Jazz From Hell

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(Pictured: In 1985, Frank Zappa and Dee Snider review documents from a Senate hearing on explicit lyrics. They don’t seem impressed.)

Once upon a time, I aspired to write one of these Links and Notes posts each month. That hasn’t happened, of course, but here’s one. In this post are links to worthwhile stories I have mentioned on Twitter in the relatively recent past.

I have tipped you before to stuff by Michele Catalano. Recently, she found herself listening to the first Boston album, which prompted her to tweet, “‘More Than a Feeling’ is the sound that comes out of your heart if you squeeze it tight enough.” She followed with an essay called “A Requiem for the 70s,” in which Boston soundtracks a defining moment of her life. If you enjoy the memoir-style essays I type up for this blog, you must read hers. Another of Michele’s essays that’s worth your time is one about sharing music with her children, in the past and right up to this summer.

My Favorite Decade live-blogged MTV’s first hour, which was rebroadcast to launch MTV Classic, the former VH1 Classic, earlier this month. MTV Classic seems like an excellent idea, except it’s going to be aimed at people who watched MTV in the 90s and 00s, which means it will focus on the entertainment programs that marked the channel’s transition from music source to lifestyle brand, about which I could not care less. Also from Mark: an annotated mix tape of hits from the summer of 1985.

That summer, I was program director of a Top 40 station, about the time the Parents’ Music Resource Council went on the warpath against explicit lyrics. The records that most offended the PMRC didn’t fit our format and weren’t getting on our air (and in fact, precious few radio stations played them in regular rotation), but I paid close attention to the issue because I considered it my job to be attuned to what some members of my audience may have been thinking. I confess I was not especially bothered when the PMRC succeeded in getting “Explicit Lyrics” stickers placed on albums—at least not until Frank Zappa’s all-instrumental Jazz From Hell got one, at which point the entire movement jumped the shark. Open Culture explained how it happened.

The year 2016 has seen so many significant losses that many obituaries fall through the cracks. Few people noticed the passing of Lewie Steinberg, original bassist with Booker T. and the MGs, who died last month at age 82. Also Gary S. Paxton, a fascinating figure who produced the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash” and wrote over 2,000 songs. He eventually became a gospel star, but that career was sidetracked after he reportedly fell into a relationship with evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. His life story is worthy of a movie, except nobody would believe it.

The writing of “Heartbreak Hotel” was inspired by the suicide of an anonymous man who left behind a note saying, “I walk a lonely street.” After 60 years, the man’s identity has finally been determined, and Rolling Stone got it right with the subtitle “the story is stranger than anyone could have imagined.” A Rolling Stone article I liked less was a Cameron Crowe piece from 1976 about Linda Ronstadt, a condescending profile that paints Linda as if she were an artistically precocious teenager who barely understands the world. Back then, the unconscious paternalism of Crowe’s article was so ingrained in the culture that few noticed it, although it screams at us now.

The Guardian has a series called Frozen in Time, which features photographs of the famous, some candid and some not, and the stories behind them. A recent installment discussed a 1975 photo of Elton John taken during the frantic period in which he was recording Rock of the Westies in Colorado. The article is worth a click, as are all of the links within the article.

Seymour Stein was co-founder of Sire Records, the label that signed a number of significant new-wave acts in the 70s and launched Madonna’s career in the 80s. But when he was a high-school student, he worked at Billboard, and he was present at the creation of the Hot 100 in the summer of 1958.

Follow me on Twitter for more of this stuff. Or not. Up to you.

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