The Return of Mr. Cool

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(Pictured: Perry Como with Tom Jones and Debbie Reynolds on This Is Tom Jones, November 1970.)

As documented here, American Top 40 as it existed in the fall of 1970 was a slapdash work-in-progress, but it didn’t take long for Casey and his producers to figure things out. By December 5, 1970, his weird ad-libs and non-sequiturs are mostly gone, and the show is tighter and cleaner than it was only a month or two before.

40. “Do It”/Neil Diamond
31. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”/Neil Diamond
Casey mentions that “Do It” keeps Diamond with two songs in the countdown after “Cracklin’ Rosie” dropped off, and it’s pretty good. “He Ain’t Heavy,” on the other hand, is a weirdly lugubrious performance. He doesn’t seem to be feeling it at all until the very end.

39. “One Man Band”/Three Dog Night
29. “Green Eyed Lady”/Sugarloaf
22. “Be My Baby”/Andy Kim
21. “After Midnight”/Eric Clapton

20. “Stoned Love”/Supremes
18. “Indiana Wants Me”/R. Dean Taylor

17. “Black Magic Woman”/Santana
12. “See Me, Feel Me”/The Who
10. “Share the Land”/Guess Who
9. “Heaven Help Us All”/Stevie Wonder
4. “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five
3. “Gypsy Woman”/Brian Hyland

I couldn’t have articulated it after only a few months as a listener, but it wasn’t just the music that I loved, it was the way that music sounded on WLS. As I wrote a few years ago, it was “larger than life, better than real.”

36. “It’s Impossible”/Perry Como. Few people today grasp how big Perry Como was, and for how long. Casey calls him “the original Mr. Cool.” He came up in the 1940s during the musicians’ strike, so his first hits came fronting vocal groups. He was also a pioneer of television, with regular series starting in 1948 and continuing into the early 60s; after that, he did holiday-themed specials every year until the late 80s. His peak years as a hitmaker were the late 1950s, but “It’s Impossible” would make the Top 10 in January 1971, and he would return to the Top 40 one more time in 1973 with “And I Love You So.” Como died in 2001, but he routinely charts every year at Christmas, as his most famous holiday songs are discovered anew.

34. “Can’t Stop Loving You”/Tom Jones. There is no better indication of the growing maturity of American Top 40 than the fact that Casey does not feel compelled to make a cringey remark about Jones’ effect on his female listeners.

30. “Cry Me a River”/Joe Cocker. We have previously noted Casey’s tendency to pronounce “Sunday” and “Monday” as “sundee” and “mondee.” Another of his pronunciation quirks is “Joe Caulker.”

EXTRA: “Take Good Care of My Baby”/Bobby Vee. Which Casey introduces with a story about how Bobby Vee employed a young Bob Dylan for a while, but fired him to save money. In later years, Vee would say that he did not fire the young pianist, who called himself Elston Gunnn (with three n’s). Vee auditioned him and put him on stage for one show (at a badly out-of-tune piano), but then decided “it wasn’t gonna work.” Later, Vee said, he was walking down a New York street and saw an album in a record store window with “Bob Dylan” on it. “I thought to myself, ‘looks a lot like Elston Gunnn.'”

13. “My Sweet Lord”/George Harrison
11. “Patch It Up”/Elvis Presley
“My Sweet Lord” makes the highest debut of the week, up from #72. Casey notes that the flip side, “Isn’t It a Pity,” is also a hit. Two songs later, he plays “Patch It Up,” the other side of the much better “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Somebody with a better work ethic should look into the history of Casey playing both sides of double-sided hits.

8. “No Matter What”/Badfinger
7. “One Less Bell to Answer”/Fifth Dimension
“My Sweet Lord” isn’t the only record zooming up the chart. Badfinger was #24 the previous week and the Fifth Dimension #25. Casey notes that little is known about Badfinger beyond the first names of the members. He says, “A few people have come up with the theory that this song is an old Beatle recording released under the name of a non-existent group.” He doesn’t think that’s likely, however. After “One Less Bell,” Casey says, “Ahh, that’s so beautiful.”

2. “Tears of a Clown”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
1. “I Think I Love You”/Partridge Family
It’s the third week at #1 for the Partridges. Smokey will take over for two weeks starting on December 12.

