Song of the Week – Good Times, Chic

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Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the (in)famous “disco sucks” night at Comiskey Park in Chicago.  The event was officially called the Disco Demolition.

A local radio DJ, Steve Dahl, lost his job when his station went to an all disco format in response to the trend of the day.  I did a little research and was surprised to see that most of the hits that held the #1 spot on the Billboard singles chart in 1979 were disco (OK, maybe some were R&B) tracks.  This week in 1979, Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” was #1, “Hot Stuff” was #3 and Chic’s “Good Times” was at #13 – with a bullet.

When Dahl landed at another rock station, he decided to seek revenge and would “explode” disco records on the air.

“Back in the day when we had turntables, I would drag the needle across the record and blow it up with a sound effect, and people liked that.”

He decided to take this a step further and stage an actual demolition of disco records at Comiskey.  He persuaded the White Sox to co-sponsor a promotion that would allow fans to attend a twi-night double header against the Detroit Tigers for less than $1 if they would bring a disco record to be demolished in a center field explosion between games.

About 50,000 people showed up, way more than the typical 16k that attended most games.  The park’s security at the event wasn’t up to the task of crowd control.  Thousands of fans poured onto the field in a riot.  They stole the bases and tore up the field, forcing the second game to be postponed.

Here’s a short ESPN documentary about the event.

Ya know, at the time I was one of those “disco sucks” rockers.   But today, I kind of like to hear the best of those songs.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Things That I Used to Do, Guitar Slim

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Guitar Slim cut a record for the Specialty label in 1953 that would play a significant role in the history of rock & roll – not only for the singular performance but also for the impact it would have on future artists.  The track was produced by a then 23-year-old Ray Charles!

Slim applied his trademark distortion on “The Things That I Used to Do,” an effect that influenced guitarist legends.  You can connect his sound to guitarists from bluesmen Buddy Guy and Albert Collins to iconoclast Frank Zappa.  Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and Stevie Ray Vaughn recorded versions of Slim’s standard as did Elvin Bishop, Ike & Tina Turner, and countless others.

This Hendrix recording was released on the 2018 album Both Sides of the Sky.  It was cut at a session that featured Winter joining Hendrix on a second guitar, Billy Cox on bass and Dallas Taylor (who was playing with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the time) on drums.

“The Things That I Used to Do” was voted as one of the 500 that shaped the rock genre by former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator, James Henke.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Tom Robinson Band

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This weekend marks the end of LGBT Pride Month.  June was selected as Pride Month to recognize the landmark Stonewall riot, 50 years ago yesterday, on June 28th, 1969, in Greenwich Village, New York.  This incident is often cited as one of the most significant events that triggered the modern gay rights movement in the US.

Today’s SotW celebrates gay lib in song – “2-4-6-8 Motorway” by the Tom Robinson Band.

“2-4-6-8 Motorway” was released in 1977 and reached #5 on the UK charts.  Though it didn’t make the pop charts in the US, it did receive significant airplay on FM Rock radio.

The song has two sides to it.  On the one hand, it is about driving a “lorry” through the night to the early morning.

And it’s two four six eight, never too late
Me and my radio trucking on through the night
Three five seven nine, on a little white line
Motorway sun coming up with the morning light.

The tie into the gay liberation movement comes to those enlightened with a familiarity of the popular gay lib chant “2,4,6,8, Gay is twice as good as straight… 3,5,7,9, Lesbians are mighty fine”.

Robinson also recorded the much more obvious “Glad to be Gay” that was included on his 1978 album, Rising Free.

We’ve come a long way since Stonewall and Robinson’s anthems, but we have further to go to ensure the rights of the LGBT community – especially for transgender individuals.  That’s why Pride Month remains relevant today.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What I Am, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

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In 1988 Edie Brickell & New Bohemians released their debut album, Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars.  The album received a lot of airplay on “modern rock” radio stations, at least in Boston, and grabbed my attention.  There were two songs in particular that stuck to me  — “Circle” and today’s SotW, “What I Am.”

In 2006, Brickell described her inspiration for the song to the San Francisco Bay Times.

In a world religion class, everyone was complicating life and existence by over-thinking.  I had this sense it’s right here, right now.  It’s who we are and what we feel.  It’s not this tangled web of psychology and philosophy.  I was driving to band practice and started singing that song.  I wanted to be real, not adopt some philosophy or role.  Instinct is our driving force.

So she wrote:

I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know if you know what I mean
Philosophy is a talk on a cereal box Religion is a smile on a dog

Besides the beguiling lyric, I was also drawn to the lead guitar work of Kenny Withrow who co-wrote “What I Am” with Brickell.  He uses an auto-wah/envelope filter on his leads that reproduces the sound of a Jerry Garcia solo (think “Estimated Prophet” or “Shakedown Street”).

