(Tuesday, 10/20/2015) Song 273: Walk, Don't Run by The Ventures, written by Johnny Smith. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. In the summer of 1960 I knew nothing about rock 'n roll, even though I had posed for a picture wearing a hat with those words on it a few years earlier, and at the turn of the '60s my family did not yet own a transistor radio, but those magic little music boxes had started popping up in my neighborhood, so sometimes I would hear some music somewhere, though I didn't have much of a focus on it at the time. Once during the previous school year, in 3rd grade, a classmate had passed me a radio during a break and I put it up to my ear for a few minutes, as everyone else was doing, but I didn't really connect with what I was hearing, so I gladly passed it on to the next kid sooner than might have been expected. That summer, though, I heard this cut coming out of transistor radios a lot. About a half mile from my home, the town held a regular summer activity program for kids, which involved a lot of fun pursuits like board games, plaster sculptures and picture painting, taking place outdoors on folding tables under tents, and the setup always included a radio, so I remember hearing this track a number of times at that park, and it seemed to go well with the activities. Fast forward 2 decades, and in the early '80s, the surf music of bands like the Ventures experienced a revival, so one day I tumbled into a conversation with Mark Worsley, the brother of my band mate Clive who was himself a musician as well, and he talked about the differences between Walk, Don't Run (the 1960 version) and Walk, Don't Run '64 (the 1964 version, which was also a hit for the Ventures). I played along without letting on that I didn't recognize what song he was actually talking about, but when I got back to my place, I soon had the platter on the turntable, and the instant recognition felt like reconnecting with a long-lost favorite old friend. Since then, I've made sure not to let too much time go by without reconnecting with that favorite old friend once again. The YT video link above connects to a TV appearance the Ventures did around the time of the record's chart run, and you might notice that the band's electric guitars have no cords connected to amps, so they were evidently wireless long before there was wireless, and their performance does sound remarkably like the record, doesn't it -- so much so, in fact, that it might make you wonder if the musicians were just miming to the record. Of course, the audience didn't seem to mind, rocking right along, with some of them even looking like they were chewing gum in time with the song, and I'm sure when they left the theater that night, they all knew that they should walk and not run.
(Sunday, 10/11/2015) Song 272: Running Down the Road by Arlo Guthrie, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here, and it's a fun video road ride on a motorcycle. Somehow I got to a pretty high playlist number before posting an Arlo track, so I'll need to make sure his second appearance on the list comes along sooner than later, but for now, this week's cut about running follows last week's song about walking. (If you haven't guessed what's up for next week, I'll just give you a hint that it's an instrumental track.) All I knew of AG in the late '60s was the chorus to Alice's Restaurant -- I didn't hear the record, but only heard a couple of people sing the chorus and play it on guitar. It sounded old-timey to me, and a bit quaint in the context of Break on Through, Born to Be Wild and similar songs of the era. I didn't get the joke, and I also knew nothing about Arlo's father -- my mother sang songs like This Land is Your Land and Do Re Mi but I doubt she had any idea who wrote them, any more than I did. When I landed at Northwestern in the fall of 1969, one of the first things I planned to do was to begin collecting LPs, and a couple of months into that plan, I made the mistake of joining a record club, which led to receiving a few albums in the mail that I hadn't actually wanted. One day, Arlo's latest LP Running Down the Road arrived, even though I had mailed in my card telling the club not to send it, and so I had to own it, whether I wanted it or not. I played it through once or twice, and I decided I didn't want it, but I had to pay for it, so I wasn't going to throw it away. When I mentioned to Hank Neuberger, who lived in the dorm room across the hall from me, about my frustration at getting a record I didn't want, he told me he'd like to have the album, and so I sold it to him right then and there. Over the next few months, I started listening to more singer/songwriter music, and started moving more in that direction as a musician, plus I heard more of Arlo, and learned more about him and his father, to the point that, by the fall of 1970, I was wishing I hadn't sold the LP to Hank, and I ended up getting another copy at the local record store. As soon as I got it back to my apartment, I had it on the turntable, and it would take many spins there in the coming years, leading me to ask myself more than once how I could have misjudged the album so badly. I had become quite picky in my listening, and on some records I would only play certain cuts, so I really appreciated LPs like RDtR where I could enjoy every track from start to finish. Some albums put the best track first, which in the CD era happens more often than not, but in the LP days, sometimes the last cut would be the best, and in this case, the title track that closes the album always had my vote for number one.
(Sunday, 10/4/2015) Song 271: Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles, written by Liam Sternberg. You can find a YouTube video of this tune -- a video that was nominated for Best Group Video in the 1987 MTV Music Video Awards -- here. From the first time I heard this song I assumed that Steve Martin's King Tut skit from a few years earlier must have played a main role in inspiring it, although the songwriter does not credit the Tut bit at all. Martin's sketch became a standard comic routine between me and my Oakland housemate Doug not long after we first saw it, and we both would often Walk Like an Egyptian for a few moments of shared personal comedy, so when this track lit up the airwaves in the early fall of '86, it felt like such a natural fit that it sounded as if I'd heard it before, in a previous life or something, perhaps in the incarnation of an old painting on a tomb in the shadow of the pyramids. This cut, BTW, is but one highlight on an excellent album called Different Light that contains many more, and I highly recommend it, particularly if you like this track. No matter how many times I've listened to it, to this day, it still makes me smile, and brings back images of Doug and me clowning for each other with our Egyptian hieroglyphic moves. I lost touch with Doug a few years ago and haven't managed to reconnect, so I can't speak for him, but for myself, I still can slide my feet up the street, bend my back, shift my arm and so on, and it feels good to do it, even in the absence of my old friend. If you don't believe me, give it a try yourself, and I'll bet that you'll like it -- try to Walk Like an Egyptian for a few moments and see how good it feels.
