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.
Song 191, Sunday, 3/23/2014 -- Mama Tried by Merle Haggard, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is a bunch of stills of Merle, and I really like the one of him holding a guitar while standing by a stream -- the perspective of the pose reminds me of a similar picture Su Polo took of me (which appears on the Bio/Press/Contact page of this website). I also like the picture of him sitting on a bench, which reminds me of some of the footage of me sitting on a bench that shows up in the music video of As Long As Merle is Still Haggard. Last week I posted a song by Waylon Jennings, and in doing so, I realized that I hadn't previously included any songs by him, Merle, Willie, or Charlie Pride. Since I mention all of them in the chorus of the Merle song, and they've all done songs that I really like, it seemed like I ought to get at least one song by each of them onto this list, and especially Merle. This song tops my list of Merle favorites, at least in part because of the lines about riding a freight train. Merle had an adventurous youth, as the Pure Prairie League song I'll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle happens to mention, though I'm not sure about the telephone booth part, but that adventurous youth included riding freight trains, and also doing a stretch at San Quentin Prison in 1958, where he turned 21, though he was not doing life without parole. While at San Quentin, he got to see a Johnny Cash performance, and that inspired him to join the prison country band, though he had already developed an interest in singing country music. I've read that when Merle met Johnny Cash for the first time, he mentioned that he saw him at San Quentin. Cash, thinking that Merle was referring to his 1969 show there (which yielded the live LP At San Quentin), said he didn't remember Merle being on that show, and Merle replied that he was in the audience (at a much earlier concert, of course). Fortunately for Merle, and for people who like country music, Hag got himself into a slightly-less-adventurous lifestyle in the early 1960s that led to songs like this. I got to see Merle playing at a small club in Manhattan a couple of times in the late 1990s, and he and his band were putting on a pretty good show then, as I would expect they probably are still doing these days as well. On a related note, you can find the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard video here.