Saturday, June 30, 2012

Songs of Summer, #11 - "In the Summertime" (1970)


Today we'll go with a song about summer, as well as one that was a summer hit.  It was all over the radio when it came out, and one of the few songs that my dad would allow the radio to be turned up for.  Just a fun, fun song.

"In the Summertime," Mungo Jerry - from the summer of 1970.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Playlist #2

The station thoughtfully provided me with my very own promotional graphic.

Songs of Summer, #10 - "Ball of Confusion" (1970)

I was only ten years old when this song came out, but I loved it from the first time I heard it.  Anyone who thinks that the Temptations took a dive when David Ruffin left the group should just listen to this song (along with some others from the late era version of the group); it's an edgy, completely convincing performance by every singer that stands up today as well as it did when it was released, smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the tragedy at Kent State.

When I was 10, I can't say that I paid attention that closely to the issues of the day, but it was hard to avoid the war, since Walter Cronkite was talking about it just about every evening on the news.  What I loved at the time was the song's propulsive beat, and the interplay of the singers - especially the deep bass of (I think) Otis Williams, who contributed the memorable "and the band played on..." line.

"Ball of Confusion," The Temptations, from the summer of 1970.

JV the DJ

I think I've mentioned before that a local radio station, FM 94.7, plays a listener-submitted "Seven Song Perfect Playlist" every evening at 6 p.m.  In mid-May, I decided to take a crack at submitting my own, and a couple of weeks ago got the call that they were going to use it.  Last Friday, I trekked down to the station to record an introduction and some brief commentary, and found out yesterday that it will play on Monday, July 2.

For anyone not in the Sacramento area who is so inclined, you'll be able to follow along and hear my list on the station's web site.  And I'll post the playlist here on Monday evening.

Upward and onward!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Songs of Summer, #9 - "Kodachrome" (1973)

The first phase of Paul Simon's solo career - from the release of "Paul Simon" in 1972 through "Still Crazy After All These Years" in 1975 - was so strong that you couldn't blame one for wondering why Simon had wasted all those years with Art Garfunkel.  Those two albums, plus "There Goes Rhymin' Simon" in the middle, were amazing pieces of work, and amazing in their musical diversity.

Lo and behold, each one of them included monster hit singles, all of which were really good.  Including Kodachrome, released in late May or early June of 1973, and being omnipresent on the airwaves for most of the summer - until another Simon song that we'll talk about in August succeeded it.

The memory I associate with this one is hearing it right before getting on a bus from Sacramento to Ensenada, Baja California for a YMCA Caravan trip.  That was one heck of a long bus ride, and for most of it, I couldn't get the song "Kodachrome" out of my mind.  Good thing it's such a good song.

"Kodachrome," Paul Simon, from the summer of 1973.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Songs of Summer, #8 - "Whatcha Gonna Do?" (1977)

Today we head back to the summer of 1977, the summer I was dating a girl named Nancy.  The relationship began in March and was destined to end in November, but without going into a lot of details it became pretty clear over the course of the summer that we weren't heading toward anything approaching a lifetime commitment.  Which is a good thing, considering I was only 17 (she was a year older), and considering that we weren't well matched to start with.  We saw a lot of movies during the six months we were together, including some that I think most neutral observers would agree are enduring classics: "Rocky," "Annie Hall," "Star Wars," even "Smokey and the Bandit."  What was her favorite movie of those we saw together?  "The Other Side of Midnight."  I think that says it all.

We both worked at McDonalds (which made things a bit awkward when we broke up, although I'm happy to report that nearly everyone sided with me), and one of our managers (Greg) was constantly giving her a hard time for not treating me well - and I should note that those were his words, not mine.  After a while, to make his point he'd just start singing "What you gonna do when HE says goodbye...?", until I asked him to stop on the theory that his (not so) subtle dig wasn't helping matters any.

In any event, this song (which, frankly, you don't really hear much anymore) always takes me back to that time.  From the summer of 1977, Pablo Cruise, with "Whatcha Gonna Do?"


