Tuesday, July 30, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Higher and Higher"

Today we'll play a little game of "which one of these things is not like the other?," even though there's only two of them.

As fate would have it, "(Your Love Is Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" hit the charts twice, exactly ten years apart.  The original, as performed here by Jackie Wilson:

And the remake, by Rita Coolidge:

Every now and then, one of these remakes actually works - "Handy Man" by James Taylor comes to mind - but for the most part, they don't make a lot of sense.  Ms. Coolidge's version was a Top 5 hit during the summer of 1977, but it doesn't hold a candle to the original version which hit the charts a decade earlier. 
"Higher and Higher," by Jackie Wilson and Rita Coolidge, from the summers of 1967 and 1977.

Monday, July 29, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Draggin' the Line"

I'm not sure I had any idea what Tommy James was singing when this song was a hit; all I knew was that I liked it a lot.  To these ears, the sound has a distinct '60s feel, even though it wasn't released until after that decade closed up shop.

I also remember around this time that one of the local TV stations aired an early edition of MTV on Saturday afternoons, with local DJs introducing the songs followed by a "trippy" video like this one.  Sure seemed cool at the time.

"Draggin' the Line," Tommy James, from the summer of 1971.

95 More Songs of Summer - "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town"

It's unlikely that I appreciated the lyrics of this song when it was released, since I was only 9 at the time.  I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but it was in heavy rotation on the station that I listened to (KROY, 1240 on your AM dial). 

Nor did I know that it was written by Mel Tillis, although I definitely knew who Mel Tillis was, because of his frequent appearances on the Mike Douglas Show, an afternoon staple of our household.

Note the introduction by Mr. Cash - it was just "The First Edition," not "Kenny Rogers and..." Little did we know at the time that Rogers would go on to become a superstar, about 10 years down the road.  I remember one time in the mid-seventies when he was playing in one of the small bars at Harrah's Tahoe, at the same time that the headliner was Mac Davis.  That tells you something about how he was able to turn things around.

"Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," from the summer of 1969.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Jive Talkin'"

The school year in most districts nowadays isn't what it used to be, as year-round and modified calendars have made the traditional "day after Labor Day start" a thing of the past.  But for those of you who can remember the old days, we're now at the point of summer when you would begin to realize that summer vacation was past its halfway point, and - horrors! - you'd start to see ads on TV for the new Fall shows (something else that's a thing of the past, with shows now starting at all times of the year).  The dreaded words "back to school" were creeping up, ever so closer.

I heard this song not long ago on the oldies station I was listening to in the morning until they discontinued their morning traffic reports (and to be fair, I got a new car with a CD player and that was iPod-ready).  When it comes to old Bee Gees hits, you mostly hear the stuff from Saturday Night Fever, as if the rest of their career never happened.  This was their first foray into that new dance craze called Disco, and it was better than I remembered it to be.  Not the greatest song in the world, or even the greatest song they ever did, but not a bad way to keep yourself occupied on a summer day too hot to foray outside.

"Jive Talkin'," Bee Gees, from the summer of 1975.

Friday, July 26, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Classical Gas"

When I was 8 years old, I didn't think it was possible to get any cooler than this song, and can even remember watching The Smothers Brothers on occasion.  It was years before I learned that Williams was also a writer for the show.

This has to qualify as a one-hit wonder - I certainly don't remember Williams ever having another hit.

"Classical Gas," Mason Williams, from the summer of 1968.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Take It Easy"

This is not the song I would select if you asked me to name the Eagles' best song (I'd opt for "One of These Nights").  But if a martian landed on Earth and told me that he'd heard of this band called the Eagles and could I choose for him the most representative song from their catalog of the "Eagles sound," it would definitely be "Take It Easy."  And yes, that is the clumsiest pair of sentences to appear on this blog for a long time.

I'm pretty darn sure that the first time I heard this song was during our first family vacation to Los Angeles, back in the summer of 1972 - a trip made all the more special by the fact that we were driving a classic Kingswood Estate station wagon (and I'm not joking, that really was a classic car).

