music friday: 1977

Here is a Top Ten countdown from the Billboard Hot 100 charts for September 3, 1977:

10. Electric Light Orchesta, “Telephone Line”. One of my two or three favorite ELO songs. It eventually made it to #7. It was part of the soundtrack for the 1977 movie Joyride, which featured a bunch of actors with famous parents: Desi Arnaz, Jr., Robert Carradine, Melanie Griffith, and Anne Lockhart.

9. The Brothers Johnson, “Strawberry Letter 23”. Originally written by Shuggie Otis, who included it on a 1971 album. It peaked at #5.

8. Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t Stop”. Made it to #3. Great song. It was bad enough that those two mid-70s albums got played into the ground ... this one was incessant during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

7. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Just a Song Before I Go”. This is as high as it got on the charts, and it was the highest-charting single in the band’s career. The album from which it came, CSN, received one of Christgau’s most quotable reviews, which read simply, “Wait a second--wasn't this a quartet? D+” I saw Young in concert once, CSNY once, and CSN once (not counting Bridge benefits). Neil Young and Crazy Horse was far and away the best of the shows (you can see it in the concert film Rust Never Sleeps, which was filmed at our show). CSNY was OK ... it was their 1974 tour ... but honestly, they were outdone by The Band, who played before them. CSN was a bit of a joke ... 1984 at Candlestick Park after a Giants game.

6. The Floaters, “Float On”. Actually made it to #2. Honestly, I can’t remember a thing about this one. Maybe if I listen to the YouTube, I’ll remember it. (Nope.) Well, the Internet tells me the album version ran almost 12 minutes.

5. James Taylor, “Handy Man”. Probably the less I say about James Taylor, the better. This hit #4. (The link is to the Jimmy Jones version.)

4. The Commodores, “Easy”. This is as high on the charts as it got. Amazingly, it first appeared on the same album as “Brick House”.

3. Rita Coolidge, “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher”. It actually climbed to #2. I can’t resist quoting Christgau again. “It takes a very special kind of stupidity to slow "Higher and Higher" into a down. C”

2. Andy Gibb, “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”. Was #1 for four weeks. Fleetwood Mac, CSN, James Taylor, Rita Coolidge, Andy Gibb ... it was the Soft Rock Era! Some of these songs are good, some not so good, but Fleetwood Mac blows them all out of the water.

1. The Emotions, “Best of My Love”. This spent five weeks at the top.

Bubbling under the top ten, one song stands out: at #18, “Black Betty” by Ram Jam. (The Wikipedia page about the song is worth a read.) The band was produced by a team with roots in bubblegum ... the band’s leader came from a psychedelic bubble gum band, The Lemon Pipers. Authorship of the song is disputed, but Lead Belly gets credit on the record. What do you get if you combine bubblegum and Lead Belly? Whatever it is, the NAACP didn’t approve, and tried to boycott the recording. “Black Betty”. (A remix hit the charts in 1990.)

I’ll add one more, Jackie Wilson singing “Higher and Higher”. This is not the original hit, but some kind of live performance. Unlike Coolidge, Wilson actually speeds it up a bit.

music friday: linda perry, pink, "what's up?", and sense8

In 1992, a San Francisco band called 4 Non Blondes released what would be their only album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More! The second single from that album, released in 1993, was “What’s Up?” It was a hit, and the video for the song was very popular on MTV. When the dust had cleared, that one album by 4 Non Blondes had sold six million copies. Critical opinion of “What’s Up?” varies ... it makes lots of One Hit Wonders lists, and also makes lists of the worst songs of all time. It’s got a catchy sing-along chorus, and the lyrics are vague and hippie-like.

Now, I would have thought this song came and went, occasionally recalled by folks nostalgic for that time in the early-90s when they were teenagers and this was their anthem. People like Alecia Moore, better known as Pink, who was born in 1979 and was a big fan of the song and Linda Perry, who wrote it and sang it. Pink asked Perry to work on her second album, Perry offered up the song “Get This Party Started”, and the album, M!ssundaztood, eventually sold thirteen million copies. On tour, Pink would sing “What’s Up?”. I caught this the first time I saw her in concert in 2002, and then again when she played the Fillmore in 2006. After that show, I wrote:

Her audience was completely in love with her ... there were a lot of young girls there, young women as well, as is appropriate, and it was their show, they knew every song and sang every lyric. They even knew every word to 4 Non Blonde's "What's Up," which Pink claims as her own. No matter how corny the song, or Pink's delivery of the same, it's quite a moment when all those youngsters throw the peace sign in the air and sing "hey hey hey hey, what's going on?" In fact, it's this element of pop community that I like best about Pink concerts, it would seem, since I wrote about a singalong in my blog post about that earlier show four years ago.