On a side note, Brickell met Paul Simon on the set of Saturday Night Live when she was the guest musical artist on November 5, 1988.  About a half year later they were married and remain so today!

Her dad was a pro bowler that played for the Dallas Broncos.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Battle of Who Could Care Less, Ben Folds Five

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How do you feel about Ben Folds?  I first heard of him when he released his second album as the Ben Folds Five (there were only 3 people in the band), Whatever and Ever Amen (1997) – that’s the one with one of his most well-known songs, Brick.”

I kind of liked his sense of humor and self-deprecation.  At the time he described the groups sound as “punk rock for sissies.”

The band’s guitarless lineup of piano (Folds), bass (Robert Sledge) and drums (Darren Jessee) made them stand out against other popular groups of the day.  I often thought they sounded a bit like Todd Rundgren on some of his more poppy, piano-based hits, like “Hello It’s Me.”

Take a listen to the SotW, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less,” from Whatever… to see if you hear the similarity.

“Battle…” exemplifies the previously mentioned self-deprecating humor.  The song is about a guy who’s competing to prove his “coolness” by being aloof and indifferent.

Do you not hear me anymore?
I know it’s not your thing to care
I know it’s cool to be so bored
It sucks me in when you’re aloof
It sucks me in, it sucks, it works
I guess it’s cool to be alone

This should cheer you up for sure
See, I’ve got your old I.D.
And you’re all dressed up like the Cure

Will you never rest
Fighting the battle of who could care less
Unearned unhappiness
You’re my hero, I confess

Pretty funny stuff!

Folds indie cred was burnished through his work as the producer of the first solo album by the provocative performance artist, Amanda Palmer (formerly of The Dresden Dolls).

But somehow, I hold it against him that he was a judge on a TV singing show – the a capella contest The Sing Off, that was on NBC for five years.  That’s not very hip in my book.  Then again, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith agreed to judge American Idol for two seasons.  So who knows?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – So It Goes, Let Me Kiss Ya & I Live on a Battlefield, Nick Lowe

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I was listening to a Spotify Daily Mix a few days ago that was feeding me a healthy dose of Nick Lowe songs… and I was digging it.

Lowe began his musical career in the Pub Rock scene in early ‘70s London.  By the mid/late ‘70s he was working with Stiff Records as a producer and recording artist – vaguely associated with “punk” rock, but not really.

His first solo album was called Jesus of Cool (1978) in the UK but was given the less offensive title Pure Pop for Now People in the US (with a reprogrammed song order).  It contained Lowe’s first single release for Stiff, “So It Goes.”

Pure pop, indeed!  The song ended up on the soundtrack of The Ramones film Rock ‘n Roll High School.

Lowe’s next album, Labour of Lust (1979), contained one of his most popular hits, “Cruel to Be Kind.”

Lowe’s third solo LP, Nick the Nife (1982), gave us the power pop classic “Let Me Kiss Ya.”

This song is so innocent and sweet it could give you a cavity.

Lowe continued to write and record terrific songs.  In 1994, Lowe released one of my favorites in his catalog – “I Live on a Battlefield” (co-written by Paul Carrack) – from The Impossible Bird album.

An irony of his career is that he’s become a wealthy man from a song he wrote that was made more famous by Elvis Costello — “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”  But the big bucks came from the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack to the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner film The Bodyguard (1992) and it wasn’t even Costello’s version!  The massive sales success of that album generated royalties to Lowe estimated to exceed $2.5 million.  Not bad!!!

Lowe was married to Carlene Carter for 11 years.  That made him Johnny Cash’s stepson-in-law.  He played in “supergroup” Little Village with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner.  He is also one of a relatively small collection of artists that have performed at least 5 times at the free, San Francisco music festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.  All of these connections put him in damn good company!

No wonder I was digging that Spotify playlist.  Nick Lowe is a treasure.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Oye la noticia, Ray Barretto

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Ray Barretto was a Puerto Rican conga drummer that released dozens of Latin albums between 1960 and his death in 2006.  He was a sought after session musician for many great names in the jazz world, including Kenny Burrell (Barretto played on August 5th, 2017, SotW “Chitlins Con Carne”), Billy Cobham (on his landmark Spectrum album), Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Stitt and Weather Report.

But he also left his mark on popular music; appearing on recordings by The Bee Gees and Eddie Harris and performing as part of the Fania Allstars at the 1979 Havana Jam with the likes of Bonnie Bramlett, Rita Coolidge, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, and Stephen Stills.

In his book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, Tom Moon chose Barretto’s Barretto Power (1972) as a “must find” listen.  Today’s SotW is “Oye la noticia” (“Hear the news”) from that album.

