What's my favorite song? That's a tough question, and this playlist is my answer. I don't know that I could ever pick just one song. These are the cuts that I listen to, and that mean something to me. I have lots of memories and stories tied up with them, and I share a portion of those tales on this list. Surely you will recognize some of the tracks here, but probably you'll find some that you don't, and hopefully I can help you discover some good music. You might notice that some numbers are missing, including number 1, and that's because the linked videos are no longer available, so those songs have been removed from the list.
(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.
(Sunday, 5/28/2017) Song 357: There Goes My Heart Again by Holly Dunn, written by Joe Diffie, Lonnie Wilson and Wayne Perry. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Is there some hidden meaning to the fact that last week's song title and this week's both start and end with the same letter? Mystery, or destiny, I certainly didn't plan for that, or even notice until I finished typing up the original bit. Anyway, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I listened to a lot of country radio, which sounded pretty good at the time, and while the songwriting didn't come across as musically adventurous, the so-called New Country of that era did feature clever word plays that I enjoyed, with this single serving as a prime example. I certainly understood, and appreciated, lyrics like my heart has a mind of its own, as I imagine plenty of others listeners did. One of my songwriter friends said back then that the only place you could hear good songwriting on the radio was the country station, and I essentially agreed with him. Inspired by that style, I went on to craft my own country word play, called As Long as Merle is Still Haggard, and on the second half of the second verse, the line goes, but Dwight was only Yoakam when he said Eddie's Rabbitt died but after what Holly Dunn you should . . . Sadly, Holly died in November of last year, struck down by ovarian cancer at the age of 59. On a happier note, you can find the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard song video here.
(Sunday, 5/21/2017) Song 356: Time of the Season by The Zombies, written by Rod Argent. You can find a YouTube video of it here. In the honor society lounge during my last 2 years in HS, a few of us would actually do some studying occasionally, and the ping-pong table got plenty of use, but the most frequent activities were listening to 45s and playing cards, which were pleasures I didn't speak of at home since my extremely religious family did not approve of the devil's music or the devil's deck. I well remember one sunny late spring day in 1969 when 4 of us stepped out of the lounge door and sat down in the grassy area just outside of it to play a round of pinochle. It was the time of the season when our senior finals lurked on the horizon, but at that moment, we had no cares, and this record, though it had peaked a couple of months earlier, provided a perfect memorable piece of that game's soundtrack. While I knew that the opening lyric used the word love, in my mind, as our pleasured hands passed cards to the sound of this singer's lines, I translated the phrase to the time of the season when luck runs high, and indeed, it did for us, as my partner and I won the game.
(Sunday, 5/14/2017) Song 355: Down Under by Men at Work, written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert. You can find a YouTube video of it here. When this 45 hit the U.S. in the fall of 1982, having already topped charts elsewhere, my Berkeley housemate Bob and I watched the group perform it on a TV segment, and he latched onto it right away. It took me a few more radio spins before I got it, but once I could sing along with the lines, the cut's understated humor had me hooked. At the time, I had an Australian songwriter friend who had already told me about vegemite, so I immediately grasped that lyric, but for most of the other slang I had to guess, and I guessed wrong in more than one case, not that it mattered or affected my enjoyment of the record. Thanks to Wickipedia, I now know that a fried-out Kombi means an overheated VW van rather than a group of wasted traveling companions, but here in the Northeast, just as in the land down under, when you hear the thunder, as I have a few times lately, You better run, you better take cover, so that warning was always well understood.
