr. Webster." The eerie story of an overlooked, underpaid bank guard is a three-act play produced under the auspices of Jefferson Airplane's weed connect. The steel guitar ratchets up the tension (safety nets are for inedible pussies).
"Sunny Girlfriend" - The last (and least) of Mike's contributions, "Sunny" refuses to relinquish its shoes, drinks all the swirly pink liquid, sheds on the sofa, then skidaddles off with the host's sugar.
Oh yeah, about drugs. The song is, I mean. Showed up late to the masquerade and left early.
"Zilch" - Tony Roche, Joe Namath, Pete Maravich, and Julius Boros step out on the diamond to…practice laying down bunts?
The family-friendly fugue known as "Zilch" is not the only Monkees song grabbed for use in a hip hop song, but it's D-E-L over DMC all day. Fitting, since the fellas themselves took from the mouths of others.
I can remember only two songs from that time in my life that left me staring at speakers in disbelief: "Zilch" and "I Am the Walrus." Apples and oranges, to be sure, but both fruits make great juices. The Beatles were determined to show a rock band could create art. The Monkees were determined to show they were a rock band that could create, period.
"No Time" - Came for the hysteria; left needing a shower; returned decades later when I noticed I'd overlooked some references.
Akita puppies chasing crabs down a newly-waxed floor are the only competition to "No Time" in the hijinks stakes.***
"Early Morning Blues and Greens" - I was convinced as a child of these things two: I would never reach the age of 30, and "Early Morning Blues and Greens" sounded similar to the "Eruga's Forest" level of Rygar on the NES.
I was an idiot as a child.
Another one from beyond the enclave, a plotless short story narrated by a hermit who lives in the tallest tree. Light on the naturalism and heavy on the scaffolding thanks to the lack of gravitas Davy Jones brought to everything. Not precisely morose, not entirely at peace. Whether your coffee or your bed--you made it, you answer for it when the circuit shorts out.
"Randy Scouse Git" - A good last--song, sentence, or push--is vital to a time well-spent.
The Monkees made their name and fame on the clean-cut, but there was always dirt on the handle. More jaunty than raunchy, "Randy" is not sophisticated baroque pop; under the harshest scope, it's a goof for the sake of, 'cause that was the MMO of the time. Timpani (yes!) and piano, angry pouts and hairy shouts, damn chorus why are you so perturbed?
Multi-tracked Micky, woooo, hide the goddamn everybody.
I cannot separate this ostensible ode to a super chick from the first time I heard it--which was also the first time I saw it, at the end of "The Picture Frame." Some call it a nightmare, some call it a day in the life, what's the difference? Micky's got questions too, from the banal to the brutal, and the answers (should they exist) are to be found beyond the limits of minds concerned with why that curly-haired buffoon is wearing a table cloth.
At only thirty minutes, you could chase the album with an episode of the show and have a kretching good time. (I recommend "Fairy Tale.") I award Headquarters six out of a possible eight buttons on a well-aged shirt.
*I'd love to go back in time thirty years and tell Sloop Jenn B. that one day a member of her favorite band will cover this song at a concert in New York City and not only will she be in attendance, her boyfriend will be standing behind her shooting video on his phone. Then, I'd raise finger to lips and moonwalk over that horrible blue carpet.
**"A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" is my favorite. Holy shit is that song brilliant.
***Although written by the band, full credit was given to recording engineer Hank Cicalo, for his hard work and patience with what was essentially a band working on their debut album.
Monday, April 4, 2016
Director: Steve Martino
Craig Schulz had a fine idea: a seventeen-minute Peanuts short featuring two of his late father's greatest storylines. Charlie Brown's obsession with the Little Red-Haired Girl and Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace vs. the Red Baron. Craig's own son Bryan (himself a screenwriter) told his dad that his script tried to do too much in too little time; why not work together on a full-length movie?
Eventually, the Schulz family knew, someone would come along and make the fifth Peanuts film. Charles Schulz' beloved universe had not blessed the big screens since 1980's Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, and while that offering didn't set the box office ablaze, the Peanuts brand had maintained a strong worldwide presence. People know Charlie Brown and Snoopy, people trust Charlie Brown and Snoopy, people spend money on Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Avarice often trumps artistry, and outsiders--no matter how well-intentioned and/or talented--couldn't possibly encapsulate what made Peanuts so unique.
So in 2010, Craig and Bryan (along with Cornelius Utiano) developed a treatment that they then submitted to 20th-Century Fox. Enter Blue Sky Studios, a computer animation film studio best known for Ice Age, Rio and not being Pixar Studios.
Wait, CGI Peanuts? Predictably, large swaths of the Internet were disgruntled. Blasphemy at best! Betrayal at worst! If Charles Schulz didn't write it, it's not Peanuts! (Quick, someone inform the This Is America miniseries!) Nightmare scenarios of Snoopy typing the Great American Novel on an iPad and Lucy telling Charlie Brown that his neurosis game was "on fleek" abounded.
I have always been of a mind that change is neither intrinsically positive or negative. Change, once instigated, must be permitted to play out. My only major concern had to do with the voices. The Peanuts kids had always been voiced by, well, kids. I had no doubt that would continue. But ever since Aladdin, studios sought big-name actors and actresses to bring animated characters to life. Surely, hopefully, Blue Sky wouldn't insist on adult speaking roles to be handled by the likes of Steve Carrell or Ellen DeGeneres?
The first extended trailer sent a joyous jolt into my nervous system. My mouth lost its moisture, my heart lost its composure, and despite the questionable soundtrack, I lost my patience. November? Screw that!
But, before I knew it, I was in the theater on a crisp fall afternoon with a dear sweet friend getting reacquainted with some other dear sweet friends.
STORY: All is winter, all is well. Then the new kid arrives. It isn't until the next morning, though, that the kids get their first glimpse of this fresh-faced factor. Charlie Brown is instantly smitten with this little red-haired girl, whose actual name is unimportant, as names are for tombstones, baby.
Determined to make a positive impression on this grandly-coiffed angel, Chuck enters the school talent show. His competence as a magician is surprising, but his large heart is not. As gratifying as it was to save his little sister's rodeo act from complete disaster, no one but the two of them knew it was him under that dopey cow costume. Fortunately, another opportunity to prove himself worthy beckons--school dance.
Under the tutelage of the World Famous Dance Instructor, Charlie Brown develops into quite the passable mover of feet. Self-confidence can't be taught so easily, though, and up until the moment of truth, he's a trembling mess. Once the heat of the spotlight shines on his bowling ball dome, he transforms into a wondrous flurry, driven as much by the vision of a slower dance at evening's end as the cheers of his schoolmates. Nothing can stop him...except for a puddle of spilled punch. One clunky brown shoe flies upward, setting off the sprinkler system and soaking the gymnasium.
Typical loser Chuck. But, classic steadfast Chuck as well.
A book report assignment pairs Charlie Brown with his infatuation object, seemingly the best chance for the flustered youth to come clean. Before they can tackle page one together, however, he learns that she's temporarily out of town with family. Another setback, another opportunity; on the unlikely advice of Peppermint Patty, Charlie Brown decides to write about that legendary literary behemoth, Leo's Toy Store, by Warren Peace.