What's odd is that Pink hooked up with Linda Perry for M!ssundaztood, and Perry wrote a lot of the songs for that album, when in fact Linda Perry had written the ultimate Pink song eight years before the two even met. So now Pink sings that song as if she's known it all her life, and based on the voices in the Fillmore who sang every word, her audience has known it all their lives as well, and it's a great pop moment that reflects the optimism of the young just as other Pink songs reflect their sadness. The song indeed no longer belongs to Linda Perry, it belongs to Pink and the fans who know and sing all the words.

Which brings us to the new Netflix TV series, Sense8. Briefly, Sense8 tells the story of eight strangers who have some kind of psychic/emotional link to each other (we’ve only watched four of the twelve first-season episodes, so I’m guessing this gets more clear as the show progresses). Near the end of the fourth episode, one of the eight drunkenly attempts to sing “What’s Up?” at a karaoke bar. All of the other Eight feel the song inside them, and it binds them together in a beautiful way that correctly identifies why “What’s Up?” works no matter how bad or irritating the song might be.

There wasn’t a dry eye at my house. Kinda makes me hate the song, but damn, does it work!

In a fascinating article on the series (“Sense8 and the Failure of Global Imagination”), Claire Light argues convincingly that the show offers “a beautiful vision, if you believe in universality”, but that “To put it plainly: Sense8’s depiction of life in non-western countries is built out of stereotypes ... The universality being promoted here is a universality of American ideas, American popular culture, American world views.... ‘Universing’ everything under an American idea — an American set of choices — is a contradiction in terms”. (“The Icelandic DJ in London puts on 4 Non Blondes’ hideous anthem ‘What’s Goin’ On?’ and infects the entire cluster with a dancing/singing jag.”)

And yet ... that hideous anthem, which did indeed come from America, approached the universal long before Sense8, and not just because young girls knew all the words at Pink concerts. “What’s Up?” hit #1 in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Granted, this only disputes Light’s claim by half ... Africa and Asia and South America are missing from these charts. Her essay is very enlightening. But the pull of that “hideous anthem” somehow seems just right in this case.

Here are two more versions of the song. First, Linda Perry is joined by Pink for an acoustic version:

And finally, the version many think is the best, by He-Man:

music friday: born to read

Last night, we attended a Litquake show, “Born to Read: Celebrating the Lyrics of Springsteen”. Here’s how it was described on the website:

[A] one-of-a-kind celebration, including personal reminiscences and dramatic and musical interpretations. With rock critic and author Ben Fong-Torres, musician Tom Heyman, author/humorist Beth Lisick, San Francisco poet laureate Alejandro Murguia, poet Daphne Gottlieb, rock critic Joel Selvin, and music biographer and musician Sylvie Simmons.

There were a couple of cute “reminiscences” before the start of the actual show, which was hosted by Fong-Torres. He was one of the best things about the show, and I actually learned something from his performance of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. Fong-Torres said the song exposes some of Springsteen’s admitted influences, and he proceeded to start singing the song in the voice of Bob Dylan. His Dylan impression could use some work, but it served its purpose, showing how Dylan-esque Bruce’s lyrics remained on his third album.

What followed was a mixed bag. Part of the problem is down to taste preferences, as usual. I don’t much care for treating song lyrics like poetry. Song lyrics don’t stand alone ... remove the music and you change the meaning. The lyrics of “She’s the One” on the page are lacking the central point of the song: the Bo Diddley beat, with the volume cranked up at the start of the second verse. So the songs where the performer did a reading of the lyrics were not my cup of tea. Alejandro Murquia did what he could with “Meeting Across the River”, but any insights came from having the voice of a Latino behind the words. Joel Selvin sped through “Night” in about 45 seconds ... I assume he was trying to convey the rush of the song, but again, absent the music, he just sounded silly. “Backstreets” has great lyrics, sure, but the meaning of the song is told through the piano and the guitar and the way Bruce channels Van Morrison.