(Sunday, 5/7/2017) Song 354: Foreplay/Long Time by Boston, written by Thom Scholz. You can find a YouTube video of it here. After walkin' 2 weeks ago and riding a railroad last week, this week's cut aims to Sail on, on a distant highway. Boston's debut LP arrived near the end of summer in 1976, and it marked a rare high point in a largely lackluster era for RnR. Although I understood those who critiqued the album's songwriting as somewhat tame, I liked the record a lot, and I also agreed with those who remarked on the disk's exceptional sound, which came courtesy of band leader Scholz's phenomenal production skills that he had worked long and hard to acquire. I had just begun my own first foray into 16-track recording, and those initial attempts only made me respect Mr. Scholz's work all the more. Sadly, Boston lead singer Brad Delp committed suicide a little over 10 years ago, in March of 2007, but while It's been such a long time since he exited, we the audience won't forget about him any time soon, despite the words he sang here that predicted he would be forgotten after he was gone.
(Sunday, 4/30/2017) Song 353: California Rail by Jeff Larson, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Seven weeks after my last post by a personal friend, and after walkin' last week, this week takes a different track that comes from my good friend Jeff Larson. Back around the time he wrote this one, Jeff rode that California Rail a few times on his way to meet up with the woman who he would soon marry, so she provided the main inspiration for him writing this piece, but I believe I can still take a small portion of the credit, because I had already written my own bunch of train ramblings which I shared with him on our get-togethers, plus I had spoken with him about my fondness for trains (and train songs, such as the Hank Williams record Lonesome Whistle from 2 weeks ago) so I think I might have influenced him to also take a musical journey along a railroad line. Mixed in with his trademark tasty acoustic guitar sound, Jeff stirs some lively harmonica and banjo into the locomotion, and while he cautions that the trip might include maybe sun, maybe rain, maybe hail, I would bet that you'll enjoy the ride, and after all, it's California, so how bad could it be?
(Sunday, 4/23/2017) Song 352: These Boots Are Made for Walkin' by Nancy Sinatra, written by Lee Hazlewood. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Frank's daughter took this cut to the top of the charts 51 years ago, in the winter of 1966, and no matter how many times I've heard it, the track always makes me smile. Reviewers in that long-ago era criticized Nancy for not exhibiting the vocal ability that her father conveyed, but what she communicates on this single grabs me in a way that none of Frank's records ever did, and I feel it even stronger when I watch her saucy lip-syncing performance in the song video. Fast-forwarding to the present day, the words here can take on an even stronger punch when pointed at a certain prominent political figure who keeps lyin' when he oughta be truthin', keeps losin' when he oughta not bet, and so on, because what's right is right and he ain't been right yet. I probably don't have to name the obvious source of the current glut of trumpery, but he sure has made lots of people feel like it's time to Start walkin'!
(Sunday, 4/16/2017) Song 351: (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle by Hank Williams, written by Hank Williams and Jimmie Davis. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Before the Beatles rocked my world, I knew nothing about RnR, but I heard plenty of country music on the family summer visits to Ohio relatives, so I got to know Hank Williams quite well. On those hot summer nights when we could hear the B & O railroad crews switching freight cars just a couple of blocks away, this cut seemed to fit the moment better than any other, and I soon learned it well enough to sing along. After only 2 or 3 nights of hearing the local freight car switching moves, I quickly realized that no matter how loud they became, they rarely if ever interrupted my sleep or kept me awake, but rather, I found those sounds relaxing enough to put me to sleep, just as the sound of lonesome whistles on the train line that ran nearby the family home would do. Even though at the time, I too was Just a kid acting smart, I didn't have a darling's heart to break, and I guess I was too young to know how that might feel, but Hank's song seemed to echo in my soul, as if I had always known it, probably because I had been hearing that lonesome whistle since before I could even walk or talk.
(Sunday, 4/9/2017) Song 350: Magic Be by Captain Beefheart, written by Don Van Vliet, Jan Van Vliet and Andy DiMartino. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Walking outside without needing a jacket on a sunny early April day less than 4 weeks after a record-setting blizzard can certainly make a walker feel that magic be in sunshine. Ironically, the musicians who made the magic on this cut did not feel very enchanted by it, or any of the other tracks on Unconditionally Guaranteed, and even the Captain disavowed the LP less than a year after its release. Despite what Don Van Vliet and his crew felt about the record, I always liked it, I have listened to it a lot, and this marks the 3rd UG song to make the list, following Sugar Bowl (Song 148) and Upon the My-O-My (Song 265). While the music makers in this case did not believe in their own sorcery, to me, the disk easily lives up to the claim on the jacket of being 100% Pure and Good, and it provides ample proof that magic be. Give it a listen and maybe you too will find it spellbinding.