As soon as he decides to undergo the solo mission, Chuck is waylaid with news that no one saw coming. Results of the school-wide standardized test have been posted, and one student has achieved the first-ever perfect store. Shermy? Shermy, hell. Just like that, the blockhead is Big Cheese, with his peers practically falling over themselves to praise his super-genius. (Meanwhile, Sally proves to be as besotted with the acquisition and accumulation of "tens and twenties" as ever, hawking merchandise based on her brainy big brother.)
So when it turns out that Leo's Toy Store by Warren Peace is actually War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Charlie Brown refuses to "Aauuugh!" Rather, he zig-zags over the snow with a book fit to use as a sled and crafts a one-page book report.
The Little Red-Haired Girl returns just in time to attend the special school assembly awarding Charlie Brown for his unprecedented academic accomplishment. Intensely aware of a very special pair of eyes on him as he accepts a medal, Chuck does not see the clunky brown shoe about to plummet back down to earth. (We do, but we can't warn him.) He's handed his legendary paper, his perfect test...and realizes that it's actually the smiley-faced crap shoot completed by Peppermint Patty. He--and we--suddenly remember earlier in the movie, when the two of them raced to the teachers desk to hand their work in, so rushed that they had to be reminded to sign their names. Which they did. On the wrong sheets of paper. A blunder that's far from mind-blowing but close to heart-breaking nevertheless.
Charlie Brown refuses the medal and leaves the auditorium. His hopes hinge on the book report, which Linus praises for cogent insight. There's still a chance, still a chance...yeah, still a chance for the book report to wind up airborne where it's torn to flakes by a renegade toy plane.
Charlie Brown trudges home. The very model of perseverance has apparently been thwarted one time too many.
The last day of school arrives, and all I can say, I wish any of my school years flew by so quickly. Chuck is still desultory, but not so defeated that he isn't prepared to eschew all fanciful effort and just be upfront. He still has the Little Red-Haired Girl's pencil, so he walks over to her house, only to discover that she's set to leave for summer camp. She's not gone just yet, so cue frantic run through the school carnival and fortuitous entanglement with a kite.
Finally face-to-face with the sainted lass just before she boards the bus, he hands over the she-bitten writing implement and receives a wonderful gift in return. The gift of self-realization. Instead of just saying "thank you" and taking her seat, the Little Red-Haired Girl proceeds to tell Charlie Brown that she wants to keep in touch over the summer and then explains why: his selfless nature, his honesty, his solicitude. She departs; he regenerates.
The other kids--even Lucy and Violet--have to admit, Charlie Brown is pretty good ol' after all, and give him a victory ride.
The Peanuts Movie quelled fears and surpassed expectations. Certain viewers expressed disappointment at a perceived lack of innovation and felt the supporting cast had been given short shrift. Two charges that had been levied at the strip during the last two decades of its five decade run, in fact, with blame falling primarily on the shoulders of an adorable beagle with a dazzling imagination.
And wouldn't you know, the B story of The Peanuts Movie involves Snoopy's Flying Ace reveries. Snoopy really wants to join the others in school, to see this new kid up close, to laugh as the toy Fokker DR.1 plane that Linus brought for Show and Tell goes haywire and flies out of the school, but instead he's caught, deposited into a dumpster, and winds up with a typewriter. (Classic writer metaphor lurking in there.) Atop his doghouse, seeking inspiration, the plane buzzes the beagle. Wait, Fokker DR.1? Wasn't that the plane piloted by...
CURSE YOU RED BARON!
The Flying Ace must stop the bloody Baron before he can close his creepy clutches around the pretty pink poodle pilot Fifi. Throughout the film, Snoopy uses the follies and foibles of his owner as inspiration for this tale of romance, intrigue and danger. It proves a super counterpoint to the A story, keeping the viewer engaged while showing off what Blue Sky technology is capable of.
The Peanuts Movie was never going to delve too deep into the bleaker side of the original strip. When trying to win new fans while keeping old ones satisfied, "Happiness is a warm puppy" will win out over "Even my anxieties have anxieties" in the slogan contest. Those who bemoan the happy ending would do well to remember that Charles Schulz did, every once in a blue moon, allow his plain-faced hero to succeed. 10
The film begins with...white. Then, four black lines frame the nothingness. It's about to be something.
The classic pen-and-paper world fades into a computer-generated one. That was then, this is now, all in all is same as it ever was.
No, this is not the 2-D world of Bill Melendez, but a magnificent step forward. The textures on display are so rich they're addicting. Kudos to the hardworking folks at Blue Sky for embracing the expressive power of Schulz' work and further, for achieving a feat I believed impossible--to make Snoopy appear even more huggable and skritchable.
The flight sequences are gorgeously frantic. The character movements are crisp, clean and lively; above all, they are familiar. Watching them is akin to sipping hot cocoa from a shiny new mug. 10.
Christophe Beck's score is bright and emotional. In other words, pretty perfect. Of course, a few choice Vince Guaraldi originals pop up ("Skating" is the very first song, fittingly). The concessions to modern sound are Flo Rida's "That's What I Like About You" and Meghan Trainor's "Better When I'm Dancin'." Both songs fit their respective montages, which helps minimize the damage. But make no mistake; these are not songs I would listen to otherwise. 9
In order to make The Peanuts Movie a true success, the filmmakers needed to hit several key targets. One of the most crucial: a top-notch voice actor for Charlie Brown. Noah Schnapp delivers. He's such a blockhead he goes from 11/8 to 4/4 before winding up 10/10. Instantly likable, relentlessly human.
Not much is asked of Francesca Angelucci Capaldi until film's end, when she gives a great "the reasons why you don't suck" speech to Charlie Brown, so she also handles the lightweight duty of voicing Frieda. 7.5
Alex Garfin scored an Annie nomination for his performance as Linus. The sweet sagacity associated with the character ever since Chris Shea's monumental work in A Charlie Brown Christmas is difficult to replicate, and while I don't put Garfin in that rarefied air, he definitely did a bang-up job--and, honestly, deserved some more screen time. 9
Hadley Belle Miller voiced the other Van Pelt (and also earned the honor of losing to Phyllis Smith last February), and she damn near steals the show with one of the most versatile and least-alienating takes on the irascible girl in the blue dress. 10
A great Sally Brown needs to be utterly juvenile. A dollop of sweet, a squirt of sour, a splash of silly, and an unearned, hysterical severity. She also must be good for one or two laugh out loud moments in a world that is more keen on producing chuckles. Mariel Sheets, nice job. 9
Venus Omega Schultheis must be saluted. The most resplendent name of any Peanuts voice actor yet. The first five letters of her last name. The most outstanding Peppermint Patty since Linda Ercoli in the Seventies. A good Pep Pat sounds more mature than she actually is. This is a great Pep Pat. 10
Marcie (Rebecca Bloom) and Franklin (Marleik Walker) are both sweet 8's, if underused. Patty, Violet, Pig-Pen, Shermy and Schroeder are also featured, yet I don't feel their parts were substantial enough for grading. No one strikes a false note, let it be said.
Finally, the adults. Bill Melendez is away, not gone. Thanks to archival audio recordings, he's Snoopy forever. Kristin Chenoweth is the token celebrity, but she's perfect; she did, after all, win a Tony Award in 1999 for her portrayal of Sally in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And what's the harm? None. She "voices" Fifi, by which I mean she makes some feminine dog noises.
