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.
Song 230, Tuesday, 12/23/2014 -- I Hear the Call by The Unforgiven, written by John Henry Jones. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. I wouldn't call the video for this song a great one, but it has some good scenes, and I could watch it again without feeling a strong sense of wasted time, unlike the way the vast majority of music videos make me feel, so I would call it one of the better ones I've seen. Going back a few years before there was a Clint Eastwood movie called The Unforgiven, there was an L.A. rock band by the same name, which is apparently more than coincidence, because, according to their official story, the band reached out to Eastwood, hoping to hire him as director for their music video. Clint didn't want to direct their video, but evidently he liked their name. I don't recall how I first heard the call of I Hear the Call, but within a year or so of its release, I had the LP called The Unforgiven spinning on my turntable quite a lot. A few years later, in compiling cassettes of favorite songs to accompany my musical travels, I added this song to an '80s favorites tape. Heading to Brooklyn a few short weeks ago in early November, I played that tape on the road, along with a few others, and the next day, walking in Park Slope on a balmy, sunny afternoon, a car went by playing a song that I recognized, and that I liked. I Hear the Call did not make the charts in the era of its release, and neither the LP The Unforgiven nor the band gained any wide recognition, but obviously, from my experience on the street in Park Slope, I can say that others besides myself must have heard the call and liked it. I often smile at the line Papa was loud but he thought of himself as the poetic type, I relish the guitar interplay, and I particularly enjoy the ending coda that takes the recording in a surprising and unique direction with some flute sounds that remind me of traditional Irish music -- hearing this call, I will gladly listen closely to it, and I will answer it.
Song 228, Sunday, 12/7/2014 -- Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues by Danny O'keefe, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. As the summer of 1972 started turning into fall, this song started climbing the charts, and on first hearing, I liked it a lot, then liked it more as I heard it more. Ironically, I picked up some criticism then from a member of the older generation I knew who, upon hearing this track on the radio, accused me of copping my entire style from the singer. While I liked the song and the tone, over the previous few years I had worked at developing an original artistic style for all facets of my music, and though I could admit to some common points with Danny O, it surprised me that this particular personal critic could believe I was imitating a guy who had only recently popped up on the radio, and who I knew nothing about before his big hit came across the airwaves. It didn't occur to me then, but looking back, I would guess that the critic had no idea that Danny O's record was new, and that I had no prior knowledge of him. Currently some commentary floating on the web quotes Mr. O as indicating that he wrote the song about an imaginary character, but back in the '70s I assumed that he was singing about himself, and I figured that when he said everyone was moving to L.A., he meant all of his musician friends, since L.A. had by then become the center of gravity for the American music business, and almost every other town, with a couple of exceptions, would waste your time if you wanted to pursue a career in modern music. Knowing this, I still spent 10 years living in Oakland and Berkeley, only visiting L.A. a few times, at least in part because living in the S.F. Bay Area can feel so good, even the possibility of a more rewarding career in southern CA, only a few hundred miles away, can't necessarily compel you to try moving to L.A.
Song 227, Sunday, 11/30/2014 -- Carrie by Bob Nichols, who also wrote the song. 7 weeks since posting a song by a personal friend, this week's song is by my 1980s Berkeley housemate, and sadly, since he died back in 2005, you probably won't catch any videos of Bob Nichols songs on YouTube any time soon, but you can hear this tune by clicking here. In the early '80s Bob did a handful of 8-track recordings, and then in '83 his band Moo put together a full-length cassette with 6 of Bob's recordings on side 1 and 5 songs by his band mates on side 2. Bob gave copies to everyone in my band, and I remember our drummer Darrell Heithecker saying that he liked the cassette so well, he thought it was the best tape he'd ever heard of original songs by people he knew personally. I just about agreed with him, though I had a couple of other friend recordings at the time that I liked quite well, and I found that I listened to that Moo tape a lot. These days I still do, though now I often listen to the recordings in digital form. When Bob first played the Carrie mix for me, I told him I really liked the solo. He laughed and said I was just impressed with it because it was a sax (instead of the usual guitar break), and that was at least partly true, but having heard it as many times as I have over the last 3 decades, I think that sax player came up with some pretty good riffs to fit this tune. Though I'm not a sax player, I would guess that this particular solo didn't require any fancy finger or lip work, but the worth of a solo is measured in how good it sounds, and how well it fits the song, so on both counts, I would say this sax break easily makes the grade. The one other part of this track that really appeals to me is the interplay between Bob's lead vocal lines and the backup singers, especially on lines like (Bob) "(You've) got your babies in beakers" / (backup) "still creepin' along" / (Bob) "You can't hide from the bomb" / (backup) "So long, so long". When I first heard the mix, I didn't get a few of the lines, and I asked Bob about them, but I now think that anyone could probably figure out what he's singing, and what he really means, by listening to the track enough times, and sounding as good as this song does, whatever you don't get the first time, you'll more than likely piece together before too long.