Song 201, Sunday, 6/1/2014 -- Greenback Dollar by The Kingston Trio, written by Hoyt Axton. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. I mostly missed the folk boom of the late '50s and early '60s, with a couple of exceptions, mainly Green, Green (song 189) and the Peter Paul and Mary version of If I Had a Hammer (song 184), both of which hit the airwaves in the summer of 1963. I had heard of the Kingston Trio but didn't know much about them, and when I heard the song Tom Dooley in a grade school class, and we then sang the song, I wasn't that thrilled with it. Living in Berkeley in the early 1980s, though, I bought one or two old Kingston Trio LPs at a garage sale, and after listening to them, I started picking up more of them. The more I listened to the old KT records, the more I liked them, and the more I would get the next time around. A couple of years into this process, I mentioned to my friend Jeff Larson something about a Kingston Trio song, and that sparked a conversation where I learned that he had also started a major KT album collection. From then on, we would often share Trio songs during our musical get-togethers, and we also went to a KT show at the Concord Pavilion some time during that era. Today, hearing the YT video of this song at the link above, I noticed that it has the word damn in the chorus, unlike the LP version that I have, which is the only one I've listened to in the last 3 decades. On my album version, you hear the singers sing I don't give a ---- about a greenback dollar with a pause between a and about, which indicates that they're obviously leaving a word out. Hearing the YT video, it's clear that for the record I have, the engineer just dropped the word damn out of the vocal mix, though he also must have created a mix with the word left in. I think I was vaguely aware of the controversy about the word damn on this record at the time of its release, but only vaguely so. Growing up, my family would not have allowed me to listen to a record with the word damn in the lyrics of a song, so I well understand the wisdom of having two different mixes of the track, one with the word and one without. As an adult, though, I don't give a ---- about a singer using the word damn.
Song 200, Sunday, 5/25/2014 -- Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana, written by Kurt Cobain. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. When I realized that I almost got to number 200 on this list without a Nirvana song, I knew what song number 200 would have to be. I liked Nirvana, though I wasn't quite as crazy about them as some of my friends, but when I heard this song, I knew I had to get the new CD as soon as possible. Certain songs come along that grab you in such a way that you just have to hear them again and again, and this song wrapped itself around my ears in that manner. I really liked the opening verse riff, and apparently so did Courtney Love, according to the official stories, because when she first heard it she asked Kurt if she could use it. Some of the lyrics on this song I really like, such as the baby's breath line and the priceless sarcasm of the forever in debt to your priceless advice chorus, while others really don't do much for me, like the eat your cancer line, but I don't let that interfere with my enjoyment of the track. The YouTube video here is the official award-winning music video that accompanied the song's release, and I feel like it has a few good moments, mostly when the guys are mugging for the camera, but I also feel that the song far outshines the video, and I don't care much for the scenes with the old man on the cross or the woman wearing the suit with human organs painted on it. Kurt sure did have very blue eyes, though, didn't he!
Song 199, Sunday, 5/18/2014 -- The Come Heres and the Been Heres by Chuck Brodsky, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. It's been 7 weeks since the last song by a personal friend on this list, so today's song is by my friend Chuck Brodsky. Chuck and I were both members of a Berkeley songwriter circle in the 1980s, and Chuck even did a background vocal for a recording I started then, which I still haven't finished (I have plenty of those). I learned this song from listening to Chuck's recent videos, and I didn't hear it back in the Berkeley days, so I'm guessing that he wrote it after that era, though I could be wrong. In this song he paints a pretty clear picture of the conflicts that can arise between long-time residents and newcomers in some little country towns. His title and his subject bear a close resemblance to a 1993 magazine article, so perhaps that's where Chuck found his inspiration, although it could be the other way around, depending on which came first, the song or the article, and again, I don't know for sure, but also, it really doesn't matter -- most Dylan fans know the tale of how Bob came to write a very striking song after reading a New York Times story. Anyway, no matter when Chuck wrote this song, it definitely resonates in the present day -- the older residents in the little town don't like the way the newcomers take over the school board, thereby ending the morning school prayer and leading teachers to start covering evolution and sex ed. I might have read a similar headline lately, and probably you have too.
