Category Archives: Links and Notes

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

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(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

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(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.

Songs in the Key of Lawrence

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(Pictured: Lawrence Welk, onstage in 1980. Considering the appearance of his musicians, he’d come to terms with longer hair by then.)

Clearly we need another Links and Notes post, because a lot of stuff that’s worth your time has been spinning through my Twitter feed too quickly to keep track.

From The 1976 Project: this interview with Candy Clark, who co-starred with David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, released that year (and re-released this year). Bowie is rumored to have worked on some music for the soundtrack, but it was never released. The actual soundtrack was written and performed by a celebrated 60s figure you may never guess.

This month is the 40th anniversary of ELO’s A New World Record, which is probably my #2 or #3 favorite album of all time, and Ultimate Classic Rock remembered it. FWIW, my #1 album is Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy; George Harrison’s Thirty Three and 1/3 is either #3 or #2.In the summer of ’76, just months before the release of the latter, George was found guilty of unconsciously plagiarizing his most famous solo hit, although the legal decision didn’t mark the end of anything: litigation continued for another 22 years, nearly to the end of his life.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary later this month: Songs in the Key of Life, the subject of a retrospective at Pitchfork.

Pitchfork also published a good, broad overview of the music from the summer of 1976, but perpetuated an error I have seen elsewhere this summer, one that drives me crazy: talking about ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” as part of the 1976 landscape. That’s only in the UK, where it was #1 late in the summer. “Dancing Queen” didn’t hit American radio in a big way until December, and it reached #1 in April 1977, so it’s simply wrong to lump it with the influential American hits of 1976.

On September 16, 1976, Larry Lujack returned to the morning show on WLS after six months spent playing elevator music on WCFL. The day before, he and WLS colleague Bob Sirott appeared on a Chicago TV morning show.

An aircheck from WCFL on September 8, 1971, features longtime Chicago jock Dex Card dropping the needle on a brand-new song by John Lennon, one day before his new album’s official release. You can hear Card play “Imagine’ at the 6:15 mark if you go here. If you listen to the whole thing, you will hear him play many other fine songs popular on that long ago late summer/early fall day.

Friend of the blog Tom Nawrocki told the story of Toni Basil, whose career involves far more than just making “Mickey.”

Another interesting story you may not know involves the husband-and-wife duo Nu Shooz and how “I Can’t Wait” became a hit 30 years ago this summer.  (I could not have loathed that record more back then, but I’m over it.)

I blogged recently on topics from David Hepworth’s book about the music of 1971; now British author Jon Savage has published a book about the music of 1966. Robert Christgau recently reviewed it.

Also from 1966: Rebeat Magazine remembered when Frank Sinatra hit #1 on the singles chart with “Strangers in the Night,” a song he didn’t like—and one proving that however explosive rock was in 1966, the old guard was still powerful, and popular.

There’s a new autobiography of Leiber and Stoller, and Jim Booth reviewed that. Leiber and Stoller’s great contemporary, Sam Phillips, was the subject of an Esquire piece on how he got the unique sound of the records he produced.

If you have attended a sporting event, major league or minor league, in the last 40 years, you have probably seen the Famous Chicken, who started as the San Diego Chicken back in the 70s. The man in the suit, Ted Giannoulas, is retiring, and looking back.

Also retiring is veteran sportscaster Dick Enberg.

Block out the weekend to read this: Vulture’s ranking of all 314 Bruce Springsteen songs, worst to best.

Carole King’s demos for the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and other hits are every bit as good as you’d expect. Hear ’em here.

King and her songwriting partners over the year always found the right words for the melody. Many of today’s songwriters don’t bother.

Rolling Stone put together a list of 20 songs that defined the early 70s, and they do.

It’s About TV looked inside the 1970 Fall Preview edition of TV Guide.

In the fall of 1969, Lawrence Welk opened his new TV season with a new look. Video like this really makes drugs unnecessary.

To see more in a timelier fashion, follow me on Twitter.

Jazz From Hell

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(Pictured: In 1985, Frank Zappa and Dee Snider review documents from a Senate hearing on explicit lyrics. They don’t seem impressed.)

Once upon a time, I aspired to write one of these Links and Notes posts each month. That hasn’t happened, of course, but here’s one. In this post are links to worthwhile stories I have mentioned on Twitter in the relatively recent past.

I have tipped you before to stuff by Michele Catalano. Recently, she found herself listening to the first Boston album, which prompted her to tweet, “‘More Than a Feeling’ is the sound that comes out of your heart if you squeeze it tight enough.” She followed with an essay called “A Requiem for the 70s,” in which Boston soundtracks a defining moment of her life. If you enjoy the memoir-style essays I type up for this blog, you must read hers. Another of Michele’s essays that’s worth your time is one about sharing music with her children, in the past and right up to this summer.

My Favorite Decade live-blogged MTV’s first hour, which was rebroadcast to launch MTV Classic, the former VH1 Classic, earlier this month. MTV Classic seems like an excellent idea, except it’s going to be aimed at people who watched MTV in the 90s and 00s, which means it will focus on the entertainment programs that marked the channel’s transition from music source to lifestyle brand, about which I could not care less. Also from Mark: an annotated mix tape of hits from the summer of 1985.

That summer, I was program director of a Top 40 station, about the time the Parents’ Music Resource Council went on the warpath against explicit lyrics. The records that most offended the PMRC didn’t fit our format and weren’t getting on our air (and in fact, precious few radio stations played them in regular rotation), but I paid close attention to the issue because I considered it my job to be attuned to what some members of my audience may have been thinking. I confess I was not especially bothered when the PMRC succeeded in getting “Explicit Lyrics” stickers placed on albums—at least not until Frank Zappa’s all-instrumental Jazz From Hell got one, at which point the entire movement jumped the shark. Open Culture explained how it happened.

The year 2016 has seen so many significant losses that many obituaries fall through the cracks. Few people noticed the passing of Lewie Steinberg, original bassist with Booker T. and the MGs, who died last month at age 82. Also Gary S. Paxton, a fascinating figure who produced the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash” and wrote over 2,000 songs. He eventually became a gospel star, but that career was sidetracked after he reportedly fell into a relationship with evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. His life story is worthy of a movie, except nobody would believe it.

The writing of “Heartbreak Hotel” was inspired by the suicide of an anonymous man who left behind a note saying, “I walk a lonely street.” After 60 years, the man’s identity has finally been determined, and Rolling Stone got it right with the subtitle “the story is stranger than anyone could have imagined.” A Rolling Stone article I liked less was a Cameron Crowe piece from 1976 about Linda Ronstadt, a condescending profile that paints Linda as if she were an artistically precocious teenager who barely understands the world. Back then, the unconscious paternalism of Crowe’s article was so ingrained in the culture that few noticed it, although it screams at us now.

The Guardian has a series called Frozen in Time, which features photographs of the famous, some candid and some not, and the stories behind them. A recent installment discussed a 1975 photo of Elton John taken during the frantic period in which he was recording Rock of the Westies in Colorado. The article is worth a click, as are all of the links within the article.

Seymour Stein was co-founder of Sire Records, the label that signed a number of significant new-wave acts in the 70s and launched Madonna’s career in the 80s. But when he was a high-school student, he worked at Billboard, and he was present at the creation of the Hot 100 in the summer of 1958.

Follow me on Twitter for more of this stuff. Or not. Up to you.

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