Bad Music: “The Bottom Ten”

My Frankie Avalon post sparked some responses and ideas, and I thought, “shit, maybe a list of the worst songs ever is kind of fun.” I realize Dave Berry set the precedent, but times change and we all have our likes and dislikes, so I am suggesting we assemble a “Bottom 10.”

That is, if the best ten songs ever are the Top 10, then logically the worst are going to be the Bottom 10 by default, right?

In his response, Steve asked if we did this, if there should be criteria, and while at first I dismissed that to myself, I did reconsider. As in does Macarena belong on the same list as The Last Kiss (J. Frank Wilson, not Pearl Jam) and does that belong on the same list as You Light Up My Life (brilliantly suggested by my wife Diane as I was listing mine) which is just flat out bad?

As in, do cheesey maudlin, wildly stupid and popular in the “pet rock” sense, and fucking awful deserve to be lumped together, or does each own its own genre? And, are there more, I wonder?

My idea is to get some simple parms, and publish lists and maybe even keep a spreadsheet to determine an actual readers worst.

It not only would be fun, but we might see some funny stuff tumble our of our collective.

Thoughts readers? Comment below, or hit me up at lawr@creativesports.com with thoughts under the subject “Remnants Bottom 10.” (Note that this is not new territory for the Renmants, who forged to the awful three years ago.)

And, to show my heart is in the wrong place, I leave you with this:

Give Me Spotify, or Give Me Death?

whiteI recently initiated my own hashtag: #iambecomingabesimpson.

Mind you, it is not that I desire to become the sometimes senile, emotionally bankrupt, confused denture wearing sire of Homer Jay Simpson, it is just that I am getting old.

My next birthday, my family will be able to sing When I’m 64 to me, and while it is true I am aging, I am trying to adapt.

I do have an IPhone 6, and I score my golf on it, do my banking, retrieve my boarding passes, text a lot, do Twitter (@lawrmichaels in case you are interested) but in some ways I am not so much resisting aspects of the future and technology that have already run amok it seems. It is more, I am just not interested.

For example, I have an MFA in literature with a specialty in 19th Century British authors. That means I know a lot of George Eliot, Charles Dickens, the Brontes, and for sure Jane Austen.

So, when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released last week, all I can do is shake my head, cupped in both hands, and wonder why the fuck someone would even try such a thing let alone how it could possibly be any good? (And, if they were thinking, they might have considered Austen’s first novel, Northanger Abbey, which holds literary vehicles from the Gothic novel, in that there are castles and mysterious hallways and personages, all perfect for bloodsucking.)

More to the point: How did we seem to run out of story ideas?

But, I digress.

I do have this IPhone, but Lindsay (and her sister Kelly) always give me gentle shit because I have 116,000 un-deleted emails (my baseball mates here on the site will probably attest to the amount of stupid industry spam and such we get), or I cannot figure out how to turn the horizontal view on the phone off.

But, Lindsay is my music mate in the family, and she has been on me to to get Spotify for over a year now, and this last Saturday, I kind of relented. That is, I downloaded the app, made an initial favorites list (The Who, The Kinks, Mick Ronson, Richard Thompson, Yo La Tengo, and Wilco) and streamed on my way to the golf course. Mind you, no money has exchanged hands as of yet, for I get the free service, with commercials.

My conundrum is I am not sure just how much to commit to Spotify.

For one thing, I really like listening to the radio. I love two stations–KTKE, and KEXP–both off the wall independent ones just like I love listening to baseball on the radio. It is something I grew up doing, and somehow the commercials (I can so hear Vin Scully talking up “Farmer John’s sausages”) don’t bother a lick within those contexts.

Another thing, though, is I started buying albums in 1963 (Surfin’ USA) and did so until the 70’s when 8-track, and cassettes burst onto the scene. In the end, though, the tapes were not reliable, so most of the stuff I bought on tape I wound up repurchasing on vinyl.

And, then came CDs, meaning now 25 years into their existence I have about 800 albums and 800 CDs, and probably 15% I cross own. For example, I think of the Beatles White Album.

