(Sunday, 7/12/2015) Song 259: Tomorrow is My Turn by The Fifth Estate, written by Wayne Wadhams and Don Askew. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. In that long ago era before you could own a movie, the once-yearly broadcast of The Wizard of Oz become an annual event for my school mates and me, well enough established by 1967 that some of my chums, knowing it so thoroughly, might even choose to skip the annual viewing ritual, though it never lost its magic for me. However, when The Fifth Estate released their updated hit version of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead in the summer of '67, I had no interest in it -- I liked the movie soundtrack and, despite my passion for '60s-style music, I didn't feel that any of the Wizard material needed an update. I had similar feelings about TFE's hit version of Heigh Ho! that followed some months later, so I had no great expectations at that point about liking anything the band did. The following spring, I somehow managed to talk my parents and grandparents into allowing me to buy a small box of rock and roll 45s -- they didn't approve of my interest in the devil's music, but I persuaded them to make a solo exception to what had previously been an unbending rule. The box contained 10 singles, for a very good price, and though I recognized less than half of the titles, I thought it would make a very good start for a record collection, and it did, although not in the way I had anticipated. I already had a small record player set up in my own basement area that could play 45s, and I soon discovered that most of the titles I didn't recognize also didn't thrill me. The existence of that box of singles gave me cover, though, as I began smuggling in 45s that I bought from neighborhood friends when they got tired of their golden oldies, and before long I owned 2 or 3 dozen, but my parents never knew the difference, since my records all sounded the same to them, and I kept most of my vinyl collection hidden except for a handful that I would be playing at any given time. My parents and grandparents said more than once that they regretted allowing me to buy that box of records, but as far as I know, they never caught on to how I had greatly expanded on the original 10 singles. Among that first bunch, though, there was one that I really liked, and that I played a lot, and it was this track, which was actually the B-side of the Morning, Morning 45. I liked and played the A-side as well, but this B-side track left a deeper mark on my musical landscape, to the point where I knew it well enough to sing along even when it wasn't spinning on the turntable, and I understood exactly what the singer meant about when the circle comes 'round.
(Sunday, 7/5/2015) Song 258: Do It Again by Steely Dan, written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Rock and roll had begun to lose its luster by the fall of '72. The radio still played plenty of good songs by new and established artists, but music fans felt the lack of something truly dynamically new. The previous decade had featured acts that practically exploded onto the scene, with a dizzying variety that ranged from The Beatles to Hendrix, Dylan to the Doors, and many seemed to widen the range of possibility with each new release. Near the end of the following decade's 3rd year, rock and roll had not yet produced any really exciting new sounds, and as the listeners wondered how much longer it would take until the Magic Next Big Thing would arrive, this single popped up on the airwaves. It sounded dramatically different from everything else, suggesting magic new musical directions, with lyrics that hinted at poetic possibilities. The album title Can't Buy a Thrill payed homage to Dylan, and raised the prospect that perhaps the Supergroup of the '70s had finally arrived -- a band which would mix the best of the '60s RnR influences together into a unique and timely brew, with words and music that matched the current calendar page. This track sounded so good then, and still does today, but alas, the rest of the album didn't quite fulfill the expectations raised by this cut, even though the LP had plenty of other fine songs. As it turned out, that decade did not produce any acts that truly qualified as the '70s Beatles, the '70s Hendrix or any other updated versions of '60s musical icons, but for a brief moment in the fall of '72, this track raised the possibility that Steely Dan might blaze a new musical trail that would define the era. If you had waited for the arrival of the mythic Supergroup of the '70s, and you thought the wait was over when you heard this song, unfortunately, you had to go back, Jack, and do it again -- waiting, that is, and specifically, waiting for the band that never arrived.