(Monday, 9/28/2015) Song 270: The Trip by Donovan, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. I mentioned in my post for Song 267 (Somebody to Love) about hearing the Donovan album Sunshine Superman at some point in the months following its release, but however I managed to hear it, I did not have regular access to the LP until a few years later when, as a college kid, I began to slowly build my own album collection, quickly adding Sunshine Superman to that group. I could find good things to say about every cut on the record, which frequently took a spin on my turntable, but this track soon scored a spot near the top of my preferences. I often tried to sing along with it, but, in that long ago era before online lyric searches, I could only guess at some of the words. I did enjoy the reference to Dylan, coupled with a Mad Hatter image, and the line about Joanie that follows which sounded like an allusion to Joan Baez and some sort of sly hint about the nature of the connection between those two. I also felt proud of the fact that I knew who Fellini was, and could name a couple of his movies that I'd seen, but many of the other lyrics eluded my grasp. I could hear the chorus quite well, though, and if you listen to it a few times, and then check out my song Under the Table, you may notice a certain similarity between Donovan's chorus and mine, and I will admit that this similarity is more than mere coincidence. Luckily, I got saved from having my chorus sound too much like The Trip by the "Down, down, down" background vocal part that spontaneously showed up the first time I played my newly-written piece for a songwriting circle of friends -- a guy who I didn't even know very well just started adding that part to the chorus as I was going along, and it sounded so good to me that it naturally became part of my song, disguising the Donovan influence to such a degree that, if I didn't point it out, probably no one would notice. My lyrical question is a bit more pointed than his, though -- he asks "What goes on all around me?" and says "Please tell me" whereas I want to know "What goes down under the table?" and I say "Don't tell me any fables." However, that difference might be due to the fact that I haven't had the experience of getting "caught in a colored shower" while "driving downtown L.A. about the midnight hour" and perhaps if I had, my question might have come out sounding more like his. On a side note, I do plan to have a lyric video of Under the Table posted to YouTube some time in the next 2 weeks or so.
(Monday, 9/21/2015) Song 269: Bottom Rung by Jim Allen, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Seven weeks after my last song post by a personal friend, this week's track is by my friend Jim Allen, and comes from the December 1992 issue of Fast Folk. I don't remember exactly when Jim first showed up at Jack Hardy's Thursday night gathering on West Houston Street, but I do remember that he made quite an impression on every one of us in that apartment. I often had a different take on the songs performed in that room than most of the other songwriters, but if there was one thing we all agreed on, it was Jim's songwriting talent. Jim impressed us all with his truly unique approach, both musically and lyrically -- he had his own guitar tuning, different from every tuning variation I'd ever seen, and, as this song illustrates, he came up with lines that no one else would have imagined. Jim included this song on his first CD, Weeper's Stomp, which was released on the Prime CD label in 1996, and around that time, while designing the cover for Aztec Two-Step's Highway Signs CD, I had Weeper's Stomp on the CD player at the Prime office, and in talking with one of the Two-Step guys, with Jim's music playing in the background, inevitably, the conversation turned towards how much we both admired Jim's abilities. Among the singer/songwriter types in the greater NYC area during the early to mid-90s, there were probably very few who didn't know and respect Jim Allen -- I thought of him then as the era's songwriters' songwriter. During this period I often got junk mail from agencies offering to set poems and/or song lyrics to music for a price, and once, as a lark, I sent them the lyrics for this song, just to see how they'd react. This was well after the song appeared on the FF record, so I knew Jim was covered as far as his copyrights, although I also thought it unlikely that anyone would actually try to steal the words of this piece. I expected that I'd find any reply from the song sharks amusing, though I also didn't expect there to be one. When I mentioned to Jim, some months later, what I had done with his lyrics, while pretending to be him and using his return address, he said, "Oh, that's why I've been getting some strange mail lately," though he also confirmed that, as expected, the song sharks had not offered to actually put this particular set of lyrics to music. One further note -- I probably should have waited until December to post this song, but don't be frightened by the 12 shopping days bit in the final verse, because, in reality, there are a lot more than 12 shopping days left before you-know-when.
(Sunday, 9/6/2015) Song 267: Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane, written by Darby Slick. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Somehow I knew the name Jefferson Airplane for a little while before I heard this song, and I believe that name came to me from 2 different directions. First, I think someone in my social circle had a copy of the Donovan LP Sunshine Superman, and in a casual listening to the record, the words "Fly Jefferson Airplane, get you there on time" floated by my ears once or twice. I also seem to recall a magazine article mentioning that newer rock groups were choosing names less like the Byrds or the Seekers and more like Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane, which was a change I didn't necessarily welcome. At any rate, I had no particular attachment to the JA name until this single took off all over the airwaves in the spring of '67, at which point I decided that maybe the name Jefferson Airplane actually did have a good sound. I couldn't get enough of this single in that spring, no matter how many spins the radio gave it, and on a sunny midsummer afternoon when I snuck the transistor radio out into the back yard, at the magic moment the local station played this track, life felt very good indeed. I had very quickly learned the lead singer's name Grace Slick, and at some point saw the name Slick listed as the songwriter on the 45, so I mistakenly assumed that the woman with the very impressive voice had also written the tune. She did actually write the follow-up hit White Rabbit, but it would take a couple of years before I found out that it was her then brother-in-law Darby Slick who had penned this track. That little piece of info doesn't add or take anything away from this amazing recording, but as a songwriter, I've always paid attention to who writes the songs, and I always want the writer to get some share of the credit for a magic song. Decades later, I still feel that magic rush of joy when I hear Grace sing "When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you... dies!"