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Songs of Summer, #7 - "Crazy" (2006)

There are good songs, there are great songs, and then there are songs that are so good that when you first hear them you think they'll last a generation, and later on you think that they'll last a lifetime.  Those are the songs that give you a thrill the first time you hear them, the hundredth time, the thousandth time, and so on.  The songs that are timeless.

Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" is such a song.  Cee-Lo Green could live to 100, recording a song a day, and he'll probably never match this one.  It's that good.

And for me, it always comes down to the opening lines:

I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.

The first time I heard this song was on our first family vacation to Hawaii, during the summer of 2006.  What the heck (ok, I didn't say "heck") was that?, I think I may have asked.

The song of the summer of 2006, and quite possibly the song of the decade: "Crazy," by Gnarls Barkley.

Songs of Summer, #6 - "White Bird" (1968)

"White Bird" by It's a Beautiful Day may have been the song that introduced me to the possibility that there might be more to music than what you heard on AM radio.

When I was growing up, we always spent a week up at Lake Tahoe, the kids enjoying the beach during the day and staying with grandma in the evening when the "responsible adults" would make their nightly trek down to the casinos (I say that jokingly, only because dang it, I really wanted to go!).

We stayed in the same cabin every year for almost 20 years, and the first year we were there we discovered that the radio only got one station.  And even though it was an AM station, in the late 1960s they had a playlist that was very much like the FM stations one could hear in the "free form" era of that medium.

"White Bird" was, without a doubt, the most exotic song I'd ever heard - exotic and even a bit scary.  What the heck were these people singing about, anyway?  In any event, this station played it a lot, at least a couple of times a day (so it was an AM station after all).  To this day, when I hear it I think of that Lake Tahoe cabin, and that radio which could only pick up one station.

"White Bird," It's a Beautiful Day, from the summer of 1968.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Songs of Summer, #5 - "So Very Hard to Go" (1973)

"So Very Hard to Go" is the perfect example of what used to be called a "regional hit."  It never got any higher than #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, but there's no question that it was a #1 hit in Northern California.  Tower of Power was an Oakland band, and their records always got a lot of airplay in Sacramento.  And this one was all over the radio during the summer of '73.

"So Very Hard to Go," the biggest hit Tower of Power ever came up with, and one that deserved to be #1 all over the country.

Songs of Summer, #4 - "Live and Let Die" (1973)

I'm going to hazard a guess that the entire world is reasonably familiar with this song, and forego linking to a video.

In the summer of '73, I saw my first James Bond movie, "Live and Let Die."  It was the first Bond film with Roger Moore in the title role, and never having seen any of the Connerys, I thought it was just about the best thing since sliced bread.  We (2 friends, and the sister of a one of them, who had her driver's license) saw it at a Drive-In theater, and had ourselves a fine time.  I remember my parents being amused by my comment afterward that "they had set it up for a sequel," but if you've seen the movie, think about it - that last scene with Geoffrey Holder ("Mr. Uncola Nut") is certainly unlike the ending of any other Bond movie I've seen.

The title song was a departure for the Bond series - using a full-fledged former Beatle!  And on this occasion, Paul McCartney and his bandmates in Wings came through with one of the most memorable Bond themes.

"Live and Let Die," Paul McCartney and Wings, from the summer of '73.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Songs of Summer, #3 - "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" (1972)

OK, I admit that the first time I heard this song I thought they were singing "long cool woman in a pants dress."  Which just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, when you get right down to it.

This was a major feature on the soundtrack of our first family vacation to Disneyland, in late June of 1972.  It was in heavy rotation up here, and in heavy rotation down there.  And the AM radio in the ol' Kingswood Estate sounded pretty darn good, all things considered.

The Hollies, making out like they were Creedence, which they'd never done before and would never do again, with "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress."

Songs of Summer, #2 - "Jet Airliner" (1977)

You could always count on Steve Miller to come up with tunes that just demanded that you turn your car stereo up as loud as it would go.