(Sunday, 6/28/2015) Song 257: Expresso Love by Dire Straits, written by Mark Knopfler. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Dire Straits had already become one of the few bright spots in the late '70s (see Song 132: Down to the Waterline) during an era when rock and roll didn't appear to have that many, and when the band's 3rd LP Making Movies came along in the fall of 1980, they seemed to shine quite a bit brighter. A few friends picked up the album right away, so that by the time I bought my own copy I had heard the whole set a few times through, but still, for the first spin on my turntable, this track, which opened side 2 back in the vinyl days, sounded so good that I felt like it might jump off the record and spin up through the ceiling of my room. I don't drink coffee, but I've got several good friends who do, so I well understand the lyrical reference to a lover who makes the singer feel a very strong, edgy spark similar to what a cup of expresso might convey. My Oakland ex-roommate Doug and I had at least one conversation where we laughed about the line Boys don't know anything and about how true it is that guys like us would so often be clueless about women and relationships. About 9 years after the record's release, I met a woman who reminded me of the character in this song, to the point that, even though she never said the line contained near the end of it, I felt like I wanted to say to her, "No, I'm not just another one just like the other one." We actually didn't have that conversation, but during the few months that we interacted, I listened to this cut over and over. If you're wondering who the keyboard player was who added all those tasty riffs to this mix, that would be Roy Bittan, who is best known as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and who just happens to have a birthday coming up on Thursday of this week (7/2).
(Sunday, 6/14/2015) Song 255: Snowflakes by Terry Kitchen, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Seven weeks after my last playlist song by a personal friend, this week's track is by my friend Terry Kitchen, and since we're only a few days away from the first official day of summer, why not post a tune about snowflakes? This track closes Terry's 2009 CD Summer to Snowflakes and presents a moving eulogy to a young woman bullied into taking an overdose as a means of escape. As I mention in my post for Song 122 (Break the Same Heart Twice by TK), I spent a memorable weekend as Terry's guest back in March of 1993, just about the time a major blizzard hit the Boston area, so for a couple of days, he and I both saw quite a lot of snowflakes. For that weekend, he had jokingly nicknamed his apartment Ice Station Zebra, and I will forever remember it by that moniker. As much white stuff as we saw from that blizzard, though, the winter of 2015 brought a much greater storm of snowflakes and I can't quite imagine how the neighborhood around Ice Station Zebra looked only a few months ago, but for this track, Terry has made good use of an image quite commonly seen in his vicinity.
(Sunday, 6/7/2015 -- edited 6/14/15) Song 254: Mason-Dixon Line by The Long Ryders, written by Stephen McCarthy. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual track is just a graphic of the State Of Our Union cover, but when the audio track sounds this good, for well over 4 minutes, that graphic actually seems to look better the more you look at it. Back in the mid-'80s I played bass briefly with a quartet doing mid-'60s-style songs under the name The Jet Set, and the group's leader was a big fan of the Long Ryders. He gave me a cassette with a bunch of their songs on it, and not too long after that, I started collecting their albums. If you like the Byrds as much as I do, then you'll probably also like State Of Our Union as much as I do. This cut will give you a good feel for what to expect from the record. Being a song about a truck driver, it works particularly well as traveling music, and coming from the era when the ICC was still keeping an eye on truckers, the lyrics have a line about the agency, just as Six Days on the Road (Song 224) does. Of course, the trucker doesn't much like the agency, since most of the money he sees goes straight to the ICC, according to the lyrics. The government does have a good reason for taking a big bite out of the trucker's income, though, which has to do with how his rig tears up the highways he travels on, but the song's words don't cover that angle. The chorus does mention driving on a 6-lane highway, and I often think of those lines when driving on one of those roads myself. The song lyrics paint a clear picture of a guy who has already driven 16 hours but has no time to sleep and who takes his whites just to get through the night. If you've ever known any truckers, then you know how real that picture is, as they commonly work incredibly long hours for a paycheck that ends up amounting to less than minimum wage. What you may or may not know, even if do you know a truck driver, is that the title of this song comes not from the line that defines the MD/VA border but from the name of an actual trucking company -- I know that because I've seen those trucks on the highway. On the music side, I especially like how the Ryders work a banjo into the mix, and keep it rocking as they do, so I'd have to say that on this track, the band really delivers!