music friday: 1975

Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run". In 1975, when this album came out and my wife and I saw him in concert for the first of dozens of times, the lyric "Someday girl, I don't know when, we're gonna get to that place where we really wanna go, and we'll walk in the sun, but 'till then, tramps like us, baby we were born to run" seemed like a romantic look at our future. Now we're 64 years old, and Bruce is almost 70, and we've heard the song hundreds (thousands?) of times, and sung along with it at concerts 30 or so more times, and that lyric still hits me hard. Because when you're 64, no matter how well your life has gone, you know that you're never going to get to that place where you really wanna go.

Patti Smith, "Gloria". Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine.

Donna Summer, "Love to Love You Baby". Publications argued over how many orgasms there were in the long version.

Bob Dylan, "Tangled Up in Blue". Dylan's early-70s records weren't all that ... yes, his label did release Bob singing "Big Yellow Taxi" ... but he re-teamed with The Band, put out a decent album, went on a successful tour with them (our first time seeing him), and then, in 1975, came Blood on the Tracks and the release of The Basement Tapes. You could be forgiven for thinking at that point that Dylan would go on forever at the top of his game. But it took until the 90s before he started putting out good records, and he didn't really reach another peak until the 21st century. Which could convince you that he was always at the top of his game, if you are able to forget things like the album he made with The Grateful Dead.

Parliament, "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)". Perhaps in an homage to James Brown, who was so good at giving us parenthetical titles like "I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)", when this track was released as a single, it was called "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)".

Joni Mitchell, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns". Prince loved this album.

Dorothy Moore, "Misty Blue". A country music hit in the 60s. Moore's version isn't country.

The J. Geils Band, "Love-Itis". J. Geils was always good at finding semi-obscure R&B songs and turning them into, well, J. Geils music. The original was by Harvey Scales and The Seven Sounds, and J. Geils didn't mess with it much. My wife tired of this song a few decades ago, because I was always putting it on mix tapes and singing along.

Minnie Riperton, "Inside My Love". Her first single after "Lovin' You". In 1976, she was diagnosed with cancer; in 1979, she died.

Led Zeppelin, "Kashmir". My favorite Led Zeppelin song, which puts me in good company ... Robert Plant, among others, agrees. I find this quote from Wikipedia to be perfect:

"If you listen to 'Kashmir' very loud, it's just unbelievable," enthused Swans front man Michael Gira. "Jimmy Page's guitar is lyrical and soulful – just beautiful. I don't understand what Robert Plant is saying, though I suppose that's a good thing. I don't know the lyrics. I think they're about hobbits or something."

I hate every single cover version I have ever heard of "Born to Run". It's simply sacrilege. But I never tire of hearing versions of "Kashmir", because it's all about the riffs. Heck, Jimmy doesn't even play a solo to speak of. Puff Daddy might have the best cover, because he wrote an entirely different lyric and pasted it onto the "Kashmir" riff. He also got Page to play on the track. Amazingly, it was for the soundtrack to an awful Godzilla movie.

Other guitarists love the riff, too:

 Spotify playlist

music friday: bruce springsteen at winterland, 12/15/78

Hard to believe it's been 39 years since Bruce played the first of two nights at Winterland. I wrote about it back in 2002:

The first show, December 15, 1978, is widely bootlegged and is considered by fans to be one of the handful of greatest Bruce concerts of all time ... the Brucelegs website calls it "Probably the most famous show Bruce will ever do." The show was broadcast on local radio. I stood on the floor with the teeming masses; Robin sat with my brother David, his then-wife Bonnie, and perhaps other folks, in seats just off the floor. There was no aisle to walk up this time, so for "Spirit in the Night," Bruce just laid down on top of the fans, who passed him around, being thoughtful enough to roll him back towards the stage and the mic just in time for him to get the next verse. (OK, in 2002, the audience roll is a cliche, but in 1978, not a lot of artists were doing it.) He played "Prove It All Night" for more than ten minutes. He played "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." He played "The Fever," which at the time was known as a Southside Johnny song; he played "Fire," which was a Robert Gordon song before it was a Pointer Sisters song. He played "Because the Night," which at the time was a Patti Smith song. He played "Point Blank," which at that time wasn't KNOWN as a song. And among the encores were the Mitch Ryder Detroit Medley AND "Raise Your Hand" AND "Quarter to Three." It was a magnificent show, and since we were in different places in Winterland, it was the only Bruce show where Robin and I didn't sit together.

Some things have changed since 1978/2002. I've been to a few Bruce shows that Robin didn't attend. And while bootlegs were a big deal back in the day, and the first night at Winterland was highly regarded partly because the radio broadcast made for easy bootlegging, the most acclaimed shows from that period were all broadcast (there was a Cleveland show, and a Passaic show that are great and remembered).