Although some of the oddball stuff from AT40’s earliest days would persist for a little while yet, by the end of 1970, the show is clearly on its way to becoming an institution we would still care about a half-century later.

Team Christine

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(Pictured: Christine, 1979.)

Celebrity deaths can inspire a number of different reactions. They range from “hmmm,” to curiosity (morbid or otherwise), to a straight-up punch in the gut.

Christine McVie’s death yesterday was a punch in the gut.

Many, many young men of the 70s and 80s were on Team Stevie, and why wouldn’t you be? Beautiful, mysterious, bewitching, a tempestuous siren, you’d have to be made of stone not to respond to her. But some young men of the 70s and 80s realized right from the jump that they were out of Stevie’s league, even at the long distance of fandom. And if those young men were fans of Fleetwood Mac, they—I—joined Team Christine.

But Christine McVie wasn’t a consolation prize. Nerds like me believed then—and still do—that hanging around with cool people would make us cool by association, and Christine McVie was cool. A cool look, cool instrument (I am a frustrated keyboard player), cool voice, and a laid-back manner that seemed to glide above whatever drama was going on in front of her keyboard rig. We know now, of course, that Christine was as much in the thick of the drama as any other member of Fleetwood Mac, the drugs and drinking, the romantic entanglements, the chaos surrounding the biggest band going at an especially wild time in music history. And when she left in 1998, she was exhausted by it.

I’m going to play a couple of Christine’s songs on my radio show Saturday night. One of them is going to be “Warm Ways,” a track from Fleetwood Mac that is everything great about her, languid and romantic singing, beautiful and ethereal keyboard textures. What the other one is going to be I haven’t decided yet. “Over My Head”? “You Make Loving Fun” (which she wrote during an extramarital affair with the band’s lighting guy, but told John McVie it was about her dog)? Go off the board for “Come a Little Bit Closer”? “I’d Rather Go Blind” from The Legendary Christine Perfect Album? The entire Legendary Christine Perfect Album?

You’ll have to tune in and find out.

This 2017 interview with Christine for Mojo is highly recommended. The interviewer, Andrew Male, is one of my favorite follows on Twitter.

I now find myself short of my usual word count. Instead of simply shutting up, I’m gonna post part of what I originally meant to post today. It’s on the flip.

Continue reading “Team Christine”

The Line That’s Missing

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(Pictured: Mary Chapin Carpenter onstage in 2018.)

I was so young when I first heard Elton John’s “Your Song” that it was years before I realized the terrible majesty of  “If I was a sculptor / <chuckle> But then again, no.” Bernie Taupin would eventually be famed for poetical inventions that ranged from Dali-esque surrealism to complete gibberish, but even he couldn’t come up with something better in place of that line.

But then again (see what I did there), there’s admirable honesty in admitting you’re beaten and that you need to get the song out the door and onto the album. In her song “Stones in the Road,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings:

And now we drink our coffee on the run
We climb that ladder rung by rung
We are the daughters and the sons
And here’s the line that’s missing

That kind of thing seems qualitatively different from Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” where the lack of a suitable line is actually a suitable line:

Well we got no class
And we got no principals
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes

If you know other examples of throwaway lines like these, please share them with the entire class.

On Another Matter: I have not tweeted a lot of worthwhile reading material lately. Maybe it’s a function of the way Twitter is circling the drain, or maybe my attention span is shot. But here are a few things:

Continue reading “The Line That’s Missing”

Thanksgiving at the Ends of the Earth

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I am not going to get anything new written for Thanksgiving, I’m sorry to say. But there’s this, which I wrote 10 years ago this week, and is worth another look.

There was a time when I was willing to pack up and move anywhere for a radio job. As a young jock, I felt I had to be ready to seize opportunities wherever they could be found, and so I wasn’t shy about applying for jobs a long way from my familiar Wisconsin/Iowa stomping grounds: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina. I never got close to landing any of those, although in late 1983 I wound up in Macomb, Illinois. I can still conjure up the way it felt to be there in those first few months. Even though we were but four hours from where I had grown up, it seemed like we’d gone to the moon. I began describing Macomb as “not the ends of the earth, but you can see them from there.”

At least I wasn’t alone. I had dragged The Mrs. to the middle of nowhere with me. I was lucky in that regard.

