Song 218, Tuesday, 9/30/2014 -- Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. This is Johnny Cash's first appearance on this playlist, and it's also my second sly reference to the first verse of my song As Long as Merle is Still Haggard, which opens with the line Now Pam Tillis the truth now, what happened to Johnny's Cash (the Pam Tillis record Don't Tell Me What to Do being the first one, as Song 210). Long before I understood the meaning of rock and roll, I knew or at least recognized a number of country songs, having heard them at the homes of relatives and family friends, and though my family didn't actively listen to any music other than church music, the parents didn't as a rule object to me hearing country tunes, contrary to how they would react as my interest in RnR developed. I don't remember the first time I heard this track, but I got to recognize it well before my teen years, and my father did mention that he had some concerns with his sons learning a song about a man who shot someone just to watch the person die, though Dad didn't turn off the radio or tell us not to listen to the tune. In a much later era, the song popped up on the local hit radio station in the summer before my final year of high school, as an updated and up-tempo live version (actually recorded At Folsom Prison) of a golden oldie that, despite its subject matter, seemed tame compared to the latest new stuff rocking the transistors. Then moving to a much later era again, in the mid-'80s, if I really did play bass in a country bar pick-up band, as the rumor goes, then it's quite possible that I could have been spotted singing lead on this song and guiding the rest of the crew through the changes -- if someone says they saw me do it, they might be telling the truth. On a side note, I feel I should mention that according to the Wickipedia page for this song, while JC did write the piece, apparently he borrowed very heavily from a 1953 track called Crescent City Blues by Gordon Jenkins, to such an extent that in the early 1970s he actually payed Mr. Jenkins a settlement of around $75,000. On a second side note, doing the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard video in 1995, for the Johnny Cash line I wanted to have the Rolling Stone calendar picture of JC hanging nearby and clearly visible in the scene where Herb looks at me and shakes his head, but my friend (engineer and co-producer) David Seitz told me that I could get sued if I didn't get clearance from the photographer who took the shot. A quick phone call informed me that the photographer's permission would cost about $1,000, so you don't see JC's calendar photo in the video, or any other major pictures of those named in the song. I had thought of various ways to include images of country singers in the video, such as flashing some of their album covers in the scene where Keith throws a bunch in the garbage can (and I come back and take them out), but for the final cut, I made sure we didn't include any footage where those covers could be clearly seen, because I didn't feel like asking for trouble, having learned long ago what usually happens when you do. By the way, you can catch the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard video here.
Song 217, Sunday, 9/21/2014 -- Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. With fall just 2 days away, I decided to post a song about the sweet days of summer, since they're almost gone. This track came across the radio like a cool breath of fresh air during the warmer months of 1972, and in that sweaty Chicago summer, I remember noticing a special summer breeze once or twice on a hot day, and connecting it with this song. I also liked that interesting and somewhat familiar sound in the middle section (sweet days of summer...) but didn't realize that it came from a child's toy piano. I did wonder, though, about the line When I come home from a hard day's work, as I was all caught up in the music business hype and didn't understand the realities of music business economics. I didn't consider musician work, whether recording, performing, doing interviews or whatever, as particularly hard work, but listening to the song, I also got the impression that the singer wasn't referring to musician work. After I heard a couple of other tracks from the Summer Breeze album, it sounded like a good investment, and the first time through the LP I felt pretty good about buying it. I picked up on a bit of a religious angle from some of the lyrics, but I sensed that it didn't come from any of the traditional Judeo/Christian branches. The early 1970s saw quite an expansion in the variety of religious messages attracting attention, and I soon learned that Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were followers of the Baha'i faith. I then discovered that the city where I lived (Evanston, IL) actually had its own Baha'i temple, and was one of the U.S. centers of the faith. I think this discovery happened when my childhood best buddy (the one who I wrote the song So Long Friend for) came to visit me, because during that stay, he made a pilgrimage up to the north end of town to see the temple, as a recent convert to the faith, though a few years later he drifted away from religion, into agnosticism. Unlike my friend, S & C doubled down on their faith, retiring from the music business to focus on religious work. I won't comment on the wisdom of either move, but simply say that listening to Summer Breeze still makes me feel fine.
