We Are the Champions

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(Pictured: Queen, 1977.)

Over at Kent Kotal’s Forgotten Hits, he’s just announced the results of a poll that determined the 3,333 most essential classic-rock songs of all time. The list started with reader nominations and votes at Classic Rock Essentials, then factored in classic-rock radio airplay and download statistics to yield what Kent says is not the opinion of radio or rock critics about which songs are most beloved, but that of listeners around the world.

The depth and breadth of the list is remarkable, from Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley in the 50s to new-millennium songs by Coldplay, Green Day, and others. All the classic-rock warhorses are present, and a fabulous array of deep cuts, including a handful even I have never heard of. The list includes a fair amount of R&B, which album-rock radio would have played in the 70s but classic-rock radio doesn’t play today. There’s also a lot of pop music, especially from the 80s and 90s, that you might hear on some classic-hits stations, as distinct from straight-up classic-rock radio. There are a few acts I wouldn’t consider either classic-rock or classic-hits radio acts, but with 3,333 songs on the list, the net is cast wide by definition, and there’s little point in quibbling about it.

Given today’s deeply conservative radio programming philosophy—attract a well-defined sliver of an ever-more-fragmented audience and then do nothing that remotely risks driving away a single listener—no terrestrial station would play all of them. As Kent remarks, classic-rock stations seem to play only about 300 of the listed songs. But if an Internet operator were looking to start up a station, he or she could do far worse than to base their list on Kent’s list.

The complete list is far too daunting for me to attempt a deep dive. But since we recently had a lively discussion here and on Facebook regarding the top four classic-rock warhorses, we can discuss how Kent’s list treated some of those songs.

My opinion is that “Stairway to Heaven,” “Free Bird,” and “Layla” constitute the classic-rock top three, and the consensus of our recent discussion of what should be #4 settled on “Hotel California.” Kent’s top four turned out to be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Hotel California,” “Layla,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” He says that the final top two changed positions more than 50 times over the course of the voting. “Layla” was #1 after the first day of voting, but never at any other point. “Stairway to Heaven” wound up at #6 and “Free Bird” was at #18.

“Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones was #5 on Kent’s list, which seems entirely too high to me. Four other Stones songs placed among the top 13: “Satisfaction” (#7), “Start Me Up” (#10), “Honky Tonk Women” (#12), and “Brown Sugar” (#13), any one of which seems a more likely candidate for top Stones tune. Others in the top 13 not heretofore mentioned are “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (#8), “Dream On” (#9), and “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (at #11, which again seems entirely too high to me).

My earlier post mentioned some plausible candidates for the fourth spot behind my personal big three. Here’s how they ranked on Kent’s list:

“Light My Fire” #16
“Born to Run” #17
“More Than a Feeling” #20
“Don’t Stop Believing” #31
“Hey Jude” #37
“A Day in the Life” #44
“Pour Some Sugar on Me” #81
“Come Sail Away” #99
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” #110
“Smoke on the Water” #143
“Rhiannon” #182
“Nights in White Satin” #204
“Money” #207
“White Room” #232
“Aqualung” #318
“Roundabout” #387 
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” #1139

In most cases, each of these songs represented each performer’s highest-ranking hit. Exceptions are Fleetwood Mac, with “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” and “Landslide” ranking higher; Cream, with “Sunshine of Your Love”; and Yes, with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” (Higher than “Roundabout”? Sorry, that’s just wrong.)

The highest-ranking Beatles songs were two nobody mentioned in our earlier discussion: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at #14 and “Here Comes the Sun” at #19. A song I considered at #4 for a while before leaving it out of the post entirely, “Rocky Mountain Way,” came in at #156.

I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery within Kent’s list any more than I already have. You will certainly want to poke around in it for yourself. If you notice anything that interests you, let me know. And let Kent know, too. I am guessing the list will provoke some discussion.

Legal Fine Print: Research and final tabulations conducted by Kent Kotal/Forgotten Hits/Classic Rock Essentials, © 2020, Forgotten Hits Publishing.