I bought that on regular vinyl when it came out, and then again in the late 70’s when re-issued on white vinyl. But, I also bought it on cassette so I could listen to my player on my headphones at night when I went to sleep. Needless to say, I also own the White Album on CD, meaning I have purchased the rights to listen to Dear Prudence no less than four times.

And, now, in order to stream the White Album on Spotify, I have to pay a fee to listen again?

OK, so you could say the music moguls saw me coming, and it is not that I am against streaming or using my IPhone as such.

My old IPhone 4 had 1300 songs on it from all over the map, and that made for some killer streaming, but when I upgraded to the IPhone 6, I lost three-fourths of what was on my playlist for one technical reason, or another (never that I had not purchased the rights: more like I am too lazy to put the album information in anywhere).

But, I also have TuneIn radio, and stream KTKE and KEXP so I can listen to what I want when I want.

Lindsay, however, says all this will be wrapped into one nifty package–sans commercials–and that we can share playlists and songs without having to burn anything.

OK, that sounds like fun, but, how long till I have to switch when something falls out of favor (Napster or MySpace, anyone)?

I probably will wind up subscribing just to make life easier, and well, I love the fact that in Lindsay I simply have someone in the family who loves music as much as I do, so this is a small price for sharing something so wondrous.

Also, though I am getting older, it is not like I don’t want to grow or change, or stay open. After all, when I returned to the golf links after a 40-year layoff, I played in high top cons for over six months. My friends all said I should get some cleats, but I waved that off as such an affectation.

“When the grass is wet,” I was cautioned, you will see.

Sure enough, one fall morning I hit a tee shot on a par 3 into one of the bunkers guarding the green. It had rained a little, and the bunker was muddy, and as I stepped in to get ready to make my shot, I slipped.

I was able to catch my balance, and did not fall, but my planted left hip and leg, which was anchored, got tweaked and bothered me for two weeks.

The next day I bought cleats, and when Diane asked me why, suddenly, I said “I am getting older. I understand at my age if you break your hip in public, they just shoot you in the head where you are and leave you there.”

As Elvis Costello said:  “Don’t bury me cos I’m not dead yet.”

Vin Scelsa Has Retired the Idiot’s Delight.

Photo by DVanderheyden

Photo by DVanderheyden

He was a DJ on Sunday nights on WNEW when I was in high school. Back then NEW was a free form radio station. The DJs played what they wanted. This meant that you might get a mash up of different styles, hard rock and jazz in the same sequence of songs, or show tunes complementing something odd. Or they’d play pop songs sometimes.

The thing about free form radio was that you really got to know the DJs. They had taste and they demonstrated it every show. Sometimes the music was your style, sometimes it was something you’d never heard before in a style you didn’t know existed.

This is different than Pandora, which tries to match you with bands that play in a similar style to the bands you like. Free form mostly exists at college stations these days, and most of those shows feature a DJ known for playing a single style, at least most of the time.

But back in the hey day, the big palette was a virtue, at least for those of us who loved it, and WNEW was an incredibly great station while it lasted. In those years I also lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco, both of which had great free form rock stations, and Boston, which had a great oldies station.

Today, Boston has one of the best college stations in the country, at Emerson College. WERS is sort of free form, like Fordham’s WFMU (Scelsa’s last radio home), but is also fully aware of the value of having contributors who enjoy (and pay) for the programming.

Free form radio was (and is) great art, but it is niche. The Iheartmusic industry is built on the scientific finding that most people like to hear what they know, and are repulsed (or bored) by what isn’t what they already like.

Perhaps the best free form radio station today is WPKN in Bridgeport Connecticut. It takes no commercial or syndication money and relies solely on listener contributions. This is great, but most PKN shows are dedicated to a form. Bluegrass, polka, country, blues, free jazz, you name it. There is a show, but it isn’t a Vin Scelsa show.

Vin Scelsa’s thing was wild leaps of musical imagination, a love for Firesign Theater (if I’m remembering correctly), and a digressive patter that could extend to long closely-tended tales that I’ve long forgotten, but the memory of which produces astonishment still.