Song 215, Sunday, 9/7/2014 -- I Love Rock and Roll by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, written by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Following last week's song about the love of rock and roll, this week's song has the same theme, but actually comes right out and says it. My first thought when I heard this record for the first time on the radio, though, was, "Where are the jukeboxes that only cost a dime for a song?" Of course, the answer was that they were long gone with the mid-'70s, but I soon learned that Joan's record was a cover of a mid-'70s track, which explained where the line "Put another dime in the jukebox, baby" came from. It didn't surprise me to learn that the song was a cover, because the line about the person dancing by the record machine looking to be about 17 sounded to me like a lyric coming more from a male angle than a female one, but that don't matter... 'cause it's all the same. What does matter is that I Love Rock and Roll and so does Joan Jett -- you can tell that she does by the way she sings this song.
Song 214, Sunday, 8/31/2014 -- Drift Away by Dobie Gray, written by Mentor Williams. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. If you've listened to any flavor of classic rock radio or '70s oldies stations you have no doubt heard this track, and maybe you've also heard it as background music at a store in your local mall. Well over 4 decades after it first came across the air waves, it still makes a lot of waves in public places, and whenever I hear it, it always makes me feel good. I had enjoyed the Beatles version of Chuck Berry's tune Rock and Roll Music, and when I first heard this song, it sounded to me like an inspired update on that earlier idea of just how magical rock and roll music can be. Of all the songs that celebrate the magic of rock and roll, I can think of no better one than this. When the record first came along in the early spring of 1973, it exploded right in the middle of a Beach Boys revival, and one of my friends would jokingly sing along with the chorus as "Gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul..." which was amusing and close enough to the real lyric to fool someone who didn't know, but really, it was the beat that freed our souls, whether that beat came from the Beatles, the Beach Boys, or, in this case, Dobie Gray. Incidentally, the songwriter on this tune is the brother of Paul Williams, who is a lot better known and who wrote a lot more hit songs, but as much as I respect Paul's talent, I'd rather Drift Away on Mentor's hit song than listen to An Old Fashioned Love Song somewhere Out in the Country on Rainy Days and Mondays, if I have the choice.
Song 213, Sunday, 8/24/2014 -- New Dirt Road by Richard Meyer, who also wrote the song. There is no YouTube video of the song, but you can hear it here. Once again, the list rolls around to 7 weeks since the last time I posted a song by a personal friend, so this week's track is by my friend Richard Meyer. Richard acted as editor for the Fast Folk Musical Magazine for many years, including a few when I put in some time there as well, and while we didn't always agree on our musical points of view, I always respected Richard for the time and effort he put into the FF operation, in the service of music and songwriters that he believed in and wanted to help promote. The FF gatherings and song swaps usually centered around a songwriter's newest piece, but at one song swap Richard said he wanted to do one of his older tunes, and he played this song. I told him I thought it was the best original I'd ever heard him do, and when it appeared on his 1992 release The Good Life, I thought the recording sounded even better than his live solo version. I liked this song so much that when he played a set at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival one July afternoon, I asked him to play this tune, and he did. I later designed and coded Richard's website, back in the era before CSS, when everything had to fit in an HTML table, and while I still think my stage/spotlight design looks good in the archive, I could never get it to center the way it should have. Sadly, Richard lived out his last few years in a nursing home, due to a disease that had plagued him to varying degrees for most of his time as an adult, and that disease ended his life in the spring of 2012.