Late-but-Timely Addendum: Bill Withers has four songs on the list: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Use Me,” and “Lovely Day.” Sounds about right.

How the Web Was Woven

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(Pictured: Jackie Lomax in 1969.)

This is the story of a Liverpool musician who got a little help from his friends.

In early 60s Liverpool, band lineups shuffled frequently. Popular acts included Dee and the Dynamites and the Undertakers, both descended from Bob Evans and the Five Shillings, who are said to be the first rock ‘n’ roll band from Liverpool. When the Undertakers’ bass player left to join another band, they recruited Jackie Lomax from the Dynamites to replace him, even though Lomax had never played the bass guitar before. Within months, Lomax became the Undertakers’ lead singer.

The Undertakers soon became one of the top draws in town along with the Beatles, and they rode the same Liverpool-to-Hamburg talent pipeline that led to the Star Club. Because they had a saxophone player where other Liverpool bands did not, the Undertakers were better able to play R&B, which gave them the chance to back Ray Charles and Little Richard in Germany. And Jackie Lomax turned into a pretty good blue-eyed soul singer.

The Undertakers gigged in Britain throughout the mid 60s and even took a chance on a trip to New York City to find recording work, but Lomax ended up back home by 1967. He formed a band called the Lomax Alliance, which caught the attention of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. But at the precise moment of his greatest influence, when he might have been able to help Lomax a great deal, Epstein died. After that, Lomax cut a single with producer Robert Stigwood (making him one of the first people to cover a song written by the Bee Gees), but it didn’t go anywhere.

Then came Apple. George Harrison remembered Lomax from their days in Liverpool, and produced a session with him in early 1968. He was so happy with the results that he soon scheduled another one. This time, he brought some friends along to play: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Nicky Hopkins. The superstar band cut a single, with “Sour Milk Sea,” written by Harrison, on the A-side, and “The Eagle Laughs at You,” a Lomax original, on the B-side. Further sessions in Los Angeles with members of the Wrecking Crew resulted in enough songs for an album, Is This What You Want?, which came out in 1969. That same year, McCartney produced a couple of songs for Lomax, but he left Apple before ’69 was out.

Lomax signed with Warner Brothers after that, and continued to associate with some of the biggest names in the music biz. His 1972 album Three was produced by John Simon and included appearances by Levon Helm and Rick Danko. After that, he joined the group Badger, thereby participating in one of the weirder transitions in rock history: the group, which had been a prog-rock outfit, morphed into an R&B act and recorded an album produced by Allen Toussaint. But after that album, Lomax went onto the next thing, which included two more solo albums, one of which wasn’t released in the States. By the end of the 70s, he was out of the music business entirely.

The CD reissue era served Lomax pretty well: the 1991 re-release of Is This What You Want? brought him new attention; his more obscure 70s albums eventually came out as well, along with a compilation of songs going back to Liverpool days and that 1974 Badger album (White Lady). In 2000 or 2001 (sources disagree on the precise date), he released his first new album in decades, The Ballad of Liverpool Slim. Lomax died in 2013; Against All Odds was released shortly afterward.

Allmusic is distinctly lukewarm on Lomax’s albums, although I listened to Is This What You Want? the other day for the first time in a while and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. “Sour Milk Sea,” famously demoed by the Beatles during the White Album sessions, is the most famous track but isn’t anything special. “The Eagle Laughs at You,” is tremendous, however, and it got more American airplay than “Sour Milk Sea,” although not enough to get above #125 on the Bubbling Under chart.

You can listen to the original CD issue of Is This What You Want? right here. It adds cuts not found on the 1969 release, including Lomax’s final Apple single, “How the Web Was Woven,” produced by Harrison, backed with the superior “Thumbin’ a Ride,” produced by McCartney with Harrison on guitar. Bonus random Wikipedia fact: “How the Web Was Woven” was also recorded by Elvis Presley.

(Rebooted from stuff originally posted in 2008, with some new material.)

Life on Lockdown

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(Pictured: my town, Madison, Wisconsin, at twilight.)

