Category Archives: Links and Notes

Vanity Projects

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(Pictured: King Crimson, 1969; L to R: Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake, Ian McDonald, and Peter Sinfield.)

Odds and ends from here and there:

—After finishing up that great Jimmy McDonough biography of Al Green, I moved on to David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. Weigel, whose day job is national reporter for the Washington Post, based the book on a series of articles he wrote for Slate. I read those articles, and I liked them. But I liked Weigel’s book a lot less. It felt disjointed to me, leaping from act to act, generally in chronological order, but sometimes in confusing fashion. Pivotal acts like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer get less space than Soft Machine and Marillion—the latter band gets almost an entire chapter toward the end of the book. Weigel’s time might have been better spent writing a biography of Robert Fripp, originally of King Crimson, whose career is traced from the 60s through the present day, a treatment no other individual in the book receives. The book takes a weirdly dismissive tone toward prog in some spots; so much so that I ended up unsure whether Weigel even likes prog rock, at least until he came out and said so in the last chapter.

Prog rock certainly deserves a full-length history. But I’d like to read one by an actual music historian instead of a guy for whom it was basically a vanity project.

—I have written a lot about rock festivals over the years (and I’ve got another post in that series scheduled for next week), so a piece published at Consequence of Sound about festivals of the 70s and 80s was highly interesting to me. The author dug into the archives of the New York Times to find articles written about various famous and not-famous fests at the time they occurred, to understand how they were reported and perceived, and to get some insights into why the festival era petered out in the 70s, bounced back in the 80s, and petered out again before Lollapalooza rejuvenated it in the 90s.

—I picked up an interesting bit of trivia about the American Top 40 special of July 4, 1976, from William, who writes a blog called The Music of My Life. William says that when Casey announced “Says My Heart” by Ozzie Nelson as the #1 song on July 4, 1938, he actually played something else. William didn’t say what, and I don’t know, but I’m certain both of us (and maybe you) would really like to know.

(You should be reading The Music of My Life. Start with this first-anniversary post, a selection of greatest hits.)

—Another thing I learned, via a different source: throughout the American Top 40 era, issues of Billboard were dated to the Saturday of the issuing week. In the case of the Bicentennial, that should have been July 3, 1976, but given that Billboard was publishing a special commemorative issue on the history of the music industry, they couldn’t pass up the chance to date it July 4.

—In 2015, Nashville radio consultant Keith Hill caused a stir by suggesting that female artists are a turn-off for the typical country radio listener, and that stations wanting ratings success should limit female artists to something like 19 percent of the playlist. He referred to them as the “tomatoes” in the radio salad, which is properly composed of male artists otherwise. Recently, Hill got into it again with some people on Twitter who insisted that, sexism aside, the methodology by which he claims to prove his assertion is flawed. This piece is inside baseball and maybe not for everybody, but it does a pretty good job of refuting Hill. As I read it, his attitude struck me familiar, based on my dealings with some—not all, but some—radio consultants over the years: they believe that their opinions are equal to empirical data, and they think that the most effective way to get you to buy what they’re selling is to be a jerk about it.

I have a post in my drafts file about an experience I had with one of those guys. Someday you may get to read it.

—Last but not least: thanks to all for your interesting responses to my post about instrumentals last week. Reader David has compiled many of them (and some others you didn’t mention) into a Spotify playlist. It’s got everything from Van Halen and Pink Floyd to Martin Denny and Ramsey Lewis, and you can find it here.

The Last Session

(Pictured: David Cassidy at his final concert performance on March 4, 2017.)

The Mrs. and I recently watched the A&E special David Cassidy: The Last Session, which was broadcast earlier this month. It’s partly a biography of Cassidy, but it also includes a great deal of footage recorded last summer while he was working on an album of standards intended as a tribute to his father, actor Jack Cassidy.

When the producers were shooting the sessions, they didn’t know what was going to happen, but two big things did: A) Cassidy was hospitalized, bringing an end to the sessions a couple of months before his death, and B) he admitted to the producers that his widely publicized diagnosis of dementia was false, and that he was actually suffering complications of alcoholism. Cassidy kept up the dementia facade nearly to the end; the special contains footage of him getting advice from a dementia specialist, and of Cassidy talking about the effects of the condition on him.

I have written before that David Cassidy was, to 11-year-old me, the boy I wanted to be—attractive, well-dressed, talented, and able to mesmerize girls. I eventually moved on from him (although I remain an unreconstructed Partridge Family fanboy), but I would occasionally wonder whatever became of him. And when I saw what he was up to—playing an undercover cop on TV, making new music, starring on Broadway, writing a book (now out of print and staggeringly expensive)—I thought about what it must have been like to be him, trying to grow beyond one’s teenage image into a normal, productive adulthood, and how hard it must have been.

So I was naturally disposed to be sympathetic toward David Cassidy, and as we watched The Last Session, I started thinking, “We shouldn’t be seeing this.” Perhaps it’s because we knew how the story was going to end, but the pathos of it was hard to watch. This man, who had already lost so much, was, at the last, losing his dignity on TV. Had he lived, the false dementia diagnosis would have given the special a significant news hook. But had he lived, A&E would not have attracted as many eyeballs for a biography centered around the making of an album very few people would buy. The way it turned out, it felt a little ghoulish.