From the summer of Star Wars, not to mention the summer I worked six days a week at McDonalds.  And I clearly remember cranking this baby up when we were setting up for opening in the morning.  Of course, we'd always hope for the uncut version, the one without the "funky kicks" going down in the city.

"Jet Airliner," Steve Miller Band - song #2 of 95.

Songs of Summer, #1 - "I'm Not in Love" (1975)

10cc was about as arty as you could get in the mid-1970s and still be a pop band.  You had Godley & Creme for the arty stuff, some of which was fun, and some of which was pure sh*t.  And then you had Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman for the pop stuff, and inevitably the band broke up around '76 and the two duos went their separate ways (with Stewart and Gouldman keeping the "10cc" moniker).

But their crowning moment as a quartet was this hit from the summer of 1975, which was all over the radio around the same time that a certain Great White Shark was tearing up the good citizens of Amity Island.

I think it still sounds good, albeit a bit odd, today - "I'm Not in Love," 10cc.

95 Songs of Summer

In just a bit, a new Summer Series will begin..."95 Songs of Summer," one for each day of the season, all songs that, for better or for worse, were hits during the summer or are songs that I've always associated with the summer.  Some are great, others are fantastically bad.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Song to Kick Off the Weekend

We'll take a little break from the American Top 40 Flashback to spotlight a song that I've always loved, even though I don't own it (or anything by the band, for that matter).  But it always sounds great on the radio, like the #1 song that Todd Rundgren forgot to record in the 1970s.

"You Get What You Give," from 1998, by the New Radicals.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Rock of Ages"

Our Father's Day tradition has always been to see a movie.  Sometimes, it's been "guys only," and other times the whole family joins the crowd.  I doubt that I can remember all of them, but here are a few of the Father's Day Flicks from the past:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Jurassic Park
Pearl Harbor
Another 48 Hours
Nacho Libre
X-Men: First Class

I'm sure I'll think of more later - there have been a lot more than that, that's for sure.

This year, the selection was "Rock of Ages" - which I'd say is definitely worth seeing, even if it isn't the greatest movie to come down the pike.  The two leads, the young kids that we undoubtedly are supposed to bond with from the first scene, are barely tolerable, in terms of both acting and singing ability.  They both have their moments, but those are primarily when they're part of a big production number.

For those unaware, the movie is based on a musical that is comprised of "big hair band" songs from the 1980s, which is far from my favorite genre but which can be enjoyable at the right time or moment.  The songs come across pretty well in this format, although they do manage to sneak a couple of non-80s songs in there.

The highlights of the film are:

- Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, an amalgam of just about every big hair band, badly behaved rock star you can possibly imagine.  He may be a weird dude, but you have to give Cruise props for taking on some of the roles that he does, and this one isn't exactly designed to push him to the top of the Box Office Stars list.

- Paul Giamatti as a sniveling, somewhat sneaky agent, totally believable as a jerk.

- But most of all, Alec Baldwin as the owner of the Sunset Blvd. club (loosely based, I would imagine, on the Whiskey-A-Go-Go?) where most of the action takes place, and Russell Brand as his sidekick.  Without spoiling the surprise, let's just say that their relationship evolves in an interesting (and hilarious) way.

Overall?  It ain't gonna win any awards.  But you could do worse with your two hours then to spend it in a nice cool theater with these characters, and those songs.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

The view from my parents' house, the house we moved into in 1967 and in which they still live.

LA Confidential - Great Book, Great Film

Leopard13 has a great post up on his blog, It Rains...You Get Wet, about his first viewing of L.A. Confidential - the great film by Curtis Hanson that was based on the great book by James Ellroy.

The way he went into the film was the polar opposite of my experience.  He felt little interest towards seeing it because he'd never read the book, while I went into it (on the day before he saw it) with great trepidation, because I had read the book.  To this day, I clearly remember the way I felt the first time I read "L.A. Confidential."  I was already an Ellroy fan, but was still unprepared for the brilliance of this, the third book in what would come to be known as his "L.A. Quartet."  The intricacy of the plot, the brilliance of the dialogue, the clarity of the characters and their motivations, but most of all the way all of the threads came together in the final third of the book - breathtaking.

