(Sunday, 10/2/2016) Song 323: The Crystal Ship by The Doors, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. During my HS years, my record collection consisted entirely of 45s, and most of those I bought used from my best friend's younger brother and smuggled into a special basement hiding spot. Not long after I brought it home, the Doors' debut single quickly became a regular spinner, and I always listened to both sides, actually preferring this B-side cut to the more famous A-side hit. Even though I owned no LPs in that fall of my junior year at HS, I got to hear The Doors quite a lot at the time, sometimes at friend's houses and also at certain school gatherings, such as the monthly layout session of the student newspaper where I always played a role, so I soon got to know that disc very well. This track, like most of the others, rattled the religious conflict that I struggled with as I listened to a singer of the devil's music tell about a ship that would contain a thousand girls and a thousand thrills, feeling quite certain that none of the older generation members at my church would approve of the thrills or the girls, but I enjoyed it so much that I couldn't resist taking the musical ride on that boat, no matter what it might do to my soul. I've always relished Ray Manzarek's piano solo in the middle of the song, which takes me every time along some magical dark Twilight Zone seas of thought, as it did when I first heard it. Ray died in May of 2013, but his music lives on, and The Crystal Ship still sails.
(Sunday, 9/25/2016) Song 322: It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by R.E.M., written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Last week's track featured words very similar to what might these days come out of the mouth of someone living in a war zone in places like Syria and Yemen, and people there probably do feel like it's the end of the world as they know it, so this cut seemed like an appropriate follow-up, although I doubt very many of those war zone residents would say they feel fine. Listening to this record during the present-day election season, the line "You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light" seems to describe some of what a certain campaign has expressed, and it comes near the end of a verse that has the word trumped in its first line, interestingly enough. As much as I relish this recording and the stream of consciousness dark dreams the words convey, I do hope that when the current tournament of lies has reached its November conclusion, it's actually not the end of the world as we know it. On a side note, my band Victims of Technology, along with the Lloyds, opened for R.E.M. at The Stone in San Francisco on June 22, 1983. The back cover shot of Elder Street comes from that night, and that's probably the best thing I got out of the occasion. I'd love to say we rocked the house on that show, but honestly, that was not one of our better nights, and R.E.M. sounded a lot better than we did. Before the show, Peter Buck tried to strike up a friendly conversation with me, but I was in a bad mood and didn't respond well. I had already met a few performers with that obnoxious star attitude, and I didn't want to deal with it that night if it came from one of the members of the headlining band. Over the years I would hear the word again and again that the guys in R.E.M. were not like that at all, and it made me regret acting like such a jerk to a guy who was just trying to be friendly.
(Sunday, 9/11/2016) Song 320: Thanks a Lot by Third Eye Blind, written by Stephan Jenkins and Kevin Cadogan. You can find a YouTube video of it here. For a while all I knew about Third Eye Blind was their hit Graduate (Song 105), and while I liked that cut quite a bit, I didn't get particularly motivated to buy their CD until I happened to hear the entire record as background music one night while sharing a meal with a friend at a restaurant in Manhattan. While Graduate stood out as a favorite, I quickly found that I liked the sound of the entire record, and it sounds as good to me today as it did 2 decades ago. I also feel no jealousy over the fact that my CD from the same era, called Country Drivin', includes a track with the same title. In the case of Third Eye Blind, their cut expresses some genuine gratitude, after the singer laughed in the night and felt all right, whereas my song carries a more sarcastic edge, since the night I wrote about turned out in a much different way. I posted a rough cut video of my Thanks a Lot on YouTube a few years ago which you can hear by clicking on the title.
(Sunday, 9/4/2016) Song 319: Feel Like Makin' Love by Bad Company, written by Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs. You can find a YouTube video of it here. In the early '70s, rock radio playlists seemed to be getting shorter and shorter, which I took as a sign of a lack of worthy new releases, though I now understand it was actually a matter of consolidation, both of radio stations and record labels. Friends would often talk about whether rock and roll might be coming to an end, and in one such exchange, around the late summer of '75, I said that while the RnR spirit had become much too rare, there were still records keeping that spirit alive, and I named this cut as being one of those, since it was then currently rocking the airwaves. On a side note, I found out by doing research for this piece that Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell, prior to the formation of the group, played bass and sang lead vocals for King Crimson, though he did so in the era a couple of years after their initial release which featured the title track In the Court of the Crimson King (Song 312). Sadly, Mr. Burrell died of a sudden heart attack about 10 years ago, in late September of 2006, while rehearsing in Spain with Scottish blues singer Tam White.
(Sunday, 8/28/2016) Song 318: Wonderful Me by Carol Denney, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Seven weeks after my last post of a song by a personal friend, this week's track is by my friend Carol Denney, who, for at least 4 decades, has served as Berkeley, CA's very own Joni Mitchell, as well as contributing in a strongly-engaged way to the community's political dialogue. This cut graces her 2009 CD The Riley Boys, and deftly showcases her understated, self-deprecating sense of humor. I have a live recording on cassette of Carol performing this song one night at La Val's Pizza, back around the turn of the '80s, with Shawn Colvin and Nancy Milin adding harmonies, and by the time they finished the performance, the crowd was cheering and laughing loudly at the same time. I do want to express one small criticism of this recording, though -- I think it would have added to the humor to follow the line "This way I get more whistling done" with a small bit of whistling, but I can always do that myself when listening to the record, especially if I'm spending a day with myself, since doing so is such a delight.
(Sunday, 8/21/2016) Song 317: Saint Augustine in Hell by Sting, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. And yes, it is August, and it has been hot lately. When Ten Summoner's Tales came along in early '93, a couple of standout tracks, like Fields of Gold (Song 112), got a lot of airplay, and they sounded good enough to convince me to get the CD, but even so, the album still managed to exceed my expectations. I don't remember hearing this cut on the radio, but it quickly got my attention. You have to admire the way Mr. Sumner does the spoken part in the middle section, pretending to be the devil speaking to his own soul. I always sensed a double meaning in his statement, "OK, break's over!" Musicians understand the word break as referring to this middle section speaking part, so he's signaling his backup players that it's time to return to the next verse, as a lead singer might do with a live ensemble, though it's hardly necessary on a studio recording. However, I also think the phrase may be a sly reference to a joke about hell that made the rounds back in the late '60s. I won't go into that joke here, but if anyone hasn't heard it and would like to, query me on my Facebook musician page (link below) and I'll do a post about it. While I enjoy hearing Sting ribbing about his torture over an undeniable attraction to his best friend's lover, I personally could never allow myself to feel, let along respond, to such an attraction. At one point during HS, a classmate named Sandy caught my eye, and I started to write a song for her, but soon after, my close friend and fellow rock-and-roll dreamer Brian confided to me that he had a strong attraction to her, at which point I decided that if The Initials ever performed Sandy Look This Way then Brian would sing the lead, and dedicate the song to the one who had truly inspired it, while I would not ever indicate that she had created any ripples in my stream. Sadly, The Initials never performed the Sandy song, or any others -- we never got close to fulfilling our RnR dreams -- and so Sandy never got to hear Brian sing for her a song that I wrote for her. The good news is that I didn't have to keep company with failed saints and high court judges gathered in a certain very hot spot.
(Sunday, 8/14/2016) Song 316: The Letter by Joe Cocker, written by Wayne Carson Thompson. You can find a YouTube video of it here. About a year after last week's track had its run on the charts, a 3rd version of the same song showed up on the airwaves and started climbing up to the Top Ten. Over the preceding months, rock radio stations had given a lot of air time to recordings from the Woodstock festival, with Joe Cocker featured prominently in that mix, so this guy I had never heard of before came into focus quite strongly, and then his rocking new single naturally caught my attention, as it did many others. At the point in my career where I sought to forge an original personal musical identity, Joe's hit provided me with a 45-rpm example of a musician taking a well-known composition and giving it his own personal spin. JC, along with The Arbors and The Box Tops, had shown how one song could be recorded and performed in 3 very different and yet equally-compelling ways. Some may not find all 3 versions as captivating, but I do like them all, and I can't think of any other rock anthem that appeared in 3 quite distinct models within the space of 3 years and spent so much time on the radio waves and the charts. I hope the songwriter received a sizable wad of cash for his efforts, or at least enough to buy a ticket for an aer-o-plane.
(Sunday, 8/7/2016) Song 315: The Letter by The Arbors, written by Wayne Carson Thompson. You can find a YouTube video of it here. A little over a year after last week's track had its run at the top of the charts, another version of the same song appeared on the airwaves and started climbing up the top 40. While the current Wickipedia listing characterizes this version as easy listening, it didn't strike me that way when I was hearing it back in early '69, particularly with its forceful dynamics and powerful stacked vocals, and I still don't hear it as easy listening, even though it made that chart as well as the others. I especially liked the way this group took such a well-known cut and rearranged it so that it sounded totally different and yet quite recognizable. During my HS days, I got most of my singles from my best friend's younger brother, who sold me his 45s for a quarter each when he got tired of hearing them, but for this one, I actually put out the 69 cents plus tax to get it new at Kmart, and had it spinning on the turntable that same evening. A few week earlier, I bought one other single new at Kmart, that being Hey Jude (Song 23), and while I had hoped to get through the line quickly without my parents noticing that I was buying one of those devilish rock and roll records, my father came up to me as I waited in line, asking me if I knew the whereabouts of my younger brother. I felt like I'd just gotten caught, and I expected to hear him say, "What are you buying?" Instead, he took off in search of his youngest son, and I breathed a sigh of relief. When I bought this single a few weeks later, I made it through the check-out without the parents noticing my purchase, and I kept it artfully hidden on the journey back to the house, so that time around, I added another 45 to the collection without my family knowing that I had done so.
(Sunday, 7/31/2016) Song 314: The Letter by The Box Tops, written by Wayne Carson Thompson. You can find a YouTube video of it here. In the summer before my junior year at HS, 49 years ago, I got up early one Saturday morning to go on a hiking trip with other members of my church youth group, and though our parents were still trying to convince us that the rock and roll we listened to was the devil's music, we always wanted to hear it whenever we could, so even though one of the parents was driving the car I rode in, we youngsters made sure the radio was tuned to the rock station. Somewhere along the road trip going through the Catskills, this song, which was then rising on the charts, came out of the speaker. As good as the single had already sounded to me, it sounded even better at that moment, moving along the two-lane blacktop through beautiful country on a perfect sunny summer day. I also liked the fact that, at a point where my own 16th birthday was only a few weeks away, the lead singer on this top hit record was 16 at the time, which encouraged the idea in my mind that my own band could likewise achieve the kind of fame that The Box Tops had, with young age not being an impediment to success. The Initials never did take off the way The Box Tops did, but then, we didn't start out by demanding a ticket for an aer-o-plane, and perhaps we should have.