Category Archives: Links and Notes

Disco, Demolition, and Other Topics

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(Pictured: Steve Dahl revs up the crowd on Disco Demolition Night in July 1979.)

There’s been a lot of good reading on the Internet over the last couple of weeks. I tweeted a bunch of it as I saw it, but those links disappear quickly on this page, so here’s an annotated recap, along with a couple of detours.

NPR tried to figure out where disco began, precisely, although reporter Jason Heller didn’t find a definitive answer among a 1969 Chicago soul record by the Radiants, turn-of-the-70s records by the Temptations, Eddie Kendricks, and Santana, “Soul Makossa” by Manu Dibango, “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, and the funk and world music featured in the early 70s by pioneering DJ David Mancuso at the Loft in New York City.

Digression: In a Twitter DM, soul man Larry Grogan gave me his take: “I always draw a dividing line between the stuff from the early disco culture playlists (a la Mancuso and the Loft) and stuff purpose-made as ‘disco’. In between those two are Philadelphia International stuff like Harold Melvin (which was still expansive/adventurous) and Eddie Kendricks. That’s the true transitional stuff. If the culture had stuck to the kind of wide-ranging things you’d hear at the Loft (funky rock, Afro funk, world music), all of which was danceable yet not homogenous, it would have made for a much more robust, interesting scene, instead of the fast-burning shit show it turned into.”

I’d cosign that. What it means is that there’s going to be neither a specific disco birth date nor a particular record that is, as NPR’s dreadful headline termed it, “disco’s Cro-Magnon”—which Jason Heller seems disappointed not to have found.

Related: the Chicago White Sox are getting ready to observe the 40th anniversary of the Disco Demolition Riot of July 12, 1979, when a disco-sucks promotion involving Chicago DJ Steve Dahl and rock radio station WLUP between games of doubleheader ended in chaos. I’ve alredy seen some nostalgic writeups about it, and Dahl, now a respectable gray eminence among broadcasters, will no doubt be widely visible as the anniversary approaches. Forty years ago, I would have been firmly on the side of the rioters. Today, however, it’s clear that the disco-sucks movement was to a great extent racist and anti-gay. One might even call it an expression of toxic white masculinity. I am not, however, holding my breath to see any of that acknowledged amidst the retrospectives.

Also on the Twitter feed recently:

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Turn On

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(Pictured: Marvin Gaye at work, 1973.)

It’s been awhile since I did one of these Links and Notes things, so here:

—Up first, a radio story from Florida, in which a veteran broadcaster was fired by a new manager at his non-commercial station for reasons including “not paying enough attention to social media.” Public outcry saved the guy’s job, but the idea that a broadcaster could be fired for inattention to social media is a bizarre misplacing of priorities. As I wrote on Twitter, if you’re more concerned about your station’s social media than what you’re putting on your air, you should turn in the license. Social media should always—always—be a secondary concern. To rate it any higher than that is to take your eye off the ball.

(Digression: I once heard a young jock who fancied himself a social-media savant tease an interview he was going to do on the air by saying, “To find out what time it will be on, follow me on Twitter.” Yeah no, kid, that ain’t how we do.)

—Here in Madison, Wisconsin, where I live, a local radio legend is going out on her terms, more or less.

—For a couple of years in the middle of the 1970s, the Sunday night broadcast of the King Biscuit Flower Hour was appointment radio for me. Consultant Fred Jacobs recently wondered whatever happened to appointment radio, and whether a show like King Biscuit could survive today.

—I have written a fair amount over the years about the flaws of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Chief among them is that an artist’s historical impact and influence is far less important than their long-term popularity. The annual inductions to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry should be a much bigger deal. From the news release about this year’s inductees: “The sound recordings recently named to the registry showcase works across multiple genres, including blues, children’s recordings, classical, comedy, country, radio, jazz, pop, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, Latin and Broadway.” You’ll get a much better understanding of the history of American pop from the Registry than you’ll ever get from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And I say that as somebody who A) enjoyed a visit to the Hall and thinks that being a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame librarian is a very cool job.

—In 1972, Marvin Gaye worked on the followup to What’s Going On, but his first attempt got shelved. Nearly 50 years later it’s been released, and its social relevance to the world of 2019 is fairly strong. In 1985, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” became an anthem, albeit a misunderstood one. The story of how it was made (from a forthcoming book of stories behind Springsteen’s songs) is fascinating.

—Seventy years ago this spring, the 45RPM record first appeared in stores. Music formats have evolved since 1949, but as we look back, the social impact of the 45 may have ended up greater than that of the LP or the CD. On the subject of anniversaries, all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C., is celebrating its 50th this spring. Even if you’ve never heard the station, some of the stories from its history are great. It has also been 50 years since TV producer George Schlatter’s ill-fated experimental comedy Turn On lasted one episode, and in some cities, less than one.

