Treat Her Right

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(Pictured: Irlene, Barbara, and Louise Mandrell, circa 1980.)

I’d like to thank everybody for their insightful comments On Here recently. I started writing comments of my own in response and then decided to make ’em a whole post.

On monologues: the king of the monologue might have been Isaac Hayes, who built epic versions of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Walk on By,” and others around long spoken pieces. Even on “Theme From Shaft,” he doesn’t sing, he talks. In the 70s, “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites and “Float On” by the Floaters were both massive monologue hits. The Chi-Lites also scored a more modest monologue hit with “A Letter to Myself.” A quick spin through a couple of Reddit threads reveals that spoken bits are still pretty common, although some of the examples elide the difference between speaking and rapping. (Hayes called his spoken interludes “raps” before most anybody else used the word as a noun.)

On Barbara Mandrell, who covered “Woman to Woman,” the song that started the monologue discussion: People don’t realize or remember just how big a star Barbara Mandrell was. She’s a multi-instrumentalist who came up in the early 70s and covered R&B songs right from the start, including “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Do Right Woman (Do Right Man), along with Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right” and Joe Tex’s “Show Me.” She scored 22 Top-10 hits between 1977 and 1988, including six #1 songs. The list of #1s includes her version of Luther Ingram’s “I Don’t Want to Be Right,” which was also a Top-10 hit on the adult contemporary chart in 1979. Her turn-of-the-80s work also includes the devastating “Years,” a candidate for Saddest Song of All Time.

Somebody with a better work ethic than me needs to do some serious research into the way getting a TV show affected a performer’s chart career. Although Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the Captain and Tennille all scored radio hits after getting on TV, their careers were never the same. That doesn’t seem to have been true for Mandrell, however. Her variety show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, ran for two years on NBC (1980-1982) before Barbara walked away from it, and in that period she continued to hit consistently. It took a 1984 car accident to slow her roll, but even that couldn’t stop it. Her last chart hit came in 1989; her last single release was in 1991, the same year as her last major-label release. She released two more albums in 1994 as TV promotions.

Few performers retire as definitively as Barbara Mandrell did. After pursuing an acting career in the 1990s, she retired from recording and performing in 1997. Her last acting credit at IMDB is a role in 2000. Last August, she made a surprise appearance onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. On Christmas Day, she will celebrate her 74th birthday.

Since I find myself with some of the word count left and I don’t know how to shut up, here are some worthwhile stories that passed through my Twitter feed recently:

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The Line That’s Missing

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(Pictured: Mary Chapin Carpenter onstage in 2018.)

I was so young when I first heard Elton John’s “Your Song” that it was years before I realized the terrible majesty of  “If I was a sculptor / <chuckle> But then again, no.” Bernie Taupin would eventually be famed for poetical inventions that ranged from Dali-esque surrealism to complete gibberish, but even he couldn’t come up with something better in place of that line.

But then again (see what I did there), there’s admirable honesty in admitting you’re beaten and that you need to get the song out the door and onto the album. In her song “Stones in the Road,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings:

And now we drink our coffee on the run
We climb that ladder rung by rung
We are the daughters and the sons
And here’s the line that’s missing

That kind of thing seems qualitatively different from Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” where the lack of a suitable line is actually a suitable line:

Well we got no class
And we got no principals
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes

If you know other examples of throwaway lines like these, please share them with the entire class.

On Another Matter: I have not tweeted a lot of worthwhile reading material lately. Maybe it’s a function of the way Twitter is circling the drain, or maybe my attention span is shot. But here are a few things:

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Going Back

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(Pictured: writer and arranger Anita Kerr at work in 1973.)

Last weekend The Mrs. and I went back to the Illinois college town where we lived for three years in the middle of the 80s. As I wrote earlier this week, when we left, we left for good: we think it’s only the second time either of us has been back since 1987. I would not have recognized the house we rented when we lived there if Ann hadn’t pointed it out to me; the trees on the street are far taller now, and the house is a different color. It looks like it’s been a rental ever since, as it’s gotten pretty shabby.

In general, a lot of things around town were vaguely familiar, but a lot of it we didn’t remember at all. True, 35 years is a long damn time to be gone, even from a familiar place. But also, I think we knew back then, in the way you “know” things when you’re in your mid-20s and just starting out, that we weren’t going to be there forever, or even for very long. And so we didn’t let it become part of us the way the Quad Cities did, or Iowa City (where we didn’t live as long).

On Monday I linked to a post I wrote in 2018 about “the badly run station in the nowhere town,” and if you didn’t click on it then, you’re welcome to do so now. The rather entertaining story of how my brief tenure there ended, which was written in 2007, is here. I noodled with new ideas to write about all week, but I got nothin’. It was a place we lived, we went back, we looked at stuff, we stayed overnight, then we got up and left. We may go back someday, I suppose. If our pattern holds, I’ll be 97 years old when we do.

To give you the type of value you expect from this low-rent Internet shebeen, let’s go back over some stuff that has passed through my Twitter feed this week, on the flip.

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The Usual Yearly Ration

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(Pictured: “This is all very nice for you, I’m sure, but how come you never write about things cats enjoy, like being fed and throwing up on the floor?”)

This website began on July 11, 2004, which means that as of today it’s old enough to vote. In keeping with ancient custom, here are some of my favorite posts since last July 11, in no particular order.

—I spent some time on a recent afternoon at the radio station recreating the radio edit of the Isley Brothers’ 1975 hit “Fight the Power,” which bleeped the word “bullshit.” A couple of posts about naughty language in radio songs (here and here) were fun to write and got a lot of response from the readership, which I always appreciate.

