Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Hey There Mr. Blue!

Think you know movies? I'm going to stump you right...now!

What do the following three films have in common:

* Look Who's Talking

* Mr. Deeds (2003 Version)

* Along Came Polly

Nope, nothing to do with the actors. You can stop trying to recall the plotlines (or lack thereof) as well.

Answer: They all feature Pete Townshend's timeless "Let My Love Open The Door" over the closing credits.

Ever notice how certain songs seem to appear over and over again in the same movies, trailers, TV shows and commercials? What's interesting is that the list seems to have no rhyme or reason. There is nothing especially significant about Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill," a 1977 single that didn't even hit the Top-40 at the time. Neither did Melissa Etheridge's "Dance Without Sleeping," or George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone," two of the more over-used tunes in movie trailiers and television commercials respectively.

It would be too easy to blame this repetitiveness solely on a handful of lazy copy-cating producers. In some cases, there are songs that just bring out certain moods or emotions (like "Solsbury Hill") in ways that no other tune can. A couple of years ago, I talking to my friend Janet about a number of "lost" classic rock tunes. Songs that seemed on their way to immortality but in recent years had faded into irrelevancy (this conversation actually took place within the context of compiling a list of songs that, to the best of our knowledge, had never been aranged a capella, but ought to be). One song that I put on the list was ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky," a song that DID hit the Top-40...barely (peaked at #35 in August of '78). Well no sooner had I labeled it a lost classic that the song started popping up in trailers (Adaptation; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and commercials (Volkswagen). Now I've come to learn that the tune serves as the theme song for the new NBC drama LAX (still haven't seen it....but now I have a reason to check it out besides Heather). I almost have to wonder who it was that overheard my conversation because now there is absolutely no escaping the pulsating keyboards and the falsetto voices shriekings "Hey, there, Mr. Blue, we're so pleased to be with you." Perhaps I should have gone into advertising after all.

So tell me, what over-used tunes have I left out? E-mail me with your best and I'll try to list the best in a future post. Until then, be thankful that most of the tunes we're overusing seem to at least be decent ones. We COULD be forced to listen to "I've Never Been to Me."

Monday, August 23, 2004

Wanna be a Survivor? Beware, it all begins with The Ides of March!

Let's start off this post with a quick word-association pop quiz. When I say the word "survivor," you immediately think of

A) A CBS show where everyone you wish was naked is clothed and everyone you wish was clothed is naked.

B) A lame, overplayed tune by Destiny's Child.

C) The band that sang "Eye of the Tiger."

D) The band that sang "Poor Man's Son."

If you answered "D" then you and I are cut from the same cloth, even though "C" is referring to the exact same band. Survivor was hardly my favorite group of all time, but it bugs me to death that they're thought of as a one-hit wonder. If you've been watching ESPN Classic, then you probably know that they've been running the Rocky movies in order on Sunday Nights over the past few weeks (they're up to Rocky IV). Survivor is probably best known for their songs from the soundtracks of Rocky III ("Eye of the Tiger") and Rocky IV ("Burning Heart"), so the time seemed right to flashback on a band that was much more interesting than most people realized.

So yes, it all did start with "The Ides of March." I'm talking of course about the Chicago-based band that scored a #2-hit with "Vehicle" in the Spring of 1970. Now, there's a band that WAS a one-hit wonder and is consistently been referred to as one of the greatest one-hit wonders off all time. You know the song even if you don't think you do. It's been used in many car commercials and you can always count on Paul Shaffer to play it on March 15th (The Ides of March--get it??; Thanks to my buddy Bret for pointing that out to me while we were watching Letterman all the way back on 3/16/89 in the McCoy Hall Lounge. The show was taped on the 15th but didn't air until the wee hours of the 16th).

The man who wrote, sang and played guitar on "Vehicle" was Jim Peterik. In 1978, Peterik would form Survivor and in an interesting twist would serve as neither their guitarist or lead vocalist but rather as their keyboardist and primary songwriter. Survivor's first Top 40 hit, "Poor Man's Son" would peak at #33 in the Fall of 1981. While the song, which appeared on the band's "Premonition" album, did not attract an incredible amount of attention, this writer believes it was the best song of the band's career. But more importantly the album did catch the attention of a certain big-name actor who was in position to give the band an opportunity that was reminiscent of, well, the opportunity granted by Apollo Creed to a certain no-name boxer from South Philly.