Nowadays, every concert is almost instantly available ... I've been to shows where excerpts have hit YouTube before I get home. Bruce himself now has a site,, where you can buy properly mixed versions of various concerts. So, except for those of us who were there, Winterland '78 isn't a total standout ... the 1978 tour is often considered his greatest, but that's a lot of shows. (The second night of Winterland was great, too, but it wasn't on the radio.)

Here are a few samples of Bruce in 1978.


music friday: 2017 and me

Everyone is offering up their Best-Of lists for the end of the year, so I'll try something similar for this week's Music Friday. I'm looking at the last 365 days rather than just 2017. According to, four tracks are tied for the most played by me over the past year. Three of them make sense.

There's Van Morrison with "Brown Eyed Girl". Here he performs it in 1973:

And here's Bruce in 2014:

Next up is Dr. John the Night Tripper with "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya". When Dr. John's first album came out, it sounded like nothing I'd ever heard. It makes a lot more sense now.

Here comes Judy Collins with "Suzanne". I saw her for my first-ever concert back in 1967. In this video from 1976, she duets with the song's writer, Leonard Cohen:

Here's Randy Newman's "Suzanne" for comparison:

I said three of these songs made sense ... all of them from the 60s. Here's the one that surprised me, even though I apparently listened to it a lot over the past year: Ry Cooder's "Trouble, You Can't Fool Me", from his 1979 album Bop till You Drop. It was written by Frederick Knight and Aaron Varnell (Knight later wrote Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell").


music friday: sweet soul music

It's the anniversary of Arthur Conley's death. He died 14 years ago today. He seems destined to always be remembered as a One-Hit Wonder, that hit being "Sweet Soul Music". Conley was taken under the wing of Otis Redding, who helped put together "Sweet Soul Music". He seemed to be an ideal mentor for Conley, but he died in a plane crash later that year. Conley career floundered. Ed Ward tells the story:

In the mid-'70s, Conley abruptly moved to London. That proved expensive, so the next stop was Brussels, which he found too hectic. He then headed to Amsterdam and changed his name to Lee Roberts. Nobody knew Lee Roberts, and at last Conley was able to live in peace with a secret he'd hidden - or thought he had - for his entire career - he was gay. But nobody in Holland cared.

"Sweet Soul Music" was "based" on a Sam Cooke tune, "Yeah Man" ... "based" as in a lawsuit resulted in Cooke's name being listed a co-composer.

The horn introduction borrows from the theme for The Magnificent Seven:

Here is Arthur singing his hit in 1967:

Finally, here's Bruce Springsteen, who has performed "Sweet Soul Music" many times. The video quality is poor, but the audio is fine, and this one is dear to my heart, because it's the only time I saw him play the song in concert. 1988:


music friday: solo lou reed in the 70s

I had a serious Lou Reed obsession in the 1970s. Saw him several times, the first being in late 1974 on the Sally Can't Dance tour (a show I wrote about here) ... I think the last time I saw him was in 1989. Some of this was lingering Velvets love. I'd been a fan of theirs since the first album, but I was 13 when it was released and living on the other coast, so my love of the band came from their records (and their infrequent appearances on FM radio), not because I lived the life or saw them in concert. My favorite of his 70s albums was Coney Island Baby. I had a homemade Coney Island Baby t-shirt ... my wife made it for me:

Coney island baby

When we were first married, we had a hand-me-down record player ... I think it only played mono, and the stylus was awful, so it probably ruined a lot of vinyl. I played Berlin over and over, then I played Rock and Roll Animal over and over ... after that, we might have finally gotten a good stereo. Once we started going to see his shows in earnest, I saw him a couple of times at Berkeley Community Theater (Rock and Roll Heart tour and New York tour), and a couple more times at the Old Waldorf, a showcase club where you could buy "dinner seats" and sit right up against the stage ... it was then that Robin decided Lou's hands looked like her grandfather's from Iowa. I especially liked the band that turns up on Take No Prisoners. I'm not a big fan of the album, but the band sounds like my memories of a Lou Concert. I never saw the Velvets, and I never saw the great band with Robert Quine and Fernando Saunders (although Fernando was in the band for several of the shows we saw), so I'm sure I missed the best, but that late-70s band as good.

Here are six Lou songs from the 70s. I'll give a special shoutout for the last three. "Coney Island Baby" remains my favorite Lou Reed Solo track ever, for the way his voice breaks at the end as he says "Man I swear I'd give the whole thing up for you." "Temporary Thing" feels like a lost classic to me ("Where's the number, where's the dime and where's the phone?"). And "Street Hassle" is his magnum opus ... even has an appearance by Bruce Springsteen.

