Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Return to Paradise

(Writer's Note: I realize that it's February already, but for what it's worth I started this post in December).

December usually brings on a mood of nostalgia. One often gets a strong urge not just to look back at the past several months, but the past several years as well. When I first started "Life is a Soundtrack," one feature I was hoping to make a regular occurence was a retro-album review, where I give a fresh listen to a record/tape/CD that had once been among my favorites, but in recent years had been relegated to a dust magnet.

Styx's "Paradise Theater" was released in 1981, a year before my I started my obsession with pop music. "Paradise Theatre" was a concept-album (like it's follow-up, "Kilroy was Here"), celebrating Chicago's legendary Paradise Theater which had closed in 1958 and tied in as a pseudo-allegory to changes in America in the 1970's. "Paradise Theater" was one of the albums that defined the early-80's, especially with it's cutting-edge logo embossed into the vinyl. I knew the hits, but I don't think I had ever listened to the entire record from start to finish until June 1, 1986 when my buddy Brian Hollander (who as 'The Bison' would DJ evenings on Classic Rock Z-93 in Atlanta during the mid-90's), lent me his walkman on a trip to Great Adventure. Wow! Not only were all the tunes great, but they all flowed so nicely one into another. The songs that I had previously known from the album, made so much more sense in context. I haven't listened to the tape much in recent years (I taped over Brian's vinyl-to-tape copy, with a CD-to-tape copy in the middle of my Freshman year of college....courtesy of Funby, of course), but I think the time is ripe to go back to paradise. If you've familiar with the album, this is going to be fun. If you're not, fasten your seat-belt and get ready to be introduced to one of the greatest pop-rock concept albums of all time!

AD 1928

Gotta love that quick piano chord that begins the record and seems to come up out of nowhere. The producer really knew what he (or she) was doing. Dennis DeYoung's falsetto is simply amazing on the melodic refrain that will appear a couple of more times later in the album. I'm normally not that big a fan of singing through a synthesizer, but the background vocals make it work on this cut (just as they will later on "The Best of Times"). Styx takes its name from a river in Greek Mythology and whenever I hear this cut I picture myself on a small boat in the Mediterranean, serene as can be. There's little hint that we're about to kick into overdrive until Dennis goes high on "Here at the Pa-RA----

Rockin' The Pardise

---DIIIIIIIISE. It's never been entirely clear to me where "AD 1928" ends and "Rockin' the Paradise" begins, but the last syllable of paradise seems as logical a starting point as any. This is one of those songs that makes you want to get up and go. I've always gotten into the "Watcha doing, Watcha doing" background chants on this one. This track rocks!!!

Too Much Time On My Hands

This was one of the two major hits from the album, peaking at #9. I remember back in 1982, Tommy Shaw was a guest-DJ one night on the then newly-launched WAPP (103.5). He closed the show by playing this track and explaining how it was the last song written for the album and how the tune just came to him and then the next dayhe walked into the studio and directed each of the other members what he needed them to do to make the song work (Writer's note: Sorry for the run-on sentence). Tommy's account helps to explain why "Too Much" seems like the one track that's out of place on the album. The song has its good points, specifically the "Too much time" whispers over the ticking clocks at the end. I had never really noticed those cool claps in the chorus, until one day in camp when a bunch of people were singing the song and clapping along in time. The hi-tech intros and outros sound great on the recording but weak outside the studio, which is probably why "Too Much" always fell flat when it was played live.

Nothing Ever Goes As Planned

This one kind of grows on you. Didn't think much of it at first, but it fits well within the sequence of the record. It's kind of cool, how the tune stirs up a bunch of sounds (70's pop, jazz, Motown) but delivers a smooth end-product. If nothing else, it serves as a nice bridge between "Too Much Time on My Hands" and "The Best of Times."

The Best Of Times

The big hit from the album, peaking at #3. Probably one of the best power ballads of all time! If you were a teenager in the early-1980's, this was one of your songs. Romantic and haunting, "The Best of Times" still sounds as fresh as ever.

Lonely People

Never quite understood why they decided to kick of Side 2 with the weakest song on the album. The thunderstorm at the beginning is actually the only real cool part of the tune. Not a bad song, just way below par for the rest of the record.

