(Sunday, 5/17/2015) Life imitates art, and Rolling Stone imitates... Dave? I've been doing this playlist for almost 2 years now, and the cover of the latest issue of RS (5/21/15) announces a Playlist Special that includes the likes of Brian Wilson, Bob Seger, Eric Church and Mavis Staples (all of whom have appeared on this playlist), each one naming their favorite records. Did Rolling Stone get the idea from me? I couldn't say for sure, but it does make me wonder. Either way, onward and upward to Song 251: Detroit City by Bobby Bare, written by Danny Dill and Mel Tillis. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The summer before the Beatles rocked my world, a few folk and country records grabbed my attention in a major way, including this one, which I learned so well that I soon knew all the lyrics and could sing along with every line when the radio played it. In the early '80s, I happened to see Bobby Bare doing a short set for a Bread and Roses concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, and the female friend who sat next to me during the performance tolerated my singing along with Bobby until he got to the spoken part about how he rode the freight train north to Detroit City, at which point she insisted that I stop, so I did. Having learned those lines so well in the summer of 1963, I later wondered if the spoken part about riding the freight train might have influenced my writing of The Wanderer a half-dozen years later, in the fall of 1969. On a side note, I have an incidental connection with Mel Tillis due to a double-exposure that my friend Brian Groppe accidently took, and that I liked so much I used it on the inside of the Elder Street CD. Brian took a picture outside the Berkeley club called The Keystone which we played on this particular night, and then took a picture of our band on stage, with me at the mic playing acoustic guitar. The two images worked well together, and include a billboard above the club that announced an upcoming Mel Tillis show at a Reno hotel, so in this odd and distant way, Mel and I remain forever linked.
(Sunday, 5/10/2015) Song 250: Step Right Up by Tom Waits, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here which has some interesting images that fit quite well with the track. In writing about TW's 2nd LP Heart of Saturday Night, the Rolling Stone reviewer suggested that Tom might be losing the heart of Saturday night, and his musical soul, behind the mask of the stage persona that he had crafted, and when I saw him perform a set on a TV show not long after reading that review, I thought the writer might have been correct. However, a couple of years later, along came Small Change, where TW took the updated '50s beat poet persona and his music to a whole other level, breathing more heart and soul into that artistic vision than I could ever have imagined. On this, the second track of the album, he shape shifts into the ultimate fast-talking salesman, making an endless stream of claims about the product which he knows (and we know) cannot possibly be true. He even adds in get away from me, kid, you bother me near the end of the cut, which is a line comedian W. C. Fields used, and which was a phrase commonly uttered by carnival barkers when they felt the need to try to keep children from causing a distraction that could potentially interfere with the fast talk. Even though batteries (are) not included, and I'm not quite sure of the nature of the terms available, I'm quite willing to step right up and buy what's Tom's selling here, especially when it sounds this good, and this funny.
Song 249, Sunday, 5/3/2015 -- Ain't Wastin' Time No More by the Allman Brothers Band, written by Gregg Allman. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Before the plane I was riding touched down in Atlanta in June of '71, I had never heard of the Allman Brothers Band, but practically everyone I met there had ABB records, and midway through that summer, At Fillmore East arrived, making such a big splash that the wave extended across the whole country, so that by the time I returned to the Chicago area in the early fall, all my RnR friends there were rocking with the Allmans as well. After years of struggle and hard work, the Brothers had finally achieved at least a measure of the acclaim and success they had earned, which made it all the more tragic when lead guitarist Duane Allman, the heart and soul of the band, died suddenly a couple of days before Halloween in a dreadful motorcycle accident, at the age of 24. I still remember the sad radio announcement of that event, and I wondered how the band would carry on. Well, carry on they did, largely to honor Duane's name and his memory. Brother Gregg had written the music to this song before Duane's death, and Duane had heard it, so following the tragedy, Gregg then wrote the words to convey a message about how fleeting life is, and how people need to appreciate the moments of their lives, doing what they can when they can, because life might end at any moment. This track opened the LP Eat a Peach that appeared in February, a few months after Duane's accident, and it showcased the band at the top of their game on all levels. It got a substantial amount of airplay, as did a few other notable tracks from the album, for good reason. The title of the LP had come from an answer Duane had given in an interview when asked about peace, to which he had said that whenever he was in Georgia (his home state) he would eat a peach for peace. Sadly, Gregg's lyrical vision that someday all the war freaks would die off and leave the younger generation alone to raise their children in peace has not yet happened -- there are still plenty of war freaks around, and the fight for peace continues (see my latest anti-war song video If I Was You here).
