Things will be a bit quiet around here for a few days, as we go away for our long anniversary weekend. Here’s a quickie: the Top Ten songs from May 26, 1973 (the day we got married), with thanks to the Weekly Top 40 website.
Pet Sounds is generally considered the best album by The Beach Boys ... it is #1 on the Acclaimed Music list of the top albums of all time (they collate critical opinion). It has some of my favorite Beach Boys songs ... “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B”, “God Only Knows”. And the 50th anniversary of its initial release is upon us, meaning it’s getting a lot of attention, including a massive reissue.
But this post isn’t about Pet Sounds. To understand why, I’m going to talk about my childhood.
I’m going to rely once again on memory, that most fallible of tools. Much of the music I listened to in the early 1960s came from the records my older brother owned. Yes, the radio was the biggest influence, but when you just wanted to play records, he had a pretty large portable player, and he had what seemed at the time to be a LOT of records, both albums and 45s. The Rolling Stones were one of his favorites, perhaps his #1, and he was on them from the beginning. But he was six years older than I was, graduated from high school in 1964 and went off to college (when I was 11), and while he came back home for a bit a couple of years later (another story for another time), it was those years through the summer of 1964 that I associate most with the records of his teenage years. And he had what seemed like every Beach Boys album, because they were very popular, because they were California (although we were NorCal), I don’t know why. And The Beach Boys were there quite early ... their first album came out in 1962.
Looking at the covers for their first five albums (the best way to jog that fallible memory), I get the feeling he owned all of them. At least the covers look familiar. The fifth of those albums, Shut Down, Volume 2, was released in March of 1964 ... the next album, All Summer Long, came out in the summer of ‘64, and maybe by then he was already on his way to college, because that one doesn’t ring a bell.
What I’m trying to establish is that my brother’s collection was foremost in my experience of Beach Boys albums. Their hits still played on the radio after he left, but their albums quit showing up at our house.
By this time, I was tentatively beginning to buy my own albums, and The Beach Boys weren’t necessarily my favorites. I liked them, and “Good Vibrations” is probably my favorite of their songs. But my favorite band, outside of The Beatles, was The Yardbirds, and I remember buying Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds. And Revolver. And, to be fair, Herman’s Hermits On Tour. The one Beach Boys album I bought was ... Beach Boys Concert, which came out in late 1964.
There are reasons why this album stands out. It was “recorded” just before Brian Wilson quit touring with the band ... since it was the only “live” album they released in their early years, it was the only place to hear the classic lineup of three Wilsons, Al Jardine, and Mike Love in a live setting. It featured several “non-Beach Boys” songs like “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena”, “Monster Mash”, “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”, and “Johnny B. Goode”.
And, unfortunately, it sounds like crap. I’m listening now to a remastered version, and it still sounds like crap. The biggest problem is the crowd noise, for this was the heyday of screaming fans. The recording of the band isn’t any good, either ... better than a bootleg, I don’t want to exaggerate, but if you only know the band from the time when Brian Wilson used the studio like a master, you’ll be startled by how thin it sounds.
Also, I didn’t know anything about doctoring live recordings when I was 11 years old, but it sure sounds obvious, now. Doesn’t really help, either.
There was an updated version released last year, called Live in Sacramento 1964, which utilizes all of the material recorded for the original album. I confess I don’t have the heart to listen to it at the moment ... I’m listening to Concert as I type this, and those 32 minutes are enough memories for one day.
Before I link to a couple of tracks, here’s the cover. It made a big impact on me at the time ... I had shirts that looked like the ones they are wearing on the cover:
I love how, just like I did above, they put scare quotes around “LIVE”.
These songs aren’t worth taking up lots of space, so I’ll skip the embed and just include a link. This is “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”:
Finally, just as a corrective to the “Pet Sounds Is the Greatest of All Time” narrative ... well, this has little to do with that album, but The Beach Boys cranked out a lot of albums in their first years: one in 1962, three in 1963, three in 1964, three in 1965. You know there’s going to be filler. But their filler was supremely awful. So when someone tells you The Beach Boys were great, nod your head in agreement, but then ask them if they’ve ever heard this one:
(May I add that the entire album is only 27 minutes long, and the above track takes up 3 1/2 of those minutes.)
On this date in 1978, we saw The Patti Smith Group at Winterland, with Greg Kihn and The Readymades as openers.
Two days before the show, Patti was on the Tom Snyder show:
(Snyder was one of the best late-night hosts for engaging popular musicians, esp. punks.)
