music friday: inauguration day

What follows is a slightly-edited blog post from 2003:

The 5th Dimension were a pop R&B ensemble formed in the mid-60s. Three men with different musical backgrounds joined together with two beauty pageant winners, all African-Americans, they were signed to the Soul City label in 1966. Soul City was the brainchild of Johnny Rivers, a white singer who had a series of hits with some excellent covers of Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, and Motown (along with the immortal theme song "Secret Agent Man"). Their first big hit was "Up, Up and Away," which won several Grammies and was written by Jimmy Webb, who also wrote such tunes as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," and "MacArthur Park." Another early hit for the group was "Stoned Soul Picnic," written by Laura Nyro, an eccentric white girl from the Bronx whose songs were also hits for artists like Barbra Streisand, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Three Dog Night.

Meanwhile, the Summer of Love came and went. Among the "inauthentic" artifacts of that period was a stage musical, Hair, that opened Off Broadway and moved to the real Broadway in 1968. Hair featured such true-to-hippies songs as "Good Morning Starshine" and the title song ("Hair! Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair!").

The story goes that the 5th Dimension took in the play on Broadway and decided to release a medley of two of the musical's songs, "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In." It was a good idea: it won Grammies, it hit #1 on the charts, it sold millions. (The subsequent album, Let the Sunshine In, included songs by not only Laura Nyro, but also Neil Sedaka and Cream.)

So ... we've got an African-American vocal group, singing faux-hippie epics from a Broadway show, on a label run by the guy who sang "Secret Agent Man" when he wasn't covering black artists himself. Some things are simply bottomless.

Fast forward to 1981. Ronald Reagan is inaugurated President of the United States. At the Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco's top punk club back in the day, an anti-inauguration party is held. One of the acts is the drag band Sluts a-Go-Go. I described the event on this blog here:

one thing from that night still sticks with me, when the Sluts sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" while incense burned. There I was, in a punk club at the dawn of the Reagan Era, listening to men in drag sing a Broadway version of hippiedom, and I'm not much for irony, for that matter ... in any event, I felt one with the band and the crowd, I wasn't alienated from America in that moment, I was as close to Hippie Community as I'd ever been in the actual hippie days, and I started to cry at the ridiculous wonder of it all.

Like I say, some things are simply bottomless, and you can't always predict what those things will be. Like a Broadway version of the Summer of Love, sung by R&B groups and drag queens, making an impression on a hippie wannabee like me.

 

The final onstage performance of Sluts-a-Go-Go:


music friday: when i was a teenager

Here’s the Facebook meme:

List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist. Don't take too long and don't (over)think.

I came up with ten fairly quickly. The most obvious omissions, in retrospect, were Dylan and The Yardbirds. Anyway, here are my ten, in no particular order, with one selection from each (I turned 13 in 1966, so my choices come between that year and 1970, when I graduated from high school):

Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow (“Embryonic Journey”)
The Beatles (White Album) (“Yer Blues”) (Hard to get Beatles on YouTube, so The Dirty Mac will have to suffice.)
Otis Redding, Live in Europe (“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now”)
The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (“Sympathy for the Devil”)
Judy Collins, In My Life (“Hard Lovin’ Loser”)
Van Morrison, Astral Weeks (“Madame George”)
The Steve Miller Band, Children of the Future (Side One)
The Velvet Underground and Nico (“Heroin”)
The Doors (“The End”)
Love, Da Capo (“7 and 7 Is”)


what i've been reading

Fuck you, members of the media.

Fuck your constant pursuit of ratings, of quarterly profits, of giving this tinpot cumdumpster a platform with which he can influence a large part of our country

Fuck you for buying into the idea that racism should be afforded an equal platform with equality, for calling a Nazi anything other than a Nazi.

-- Chris Kluwe, “Fuck You, Donald Trump

 

Hugh Laurie, winning for his work in “The Night Manager,” joked that he assumed this would be the last Golden Globes because “I don’t mean to be gloomy. It’s just that it has Hollywood, Foreign and Press in the title. And I think to some Republicans, even Association is slightly sketchy.” The point about the press is taken, and taken with thanks, but this formulation — which Streep repeated and made worse by prefacing it to say “You, and all of us in this room, really belong to the most vilified segment of American society right now” — has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that some of the richest and most influential people in the world are victims.