Cassidy’s costar and friend, Danny Bonaduce, expressed a similar sentiment in a radio interview this week. It’s here. If you’re interested in watching David Cassidy: The Last Session, it’s here. You’ll have to sign in with your cable or satellite provider to see it.

Links and Notes: Since I haven’t hit the word count yet, there’s room to send you to good stuff I’ve read recently:

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No News

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(Pictured: the Rutles, Dirk McQuickly, Stig O’Hara, Barry Wom, and Ron Nasty, also known as Eric Idle, Ricky Fataar, John Halsey, and Neil Innes.)

It has been six months since I did an edition of Links and Notes, in which I point you to things I’ve read that you would find interesting, but here’s one.

—For the last several weeks I have been reading Raise All Kinds of Candy to the Stars, which is about every song to peak at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s well thought and well written, and while its perspective is far different from my own, it’s worthwhile every day. The author, Marcello, announced last week that he’s taking a medical leave from the site for an indeterminate period. Fortunately, there’s an extensive archive for readers to revisit, along with Then Play Long, featuring articles on every UK #1 album to 1991, and a site run by Marcello’s partner, Lena, Music Sounds Better With Two, on UK #2 singles. We wish Marcello and Lena well from far across the pond.

When Marcello and I talk about a song being #1 in America, we generally mean #1 in Billboard. However, Cash Box was also influential back in the day, and its charts often differed significantly from Billboard—as shown on this list of singles that hit #1 in Cash Box but not in Billboard, and vice versa, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

—Readers of this blog should read Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South by Charles L. Hughes (who, it turns out, is a native of Wisconsin and got his doctorate at UW-Madison). He’s also writing a blog called The ’68 Comeback Special, which is revisting the most significant albums and singles of that year, and it’s some great stuff.

—One of the albums soon celebrating its 50th is Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. The story of its creation is bonkers, and not at all like you’d expect it to be.

—We’ve just passed the 40th anniversary of the final episode of The Bob Newhart Show, and this oral history of the show is golden.

—In the spring of 1978, I was among the few people who watched Eric Idle’s Beatles-parody mockumentary All You Need Is Cash when it aired on NBC. It turned out to be the single lowest-rated prime-time program of the week despite including George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and several members of the original cast of Saturday Night Live. The entire saga of the Rutles is pitch-perfect right down to the recreations of Beatles songs, although the single best joke might be that Rutles drummer Barry Wom’s real name is Barrington Womble. A 40th anniversary retrospective is here. Watch All You Need Is Cash here.

—I think I have linked to this before, but it’s worth repeating: a 1971 pop art picture book history of the Beatles that is sweet and glorious, and it will make you legitimately happy to look at it.

—We often think that news reporting was a foreordained part of the evolution of broadcasting, and that station and network owners just naturally decided that it would be part of their role to tell people what was going on in the world. But that’s not what happened at all. When Edward R. Murrow went to Europe in 1937, his job was something called Director of Talks for CBS. At first, he was not allowed to report breaking news, which seems mighty odd what with a war starting and all, and it took a good bit of persuasion before his bosses allowed him to actually talk about what was going on in Europe on any given day. But even those entities that had already hit upon the idea of news broadcasting had a particular conception of it, and that concept has little to do with how we think of news today. For example, on April 18, 1930, the BBC opened its evening news bulletin by announcing, “Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” We should be so lucky on some day in our own time.

—I’ll end on a plug for my other blog, One Day in Your Life, which is repeating old One Day in Your Life posts that have appeared at this site over the years, but which also contains brand-new ones from time to time. The last two posts have both appeared on Sundays, so if you missed them and you enjoy that kind of thing, please click over and read them.

Mr. October

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(Pictured: Van Morrison and his harmonica, 1999.)

Many years ago, a reader suggested—and not in an especially complimentary fashion, if I’m recalling correctly—that I should just call myself Mr. October and stop talking about it. Anybody who’s read this blog for the 13 years (!) of its existence probably remembers that October has a hold on me that other months do not (but read this if you’d like to know why). Certain music soundtracks this month for me every year: songs from the most significant Octobers of long ago (1976, 1974, 1971, 1970) and others that simply sound like October to me regardless of when they came out. Some full albums make the list, too.

Van Morrison’s 1999 album Back on Top is in heavy rotation at my house every October, but two songs travel with me the rest of the year as well. “The Philosopher’s Stone” sounds like a song about life on the road. The other day, however, I heard it differently, and the following lines in particular: “Even my best friends / Even my best friends / They don’t know / That my job is turning lead into gold.” It strikes me that “The Philosopher’s Stone” is also about the desire for somebody to listen to us, the desire to be heard, and ultimately the desire to be understood. You don’t know what I’m doing here, what I’m going through, what I have to face every day, and I wish you’d take the time to find out. Van’s wheezy harmonica tone doesn’t always serve his songs well, but he sounds great here, expressing a desire for connection so powerful it knocks you sideways.