Tom Heyman, a working musician, had a tough job. At least he got to sing and play guitar. But the songs he was given, “Born to Run” and “Jungleland”, don’t lend themselves to an acoustic rendering (even Bruce struggled with this when he sang “Born to Run” solo on one tour). Similarly, Sylvie Simmons was never going to be able to turn “She’s the One” into a ukulele classic (see above). It’s not that these musicians were bad, it’s that their reworkings were doomed to failure from the start. Honestly, Frankie Goes to Hollywood had a better handle on “Born to Run” than Heyman.

Out of all this, one performance rose above the rest. Beth Lisick performed “Thunder Road” as a woman listening on headphones. We couldn’t hear the actual track ... we only heard Lisick, singing (too loud, and just a bit off-key, the way we all do when we sing with headphones on). For once, we sensed the joy that Springsteen’s work provides to his audience, as Lisick danced awkwardly, screwing up the occasional lyric, and then, best of all, acting out the instrumental fadeout. You could hear the instruments in your head, even though no sound came from Lisick. And then, in the single most winning moment of the night, she mimed the Professor playing his little piano phrase. It’s the kind of thing only a hardcore Bruce fan would understand, and it was a roomful of hardcore Bruce fans. The communal feel of recognition was sublime.

A friend who lives in the Northwest felt bad for missing the show, but he offered to read the lyrics in his backyard if anyone wanted to do a road trip his way. I wish “Born to Read” had a bit more of that spirit.

(I should add that I wasn’t keeping notes, so I may have mismatched performers to songs. My apologies if this is true.)

throwup thursday

Ten years ago today, my wife and I went to Cafe duNord to see Mary Gauthier in concert. It was just her and a guitar player. The venue is extremely tiny, which turned out to be a good thing, because the electronics on the guitars wasn't working, so Gauthier did the entire show literally unplugged ... she came off the stage to the front of the floor to get closer to us, and sang her songs.


music friday: mean girls

I watched Mean Girls for the first time yesterday, and since I’m in a hurry, I thought I’d milk its soundtrack for a few songs on a Music Friday post. Soundtracks of popular movies often tell us something about the times in which the movie was released, which in this case was 2004.

The Donnas, “Dancing with Myself”. This kicks off the soundtrack album, but in the movie, it plays over the closing credits. The Donnas were everywhere in those days, not just on the music charts but on soundtracks and even video games. Their last album was in 2007.

Pink, “God Is a DJ”. From the follow-up to M!ssundaztood, which guarantees the album would be underrated. Teaming up with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong was an interesting idea.

Kelis, “Milkshake”. An inescapable song of its time.

Boomkat, “Rip Her to Shreds”. Boomkat was/is a sister act, Kellin and Taryn Manning. Taryn is better known now as Pennsatucky on Orange Is the New Black.

Blondie, “One Way or Another”. The “Shreds” originators also turn up on the soundtrack.

The Mathlete Rap”. The story, perhaps apocryphal although it shows up on the IMDB, is that the actor who performs this in the movie, Rajiv Surendra, was “coached ... on how to rap for his on-screen performance” by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

music friday: middle class streaming bandwidth

Hat tip for this week’s Music Friday goes to Nick Farruggia, who posted this in the Expert Witness FB group:

You die and go to Heaven. Things are pretty sweet, but the Koch brothers are still in charge. You're granted Middle Class Streaming Bandwidth, which means you can only listen to three artists from each decade, 1950-2010. "When you stop to consider it, that's unbelievably generous. 21 partial discographies!" Who ya got?

It’s something of a desert-island disc thing, only way more complicated. I’m not going to just pick my 21 favorites, because I have to consider that this is all I will listen to for eternity. I’ll want to mix things up a bit. Also, I’ll probably change my mind on a lot of these choices before this even gets posted. Here goes ...

1950s: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. Sample: “Johnny B. Goode

1960s: The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, The Velvet Underground. Sample: “Dr. Feelgood

1970s: Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Patti Smith. Sample: “Because the Night” and “Because the Night

1980s: Prince, Hüsker Dü, Madonna. Sample: “Dirty Mind

1990s: Sleater-Kinney, Nirvana, Tupac. Sample: “One More Hour

2000s: Pink, Eminem, The Gossip. Sample: “Sober

2010s: Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Chantel McGregor. Sample: “Voodoo Child

music friday: discover weekly

The streaming wars continue. Two of the last three Music Fridays had connections to the new Apple Music service. Now Spotify has a new trick up their sleeve: Discover Weekly.