At our house, life on lockdown is not much different than life every other day. The Mrs. has worked at home, downstairs on what used to be our dining room table, since 2012. I do whatever work I can manage to find in my upstairs office, as I have done since I quit corporate life in 2003, unless I have radio to do, or a class to teach. But both radio and teaching are done for the foreseeable future. (The part-time staff at my stations are off the schedule for the duration.) And that’s fine, really. I am not sorry to be limiting my exposure to the outside world, even though I’ll miss being on the radio in a time such as this.

One thing that has surprised me about the lockdown so far is how little I have missed watching sports. It’s too bad that my teams didn’t get to play in the college basketball and hockey postseasons, but I don’t pay much attention to the NBA and MLB in normal times, and while I watch the NHL playoffs, I don’t plan my life around it. So far, repeats of games from out of the past are holding me over nicely. If this were the fall, I would miss football, but the NFL offseason is unfolding normally, so there’s no void to feel. But ask me again in September.

So The Mrs. and I are doing about as well as anybody can under these conditions. We hope that we will continue to be fine, although the next month to six weeks will be especially hard for all of us, no matter where we are. It’s not just the spectacle of suffering we will witness, or the fear of joining the sufferers. It’s the continuing requirement to alter the way we live. And as social distancing becomes second nature, those of us who have lived a lot of our lives online these last several years may need to start distancing within that life as well.

It’s been said that if acetaminophen—Tylenol—came up for FDA approval today, it would never get it because of its potential for damaging side effects even with relatively small doses. Nevertheless, we keep taking it because it’s useful, and it’s so ubiquitous. It occurs to me that social media is the same way. We would not have approved of it if we’d known how it would cheapen every kind of discourse and amplify the voices of people whose opinions are worthless—if we’d known how bad it is for our mental health, even with relatively small doses. But we keep taking it because it’s useful, and it’s so ubiquitous.

There are two types of people on social media that I have grown quite tired of these last couple of weeks. The first are the ones bitching about being bored. With a world-historical and unique opportunity to pursue anything you want to do beyond having to show up for work every day, it took two weeks before you ran out of ideas and desire? The second are the ones who think they’re CNN. I see people on Facebook posting literally two dozen news stories a day, often the most doomiest/gloomiest pieces out there. This must scratch some sort of psychological itch for these people, but it’s not an itch I share, or one I particularly want to know the details of.

Related: when you find a story describing in vivid detail people dying horribly after the virus shuts down their lungs, maybe don’t race to post it on Facebook. We all know that shit is bad, we’re all afraid that we’ll get it, and those who are A) able and/or B) sensible are trying like hell to avoid it. So what are you trying to accomplish by throwing it in our faces?

Read the room, people.

Like millions around the world, I have more time on my hands than usual. So I’m taking requests. If there’s something you’d like to read about, please let me know what it is: dig into a particular song or artist, do a ranking of some sort, answer a question, write about some specific date, whatever. You’ll help me pass the time, and in exchange you’ll get something you can use to pass the time. Put it in the comments below, or send me a private message in any of the several ways listed under “contact jb” at the top of this page.

Back When

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None of the retrospectives and tributes I’ve read since Kenny Rogers passed away has mentioned one of my favorite credits of his, so it’s up to me.

During the long fadeout of the First Edition, toward the end of their syndicated TV show in 1973 and while Rogers was trying to build his own record label and keep the band afloat, he took on some freelance production work. One assignment was to work with a band from New York State called Gunhill Road. They had sold a few copies of their debut album, and their new label, Kama Sutra, felt that a big-name producer might make a difference with the second one. So Rogers came on board. But in early 1973, the label brought in a different production team, Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise, to rerecord some of the songs. The original album was yanked and replaced, and one of the revised Kerner/Wise songs was released as a single: “Back When My Hair Was Short.”

The original, Rogers-produced “Back When My Hair Was Short” was pitched to the underground FM-radio crowd, heavy with drug references and scattershot criticism of the hypocrisy of American life. The revised “Back When My Hair Was Short” was transformed from early-70s topical to early-60s nostalgic. Instead of reading Screw magazine and dealing dope, the protagonist steals hubcaps and has an abiding faith in love. The revised “Back When My Hair Was Short” has a more tightly focused lyric and a sense of humor missing from the original, as well as an AM-radio gloss that the original does not have. (You can compare the two versions of the lyric here.)

