Song 237, Sunday, 2/8/2015 -- Look Into the Future by Journey, written by Diane Valory and Gregg Rolie. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. When I saw Journey on the list of opening acts for the summer 1978 Rolling Stones show at Chicago's Soldier Field, the name didn't ring any bells, but when the band hit the stage and launched into their current hit, I groaned inwardly as I recognized a track that was currently dominating the airwaves and that I avoided whenever possible. If I had to pick one band as the embodiment of the phrase soulless commerciality to describe how rock and roll lost a large share of its magic in the 1970s, I could have chosen Journey as the perfect candidate, though they had plenty of competition for that dubious distinction. What I didn't realize at the time, though, was that Journey was also the band that had done this truly magical record that I had heard a few times on the radio but hadn't identified, and it took me a few years to finally make that connection. When I did so, I soon got a copy of the record, and I never got tired of hearing it, unlike so many of their other cuts. Listening to a song this musically imaginative, you might wonder about what this band could have achieved if they had picked a more challenging path than the one of undemanding commerciality, and if you had looked into the future by hearing this song when it was released in 1976, you probably would have pictured a much more interesting Journey than the one that came to pass.
Song 236, Sunday, 2/1/2015 -- Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Somehow I got well past number 200 before getting a Chuck Berry record on the playlist, but now, here he is. Not long after the Beatles rocked my world in the winter of 1964, the second round of Beatles tracks hit the airwaves, including their cover of this song, which I liked just as much, or maybe even more, than all the others. At the time, I thought the Fab Four had invented rock and roll, and while round one had just been compositions by Lennon and McCartney, I also didn't know that round two included some tracks by other writers. I did pay attention to songwriting credits on records, though, and I began to notice the C. Berry name appearing on a number of cuts that I liked. In the early '70s, consolidation in the record business and the radio business quickly led to much shorter radio playlists, which dovetailed with a growing interest in the roots of rock and roll, so a lot of '50s records began returning to the airwaves. From the radio, and various articles in Rolling Stone, I got schooled in a short year or two about the earlier generation of rock and roll that I had previously missed. Before long I knew the basics about the early rockers, and Chuck Berry's place near the top of the list. In fact, I came to understand his role as an RnR pioneer so well that when a blues booking agent I worked with, around '75 or so, told me that his girlfriend hadn't heard of Chuck Berry, I couldn't understand it. When they first hit the airwaves, CB and his fellow top rockers created a sound that shook things up so much that Beethoven, the icon of classical music, must have been spinning in his grave, and that rock just kept on rolling, so Ludwig also had to tell Tchaikovsky the news.
Song 235, Sunday, 1/25/2015 -- Creepin' by Eric Church, written by Eric Church and Marv Green. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. I learned about the music of Eric Church from the Thom Hartmann Show -- I heard several EC song clips while listening to Thom's show, so I would guess TH enjoys that music quite a bit, and those clips sounded pretty good to me as well. In addition, I feel that this particular track stands out as one of a very select few that also has a top notch accompanying video, with engaging imagery that matches the message and the quality of the song. Not only that, but I found that I even appreciated the video about making that song video. Back in the mid-'80s I shared a joke with a recording engineer I was working with at the time about how too much MTV viewing would turn your mind to jelly, and that joke needed no explanation to either one of us -- I've seen very few song videos that didn't feel like a pure waste of time and effort. In this case, though, the video actually enhances the experience of the music in a way that so few do, and I'll bet that if you like country music and you watch this video just once, you might very well decide that you'd like to own a copy of this track.
Song 234, Sunday, 1/18/2015 -- They're Building a Pipeline by Carol Denney, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Seven weeks from the last playlist song by a personal friend, this week's track is by my old Berkeley colleague, friend, and (for about a year back in the '80s) housemate Carol Denney. She sets up an engaging slide show for this song's YouTube video, with pictures that apparently come from a West Virginia music festival she attended in August of 2014. On her last day at the festival, she read about the pipeline that Dominion wants to build through nearby national park and wilderness areas, and she wrote this song about it. A few years ago, when I mentioned fracking to her in a holiday card, she hadn't heard the word, and apparently none of my other CA friends had either, but by now they all know what it is, and they know something of the trouble it can cause for people who have to live close to it. Carol understands very well what her lines about how "they say that the pipeline/will help out our town/won't be any leaks or/spills on the ground" really mean during an era when pipeline leaks and spills occur on a daily basis, often with devastating consequences. From the saying "You wine 'em, dine 'em, and then you pipeline 'em" that makes the rounds within the petrochemical business circle, according to former industry insider Chip Northrup, clearly that crew knows they don't build pipelines for the purpose of serving the public, so yes, they're calling it progress all over again but many of us know that it's not.