So the last thing in the world I wanted was for this to be a lousy movie.  I was a little worried when they cast two unknowns in the roles of Ed Exley and Bud White, which seems laughable today given that the unknowns were Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe.  Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes was about right; although I'd pictured James Woods in the role; and James Cromwell as Dudley Smith seemed off (I'd pictured Brian Dennehy).  However, everyone as dead solid perfect, including Kim Basinger, who won as well deserved Oscar as Lynn Bracken.

I'd seen James Ellroy at a book signing in 1988 and asked him what he thought of "Cop," the movie adaptation of his "Blood on the Moon."  He growled, "It sucked!  They only filmed half of my book!"  As anyone who has read "L.A.Confidential" knows, one of the key subplots deals with a man who is obviously a very thinly-disguised version of Walt Disney.  There was no way this part of the book would be in the film, because the result would likely have been years of litigation.  So I also wondered what Ellroy would think of this adaptation.

Fortunately, he loved it, saying publicly and loudly (the only way he knows how to speak) that it captured "the essence" of his book.  Indeed it did.

Forty Years Ago Today

"You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I'm innocent. You've got to believe I'm innocent. If you don't, take my job."  - President Richard M. Nixon

June 17, 1972 - a "third-rate burglary attempt" that in a little more than two years would lead to the resignation of a President.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012

If the U.S. Open used a rota

As golf fans know, the Open Championship is played on only 9 courses - five in Scotland, and four in England.

Which got me to thinking - if the U.S Open went to a rotation, which 9 courses would make up the rota? 

These are my picks.  The criteria?  Great courses (of course), a bit of geographic diversity, and a bit of history.  Plus, two public courses -  real public courses, where it doesn't cost close to $500 to play. And those two share the final spot, meaning my 9 is really 10.

1. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey, California.

2. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, Long Island.

3. The Olympic Club, San Francisco, California.

4. Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

5. Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York.

6. Pinehurst No. 2 Course, Pinehurst, North Carolina.

7. Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois.

8. Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania

9a. Bethpage State Park (Black Course), Farmingdale, New York.

9b. Torrey Pines (South Course), La Jolla, California.

That's my 10.  What are yours?

Friday, June 15, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback - Kim Carnes


I think most neutral observers would agree that Kim Carnes has had herself a pretty good career.  Certainly nothing approaching Hall of Fame status, but certainly good enough to merit a footnote in the long history of pop music.

With one glorious exception, that being "Bette Davis Eyes" - a magnificent song that, frankly, came out of left field when it was released in the spring of 1981.  Greil Marcus sang its praises in his "Real Life Rock" column (which, at the time, appeared in the late and lamented California magazine), and it came in 4th place in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll (singles), trailing only Laurie Anderson's "O Superman," the Stones' "Start Me Up," and "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel."  That's pretty heady territory for a singer who, up to that point, had achieved little more than journeyman status.

The song was everywhere during the spring and summer of 1981.  It was played on what were the last vestiges of Top 40 stations, it was played on "smooth jazz" stations, and at least in the Bay Area (I was at Cal at the time), it was played on what were called "Hard Rock" stations.  In other words, its appeal was almost universal, a status that very few songs of that era (or any era) could lay claim to.

"Bette Davis Eyes," Kim Carnes - the #1 song this week in 1981.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

One Down...

Well, you can scratch the Luke Donald prediction off my list of most brilliant moments.  After an opening 79, he'll be lucky just to approach the cut line.  Tiger, on the other hand, is looking pretty sweet, with an opening 69 - good enough to blow out his notable playing partners, Phil Mickelson (76) and Bubba Watson (78).  Alan Shipnuck of SI is already giving the title to Tiger, but you can't forget that this is the course where Jack Fleck bested Ben Hogan, where Billy Casper caught up to Arnold Palmer, where Scott Simpson held off Tom Watson, and where Lee Janzen took the trophy over Payne Stewart.  At The Olympic Club, the best player doesn't always win - but if Tiger can, I think we can safely put all of those "Tiger is washed up" arguments to rest.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

You Can Add Matt Cain to the List

With each perfect game, the blog posts "Harvey Haddix," the great song by The Baseball Project.

Congratulations, Matt Cain.


Artsy Fartsy Photos of Great Album Covers, #1

Is that post title random enough for you?

This one is "Flesh + Blood," the 1980 album from Roxy Music.  Which, by that point, meant Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, and a bunch of sidemen.

The album was not up to the level of past ("Siren") or future ("Avalon") works, but it wasn't bad at all, and probably underrated.

But as always, the cover art was sublime.  And in this case, you just knew that the javelin was headed straight towards Bryan Ferry's heart.

Monday, June 11, 2012


One thing is for certain - this will be a great, perhaps even classic, NBA Final.

I think Oklahoma City is the better team.  But they've never been to the finals, and unless a team has been there, you never really know how they'll react to that kind of pressure.

Miami is star-crossed, and continues to pay dearly for the ridiculous expectations they set for themselves when Lebron turned his decision into a spectacle that resulted in thousands of fans who might otherwise have rooted for them to hope with passion, almost desperation, that they would lose in the most painful manner imaginable. 

And yet, in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals Lebron became a force of nature, seemingly discovering the dark side of the force, and imposed his will on a team that had shown historic character and camaraderie.  It was as if he finally came to grips with his past mistakes, and faced them down once and for all.  If that's truly the case, it's hard to pick against the Heat.

But I'm going with OKC in 7, because of the resolve they showed in coming back against Duncan, Ginobli and Parker in the Western Conference Finals.  And if the Thunder weren't intimidated by that trio, they're not going to be intimidated by the arrogant avatars of South Beach.

As for the U.S. Open, I just can't see Tiger Woods winning at the Olympic Club.  The course requires a level of consistency and mistake-free golf that I just don't think he's ready to deliver yet - if ever again.  For the same reason, I don't see Phil prevailing.

Truth be told, I have no idea who will win.  I'm going to pick Luke Donald, for no particular reason at all.  Just remember where you heard it first.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Go Read Joe

The nearly always brilliant Joe Posnanski outdid himself this week with two amazing columns about Lebron James.  You should read both of them, now.

This one was written after the Heat lost Game 5.

And this one was written after the Heat won Game 6.

Amazing stuff.

We Won't Have Another

I thought for sure this was going to be the year, because of my track record of never having seen a Triple Crown winner take the Belmont while the race was actually happening.  When Secretariat won the Belmont in 1973, I was on a YMCA caravan in Ensenada, Mexico.  When Seattle Slew won the Belmont in 1977, I was working  And when Affirmed won the Belmont the following year, I was in Hawaii on our high school graduation trip, and because of the time difference we got confused as to when the race would be shown on TV and I missed it again.

I've since watched 11 colts win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and fail to close the deal in the Belmont.  So when I realized his year that - because of work - I wasn't going to be able to watch the race, I figured that was the clincher - I'll Have Another was going to make history.

Alas, it is not to be, as he became only the second colt to be scratched in the Belmont after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.  And it appears that he'll never race again, which means (once again) that we'll be denied the thrill of seeing a Triple Crown, and horse racing will continue its inexorable slide out of the public's attention.

Sad.  But it's good to know that I wasn't the jinx all these years.

American Top 40 Flashback - The Beatles!


It could be that I'm repeating myself here, but that's OK.  One doesn't often get to get a glimpse of the end of an era, but for crowning moments in that vein it's hard to top the Beatles' famous rooftop concert in 1970.  They didn't get to play long, but they had enough time to tear the heck out of "Get Back" - the #1 song this week, in 1969.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Game 6

I can't remember another year when both Conference Finals were turned on their head in the span of a week the way that it's happened this year.  A week ago, you could have gotten some pretty good odds betting on the Thunder and the Celtics, and now the former will be playing for the championship and the latter just might be joining them in the Finals tonight.