This is a cool video because it was probably the one and only time that every member of the Eagles appeared together onstage.  Now that Don Felder seems to have burned every bridge imaginable between himself and Henley & Frey, it's not likely we'll ever see that happen again.

"Take It Easy," the Eagles, from the summer of 1972.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer, Two for Tuesday edition - Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe

There was a time in the late 1970s and early '80s when every band and singer that came down the pike identified themselves as "New Wave."  It got to the point where it was essentially a meaningless term - if "new wave" encompassed artists as diverse in their backgrounds, ability and sound as Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe, then what really was the point?

Which isn't to say that it was bad music - both of these artists released outstanding albums during that period, but on close examination really had very little to do with bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, X, Gang of Four, or The Ramones.

Both are still making music today, and you can hear songs from both of them on the radio, if you know where to listen.
"Is She Really Going Out With Him?," Joe Jackson and "Cruel to Be Kind," Nick Lowe, from the summer of 1979.

Monday, July 22, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)"

If I'm not mistaken, this is the first appearance of Three Dog Night on this little project.  They were quite the hit-making machine in the early 1970s, as well as a showcase for great but lesser known songwriters such as Laura Nyro ("Eli's Coming") and Hoyt Axton ("Joy to the World," "Never Been to Spain").  And this song, which was written and originally performed by a guy who would later become famous, mostly for his two hit singles ("Short People," "I Love L.A.") and film scores - Randy Newman.

Hey, they were great - what can I say?

"Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," Three Dog Night, from the summer of 1970.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Barracuda"

I wouldn't put Heart in my own personal rock 'n roll Hall of Fame, but there's no questioning that they did have an impressive run of great hard rock singles in the late 1970s.  And there's also no questioning that one of the staples of great rock 'n roll is to come up with a song that sounds great on the radio when turned up real loud.  And this one certainly fits the bill.

"Barracuda," Heart, from the summer of 1977.

The King of Scotland

The champion golfer of the year.
Last weekend, when Phil Mickelson won the Scottish Open in typical Mickelson fashion (three-putting the final hole of regulation to drop into a playoff, and then winning said playoff) I tweeted, "Thanks so much, Phil Mickelson, for getting our hopes up again right before a major."  But even with that, I never really gave Phil much of a chance.  His extreme risk/reward style of play has never meshed well with links golf, and let's face it, one of the reasons Phil is beloved by so many is that (like so many) he occasionally plays as if his brain was sliding right out of his ears.

But today, Phil cemented a place in history that was already pretty damn secure.  On the final day of the Open Championship, on a day when the rest of the field flailed away as if they were a bunch of 12-handicappers, he fired a brilliant 66 to capture the Claret Jug, including an incredible stretch of 4 birdies on the final six holes.

The birdie putt at 18.
And while any Open Championship is historic and special, this wasn't just any Open - it was a Muirfield Open.  Aside from the Old Course, there is likely no course in the rota that a player would rather win on - because this, as noted a few days back, is a course that crowns true champions - Mickelson joins a list of Muirfield champions that includes names like Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson, Faldo, and Els.

As for Tiger Woods, it was yet another major championship where he appeared to be in the perfect position to resume his chase of Jack Nicklaus' all-time majors record, but instead was just enough off on every facet of his game to add this Open to his list of disappointments.  Lee Westwood looked to be in command for much of the front nine, but it all began to slip away with frightening rapidity when it frankly looked as if the pressure got to him.  Not that it would have mattered with Mickelson's miracle, but at this stage in his career one has to think that Westwood will join Colin Montgomerie in the club of greatest players to never win a major.