The record’s chart action was diffuse; it became a big hit in some places as early as March and as late as July 1973, leading to a peak of #40 on the Hot 100 (#25 in Cash Box) at the end of June. After that, Gunhill Road never got a sniff of the charts again and split up, although they reformed in 2014 for a new album. Kerner and Wise would produce the band Stories as members of the Kama Sutra production staff. After they moved with label honcho Neil Bogart to Casablanca, they produced the first two KISS albums. Rogers launched his legendary solo career in 1976. And “Back When My Hair Was Short” endures as the sort of obscure record that’s beloved by nerds such as we.

For the second part of this post, click below.


March 27, 1973: Who Do We Think We Are?

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(Pictured: Cabaret stars Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey at the movie’s Paris premiere in September 1972.)

(Here’s the first of a few repeats of One Day in Your Life posts from the now-defunct One Day in Your Life blog, as promised earlier in the week.)

March 27, 1973, was a Tuesday. Newspapers headline the agreement between the United States and North Vietnam that will result in the release of the last prisoners of war from North Vietnam and withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam later this week. But the Nixon Administration has also announced that military operations will continue in Cambodia until Communist forces agree to a cease-fire. Congressional Republicans are demanding that the White House provide more information about the Watergate break-in and operations against the McGovern campaign last year. In meetings today, President Nixon orders aide John Ehrlichman to conduct his own investigation of Watergate, since White House counsel John Dean hasn’t reported the results of the investigation he’s doing. In a conversation with Secretary of State William Rogers, the president places blame for Watergate on Attorney General John Mitchell and Deputy Chief of Staff Jeb Magruder. Among his public events today, Nixon meets with Lindy Boggs of Louisiana, who was elected to the House of Representatives one week ago to fill the seat previously held by her husband. Hale Boggs and Alaska congressman Nick Begich were aboard a plane that disappeared in Alaska last October; both men are presumed dead, although their bodies will never be found.

Playwright Noel Coward died yesterday at his estate in Jamaica; he was 73 years old. Tonight is Oscar night. Cabaret wins eight awards, including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli, Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey, and Best Director for Bob Fosse. The Godfather wins three, including Best Picture. Marlon Brando is awarded Best Actor, but he is boycotting the ceremony in protest of treatment of American Indians and sends an actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to accept in his place. Dressed in Apache garb, she gives a brief speech declining the award on Brando’s behalf.

In sports, UCLA won its seventh straight NCAA men’s basketball championship last night, defeating Memphis State 87-66 in St. Louis. UCLA’s Bill Walton was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. It’s the first time the national championship game has been held on a Monday following semifinals on Saturday. In the NBA tonight, the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 85-84. Wilt Chamberlain of the Lakers plays 46 of the 48 minutes of the game but does not score a single point. Oscar Robertson scores 25 for the Bucks and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 24. It’s the last regular season game for the Bucks, although the Lakers have one more tomorrow, the last day of the regular season. Both the Bucks and Lakers will end up with 60-22 records, but the Boston Celtics have the league’s best record with 68 wins and 14 losses. The American Basketball Association will also end its regular season tomorrow. The league’s top teams going into the playoffs are the Carolina Cougars, Kentucky Colonels, and Utah Stars.

The three TV networks air 16 game shows and 12 soap operas today, including second episodes of The $10,000 Pyramid and The Young and the Restless, both of which premiered yesterday on CBS. At KQV in Pittsburgh, “Neither One of Us” by Gladys Knight and the Pips takes a mighty leap from #9 to #1 on the station’s latest survey. Last week’s #1, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack falls to #2. “Love Train” by the O’Jays blasts to #6 from #20 the previous week. Three other songs are new in the Top 10: “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” by the Spinners, “Danny’s Song” by Anne Murray, and “Call Me” by Al Green. The highest-debuting new song on the survey is “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band” by the Moody Blues at #16. New songs in the Hit Parade Bound section of the survey are Helen Reddy’s “Peaceful,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder, and “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel. Top albums include Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player, No Secrets by Carly Simon, Hot August Night by Neil Diamond, and Who Do We Think We Are by Deep Purple.