-- Alyssa Rosenberg, “In the Trump era, artists can be Jimmy Fallon or Donald Glover. Choose wisely.

 

“Why can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt…,” [Kellyanne] Conway asked, to which, [Chris] Cuomo answered “because he’s making a disgusting gesture on video about Serge.”

-- Ken Meyer, “Conway Asks: Why Do You Believe What Trump Says ‘Rather Than What’s in His Heart?

 

If happiness comes when you find something you are good at, and then you do it, then I guess Preston Epps was a very happy man. After "Bongo Rock" hit #14 on the charts, Epps locked in with the following songs, in alphabetical order: "Baja Bongos," "Blue Bongo," "Bongo Bongo Bongo," "Bongo Hop," "Bongo in the Congo," "Bongo Party," "Bongo Shuffle," "Bongo, Bong, Bongo," "Bongola," "Bongos in Paradise," "Bongos in Pastel," "Gully Bongo," "Hully Gully Bongo," "Prest Bongos Under Glass," "Stormy Bongo," and "Surfin' Bongos." None of them made the charts, with the exception of "Bongo Bongo Bongo," which made it to #78.

-- Steven Rubio’s Online Life, January 9, 2009


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.”


new year's eve with sleater-kinney

It started out as an unusual night (as Carrie said at one point, “"This is one of the first times in many years that I have actually been out on New Year’s… Way past my bedtime right now"). So it was interesting how normal it felt after a while, as if we’d been doing this forever.

The most obvious difference was never going to feel normal. My S-K buddy of almost two decades, with whom I’d attended all 14 previous shows, is living in SoCal now. You can’t normalize the absence of that kind of connection. The solution was two-fold. First, I went with two great folks for new bonding. Second, while my friend wasn’t there, three other friends did attend, named Corin, Carrie, and Janet. Corin said it was good to see us, that she remembered so many faces from over the years, prior to saying, “Some of you might recognize this song” and segueing into “Milkshake n’ Honey”, which I hadn’t heard them play in more than ten years. They don’t often surprise any more ... we know pretty much what they will do, no matter the set lists ... and that’s what I mean about being with friends.

Opening act The Thermals from Portland was pretty good ... they’ve been around for almost 15 years, so “pretty good” was expected. Most importantly, Kathy Foster plays bass. It’s rare to see a bass guitar at an S-K show. Even more rare, she joined the band for a couple of the encores, which I think was a first for me: S-K w/bass.

The music between sets came via Britt Daniel of Spoon. He relied a lot on Bowie and Prince, which was appropriate.

A little past 10:30, S-K hit the stage. They seemed to be having more fun than I remember from the past. From my spot on the floor, some rows back, Carrie seemed to have someone down front who was entertaining her (pun not intended). They pulled out “Dance Song ‘97”, which I don’t think I’d ever seen live. They trotted out warhorses like “Little Babies” and “You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun”. I began their set with my earplugs in, but I took them out for an incendiary version of “Jumpers” ... I don’t know if they hit another gear or I just reacted to the overwhelming noise, but it was then that I came closer to the rarely-achieved moment of ecstasy that I’m always hoping for at a concert.

About 11:40, they started the unmistakable riff that said "Let's Call It Love". I shouted at my friend that of course they would play it, because it usually went on for so long. Sure enough, after a segue into "Entertain", a big ball came down from the ceiling, we counted down from ten, the ball lit up to read "Sleater-Kinney 2017", and a bunch of balloons and ticker tape things fell on all of us. I don’t think I’ve ever been at something like that ... I can only remember one big New Year’s Eve party, and it didn’t have that. All of this was way more fun than I expected. I guess I assumed in my cranky way that a New Year’s celebration would just get in the way of the concert, but I was wrong.

They finished with all of the acts on stage, doing "Faith" (Carrie vocals, Corin on ACOUSTIC GUITAR!) and "Rebel Rebel" (everyone taking turns singing lead). Corin channeled her 60s Girl Group self during the latter, before turning ferocious when her lead moment arrived.