The way Mickelson is playing right now, you can't count him out to finally capture the one win that would truly lift him to legendary status - the U.S. Open. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chet Flippo

Somehow, I had missed the news last month that Chet Flippo had died at the age of 69.  Although he's probably best known for his writing (and other work) on country music, back in the golden age of Rolling Stone magazine he was the man entrusted to cover Jann S. Wenner's favorite band, the Rolling Stones (in addition to many other profiles, including those of then-obscure artists that he treasured like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton).  Flippo was there in 1975 in San Antonio when the Stones took one of the most ridiculous publicity photos of all time in front of the Alamo, he was there at the El Mocambo Tavern in Toronto in 1977 when the Stones played one of the more famous club dates in rock history, made all the more so by the fact that Keith was so hooked on heroin that it was even odds whether he'd survive the gig, and he was there in 1978 to get thrown off the tour after Mick blew a gasket over the negative reviews of a Stones show (by Dave Marsh) and "Some Girls" (by Paul Nelson, although it should be noted that Nelson was really just saying the album wasn't up to the standards of their classics).  And, he was there for the triumphant return of Mick and Keith a year later in Canada, when they paid their penance by doing a series of shows for charity.

As time goes by, more and more of the great first generation of rock writers are passing on - Lester Bangs, Paul Nelson, Robert Palmer, and now Flippo.  They were all giants, and they are all missed.


95 More Songs of Summer - "Life's Been Good"

Joe Walsh has always been smart enough to recognize, great guitar playing notwithstanding, that he's one of the luckiest motherf*ckers on the planet.  A funny guy, middle of the road star, who would have been destined to be one of those guys playing 250 nights a year, in the smallest, smelliest clubs your town has to offer.

But then Bernie Leadon decided that life on the road wasn't for him, and the Eagles came calling.  And Walsh was always smart enough not to take the Don Felder route, and act like he was the equal of Don Henley and Glenn Frey.  He's just there to have a good time, make a ton of money, and enjoy life.  Heck, he probably spends his non-Eagles time playing exactly the kind of clubs I mentioned above.

In this great song from 1978, Walsh looks inward, and lets us in on the joke.  You could certainly do worse than live your life by the adage, "I can't complain, but sometimes I still do."

"Life's Been Good," Joe Walsh, from the summer of 1978.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "The Reason"

This is one of those rare songs where I can remember exactly what I was doing when hearing it for the first time.  I don't remember the exact date or time, but know that I was running, listening to one of the few decent radio stations in Sacramento on a Sony Walkman.  Which tells you how much has changed in just the past decade, when it comes to devices designed for personal music listening.

Clearly, "The Reason" exceeded Hoobastank's ability.  That's not intended to be an insult, but just a statement of fact.  It happens every now and then, a band comes up with a song so memorable and of such high quality that it eclipses everything that follows it.  Such was the case with this song.

But this also one of those rare songs that will get played from now through eternity, because it really is that good.

"The Reason," Hoobastank, from the summer of 2004.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The SRRMH Sports Report

You wouldn't know it from the lack of attention on the blog, but I am still paying attention to sports these days.  A few random comments.

Muirfield.  So we have the Open Championship in store for us this weekend, back at Muirfield (home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, almost certainly the classiest name of a golf club on the planet) after an absence of 11 years.  The course rightly has a reputation for being one where great champions are crowned.  Just take a gander at these champions in the Muirfield Opens held since 1959:

1959 - Gary Player
1966 - Jack Nicklaus
1972 - Lee Trevino
1980 - Tom Watson
1987 - Nick Faldo
1992 - Nick Faldo
2002 - Ernie Els

Nope, no slackers or unexpected winners on that list.  And given the size of the Open rota these days, this is (barring a miracle) the last chance for our greatest modern champions, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, to add their names to that august list.  Notwithstanding Phil's victory in the Scottish Open last weekend, Tiger's odds of being the man are probably greater than Phil's, if only because he's proven he can win a major across the pond.  But the reports indicate mild weather, which could open the field up to some of the rising stars.  At this point I'll believe Tiger can win another major when he wins another major, but I'm not prepared to go out on a limb for anyone else either.  We shall see.

Tim Lincecum.  With the Giants mired near the cellar, it seems possible if not likely that they're about to start a rebuilding phase, and reports all over the place are speculating that Tim Lincecum is the most likely player to be dealt, given that he becomes a free agent at the end of the season and hasn't exactly set the world on fire the past two seasons.