But wait, those are just adult voices for animal characters. What about the actual adults? You know, the legendary "wah-wah"? Oh, that. That is courtesy of New Orleans' own Troy Andrews. Or, as you may know him, "Trombone Shorty." Trombone. Mother. Fucking. Short. Y. Jimmy Onishi Golden Infinite 10 Award to you, sir.
CHARLIE: BOLD AS LOVE
--Initially I felt bemusement when Linus showed off his toy Fokker and explained the Red Baron. Likewise at Snoopy and Woodstock's comical awe at the typewriter in action. Then I remembered, The Peanuts Movie is not just for the long-timer fans. The studio knew--hoped--that many of those fans would go to the theater with one or two (or more) children in tow, youngsters who would be utterly clue-free about both the Baron and typewriters.
--This is a true "G" movie. No innuendo, no pop-culture references for the adults. I read a few reviews that recommended TPM as the ideal first film for a child, and beyond my bias, I have to agree. It's pure entertainment.
--The list of student test scores gives some goodies: a shout-out for the unsung 5, another non-canon last name for Marcie, and best, the full name of the LRHG. Her first name, Heather, was already given in 1977's It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. Her last name, Wold, is the same as her real-life counterpart.
--So many callbacks: dog germs, strip baseball, the talking wall, the psychiatrists booth, a War and Peace book report, and of course, Snoopy personas a-poppin'. In addition to the Aces (Flying and Literary), he shows off Joe Cool, Snoopcopter, Snoopmarine and my new favorite--Shhoopy.
--On the run from the Red Baron, Snoopy crashes a gathering of Christmas carolers and begins warbling along to "Christmastime is Here." This makes me laugh like a maniac, but I cannot recall that audio appearing in any Peanuts special. Was it a Melendez outtake? Audio manipulation? Someone who knows Steve Martino tell him a blogger broad wants to know.
--No iStuff, no Internet...the only modern additions to the neighborhood are blue recycle bins, and even those share curbside space with good ol' aluminum cans.
--Only Charles Schulz' friends could call him "Sparky." That's how he liked it. When son Craig met with people from the studio to hash out the movie, he told them to refer to his late father as "Sparky." Not "Charles," not "Mr. Schulz," not "your father."
--The Flying Ace scenes are just brilliantly animated. I can't praise them enough.
--Yeah yeah, the football gag gets animated during the end credits, but ahem, Snoopy sibling party! I damn near cheered in the theater.
--The best ending in the history of film. I've watched The Peanuts Movie nine times now, and I tear up every single time.
--Thankfully, pandering was limited to this poster.
--Charlie Brown wins today, but you know some fresh hell is in store for that boy tomorrow.
--"I saw him first!" You sure did, Shermy.
--Snoopy's filler? Sure. Like the creme between two chocolate wafers.
--"That's not a real horse!" "That's not a real cow!" Thanks, budding Internet reviewer!
--Cameo by Woodstock's little-seen brother, Malarchuk.
--War and Peace is 1,440 pages long. Charlie Brown wrote his book report on a single sheet of paper.
--Craig Schulz claims John Hughes was hired to write a Peanuts script. "It never worked." I don't wonder.
As Charlie Brown himself says in the film, "You can't go wrong sticking to the classics."
Bringing in over $100 million domestic and in excess of $250 million worldwide, The Peanuts Movie proved the enduring allure of neurotic children and the dog who tolerates them. Critics (outside of Toronto) responded positively. The Golden Globes, the Producers Guild, Nick Kids Choice, and critics groups in Chicago, San Diego and San Francisco all recognized it as one of 2015's best animated features. (Note, no Academy Award nod. The temerity of those bastards.) The drive to succeed, to feel intensely and have those feelings not only acknowledged but reciprocated, powered the makers of the movie as surely as it powered Charles Schulz, as surely as it powered Charlie Brown, as surely as it powers millions of people. It shows. It tells.
Peanuts has always been there for me. This film proved it will always be there for me. A book, a film, a t-shirt, a CD, a figurine, an interactive toy--any of it, all of it. When the world and the people within it let me down, I have an instant pick-up. The Peanuts Movie is another stimulating influence, a warm embrace, a moment of connection and comfort that is recalled with ease and pleasure.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
"Sad Eyes"--Robert John
Bobby first hit the Billboard in 1958, as 12-year-old Bobby Pedrick singing about "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes." Then his cover of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" hit No. 3. Third time proved the narm when this so-long to a side-piece became one of the few #1 songs of 1979 that wasn't a booty-shaking good time.
Am I supposed to feel bad that Bobby and his jumpoff have to sever sex ties with the imminent return of his wife/girlfriend? Aww, monogamy? I'll admit, the build to the chorus is so glorious though, like a million angels exploding in a glitter storm.
"Sentimental Lady"--Bob Welch
Welch was a member of Fleetwood Mac in the relatively brief period between Peter Green's incarnation of the band and the blockbuster line-up with Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. When Welch made his solo debut three years after quitting the Mac, his first single was a revisit of a song that had originally appeared on the group's 1972 LP Bare Trees. He took "Sentimental Lady," threw her in something low-cut and velvet, guided her onto a yacht, and they spent the weekend together on a record industry pal's friend's island.
Without fail, this record grabs my shoulders and promises to stop swaying me to and fro only if I state my unshakable belief in romantic love. I swear I mean it when I say I will, really I do.
"Montego Bay"--Bobby Bloom
Welcome to wherever you want. The cares costs nothing, but happy hour is actually only twenty minutes.
"I Go Crazy"--Paul Davis
Maudlin acid rain. Such a blatant attempt a tearjerker radio hit, crassly composed and barely performed.
"Hot Child in the City"--Nick Gilder
In 1976, Elton John was arguably the biggest rock star in the world. Then he came out as "bisexual" in a Rolling Stone interview and saw his popularity take a massive hit. Things got better, of course, but for awhile, Reg must have wondered why he opened his mouth. See, for all the hoopla surrounding the 70s as a time of personal exploration and bold self-expression, there were things the population at large were not prepared to handle. Illusions and delusions die hard, and they rarely go out alone.
Nick Gilder, neither bisexual or the biggest rock star in the world, was just one example of the "Bowie-lite" acts (generally one-hit wonders) that the record-buying public supported because an androgynous image was just that, an image, and could be worn with the ease of a tube top or a denim jacket. Did the artist really mean it? Don't ask, don't tell, just look and act the part out accordingly. It was, as account after account will attest, a naive time at best. These were people who looked at Freddie Mercury and marveled at the amount of pussy a superstar like that must get.
I don't have a larger point to make here. I just write out whatever the songs make me think, and this is what you get.
"I'm In You"--Peter Frampton
"When I cry, you don't laugh." Why is that noteworthy, if you don't mind my asking? What were his relationships like before? "Your mum's in hospital? Cheers!" If this is something you have to tell the girl, well, she clearly does not feel like you do.
"Do You Wanna Make Love"--Peter McCann
To you, sir? No. Maybe not to anyone else ever again, if this sudden vaginal paralysis doesn't pass.
MTV destroyed schlubs like Peter McCann. Him, Robert John, Rupert Holmes, all these sweaty bastards had a Zero shirt's chance in a Lamb of God mosh pit of surviving once visuals became a vital promotional tool. And you know my thoughts on that? Good. Nothing of value was lost. World somehow kept spinning without balding four-eyed jackholes trespassing in the waves.