You know, some people got no choice
And they can never find a voice
To talk with that they can even call their own
So the first thing that they see
That allows them the right to be
Why they follow it
You know, it's called bad luck


music friday: happy birthday, steven rubio's online life

This blog turns 15 years old today.

I was 48 years old when I started.

The first music post (second post overall), from that first day on January 6, 2002, had a picture of Robin I called “The Cowgirl and the Cactus”, and a link to the Bruce Springsteen song, “Used Cars”. There was no apparent connection between Robin and the song.

Here is what I wrote on the occasion of the 14th birthday:

There is something old-fashioned about persisting in a format that has long been overtaken by other forms of online presentation.

And there is something odd about continuing to write for the smallest of audiences.

But think of this: my blog has never had advertising. I’ve never made any money from it, unless you count published writing that had its root here (i.e. I was “discovered” via my blog writing ... of course, much of my published writing has been unpaid/academic). This allows me to pretend my writing is “pure”.

Changes have occurred over time. I used to write about a broader area. I hesitate now to write about things where I know people who can do better jobs, so I rarely write about politics, and I write less about sports than I did in the past. The blog has become an arts site, where I write about TV, movies, and music ... and admittedly, when someone has asked me to write for publication, it’s those areas that come up.

I know there is some good writing buried in the past fourteen years, pieces where I happen to read them by accident and don’t always know they are mine until I’m finished, and I think, “I am good enough”. The published stuff, which doesn’t appear here, is of varying quality ... I think my piece on punk cinema for Nick Rombes was good, ditto for my Bugs Bunny Meets Picasso essay for Michael Berube. My Battlestar Galactica and King Kong essays might be the best of my Smart Pop work. Point is, the form is shorter, but I occasionally reach those heights on this blog. Maybe for 2016 I should find a way to foreground Past Classics.

What I hope to avoid as much as possible is the type of naked confessional I am far too capable of indulging in. It’s worth repeating every once in awhile the motto for this blog, Kael’s “I’m frequently asked why I don’t write my memoirs. I think I have.”

music friday: shout

I’ve been posting music videos on Facebook for my cousin, and he recently responded with a great old Sister Rosetta Tharpe video. Sister Rosetta was one of the first big gospel music stars, and her willingness to crossover to mainstream audiences meant she was a seminal rock-and-roller, which some thought wasn’t appropriate for gospel music. To my ear, her music was always gospel, no matter what she added (her guitar is always great, as you can see here):

The Isley Brothers had a hit in 1959 with one of the most durable songs in rock and roll, “Shout”. The fervor and call-and-response structure identified it as gospel, but they weren’t singing about the Lord. This was sex.

“Shout” has been a part of American music culture ever since, with perhaps its most famous appearance being with “Otis Day & The Knights” in Animal House:

And it still gets played today:

music friday: bruce, sleater-kinney, and a promised land

My two favorites are on my mind today. It’s Bruce Springsteen’s 67th birthday, which he is marking with the release of his autobiography, Born to Run. Meanwhile, Sleater-Kinney have announced a New Year’s Eve show in San Francisco.

In 2002, we saw Sleater-Kinney for the 8th time. It was the second time we’d seen them at the Fillmore. It was, in fact, exactly 14 years ago today. Which, as you might have figured out, meant I saw Sleater-Kinney on Bruce Springsteen’s birthday. And they did me a favor: they played “Promised Land”.

Someone named Han Q Duong had a website devoted to S-K back then, and he wrote after I commented on this show, “I'm glad they played Promised Land for him, as his entire blog is pretty much entirely Sleater-Kinney and Bruce Springsteen, with a little bit of the San Francisco Giants mixed in.”

When I got home that night, I had to post something to the blog before I went to sleep:

they played promised land

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

More later, I gotta go to bed.

Theirs is a sped-up version, with highlight moments for all of them. And, as Michael Tedder said, “Weiss is playing the harmonica while drumming on this, because there’s nothing Janet Fucking Weiss can’t do.”

The date on this is September 25 ... close enough:

And then there’s this, one of my favorite photos:

corin bruce

throw me back to 2005

On this date in 2005, we saw Bruce Springsteen on the Devils and Dust tour. At the time, I wrote:

Next up was the weirdest version of "Reason to Believe" in history. He stomped his foot for a drum, played harmonica, and sang into some oddball mic that distorted his voice beyond recognition, so even someone like me, who knew it was coming, didn't recognize the song until it was almost over. Try to imagine Captain Beefheart singing Delta blues from the bottom of a swamp ... it was downright scary sounding.

Here he is performing it a month later, to give you an idea:

Two years later, it had morphed into this stunning version:

Seen a man standin' over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch
He's lookin' down kinda puzzled pokin' that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open he's standin' out on Highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough that dog'd get up and run
Struck me kinda funny seem kinda funny sir to me
Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe