Work Ethic of a Hobo

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(Pictured: Piano Cat is judging this website and finds it lacking.)

Yesterday was this website’s 17th [!] anniversary. In keeping with long-established custom, here are some of my favorite posts since the last anniversary in 2020.

The best book I read in the last year was James Kaplan’s two-volume biography of Frank Sinatra, Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman. Stories from the book led to several posts: about a TV interview where Sinatra expected to be treated like a president but wasn’t; about the odd kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr.; about the writing of a song inspired by Sinatra’s breakup with actress Ava Gardner; and about separating Sinatra the gifted artist from Sinatra the often-terrible person.

More recommended reading: Jeffrey Melnick’s Creepy Crawling: Charles Manson and the Many Lives of America’s Most Infamous Family, about Manson before the Tate-La Bianca murders and his cultural impact long afterward. He wanted to be a folk-rocker and insinuated himself into that scene. He is also frequently credited with inspiring a famous song years after he was locked away in prison, but he did not. Also recommended: Fab Fools: The Last Ever Untold Beatles Story by Jem Roberts, which locates the Beatles along the spectrum of British comedy from the 50s to the new millennium. One part of the book discusses the Beatles cartoon series. David Wondrich’s Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843-1924 is also worth your time. Among other things, it discusses the importance of blackface minstrelsy to American popular music, which made me remember the minstrel show in my hometown.

We dug into the history of certain obscure performers and/or songs, or as far as one can dig with the attention span of a goldfish, the work ethic of a hobo, and a word count in mind. In this past year, we learned about the King Family; about the strangely affecting single recorded by an action movie star; about a familiar folk-rock hit of the mid-60s and the interesting career of the woman who made it; about the impossibly handsome mid-90s hitmaker whose biggest song is often mistaken for Elton John; about a famous song that owes its longevity to basketball; about a series of heavily ethnic comedy albums of the mid-60s; about how one of the most famous characters of the 70s inspired recording artists and became one himself; and about two of the most iconic Christmas hits as they celebrated their 50th anniversaries.

Further digging: we learned about Elton John’s brief 1975 tour in support of the album Rock of the Westies, and about the bizarre belief that kids of the late 60s were using peanut butter and mayonnaise to get high.

We noodled with the idea of finding the greatest single weekly Top 10 of all time, here and here. An even more foolish errand might be to find the single greatest Hot 100 of all time. Further noodling: what do we mean when we say that a song is “pretty”? And what’s the real difference between mono and stereo?

We got a lot of help from readers this year. One helped track down an obscure singer we mentioned here one time. Another did the research on songs that stayed stuck at the same position on the Hot 100 for several weeks each; several chimed in to answer a chart question I idly posed one day. I also borrowed the reminiscences of a friend who was on the air the night John Lennon was shot. Not everybody who reads my stuff is inspired to be helpful, however. I have received plenty of hate mail over the years. Read some here and here.

I wrote a lot of posts about American Top 40, and you can find them all by using the category menu and choosing “American Top 40.” A couple of specific 2020 posts to read: about the 1972 show guest-hosted by Dick Clark, and about the show hosted by Shadoe Stevens that I turned off before it was over.

There was plenty of the usual navel-gazing around here, including two posts about “Maggie May,” touch football, and the coming of autumn (here and here). I tried to answer a friend’s honest question: “why don’t you let stuff go?” Also, I did a podcast episode about the five nights I spent in the hospital last fall and what I learned while I was there.

And yet again, I grossly overused the editorial “we.”

Thanks for your continued patronage of this Internet feature. Thanks also for your kind words, both here, on social media, and in private messages about the new/old radio gig. All of it is much appreciated.

I Did a Thing

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Here is the thing:

For the last 15 years, I have been a weekend/fill-in DJ and jack-of-all-trades with the stations of Mid-West Family Broadcasting in Madison, Wisconsin, mostly on Magic 98 and Q106. In May of this year, the person who’d been doing the afternoon show on Magic 98 left the company. After filling in for several weeks, I was offered the opportunity to replace her on a permanent basis, and I took it. So every weekday from 3 til 7 US Central, you can find me here.

After all of the job losses during the radio industry’s COVID year and even before that, my ending up with a full-time radio job is something I never expected. And it feels like the right time for me to take it, even though I know several people of my exact age who have retired this year.

Slackers.

I have never had formal retirement as a life goal, and after nearly two decades participating in the gig economy, in which you generally work until you fall into the sweet embrace of death, the concept doesn’t register. From the age of 11, the only thing I ever really wanted to do—even when I was doing other things, like teaching or working in publishing, on somebody’s formal payroll or as a freelancer—was to be on the air someplace. So I plan to keep doing it until A) it ceases to be fun and/or rewarding; B) I’m no longer able to drag my ass into the studio; or C) management decides they don’t want me anymore. Whether that’s a year from now, five years from now, or longer, who knows. I’ll just keep showing up, until I don’t.

Since there’s some of the word count left, here’s some stuff you might have missed recently on my Twitter feed. Continue reading “I Did a Thing”

July 5, 1985: People Do the Craziest Things

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(Pictured: Miami Vice stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.)

July 5, 1985, was a Friday. A giant wildfire is burning in the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County, California. Officials say favorable weather has slowed the fire somewhat. Many fireworks displays in areas threatened by the fire were canceled last night. The Labor Department reported today that the nation’s unemployment rate is 7.3 percent for a fifth straight month, the longest such streak in over 15 years. The Associated Press reports that the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 15 will be broadcast on NBC with stereo sound. Currently, only about 70 of the nation’s 1,208 TV stations broadcast in stereo, but between 55 and 60 percent of American homes are in range of one of them. NBC’s parent company, TV manufacturer RCA, hopes to convince consumers to buy more expensive stereo-compatible sets. One challenge facing TV stereo is the FCC’s recent decision not to require cable companies to retransmit stereo signals.

Future soccer star Megan Rapinoe is born. At 3:55AM Eastern time this morning, the New York Mets finish off the Atlanta Braves 16-13. The first pitch, scheduled for 7:40PM last night, was delayed 90 minutes by rain; there was also a 41-minute rain delay in the third inning. The game is tied 8-8 after nine innings; each team scores two runs in the 13th. The Mets go ahead in the top of the 18th before Braves pitcher Rick Camp, a lifetime .060 hitter, homers in the bottom of the inning to tie it again. The Mets score five in the top of the 19th; the Braves get two in the bottom of the inning but it isn’t enough. The previously scheduled postgame fireworks display goes off beginning at 4AM. Later in the day, the Chicago Cubs drop the second game of a weekend series to the San Francisco Giants, 12-6. The injury-riddled Cubs have been in a tailspin, losing 17 of their last 23 games, including 13 losses in a row in June. Baseball’s four divisions are led by the Toronto Blue Jays, California Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres. The United States Football League playoff semifinals are this weekend. Tomorrow, the Oakland Invaders play the Memphis Showboats; on Sunday, the Baltimore Stars play the Birmingham Stallions. Both games will be broadcast on ABC.

On TV tonight, ABC presents Webster, The Comedy Factory (a summer series of unsold sitcom pilots), Benson, People Do the Craziest Things (a Candid Camera-style prank show), and Matt Houston. The CBS lineup includes The Dukes of Hazzard and the 1983 TV movie White Water Rebels, starring James Brolin and Catherine Bach. NBC airs Michael Nesmith in Television Parts (featuring sketch comedy and short films), Spencer (a family sitcom also broadcast with the title Under One Roof), the science-fiction series V, and Miami Vice, the highest-rated show of the night. In theaters, Back to the Future opened on Wednesday to take advantage of the long holiday weekend. It will knock last week’s #1 film, Pale Rider, starring Clint Eastwood, to #2 at the box office. Other movies in theaters include Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Cocoon, and the only other major film to open this weekend, The Emerald Forest, an adventure set in Brazil, directed by John Boorman and starring Powers Boothe.

Eric Clapton plays Poplar Creek in suburban Chicago and Barry Manilow plays Springfield, Illinois. Tom Petty and Lone Justice play Dallas. Miles Davis plays in Austria. The Tubes perform in Concord, California, with Todd Rundgren and Utopia opening. Iron Maiden and W.A.S.P. are in Irvine, California. Stevie Ray Vaughan opens a European tour in Hamburg, Germany. On the new Cash Box chart that will come out tomorrow, “Sussudio” by Phil Collins holds at #1. “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran is #2 and “Raspberry Beret” by Prince is #3. Tears for Fears has two songs in the Top 40: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” at #5 and “Shout” at #23, up from #35 last week. “Every Time You Go Away” by Paul Young and “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday are new in the Top 10. “The Power of Love,” the song by Huey Lewis and the News heard in Back to the Future, is new in the Top 40, at #35 in its second week on the Cash Box Top 100. Lewis also has a cameo role in the film.

Perspective From the Present: Friday was not a holiday for me. I was at work at the radio station as usual, fascinated by the Mets/Braves game, commiserating with colleagues over the Cubs’ sorry performance, and playing the hits.

A new Sidepiece, which contains the usual gasbaggery but also a piece of subscriber-exclusive news, went out yesterday. If you aren’t a subscriber yet, click here. If you are a subscriber but didn’t get it, check your spam filter. 

July 4, 1971: Sooner or Later

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(Pictured: President Nixon certifies the ratification of the 26th Amendment on July 5, 1971.)

July 4, 1971, was a Sunday. It’s hot around the country with very little rain anywhere. Dallas tops 100 degrees; high today in Chicago is 91 and in Cincinnati 87. On Friday, an Acapulco-to-New York flight was diverted to Monterey, Mexico, where its 100 passengers were released after payment of the hijacker’s $100,000 demand. The plane flew on to Lima, Peru, then Rio de Janeiro and finally Buenos Aires, where a 20-hour standoff ensued before Robert Lee Jackson agreed to surrender today. The 7,500-mile hijacking is the longest in history to date. Today in Washington, pro-marijuana activists hold a smoke-in. Yesterday, Doors lead singer Jim Morrison was found dead in a bathtub in Paris.

Among the preceding week’s news stories analyzed in the Sunday papers: Ohio ratified the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, giving it a three-quarters majority of the states and thereby lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. The US Postal Service officially began operation, replacing the Post Office Department. The postmaster general, Winton Blount, is no longer a member of the presidential cabinet or in the line of succession. Over 6,000 American soldiers were withdrawn from Vietnam this week; American forces are down by half compared to to 1969 levels. Comic strips in the Sunday papers include Peanuts, Short Ribs, Winthrop, Captain Easy, Alley Oop, Andy Capp, Eek and Meek, and Priscilla’s Pop. At Smith Buick in Gallipolis, Ohio, a new 1971 Buick Electra four-door hardtop with automatic transmission, power steering, air conditioning, radio, and six-way power seat is $4899. Gallipolis car shoppers looking for a used car might consider the 1968 Mustang at Wood Motor Sales: two-door hardtop, all-white finish with matching blue interior, low mileage in excellent condition, for $1595.

A full schedule of games is played in the majors today. Vida Blue scatters nine hits and goes the distance to run his record for the season to 17-and-3 as his Oakland A’s beat the California Angels 2-1. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs play a wild one at Wrigley Field. The Pirates get three in the top of the eighth to take a 7-4 lead; the Cubs come back with five in the bottom of the eighth and win it 9-7.

On TV tonight, CBS airs episodes of Lassie and Hogan’s Heroes, the TV movie A Step Out of Line, about three Korean War buddies who turn to crime for money, and an episode of The Ice Palace, a summer variety series featuring stars of the Ice Capades. The ABC Sunday Night Movie presents Batman, the 1966 theatrical movie starring Adam West and Burt Ward. It follows an episode of The FBI. NBC presents The Wonderful World of Disney, The Red Skelton Show, Bonanza, and an episode of The Senator, starring Hal Holbrook.

The Newport Jazz Festival shuts down early after gate-crashers invade the venue during the afternoon. Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Tower of Power play the Fillmore West in San Francisco. It is the final show on the venue’s closing night and admission is by invitation only, but it is broadcast on local radio. Closing weekend featured the Grateful Dead on Friday night and Hot Tuna last night.

At WLS in Chicago, “It’s Too Late” by Carole King tops the new Hit Parade, which will be out tomorrow. “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor is up from #6 to #2, while “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” by the Fortunes is up from #5 to #3. Among the records moving into the Top 10 is Tommy James’ “Draggin’ the Line,” up to #7 from #13. The hottest songs on the chart are “Sooner or Later” by the Grass Roots and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees, both up eight spots. King’s Tapestry is the #1 album, followed by the Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney.