But what a magnificent moment last Saturday night - a 148 pitch no-hitter?  That kind of thing just doesn't happen in this day and age, and Lincecum would have been the last player in the world that I'd have picked to pull off such a feat.  I still remember when, in his first couple of seasons, I used to worry during every single start that he was going to break down.  It just didn't seem possible that a pitcher of that physical stature and unusual delivery could last long in the majors.

Though fully defensible from a business standpoint, it will be a very sad day if Lincecum is traded.  More than any other single player, he has come to represent the Giants during this era of greatness, the perfect manifestation of all that is San Francisco - the wild delivery, the long hair (until this season), the occasional flirtation with banned substances.  It would seem that his best days are behind him (though I would love to be proven wrong), but even if his career were to end right now, good luck trying to think of many pitchers than can boast of two Cy Young Awards, two World Series rings, and a no-hitter. 

Johnny Manziel.  So he was suffering from dehyrdration when he shirked his responsibilities at the Manning camp?  I'll bet he was - I've had similar afflictions the morning after having indulged in a few too many beverages of the adult variety.  If nothing else, the guy's got historically bad timing, pulling a stunt like this at the very moment that the nation, in the wake of Aaron Hernandez, is taking a closer look at the private lives of football players.

Keith Olbermann.  We didn't get cable at my house until 1997, right after Olbermann had left, so I missed what were apparently the golden days of Sportscenter, with Olbermann and Dan Patrick.  But I did see Olbermann in a sports setting when he was part of the Sunday night crew, and thought he was really funny and really good at it.  And frankly, most of ESPN's nightly people are deadly dull these days, so I'm looking forward to checking his new show out.

Sacramento Kings.  I have NO idea how good (or not) they will be next year, but I can't emphasize strongly enough how nice it is to see them actually TRYING to get good.  No matter what happens, next season should be a honeymoon year for the new staff and players, but hopefully we're on the right track.

Dwightmare.  There you have it, ladies and gentlemen - the first prominent athlete in the history of sports to voluntarily leave Los Angeles.  All I can say for the sake of his legacy is that he'd better win a ring in Houston - or he'll end up as one of the all-time laughing stocks of the NBA. 

95 More Songs of Summer - An Elton John Daily Double

It's not Tuesday, but we'll go for a two-fer today to get this year's project back on schedule (yay!).

Looking back on his 70s output some 40 years later, it's clear (clearer now than then, at least) that he was a great artist, but also one of the more inconsistent great artists of his time.  You couldn't pigeonhole him - he had great rockers and lousy rockers; he had great ballads and lousy ballads.  I'll stand by my statement that his albums from '72 through '75 represent one of the great periods that any artist has ever enjoyed, but among them, you can probably only point to "Honky Chateau" and "Captain Fantastic" as being fully realized, totally consistent works.  Even "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," one of the great double albums of its day, suffered from some real clinkers.

These two songs, both ballads, are examples of Elton as his best.  Both songs are a touch on the melodramatic side, but Elton's larger-than-life personality is more than a match for their content, both musically and lyrically.  They have both stood the test of time, and the definitive versions remain the Elton originals.
Elton John, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me," and "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," from the summers of 1974 and 1975, respectively.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Turn the Beat Around"

We're definitely into one-hit wonder territory with this one, but it should count for something that the song became a hit again, roughly a decade following the original.  It should also be noted that the Vickie Sue Robinson original blows the Gloria Estefan remake right out of the water.  Yes, this was "disco," but it was also before the backlash had hit full force and weak-minded people began to allow others to dictate for them what was "cool" and what was not.

As an added bonus, this video features an introduction by Paul Williams, currently making an unlikely comeback of his own on "Touch," one of the best songs on the new Daft Punk album. 

"Turn the Beat Around," Vickie Sue Robinson, from the summer of 1976.

Monday, July 15, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Anthrax"

And now, something completely different.

The road to me becoming a fan of Gang of Four and their debut album "Entertainment!" was a circuitous one.  At the beginning, the only song I listened to on that first record with anything approaching active enjoyment was "I Found That Essence Rare," which was also the album's simplest, most straightforward song.  The second album, "Solid Gold," didn't help much, even though some of my Berkeley dorm-mates were disappointed (way too disappointed, if you ask me) that I wouldn't try harder to enjoy them.  One went so far as to say, "hey, I spent time listening to Springsteen like you wanted me too, and now I actually like him...you need to work at this!"

It was really 1982's "Songs of the Free," featuring the great single "I Love a Man in a Uniform," that won me over.  For the band, that was pretty much it, although they did release an album in 1983 and have reunited on occasion.  But once that album pushed me beyond the first layer of the onion, I was "all in," and now think the 1980 debut is pretty close to being a masterpiece.

Needless to say, this kind of music isn't for everyone.  But even though it took me a while to get there, I like it.

"Anthrax," Gang of Four, from the summer of 1980.

95 More Songs of Summer - "Luka"

The biggest hit that Suzanne Vega ever had (and probably the biggest she'll ever had) succeeds in part because of its contradictions - first and foremost it's a pop song, one with a memorable melody that would stick with you regardless of what Vega happened to be singing about.  But since she happened to be singing about domestic child abuse (and women, I'd argue, although the video focuses on the former), you couldn't help but think about the message of the song, even as it bore its way into your brain.  This kind of thing probably wouldn't work all of the time, but in this instance it was an unqualified success.

"Luka," Suzanne Vega, from the summer of 1987.

95 More Songs of Summer - "The Love You Save"

The world got so caught up in the drama over Michael Jackson's life that sometimes I wonder how many people remember that he was a brilliant artist.  From the time the Jackson 5 hit it big in 1969/70, Michael was clearly the star, and a supernova at that.  I think it was Dave Marsh who referred to him as a miniature James Brown.  That's not so far off.

The early Jackson 5 singles were also proof that great music could be the result of a corporate machine - even the songwriting credits of those early hits were credited to "The Corporation."  The exception that proves the rule, perhaps, but true.

"The Love You Save," The Jackson 5," from the summer of 1970.

Friday, July 12, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Blurred Lines"

I don't think there's any question that this is one of the two songs of summer 2013, along with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." 

Thanks to the video (and this is the "safe" version), it's also generated backlash from women and others who see the song's message - particularly as that message is conveyed by the "not safe for work" version of the video - as blatantly sexist and encouraging of violence against women. 

It's a fair point, particularly when all of the men in the video are fully clothed and the women - depending on which version you watch - are scantily clad or not at all, but it's also an age old story that goes back to the very beginnings of rock 'n roll.  The example that always comes to my mind first is the protests against the Stones in 1978 over the song "Some Girls," which led to Mick Jagger's hilarious (if dismissive) comment, "f*ck 'em if they can't take a joke."

As a 53-year old male, I'm not sure that I'm entitled to an opinion on something like this, but for my part I find the video so ridiculous and campy (in a "Sharknado" kind of way) that it feels almost as if the women are making fun of the men.  And man, this is one hell of a catchy song - I defy anyone who hears it to try and force themselves to stand still for the entirety of its length.

There's been some good writing on the topic, so if you have a moment, please check out these thoughtful pieces about the song and what it means by a couple of outstanding writers, Ann Friedman and Ann Powers.

"Blurred Lines," Robin Thicke (featuring Pharrell and T.I.), from the summer of 2013.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Prove It All Night"

About all you have to do to make a Bruce Springsteen fan start salivating is say "Prove It All Night, 1978 version."  That arrangement of the song, which he played during the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, is justifiably legendary, and quite simply of the great performances in the history of rock 'n roll.  With some variations (and thanks to YouTube, many '78 versions are now available), the song begins with a piano intro by Roy Bittan with Max on drums and Clarence on triangle, and then Bruce on guitar performing guitar pyrotechnics worthy of Tom Morello - the kind of stuff you don't see him do that much anymore, since Nils joined the band.  Then the entire band joins in, until the music achieves a level of tension so high that you think the song just might crack in two.  And all of that happens before Bruce actually starts singing the song.

He's begun playing the '78 version again in the last couple of years (but just every now and then), but it's not likely that the band will ever top the performances they gave 35 years ago (though I'd love to see them try).