She Cares

This is a great no-frills pop song. The type that sounded great on rock stations in the early-80's and on country stations today. Most people who have never heard "Paradise Theater" have never heard "She Cares," and boy are they missing out. A few years back, Tommy Shaw was a guest on Scott and Todd's morning show on WPLJ and someone called in and asked if he'd play a few bars of "She Cares." It was great to know that I wasn't the only one who took a liking to this one.


Hands-down the best song on the album and by far the most progressive as well. Eerie and dark yet melodic and sweet, "Snowblind" captures a bundle of contradictory emotions by having the lead vocals split between James Young with his ghoulish delivery and Tommy Shaw belting out what amounts to a musical S.O.S. Dennis DeYoung's backing vocals on the chorus seal the mood of desperation on "Snowblind." If songs were movies, "Snowblind" would be a contender for Best Picture.

Half-Penny, Two-Penny

JEG claims to be a big fan of my blog so he's going to love this one. I've always thought the opening line of "Half Penny" was "Half-Penny, Two-Penny, go through the rounds." Well I recently learned that it's actually "Half-Penny, Two Penny, GOLD KRUGERRAND!" I know the average Styx fan would probably say that "Miss America" had the band's best riff, but I'm partial to the one on "Half-Penny." Once again, James Young's deep vocals set the stage on the verses, giving way to the more melodic harmonies on the chorus. The song finishes with an instrumental which flows right into....

AD 1958

Musically the album ends in virtually the same manner as it began, except instead of hope and anticipation, we're left with a sense of bittersweet longing. The album is over, the theater has closed, the times have changed and all we have are the memories. At least I think that's the message they were trying to convey.

State Street Sadie

So as to not leave us on a down note, the record adds on about 20 seconds of ragtime music, taking us back to where we began in 1928.

What a Kick-A** record! It will probably still sound just as good 25 years from now. One thing that occurred to me during this last listen is how much parts the record remind me of the Rent Soundtrack. That started me thinking how Styx would be the perfect band to have their music adapted for a musical. Not like that Beach Boys disaster from last year or "Mama Mia" which only sold because millions of ABBA fans have been waiting since 1980 to see their favorite band reunite. This could be a GOOD show and I already have a plot outline in mind. Interested? Give me a call. I'll be willing to serve as techical consultant for a cut of the profits.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Mr. Mississippi

Writers Note: I dedicate this post to the wonderful residents of Biloxi, Mississippi whose spirit continues to inspire me.

Ask anyone to name a singer from Mississippi and it's a safe bet they'll respond with "Elvis Aaron Presley." Maybe 1 in 20 will name B.B. King, but Mr. King is sure to trail THE King by a large margin. But, I've always been partial to the great singer/songwriter from Meridian, Mississippi who once set the record for most consecutive weeks on The Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. I'm talking about Paul Davis and, to me, he is Mr. Mississippi.

From 1974-1982, Paul scored eight Top-40 hits and two Top-10s. I guess that's not a lot compared to the 114 Top-40 hits scored by the man from Tupelo, but let's give Paul his due: he actually WROTE most of his records. The timeless "I Go Crazy" spent a then-record 40 weeks on the charts from 1977-78 (give yourself two points if you know that "Tainted Love" was the song that broke the record when it logged 43 weeks on the charts in 1982), ultimately peaking at #7 and almost single-handedly defining the late 70's mellow-rock sound. The influence of "I Go Crazy" can be heard in many other tunes from that era, most noticeably on Styx's 1979 hit "Babe," the only #1 hit of the lengendary band's career.

As one who's obsession with pop music imploded during 1982, I relate heavily with Paul's two Top-20 hits from that year: "Cool Night" and "'65 Love Affair." The former is surely one of the most sentimental ballads of all time. The first time I ever listened to Casey count down the entire Top 10 was on Sunday, February 7 1982 (two points if you know that it was Garth Brooks' 20th Birthday) and I turned on the radio as "Cool Night" was being played at its peak position of #11. '65 Love Affair, which became Paul's biggest hit peaking at #6, was one of the most infectious records of the year and its Lindy/East Coast Swing beat still gets me pumping everytime I put it on.