Fast-forward about three years. In 1986, we hired a young, single guy to do middays on our AM station in Macomb. Seems to me he had come from somewhere in Michigan, although I wouldn’t swear to it. I wasn’t involved in his hiring (which is another story entirely, and not the one I want to tell today), so I didn’t know much about the guy beyond what I could pick up around the office. And what I picked up mostly was his powerful loneliness. He came to work every day and didn’t say much, did his airshift professionally enough, and then went home to who knows what. Didn’t have a wife, didn’t have a dog. What he did have was a shy, wary look in his eye, and he moved with the slow gait of a man breasting a snowstorm.

His isolation there on the wild Illinois prairie seemed so profound that The Mrs. and I took pity on him. I had to work on Thanksgiving morning and we were staying in town, so we invited him to share our Thanksgiving dinner. It was nothing fancy, turkey roll and gravy out of a jar, and we ate it on our laps in front of the TV watching the Packers play the Lions. (His interest in the game is what makes me think he was from Michigan.)

I can’t tell you that we ended up knowing him better by the end of the afternoon because we didn’t. Neither can I say that he and I remained friendly colleagues long afterward, because I had one foot out the door already and would be gone within a month. I have no idea what became of him. A Google search reveals two or three people with his name. One of them has a Facebook page with pictures that look like a family, and I kind of hope that’s him.

So today’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, unless it’s this: if on this Thanksgiving Day you don’t have to be taken in by strangers who will still be strangers at the end of it. Better to have people to spend it with who know you well, understand how you are, and love you anyway.

This year, we have the good fortune to be spending the day with my parents, who are still living at home at the ages of 89 and 86. (As they understand us, we, too, know them well, understand how they are, and love them anyway.) I am grateful to them for all they made possible, and continue to make possible.  

I am grateful to you as well. That people actually found this website, read it, and continue to do so, and have done so for 18 years, is still kind of gobsmacking to me. (Thank you for understanding how it is and reading it anyway.) Thanks also to those of you who take the time to comment, frequently, occasionally, or somewhere in between. Collectively, we continue to make each other smarter, and in a world as dumb as this one, that’s no small thing. 

Gus Dudgeon Is Dead and I Don’t Feel Too Good Myself

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(Pictured: Britney Spears and Elton John in 2013.) 

Some Britney Spears stans got mad at me the other morning when I tweeted that her hit collaboration with Elton John, “Hold Me Closer,” is the worst record of Elton’s career. “We don’t care about your opinion,” “OK boomer,” that kind of thing. (I don’t recall asking any rando who doesn’t follow me for their opinion, but you know how it goes.)

The trouble with “Hold Me Closer” is not the performances. “Tiny Dancer,” “The One,” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” the songs that are sampled to create the track, are all perfectly fine. Britney’s performance it is what it is, and it doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the production of the record. The guys who produced it are so impressed with themselves that they seem not to have bothered to actually listen to it. Andrew Watt has his head so far up his own ass it’s a wonder the reporter could hear him talk. He and his partner did little more than to loop the words “hold me closer tiny dancer” for three minutes and bury them in a beat. They put across a hook, but in the most primitive manner possible.

(There is an “acoustic version” of the record, which still has too much echo, but at least you can hear the music. Hard to believe the same guys made it.)

Some of Elton John’s 70s records are phenomenally busy, with all kinds of stuff going on in them, but the man who produced them, Gus Dudgeon, never forgot that he was making music. Today, producers everywhere have decided that audio effects—echo, reverb, phase and pitch shifting, auto-tune, etc.—are equivalent in importance to the voice of a singer or the sound of an instrument, which is as sensible as a chef making an entire entree out of condiments. The most egregious example I’ve yet heard is “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals, which is made up almost entirely of audio effects. (I wonder if the people in Glass Animals even like music.)

It’s possible that that the “OK boomer” thing (which was clever for about five minutes two years ago, and anybody who still thinks it’s a sharp retort needs to up their game a lot) is accurate, though. I am a product of the era of big speakers and headphone listening, when producers created expansive soundscapes with the intention that the little things be heard. (At the same time, I was also listening to AM radio which, even with its lesser fidelity, sounded vastly better than much of what we hear now.) Younger listeners don’t know anything but production styles intended for lossy audio formats, cheap earbuds, and the loudness war. They don’t relate to what I hear, or can’t hear.