Amazing stuff.  "Prove It All Night," Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, from the summer of 1978.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Diane Young"

In my mid-year wrapup a couple of weeks ago, I noted how strong I thought the quality of music has been in these first six months of 2013.  Given that, it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to some songs that have been in heavy rotation for me in what is turning out to be a very hot summer.

The more I listen to Vampire Weekend's "Modern Vampires of the City," the stronger it sounds.  Which is pretty amazing, considering that the last album didn't do all that much for me.

"Diane Young," Vampire Weekend, from the summer of 2013.

Monday, July 08, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Too Late to Turn Back Now"

I was really hoping to find a performance video of this tune, especially since I distinctly remember seeing them perform on American Bandstand.  But this will have to do.

The 70s was a great era for terrific soul songs from lesser known artists, and this one fit the bill perfectly.  A nice addition to the radio during the summer of '72.

"Too Late to Turn Back Now," Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, from the summer of 1972.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Take Me Home, Country Roads"

In the 70s, I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with John Denver.  Every now and then, he would pull a classic, classic song out of his hat - this one, "Rocky Mountain High," "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" - but then he'd come up with some ridiculous dreck like "Annie's Song" or "I'm Sorry," and I couldn't turn the dial fast enough.  But he was always a likable guy, seemed like a kind soul, and if for nothing else he'll always be remembered for the Christmas album he recorded with the Muppets.

This is one of the great ones, and to my knowledge the only John Denver song covered by Toots & the Maytals.

"Take Me Home, Country Roads," John Denver, from the summer of 1971.

95 More Songs of Summer - "I Love You More Today Than Yesterday"

I have to admit that until watching this video, I had no idea what this band looked like.  This is a great song, but unless I've forgotten something, this was the only hit that Spiral Starecase ever had.  But hey, it still gets played on oldies stations today, so that's a form of immortality in and of itself.  And the band was from Sacramento!  Wonder if any of them are still around today.

"I Love You More Today Than Yesterday," Spiral Starecase, from the summer of 1969.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Glory Days"

It's a topic for another post on another day, but the way that a lot of hardcore Bruce fans treat "Born in the U.S.A." has always aggravated me.  Sure, it's the album that introduced Bruce to the masses, led to stadium shows and generally made it more difficult to get tickets.  And no, it's not "Born to Run" or "Darkness on the Edge of Town."

But it's also the only album of Bruce's to top the Pazz 'n Jop poll, and it's the only Bruce album that was awarded an A-plus by Christgau.

This is one of the most joyous Bruce performances in a career full of them - from Dave Letterman's last show on NBC.

"Glory Days," Bruce Springsteen, from the summer of 1984.

Friday, July 05, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "Smoke on the Water"

When this song came out, I'm pretty sure that me and my buddies in 8th grade thought it was a lot more lyrically dangerous than it actually is.  A song about the band's recording of an album, and the difficulty they had in finding a place to record?  Now that's some exciting stuff.

But it's a great song - and even though I'm not sure it made it as high as #1, it was certainly in heavy rotation in this neck of the woods that summer.  And then, at the end of the school year in '74, my 8th grade class chose it as the theme for our graduation dance.  I think we thought we were being cool and edgy.

"Smoke on the Water," Deep Purple, from the summer of 1973.

95 More Songs of Summer - "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love"

Petula Clark was a big hit in my house when I was growing up, and we damn near wore out a copy of her Greatest Hits album.  When I was organizing the 50 years of music collection for my parents when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I was only too happy to fork over the money for a compilation CD, so I could make sure to get some of her songs on there.

"Downtown" is her best and best known song, but Ms. Clark had other very good songs, this being one of them. 

