(Sunday, 1/3/2016) Song 284: Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival, written by John Fogerty. You can find a YouTube video for this song here. The YT video contains some very entertaining footage of the band performing the tune, although it's not a live performance video, but rather, live footage matched to the record, as well as a few stills of the band thrown in, but all in all, a good visual track that goes well with the cut. When this song came rocking out of the radio speaker a month or 2 before my HS graduation, if felt like a perfect fit for that moment. The decade I grew up in felt very intense and apocalyptic, in and of itself, with very real scenes from Viet Nam battlefields playing on the 6 o'clock news and the threat of nuclear war constantly hanging over our heads, sometimes haunting our dreams. Add to that the fundamentalist Christian background of my family, which included a strong belief in biblical end times prophecies, and this cut captured the essence of the era. Almost four years after Eve of Destruction (Song 146), it felt good that destruction hadn't yet arrived, but it also felt like we were that much closer to the stroke of midnight. When the actual stroke of midnight on 12/31/69 passed, and I celebrated the arrival of a new year and new decade by catching a ride from a friend on a snowmobile while on Christmas break as a college freshman, I felt a slight sense of relief that my species had made it out of the '60s without destroying ourselves. Much turmoil would lie ahead, including the Kent State shooting in the coming spring, more campus demonstrations against the war and the like, but at least we hadn't blown up our entire civilization, so the Bad Moon had risen, but it had also gone back down, and we were still around. On a humorous note, for the first few times I heard this, I thought Fogerty was singing Black Moon Rising, and that was what I mouthed when I sang along with the record. I also remember reading some critic who mentioned the '50s influence on the CCR sound coming through on certain tracks, this being one, and I didn't understand the context at the time, so I didn't know what to make of that critique, though it would become much clearer over the next few years as the classic rock of the '50s enjoyed a revival of sorts. Many fans of this song probably know the joke about the final chorus line "There's a bad moon on the rise" being sung as "There's a bathroom on the right" which reportedly Fogerty himself sometimes did, and if there's any truth to the rumor about me performing with a country bar pickup band in the East Bay during the 1980s, then it's quite possible that the lead singer for that outfit did the same thing. As the year 2016 begins, and candidates for the top spot talk about carpet bombing and making the sand glow, that bad moon could be rising once again, but hopefully, by early November, it will have gone back down and we'll still be around.
(Sunday, 12/27/2015) Song 283: Gravedigger by Richard Julian, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video for this song here. Seven weeks after my last personal friend song post, this week's track is by my friend Richard Julian. He performed this song as part of a Fast Folk show at the Bottom Line in Manhattan in February of 1990, with Richard Meyer, Lisa Gutkin and Margo Hennebach adding the vocal backup, Mark Dann playing lead electric guitar, Jeff Hardy doing the stand up bass, Howie Wyeth handling the drums and Margo Hennebach playing the keyboard part as well as singing backup. I met Richard soon after arriving in NYC at the end of the summer of 1988, one night in a small folk club on MacDougal St. A few months later, when we'd gotten to know each other a bit better, he invited me to the songwriters gathering at Jack Hardy's Houston St. apartment one Thursday night, and that became a regular weekly stop for me for the next few years, and also led to my involvement as a contributor to Fast Folk. During the 4 years that I made that regular Thursday evening stop, I heard Richard debut a number of excellent songs, but I always liked this one the best, and I first heard him play it not at Jack's apartment but on the stage at that little MacDougal St. folk club where we'd met, one night a month or 2 before he invited me to Jack's place. The words go by pretty quickly and you might have to play the video a few times to get some of them, but he packed a lot of understated humor in those lines, and if you appreciate that kind of lyric, then I think you'll feel it was worth the effort when you get the full picture. If you've ever felt like a square peg being forced into a round hole, then quite likely you will understand the feeling that Richard is putting across here.
(Sunday, 12/20/2015) Song 282: The Pause of Mr. Claus by Arlo Guthrie, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video for just the song here, or for the song and the hilarious spoken introduction here. The live cut that appears on the album Arlo includes a hilarious 6-minute-long spoken introduction preceding the song itself, which lasts about 2 minutes. When I posted the first Arlo track on the playlist 10 weeks ago (Song 272: Running Down the Road) I mentioned that I probably should have included him much sooner, but that I would make up for the oversight by posting another Arlo cut shortly, and with the holiday coming up this week, this one seemed like a good way for the playlist to observe the season. As I mentioned in the post for Running Down the Road, my appreciation of Arlo's music took a little time to develop, but once I got there, his records were spinning on my turntable quite often, and the Arlo disc always made me laugh, long after I'd gotten to know the jokes very well. I played that LP so often, in fact, that without trying, I memorized the 6-minute spoken introduction on this track, and could recite it by heart, without hesitation. While the sheer absurdity of lines like "Santa Claus has a red suit, he's a communist" never fail to entertain, in this modern era when some fool might throw a brick through the window of a book store named after the mythical Greek goddess Isis because that fool believes the store has some connection with a terrorist army in the Middle East, the parody actually lands much closer to reality that I would have guessed 4 decades ago, when I was first enjoying this cut. Sadly, the repeated question "Why do police guys beat on peace guys?" still needs to be asked, and could even be updated with timely references to pepper spray, but around this holiday, the phrase peace on earth comes along more often than it does in other seasons, and as it does, this song may also put a smile on some faces. Watch out for that Santa Clause guy, though, because, after all, What's in the pipe that he's smoking?