“Every Monday, you’ll find two glorious hours of discoveries and deep cuts waiting for you in Spotify. It’s a tailor-made mix based on the tunes you listen to, and similar tracks discovered by fans like you. You’re going to love it.”

This week’s list contains 30 songs, with a running time of just under 2 hours. Some selected highlights:

Emitt Rhodes, “Somebody Made for Me”. An ironic “first-ever Discover” track ... made for me, indeed. This is just the kind of thing that should turn up on a list like this. I remember Rhodes from when I lived in Capitola in 1970-71, and probably haven’t thought of him more than twice in all the years since. I don’t have any of his songs on my hard drive, so this is Spotify making a guess. And hitting the target.

Patti Smith, “Redondo Beach”. Third on the list, and the first song that I have demonstrated affection for in the past, i.e. Spotify isn’t really guessing here.

Abner Jay, “Cocaine Blues”. This is recognizable as the song that Dave Van Ronk sang, but just barely. I had never heard of Jay, an eccentrie “one man band”. Again, this is just the kind of song I want to see in a list like this, connected to something I like but also something I’ve never heard before.

Link Wray, “Fire and Brimstone”. Another excellent choice. Growing up, I had a 45 of Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” that I played over and over. And of course, there was “Rumble”. This comes from a 1971 album he cut in his early-40s, and it’s a good one. I saw Wray in concert in the 70s, all dressed in leather and grinding noises out of his guitar.

Merry Clayton, “Gimme Shelter”. I’m someone who thinks Clayton’s best contribution to this song came with the Stones, not in her solo attempt, but I can’t argue with Spotify’s choice here, and I’m always glad to hear this version.

The Slits, “Instant Hit”. This came right after Clayton, and I’m not sure about the segue. But The Slits are yet another fascinating choice. This was the opening track from their debut album, the one with the band naked and covered with mud.

Lucille Bogan, “Shave ‘Em Dry”. I’ve played this more than once on Spotify, so it knew I’d enjoy hearing it again. Possibly the most dirty lyrics ever recorded ... the first line is “I’ve got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb”, and by the time the song is over, Bogan has told us that “I fucked all night, and all the night before, and I feel just like I wanna fuck some more” ... I can’t quit quoting, there’s also “Now your nuts hang down like a damn bell sapper, and your dick stands up like a steeple. Your goddamn asshole stands open like a church door and the crabs walk in like people. Ow, shit!” Thanks, Spotify! (Bogan recorded this in 1935.)

There were other fine choices from the likes of Jonathan Richman, Love, Courtney Barnett, Lucinda Williams ... even Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Jude”. It wasn’t all perfect ... nothing is going to make me like solo Scott Walker, although even there, I can see why they chose it. And there were oddities like William Onyeabor and Vashti Bunyan and Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir. It really was a terrific playlist, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next week.

get it anyway, anyhow

So while we congratulate ourselves on not having political prisoners like China or Cuba, we do have what we might call prisoners of politics. Again, Obama described the incarceration crisis as “containing and controlling problems that the rest of us are not facing up to and willing to do something about.” Politicians have not been willing to face up to and do something about the underlying problems and all too willing to seek means of “containing” them—i.e., warehousing the people left behind. The political decisions made in the age of neoliberalism and globalization, concurrent with the War on Drugs, have resulted in a surplus population that cannot be absorbed by the sort of economy advocated by Washington and a severe criminalization of the one economy that does work in communities left behind.

-- Matthew Pulver, “Why America’s prison problem is so much worse than Barack Obama wants to let on


“Some folks are born into a good life. Other folks get it anyway, anyhow.”

music friday: gerry goffin

Still playing around with Apple Music. This is from a Rolling Stone playlist titled “Co-Written by Gerry Goffin”.

The Byrds, “Goin’ Back”.

Diana Ross, “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”.

Grizzly Bear, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”.

The Hollies, “Yes I Will”.

Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion”.

Billy Joel, “Hey Girl”.

The Cookies, “Chains”.

The Drifters, “Up on the Roof”.

Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.

Whitney Houston, “Saving All My Love for You”.


Here is the Apple Music playlist, with 8 extra tracks: