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, 10/15/2017) Song 377: Sundown by Rank and File, written by Chip Kinman and Tony Kinman. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. With the days getting shorter at this time of year, Sundown comes along sooner every day, so this song seems appropriate for the season. It's the title track for the first Rank and File LP, which appeared in 1982. During that stretch, my good friend Eddie Spitzer started his own guitar store in the back of a record shop on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, and so of course, I visited him there a number of times. In so doing, I caught some music that I might not have otherwise, including the R+F debut disc, and some of what I heard didn't move me at all, but the Kinman brothers quickly did get my attention, and my investment in a copy of their album. While I still haven't figured out all the words on this tune, and they're not yet available on any internet lyric pages, I can clearly hear a couple of lines close to the end which seem to fit the second half of October pretty well, and so I guess we can Let the ghosts come around, and perhaps, if I look (and listen) closely, I can see them now. On a side note, I recently reconnected with Eddie, who now runs a business selling guitars to wholesalers online, and he's got some pretty good stuff which you can find at spitzco.com.
(Sunday, 10/8/2017) Song 376: Magnolia by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, written by Tom Petty. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. This week's playlist track pays tribute to an RnR icon who died on Monday (10/2). While I haven't seen all that many concerts in my life, I have actually had the good fortune of seeing Tom Petty 3 times. First, on the Friday evening of 12/1/77, for the bargain price of $3, I caught him and his band as the opening act for Elvis Costello in Chicago, although, as I remember it, EC, who headlined the show, also did his set first. At the time, I knew nothing about TP, but I liked his performance even better than Costello's, though I certainly appreciated Mr. Elvis as well. Then, less than a year later, in the early fall of 1978, having hitched across the country and resettled in Oakland, CA, I did a hitch down to Santa Cruz one day, and a woman who gave me a lift in that area, and who lived near SC, told me about the new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers LP You're Gonna Get It (which included this cut) and before she played it for me, she said, "You're gonna like it." She was quite right about that, and as much as I have relished all of the band's other recordings, YGGI still tops the list. In July of 1985 I had the good fortune of seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers once again, this time at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, with Lone Justice as the opening act (see Song 193). and then, less than a year later, in June of 1986, I had a very good seat in that same venue to enjoy a performance by Tom Petty and Bob Dylan together. I will cherish these memories even more, now that Tom is no longer out there somewhere in the world, and, like so many of his other fans, I will remember him.
(Sunday, 10/1/2017) Song 375: Political Science (Let's Drop the Big One Now) by Randy Newman, who also wrote the song. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. In the early 1970s, Rolling Stone carried a number of articles talking about what an essential songwriter Randy Newman was, and how people needed to pay attention to him. Back then, still catching up on the music I already knew and wanted to add to my collection, I let Sail Away (which included this cut) slide by when it came along in 1972. When Good Old Boys started making some noise 2 years later, though, I did get a copy of that, and it sounded so good that I soon picked up on Randy's other works as well. During that stretch, this track provided an amusing commentary on the small-minded jingoistic rhetoric that might occasionally pop out of the mouths of quirky strangers in random public settings, but I did not expect that 4 decades later, a major TV news host would make this same kind of stupid and short-sighted suggestion. I sincerely hope, for the sake of our species, and all other higher life forms on this planet, that these fools never have even half a chance to Drop the Big One. From my earliest years, the nuclear nightmare has at times disturbed my dreams, and I have my own recording about that, called Dream Revelations.
(Sunday, 9/24/2017) Song 374: Everybody Woke Up Green by Joe Canzano, who also wrote the song. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. 7 weeks after my last personal friend song post, this week's track comes courtesy of my good friend Joe Canzano. The first time I heard Joe perform this tune, in the early 1990s, it became an instant favorite, and on the night when he showed up at the Jack Hardy songwriter gathering on Houston St., I suggested that he use it as his calling card, which he did. As much as I always enjoyed the deft commentary on racism and other ethnic phobias embodied in this recording's lyrics, the current political environment has highlighted their meaning to a degree I could not have imagined 2 decades ago. Given recent racist episodes in Ferguson and other similar events across the country, the line about cops out in Loa Angeles might sound odd at first, but if you recall the Rodney King riots of 1992, then you understand that while the bad news has lately come from other places, L.A. certainly earned its reference in the words here. I savor the science-fiction vision of a world where everyone's skin has turned green, and the folks at Breitbart etc. would plead for a new method to determine who we're supposed to hate. To give Joe the last word, truly, there is no proper color to cover ignorance.
