(Sunday, 7/30/2017) Song 366: La Grange by ZZ Top, written by Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. To quote one of the lines from last week's track, "We'd put on ZZ Top and turn 'em up real loud" and now here we are, visiting a place that would be memorialized in the late 1970s by a Broadway play called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Around the time that this hit reached its peak in the summer of 1974, I read a Larry King article in Playboy about the place, and realized the connection to this recording, though Billy, Dusty and Frank had to have a prior source for their info, since the cut appears on the Tres Hombres LP that the trio released a year earlier. I liked it from the first time I heard it, but I also thought that it borrowed heavily from a Canned Heat groove. Actually, the boogie blues rhythm that it rides evidently owes its inspiration to much older sides by John Lee Hooker and Slim Harpo, with a failed lawsuit concluding that the rhythm was in public domain by the time ZZ Top put it down. One of my musician friends remarked that the singer on this mix doesn't really sing, to which I replied that I thought he handled the vocal just fine, and I didn't feel the need to nitpick technicalities when listening to it. In fact, I hear it's fine if you got the time.
(Sunday, 7/23/2017) Song 365: Metal Firecracker by Lucinda Williams, who also wrote the song. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. One of my songwriter friends, John Sonntag (who appears on my Spotify playlist Me and My Songwriter Friends), had introduced me to the music of Lucinda Williams back in 1991, so when the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road ride came along in 1998, I hopped on. The CD quickly found a place in my collection, and, unlike some others, it became one that I would always listen to from the beginning to the end. This track paints a very clear picture of a moving relationship, and it's a scene that I easily recognize, having ridden in more than one Metal Firecracker myself. I might not have a clue about the secrets Lucinda told her former lover, but I certainly understand her plea, since I've picked up a few juicy tidbits over the years, and while I can't speak for her old flame, I can assure my own past sweethearts that I won't tell anybody the secrets. I will confide, though, that I share LW's enjoyment of a certain RnR band that she mentions in this cut, and her lyrics provide a clue as to the feature artist for next week's playlist pick.
(Sunday, 7/16/2017) Song 364: Little Bit O' Soul by The Music Explosion, written by John Carter and Ken Lewis. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. 50 years ago, this 45 sailed over the airwaves, peaking in early July. Even with my situation, growing up in a family that didn't approve of the devil's music, which often compelled me to get sneaky with the transistor radio, I still managed to hear this hit quite a bit that summer. On one Saturday, the church youth group did an outing that included some baseball, and as I played the field, I remember one of my teammates humming this cut, and I think we might have also heard it on the car radio during the ride. Ironically, at the time I didn't even know about the existence of soul music, so I picked up a different message from the lyric than what the writers probably meant, plus, given the older generation's disapproval of the music, I might have heard the line make like you wanna kneel and pray as suggesting a sacrilegious undertone, but I had already been playing guitar and writing songs for a year at that point, so I planned to raise the roof with my rock 'n' roll anyway, and 50 years later I plan to continue doing that for as long as I can.
(Sunday, 7/9/2017) Song 363: All Shook Up by Elvis Presley, written by Otis Blackwell and Elvis Presley. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. In my younger years I knew nothing about Mr. Presley, except for Hound Dog, which made him sound like a hick to me, even in light of my interest in old Hank Williams records and other country music that I would spin when visiting my OH relatives and cruising through their C & W collection. It truly surprised me in the fall of 1968 when I got my hands on a copy of the Beatles official biography, reading that The King was the one who had lit the musical spark for each of the Fab Four. In that era, I shared many weekend afternoons with my good friend Ed (the subject of my own song So Long Friend), energized by his Simon and Garfunkel LPs, but I had no idea about his mother's extensive stack of Elvis vinyl, of which I heard not even one sample. When the 50s revival came along in the early 70s, then I started hearing the Presley cuts, which quickly brought me around to an understanding of his place in the original RnR scene. On this hit, he makes itching like a man on a fuzzy tree and actin' wild as a bug with insides shakin' like a leaf sound pretty good, making the listeners wish they could be wearing his shoes when his hands are shaky, his knees are weak and he can't seem to stand on his own two feet. On a side note, having nothing to do with Elvis, you can find a lyric video of So Long Friend by clicking on the title.
(Sunday, 7/2/2017) Song 362: Gloria by U2, music written by U2 and lyrics by Bono. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. In the early months of 1983, my good friend Eddie Spitzer started a guitar store in the back of a record store on Telegraph Ave. a couple of blocks south of the U.C. Berkeley campus, in a place that was also only a couple of blocks east of the house where I lived. I visited that store quite often, and in doing so, I would sometimes hear music that I might not have heard otherwise, including local heroes Rank and File and a new Irish band called U2. I liked what I was hearing from the Irish quartet, and soon enough, I picked up a copy of Under a Blood Red Sky and walked up to the register. Other people in my Berkeley songwriting circle also started tuning in to U2, and a few years later my housemate Michele and I would get to listen to them live at the Cow Palace one night in April of 1987. I had somehow gotten a vague idea about the group being Christian, and in that long-ago era before the internet and cyber spaces like A-Z Lyrics and Musixmatch, I could only guess at the words on this cut, but I detected some Latin phrasing, giving me an impression of a Christian message, though I didn't know for certain. I had to admit, though, that no matter where the door in this recording might be, U2 makes a very convincing case that The door is open.