When I started this website, my heart was in this free form mixing of styles and enthusiasms and the energetic exploration of different stuff. That’s because of Vin Scelsa. And Jonathan Schwartz. WNEW DJs when I was in high school. And my high school (11th grade?) social studies teacher, Charlie Backfish, who is to this day a DJ on the SUNY Stoney Brook radio station.

There is an archive of Idiot’s Delight (the name of Scelsa’s show for all those decades) recordings, where you can get a short or long taste.

Nick Paumgarten writes about him in this week’s New Yorker, which does a good job of capturing Scelsa’s quirky personality.

Paumgarten also mentions that for his final show Scelsa opened with Sopwith Camel’s Hello Hello and finished with Lou Reed’s Goodnight Ladies. Both feature a brass bassline that sounds good to me.

Chips & Pretzels: Why The Radio Sucks

One of a bunch of reasons, I guess.

Decided to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Nuthin’ Fancy tonight. I don’t choose Skynyrd that often and I haven’t heard this one in years.

But I really enjoyed it and ran into this bluesy, sleazy, party rocker, with which I was well pleased.

Got me to thinking, long ago this was a somewhat popular Skynyrd tune. But geez, I haven’t heard it in ages. Why is that? Because the radio sucks.

There’s the pool of an artist’s complete work from which we personally choose what we like and don’t like. That’s fine and dandy – the natural order of things. The artist pool and the personal pool vary in size from artist to artist, on a personal level.

But here’s the rub – radio, and at least the basic version of Pandora or whatever streaming service one chooses – reduces the artist pool to five or six songs, sometimes as little as a couple. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s predigested song pool doesn’t include this song. I think it may have years ago, but as LS got dated, songs got dropped.

Why are most folks content with this? AC/DC – Highway To Hell, Back In Black, Dirty Deeds, You Shook Me All Night Long, TNT. Mott The Hoople – All The Young Dudes, All The Way From Memphis. Old ZZ Top – La Grange, Tush. Etc. I could name the artist and I’m sure you could name the radio catalogue.

Blech.

RIP: Gerry Goffin, It Might as Well Rain Until Forever

In 1958, I was first really hit by pop music and the radio. That is when I first heard Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue, at the tender age of five. There are other tunes from around that period of my life that I remember–Gypsy Woman, Little Star, Sorry, I Ran All the Way Home, Come Softly to Me–but at that age I also played with army men and cowboys and well, I did not own a radio. Not to mention the radios we did have were controlled by my parents.

But, it was in the summer of 1962, when I was 10 and we were at a family camp near Lake Tahoe, I heard the incredible machine gun drums and droning saxes of what was the huge hit that summer, The Locomotion for the first time, and if Buddy Holly was the first nail of my rock and roll coffin, that moment was second.

The Locomotion was penned by Carole King and her then husband, Gerry Goffin, and was the first hit for their Dimension record label, but in reality, the team of Goffin and King had been cranking out hits as members of the Brill Building for years.

The Brill Building was the songwriting haven for luminaries that included Lieber and Stoller, Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, all of which is documented beautifully in the book Always Magic in the Air by Ken Emerson.

The Locomotion led to a request for a radio for the bedroom I then shared with my brother, and that Xmas we were given a white Packard Bell. As if that were not enough, our family also got a Motorola phonograph which played all speeds–16, 33.3, 45, and 78 RPM–of records.

We also got a copy of The First Family album, a political parody of the Kennedy family that was a huge hit at the time, and that started me on my path to collections of records and CDs along with a room full of musical instruments and playing in bands and pretty much a lifelong love of music in all forms. It started me on parodies, too.

Though I would have probably been hooked by music pretty soon anyway (I’m thinking had it not been The Locomotion, it would have been the Rockin’ Rebels Wild Weekend a few months later).

Wild Weekend was not written by Goffin and King, but it was a seriously rocking aong and one that hit me at the time like my mate Steve here notes KISS hit him. Don’t forget, I was just 11-years old then.