(Sunday, 4/2/2017) Song 349: Don't Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man) by The Serendipity Singers. You can find a YouTube video of it here. The large amounts of snow that fell a few weeks ago are now almost gone, thanks to warmer temperatures and rain, though a few scattered patches of white stuff remain, so now time has come for those April showers. Just as Beatlemania arrived in the winter of 1964, opening the door for the rest of the British Invasion, this traditional song by a large American folk group also popped up on the airwaves and got my attention just as much as the English RnR. I never tired of the way the 9 singers delivered the understated humor of the lyrics, and while a crooked cat and a crooked mouse might live together in a crooked house, I wouldn't recommend buying crooked nails and a crooked little bat to try to fix a roof with a rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, especially with April showers on the way.
(Sunday, 3/26/2017) Song 348: One Way Out by The Allman Brothers Band, written by Elmore James, Marshall Sehorn and Sonny Boy Williamson II. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Following last week's post of a Chuck Berry song to honor him a day after he died, I chose this week's Allman Brothers track as a way to honor drummer Butch Trucks, who sadly took his own life in late January of this year at the age of 69. When I got on a plane in Chicago on June 10, 1971, I don't think any of my RnR friends knew anything about the Allman Brothers Band, nor did I, but within days of landing in Atlanta, I was hearing their music a lot, and hearing about them quite a lot. In the middle of that summer, their live LP At the Fillmore hit the airwaves, and justifiably made such a splash that by the time I returned to Chicago in September my RnR friends there also knew all about the Allmans. Following Duane's tragic death in late October, many of us wondered about the band's future, but then in February they released a double album that showcased them at their peak. This cut opened side 3 on a very strong rocking note, and made it quite clear just what a talent the RnR world lost on the day Duane died. Now, in early 2017, the RnR world has lost another of the talented crew that created this magical brew, which they recorded live in front of a packed house back in June of 1971. We may never know why Butch Trucks decided to head for the exit, but though he took the One Way Out, gone he is, but he should not be forgotten, and this track is but one of many musical reasons why his memory should live on.
(Sunday, 3/19/2017) Song 347: Rock and Roll Music by Chuck Berry, who also wrote it. You can find a YouTube video of it here. Only 11 weeks ago, when I posted my second Chuck Berry track on this list, I did not expect to be posting another so soon, but following his death yesterday at age 90, I feel the need to commemorate the man as one of the major pioneers of Rock and Roll Music. Back when the Beatles first rocked my world in February of 1964, I knew nothing of the 1950s rockers, and I thought the Fab Four had invented RnR. It took a while before I clearly understood that 2 of my favorite Beatles recordings -- Roll Over Beethoven (Song 236) and this song -- had actually been written by an American musician I knew nothing about. Then, it wasn't until I had finished my regular School Days, a bit after the turn of the 1970s, that I came to understand Chuck Berry's pivotal role in the birth of the musical style that had captivated me. With a sort of 1950s revival happening on rock radio, I got to hear the classic golden oldies, and a Rolling Stone subscription filled in the details, to the point where it surprised me when a blues booking agent I knew told me that his girlfriend didn't know who Chuck Berry was. Having realized Berry's significance, I found it strange that someone with an interest in the music didn't know about him. I would guess that these days most RnR fans recognize the value of Berry's contributions to the form, and personally, I plan to honor his legacy by following his advice to keep on rocking that piano. Sure thing, Chuck! I'm glad to do it. It's got to be Rock and Roll Music!