Moon says this about the song:

“Oye la noticia” …begins as a medium-tempo dance tune, but right around the three-minute mark, Barretto breaks into a marathon conga roll that sends an unmistakable signal: Change is coming. The percussionists heed his call. Within seconds, they begin smacking the rhythm around, adding inspired jabs. These don’t simply outline the beat but pummel it into submission with phrases that require both brute strength and tremendous dexterity.

This tune was designed to get you up, on your feet, and dancing. So stand up and shake it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Water Song, Hot Tuna

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Today’s SotW is “Water Song” by Hot Tuna.

Hot Tuna was the spin-off group from Jefferson Airplane, led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady in 1969.  “Water Song” was on their 3rd album, Burgers (1972), that also featured (ex-Jefferson Airplane) violinist Papa John Creach, and drummer Sammy Piazza.

“Water Song” is ideally named.  The shimmering acoustic guitar and rolling drum fills evoke the image of a rippling stream flowing through a forest of dappled light.

If you’re into the technical aspects of guitar playing, check out this video of Kaukonen teaching how to tune your instrument to open G and play “Water Song.”

Jorma Kaukonen – Water Song Tutorial

As an instrumental, “Water Song” was very popular at WZBC in the ‘70s, used by many of the DJs as the bed played behind their reading of the nightly live music updates.

“Water Song” is also a fan favorite.  Hot Tuna often saves it for the encore at their live performances, still to this day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Float On, The Floaters

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Back in the ‘70s, in the Disco era, one of the most cliché’ pick-up lines was conceived – “What’s your sign?”  In some ways, it isn’t as corny as it seems today.  You see, back then there was a significant cultural meme around horoscopes and astrology.  The website at the link below documents the era.

Flashbak – What’s Your Sign?

Needless to say, that cultural phenomenon could not escape popular music!

“Float On,” by the soul group The Floaters, did their best to capitalize on the trend.

Each of the group’s singers states his sign, name and what attributes he desires in women.

Aquarius and my name is Ralph
Now I like a woman who loves her freedom

Libra and my name is Charles
Now I like a woman that’s quiet

Leo and my name is Paul
You see I like all women of the world

Cancer and my name is Larry, huh
And I like a woman that loves everything and everybody

The sultry r&b music holds up but the lyrics haven’t aged well.  Yet I still enjoy hearing it because it’s so ludicrous.  It always makes me smile.

The album version extends to almost 12 minutes of slow jam sensuality.  The single was cut to 4 minutes to accommodate radio programming.  In 1977 it reached #1 on US Hot Soul Singles chart and #2 on Billboard Hot 100.

“Float On” was the subject of a parody, “Bloat On,” by comedy team Cheech and Chong.  It was originally released as a single and later included on their Let’s Make a New Dope Deal album.

Harry Nilsson (featuring Gloria Jones and the Zodiac Singers) recorded a song called “What’s Your Sign” (1975) and Frank Zappa’s “Dancin’ Fool” (1979) is a scathing lampoon of the Disco culture and has the line “Love your nails … You must be a Libra… Your place or mine?”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain, The Turtles

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Today’s SotW celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the strangest events ever to occur in Rock History.  On May 10, 1969, The Turtles took drugs in the Nixon White House and all hell broke loose.

The accounts of what actually happened that day are a little sketchy.  (The were no smartphones capturing everything on video.)  I’ll do my best to tell the story as pieced together from several sources.

Tricia Nixon, the President’s daughter, was a big fan of The Turtles.  She was having her first party in the White House and invited The Turtles and The Temptations to provide the entertainment.  The guests were socialites and the children of high-powered business execs – about 450 of them!

The first incident occurred when the Secret Service freaked out because the could hear something ticking in the equipment cases.  Turns out it was only a metronome, but just to be safe, the agents stomped it into pieces to make sure it wasn’t an IED.  In another telling, the SS pried the cover off of it and drowned it in water.

Next came the drugs and alcohol.  Some say The Turtles snorted cocaine off the Lincoln Desk (as Howard “Eddie” Kaylan claims in his 2013 autobiography — Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.) and others that they smoked some weed in the Lincoln Bedroom.  Who really knows?  There was also an abundance of champagne being poured.

But one thing’s for sure – Mark “Flo” Volman, got so wasted that he fell off the crowded stage several times.

Later, Volman tried to hit on Lucy Baines Johnson, The former President’s daughter, much to the dismay of her angry husband, Pat Nugent.

At this time The Turtles were making their underappreciated album, Turtle Soup.  That’s the one that they called on The Kinks’ Ray Davies to produce.  Today’s SotW is “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” from Turtle Soup.

Enjoy… until next week.