Here's how Peterik descibed it in an interview with StrutterZine:

"....It started with a message to both (Survivor guitarist) Frankie (Sullivan) and my answering machines from Sly Stallone. Frankie and I got together at my house and called him back. He told us of his new Rocky III movie, that it was complete except for the title song. He had heard our Premonition album and liked the tough honesty of that record. But he was looking to update the sound he had on the earlier Rocky movies and thought we'd be perfect. We knew at that moment that our big break had come - if only we could deliver the goods. Stallone sent us the first three minutes of the movie where the song was to appear. It featured Stallone getting rich and soft contrasting the sinewy Mr. T.- rising up, ready to kick his ass. I started playing the dead string riff as Frank and I headed to my music room. We got a good start on the music that day but needed more grist for the mill, lyrically. We persuaded Stallone to send us a rough cut of the entire movie. It was then that song really came together. We pulled the phrase “the eye of the tiger” from the dialogue and from there the ideas flowed. We sent Stallone a demo we did quickly with the band. He flipped out over it, but made us write a third verse and offered a few other suggestions. Due to the tightness of the schedule, the version you hear in the actual movie was the demo version that Frankie mixed in L.A. while he was spotting-in the music to the soundtrack...."
(The full interview is available at http://www.angelfire.com/ma/strutteraor/).

I first heard "Eye of the Tiger" on Tuesday, June 22nd, 1982 at an end-of-school swim party. The second time I heard it was around 11 AM on the following Sunday Morning. I was spending the weekend with my two best friends from 8th grade, Sim and Leon, who are largely responsible for me being the chart-geek I am today. So naturally we spent Sunday Morning huddled around Leon's new portable radio/cassette player listening to American Top 40. How into it were we? After we heard what we thought were the four debut songs of the week ("Dancing in the Streets" by Van Halen at #40; "Island of the Lost Souls" by Blondie at #39; "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" by Chicago at #38---Casey noted it was their first hit of the 80's; And "Even the Nights are Better" by Air Supply at #34) we took time to figure which four songs must have dropped out of the countdown that week. Even though it was never announced that Air Suppy was the highest debut of the week, it became rather clear to us that it was as the countdown rolled on....until after song #20. Then, on way to commercial we heard it: "Up next, the highest debuting song in nearly two years!" We were floored. For us this was the equivalent of man's landing on the moon, a song debuting all the way up at #19. Nowadays, thanks to music videos and the Internet songs debut in the Top 10 all the time but back then a song coming into the countdown that high was something of a novelty.

As the show resumed post-commercial break, "Eye of the Tiger's" trademark, opening guitar rift set the stage for an excited Casey introducing the highest debuting song since Diana Ross's "Upside Down" entered the countdown at #10 in August of 1980. We would hear "Eye of the Tiger" again later that day when hit the cinema to catch Rocky take on both Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. It's amazing to think that professional wrestling might never have become the pop-culture phenomenon that it was, had Rocky not decided to give Mr. 24-inch pythons himself that cameo in the flick. "Eye of the Tiger" would go on to spend six weeks at #1 and finish the year as Billboard's #2 song for 1982. Survivor would follow-up "Eye of the Tiger" with "American Heartbeat," which despite reaching #17 in the Autumn of 1982 has received virtually no attention since it fell off the charts 22 years ago.

Survivor received some minor airplay on the rock stations in 1983 with "Caught in the Game" but it failed to reach the Top-40 and it seemed like Survivor's best days were gone. Then, a wild thing happened. Lead singer Dave Bickler would leave the group for medical reasons. By the time Survivor released their Vital Signs album in 1984, they were fronted by Jimi Jamison...WHO SOUNDED EXACTLY LIKE DAVE BICKLER!! Admit it, you're shocked! Survivor really had TWO lead singers who sounded exactly the same. Never had any group pulled such off such a stunt and a tough stunt it was when one considers how distinctive Bickler's vocals were.

Jamison's vocals must have been blessed by Midas because over the ensuing two years Survivor reeled off five Top-20 hits: "I Can't Hold Back" #13; "High on You" #8; "The Search is Over" #4; "Burning Heart" #2; "Is This Love" #9. Jamison's vocals would continue to be heard by millions worldwide on a weekly basis as he sang the theme to the world's most popular TV show: Baywatch! (Note to self: Being asked to sing while Rocky and Apollo run on the beach--Good. Being asked to sing while Nicole Eggert and Pamela Anderson run on the beach--VEEEEERRY GOOD!!)