Song 233, Sunday, 1/11/2015 -- Move Over by Janis Joplin, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Bad enough that I didn't post a Merle Haggard song on the list until number 191, a Willie Nelson track until 197, and an Elvis record until number 209, but when I mentioned in last week's song post that the songwriters of song 232, Dance With Me, wrote a song for their friend Janis Joplin that appeared on her final studio album Pearl, I realized that I had gotten to that number without posting a Janis track, so this week I needed to do something about that. When I first heard Janis sing on a TV show in 1968, I didn't think I would like her music very much, and it took me some time to warm up to her rough vocal style and that of other rockers like Dylan. A couple of years later, though, I had gotten to really like that style, on her, Dylan, and quite a few others as well, so when she died, I felt the loss of someone who had really mattered in that era of rock and roll. The news of her death, coming so soon after Hendrix died, also seemed to fulfill some strange destiny, as if their fates might have had some link in death. JJ's earlier recordings, while showcasing her amazing vocal talents, somehow seemed to fall short of fulfilling her true artistic potential, and on hearing this track, which opens Pearl, I could tell that ironically, just before she died, she had finally found the right recording combination -- producer, backing musicians, and other relevant essential elements -- to make a record that could reach that potential. Upon release, I heard one DJ say that every track was a winner, and as soon as I had it spinning on my turntable, I had to agree, although I felt this opening cut was the best of ten, and I still think so.
Song 232, Sunday, 1/4/2015 -- Dance With Me by Orleans, written by John and Johanna Hall. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. This band Orleans was not from Louisianna, but actually from Woodstock, NY. As record labels and radio stations consolidated in the late '60s and early '70s, playlists got much shorter, so that by the middle 1970s, the radio played a lot fewer songs, which meant that the songs they did spin got played a lot more often. As a result, the first time you heard a track, you might really like it, but by the time you heard it 6 or 7 times a day for 3-4 weeks, you might not want to hear it again, ever. Still, once in a while a song would come along that somehow didn't become irritating from the heavy airwave saturation, and for me, this track never lost its magic during the overplay of its charting days, or ever afterwards -- if I found it while channel-surfing the radio dial, or heard a DJ promise to play it, I kept tuned to that station. Married songwriting team John and Johanna Hall had written a fine song called Half Moon for their friend Janis Joplin that appeared on her last studio recording Pearl, and when John put a band together a year or 2 later, at some point they wrote this one, which in the summer of '75 became the band's first top ten single. This piece features what songwriters call a self-contained melody, meaning one that's distinctly recognizable without the lyrics, backing tracks and other parts of the recording. While some songwriters, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, would regularly craft songs with self-contained melodies, the large majority of rock and roll songwriters don't, but I love rock and roll (as Joan Jett would say -- Song 215), so an RnR record doesn't need a self-contained melody to get me rocking. When a track does have a self-contained melody as appealing as this one, though, it adds an extra layer to the listening pleasure, and might even make the difference between a song that suffers from too much radio overplay and one that still grabs you no matter how many times you've heard it that day, week, or month. On a side note, in the 21st Century, band leader and songwriter John Hall put in 2 terms as a Congressman, serving his upstate NY district from 2006-2010, and bravo to him for taking up the mantle of public service -- I personally don't think I'd want that job.
Song 231, Sunday, 12/28/2014 -- Better Class of Losers by Randy Travis, written by Randy Travis and Alan Jackson. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still of RT with the song title, but the pictures of him from this era show a guy with an interesting and appealing visage, so maybe a tune this entertaining doesn't need much more than that, at least for a first listen. I think country music has always been a working-class art form, and this piece draws a very clear picture of the conflict between a working-class guy and his middle-class uptown wife or girlfriend. Having grown up as one of those working-class guys myself, when this song showed up on New Country radio in the early '90s, I knew exactly what RT meant when he sang about people who looked down on those that drank 3-dollar wine, and I understood why he, and I, would rather hang out with a better class of losers who don't pretend to be something they're not. From a different angle, I have, for most of my time as a musician, paid more attention to songwriters and players than I have to singers, but on this song, and every other track I've heard by Mr. Travis, he handles the vocal so well that I can't help but notice what a talented singer he is, with a uniquely-expressive tone that he wraps around every line. On a side note, this track is my third sly reference to the first verse of my own song As Long as Merle is Still Haggard, which begins with a line that mentions Pam Tillis (Song 210) and Johnny Cash (Song 218), and then follows it with the line because Travis gets kind-of Randy sometimes, you know. You can find the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard video here.