The Readymades seemed to open every show we went to in those days, at least when it wasn’t Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. Their singer was Jonathan Postal, who has had an interesting career as a photographer. It was The Readymades who headlined a show around 1980, maybe at the Longbranch, can’t remember ... I was going to see a shrink at the time, paying, I don’t know, $25/session or something like that. I went to see The Readymades for $5, slammed around in the pit, and walked out feeling great. The next time I visited the shrink was my last ... I told him I got more of my money’s worth at The Readymades show.
Greg Kihn wrote about his band’s performance on his blog a few years ago: “On This Date in Greg Kihn Band History – Winterland Ballroom”. This was a few years before their big hits, “The Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy”. Here they are performing one of their fave numbers of the time, “Sorry” ... this is from Winterland, New Year’s Eve 1976.
Smith was touring behind her third album, Easter, which included her biggest hit, “Because the Night”. It was the second of the four times we’ve seen her, the first coming in early 1976 (you can hear that show on YouTube). The biggest surprise of the night came when she sang this one:
I recall a record we used to own when I was growing up. It was called The Soul of Spain, which sounds pretty authentic, I know, but this was an album by the 101 Strings Orchestra. The 101 Strings were like second-string Mantovanis ... they made a gazillion albums over the years, many of them theme albums, many of those themes tied to various places around the globe ... and so, The Soul of Spain.
The big hit on this album was, of course, "Malagueña" ... this was an epic rendition, almost ten minutes long, featuring (you guessed it) lots and lots of strings. For awhile it seemed like every guitar picker had to prove he could play "Malagueña" ... Hee-Haw star Roy Clark was one of the fastest ... the 101 Strings version even turned up a few years ago on an anthology called Cigar Aficionado: Latin Mood.
Because of my childhood memories, the 101 Strings version of "Malagueña" remains completely identified in my mind with my Spanish heritage. Pretty much anytime I hear the song by anyone, though, I get all teary-eyed. I also recall, as a kid, that we would go to my grandmother's house on Sundays, and oftentimes someone would grab a guitar, usually my uncle ... he couldn't really hear out of one of his ears, so he'd stick the bad ear right on the guitar and he'd play flamenco ... like a lot of people, I guess I assumed things like flamenco and bullfighting were "Spanish," because that's really all I was taught. I didn't think of myself as being Andalusian.
That ignorance means I never even made the simplest of connections ... that the title "Malagueña" referred to Malaga.
OK, I established that in my heart, to this day, I identify “Malagueña” with both my childhood and my Spanish heritage. But a fuller examination perhaps says something about identity in the United States.
First, just to cover all bases, my father was Spanish (as in “from Spain” ... his parents were born there), my mother was “American” (as in her family came from Kentucky). I was born in 1953, so I was raised during the height of assimilation. This meant, among other things, that we didn’t speak Spanish in the home.
I’m not sure I spent enough time in the above post describing the 101 Strings Orchestra. They released their first album in 1957. Their genre was “mood music” (it goes under many names), which is basically an easy-listening version of “lite classical” music. (OK, “lite classical” is likely easy-listening music itself.) There is a lot of information about 101 Strings on the Internet, yet my search skills seem to fail me, for I never quite get the story right. Suffice to say that 101 Strings sold LOTS of record world-wide. Growing up, I thought we had The Soul of Spain in our house because of my father and his family, but as far as I can tell, The Soul of Spain was one of those late-50s suburban artifacts that made it into many households.
As I say, their version of “Malagueña” is the standard for me, based solely on that album when I was a kid. There are many reasons why this is odd. First, there’s the idea of a mood-music orchestra playing Spanish classics. Second, if we’re going to be essentialist about this, 101 Strings were a concoction of an American record mogul who signed a German orchestra to play under the 101 Strings moniker. Third, “Malagueña” was written for piano, not for an orchestra. It has become a standard for all sorts of instrumental combinations over the years ... apparently it’s popular with marching bands ... and after Carlos Montoya recorded a flamenco guitar version, it became a standard showcase for guitarists (like Roy Clark, mentioned above, although there was also Jose Feliciano, and, perhaps most “authentic”, the Spaniard María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, better known as Charo). Given my connection to the orchestral version, and the prevalence of guitar-based versions, the version performed by Liberace seems incongruous. But at least he was returning the song to its original instrument.
All of this, with the exception of Charo, would seem to move the song far from Andalusia (even Charo came from neighboring Murcia). Thus, if “authenticity” is important (and who knows the answer to that question), then it probably says something about America, at least in the late-50s, that the version which stuck with a Spanish-American boy came via a German orchestra.