Perspective From the Present: The summer of 1971 was the last one in which I got to be a kid 100 percent of the time. The next summer, I would be expected to drive a tractor or do other work on the farm beyond the little chores that my brother and I were already doing. I was playing Little League baseball (poorly) and learning to play the saxophone (without getting very good at that either). I was still listening to WLS on the the famous green Westinghouse tube-type radio that I had scrounged from the basement the previous fall. But by July, I could imagine my own voice coming through it someday.

July 3, 1960: I’m Sorry

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(Pictured: singer Dinah Washington.)

This might not be one day in your life, but it’s one day in mine.

July 3, 1960, was a Sunday. Today is the last day on which the United States will fly a 49-star flag. Although Hawaii was admitted to the Union last August, it will not get its star on the flag until tomorrow. Sunday newspapers report on the wave of European nations granting independence to their African colonies. The Belgian Congo became the Republic of Congo last week, with Patrice Lumumba heading its government. Italian and British Somaliland have both become independent and merged as the Somali Republic. Ghana has gained its independence from Britain. Portions of French West Africa have become the nations of Mali and Senegal; other nations are expected to be created from French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa later in the summer. The island of French Madagascar has become the Malagasy Republic. Former president Harry Truman says Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy lacks the maturity to be president. Truman, who backs Missouri Senator Stuart Symington for the nomination, says that he will not attend the opening of next week’s convention because he does not want “to be a party to … a prearranged affair.” Kennedy has refused immediate comment. National Guardsmen are on patrol in Newport, Rhode Island, after disturbances at the Newport Jazz Festival yesterday. Twelve thousand people unable to get into the festival rioted; police responded with tear gas. The remainder of the festival has been canceled; organizers fear the cancellation means a permanent end to the festival. Future member of Depeche Mode and Erasure Vince Clarke is born.

In today’s Peanuts strip, Snoopy lives too close to the ballpark. In the majors today, the New York Yankees, leaders of the American League, sweep a doubleheader from the Detroit Tigers, 7-6 and 6-2. Mickey Mantle homers for the Yanks in the nightcap. The Yankees have a three-game lead over Cleveland, which beat the Washington Senators 11-5. The Pittsburgh Pirates lead the National League by three-and-a-half over the Milwaukee Braves. The Pirates lost to the Dodgers 6-2; Don Drysdale pitched a complete game to get the win for Los Angeles. The Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 on Del Crandall’s two-out single in the top of the 14th inning. Crandall will start for the National League in baseball’s two All-Star games, on July 11 and 13, joining fellow Braves Joe Adcock, Eddie Matthews, and Henry Aaron. Four Yankees will start for the AL: Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Moose Skowron.

Tonight’s TV lineup includes plenty of Westerns, including Maverick, Death Valley Days, The Overland Trail, and The Rebel. Also tonight: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Loretta Young Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan’s guests tonight include singer Rosemary Clooney and singing group the Wanderers, comedians Phil Foster and Dave Barry, two illusionists, a trapeze act, a three-man balancing act, and a group of plate spinners. At Muntz TV in Toledo, Ohio, you can get a 21-inch TV theater combo, with a radio and phonograph equipped for stereo for $198, no money down, cash or terms with trade.

At WNOE in New Orleans, “Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino is the #1 song. Brenda Lee is at #3 with “I’m Sorry,” and “Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison checks in at #8. Dinah Washington has two records on the chart: “A Rockin’ Good Way” with Brook Benton at #4, and her own “This Bitter Earth” at #14. Further down, “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson is at #25 and “When Will I Be Loved” by the Everly Brothers is #27. WNOE listeners can get copies of Jackie Wilson’s “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend” and Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” for 79 cents “at record shops mentioned on WNOE.”

Perspective From the Present: African decolonization continued swiftly throughout the early 60s, and many of the new African nations were plagued by unrest and civil war. Senator Kennedy would hold a press conference on Monday to respond to Truman, and said he would not, as Truman suggested, decline the Democratic nomination. Truman would eventually campaign for JFK in the fall. From 1959 to 1962, Major League Baseball played two All-Star games in two different cities. The 1960 games were the only ones played so closely together; others were separated by a gap of three weeks or more.