And by “you,” I mean me.

In “When the Leaves Come Falling Down,” Van remembers colorful autumn days and asks his lost love (for surely she is lost) to “follow me down to the space between the twilight and the dawn,” an image not unlike one in “Stardust,” from the introductory verse about the purple dusk of twilight time: “You wander down the lane and far away / Leaving me a song that will not die.” All we have left to remember—you, me, Van, and Nat King Cole in his magnificent 1957 recording of “Stardust”—is the music of the days gone by.

If I misted up a bit in the car on a golden October afternoon while listening to these songs, you shouldn’t be surprised.

Other songs on Back on Top reflect an autumnal theme: “Reminds Me of You,” “High Summer,” “Precious Time,” “In the Midnight.” One song that seems like it should, “Golden Autumn Day,” doesn’t, really—although the music is gorgeous and the refrain is perfect, the verses were inspired by a mugging and are mostly about Van’s desire to get revenge on his attackers. On any album, no matter how beautiful, Van’s gotta Van.

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Interesting/Not Interesting

(Pictured: Taylor Swift onstage in 2008, still a regular person.)

I’m gonna start this post with stuff I’d normally put at the end because this stuff is actually interesting.

—Over at the Hideaway, HERC is counting down his personal Top 100 of 1977. It’s great reading, great listening, and hot damn it looks great, too. The easiest way to find the various installments is probably to click here to see them and other Hideaway 100 projects.

—Friend of the blog William has converted something he started on his Facebook page into a blog called The Music of My Life. If you dig the music-as-memoir schtick at my blog, you will enjoy William’s as well.

—Another friend of the blog, John Grinde, has written a book called “Your First Concert Was Hendrix?” and Other Musical Adventures. John grew up in the Madison area, so his story has plenty of local flavor for those of us who live around here. Even if you’re not from around here, you’ll recognize your own experiences in his book, and I recommend it. His stories about listening to the radio, buying records, and going to concerts will make you laugh, and will also make you think “Dang, I’d forgotten all about that.”

A new post showed up at 7 Inches of 70s Pop this week. It seems impossible that it’s been over three years since the last one. Welcome back, Adrian.

On the flip is something not guaranteed to be interesting, and which could be completely wrong.

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From One to the Other

(Pictured: Is this a good time for a picture of Linda Ronstadt? Hell yes it is always a good time for a picture of Linda Ronstadt.)

This past week, man . . . you don’t want to know. To provide fresh content so you don’t give up on this Internet feature, here’s a quick rundown of some interesting stuff that’s passed through my Twitter feed recently. It’s the best post I can do under the circumstances.

The best thing I’ve read lately is this excerpt from a forthcoming book on rock music and race relations discussing how the Rolling Stones, despite being considered an R&B band (late edit: at least at the start), despite their well-publicized love for the blues, were the engine that drove the racial segregation of rock. Telling statistic about that segregation: when New York classic-rock station Q104.3 (which I listened to a lot during a recent trip to the area) picked its top 1043 songs of all time, only 22 of them were by black artists, and 16 of them were by Jimi Hendrix.

Those of us who live in the North often dismiss the South as a redneck redoubt that’s stuck in the Jim Crow Era, where people strut like their side won the Civil War. (Or maybe that’s just me, the three-greats grandson of a Union veteran wounded on Missionary Ridge who lives in a state governed by a gaggle of neo-Confederate politicians who are working to turn my state into Mississippi without the accent.) But the New York Times published a useful corrective about the political progressive-ism of a number of Southern musicians, including Drive-By Truckers and Shovels and Rope. Perhaps a younger generation will save us from the sins of our fathers after all.

It’s important to differentiate between “rock ‘n’ roll,” the genre that was born in the middle of the 1950s from the marriage of R&B and country, and straight up “rock,” which was born in the 1960s out of youth culture’s new seriousness. An NPR piece about the new Jon Savage and David Hepworth books about 1966 and 1971, respectively, discusses the transition from one to the other.

Someday somebody will make a movie about the soap opera that was Fleetwood Mac. The epic dysfunction of the Rumours era is well-known, but when the group reconvened in 1981 to make Mirage, things were no less dramatic.

If you have ever seen the video for Hall and Oates’ 1976 hit “She’s Gone,” you’ll probably remember it, even though it was never broadcast anywhere until the Internet era. Daryl Hall (who turned 70 earlier this week) says, “They thought we were completely insane.”

Although it never made it onto your typical good times/great oldies radio station, Petula Clark’s “Downtown” is one of the landmark hits of the 60s. Clark and writer/producer Tony Hatch recently told the story of its creation.

Tom Cox is the author of several hilarious and charming books about his cats and his life in rural England, most recently Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. He also hosts an online radio show that focuses on 60s and 70s folk rock, and he wrote an insightful appreciation of the early Linda Ronstadt that is also a lot of fun to read.

Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic” is widely considered to be one of the greatest comedy sketches ever put on record. And it’s funny even when performed by two voice synthesizers, one of whom sounds like Stephen Hawking.

That’s all I’ve got today. Please visit again sometime, when I may have more.

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