But, back to Goffin and King, among the wonderful hits the pair wrote are:

  • Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (The Shirelles)
  • Take Good Care of my Baby (Bobby Vee)
  • Might as Well Rain Until September (The Shirelles/Carole King)
  • One Fine Day (The Chiffons)
  • Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees)
  • Up on the Roof (The Drifters)
  • I’m into Something Good (Herman’s Herrmits/Earl-Jean)
  • Don’t Bring Me Down (The Animals)
  • (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin)

Now, you have to remember that at the time a lot of the rock and roll was laughable by today’s standards. The wonderful and visceral and sexual Little Richard, for example, was sanitized by the awful Pat Boone for white kids (remember too this music was burgeoning around the time of the Civil Rights movement in the early).

But, much like Hip Hop was developed by the African American community, and the form was then “appropriated” for even broader commercial exploitation (and believe me, I am not talking the Beastie Boys here) earlier, rollicking rhythm and blues was swiped a la Richard to Boone.

At the time, though, Tutti Fruitti as performed by Little Richard was akin to Jimi Hendrix humping his Strat-O-Caster, or Wendy giving Prince a quasi blow job in the Purple Rain film (she does play a Rickenbacker, though), or anything current from Beyoncé on out.

Still, pop music, which was not necessarily rock and roll, was similarly tamer, and more orchestrated, an off-shoot of Broadway and tin pan alley largely still without the dominance of the electric guitar. Though that was indeed coming.

And, whether it floats your boat or not, or if the songs sound horribly dated and silly, the tunes of Goffin and King, I think, are still just lovely little masterpieces, much in the same league of Phil Spector. In fact, John Lennon noted that he wanted his songs with Paul McCartney to of the same ilk as those of the Dimension duo.

I still feel Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow is among the sweetest of love songs.

One of the things that always nailed me about this production is the beautiful tremoly rake of the electric guitar on the “one” of each measure. Such a simple and sweet effect, and one that has impressed me to the tune that I try to employ it often when I am playing rhythm guitar.

By the time Pleasant Valley Sunday hit it, the Beatles had come and guitars were happening and even Hippies were here, criticizing the plastic life of the suburbs, so Goffin came up with this:

Oddly this is a song I always kind of wanted to cover in some band or another.

So, last week, Goffin passed away at the age of 75.

Though I have been so remiss at contributing here at the site–it is hard once my work week begins to find time for much else, but, well, 185 more calendar days–I could not let his passing go without honoring and thanking just a great songwriter and influence on my life.

So, I will close with one other tune from the pair, and the one that introduced me to the voice of Carole King:

Thanks Gerry. Peace out.

 

Night Music: Ian Dury & the Blockheads (with Mick Jones): “Sweet Gene Vincent”

220px-Gene_VincentAll this Wreckless Eric brouhaha is wonderful.

I so loved the punk movement. I was 25, and actually in London the week of the Stiffs Live. I remember getting on the Underground to go back to my Grandmother’s in Finchley and the punks who had been at the shows that featured Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, Larry Wallis, and Ian Dury and the Blockheads were on the same train.

Blue Mohawks-crap, any Mohawk on a white kid in the fall of 1977–and pierced tongues and such were still a little outrageous in the states where ELO and ABBA ruled. In fact Roxy Music, 801, The Tubes, and Queen were about as far as I could push the envelope before that fateful trip to London to visit my Granny and cousins for the first time on their turf.

What a great time I had! I remember sleeping on a boat hostile in Amsterdam with a bunch of other kids, and getting up in the morning to eat some yogurt and fruit and cheese (remember, I am in Holland) with Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” blasting in the dining area.

As previously noted, that was the first time I heard the Sex Pistols:  in the tub in my Granny’s home, listening to my Aunt Hedda’s tinny transistor radio, tuned to John Peel and Top of the Pops. “Anarchy in the UK” blasted out and life would never be the same for me.

I came home hungry, riding the new wave as it broke here, a pierced (yep, did my ear the first time right after I got back), tattooed (long story, but that was actually a couple of years earlier) ever the long-hair who still fit right into his Berkeley community.

I saw as many of the English and New York bands as they arrived as I could, and being near San Francisco, that was pretty easy to do, and it was cheap, too. $3.50 or $4.00 to see three bands at a great venue.