As for Jim Peterik, he continued to be Survivor's keyboardist but would continue writing songs for other groups as well. Over the years his tunes have been recorded by The Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith and, most notably, 38 Special. Four of 38 Special's biggest hits ("Rockin' into the Night"; "Hold on Loosely"; "Caught Up in You"; "You Keep Runnin' Anyway") were either writen or co-written by Peterik. On an interesting note, Peterik had back-to-back tunes on the chart for the week ending July 3, 1982 when "Caught Up in You" was at #10 and "Eye of the Tiger" was at #9.

See, I told you there was a lot more to this band than you realized. The next time "Eye of the Tiger" comes on the radio and the one know-it-all in your crowd proclaims the band a one-hit wonder, reply with a sly "No, not really" and then hit them over the head with a few tidbits from above. Trust me: it's really, really satisfying.


P.S.---Going back to the original word-association game, if you're one of those people who started thinking about The Soul Survivors, I'll try to get around to them when I do a piece on legitimate one-hit wonders. Now there's a tune that still rocks, 37 years later!

Friday, July 30, 2004

I DO like "Spiders and Snakes!"

The title of this post is only factually true when you include the quotation marks. In reality, I like spiders, snakes and other creepy crawly stuff about as much as Michael Moore likes President Bush. No, I'm not a big fan of spiders or snakes but I can now say I do like Jim Stafford best known for the 1974 hit "Spiders and Snakes" (Peak Position on the Billboard Charts---#3).

I really didn't know a lot about Jim until earlier this month when I caught his variety show at The Jim Stafford theatre in Branson, Missouri. The guy is a real showman, something desperately missing from many performers today, and his act was full of entertaining sight gags that one might of found on, say, The Muppet Show---and yes we were treated to some Hensonesqe spiders and snakes singing along. Quite impressive for a guy who many think of as just a one-hit wonder (for the record he scored six Top-40 hits from 1973-75).

Well, it turns out Jim's career is significantly more multi-faceted than I had previously realized. As an actor, he starred in Clint Eastwood's "Any Which Way You Can." He hosted his own variety show on ABC in 1975 and in the early-80's he co-hosted the popular prime-time show "Those Amazing Animals" with Burgess Meredith and Priscilla Presley. And, as all we know, during Johnny Carson's hey-day the size of your stardom was measured by the number of appearances you made on The Tonight Show. Jim Stafford's tally: 26!

One of the few things I did know about Jim was the he was buddies with another 70's hit singer/songwriter whom I had previously met: Lobo. In the future, I hope to write an article or series of articles of the many singers and bands that I saw perform at the WTC summer concerts (the terrorists will never take away my memories) and I'll detail my conversation with Lobo then. Anyway, as Jim's show broke for intermission they announced that his wife Ann, who manages the theatre, would be manning the concession stand during the break. I decided it was worth springing the $17.99 or thereabouts for a T-shirt in order to have the opportunity to meet Mrs. Stafford, especially since I'd actually be able to name drop with her (Yeah, I know....Jim's first wife was Bobbie Gentry who's own hit "Ode to Billy Joe" topped the charts back in 1967).

I changed lines to insure that Ann Stafford would handle my order. I told her that I had covered music for The New York Post, had met Lobo and wanted to know if he and Jim still spoke. Ann talked about how Jim and "Kent" (Lobo's real name is Roland Kent Lavoie) had just performed a reunion show together back in their native town of Winter Haven, Florida. During their High School days the two of them were in a band call The Rumours along with the late Gram Parsons (Z"L--1973). Gram is considered by many to have been the father of country/rock and is best known for 1)being hand-selected to replace David Crosby in The Byrds; 2)being the vocalist that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had in mind when they wrote "Wild Horses." I also complemented Ann on her two talented kids who now join their dad on stage: Sheaffer (either 11 or 12)and GG (somewhere around 8 or 9). She said that when the kids get a little older, they may bring the show on the road. Good! They're bound to be the only travelling family act incorporating 3-D glasses, trick microphones, and soaking wet frisbees into a hi-tech musical variety show.