Paul's songs sounded great no matter who was singing them. In the mid-80's, Dan Seals (one half of 70's hit pop-duo England Dan and John Ford Coley and brother to Jim Seals, one half of 70's hit pop-duo Seals & Crofts), resuscitated his career on the country charts. Two of his biggest (and best) hits from that era were written by Paul Davis: "Bop" (a song about dancing, though everyone thought it was about sex) and "Meet Me in Montana" (a gem of a romantic duet with Marie Osmond, one half of 70's hit pop-duo....oh you know who).

Paul's life story may never make it to the big-screen (especially since I don't think he had any drug, alcohol, violence or gambling issues) and you may never see his face on a postage stamp. But one day I hope to have kids and I plan on using music to help them understand history and what life for me was like growing up. Paul Davis has earned a prime place on the soundtrack of my life, I hope he earns a place on theirs.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

You Don't Know Jack!

On April 17, 1986 a new radio format came to New York City, as 105.1 reinvented itself as WNSR or "New York's Soft Rock." If you didn't know what "soft rock" was, no worries. The way too enthusiastic spokesmodels in their commercials would tell you over and over again. "Billy Joel AND The Beatles"; "Barbara Streisand AND Whitney Houston"; The Best Mix; The Best Mix; The Best Mix of The 60's, The 70's AND The 80's.

The exact same commercial (with only the call-letters changed) would air in Baltimore for their own "Best Mix of the yadda-yadda" station, WMIX--Mix 106. One day, a friend from Freshman year named Eric Von Borstel (NOTE: Hey Eric, if you happen to come upon this post by Googling yourself....drop me a line and let me know what's up) articulated what many of us had thought. Wouldn't it be great if these so-called mix stations played a REAL MIX! Barbara Streisand And Whitney Houston??? Try The Screaming Blue Messiahs And Whitney Houston. Now that's a mix! The next thing you know, we were all coming up with our own outrageous mix pairings....Leonard Bernstein AND Van Halen.........Depeche Mode AND Arlo Guthrie. The joke ended up taking on a life of its own......Olivia Newton-John AND Elton John..Jeffrey Osbourne AND Ozzy Osbourne...Europe AND Asia...Meatloaf AND Bread.....Prince AND Queen.....Queen AND King.....Gene Loves Jezebel AND Johnny Hates Jazz....(Call us misfits if you must, but there was never a dull moment)!

Well, maybe we should have been a little more careful as to what we wished for, because now we've got Jack. The format, which is supposed to be so revolutionary, basically plays everything, or as my old suite-mate recently commented "Camper Van Beethoven AND Beethoven!" (I one-upped him with "Camper Van Beethoven" AND "Rock Me Amadeus!"). Anyway, the whole thing is the "brainchild" of Bob Perry, a radio programmer who was working on an American Internet radio stream in 2000. Perry named his stations after a fictitious persona, "Cadillac Jack" Garrett, described as "a hard living radio cowboy." (And you thought I was a misfit??!) The first station to adopt the Jack format was Vancover's CKLG, which makes me want to call up my local Jack station and request "Blame Canada."

There's been a lot of hype lately over Jack, even though the whole idea is no more creative than a bunch of mix tapes. Still, I found the whole thing rather harmless...until this past June 3rd at 5 PM. When the once-legendary 101 WCBS-FM flipped, without warning, to Jack, a line had been crossed. For those of you outside New York, this may be a little difficult to understand but, you do not mess with 101, 101 A-aah...101, 101 A-aah...101 WCBS-FM. The best DJs of all time (Cousin Brucie, Ron Lundy, Harry Harrison, Norm N. Nite, etc.). The greatest hits of all time. The original Top 20 oldies Countdowns. The Lunchtime Brown Bags. The Love After Midnight Hour. If you were ever in a bad mood, all you had to was click on 101.1 for a few songs and all would be well. CBS-FM was the good friend that was always there and never let you down.