"I Couldn't Live Without Your Love," Petula Clark, from the summer of 1966.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

"They Are Suspect"

"That poor animal is unfit for this job, and I suspect the same about him.  I hope to God in His Glory I am wrong, sincerely I do, but there it is.  They are suspect.  That dog will help him realize he is not right for this job.  Then she'll go back to that family, and he'll retire or transfer to a more suitable job, and all of us will be happier for it." - Sergeant Dominick Leland, LAPD K-9 Unit

Scott James was an up-and-coming LAPD officer, bound for great things in the department.  Maggie was a three-year old, 85 pound black-and-tan German shepherd dog - officially, Military Working Dog Maggie T415.  As a result of tragedies on different sides of the world, they were brought together as partners in LAPD's K-9 unit.  In those tragedies, they each lost their partners - in Maggie's case, Corporal Pete Gibbs; in Scott's, Officer Stephanie Anders.  Neither has fully recovered from their injuries, or from the sudden, traumatic death of their partners.  They are suspect.

Scott and Maggie are the primary characters of Robert Crais' "Suspect," which - hold on to your hats - is the best book that Crais has written since "L.A. Requiem," his 1999 masterpiece.  Crais is best known for his books featuring Elvis Cole and Joe Pike (some with Elvis in the lead, others with Pike), but he's written other stand-alone books when he saw the need to give Elvis and Joe a rest.  But although the other stand-alones were entertaining, "Suspect" is the first that in quality stands with the Cole/Pike novels, and in some cases, above them.

Crais did his homework for this one, because his portrayal of Maggie gives her fully equal footing as a character.  After a while, you stop thinking of her as a dog, and just consider her one of the main characters of the book - one with emotions, one with intelligence, and one with fierce loyalty to her "pack" - in this instance, Scott.  Maggie is the most important character of the book, because if Crais wasn't able to make her believable and sympathetic, he's got no book - it just wouldn't work.

Which isn't to say that Scott James is a slouch.  He is as determined as he is damaged, determined to find the men who killed his partner and left him for dead.  And in the course of trying to solve that mystery, he connects with other detectives that Crais has drawn as fully-fleshed out characters - most prominently, Joyce Cowly.  But the most memorable supporting character is Sgt. Leland, who loves his officers almost as much as he loves his dogs - and he makes it very clear to his recruits that the dogs are to be treated as equals, deserving of love and respect.

Crais is a master of spinning a tale that builds in suspense over the course of a book, to a point where you're left almost breathless when all of the threads come together.  In "Suspect," Scott and Maggie are dealing with some very worth adversaries - smart (if corrupt) men who instinctively know how to stay one step ahead of the investigation.

And when those threads do come together, and all of the primary characters are together in a life-or-death situation for all of them, the tension and emotion are almost unbearable.  It's a brilliant moment for Crais, in a career full of them.  This is great work, and the best book I've read in 2013.

95 More Songs of Summer - "It Don't Come Easy"

How can you not like Ringo?  He may have been in the right place at the right time, but he was a pretty awesome drummer in his own right.

And how about George?  One of the best songs he'd written, and he is gracious enough to give it to Ringo?

Great performance, even if Ringo does get a little fuzzy on the lyrics, from the great "Concert for Bangladesh" film. 

"It Don't Come Easy," Ringo Starr, from the summer of 1971.

95 More Songs of Summer - "Bad Moon Rising"

And what better band to listen to on this fine Independence Day holiday than the greatest American rock band that ever was?

"Bad Moon Rising," Creedence Clearwater Revival, from the summer of 1969.

95 More Songs of Summer - "Grazing in the Grass"

Now this one just sounds like summer, doesn't it? 

We won't be doing much grazing in the grass on this fine Independence Day holiday, given that we're in for our sixth straight day of temperatures in excess of 105 degrees.  But at least I don't have to wear a suit today, thank God.

"Grazing in the Grass," Hugh Masakela, from the summer of 1968.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

95 More Songs of Summer - "You Won't See Me"

Confession time - the first time I heard the Anne Murray version of this song, I had no idea it originated with The Beatles.  I'd yet to hear the entire "Rubber Soul" album, which would have to wait for a couple of years.

The thing is, the Anne Murray version is great - and while it may be blasphemy for me to say so, just as good as the original.  Wish she was known more for this than "Snowbird."

"You Won't See Me," Anne Murray, from the summer of 1974.