Song 212, Sunday, 8/17/2014 -- California Nights by Lesley Gore, written by Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Liebling. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. This week's song follows last week's vision of California with another one, this time a bit more laid back, picturing relaxed romantic evenings on a beach rather than a group of guys cruising a strip looking for girls. I had heard from Lesley Gore a few years earlier, not as the one crying at her own party, but as the one who got her boyfriend back and told us it was Judy's Turn to Cry. I thought that song was fun, but this one made me want to gather some kindling and start a campfire so she and I could walk hand in hand by the shore and count the stars on a warm California night. I liked the Beach Boys but hearing them didn't make me want to take up surfing, or even think much about California. At some point someone I knew moved to CA, though, and then not long after this song came along, I also started to hear about people wearing flowers in their hair. By then, I'd also heard about the California Girls and what it feels like to be California Dreamin' and I started thinking that maybe, as another song from the era said, California's the place you ought to be. It would take another decade or so, but in the summer of 1978 I walked over to a road side and pointed my thumb westward, hoping that maybe I could find my own place close to that Pacific shore, and someone to share those California Nights with me.
Song 211, Sunday, 8/10/2014 -- I Get Around by The Beach Boys, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Somehow I managed to get well past the 200 mark on the list without including a Beach Boys song, and I don't have a good excuse for that, but I hope Brian Wilson will forgive me. Before the Beatles came along in February of '64, I wasn't all that focused on music and the radio, although the summer before the British Invasion, I had developed a strong liking for a couple of folk hits, which have already appeared on the list, and a couple of country songs as well. That same summer, Surf City also got my attention, mainly because my good friend Dave from across the road, who was my partner in boyhood mischief, was such a big fan of the tune, and would sometimes sing it. At that point I probably didn't know the Beach Boys from Jan and Dean (who recorded the hit single version of Surf City), but by the following summer, I was paying a lot more attention to the radio, whenever I could, and in addition to all those cool songs by the Beatles and the other English bands, I heard this tune a lot as well, and really liked it. I tried to sing along with the record when it came on the radio, but the chorus was actually about all I knew -- it would take me a while to be able to get the verse lyrics on records from the radio. Listening to this song would give you no clue that during the making of the record Brian Wilson fired his father Murry, who had managed the Beach Boys for their first few years. If you've read any of the early history of the group, you probably know something about the conflicts between Brian and his father, and some of the ways that Murry belittled his son. I heard a story from my late-'70s Oakland housemate Doug who told me that Murry actually told Brian the lyrics to I Get Around should be rewritten because the words made no sense to him, and apparently he even mocked Brian while quoting some of the lines, and he asked Brian what certain phrases in the song meant. If you've read much about the conflict between the father and son, you know that Murry did much worse things to Brian, but if this story is true, I can understand why Brian decided around that time to fire his father, and it was probably a wise decision. Personally, I always like the lines on this song, and no one ever had to explain to me what they meant, but I guess Murry was just showing his age when it came to trying to understand the jargon of the younger generation.
Song 210, Sunday, 8/3/2014 -- Don't Tell Me What to Do by Pam Tillis, written by Harlan Howard and Max D. Barnes. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. At the turn of the 1990s, country music radio was buzzing about New Country, and with good reason, it seemed to me, as I started hearing a lot of new artists and clever, catchy songs that I liked, from a revitalized country music scene. In the process, I soon learned that Mel Tillis had a daughter, and from the sound of this track, I could tell that Mel's daughter could sing pretty well. This song alone was almost reason enough to buy the Pam Tillis CD Put Yourself in My Place, but I also heard a couple of other good tracks from the record so that by the time I picked it up, I knew I'd be spinning it quite a bit. If you know about country music songwriters, then you probably recognize the name Harlan Howard on this one, as the guy who also wrote a number of classic country tunes, including I Fall to Pieces, Heartaches By the Number and Busted. Not long after this record came along, I wrote a song called As Long as Merle is Still Haggard that makes puns like the title one from a whole bunch of country singers' names, and the one that I open the song with is... Pam Tillis. I'm sure that this record is the main reason why I thought of Pam, though it wasn't the only reason.