With all of Jim's accomplishments, he's not all that well known in 2004 and many of those that did know him would probably be surprised to learn that he's alive and well and still drawing in excess of 1,000 people a show; 350 shows a year. I don't feel bad for Jim that he's not as recognized as he should be. I do feel bad for the people who will never realize how many great performances they've missed out on and the many great hits of the past that they will never hear. Jim was not a fringe performer, he was at one time a bona-fide superstar! Someday, maybe he'll be recognized as such again. For now, I'll do my part and wear the T-shirt I bought at the show. It says: "I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes, But I Do Like Jim Stafford."


P.S.---True story! As I was walking down Sullivan Street on a coffee break a few weeks back a lady asked me if I knew what time it was. I glanced at my watch and it was 3:34 PM. "Yeah," I responded "It's 25.." Then it hit me and with a smile I continued, "It's 25...or 6, to 4." I looked into her eyes for the slightest bit of recognition, but nothing. Now, maybe if she had asked me if I "REALLY knew what time it was."

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Blame it on Bill Murray (and Sofia Coppola and Scarlett Johansson)

Earlier this week I rented "Lost in Translation" and, as a result, I now have a blog. Confused? I'd been toying with the idea of starting a blog for some time, but my motivation was never high enough to move me beyond the blogspot intro page. Sure I love to write, but I didn't need a blog for that. I was very happy submitting the occasional freelance piece for publication to The New York Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Entrepreneur or Brandweek and sending out an annual, lengthy, witty (or so I believe) update of my life to family and friends. Most of my opinions and beliefs about the world, current events and even pop culture were already being articulated by others on the Web and, in many cases, better than I ever could have said them myself. If I wasn't going add anything to the equation, then there were much better things I could be doing with my time.

Then on Thursday I finally saw "Lost in Translation." I'm not going to review or analyze the film (there are plenty of other blogs for that) except to say I enjoyed it immensely and Scarlet Johansson is cute as a button. But the scene that launched this blog came towards the end when they're in a bar and in the background you can hear the haunting bluesy keyboards of "So In To You," a song which The Atlanta Rhythm Section took to #7 in the Spring of 1977. While it's not one of my all-time favorites (it's not even my favorite tune by The Atlanta Rhythm Section), I'd heard the song several times over the last 27 years and it even appears on one of my compilation CDs. But this time something clicked and a 20-year old mystery was solved.

Like many a Sunday Morning in my teenage years, I would devote a healthy block of time to listening to American Top-40 and December 11, 1983 was no exception. I must have had a late start that morning because I remember that they were already in the middle of song #34 when I turned on the radio. From the vocals I could tell immediately that it was Genesis and that made sense since the group had just released a new album but the tune sounded a little too familiar. I figured if it was a remake Casey would let me know, but he said nothing of the sort as the song faded out. Just a "Coming in at #34, that's the British trio Genesis with `That's All.'" And, no it wasn't a remake. So this bouncy "original" tune with a slight subtle tinge of eerieness must have reminded me of another song I'd heard before.

Ultimately, I'd go on to buy the Genesis tape with "That's All" on it (the title of the album was simply Genesis, though they were originally going to call it "Pieces of Perfection"---check out the album cover) but in recent years I hadn't given the tune a lot of thought...until last Thursday Night! Now if you happen to be familiar with both songs ("So In To You" and "That's All") think about them.... think about them realllly carefully. See where I'm going here. The songs, while not exactly identical, flow together rather nicely. While I was walking to work on Friday, I started thinking how I wished I was talented enough to record the two songs as a medley (reality check: I play a grand total of 0 musical instruments). I even had it all figured out where the tunes from each would switch back and forth. The songs even have some lyrical similarities with both touching on the matter of unrequited obsession.

I figured I couldn't be the first person ever to come up with this idea. So I googled the titles to both songs and the only joint results returned came from music databases. If someone else has made the connection they haven't written about it yet. So.....that's what I will do!

Life is a Soundtrack will focus on the nuances of pop music, both yesterday's and today's. I hope to put together some interesting lists (ideas in the works include "The Top 20 Best Produced Songs,"
"The Top 20 Greatest Remakes," and "The Top 20 Best Songs for Slow-Dancing ). We'll also have some thought-provoking pieces ("Were the Gin Blossoms influenced by The Grass Roots?"; "Why the WNEW-FM of the 1980's was the greatest station of all time") as well as trivia and concert reviews (including some retro-reviews). And yes, occasionally I may even get a little autobiographical and talk about how a certain song or group of songs defined a moment or phase (a la John Cusack in High Fidelity) and earned their personal place on the soundtrack of my life.