Here’s the setlist:

The Fox
Far Away
Oh!
Surface Envy
Little Babies
A New Wave
What's Mine Is Yours
Milkshake n' Honey
Get Up
Not What You Want
Bury Our Friends
Wilderness
Price Tag
Jumpers
Dig Me Out
Modern Girl
Let's Call It Love
Entertain

Gimme Love
Dance Song '97
You're No Rock n' Roll Fun
Faith
Rebel Rebel

Here is “Faith”, from the invaluable AdmiralNeeda:


music friday: 2016

No, not music released in 2016. This post is devoted to what I actually listened to in 2016. Spotify made me a playlist of my top songs of 2016. I can’t tell how they ordered the songs, so I’m going to pull the top ten off the list.

  1. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep
  2. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
  3. The Supremes, “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking
  4. Jerry Reed, “Amos Moses
  5. Cat Stevens, “Here Comes My Baby
  6. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain
  7. The Strangeloves, “I Want Candy
  8. Cat Stevens, “Where Do the Children Play?
  9. Fleetwood Mac, “I Don’t Want to Know
  10. Otis Redding, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

I don’t remember listening to a lot of those songs (#3, #5, take a bow). Not only that, but Last.fm tracks a large portion of my Spotify listening, and their Steven’s 2016 Charts look a lot different than Spotify’s. Their #1 is CIA Man” by The Fugs. Only three of the Spotify Top Ten make the top 128 on Last.fm. So clearly, this is complicated.

Here is the Last.fm list of my Top Ten artists for 2016 in terms of tracks listened to:

1. The Rolling Stones

2. The Beatles

3. Bruce Springsteen

4. Donovan

5. Bob Dylan

6. Prince

7. Liz Phair

7. The Beach Boys

9. Cat Stevens

9. Dolly Parton

I have a serious Sixties fixation.


music friday: sleater-kinney

It’s just a few weeks until we see Sleater-Kinney’s New Year’s Eve show. Here’s my latest attempt at the S-K Top Ten:

 

10. “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”. Pictures of me on your bedroom door.

9. “Let’s Call It Love”. Show me your darkest side, and you better be my bloody match.

8. “No Cities to Love”. It's not the weather, it's the nothing we love!

7. “Entertain”. We're not here ‘cause we want to entertain.

6. “Modern Girl”. My whole life is like a picture of a sunny day.

5. “Words and Guitar”. Take take the noise in my head.

4. “Good Things”. Why do good things never wanna stay?

3. “One More Hour”. Oh, you've got the darkest eyes.

2. “Youth Decay”. I'm all about a forked tongue and a dirty house.

1. “Sympathy”. We're all equal in the face of what we're most afraid of.


music friday: covers

John Lennon, “Jealous Guy” and Elliott Smith, “Jealous Guy” and Roxy Music, “Jealous Guy

Dolly Parton, “Jolene” and The White Stripes, “Jolene” and Miley Cyrus, “Jolene

The Crickets, “I Fought the Law” and The Bobby Fuller Four, “I Fought the Law” and The Clash, “I Fought the Law

Arthur Crudup, “That’s All Right” and Elvis Presley, “That’s All Right” and Rod Stewart, “That’s All Right

Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Garth and Wayne, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Pink, “Bohemian Rhapsody


music friday

Wilson Pickett, “Hey Jude”. Remembered now for Duane Allman’s guitar.

Johnnie Taylor, “Disco Lady”. They don’t write ‘em like this anymore.

Lyn Collins, “Think (About It). Remembered now for the zillion times it was sampled by hip hop artists, most notably by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock.

Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, “It Takes Two”. What the heck.

Dorothy Moore, “Misty Blue”. Speaking of versions (not samples), Bob Montgomery, who wrote the song, claims there are over 200 versions of this one.

Claudia Lennear, “Let It Be”. Remembered now as one of the top backup singers of the early 70s (the link is to her singing with Mad Dogs and Englishmen), and as the supposed inspiration for “Brown Sugar”. She recorded one album on her own, back in 1974, which got decent reviews but, as far as I can tell, no sales.

Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, “Cherchez la Femme”. Honestly, I don’t know what they are remembered for now. Cory Daye should have had a bigger career, but you can say that about many of the women on this list.

Minnie Riperton, “Lovin’ You”. Unfair to say she was a one-hit wonder. She began with Rotary Connection, and as a solo artist she released six albums (one posthumous). But she died of cancer at 31, and her “one hit” indeed was her biggest (the only one to make the Top Ten). Remembered for singing in the “whistle register”, and for being the mom of Maya Rudolph (she sings “Maya Maya Maya” at the end of the song).