I was four months old on this date, and I am told that when Mother and Dad took me to the fireworks the next night, I stared open-mouthed at the sky all the while.

July 2, 1999: La Vida Loca

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(Pictured: Jennifer Lopez performs in 1999.)

One Day in Your Life is my favorite thing to write, even if it isn’t necessarily your favorite thing to read. Nevertheless, over this long holiday weekend there will be a new ODIYL post every day.

July 2, 1999, was a Friday. A heat wave is expected around the country just in time for the holiday weekend. Experts are issuing health warnings and expressing concern about air-conditioning demands on electrical grids. It’s expected to reach 86 in Boston, 88 in Charlotte, 85 in Milwaukee, 80 in Minneapolis, 96 in Denver, and 107 in Tucson today. The twin scandals involving President Clinton’s relationship with a White House intern and the Whitewater real estate deal continue to simmer, although no new developments make the news today. The morning papers headline three major IPOs for stocks in Internet-based companies yesterday including the search site Ask Jeeves, which allows users to ask questions in natural language: shares that opened at $14 were valued at $641 by the end of the day. Today, by large margins, the House and Senate pass a bill that will shield businesses from frivolous lawsuits over the potential Y2K computer bug. The president is expected to sign it. In the Chicago suburb of West Rogers Park tonight, a gunman wounds nine people in a drive-by shooting. In nearby Skokie, Northwestern University head basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong is shot while jogging with his children. Deaths occurring or reported today include Godfather author Mario Puzo (age 78), actress Sylvia Sidney (88), singer/actor Guy Mitchell (72), movie director Edward Dmytryk (90), and candy company founder Forrest Mars (95). A new study says that 3.5 percent of college students have guns at school. Among those students who reported themselves as binge drinkers (five or more drinks at one sitting), gun ownership is twice as high. Ownership is highest among students in the southeast and lowest in the northeast. The figures do not include hunting weapons.

Major League Baseball features a couple of laughers today: the Braves beat the Mets 16-0 behind two homers each from Chipper Jones and Eddie Perez; Greg Maddux gets the win for Atlanta. The Phillies beat the Cubs 14-1; Scott Rolen hits two home runs for the Phillies, and former Cub Doug Glanville has four RBIs. Also today, the Red Sox beat the White Sox 6-1 in Chicago. Pedro Martinez scatters seven hits over eight innings to run his record to 15-and-2.

New movies in theaters this weekend include Wild Wild West, a big-screen adaptation of the 1960s TV show that stars Will Smith and Kevin Kline; South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut; and Summer of Sam. Other movies expected to draw well over the holiday include Big Daddy starring Adam Sandler, the animated Disney film Tarzan, The General’s Daughter starring John Travolta, and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Among the TV shows airing tonight: Boy Meets World and Sabrina the Teenage Witch on ABC, Kids Say the Darndest Things (hosted by Bill Cosby), Candid Camera, and Nash Bridges on CBS, and Providence on NBC. FOX has the theatrical movie Darkman III: Die Darkman Die. Theatrical movies airing on premium channels tonight include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The X Files, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

On the new Billboard Hot 100 to come out tomorrow, “If You Had My Love,” the first hit single by Jennifer Lopez, holds at #1 for a fourth week. “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin is up to #2, and “Last Kiss,” Pearl Jam’s version of the 1960s death-rock weeper, is #3. Also in the Top 10: “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys and “No Scrubs” by TLC. “Bills Bills Bills” by Destiny’s Child vaults to #11 from #52 the week before. “You’ll Be in My Heart,” Phil Collins’ song from the Tarzan soundtrack, makes the highest debut on the Hot 100, at #34.

Perspective From the Present: In 2006, Ask Jeeves was rebranded as Ask.com, and it still exists today. The West Rogers Park and Skokie shootings were the act of the same man, a neo-Nazi named Benjamin Smith. Ricky Byrdsong, a random victim, died on July 3; Smith committed two other murders on the 3rd and 4th and attempted several more before killing himself during a police chase near Salem, Illinois. The Mrs. and I spent the July 4 weekend visiting friends in southern Indiana. Salem was on our route there and back; it’s likely that when we returned home on Monday, we passed the spot where Smith met his end on Sunday. We made the Indiana trip several years over the Fourth, for the kind of la vida loca we just don’t live anymore.