(Sunday, 1/22/2017) Song 339: All About Love by Wendy Beckerman, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Seven weeks after my last song post by a personal friend, this week's track is by my friend Wendy Beckerman, whose name partly rhymes with the artist on last week's cut, Randy Newman. I knew Wendy from the weekly songwriter gathering at Jack Hardy's place in lower Manhattan back in late '80s and early '90s, and she was always one of my favorites of the bunch. I still remember the night when she performed this song, and she had me hooked the first time through. I thought many of the songwriters in that room didn't know or care much about crafting a compelling musical setting for their lyrics, and Jack often quoted Woody's line that anyone using more than three chords was just showing off but Wendy stood out from the crowd in her melodic approach, which I admired and appreciated. Having been a part of that Fast Folk circle, I might know one or two of the secrets Wendy gave away that she hints at in the chorus line, but those secrets are safe with me -- all I'll say is that when she sings It's all about love she's telling the truth.
(Sunday, 1/15/2017) Song 338: Rednecks by Randy Newman, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. I got a subscription to Rolling Stone in September of 1969, not long after I arrived at N.U., and I remember reading a lot about Randy Newman long before I ever heard one of his recordings. The reading sparked a bit of curiosity about his music, but I felt I had so many other artists to catch up on that for a few years I couldn't seem to get around to him. Then in the fall of '74, Good Old Boys came along, and after hearing a few cuts on the radio, I decided the time had come to get to know RN better. This track, which opens the record, sets the stage for the territory that the concept album travels through. Living in the Chicago area during that stretch, I understood the references to the cage on the South Side and the West Side. In that era, I mistakenly believed that modernity, in the form of mass media, scientific technology and larger social networks, would eventually put an end to the redneck mentality that felt the need to keep the nxxxxxs down, yet, over 4 decades later, the Senate is currently debating the nomination of a man for AG who has made a career of keepin' the nxxxxxs down, and who intends to continue doing so, whether he gets the appointment or not. Sadly, these Rednecks still do not have the ability to judge someone according to the content of character rather than the color of skin, and as Martin Luther King Day of 2017 dawns, the fight against ignorance and prejudice hangs over the U.S. Senate, with the outcome remaining uncertain, but I guess you can't expect much from fools who can't tell the difference between a certain part of their anatomy and a hole in the ground.
(Sunday, 1/8/2017) Song 337: Incense and Peppermints by Strawberry Alarm Clock, written by John S. Carter and Tim Gilbert. You can find a YouTube video of it here. As the summer of '67 unfolded, the world of RnR seemed to start revolving in a very different direction, with the Beatles turning into a Lonely Hearts Club Band while a bunch of fresh faces such as the Doors and Jimi took the stage, and during that stretch, the phrase psychedelic rock starting popping up quite a bit, with this 45 acting as a prime example. I brought home a copy of the single when my best friend's younger brother decided he didn't want it any more, and the disc would spend a lot of time spinning on my turntable over the next 2 years. In that long-ago era before AZLyrics, Musixmatch and similar resources, I could only guess at some of the words on this cut, and evidently I guessed wrong on many of them, but even back then I did understand that life would bring with it many things I can't define. I mistook the line beatniks and politics for beatniks in politics, but either way, I clearly got the word that nothing is new, though that word came to me through a recording that did sound very new to my ears. Such a realization may illustrate just one point of view, but it also might make you wonder who cares what games we choose? Indeed, upon reflection, it wouldn't matter to anyone who has little to win, but nothin' to lose, so the best course of action under most circumstances would probably be to turn on, turn in, turn your eyes around.
(Sunday, 1/1/2017) Song 336: Maybellene by Chuck Berry, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. This track seems like a good way to get in gear for starting a new year. During my HS days I knew almost nothing about the first generation of rockers who had created the musical style that my world revolved around, but in the early 1970s this '50s revival came along, filling in a lot of the spaces in that history, and I quickly came to understand Chuck Berry's pivotal role in getting Beethoven to Roll Over. Berry began his career by motivatin' over a hill, or perhaps even motorvatin', as some of his interpreters have suggested. Anyway, he not only caught a Cadillac going a hundred and ten, but he also got himself a chart-topping single on his first outing, with the disc hitting its peak a day after my 4th birthday in September of 1955. While these days the alt-u-right (alternate universe right) tries to tell everyone that only white people are truly creative, the man who wrote Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Johnny B. Goode, No Particular Place to Go, Too Much Monkey Business, and lots of other classics, long ago secured his status as an icon in the real world of Rock and Roll Music.
(Sunday, 12/25/2016) Song 335: Skateaway by Dire Straits, written by Mark Knopfler. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Following last week's post about Snow, the mention of the falling white stuff might bring skates to mind, though this cut refers to the kind with wheels rather than the kind used to ride over ice. As a kid, I didn't have any skates, and didn't have any particular interest in them. At one point during my later HS years, some members of my church youth group planned an outing at a roller rink, and since I generally tried to take part in the group's activities, I considered going, which led to some strange exchanges where I learned about the differences of opinion between the local fundamentalists who didn't approve of roller-skating and those who considered it permissible. I didn't actually put on any skates then, but a few years later, at the age of 21, I did try the rollers, but without much success, though perhaps some onlookers found my struggles amusing. At 24, I stepped into a pair of ice skates on a March afternoon and had just as little success with them as I had had with the rollers. With that history behind me, I couldn't help but notice the roller skating trend that appeared on many East Bay streets around the time this record came out in the fall of 1980. The track perfectly encapsulated that era, and it wouldn't surprise me if the skater who inspired the lyrics had been one of the roller aces who zoomed by me in a flash. Of course, these days, if someone in a big city like NY wants to torture taxi drivers just for fun they'll probably do it with a bike, but queen rollerball could still be sailing through the crowd as well.
(Sunday, 12/18/2016) Song 334: Snow by Jesse Winchester, written by Robbie Robertson and Jesse Winchester. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Growing up in the Northeast, I enjoyed winter just as much as the other seasons, and didn't have a specific preference, but that started to change when I began my college stretch at N.U. I noticed during my first January in the Chicago area that I seemed to hear a lot of single digit and negative temps in the forecast, but it took a year or 2 for me to clearly understand that even though I hadn't landed any further north than where I grew up, that portion of the upper midwest is significantly colder during the winter months than my hometown. Not long after I began at N.U., Jesse Winchester's eponymous debut LP came along, and since I liked every cut I heard from it, at a certain point in the next year or 2, I picked up a copy. I hadn't caught this particular tune before, but that first spin on the turntable, it got my attention, and that of at least one roommate. I had already experienced too much of the Chicago area's winter weather, as had my roommate, and we both felt we would rather not be there when the snow starts getting deep. That four-letter word had become something of a curse, so as soon as I could do it, I left the midwest and headed to CA. I didn't miss the snow, but circumstances would eventually compel me to return to it. The white stuff doesn't seem as oppressive in my corner of the Northeast as it did in the Chicago area, but I have seen a lot more of it lately than I care to, so this track seems to perfectly express the feeling of the current moment. On a sad note, Jesse Winchester died in the spring of 2014, but he left behind a significant set of recordings, which I plan to draw more from for this list in the future, especially to make up for the fact that I hadn't posted a JW cut prior to this one.
(Sunday, 12/12/2016) Song 333: Try (just a little bit harder) by Janis Joplin, written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor. You can find a YouTube video of it here. This track opens Janis's album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! which got released 2 days after I turned 18 as an incoming freshman at N.U., but because I started my college career with no LPs at all, I had a bunch of others I wanted to get to first (the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors), and I didn't circle around to Janis until about a year later, just around the time she left the land of the living. During my HS days, I didn't really like her vocal style, what little I heard of it, but months before I turned 19, I had developed a much greater appreciation of her singing talent, which this cut showcases quite well. On an ironic note, I wrote a song for my HS group called You Try Too Hard, and if I had heard this JJ piece then, I probably would have felt like my lyrics were the perfect answer to her words here, though I would come to a completely different angle by the occasion of her demise. In that season, I would have relished being the guy who she felt was someone so fine that she would have wanted to show me love with no control. Had I dreamed such a dream in that stretch, I would have wanted nobody to wake me.
(Sunday, 12/4/2016) Song 332: On Christmas I Got Nothing by Chuck Brodsky, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here, and if you're the type who doesn't like to see pictures of naked women, be forewarned that close to the end of the video there is one picture that features a lot of them. Seven weeks after my last song post by a personal friend, and only three weeks before Christmas, it seemed like the most appropriate time to feature this track by my friend Chuck Brodsky. During HS, I had one Jewish close friend, plus a number of other Jewish classmates, so I had a vague understanding of Jewish holidays and the differences with Christian ones. Of course, even by the time of my growing up in the '60s, Christmas had long been as much a secular holiday as a religious one in this country, so I discovered that some Jewish people celebrated Santa day, though evidently Chuck's family did not. When I first learned about Hanukkah, I heard that it might include giving a single gift each night along with the candle lighting, but my Jewish friends soon let me know that even if they did observe the Jewish holiday -- and some didn't -- there was no Christmas-like exchange of gifts, so I understand that Chuck's lyrics tell the true story of his Jewish December memories. His tune sets a festive tone for the holiday season, and perhaps if it becomes better know at some point over the next few years, Chuck may have the honor of being officially designated as part of Bill O'Reilly's War On Christmas!