(Sunday, 12/13/2015) Song 281: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Dave "Curlee" Williams. You can find a YouTube video for the studio version of this tune here. The writing credit on this song is sometimes shared between Mr. Williams and James Faye "Roy" Hall, and Mr. Hall is also sometimes referred to as Sunny David in the songwriting credits. For a good long time in my teenage years, I thought the Beatles and their companion English bands had invented rock and roll. I knew nothing of the '50s rockers except Elvis, and Hound Dog being the only Presley track I had heard then, I thought Elvis was some kind of hick singer. It truly surprised me in late '68 when the official Beatles biography landed and I read about how much the fab four idolized EP. Devouring that book, I slowly began to get a clearer sense of the origins of the musical style that had started shaking my world back in February of 1964. That process continued over the next few years, particularly as the early '70s brought along a revival of interest in the '50s rockers. During that era, more than once I heard the radio play the Woodstock recording of the 10 Years After cut I'm Going Home which seemed to incorporate (or steal) some '50s references. I had also read in the Beatles book about Jerry Lee Lewis's attempted English tour that came to a quick end due to a scandal generated by press revelations about his 13-year-old bride. Getting to know the '50s rockers, when I got to this record, I had to admit it sounded really good. I liked his other hits too, but I didn't truly appreciate Jerry Lee until I saw a video of him around 1975 or so. I'm not sure if this is the one, but the video I saw conveyed the same kind of Madman at the Piano energy as this TV appearance, and that just about knocked me over. At that moment I very well understood why Lewis had created such a sensation during his hit record days, prior to the marriage scandal that scuttled his career, and I had to wonder what else he might have done if that scandal hadn't broken his momentum. It also seemed highly ironic to contemplate that kind of history during a time when rock promoters had perfected the art of scandal publicity for grabbing headlines and furthering careers, but then maybe someone had to set the stage first, and get a whole lotta shakin' going' on, which is what Jerry Lee did, and what got people to notice him -- everyone could tell when they saw him perform that he surely wasn't fakin'.
(Sunday, 12/6/2015) Song 280: White Room by Cream, written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown. You can find a YouTube video for the studio version of this tune here. The visual for the YT video is just the cover of Wheels of Fire, but if you have to look at a still image while listening to a powerful RnR recording, it's actually quite an interesting album graphic and it might keep your attention. When this single came rocking across the airwaves in the fall of my senior year at HS, I thought it sounded even better than all of Cream's other records, as good as those were. I especially liked the way the slow sections build a musical tension that finds release in the fast parts, though until I read the Wikipedia entry today, I hadn't noticed that those slow sections are in a 5/4 time signature, further setting them off from the faster 4/4 parts. I also really liked the way EC handles the solo, starting off in a more slow and deliberate way and then building from there. I have always felt -- and I think most lead players would agree -- that while speed and dexterity do have their place, the best-sounding lead part for a song doesn't have to be the hardest or most impressive one possible, and, as often as not, simplicity can be the key to crafting a catchy and memorable lead. My favorite part of Clapton's solo on this track comes with the first group of riffs, and while he certainly does a fine job with the rest of it, for me, it reaches the peak almost immediately, although, of course, he plays the rest of it so well that it never loses my attention. His use of the wah-wah pedal throughout the lead also adds a decorative quality to the notes. Sadly, not long after this record hit the charts came news that the trio had already broken up, though, as a consolation, the word also included the promise of one more LP to follow shortly, so we could still look forward to a final album. I heard many times during that era and over the following decades about tensions between the players pulling the band apart, but never got the details. At some point in the early to mid '90s, I saw a piece on TV about Ginger Baker, who was then living on a horse ranch in Colorado, and I thought he looked like he was doing well, especially considering the talk I had heard as a teenager about Baker's severe drug issues which at the time had made it seem like he might not survive more than a year or 2 at best. Then in 2005 I got to see, and enjoy, a TV broadcast of the Cream reunion concerts, and also to learn that it was heat between Baker and bassist Jack Bruce that had torn the band apart in late '68 and that continues to present a challenge to possible reunions. Fortunately, at least for a short time in 2005, the two were able to perform together before an audience, and to show that while they may not get along so well on a personal level, they can, along with Clapton, still make some very memorable music together on a stage. Music is truly the language of peace, isn't it!