Anyway, Gene commenting on (I’d go the) Whole Wide World, that “punk opened things up” suggesting Eric would not have happened in 1972 is so dead on. But, with the Pistols and Malcolm McLaren and the Clash, all bets were off.

Never prior to John Lydon did any band ever seem to consider that there was the radical difference between singing harmoniously and being an effective vocalist had suddenly fallen away. In fact, I remember arguing similarly with my life-long friend Karen Clayton at the time about Elvis Costello. Karen called Elvis a lousy vocalist, and I noted that maybe he was a lousy elocutionist, but he was a great lyricist and voclalist.

Enter Ian Dury, and Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll, a really wonderful song: funny, self deprecating, and yet brutally honest.

But, because Sex and Drugs… seemed more like a gimmick song, it was hard to take much else by the Blockheads seriously. In fact it was hard to take Sex and Drugs… seriously.

Too bad, because they were a pretty tight band, and if you know the song Sweet Gene Vincent, you know this to be true. Not just a great song that links the same attitude of Little Richard and Chuck Berry to that of the punks, the song moves to that place using Vincent–Mr. Be-Bop-A-Lula and maybe THE original punk–as a vehicle.

This version of the song is from the The Concert for Kampuchia, and joining in the Blockheads is the Clash’s Mick Jones, by the way. And, let me tell you, we are far from done with the subject.

 

Lawr Michaels Hates These Songs (most of which have to do with Martin Luther King)

You may, too. I’m not here to argue that they’re great music. But I think they’re pretty spunky pop songs, and for some reason Lawr picked them out of thin air and created a pantheon of my bad taste.

But maybe you don’t know about them.

Royal Guardsmen, “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron”

History is a deep well of ideas for stories and songs. This song borrows a rather odd story from the Peanuts comic strip to tell the story of the greatest fighter pilot if World War I, the war to end all wars, and how he was vanquished by a cartoon beagle whose best friend was named Woodstock. With harmonies and sound effects, and Snoopy of course, who at the time was big. Irresistible. As a 10 year old I don’t think I thought much about the copyright implications of using a character created by someone else in a pop song. But the writers were sued by Charles Schulz, the creator of Snoopy, and United Features Syndicate, which sold the strips to newspapers, and lost, and ended up giving up all publishing royalties to Snoopy’s creator. Ouch.

Fun fact: Co writer Dick Holler’s other big hit song was “Abraham, Martin and John,” performed by Dion. Martin Luther King fact No. 1.

Bobby Goldsboro, “Honey”

This is not rock in any shape or form. It’s Lawrence Welk crossed with some kind of kitchen sink melodrama, shaped by Jeff Koons. I like the plain spoken words, which don’t overreach while drawing grandiosely from a vocabulary of knee jerk emotion. Rain falling on kittens? Go away. The song was written by a guy named Bobby Russell, whose other hits were Little Green Apples and The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, two other songs Lawr probably hates.

Fun fact: Honey hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts the week Martin Luther King was murdered. Martin Luther King fact No. 2.

Strawberry Alarm Clock, “incense and Peppermints”

The Strawberry Alarm Clock are still touring and recording. This, thier first single, has some of the sound of a Door’s song, but it also has sweet backing vocals, skrunky guitar breaks, pentatonic piano backups, and a lot of other fake psychedelic effects, ending with a sweet Cowsills-like harmony. It is all going to be alright.

Fun fact: The band’s drummer worked up a jet system attached to his wrists, so it looked like his hands were on fire while he played.

After their No. 1 experience they were scheduled to go on tour with the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, but many dates in the south were cancelled after Martin Luther king was killed. MLK fact No. 3.

Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit In the Sky”

I was going to write a lot about the guitars and the backup singers. Norman’s plain and straight-forward vocals, and the song’s clean melody. It’s a rhythmic stomp, a dark harbinger, and an inspiration even if you’re an unbeliever, all at once. But it’s the killer guitar sound and the gospel singers backing it up that make it work. But then I saw the video. Wow. There is that Jesus stuff, but Norman was a good Jewish boy trying to write some Gospel music, and he succeeded. Though for me it isn’t the gospel, it’s the sound, which is pretty unusual for AM radio hits.