Oh, and we're not done talking about how songs like "That's All," have (inadvertently or not) borrowed from other tunes. In the near future I expect to revisit the issue in greater detail (Yes Britney, "Ooops, I Did it Again" sounds a little too much like Barbara Streisand's "Woman In Love." For what it's worth, I actually like your recording better).

While the blog will hold special appeal for music-geeks, radio-geeks and, especially chart-geeks, my aim is to make it fun for everybody. For right now I'm going to shoot for one solid post a month (on or around the 20th) and we'll see how it goes. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated.

Exactly 22 years ago yesterday (Saturday June 19th, 1982) was my Bar Mitzvah and so exactly 22 years ago today (Sunday June 20th, 1982) was my Bar Mitzvah party. With the party starting around 1:30, you can guess what I was doing from 9-1. I had my ears glued to AM 66 WNBC (my how times have changed) as Casey Kasem counted down the 40 biggest hits of the week. This was actually a nice Bar Mitzvah present for me as I had just become a music (and chart) geek earlier in the year and, between my massive 8th Grade project and my Bar Mitzvah preparations, I hadn't had the chance to listen to AT 40 in its entirety in several weeks. I committed that week's list to memory and can even tell you that I said morning prayers from songs 23-20 and showered between songs 11-8 (I found out those songs from friends later on in the day).

I thought what better way to end this initial post than with a nod to yesteryear as well as a taste of some of L.I.A.S.'s things to come. So, according to Billboard Magazine, these were the 40 hottest songs in the land for the week ending June 19th, 1982:

#40 "Stone Cold"---Rainbow

#39 "Be Mine Tonight"---Neil Diamond

#38 "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do"---Huey Lewis and The News

#37 "This Man Is Mine"---Heart

#36 "Abracadabra"---The Steve Miller Band

#35 "After The Glitter Fades"---Stevie Nicks

#34 "Keep The Fire Burnin'"---REO Speedwagon

#33 "Hold Me"---Fleetwood Mac

#32 "Personally"---Karla Bonoff

#31 "What Kind Of Fool Am I"---Rick Springfield

#30 "Still They Ride"---Journey

#29 "Forget Me Nots"---Patrice Rushen

#28 "Break It Up"---Foreigner

#27 "Do I Do"---Stevie Wonder

#26 "When It's Over"---Loverboy

#25 "Empty Garden"---Elton John

#24 "Without You"---Frankie and The Knockouts

#23 "Play The Game Tonight"---Kansas

#22 "Take Me Down"---Alabama

#21 "Any Day Now"---Ronnie Milsap

#20 "Only The Lonely"---The Motels

#19 "Man On Your Mind"---The Little River Band

#18 "I've Never Been To Me"---Charlene

#17 "Tainted Love"---Soft Cell

#16 "Caught Up In You"---.38 Special

#15 "867-5309/Jenny"---Tommy Tutone

#14 "Don't Talk To Strangers---Rick Springfield

#13 "Making Love"---Roberta Flack

#12 "Love's Been A Little Bit Hard On Me"---Juice Newton

#11 "Body Language"---Queen

#10 "It's Going To Take A Miracle"---Deniece Williams

#9 "Hurts So Good"---John Cougar

#8 "Let It Whip"---The Dazz Band

#7 "Crimson And Clover"---Joan Jett and The Blackhearts

#6 "Heat Of The Moment"---Asia

#5 "Always On My Mind"---Willie Nelson

#4 "The Other Woman"---Ray Parker Jr.

#3 "Rosanna"---Toto

(COOL ANECDOTE: While introducing "Rosanna," Casey made the observation that there were a few elements of The Wizard of Oz in that week's countdown. There was Rainbow at #40; Kansas at #23 and then finally at #3 there was Toto.)

#2 "Don't You Want Me"---The Human League

And The Number One Song For The Week Ending June 19th, 1982 (Drumroll)


(Note to Cynics: Back issues of Billboard Magazine are available at the library for verification purposes)