"Seasons In the Sun"--Terry Jacks
A reinterpretation of Jacque Brel's "Le Moribond." More accurately, a bastardization of a sardonic suicide note into a mawkish see-ya. Even without foreknowledge, the song is imminently despicable. Jacks doesn't even sing, he auditions.
If the popular music of the 1970s were represented as a salad, "Feelings" would be the lettuce: bland and ubiquitous. Ladies and gentlemen, what we-uh have hee-uh is trash. Garbage. Trash-garbage. But what's funny? The first handful of listens weren't bad. Albert's vulnerability, his desperate yearning for emotional respite, had definite appeal. Then, listen six happened, and things went ass over teakettle. And I've been a coffee gal ever since.
"Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me"--Mac Davis
Mac D. is rugged, what with the unkempt hairs, loose buttons and hard eyes. Understand, he ain't no street corner rapper. He's gonna give it to a gal straight, so don't you dare come at him sideways. Don't be no fabric sheet, girl. Pardon me, mister drummer sir, could you please stop being somewhat interesting back there? I'm trying to wrap this up.
The sole joy this song brings me is the memory of its mention in the Roseanne episode "The Getaway, Almost" (AKA, That Time Riot Grrl Got Mentioned On a Hit Sitcom):
"Remember 'Baby Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me'? 'I'll just use you then I'll set you free. Use me and I'll set you on fire, you bastard."
"Show and Tell"--Al Wilson
Adult music for adult times. On a scale of 1 to 10, I score "Show and Tell" a positive pregnancy test. Who loves ya, baby, indeed.
"Rock Me Gently"--Andy Kim
Nothing here a spoonful of caramel syrup can't galvanize. If and when Adam Driver gets casts in a Neil Diamond biopic, he'll look a lot like Andy Kim did when he captivated soft American ears with his only hit (well, only one he recorded; this is the man who co-wrote "Sugar, Sugar" after all).
Wisely, Andy talk-sings more than he sing-sings. Things are at a decent heat, then--that breakdown. Where in the hell did did that come from, and where did it get those shoes?
Anti-authority or just anti-routine? Why didn't Uncle Sam's mama tell her boy that it's rude to point?
"Undercover Angel"--Alan O'Day
From possibly tolerable to definitely tossable in fifty seconds.
"So this fantasy girl got in the sheets with me last night, right?" is admittedly a unique way to begin a pick-up attempt. Like whaaat? Imagine being told that you're not only dead, but your only ticket out of purgatory is to seduce Alan O'Day so that he can get up the gumption to one night fuck a real live human broad.
"I Can See Clearly Now"--Johnny Nash
Inflation and unemployment and war and political corruption and "it's gonna be a briiight..." Hey, I like my lies incandescent.
"You Make Me Feel Like Dancing"--Leo Sayer
The Simpsons and J Dilla both mined comedy silver from "You Make Me Feel Dancing." Laughter counts! I give this song considerable slack, since it extended the same courtesy to me.
"I Just Wanna Stop"--Gino Vannelli
Montreal memories taste sweet, but life's vicissitudes can't keep the melancholy dogs at bay. Gino's the Canadian-Italian George Benson if I'm being generous; the Canadian-Italian Barry Manilow if I'm being realistic. Blow and tickle.
"Magnet and Steel"--Walter Egan
Sensitive dude; the album on which this appeared is called Not Shy, for Chrissake. Alan Alda couldn't sing this sweetly, though.
"Just When I Needed You Most"--Randy VanWarmer
Nothing is forever, so why does the end still hurt so badly? Here's how a man in the '70s could sound lovelorn and deserving of sympathy. I believe Randy is suffering, but I also believe in Randy. Chin up, sir. See, the thing about us womenfolk, we be exchanging currency for goods. So just ease up your mind, pay a visit to the nearest mall and find you a new woman.
"Welcome Back"--John Sebastian
The other TV theme on the comp. A man leaves his much-derided hometown behind to pursue his dreams, only to return, mouth full of crow. I never liked this song too tough in my best days, and I loathe it with the power of a million shiny Macintosh apples now.
"You Take My Breath Away"--Rex Smith
What's so sexy Rexy about layered hair and a vest? Gross, man. Is that an ocarina I hear? Was this a demo? People of the Seventies, did y'all top-ten a demo?
"She's a Lady"--Tom Jones
Delicates-dodger extraordinaire Tom Jones works his magic, and I don't have to tell you what he's stirring the potion with. Of course she's a hell of a woman; she'd have to be, to handle Tsunami Tom.
Paul Anka wrote this? How in the...? Oh, right. Broken clock.
"Drift Away"-- Dobie Grey
Ever get out of the shower and just collapse on your bed? Wake up an hour later and momentarily forget why your hair's wet? That doesn't happen if you have music playing. Try it sometime.
"Oh Babe, What Would You Say?"--Hurricane Smith
Guy in the industry pushing 50 takes one of his wife's songs and scores a surprise hit. Less shocking is how forgettable the track itself is. A name goes a long way, especially meteorological ones (see also: "Something In the Air" by Thunderclap Newman).
"Sometimes When We Touch"--Dan Hill
"You ask me if I love you, and I choke on my reply." Dan should have taken a cue from the 10cc guy. Record some session musicians blowing raspberries into the mic, manipulate the speeds on each individual track, layer them like a Smith Island Cake and pow--instant rhythm track. Then, instead of going the introspective and tormented route, say the opposite of what you truly think and feel about her.
Look, I've no beef with the sensitive man, but a guy can be perceptive and solicitous while still having balls. But Dan Hill? He sings like he's one strong cough away from weeping, not to mention he looks like a cross between the GEICO caveman and Harley from Epic Meal Time. I'd rather choke down a mouthful of glass-filled cow heart then hear this one more time.
"Please Come To Boston"--Dave Loggins
Man goes cross-country in search of success, and at each stop he beseeches his down South lady love to join him, but each time she shoots him down with reminders of what a fool he's currently being. Not even finally striking gold in L.A., house with a hella view and all, can sway her. Easily the least compelling love story since Dax and Deral on Deep Space Nine.
A gauzy, depressing tale of untimely death and unseemly obsession, beloved by the same people whose lives were changed by Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I can't even make it to the vocals before my eyes go all Spirograph. The world is a worse place for this song having been recorded.
"It Never Rains In Southern California"--Albert Hammond
Under the lights, dreamers either wither or expand. Well done, Al; crushing disappointment has rarely sounded so catchy.
"I'd Love You To Want Me"--Lobo
"I feel the blood go to my feet." Hmm, that could be neurocardiogenic syncope. Or love. Only tests will tell.
"Rock On"--David Essex
A good way of coping with unanswerable questions? Ask some of your very own.
The twin illusions of space and time command the stage. Less polyester, more polyrhythms. Speed limits exist to be broken and reassembled. When someone's down and out, they have only one way to go--bullshit.
"Escape (The Pina Colada Song)"--Rupert Holmes
The final #1 of the 1970s. Sure, "I was tired of my lady" is a pretty harsh line, but turns out she was tired of him too! Oh, Rod Serling, eat your heart out. Who can begrudge anyone their need to feel wanted? Maybe this couple reconnected and learned to appreciate trees. Maybe they ditched the square life and took to the roads, committing themselves to a life of spontaneity. Maybe they got real bold and tried some bourbon! Speaking of which, I could really use some to wash my blood clean.