But there is more. The composer of “Malagueña” was Ernesto Lecuona, who wrote it in 1928 as the final movement of his “Suite Andalucia”. Here, it would seem, we can find the most authentic “Malagueña”.
Except ... Lecuona was a Cuban, born in Havana.
Oh well ... authenticity is overrated, anyway. Here’s the 101 Strings version:
Roy Clark, flashing his hot licks for Felix Unger and Oscar Madison:
Liberace (with Sammy Davis Jr. as a bonus at the end):
And the great Charo (with bonus Jerry Lewis Cuchi-Cuchi):
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
I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s recent concert that we attended in Oakland, part of his “River Tour”, wherein he plays the entire River album in order. There is a lot of talk these days about how fragmented our listening habits have become. We don’t listen to albums anymore, we just hit shuffle play and let the software choose from a million different songs. Maybe you have a favorite artist ... say, in my case, Bruce Springsteen ... and you have a playlist consisting solely and entirely of every song Bruce has ever recorded. I’ll listen to that playlist, but when I do, I’ll use shuffle play. The result? Let me do an experiment, I’ll shuffle that playlist and see what comes up.
There are close to 500 songs on the playlist. For this particular shuffle play, we start off with “My Best Was Never Good Enough”, a favorite track of mine from The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995). Next comes “I Wanna Be With You” (1979), one of the outtakes that ended up on Tracks. Then the Roy Orbison song “Oh, Pretty Woman”, from the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert in 2009, with Bruce joined by John Fogerty.
That’s followed up with the “Detroit Medley” from the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert. Finally, closing out the first five songs is “Blood Brothers”, recorded in 1995.
You get at least a glimpse of what makes Bruce “Bruce”. Cover versions of 60s rock classics, an acoustic track, and two lesser-known tunes. Nothing from his most famous albums, nothing that’s one of his hits. But all of it is recognizably Bruce Springsteen.
The artist is the only thing that brings this disparate material together. Those five songs do not resemble an “album”, or even an EP. An album has its own coherence. At least, that’s how it used to be. It might still be true, but the audience doesn’t necessarily treat it as such.
What I thought while listening to the Oakland show was that Bruce was forcing us to return, not just to 1980, but to a time when an album was an album. He has played many River songs in concert over the years ... to use one example, at the show I saw most recently before Oakland 2016, he sang “Hungry Heart” and “The Ties That Bind”, separated by several other songs, of course. This tour, though, we got it all, track by track, in order. Just like we were listening to the album.
Well, if we were listening to the album with 35+ years on us. Clarence and Danny are gone, Jake and Charles and Nils and Soozie (and sometimes Patti) are with us. The crush of nostalgia lies heavily over the concert, to be sure. But as an experience in hearing an album, it was different.
“Sherry Darling” had an interesting history. In the old days, Bruce was always tossing a few new songs into his shows. At the famous Winterland concerts in 1978, he played “Ties That Bind” and “Point Blank”, even though he was touring behind Darkness and The River was two years away. So we knew those songs before they ever turned up on an album. “Sherry” was another of those songs ... while he didn’t play it for us, he trotted it out enough times that we heard bootleg concert versions.
When The River was released, I was wary. Darkness on the Edge of Town was indeed dark, and in fact that fit well with my personal experiences of the time. But I also knew that my favorite parts of his concerts were the joyous ones. “The Ties That Bind” was the first track on The River, and it was good, but I feared the darkness was returning. So when “Sherry Darling” was the next track, with its goofy lyrics and pseudo-crowd noises, I was so happy I could cry.
You’ll note from the above video that in 1978, Bruce wanted the crowd to make noise (“fraternity rock”), but he couldn’t expect anyone to sing along, since the song had never been released. In 2016, though, it is expected that we will know the words, and we will sing them:
We are hearing the song in the context of the original album. But we can’t replace the newness of those first times we heard those songs in 1980. Bruce approximates the experience of listening to an album, but nothing more. And there’s the added fact that some of the most noteworthy performances on this tour have been non-River songs, like his tributes to Bowie and Prince, “Rebel Rebel” and “Purple Rain”.