(Sunday, 9/17/2017) Song 373: A Summer Song by Chad and Jeremy, written by Chad Stuart, Clive Metcalfe and Keith Noble. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. For the last post before autumn officially begins, I wanted to add A Summer Song onto the playlist. This hit actually came along in the early fall of 1964, 8 months after the Beatles had rocked my world, with Chad and Jeremy creating their own kind of magic noise as part of the British Invasion that the Fab Four had launched. My good friend Ed (the subject of my tune So Long Friend) enjoyed the music of this duo as much as I did, and he at some point acquired the Yesterday's Gone LP that contained this cut, which meant that I got to savor its catchy melody and wistful lyrics many times during my teenage years. Soon enough, autumn leave must fall, (in my area they already started coming down, even though the fall doesn't formally arrive until later this week), and the good things of summer will end, but when the rain beats against my window pane, this record can offer some comfort, and serve as a reminder to think of summer days again. On a side note, you can watch a YouTube lyric video of my track So Long Friend just by clicking on the title.
(Sunday, 9/10/2017) Song 372: London Calling by The Clash, written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. With Hurricane Irma hitting the coast of FL, threatening nuclear facilities there, this track about the hazards of a nuclear meltdown seems to fit the current moment. My initial impression of the British punk bands was that the press about them made them sound a lot cooler than their actual records did, but when this single came along near the end of 1979, I definitely liked what I heard. I had started to make the anti-nuke rally scene, and in addition, I had written a tune about Three Mile Island called Wind Whistle, but in that long-ago era before azlyrics.com and musixmatch.com, not knowing all of the lines on this cut, I picked up more of an anti-nuclear war message, without realizing that the words could also refer to nuclear power plant troubles. I sincerely hope that A nuclear error does not occur in FL due to Irma (or anything else), but that very possibility should serve as a reminder of the dangers that nuclear power plants can pose, and the fact that everyone will be better off when all such facilities are retired, and that we should not build any more of them. On that note, you can watch a YouTube lyric video of my song Wind Whistle just by clicking on the title.
(Sunday, 9/3/2017) Song 371: Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford, written by Merle Travis. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. It seems appropriate, in honor of Labor Day, to post a work song, and I learned this golden oldie at quite a young age, though when I first heard it, on a TV show in the early 1960s, it had already been around for a few years. It also appeared among my Ohio relatives' extensive country collection, so during our even-numbered-year summer visits there in that decade, I would usually include this record as part of my listening fun, with my aunt and uncle letting me choose the discs I wanted to spin. While my father didn't work in a coal mine, what he got from his full-time job was also another day older and deeper in debt, which is a line that came from a letter written to the songwriter by his brother. It was their father, a coal miner, who said to them, "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store." All too often in our history, a group of wealthy greed-heads have succeeded in dividing and conquering the working class, through techniques such as segregation, racism and xenophobia, to keep the workers from uniting in large-enough numbers to demand and receive a living wage. Until laborers get beyond such divisions, most of them will continue to owe their souls to the company store.
