Top 5: Previously Unreleased

With researching the anniversary post and the One Day in Your Life posts this week, plus doing the afternoon show at The Lake, plus trying to get some paying editorial work done, I’ve had been a busy week of writing. So for this Friday’s Top 5, I’m going to cheat a little. Over the history of this blog, I have written a few posts that never made it beyond draft form. They’re the blog equivalent of the previously unreleased bonus tracks you’d find on a CD box set. In no particular order, here are excerpts from five of them.

On “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares:

A mostly undistinguished cash-in on Fabares’ celebrity (she starred on The Donna Reed Show), this record always makes me remember a radio incident so funny it nearly got me killed. I was driving home from the radio station in Iowa one night listening to our clueless competition, an AM station laboring under the mistaken impression that all the kids in town listened to them and not to one of the 100,000-watt Top 40 sticks down the road. The jock, who was 16 if she was a day, played a Motley Crue record and followed it with a contest featuring a hopelessly confused caller who was 88 if she was a day. After fumbling around with the phone call for a painful minute, the jock went back into music: “Johnny Angel,” played at 45rpm instead of 33. Convulsed with laughter, I nearly drove off into a tree.

On smooth jazz:

Smooth jazz is jazz for people who don’t know anything about jazz. It’s the perfect jazz for the same culture that thinks there are only two kinds of beer in the world—mass-marketed macrobrew and “dark.” Any instrumental music that sounds “jazzy,” as opposed to the way pop and rock music sound, must be jazz, right? . . .

Smooth jazz listeners can occasionally become mainstream-jazz listeners—after all, I did. I owned CDs by the Rippingtons and Fourplay, two of the major stars of the genre, long before I bought my first Miles and Coltrane records. But I had to seek out those Miles and Coltrane records, just as I had to seek out the more adventuresome and interesting beers I like to drink. In the mass marketplace, they’re fringe products. The bland is the norm. And like Budweiser and Miller, the bland is outselling the adventuresome and interesting fringes by the millions. What’s frustrating to those of us who like good beer is that we know many other people would, too, if they’d just free their minds and try it. Same thing’s true of jazz.

On the first season of Saturday Night Live:

Today, SNL‘s musical guests are generally bleeding-edge hip. From the vantage point of 30 years, that doesn’t seem true of Season One. Yes, early episodes featured Jimmy Cliff, Gil Scott-Heron, Al Jarreau, Patti Smith (whose proto-punk performances of “Gloria” and “My Generation” may well have been the hardest-rockin’ in the history of TV to that point), Betty Carter, Leon Redbone, and [Paul] Simon, but musical guests in the first season also included Neil Sedaka, Anne Murray and ABBA. While the latter three had hits at the time they were on, it’s hard to believe anyone considered them hip. A turtle-necked, sport-coated Sedaka looks like Pat Boone at a rave; Murray’s cheery country-pop seems like it belongs on another show. And although other performers sang to recorded musical backing, ABBA was the only act in the show’s history ever to lip-synch a vocal, allegedly because Lorne Michaels didn’t believe they could sing live. Nevertheless, even though the choice of performers is odd (and seems to have been left to the guest host in the early episodes), it’s highly democratic. It offered a showcase for artists who’d never have gotten on network TV otherwise.

(The SNL post is largely finished; I’m not sure why I never posted it.)

About knowing what you know, and what you don’t:

Rule Number One of life, I find, is this: “Be suspicious of people who think they know all the answers.” That I have made this Rule Number One rule ahead of other useful rules (such as “never play poker with a man named Doc”) is at least somewhat surprising coming from someone who used to be one of the world’s great know-it-alls. When I was young—from maybe age 15 up to my mid 20s, at least—I thought I had it all figured out. I knew who I was, what I wanted, and thought I had a plan for getting there. And not only did I have my own life sorted out, I was also willing to sort yours out, too. I could see your problem and what the solution should be. It was clear if you’d just open your eyes, although I often acted like my eyes were the only ones that were truly open.

But then, time began to pass. For a while, I thought I’d get even smarter the older I got. After all, age brings wisdom, does it not? But you don’t really get smarter as you age. What you learn, mostly, is how you actually know far less than you once thought you did. I am convinced that the wisdom that comes with age boils down accepting [this] and being willing to live with it.

It’s coming on summer, and that always puts me in mind of my favorite summer ever, 1976. I’ve written about it extensively on this blog over the years. I first became drawn to remembering 1976 at some point in my 30s, about the time my radio career was turning sour, about the time I started to realize that my life was mostly not what I had expected it would be, and when I began to wonder exactly what it was going to become. One of the things that drew me back to 1976 was the person I was back then—and one of the things I missed about that person was his confidence and certainty. That person knew—thought he knew—exactly who he was and exactly where he was going. Some of that person’s friends were confused about what they should do, who they should be, and how to cope from day to day, but not him. He didn’t really give much of a damn what people thought of him; he was often contrary for the sake of being contrary; he was usually sure he was right and not shy about saying so; as a result, he could be an insufferable ass. But at least he was always moving forward.

On David Bowie’s first visit to the States, in 1971:

He can’t play concerts because he doesn’t have the proper paperwork, but gets noticed when he attends a promotional event wearing a dress. In Texas. Dude, it’s Texas. Cowboy up.

And now, a real bonus track. Since I put this post together while listening to The Finer Things, Steve Winwood’s insanely comprehensive 1995 box set, here’s Winwood with Blind Faith, doing an electric version of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” a song best known in its acoustic version. Originally released on The Finer Things, the electric version has since appeared on the deluxe edition of Blind Faith’s lone album, released in 2000.

We’re a long way from Mouth and MacNeil now, ain’t we?

“Can’t Find My Way Home” (electric)/Blind Faith (buy it here)

3 thoughts on “Top 5: Previously Unreleased

  1. I agree with you about smooth jazz — and beer. When I was a reporter in a Twin Cities suburb about fifteen years ago (gah! has it been that long?), I knew folks at the local radio station and whenever they changed the format — about every two years, I think — I wandered over to do a story. I recall when the station made the shift from a sort of classic rock format to smooth jazz. The program director was ecstatic but my friend — in news — told me over a few beers one evening that the DJs were all pretty glum. Within a few weeks, pretty much all of the DJs were replaced, and I quit listening. And speaking of beer, which three or four would you recommend? I do like to wander the beer universe.

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