It is time for some Links and Notes, with worthwhile stories I’ve highlighted on Twitter recently.
—Our Internet friend Scott Paton, a former researcher at American Top 40, has had a long and varied career in broadcasting and publishing. His first-person stories of meeting and hanging out with Brian Wilson and other stars in the Beach Boys’ orbit are golden.
—This conversation between Mavis Staples and country star Chris Stapleton is great and highly worth your time. So are the stories from Mark Rivera, longtime sax player in Billy Joel’s band.
—Several Motown and Stax artists participated in an oral history of touring life in the South during the days of legal segregation. Key quote from soul singer William Bell: “Three or four years ago, you started seeing the attitudes popping back up. And I’m going, ‘Have we not learned anything yet?'”
—For a while in the late 60s, the R&B editor of Billboard was a white guy, and it occasionally got awkward.
—I took a music appreciation course in the seventh grade, and when the teacher played Switched-On Bach for us, it blew my mind. It’s still a remarkable piece of work, and the story of its creator, known then as Walter Carlos and today as Wendy Carlos, is just as remarkable.
—Please Kill Me is a website that covers music, art, culture, fashion, poetry, and movies from the 60s to now. Read their recent story on the difficult and sad history of Badfinger.
—It got swamped by the news during Election Week, but the death of original Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wolman is worth noting, because he took some very famous pictures of very famous people.
—Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Exploding Whale of Oregon. This is truly one of the weirdest stories you will ever read, and it is extremely well-told here.
—Although WRIT was the first Top 40 radio station in Milwaukee, WOKY is the more fondly remembered. The building in which it was located still stands today, converted mostly to offices, although vestiges of the old radio days remain in what the building’s owner calls the MilWOKY Center. OnMilwaukee.com’s excellent Urban Spelunking series took a look.
—The return of Stevie Nicks’ composition and Fleetwood Mac’s recording of “Dreams” to the Hot 100, thanks to that viral video of the skateboard guy, is a reminder that songs written by a single person have grown rare, and nothing is more rare than a #1 song written by one person. Billboard ran down the numbers: In the 1970s, 44 percent of #1 hits were written by a single writer; in the 2010s, just four percent; in the last three years, none. Hit songs today routinely credit a half-dozen people or more. A geezer such as I thinks to himself that an individual human vision is more likely to result in worthwhile art than something bolted together by committee, although there’s an alternate viewpoint. Author Ted Gioia points out that the creation of ASCAP meant that songwriters were assured of getting paid for their creative contributions, but musicians, engineers, and producers might not be. Crediting them as writers allows them to get fair compensation in the form of performance royalties from radio airplay.
—Gioia wrote about one of the most unlikely interpreters of the Great American Songbook: Willie Nelson. His 1978 standards album Stardust is a masterpiece, but Willie has recorded standards frequently ever since, and he’s got a gift for it.
—When Rolling Stone came out with its revised list of the Top 500 albums of all time earlier this fall, I was torn. As a Guy With Opinions About Music, I felt like I should read it. But at the same time, I’m not as young as I used to be, and my clock is ticking. So I didn’t read the whole thing. I did read a couple of articles about it, however, including this one from the New Yorker about the futility of the whole enterprise. They ask: how can you rank Joni Mitchell, the Notorious B. I. G., and Ornette Coleman side-by-side?
That’s all I’ve got today. Thank you for your continued support of this Internet feature, even when it sucks.