Song 248, Sunday, 4/26/2015 -- Perfect Stranger by Patti Rothberg, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Being 7 weeks since my last song post by a personal friend, this week's song is by my friend Patti Rothberg. I met Patti in the fall of 2003 when she was working on her Double Standards CD, which was her third album-length recording, and in the process of working with her on the EPK for DS, she gave me some VHS performance tapes of her earlier songs, plus her first 2 CDs. I hadn't previously heard any of her earlier music, and I remember that the first time through with one of her VHS tapes, listening casually while in the middle of some other task, I noticed that I was liking every track, and not just kinda liking them, but really liking them, which is quite unusual for me. I followed with the Candelabra Cadabra CD, and well before the final song, I had become a major PR fan, catching clever lines and savoring prime musical moments. Following up with Between the 1 and the 9 just pulled me in even deeper, and this track comes from that collection. If you don't know Patti's music, this song can make a fitting introduction, as a solo performance that showcases her strong voice, her tasty guitar technique and her mastery of the songwriting craft, both lyrically and musically. It features her sweeter side, with some serious reflections, but she can also rock out with the best of 'em -- check out Alternate Universe (Song 87) and Treat Me Like Dirt (Song 17). Both of those cuts also illustrate her understated humor, while this one shows that she's got serious and thoughtful things to say as well. Patti is no longer a stranger to me, but even as she adds to her discography, including her recent Black Widow CD, she still manages to stay perfect to me.
Song 247, Sunday, 4/19/2015 -- Respect Yourself by The Staples Singers, written by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. In the middle of the fall of 1971, you almost couldn't go anywhere without hearing this song (or at least anywhere in the Chicago area where I lived at the time), and I considered that a good thing -- a very good thing, actually. Previously, I hadn't known anything about The Staple Singers, but I really liked the altitude and the attitude of this song, from their Be Altitude: Respect Yourself LP. I especially savored the line Take the sheet off your face, boy, it's a brand new day, with its implied thought that the members of the KKK did their dirty deeds with their faces covered so they could hide their identities, which proved that they didn't respect themselves. The track makes the fundamental point that if you truly respect yourself, then you will show that same respect to others, and conversely, if you routinely act disrespectful to others, then at your core, you don't respect yourself either. These ideas resonated strongly in that era with connections to both civil rights and feminism, but today, in a much different time and context, there still are, and will likely always be, plenty of people who need to hear and understand the message when someone says you ought to respect yourself. On a side note, this message of self-respect also relates to my political blog for this week, called Ayn Randed Part 3: The Hypocrites, which appears on both Politics 106 and Daily Kos.
Song 246, Monday, 4/13/2015 -- Girls Talk by Linda Ronstadt, written by Elvis Costello. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Linda's LP Mad Love arrived in the fall of 1980 as a welcome surprise, and I felt it marked another high point in her recording career, in contrast to the previous 3 or 4 years when she seemed to be drifting along without a clear sense of direction. Critical reaction to the album varied, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride along both sides of the vinyl, and especially this track, plus one or two others. I felt that Costello really hit his songwriting stride during this era, and anyone who savors clever puns (as I do) can't help but smile on hearing lines like You may not be an old-fashioned girl but you're going to get dated. This week seems like an appropriate time to post a song with such a strong lyrical structure because I just reconnected with my old college roommate, who I've had no contact with for a good 4 decades -- I give him most of the credit for helping me to find my own lyrical voice, as well as bringing me to an understanding of the importance of doing so, as an essential key to the craft of songwriting. In that space of less than 6 months, he often opened my ears to the good and the bad lines of songs that I already knew, he introduced me to some other songs with strong lyrics, and he offered some good general advice that helped me to find my own direction with words. During the days, I would struggle with trying to get more chemistry and calculus into my head, and then, in the evenings, back at the dorm room, I was learning what I really wanted to know, because he was teaching me. Thanks mostly to him, I learned to figure out what to say whenever I've got a loaded imagination being fired by girls' talk, or whatever.
Song 245, Sunday, 4/5/2015 -- A Simple Desultory Philippic by Simon and Garfunkel, written by Paul Simon. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. During my HS days, I spent a number of good Saturday afternoons hanging with my buddy Ed (the one who did the video camera work for my appearance in the But video) listening to his Simon and Garfunkel collection, and I soon got to know all of their albums by heart. I truly enjoyed Paul Simon's lighter side, even though I didn't quite recognize all of the names the first few times around. I felt I should know all, or most of them, and being a fan of the Mamas and the Papas, I did know who Lou Adler was, plus I recognized Roy Halee from the credits on the SnG LPs, but it took a while for me to connect Mick Jagger as the lead singer of the Rolling Stones. I wouldn't hear any Dylan recordings until I got to college, so while I recognized some references to Bob, I didn't know how much this track is really a parody of him. As I got to know Dylan's records quite well a few years later, I also came to appreciate an additional level to the understated humor of this track. Further on, in the fall of '74, I read Atlas Shrugged and a few more pieces by Ms. Rand, but at the time, I was still mispronouncing her first name, like many people do, as if it rhymed with Stan. A year or 2 after that, listening to this track, I realized that Paul Simon had shown us, a long time ago, that her first name actual rhymes with sign. By then, I also felt like I'd been Ayn Randed but had gotten past it, maybe because I too had learned the truth from Lenny Bruce. On a side note, I crafted this piece today as a companion to my political blog entry entitled Ayn Randed which appears on both Politics 106 and Daily Kos.