Bob Dylan is another Jewish boy to write praise songs for the Lord. FWIW.

I’m told the song is used to introduce the Angels of Anaheim before their home games. Good choice.

And then there is Martin Luther King fact No. 4.

Zager and Evans, “In the Year 2525”

Totally catchy, but totally ridiculous. I’m embarrassed for ever having suggested this had any redeeming value. Fun fact: It was knocked off the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 by the Stones Honkey Tonk Women.

Plus, there is no Zager and Evans and Martin Luther King connection. How can that be?

Beatles vs. Stones: A Soundcheck Smackdown

I went to the recording of the radio show, Soundcheck, tonight, at the NY Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Dubbed Soundcheck Smackdown, the program was something of a debate about who was/is better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

Hosted and refereed by Soundcheck host John Schaefer, who wore the zebra stripes and had a yellow penalty flag that he threw once, and a whistle that went unemployed, maybe because he swallowed it when Ophira Eisenberg popped the f-word into her argument for the Stones, as in the Beatles asked to hold your hand, but who didn’t imagine fucking all of the Stones. Round to Stones.

Eisenberg’s partner on the Stones team was Bill Janovitz, who wrote a highly-praised essay about Exile on Main Street in the 33 1/3 book series and another book about the 50 most meaningful Stones songs.

Team Beatles was Paul Myers, who is an author and musician and the older brother of his partner, Mike Myers, who is known as the keen wit and lover of language who created Wayne’s World and Austin Powers. Notably the Myers brother have very similar body types, wore matching black t-shirts with the words “John&Paul&Ringo&George” on them, but had dramatically different hair colors (Paul pure white, Mike pure brown).

I don’t know when the show will air, but you can check the Soundcheck site for the airdate.

Before the show we were all handed index cards and pencils and asked to write in 20 words or less why we liked the Beatles or the Stones. I think the Beatles are more important culturally, but after thinking about this more than I had earlier in the week, I came up with this:

“The Beatles were the soundtrack of my life in middle school. The Stones were the soundtrack of my life in high school. I have to go with the Stones.” (What I actually wrote on the card was only 19 words, and probably better).

I think you might enjoy the show, so I’m not going to go into much detail here. But SPOILER ALERT, there was one thing to talk about that gives away who won. Sort of.

Before the show John Schaefer asked how many people favored the Stones. My sense was that all of us who went Stones knew that the Beatles were really better/more important, and our applause was half-hearted, lacking confidence.

The debate had many jabs and ripostes and good theater, but it was clear as it went along that the Ophira and Bill’s argument that the Stones were all rock ‘n’ roll-y, good for sex and burning stuff down, was a better argument than the Myers’s argument that the Beatles changed all of culture riff (even though that is almost certainly true, in a way).

At the end of the show, John Schaefer polled the crowd again about their favorites. This time, the Stones fans, buoyed by Team Stones excellent performance, cheered robustly and with confidence. But the Beatles fans were still louder. No minds were changed, but a rollicking good time was had by all.

The following two songs are the one’s each team chose as their band’s most emblematic:

Each team was also asked to name the other band’s worst song. Team Stones did quite well, though the song they cite is terribly catchy, while Team Beatles latched onto some obvious flaws in a Stones’ tune that time has embiggened. Or, at least, revealed virtues that overcome some of the disco silliness.

Listen to Evan Davies on WFMU

I don’t listen to Evan’s show every week, but that’s my problem. I find I don’t have that much time to listen to the radio, though that’s certainly my choice. I could choose differently.

Evan programs lots of obscure power pop and oddball rock releases on his radio program. He travels the world looking for music that might otherwise be overlooked. The great thing is that every song is not a great song, but every song has a reason to be played on the radio. When I do tune in I’m quickly sucked into the vibe. It’s wonderful. Though not necessarily great for getting work done, unless “work” is letting the mind ramble.

You can find Evan’s radio show here. That link probably takes you to this week’s show, but from there you should be able to find more if you want.

Please want. Free form radio like this is a precious resource, like water that isn’t contaminated by heavy metals. Or radio that isn’t contaminated by heavy metal.