The footage used in the infomercial is taken from this clip. Behold that man. That showmanship. Air guitar. Perpetual smile, 'cause he knows he is defying the odds of nature just being at that place in that time doing that thing. Hand gestures so frequent that KRS-One would have told them to scale back. Get a load of "stair mode"! There was around the same time another, lesser Time Life compilation being hawked after hours, Yacht Rock-Soft Pop whatever it was called, and "Escape" appeared on that one as well. The footage used there was from an entirely different performance, some talk show it looked like, with Rupert decked out in a blue and white track suit (I think), lip-syncing in front of some curtains and looking inexplicably over to his right. It took a bit before my friend and I made the connection. Obviously the talk show performance took place after the "stairs" one, and Rupert was still dealing with some displacement issues.
"Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"--Jim Croce
A straight boss hog MF'er, quick with the silver, luster of the gold, answers to no one since Sylvester Ritter left town. All the pants he left bunny-eared, the flesh he left open, the guy just needed himself a nice girlfriend. That he no doubt would cheat on habitually but still. Let's see some effort, Leroy.
"Crocodile Rock"--Elton John
The man born Reg Dwight has notched a total of nine #1 singles in the U.S., the first six coming in the Seventies (placing him second behind the Bee Gees, who you will notice are missing from here, at least nominally). "Crocodile Rock" kicked it all off, a semi-classic Farfisa-palooza celebrating the joys of good love and great music. The lyric "Suzie went and left us for some foreign guy" left me confused as a wee lass--what other guy is he talking about? Ah, the days when I had yet to appreciate the many ways a speaker of English could wield the language (especially the English)!
"Will It Go Round In Circles"--Billy Preston
My dad's favorite song was "Nothing From Nothing." I much preferred Mr. Preston's other #1. Occasionally I entertained the idea of starting a nice debate, but I could never muster the necessary bravery. My dad was the sort that you not only needed to step on eggshells around, you would also be advised to check the size and color of the fragments.
The last year of his life he was confined to a bed in the living room, entirely dependent on my mother. The stereo/CD player sat in the kitchen some twelve feet away, but rather than have it relocated, Dad would yell for Mom to put in The Best of Billy Preston, a disc which kicked off with my song. His song was all the way at number seven. Sometimes, Dad would let my song play; most times, he'd yell again, telling Mom to skip ahead. I'd clench my teeth and remind myself that I could just buy my own The Best of Billy Preston to avoid this angst.
I don't know the reason(s) my father so loved "Nothing From Nothing." It was difficult for me to fathom that he was capable of enjoying something so simple as a song. If I could have ten more minutes with him, I would ask. Then I'd tell him why I love "Will It Go Round In Circles," because I'd finally know for sure he cared.
This bites down and locks on. This lets the bad guy win, but only sometimes. The chorus makes the center of my chest all Grinch-y. It doesn't tell me; it asks. It makes me wonder. Great feat for a song to pull off; for a person, a parent, maybe not so much.
"Cat's in the Cradle"--Harry Chapin
Mrs. Chapin cobbled "CITC" together shortly after pushing out their first kid, worried as she was that her husband's workaholic ways would prevent him from being the best father. Points for effectiveness, but as a staunch non-breeder, the song's moral will forever been seen and never felt.
"American Pie"--Don McLean
A bold, ambitious look at a turbulent era in the nation's history. From the cold milk comfort of the 1950s to the scorching chaos of the 1960s, "American Pie" hit people square in their chests. Was it really such a long, long time ago? Anyone who claimed pop music and poetry were mutually exclusive had to eat humble pie when McLean's melancholic masterpiece hit the top of the charts in the winter of 1972.
Fuck all the way off.
McLean's legacy is as a sideline reporter. The fucking Jim Lampley of rock. He's not a poet, he's a peanut. He's not a seer, he's a sucker. All the artists McLean referenced were his superiors beyond debate, and yes that includes the Big Bopper. Beginning with the Day the Music Died and concluding in Altamont, Donny Boy manages to grow even more grating and self-righteous with every overthought, overwrought line, until he actually attenuates his ultimate message.
Well, I wasn't there, so I guess I don't get it. Except there's nothing to get. "American Pie" is not a social movement, or a philosophy, it's a song. And it's not enjoyable on any level. Even criticizing it makes my legs restless. The only tragedy that took place on a football field in 1969 was Super Bowl IV. Okay?
"American Pie" makes me hate North America, South America, pie, men named Don, and former Vancouver Canucks goalie Kirk McLean. On those rare occasions I have made it to minute four, "American Pie" has even made me hate music.
Of the 150 songs on Pop Goes the 70s, none won the Grammy for Song of the Year, and only one earned Record of the Year honors: "Love Will Keep Us Together."
67 hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and all 150 made the top ten.
For various reasons, there are no songs by the Bee Gees, Carole King, the former members of the Beatles, Elvis (whose biggest hit of the decade, "Burning Love," is my personal favorite of his), and many many others. But to lament what wasn't included is to miss the point. As an amusing time capsule of a legendary era is where Pop Goes the 70s finds enduring value.
I leave you with my top 10 and bottom 10 songs from the entire shebang.
1. "Will It Go Round In Circles"
3. "Right Back Where We Started From"
4. "I'm Not In Love"
5. "Go All the Way"
6. "If I Can't Have You"
7. "A Horse With No Name"
8. "Jackie Blue"
9. "Rock On"
10. "Le Freak"
1. "American Pie"
2. "(You're) Having My Baby"
3. "Afternoon Delight"
4. Hooked On a Feeling"
6. "I Go Crazy"
7. "How Do You Do?"
8. "Do You Wanna Make Love"
9. "Higher and Higher"
10. "Puppy Love"/"Shannon"
Saturday, March 12, 2016
The frilly, spineless pop of the era wasn't all that punk rock was rebelling against. There was also arena rock. Led Zeppelin, Queen, the Eagles, et. al, hedonistic millionaires who redefined what it meant to be considered a "rock star." But one thing those groups had in common with the Ramones and Sex Pistols? None of them landed a track on Pop Goes the 70s.
"Go All the Way"--The Raspberries
Take a guy younger than many, smarter than most, and more full of himself than some. Give him a guitar. You know those songs that burst onto the scene and end as many incipient bands as they inspire? This is one of those songs.
Between Pilot and the Bay City Rollers, Scotland threatened to take over, I tell ya. Happier than a smiley face eating chocolate-covered vanilla fudge. Love indeed is magic, all tricks and sleights and cutting a woman in half. You can believe in love; I prefer to believe in tacos. Love will break you, but only you can break tacos. Unless you go soft shell, which you should.
"Reminiscing"--Little River Band
Weekends are for winding down, not winding up. The street lights reveal puddles on the road, and the moon takes care of the rest.
"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)"--Looking Glass
Hard luck broad surrounded by open shirts and closed hearts. The working woman can't win. Or, I'm never around when they do. Heh.
A glam rock snot rocket. Sing along, dance along, make up phallic parody lyrics...above all, have a below-the-belt blast.
A gritty song about an important social topic. You immediately thought of Louis C.K., right?