March 25, 1985: You Like Me

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(Pictured: Dynasty star Diahann Carroll.)

March 23, 1985, was a Monday. The lead story on all three network newscasts tonight concerns the fatal shooting of an American soldier by a sentry near a Soviet military post in East Germany. Major Arthur D. Nicholson was on an espionage patrol near the post. The United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France agreed after World War II to permit certain types of intelligence operations, although all four admit trying to bend the rules. The United States has lodged a protest and says the Soviet account of what happened is incorrect. It’s the first diplomatic crisis to erupt since Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet leader. The networks also report on the Reagan Administration’s efforts to persuade Congress to increase funding for the MX missile system. CBS reports on a controversial teacher competency test mandated in Arkansas. Governor Bill Clinton defends the test, while teachers’ unions are critical. CBS and NBC both report on a court decision in Chicago prohibiting night baseball at Wrigley Field. Mayor Harold Washington defends the decision, while some people fear it may eventually result in the Cubs moving out of the city. In college basketball, the field is set for this weekend’s Final Four after games on Saturday and Sunday. Georgetown, Memphis State, St. John’s, and Villanova will play in the national semifinals on Saturday, with the championship game one week from tonight.

Diahann Carroll, whose career has been revitalized by her role in Dynasty, is on the cover of TV Guide. Tonight, ABC nearly doubles the ratings of its competitors with a Barbara Walters special featuring interviews with Neil Diamond, Barbara Mandrell, and Boy George, and the 57th Academy Awards. CBS counters with its regular Monday-night lineup of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Kate and Allie, Newhart, and Cagney and Lacey. NBC shows the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way But Loose. At the Oscars, Best Picture nominees are Amadeus, The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, and A Soldier’s Story. F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce both get Best Actor nominations for Amadeus; Sally Field is nominated for Best Actress for her performance in Places in the Heart. All of the Best Original Song nominees were significant pop hits: “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” “Footloose,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” and “Ghostbusters.” Among the winners: Amadeus, Abraham, Field (who, during her acceptance speech, exclaims “You like me! You really like me!”), and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

Billy Joel and supermodel Christie Brinkley, who were married on a yacht in New York Harbor on Saturday, are on their honeymoon in an undisclosed location. The Grateful Dead plays Springfield, Massachusetts, and Deep Purple plays East Rutherford, New Jersey. U2 plays Richfield Coliseum in suburban Cleveland, and Julian Lennon plays Austin, Texas. At WBBM-FM in Chicago, “We Are the World” by USA for Africa vaults from #7 to #1, displacing “Material Girl” by Madonna, which falls to #2. Madonna is also at #8 with “Crazy for You,” up from #23. Several other stars have two songs on the chart: Wham, with “Careless Whisper” at #5 and “Everything She Wants,” which debuts at #29; the Time, with “Jungle Love” at #15 and “The Bird” at #24; Foreigner, with “That Was Yesterday” at #18 and “I Want to Know What Love Is” at #22; and David Lee Roth, with “California Girls” at #25 and the new “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” at #37.

Perspective From the Present: On April 1, Villanova would upset Georgetown in the NCAA men’s basketball final by a score of 66-64 to become the lowest-seeded team (#8) ever to win the title. And as March turned to April, “We Are the World” was the song everyone wanted to hear. In small-town Illinois, my radio station was happy to give it to them.

Note to Patrons: This is a new One Day in Your Life post. Now through the end of May, while we’re all sitting at home hoping not to get sick, I’m gonna bust out some extra content, including ODIYL posts that appeared for the first time at the now-defunct ODIYL site but never here. The repeats will run intermittently, sometimes outside my usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday posting schedule, although the first one will go up on Friday.

Beyond that, you can expect a lot of activity here, new stuff and repeats, for as long as the crisis lasts, because what else do I have to do?

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