—I provided the usual yearly ration of philosophical navel-gazing: about the people we see in dreams, about how and when our narrow childhood perspective starts to widen, about long autumn mornings on the school bus and a Thanksgiving Day 50 years gone, and about what it would be like if we could remember everything.

—I got annoyed with “people of my generation who mistake normal processes of growth and change for assaults on All We Hold Dear.”

—In 1972, somebody thought it would be a good idea to invite Adolf Hitler to a Dean Martin roast, and hired Casey Kasem to play the part. That in turn inspired a closer look at Martin’s impact on the record charts.

—I wrote tributes to Charlie Watts and Howard Hesseman.

—I wrote about how doing a radio show is best thought of not as performing, but as making something. Alongside a firm belief in the service responsibility of the radio jock, it’s the rock I stand on these days. Every piece of a show must have a purpose, and the pieces should be consciously assembled, like building a bookshelf or a birdhouse. I’m not just spitballing to fill time anymore—the way I did for quite literally decades on the air.

Joy and Fear: The Beatles, Chicago, and the Sixties by John F. Lyons inspired a couple of posts. I wrote about differing perceptions of the Beatles among boys, girls, and Black listeners, and (yet again) how Chicago was the first American city to hear the Beatles on the radio.

—Last December, I wrote about several Christmas warhorses celebrating 50th anniversaries: “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” by Cheech and Chong, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John and Yoko, and A Partridge Family Christmas Card.

—This is not a television website but it does have a TV category and the analytics available to me show that people like my occasional TV posts. I wrote about a series of programs commissioned by the U.S. Treasury to plug savings bonds, which featured mini-episodes of Cheers, Taxi, WKRP in Cincinnati, and Benson. I also wrote about the locally produced entertainment shows that used to run on daytime TV, and about the shows that topped the Nielsen ratings in summer of 1977.

—I also write The Sidepiece, a free e-mail newsletter you can subscribe to, which covers subjects not on-topic for this website. You can read about the likelihood that  American voters will freely choose Hell this November, or about the sick and helpless feeling one gets watching the GOP do what it does while the Democrats stand feebly by and do nothing. The Sidepiece post archive is available to all, even non-subscribers.

Almost every year in this post I write about how much I abused the editorial “we” in it, which I notice I have not done this year. So, in closing:

We do not write quite as often here as we used to; working for The Man puts demands on our time that are different from what they were during the first 17 years of this blog’s existence, when our gig-economy lifestyle permitted us to spend entire days noodling with it. Nevertheless, our intention is to soldier on here whenever we can, for as long as we can. If you keep reading, we will keep being grateful to you.

What We Were

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(Pictured: the Ramones in 1978. Not the Reagans’ kind of people.)

I appreciate your comments at this website. All of us together have been making us each of us smarter individually for a long time. Readers catch me in mistakes or offer perspectives I either did not consider or do not share.

If there’s a type of comment that bothers me, it’s this kind: a drive-by (on a 10-year-old post) from somebody who has likely never visited this site before, who got here via a Google search, read one post, and decided that what the world most needs to know is that “I think this thing you like actually sucks.” Nothing constructive or insightful, just the Internet equivalent of egging somebody’s car.

For some people, the strongest urge in life is not for food or sex, it’s to correct strangers online. I try to imagine having the ego to do that, but I can’t.

Last week, I got a comment that I honestly don’t know how to take. Reader Bob wrote, “You’ve become like my father in his latter years … calling hard-disk drive space ‘memory.'” The most charitable way to take that is as a compliment on my voluminous capacity for recollection (albeit Google-aided). I might also take it as a suggestion that I spend too much time noodling with the past, and that my memories have blurred into an undifferentiated mush of information that no longer passes for knowledge.

Which one it is doesn’t matter, really, and I don’t choose to be offended if it’s the latter. Bob is not a drive-by reader; he’s part of this community. But he happened to comment on the same day I found something in the archives that is about being stuck in the past, and whether a person can change. I wrote it after spending some time reading a now-defunct nostalgia website whose tagline was “you are what you were.” I have edited it a bit.

I may claim that in my head it’s still 1976, but I know I am not the same person I was in 1976—and thank goodness for that. The kid who lived through the unforgettable seasons of that year had no idea how much he didn’t know about life, and [he] wouldn’t have listened if you had tried to tell him so. And when I get nostalgic about those wild nights in college, I forget that the kid participating in those wild nights was, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, quite an asshole.

I suspect that all of us have been people we are glad to no longer be, even as we cling to the memory of having been those people.

I have, from time to time, gotten reacquainted with people I’ve known since childhood but had been out of touch with for years. Generally, we discovered that the adult versions of ourselves were far more likable than the younger versions had been. Time had sanded away our most maddening qualities, but it had left much of the good in us intact.

So we are not necessarily what we were, no. If we’re lucky, we might still retain the best of what we were.

Links and Notes: I am still trying, and mostly succeeding, at spending less time on Twitter. It has made a modest difference in my mental health, and I intend to keep staying off. But I am still finding worthwhile stuff on it now and then, and here’s some of it:

Continue reading “What We Were”

Third-Shift Pub Crawl

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(Pictured: Pabst Blue Ribbon is no longer brewed in Milwaukee, but some of the downtown brewery complex has been preserved. Part of it has been converted to a visitor center with a hotel, where The Mrs. and I stayed on a visit last year. Do not sleep on PBR itself; during our visit, I drank some for the first time in years and enjoyed it immensely.)

The muse has been a little stingy with inspiration recently, so here’s an old reliable fallback: a tour of some stuff that has passed through my Twitter feed recently.

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