"Precious and Few"--Climax
Are the seconds my ears can stand. This shit would lose a pillow fight with a baby chipmunk.
The post-coital yak of hippies shouldn't sound so pretty. Especially when it mentions cunnilingus and a fox-trotting penis. Again, shouldn't be a rapturous classic--yet it is.
"Jackie Blue"--Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Veruca Salt grew up and hit the hallucinogens heavy after her dad died of a massive inevitability and her mother retreated to the woods. She moved to NYC, hooked up with a chick named Karen, and the rest is all crashing waves that make the pills go down easier.
"Singing drummer" finally scores a win! Larry Lee, cool job. You make Leo Sayer sound like Barry White! Not even Smashing Pumpkins could ruin this lysergic noodle soup.
"Saturday Night"--Bay City Rollers
As punk as Pop Goes the 70s dares to get. Amateurish all the way 'round, yet still incredibly likable. These kids didn't even comprehend the inhibitions they lacked. The chanting escalates, till visions of wind-up toys shuffling towards the table's edge dance in my head. More fuzz on the guitar than on any band member at the time of recording.
"Baby Come Back"--Player
Exposure makes the brain grow sharper, so after two weekends, my then-BF and I knew the infomercial by heart like we were a pair of lungs. We anticipated certain songs, certain visuals. When "Baby Come Back" hit? Forget it. We celebrated like the people of Vatican City at the sight of white smoke. (I would've felt bad for our neighbors had they been anything other than obnoxious, Bush-the-band-probably-also-the-President-loving white trash.)
"Baby come back!" BOOM went the kryptonite.
"Signs"--Five Man Electrical Band
Some great lines here. Some killer alliteration near the end of the final verse. The right to own property vs. the right of Earth to exist sans violation. No rights, no wrongs, just thoughts, just words.
Another singing drummer. The most striking aspect of the infomercial was how often the men looked prettier than the women. The hair, mostly. The key is always in the hair.
"Saturday in the Park"--Chicago
The sights and smells of nature clash with the sights and smells of humanity. Infectious, yes...but so is yawning.
"Play That Funky Music"--Wild Cherry
Tight on top, loose on the bottom.
"I'm Not In Love"--10CC
Ultra sound. He is in love, actually, see, because his wife wondered why he never told her more frequently and he was all, well if I say it every day it's a meaningless phrase, innit? So, right, listen--I don't love you!
What seems upon initial impression to be a misted-over glow from a ramshackle light source is one of the most inventive tracks of the decade, and also one of the very best.
"In the Summertime"--Mungo Jerry
I thought it was just the one guy, and can you blame me? (Were the mutton chops considered the other band members?) Singer Ray Dorset not only had resembled an eight-year-old Andre the Giant, he was one of drunk driving's most fervent champions. A body doesn't need money--much less a car--to drink from a sweaty pitcher of lemonade or inhale a freshly mown lawn.
"Come and Get Your Love"--Redbone
Jerky smash from a rare flock. Chris Pratt dances like a doofy.
"Black and White"--Three Dog Night
Songs stressing the need for social equality can sound so cringey because the very idea that social equality is something that needs to be stressed and sold is itself cringey.
"Sweet Mary"--Wadsworth Mansion
I'd love to be all, "Yeah, this sounds like a couple wads worth!" but nah. A little saucy, a little crusty, "Sweet Mary" sounds like a relic of the prior decade. Send 'em back to Christmas 1967, present them their stockings stuffed with effects pedals, and a spot on a Nuggets compilation would have been theirs.
"Last Song"--Edward Bear
Leave it to Canadians to name their racket-gang after Winnie the Pooh's real name. "Last Song" is pure Eeyore, and yet another Sixties sound-a-like.
"Nice To Be With You"--Gallery
Micro pave RNR. Forever in burlap sack. You guys, the punks were really unfair to arena rock.
"Baby I'm-A Want You"--Bread
Baby I'm-a vomit. Wallace and a-Gromit. It's simple mathematics, you gotta love it: three Tylenol for one Bread song. I can't imagine the number of overdoses these guys were responsible for. Soft rock? More like soft fat.
"Moonlight Feels Right"--Starbuck
There are four reasons to remember "Moonlight Feels Right".
2) Marimba solo
3) Singer fond of wearing a flapjack on his noggin
4) Chesapeake Bay!
These guys weren't even from Maryland. Crazed. Crabs. Let's get crackin', hon.
"My Sharona"--The Knack
Critically derided as inauthentic, The Knack scored their first (and biggest) hit a mere year after playing their first live gig. The lyrical content is ick-fest, but perhaps the fact that the real Sharona remained friends with singer Doug Fieger until his death mollifies that somewhat. Nothing more than huge drums, huge chords, and huge hook, but honestly? Still one of the most overrated things I'll ever hear.
Friday, March 11, 2016
The outrageous spirit of the era, embodied in a silly dance song with its own silly dance. The two key components of disco: pulse and sleaze. So fun, not even abuse by lazy spoof artists can extinguish its charms.
"Boogie Fever"--The Sylvers
This act made much better music, but hey, James Jamerson just showed up and he brought pizza!
"Boogie Oogie Oogie"--A Taste of Honey
Get up and. Sweeter than a double dose of honey wine. Two chicks rocking guit-fiddles, whoa, what?
Groovy, quite. Do not ask her name--just dance.
"Disco Lady"--Johnnie Taylor
A cultural landmark--the first number one hit with "disco" in the title. "Oughta be on Soul Train"--unf, that's the panty-dropper right there.
There's a danger in attaching too much bait to the hook; no fish will be fooled at the sight of so much temptation in one place.
"You Sexy Thing"--Hot Chocolate
I'll have a six-pack of vibrato to go, please. Hasn't aged as well as agenda-driven editing suggests.
"Fly, Robin, Fly"--Silver Convention
I'll have a six-pack of words for here, please. The first German act to nab a number one in the States, and a proven guilty pleasure. Blame it on the bass, I guess. Why the robin, though? A decent bird. A muted Baltimore Oriole, if I'm being honest, but at least they don't attack cardinals. Unlike some other, more colorful birds I could name....
"(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty"--KC & The Sunshine Band
Party starter, party pusher, over here there and everywhere. Put your treasure chest in the air and wave it like you kinda sorta care. I get it, Time Life; "Get Down Tonight" would have made every other butt-bumper on the collection sound like Requiem Mass in D Minor in comparison.
"More, More, More"--Andrea True Connection
Crazy to think Linda Lovelace could have maybe had Helen Reddy's career. Given Andrea's claim to fame, no surprise how stiff her single hit sounds, from her delivery to the brass to that vaunted piano breakdown. The rare song structured pre-pre-chorus, pre-chorus and chorus.
"If I Can't Have You"--Yvonne Elliman
A stunner from one of the most important albums of the decade. Love me, love this song. The bros Gibb had the knack for dance-floor dramatics that stopped just short of ridiculous, insuring their tunes turned out timeless. Funny, it's the vocal tracks that pushed me into love, and for years I had no clue it was even the culprit! I blamed the string arrangement for a long time.
Need I tell you the legend of Chic? No, I need not, for I trust that if you are not already aware, you will sooner than later take the initiative to confirm it for yourself. Just don't blame me when you get lost in the rabbit hole.