(Sunday, 8/27/2017) Song 370: San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers In Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie, written by John Phillips. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. When this song came along in the late spring 50 years ago, I was already a big fan of Papa John's songwriting, having gotten hooked a year earlier on the music of The Mamas and The Papas, but I had no idea about the community that had gravitated to the Haight-Ashbury district, so I really liked the record the first time I heard it, but it took a while for me to get the message. Growing up in a conservative and fundamentalist religious home, I didn't necessarily connect with the hippie counterculture, as much as I did with the music, but by 3 years later, having lived nearly a year outside of the family circle after graduating HS, I had fully plugged in with hippiedom and the peace bohemians. This year, on the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, one of those peace types defused and ultimately entirely deflated a scheduled neo-Nazi rally in San Francisco. The gathering was due to happen yesterday, August 26, but, unlike Charlottesville, where antifas met nNs with serious signs and protests, and serious injury and death ensued, in SF, an artist named Tuffy Tuffington created a Facebook event page that recommended greeting the nN assembly with flowers for their hair, and a carpet of dog poop. Tuffy's inspired hilarity quickly galvanized an opposition force that included clowns, kayakers and kids, and the Flowers Against Fascism actually succeeded in getting the alt-righters to cancel their gig. Kudos to Mr. Tuffington for putting the Turd Reich into context, using humor to defuse the fascist absurdity, which is, I think, the best and most effective way to face neo-Nazis.
(Monday, 8/21/2017) Song 369: It's a Little Too Late by Tanya Tucker, written by Roger Murrah and Pat Terry. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. After last week's post in honor of Glen Campbell, who recently died, Tanya seemed like an appropriate follow-up, in light of their famous love affair. For the first 2 decades of her career, I knew very little about TT, aside from her dalliance with Campbell, so when this record came rocking along in 1992 courtesy of country radio, it surprised me, and immediately got my attention. In addition to the clever lyrics about romantic entanglement, I also really liked the drummer's wild and frenzied accompaniment, which perfectly compliments the words Tanya sings. Having been more than once in that same spot where I was too far gone to turn this heart around, I'd say that Tucker and her backup players nailed it. On a side note, this track is a final sly reference to the second verse of my own song As Long as Merle is Still Haggard, which ends with the line but after what Holly Dunn (see Song 357) you should have Tanya Tucker up. Appropriately enough, the late Mr. Haggard was also someone who had hooked up with TT, and you can find the video for my tribute to him by clicking on the title.
(Sunday, 8/13/2017) Song 368: Gentle on My Mind by Glen Campbell, written by John Hartford. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. This week's post pays tribute to a very talented singer and guitarist who died last Tuesday after an extended struggle with Alzheimer's disease. I thought this 45 sounded really good when I first starting hearing it in the early summer of 1967, and when I saw Glen perform it on TV, I thought it sounded even better. I liked the way he included a banjo in the mix, which didn't happen much at the time. The character sketched in the lyrics here helped to shape the image that I outlined in The Wanderer when I wrote that a couple of year later, in the fall of 1969, and then the following summer, as I was seeking to define my own original artistic and musical persona, I decided to learn to play and sing this tune. In so doing, I made a melodic mistake that inspired a new piece which I called Country Highway when I completed it a few days later. While I thought highly of Glen during the era when he did this record and a bunch of other memorable cuts, only in recent years did I learn of his earlier career when he performed as Brian Wilson's stand-in on a Beach Boys tour, and also recorded guitar parts for Pet Sounds and other BB discs, which increased my respect for his artistry. While GC has left the land of the living, the magic moments he created will without a doubt keep him in the backroads by the rivers of my memory, and maybe yours too.
(Sunday, 8/6/2017) Song 367: The Cruel Lullaby by Carol Denney, who also wrote the song. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. As usual, seven weeks after my previous personal friend song post which featured Bob Nichols comes one by Carol. Bob, Carol and I were all members of a Berkeley songwriting circle back in the 1980s, but sadly, Bob died in November of 2005. Checking out Carol's website today, I noticed that she has a short story inspired by Bob's generosity to the Berkeley homeless, which you can find here. This cut is the title track from Carol's second CD, which she released in 2002, and a few years ago she performed it live at Viracocha in San Francisco, in front of a video camera. Her performance begins with an entertaining explanation of the song's inspiration, which evidently occurred when she found herself at a Berkeley potluck seated between 2 Buddhists who discussed their views on life after death. Following that experience, Carol crafted a lullaby meant to convey to a young child the cruel reality of life and death that she sees, cutting through the sort of comforting fantasies that she heard at the potluck, and giving a youngster the real story, which is one a child might not want to hear. The audience at Viracocha most certainly did enjoy hearing this lullaby, though, and their laughter throughout the performance makes that quite clear.