Meanwhile, the melodrama otherwise known as the Miami Heat has reached new levels of absurdity this year.  Forget all those ads on TNT for the new "Dallas," this series has all the drama you need.  There seems little doubt at this juncture that Erik Spoelstra will be coaching for his job tonight, but one has to wonder whether his men have the mental mettle to pull one out in territory as hostile as can possibly be imagined.  The Heat made the mistake of thinking that they could win a title without earning it, and Dallas last year and possibly the Celtics this year are teaching them a painful and difficult lesson.

And even if they do survive this Boston series, will they be able to match the surging Thunder, who have already proven that they're not intimidated by Hall of Fame talent? 

But that's getting ahead of ourselves.  Miami will be playing desperation basketball tonight, and we may witness a level of intensity that we've never seen before, but it says here that - bouyed by the crowd and their remarkable road win on Tuesday -the Celtics will win to set up a Final that seemed unthinkable just a week ago.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Digging Out From Under the Netflix Backlog

Oh well, I'm only [almost] two months behind.

We had a mini-Ryan Gosling festival in April, With "Fracture" and "Crazy, Stupid Love."  The former is a court drama/psychological thriller directed by Gregory Hoblit, a director who got his start in TV ("Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue") and can nearly always be counted on to spin an entertaining tale.  On that score "Fracture" comes through in spades, with Anthony Hopkins (teetering on the brink of hamming it up, but never quite crossing the line) playing a brilliant structural engineer with strong sociopathic tendencies who shoots his wife after discovering that she's having an affair with a police detective.  His character, Ted Crawford, confesses to the crime at the scene, and Gosling's character, Willy Beachum, is brought in to prosecute the seemingly open and shut case.  Beachum is on his way to bigger and better things, but learns quickly enough that Crawford is playing him, and realizes that he is now enmeshed in a game of wits which, if lost, may cost him his career.  Gosling does well in a role that requires him to play second fiddle to the charismatic Hopkins, and the movie bogs down only when it strains near the end to manipulate the plot in ways that strain credulity, in order to allow the "good guy" to win. 

Gosling is not the main character in "Crazy, Stupid Love" (that honor goes to Steve Carell), but he steals just about every scene he's in as Jacob, who on the spectrum of young, good looking guys falls somewhere between Lothario and lounge-lizard.  When Carell's wife (Julianne Moore) stuns him with her request for a divorce, he stumbles his way through his life, landing in a pick-up spot bar where he sticks out like a sore thumb.  Although he quite obviously still pines for his wife and that life, with Gosling's help he manages to remake himself into something that, frankly, he isn't really suited for

This is one of those movies with sub-plots layered on top of sub-plots - it's sort of like a long episode of "Love, American Style" with all the stories taking place at once.  So you've got a storyline involving Emma Stone, you've got another involving Carell's son and the babysitter he loves, who of course has a crush on Carell, and then you've got glorified extras like Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei, both of whom are largely wasted.  The funniest moments make this worth seeing, and it's probably worth seeing just to see Gosling's star continue to ascend, but overall it's a bit less than the sum of its parts.

Richard Dawson


I'd hazard a guess that a lot of people around my age have memories of Richard Dawson, whether it be from his role on "Hogan's Heroes" and other television shows, or from his latter-day mega-success as a game show celebrity guest and host.

When I was in junior high school and high school, "Match Game" ran on CBS at 2:30, right around the time I was getting home from school.  Dawson was terrific on that show, but made an even bigger mark on "Family Feud," as the host who liked to kiss the ladies.

This may be the funniest moment in the history of the show.  Enjoy.  

And for Mr. Dawson, R.I.P.

Friday, June 01, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback - The Staple Singers

Make no bones about it, the early 1970s was a great, great time for classic soul singles, and this was right up there with the best.  I'm not sure there's much more to say, except to sit back and enjoy the ride.

"I'll Take You There," The Staple Singers, the #1 song this week in 1972.