I don't know if people in the 70s--listeners or critics--were willing to recognize that dance/disco music was producing true classic material. Between the best of Chic, the Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder juggernaut and the Bee Gees' takeover during the last few years of the decade, the genre's detractors seem less like traditionalists concerned for the integrity of the art form and more like grouches with no rhythm.
"Rock Your Baby"--George McRae
The genre wasn't always at its best, but listeners didn't really seem to mind, so long as the groove persisted. This sounds like mashed potatoes in search of gravy.
"Ring My Bell"--Anita Ward
The sins of the drums are absolved by the right deeds of the guitar. I'm begging for an itch to scratch.
"I Just Want To Be Your Everything"--Andy Gibb
Everything here flows, freshness to freshness. The path is a bit too straight,; I would have preferred "Shadow Dancing" here, one of the finest concoctions to escape the Lab Gibb.
"Rock the Boat"--Hues Corporation
Nearly as fun as swimming on concrete. Suck on with yo' bad self.
"Turn the Beat Around"--Vicki Sue Robinson
When a person becomes ensnared in the music, poetry tends not to result. The ideal is to not to stink up the joint like fish in the net would. But holy mackerel, that percussion--so busy, so vibrant--leaves my brains scrambled with a drizzling of Texas Pete. Killing me none too softly.
"The Streak"--Ray Stevens
In 1973, Time magazine reported on the campus craze known as "streaking." On a bet, a dare, or as a form of protest, naked students would run around the halls or on the field during athletic events. This was not a recent fad, of course, but calling it "streaking" was. It soon went beyond colleges. The easily-pleased were content to run around their neighborhood at night. Fanny-flashers with big dreams saved it for sporting events, and even to this day people are willing to be forever known as sex offenders just to run butt-ass naked in front of thousands.
Stupid as all hell. So if someone was going to write a stupid song about a stupid activity, it had to be the author of "Guitarzan" and "Cletus McHicks and His Band From the Sticks." I was amused by this a child. I also found Full House funny. Ray Stevens is basically the male cast of Full House in one guy.
"Gonna Fly Now"--Bill Conti
A vehicle to victory for the universal underdog. Conti works the hook like a speed bag. I wish you luck in making it through more than five seconds without imagining yourself standing in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
"Indian Reservation"--Paul Revere and the Raiders
If you've never heard "Indian Reservation," you are automatically a better person than me.
"The Candy Man"--Sammy Davis, Jr.
Not better than the version from Willy Wonka, but pay dirt takes flight regardless. The best song about a drug dealer not sung by Curtis Mayfield. People gorging themselves with Pop Rocks, Sugar Daddys, Laffy Taffy and Now and Laters made room.
"Disco Duck"--Rick Dees
The last novelty song to reach the apex of the Hot 100. Clearly, "Disco Duck" killed the population's patience for aural knickknacks. A bit like the "Boss Fight" tune in the NES Ninja Gaiden, with far more quacking. Dees, being a DJ from Memphis and not a singer from Memphis, shows a fondness for elongating syllables--one of the many cheap tricks of the not-singer. Gimme DJ Paul any day.
"Happy Days"--Pratt & McClain
Imagine a crinkle boot stomping on a human face--forever.
"I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing"--The New Seekers
First it was "the Coke song," then it was "the Mad Men song." Never has it been "the New Seekers song," but never was that the point. A greater understanding of interconnectivity and advancement was the point. You can't eliminate homelessness, vanquish hatred, wipe out famine, preserve nature or destroy the weapons of war, but you can crack open a soda and think on how great the planet would be if you could do that pull off even one of those feats.
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"--Robert John
Everyone knows about "the mighty jungle," but who recalls the "peaceful village"? That's why we need to learn to sing!
"Kung Fu Fighting"--Carl Douglas
Tis better to dance the Kung Fu than to fight it. Tis best of all to not follow up your novelty song with another novelty song about the same damn topic, but I guess Carl's manager was also his favorite uncle. How many kids spent their idle time at the bus stop practicing their "moves," filling the air with "hai!" and "hah!" until even their own fathers wanted to see them run over by a runaway pimpmobile?
"The Rapper"--The Jaggerz
Folksy cautionary tale about a slick-talking professor of Suave Prick 101. Surely he didn't bat a thousand. Certainly he was on the unfortunate end of a nut-shot or two. There must be women in the world sufficiently savvy to just ignore the guy. But thanks for the heads up, Jaggerz. That "z" is so 90s. (Worse fashion statement--JNCO jeans or platform shoes? Only one can cause physical as well as mental anguish! That has to count for something....)
"Put Your Hand in the Hand"--Ocean
Just one of several Canadian acts on Pop Goes the 70s, but the only overtly gospel track. Cutesy on the surface, but touches on the stone upon which any good religion is built--shame. Mother may I not care about this song beyond the drum break?
"Billy Don't Be A Hero"--Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods
Originally recorded by Paper Lace. Someone else's life flashed in front of my eyes the last time I heard this.
"Hooked on a Feeling"--Blue Swede
A cover. All these white Swedes did was cover songs! Pop culture needs to let this dog die in the alley already. Stop taking it home and nursing it back to relative good health. That "ooga-chucka" stuff is the factual worst. Inserting it into your commercial is the most effective way to assure I will never purchase your product and may, in fact, actively root for its failure. I'm not big on conspiracy theories, but I'm 77% sure that Blue Swede were created out of uranium, tapioca pudding, and the stray hairs of ABBA.
"The Cover of Rolling Stone"--Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show
A largely-listenable parody positing the Show as pill-popping, blow-snorting, Guru-consulting, groupie-banging bards in the Keatsian tradition. "Largely," since they left in one of the messiest abortions of an electric guitar part I've ever heard.
The happy ending is that the band did indeed make the cover...in caricature. Yeesh.
"Don't Give Up On Us"--David Soul
Do give up. Tap out with both hands.
David Solberg was actually a folkie before landing his iconic role on Starsky and Hutch, but only eighteen people knew that, and none of them were American, so he remains a novelty. When you're starving, you don't care that the broth is tasteless and the noodles are overcooked. That's why it's important to keep your ears well-fed.
"The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia"--Vicki Lawrence
The timeline here is all futzy. Not to mention the morals. I can understand little sister blowing away her bro's errant spouse, but why'd she let him go down for a crime he didn't commit? Speaking of...his sentencing and execution are pretty damn speedy even by the standards of Down South corruption.
Some listeners were upset at the perceived exploitation of Southern stereotypes, but sometimes you can't tell a story without running the risk of feeding someone's prejudices. Screw it, tell a story anyway.
"Spiders and Snakes"--Jim Stafford
"Crocodile Rock" without the "rocodile." Was that Stafford's natural accent, or an affectation? Either is unpleasant, but only one is excusable. The music grooves like swamp life in heat, but the lyrics are putrid.
"Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)"--Reunion
Voiced by Joey Levine (the copper throat behind "Yummy Yummy Yummy"), this right here is Namedrop City, the original city built on rock 'n' roll. "We Didn't Start the Fire" for people who don't care about world history, "Life is a Rock" would have benefited from a vocalist who didn't sound like Bruno Kirby after a helium hit. (But not as much as we all would have benefited from never existing.)
"Sam's cookin'." Garrruuuuhhh. "Carly Simon, I behold her." Buuleeeuuugghhhaaarrr!