Song 198, Sunday, 5/11/2014 -- Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells, written by Tommy James and Peter Lucia, Jr. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. To my ears, this song is pure magic, and always was, from the moment I first heard it playing on local station WENE back in the winter of 1969. The record dominated the AM radio dial for 2 to 3 months, hanging on well into the spring, and no one I knew ever complained that they'd heard it too much. In fact, I can remember still hearing it on the radio in early June, and still feeling like I couldn't get enough of it. Though probably no one would have called TJ a particularly poetic lyric writer from his previous work, the words on this song have a very poetic feel, while at the same time they defy an easy and exact interpretation -- somehow when I hear this record, I feel like I know just what the singer means, but I also couldn't explain it. One side note worth mentioning is that this record was one of the first songs done on 16-track, which had become the industry standard by the time I booked my first multi-track recording session a few years later.
Song 194, Sunday, 4/13/2014 -- Born to Run by Emmylou Harris, written by Paul Kennerley. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still of the Heartaches & Highways: The Very Best of Emmylou Harris cover, but though that part of the video doesn't move, the song sure does. This tune, not to be confused with the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, came out in late 1981 shortly after I moved into a house in Berkeley where I lived for most of that decade, and though it did well on the country charts, I wasn't paying much attention to any of the charts at the time, so I didn't know about it. A couple of years later, though, in adding to my Emmylou LP collection, when I got to Cimarron, I knew some of the songs but not her versions of them, so the first spin on the turntable was my first time hearing of all the recordings on that album. On first listening, I liked this song the best of the bunch, and having heard the LP many times over the last 3 decades, I'd still say so. The song is a brag, and a very appealing one at that, saying, in effect, I can't help it, I was born to be the best, to run the race and win, to get ahead of everyone else -- it's just in my DNA to be better and to do better than others. It's a common idea among teenagers and those in their twenties, and one that often fuels the creative drive of younger people, though it's not so appealing in real life if someone hangs onto it for too long. On a side note, the man who wrote this song had connected with Emmylou on an earlier project, and as it turns out, he married her a few years after this record, but then the marriage dissolved in the early 1990s.
Song 193, Sunday, 4/6/2014 -- Wait 'Til We Get Home by Lone Justice, written by Marvin Etzioni, Ryan Hedgecock and Maria McKee. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. When I lived in Berkeley in the 1980s, my housemate Bob worked as a stage hand at the Greek Theatre there, and he got me a few free tickets to shows, including one by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on July 26th, 1985 with Lone Justice as the opening act. I might have heard a bit about LJ before the gig, but I didn't really know their music at all, and as I walked over to my seat a few minutes after the start of the show, the band was already well into this song. By the time I sat down, I already knew that I really liked the tune they were performing, and I could also tell that the lead singer (Maria McKee) had a really strong and impressive voice. Of course I enjoyed the headline set that followed, but well before the TP crew got to the stage, I had decided that I would have to add a Lone Justice LP to my collection as soon as reasonable, because of how much I enjoyed the opening set. That Lone Justice album has a bunch of really good songs, and it has spent a lot of time on my turntable. When I got it I didn't know anything about the Petty connections with LJ, and I'm not sure I even took much notice of their names among the songwriting credits on the LJ record, but a couple of years later I had the good fortune of seeing Lone Justice as an opening act for another band I liked a lot, when U2 took the stage at the Cow Palace across the bay on April 25th of 1987. LJ performed a good set that night, as did U2, but with the dismal acoustics of the Cow Palace weighed against the fine acoustics of the Greek Theatre, not surprisingly, I have a much clearer memory of the Berkeley show, and I can tell you they sounded very good on that day in July of 1985.