Los Angeles magazine’s story about rejected vanity license plates in California was quite entertaining. It came to me via Strong Language, which is a feed you should be following. On the occasion of the Twilight Zone reboot at CBS All Access, Paste ranked all of the original Twilight Zone episodes from worst to first. I admire that sort of list-making because A) I like to read them and B) I don’t have the work ethic required to do them. A piece from The Atlantic about the college admissions scandal was infuriating. Among the many, many reasons our society is in deep trouble is the fact that people who have the money to do anything they want believe that anything they want to do is permissible.

That gets us back nearly a month. If you find any of these links worthwhile and you do not yet follow me on Twitter, please do so. My feed also features lots of half-assed jokes and pictures of beer, but you can probably figure out how to mute that stuff.

Is This the Real Life?

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(Pictured: Queen in 1976.)

This is not the post I was planning for today. I wrote something a few weeks ago, scheduled it, took it down, rewrote it, scheduled it again, and got up this morning thinking nah, I ain’t doing that. So here’s a rundown of some stuff that has recently passed through my Twitter feed instead.

—The movie Bohemian Rhapsody opens in the States on Friday. The handful of reviews I have read suggest that Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury is impressive, but the movie itself is only just OK. A piece in The Guardian suggests that the film sanitizes Mercury, depicting his sexuality as a problem rather than an animating force behind his art and his life.

—Tonight at my house we’ll watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as we’ve done around Halloween since God was a boy. The show inspired our man Kurt Blumenau to state five reasons why he likes it. In a Twitter exchange, Kurt pointed out that in the title of my post about The Great Pumpkin last week, I misquoted Linus’ anguished line after Lucy stabs the pumpkin, which is actually, “You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!” I have resisted changing the title, but it’s gonna drive me nuts every October until the end of time. (During my recent trip to the East Coast, I had the opportunity to hang out with Kurt for a couple of hours over beers and pizza. It was the best part of the trip by a long shot.)

—You may recall that I’m a Rosanne Cash fan. We’ve seen her live three times (with a likely fourth in Madison next spring), and her albums are an instant buy. Her latest, She Remembers Everything, will be out on Friday. You can still stream it at NPR, and you should.

—Also out on Friday is a new album by J. D. McPherson. I know precious little about him beyond what a quick Internet search turns up—a fortysomething rocker inspired by Buddy Holly and other 50s rock and R&B acts. But a headline on Paste‘s Twitter feed grabbed my attention: “JD McPherson Is Planning a Retro-Rock Christmas With Holiday Album Socks.” “Retro-rock Christmas” is in my wheelhouse, even when it’s rushing the season—and holy smokes, the two tracks previewed with the story, “Socks,” and “Hey Skinny Santa,” are fabulous. Socks is gonna be an instant buy on Friday as well.

—I have written here many times before that my parents were (and are) devoted radio listeners. So in addition to memories of hearing my own music on my own stations, I remember hearing their music on their stations. And it was on their stations that I first heard Freddie Hart, because while his crossover hit “Easy Loving” made #17 on the Hot 100, WLS didn’t chart it. “Easy Loving” was the first of Hart’s six straight #1 country singles in Billboard, a streak that also included the very fine My Hang-Up Is You,” which sounds like a reboot of “Easy Loving” and was #1 for six weeks where “Easy Loving” did only three. This past Saturday, Freddie Hart died at the age of 91. He had just finished a gospel album, which hasn’t been released yet.

—After Hurricane Michael hit Florida, a radio station in Panama City Beach was shut down by its owner after suffering storm damage. But two of the station’s DJs, Tiffany Dunning and Sean Streeter, weren’t ready to stop operating in the public interest, convenience, and necessity. One of them had evacuated to Birmingham and another to Nashville, but they kept updating emergency information on the station’s Facebook page even after the station was off the air. Streeter says, “This is what we signed up for as broadcasters.” Damn straight, sir, and well done.

Raise All Kinds of Candy to the Stars is discussing every song to peak at #2 on the Hot 100. Last spring, with the feature up to 1974, writer Marcello Carlin had to suspend it because of some medical issues. But after six months, he’s back and coming in hot with this spectacular essay tying Sylvia Plath and the Titanic to 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” If I could write like that, I would, and so would you.

And one more thing: my post on Monday about the badly run station in the nowhere town prompted reader Mike to respond with one of the craziest radio stories I’ve heard in a long time. Read it here.

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

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(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.

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