Thursday, March 10, 2016
"Delta Dawn"--Helen Reddy
Tanya Tucker's version, recorded while she was still in the amniotic sac, is better. But that's not the one on here, now is it? Check it, the sequel to Gone With the Wind, with Rhett continuing to give none of the damns. Cryptic enough to keep people re-listening, and a safer pick than the Australian's other number one, "I Am Woman." (Which for all its flaws was emblematic of the increasing social mobilization of progressive females.)
"Mr. Big Stuff"--Jean Knight
Stay loose, baby, but remember to keep it tight. The implied strength shines brighter than any ululation or bleat. Flash, dash or cash, let's see you take it to the bank with that ass.
"Brand New Key"--Melanie
If this mononymous one-hit wonder taught me anything, it's the lesson that women need to demand more of themselves. Ladies, let us endeavor to be more awesome overall. Let us never be cloying, clinging Melanies wheeling after jive turkeys in hopes of catching a crumb or two of fickle affection.
Think of all the sexual euphemisms you've ever heard used in the service of song, is there even one more ludicrous than roller skating?* Melanie and INXS have both tried it, and at least the INXS song made me laugh, because "abrupt ska chorus" will kill arousal quick as a bullet to the brain.
"Torn Between Two Lovers"--Mary MacGregor
The fruits of feminism do not follow the same ripening process. An airhead's confession of infidelity to her man (as written by a man, the "Peter" third of Peter, Paul & Mary) captured the interest of a clearly-bored nation. Mary MacGregor sounds like a diaphanous gown. Hard to imagine her enjoying sex, or least worthwhile sex.
"The Morning After"--Maureen McGovern
Winner of the Oscar for Best Song in 1972. Hilarious, given that from top to bottom it screams "Made For TV." Only the second-worst Academy Award given out that year, though.
"Have You Never Been Mellow"--Olivia Newton-John
Cruise control pop. Don't skip breakfast, skip this song.
"Right Back Where We Started From"--Maxine Nightingale
I wake up, I want to see the sun. I cue up a song, I want to hear the chorus. Farewell, blues; hello, reset button. ('Cause the "resist" button is stuck.) Naive probably, wicked certainly. A country ready to unite in dance had their boisterous anthem. So pick up your feet and stick in your teeth. Even if it is equivalent to plopping a wig on a pig, what's the harm so long as no fibers get in the bacon?
For sure blasting this one in Chinatown if the Caps win the Cup this year.
"Midnight At the Oasis"--Maria Muldaur
Mildly exotic, lightly erotic--how sexy is getting sand lodged in the dark places, really? That's what fantasy is for, folks. A sun-loving city girl can get lost and found in seconds.
"Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves"--Cher
The Waltons co-existed in millions of American homes with the Bunkers. Men looked to Archie and saw their fathers. The men of M*A*S*H provided a glimpse of what they, the sons, could become. Women recognized themselves in Laverne and/or Shirley, while obsessing over which Angel they would be.
Which man looked at Sonny Bono and said, "Far out! I gotta get my mustache looking like that!"? Which woman considered Cher and wanted her life? Seriously. What woman, without the benefit of personal stylists, wants to deal with that much hair cascading down from her head?
All I'm saying is, how the hell did television not die after five years of Sonny and Cher variety shows?! It's a minor miracle. Oh, the song? Who cares loses.
"You're So Vain"--Carly Simon
A sophisticated, smart aleck classic. Simon as consistently claimed that the record addresses multiple men, not just a single rakish paramour, and the mystery continues to intrigue.
That bass intro is no enigma, though. God. Damn.
"Higher and Higher"--Rita Coolidge
Choker. I'm not referring to the accessory. I'm making a request.
All the high stakes of a Connect Four Battle Royale, all the romance of a sitting at a stop sign. This song, "Undercover Angel" and "Do You Wanna Make Love" all placed in the Billboard top 15 for 1977. You see, then, why punk rock had to happen. The music world needed punk, needed new wave, needed no wave, needed those insolent outliers who bristled at the idea of achieving mega-success or being background noise for people who treated songs and albums like just more accessories cluttering up their lives. Anxieties mount, frustrations multiply, and not everyone will run to the same outlet. Some will create their own.
"Wild Flower"--The New Birth
The struggle is long. Chin resting on a sunken chest, swollen eyes shut, waiting for the ache in her bones to fade. The future is unimaginable. But, in the absence of strife, a person has nothing to prove.
"Too Late To Turn Back Now"--Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
Fat bee's take longer to die after they lose their stinger.
"Love Train"--The O'Jays
A hot licks unity anthem that entered the US Top 40 on the same day that the Paris Peace Accords were signed. Earth days still ain't easy, but songs like "Love Train" make them easier. Contrast this with "What's Going On." Now that's not precisely fair, especially to the O'Jays, but while their song makes people feel good and hopeful, Marvin Gaye's shattering lament confronted listeners with the problems they were trying to avoid. Both tracks are quality and both are necessary. Now name two modern equivalents.
"Everybody Plays the Fool"--The Main Ingredient
"Dig this." Ah, the infallible wisdom of perspective. So many R&B and soul classics of the era feel friendly, even outright familial. Fittingly, "Fool" starts with a literal talking-to. Love is tougher than life.
"When Will I See You Again"--The Three Degrees
A redoubtable opponent, romance. Every lyric is a question, so permit me to add my own: "How long could he realistically stay away?"
Amazing moment inspired by the infomercial #68: "Wait, the Three Degrees? They were a real group?"
Oh, Sanford and Son. You tricked at least one white boy.
Christina Aguilera and her cadre did not ruin a classic. They simply turned mud into dog poo. I don't want to step in either one. Why is this so beloved? The French? Well if that's the sort of thing that pricks your scalp, behold: Das ist Müll, meine Schwester.
"Best of My Love"--The Emotions
You wanna know what love is? You want I should show you? Too bad, I can only tell: love is when you inform your partner that cake is what's for dinner, and they don't even inquire what kind, they just roll with ya. Love.
"Fire"--The Pointer Sisters
Circadian shenanigans. Who can sleep with all that shaking going on? Don't know what to do, total skip of the heart. I would have mistaken this for a tune from the early 80s first time I heard it, had I not already known better.
Convection carries away energy and brain cells. Of all the romances to reference in your song, you pick two of the most tragic?
"Give Me Just a Little More Time"--The Chairmen of the Board
All hail patience. Bake, don't fry. The horns are pretty convincing. Just don't crowd me.
"The Cisco Kid"--War
What. A. Stud. That groove is a leading cause of "lemon face." The words come in, water to the shore, and as soon as it recedes, here comes the sandpipers to peck and patter.
(So glad this was selected over "Low Rider," which I fear has been indelibly stained by George Lopez.)
"Want Ads"--Honey Cone
Efficient girl-group fluff.
"O-o-h Child"--The Five Stairsteps
Uplift where we belong. Rebirth and rejuvenation. A person doesn't need to have all the answers, they just need to show concern. Dare to care, hope to help.
The fade-out is a bag fulla marbles and gravel, though.
"TSOP"--MFSB (feat. The Three Degrees)
(Largely) instrumental Philly soul (train) from the whole GD family. This shit here's double knit. The ladies aren't vital, but I doubt anyone would kick them out of bed for eating crackers.