Greil Marcus happened to be at my first Prince concert (he and I have been at a lot of the same shows over the years, including my first rock concert at the Fillmore in 1967), which would be irrelevant except he wrote about it, thus saving me the trouble:
Fronting a band of three blacks and two Jews from Minneapolis, Prince stormed into town on the heels of last year’s breakthrough Dirty Mind, was greeted by the most excited and diverse crowd (black and white, punk and funk, straight and gay, young and old, rich and poor) I’ve been part of in a long time, and sent everyone home awestruck and drained: “That was the history of rock ‘n’ roll in one song!” a friend shouted before the last notes of “When You Were Mine” were out of the air. All barriers of music, sex, and race were seemingly trashed by Prince’s performance ...
I have a habit of telling people Prince is the only artist where I was “there” at the beginning. It’s an exaggeration at best, nonsense at worst ... I picked up on him with Dirty Mind, saw him for the first time on that tour in 1981. I think it was the fact that not many people in my crowd knew him yet, combined with the part where that concert was one of the transcendent shows of my life. I like to think I’ve seen some great performers over the years ... some of them very good indeed. Sleater-Kinney is such a favorite of mine that I’ve seen them 14 times, not to mention two Wild Flags, two Corin Tucker Bands, and two Cadallacas. But as a live act, I place them just below the greatest. Same with Patti Smith, Pink ... great concerts, but not quite the peak. By 1981, my top two were Bruce Springsteen and The Clash. After that Prince show, the list grew to three.
(It’s weird I think of my being there early for Prince. I caught on to Bruce with Born to Run, saw my first Bruce concert on that tour. People think I was there from the start, but Born to Run, like Dirty Mind for Prince, was his third album.)
Let me return to Greil’s review for a moment. We can all agree that Prince was a dynamite live performer, that he created a tremendous recorded legacy, that he was so influential it seems like the word should be retired now. But perhaps the thing I found most amazing at that concert was “the most excited and diverse crowd”. I’m just an old rock-and-roller ... OK, I was only 27 at that show ... Bruce Springsteen is my favorite, and at his shows, the number of African-Americans on the stage often seems to outnumber the ones in the audience. My experience with “diverse” crowds is more like there being lots of lesbians at Sleater-Kinney concerts, or dads taking daughters to see Pink (lotta lesbians there, too). But that Prince show ... like Marcus, I’d never seen anything like that crowd.
Which may be why I was so sad the next time I saw Prince, on the Controversy tour. The crowd was once again diverse, but the lovely vibe was gone ... pickpockets worked the crowd on the floor, it was the only time in my life I’ve been anything close to being “mugged”.
(I should probably note, that second concert was at Civic Auditorium, which held around 7000. The first was at The Stone, which held 700.)
Prince crossed generations. I’ve been texting with my son and daughter a lot the last 24 hours, and my son hit the nail on the head. Talking about early memories, he said that “Little Red Corvette” was “like mom and dad’s voice.”
And about “Little Red Corvette”. What a great song! As I type this, I’m listening to another great song, “Head”, which isn’t exactly subtle. The singer meets a woman on her way to her wedding. He wants her, but she’s a virgin. “But you're such a hunk, so full of spunk, I'll give you head.” She’s so good at it that he “came on your wedding gown.” She married him instead, of course. And, in case this sounds like a typical male fantasy, he spends the rest of the song giving her head.
But I was talking about “Little Red Corvette”. Double entendre lyrics are a dime a dozen, but when they are as good as this, why quibble? The woman as Corvette, her pocket full of horses (some of them used). The way he “felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures of the jockeys that were there before me”. Like a cross of Bogie and Baby in The Big Sleep and Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues”, with the added loveliness of “But it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right”. And a great production. One of the handful of “might be his best” tracks.
Thinking about all of this, I’m realizing Prince did more than cross generations. He brought people together. The first time I saw him was with my brother and sister-in-law. On the Purple Rain tour, my wife and I went with friends, one of whom we had known since high school. I took my son when he was young. My best friend went to a Prince concert with our daughter. The last time I saw Prince, I sat with my son and daughter-in-law. My wife felt left out, was upset we didn’t think she’d want to go. So she got tix late, ended up with better seats than we had, sitting with our nephew.
To say nothing of the practical aspect of Prince. My son just texted me to say that “If there was no sign o the times, dishes woulda never been clean”. Although I admit, if it were me, I might have been so distracted by that greatest of all Prince albums that, rather than be inspired to finish the chores, I would have just been unable to work.
If you’ve gotten this far, you might have noticed there are no links to videos. Prince was famously vigilant about keeping his music off of YouTube. With perseverance, you can find a lot of good stuff. In the meantime, you could always go buy some of his music. Just try not to fall into the trap described in this Onion headline: “Nation Too Sad To Fuck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted”.