(Sunday, 6/25/2017) Song 361: You Keep Me Hangin' On by Vanilla Fudge, written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. You can watch a very energetic YouTube video of it here. As Dave says . . . In the summer of 68, a bunch of my friends were talking about this amazing new version of a Supremes hit (which I had missed the first time around), and I still remember the moment, riding in a car with a few others on a summer night along the main drag on the south side of town when the young woman at the wheel turned up the radio volume and said, "This is that new record everybody's talking about." The cool organ intro immediately grabbed my attention, and then it just got even better as it went along. After only one listening, I understood why it had attracted so much acclaim, and after hearing it as many times as I have over the past 5 decades, it still keeps me hangin' on but I don't mind, and I have no need for it to set me free. In fact, it can keep coming around Playing with my heart for another 5 decades and that won't bother me a bit.
(Sunday, 6/18/2017) Song 360: Company Men by Bob Nichols, who also wrote the song. There's no YouTube video of it, but you can hear the recording here. Seven weeks after posting a track by my friend Jeff Larson, this week's cut is by my late friend and former Berkeley housemate Bob Nichols, who died back in November of 2005. It comes from a cassette release Bob called Ordinary Eatery. He gave me a copy of that tape during our stretch as housemates in the 1980s, and I have given it many spins on the player, though, of course, these days I mostly listen to the SanDisk, but it's on there too, along with a few other Bob releases. From the beginning of our friendship, I liked his music, and his death over a decade ago has not dampened my enthusiasm for it. When I hear him sing "We tow the company line but the line moves faster all the time" it sounds even more meaningful today than it did 3 decades ago. He and I both knew that he borrowed his closing lyric here from Mark Twain, but he adds an ironic twist to it that I always relished.
(Sunday, 6/11/2017) Song 359: My City Was Gone by The Pretenders, written by Chrissie Hynde. You can find a YouTube video of it here. I caught the first Pretenders single on the radio not long after its release while riding in a car with my good friend Eddie Spitzer, who would, a few years later, go on to start and run a store called Eddie's Music on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley for a number of years. I last saw him on my last visit to CA, back in the summer of 1993, and had since lost touch with him, but we recently reconnected a few months ago via email. Anyway, a couple of years after The Pretenders made their first big splash, this track started making the rounds, justifiably getting a lot of airplay, and I thought it pretty well conveyed the malling of our country, as the shopping malls and big box retailers took over, slowly crushing small local merchants. Walmart and Lowe's came to my old home town, with a big parking lot that paved over what had been a drive-in movie theater, while the small stores along the former main drag started to display For Rent signs in their windows. Evidently Mr. Limbaugh believes he's being clever by using such a pro-environmental tune as a theme for his anti-environmental show, but Chrissie Hynde reportedly puts his royalty payments to work supporting environmental causes, so perhaps a small section of her pretty countryside might be getting a little bit of help from an unexpected place.
(Sunday, 6/4/2017) Song 358: It's Not My Cross to Bear by The Allman Brothers Band, written by Gregg Allman. You can find a YouTube video of it here. When I posted an Allman Brothers cut 10 weeks ago, I didn't expect to return to them so soon, but Gregg Allman died a week ago yesterday, so I felt the need to honor his passing in this way. In June of 1971 I knew nothing about The Allman Brothers Band when I got off the plane in Atlanta, but the new friends I made there soon introduced me to their hometown heroes, and I certainly liked what I heard, including this track. I felt I would have some fine music to share with my Evanston buddies when I got back to the midwest, but then in July, the live At Fillmore East LP rocked the airwaves so strongly that by the time I returned to the Chicago area in September, my RnR chums already knew the Allmans, and we all felt the loss when a motorcycle accident took Brother Duane's life. The band valiantly carried on, despite also losing bassist Berry Oakley to a Macon motorcycle accident about a year after Duane's fatal crash a few blocks away. Duane and Berry both died at the age of 24. Sadly, in January of this year, drummer Butch Trucks took his own life, at the age of 69, and about 4 months later, Gregg, at the age of 69, lost his battle with liver cancer. By one other number coincidence, Brother Duane died in '71, and Brother Gregg died in '17. At this point, of the 6 band members who posed for the cover of the band's eponymous debut album that featured this recording, only Dicky Betts and Jaimo Johanson remain, and I hope that they will continue to make music for as long as they reasonably can. As for Gregg, now he's gone, but his music will live on and be strong, so this tune seems like a fitting way to remember him.