There’s a story about a radio station that changed from a current-based format to all-80s. The chief engineer was asked how he’d changed the audio processing to make the station sound so much better than it had before. He hadn’t done a thing, however—the station was merely playing music that had been produced with a different aesthetic. Yet even music made in earlier times can be subjected to modern techniques. Recently, I needed a copy of “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes and Jeremiah for my radio show, but the only one I could find was on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. That version has been brickwalled, however, which reduces the magical sound of the original to dynamics-free mush. If I were an artist or a producer who had slaved over the mixing and mastering of my music back in the day, I would consider such treatment of it to be an act of violence.

On Another Matter: On the heels of the news Saturday night that Elon Musk is going to let Donald Fking Trump back on Twitter, I announced that I would be leaving the platform, but I was too hasty. After some communication with followers and some further reading about how others are responding to the Trump return, I have been convinced to stay, and I will, for now. My eventual hope that one of two things will happen: A) that I will be able to build up a list of Instagram follows that provides value similar to my list of Twitter follows; and/or B) Mastodon becomes easier to use. And in any event, this website of mine isn’t going anywhere.

We Are at the Vet

(This post has nothing to do with anything that usually appears here. Just go with it.)

On a November Monday 30 years ago, the morning crew arrived at the radio station, a little pre-fab house in the country, to find a bedraggled cat sitting on the front stoop. It invited itself inside, hopped up on the couch in the reception area, and went to sleep. On Friday of that week, the cat came home with me, and stayed five months shy of 20 years. Sophie wanted nothing more than to spend her days sitting on my lap while I worked on the computer in my office and to spend her nights sleeping at my hip, the purest embodiment of love I have ever known. We had other cats: Abby, our first, who died in 2006, and the sisters Meeka and Maizie, who died in 2019 and this past summer. But Sophie was my favorite, and as we do not intend to have any more cats, she will hold that title for all time. 

During her last couple of years, Sophie went to the vet two or three mornings a week for intravenous fluids to help her failing kidneys. While I sat and waited, I wrote cat haikus, which I posted on Twitter. Most of them were written in 2011 and 2012, the year Sophie passed, although a couple were written several years later, after we’d acquired Maizie and Meeka. 

Cat haiku morning
Working here and there all day
Beer haiku tonight

Cat is at the vet
Time for vet haiku again
Cuz why the hell not

Screw the cat haiku
Cat got up at 3:30
I need sleep haiku

At the vet today
Wearing my thrift store denim
Yes, they are used pants

The cat got to ride
In the new car to the vet
She was not impressed

At the vet again
Might as well pass the time by
Writing vet haiku

Two cats at the vet
First one cat, then the other
Then I have a beer

Cat is at the vet
Didn’t win Mega Millions
How to pay the bill?

Here’s my PIN number
Just take whatever it costs
Call me when I’m broke

We are at the vet
The cat is quite unhappy
“They’re gonna do WHAT?!”

Cat haiku today
Is made up entirely
Of obscenities

We are at the vet
They named a wing after us
Back two cat$ ago

We are at the vet
The cat protesteth loudly
As if I give a

Cat is at the vet
Yada yada yada ya
Da yada yada

We are at the vet
Animal tranquilizers?
Shoot me up with some

We are at the vet
Where do you suppose they keep
The really big drugs?

We are at the vet
Sleet and rain will not deter
Nor lethargy stop

Cat is at the vet
Yup, we’re at the vet again
Where else would we be?

Cat is at the vet
Cat is always at the vet
How’d we get so old?

Cat is at the vet
Cat is always at the vet
Owner in same rut

On this fine spring day
We experience the new
Except at the vet

Morning at the vet
The cat is brown, white, and gray
Owner is just gray

At the vet again
Poetic inspiration
Is hard to come by

Cat is at the vet
Owner extremely grumpy
You finish the poem

We were at the vet
We did not feel like writing
Find your own damn poem

Two cats, two vet trips
Write vet one really big check
Then go drink two beers

Cat is at the vet
She is going to outlive me
Which is just fine, thanks

Cat is at the vet
She just might live forever
I hope that I don’t

At the vet again
Elderly cat is fading
Owner fading too

One last cat haiku
Sophie has left the planet
But never our hearts