Calling CBS-FM an oldies stations is way too simplistic. In most cities, the oldies station plays the same 100-200 songs over and over again, rarely spanning more than a decade or two. CBS-FM was different. They played their share of Doo-Wop, but they weren't afraid to play recent "oldies" as well. By the early 90's they had already added a healthy share of 80's hits into their rotation including Madonna's "Dress You Up," Huey Lewis and The News' "Heart & Soul" and even Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight." And the station cut deep. Sure, they played all the classics and primarily stayed with Top-20 hits. But they weren't afraid to occasionally play an oldie that you'd never hear anywhere else. I was listening one night in the Fall of 1994, when they decided to play Lenny Welch's "Darling, Take Me Back," a tune that never cracked the Top-40 nationally, though it had fared well in The New York-area (It reached #7 on the WABC-AM countdown in June of 1965). I had to call CBS-FM the next day to find out the artist and they were only too happy to tell me. It took me another three years to locate the track on CD.

Finally, CBS-FM was special because it was loyally devoted to its own format, but it knew when to break the rules. One of those times was in the late morning of August 9th, 1995 as news began to spread of Jerry Garcia's death. The Grateful Dead was not a band that you would expect to hear on CBS-FM and most non-Classic Rock stations nationally probably mentioned Jerry's passing as a news item and moved on. But CBS-FM realized that he meant a lot to many of their listeners and for probably the first time ever on the station you heard "Here's a song that Jerry recorded with The Grateful Dead back in 1970 called 'Truckin."" This was especially impressive when you consider that CBS-FM could have taken the cop-out and played "Touch of Grey," the one song by The Dead that actually hit the Top 40 (#9 in 1987). But, CBS-FM knew better and figured that if one was going to break format to honor a legend, then one might as well honor him properly in the process.

Maybe there is a place for Jack on the dial, but not at the expense of well-thought out radio stations with trademarked programming, charismatic DJs and loyal listeners. The same way as musical revues on Broadway may be nice once in awhile, but not if they are forever replacing traditional theatrical performances. What happened on June 3rd was nothing short of an outrage. Still, all hope may not be lost. The latest Arbiton ratings (though preliminary) came out this week and showed 101.1 dropping heavily since adopting the Jack format (9-17 over the last six months). Will CBS-FM as we know it come back? It would take a lot of hard work (and money) to re-hire the DJs. After all Jack works on a programmed shuffle. But who knows, CBS-FM may be the station that proves that nothing can replace the human touch. It's been widely reported that the last song played by CBS-FM around 4:55 PM on June 3rd was Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind." The first song on the new WCBS-FM should be "Hit The Road Jack!"

Monday, July 04, 2005

Armageddon It!

There's something that just feels right about hitting the ballpark on July 4th weekend, even if it's to hear music played by Canadians and Englishmen. Having been a fan of both Bryan Adams and Def Leppard for over two decades and having never seen either live, this was my must-see concert of the summer. Called the Double-Header Tour, the two acts are playing shows exclusively in Minor League Stadiums and so I found myself venturing up about 70 miles north to Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, New York (home of The Hudson Valley Renegades, a Single-A affiliate of The Devil Rays) for the show.

Note: You may be an AT40 geek, if you know that Bryan Adams and Def Leppard debuted with their first Top 40 hits on the same week---w/e April 16th 1983. You are definitely an AT40 geek if you know that it was "Straight From The Heart" coming at #39, while "Photograph" was the highest debut of the week at #32.

Living in Manhattan, it's been a long time since I've driven to a concert and I'd forgotton how backed up the road to a parking lot can become. After making great timing the entire way there, it took us 45 minutes to get off the I-84 exit. We arrived at the stadium lot only to find out it was full and that we'd have to drive another six miles to a mall to catch a shuttle back to the stadium. In short, we arrived about 20 minutes into Bryan Adams' set and I was royally ticked! We missed two of his best songs ("Run to You"; "Somebody") and had to hear two others from outside ("One Night Love Affair"; "Summer of '69"). The show was General Admission and they had way underestimated the appeal for this ticket. There were only 4,500 seats in the stadium and there must have been 15,000-20,000 people in the park. Most were standing on the field and that's where we headed as well. The rest of Bryan's set was decent, but nothing made up for the disapointment of missing four of his best tunes....until it was time for Def Leppard to take the stage!

Now this is what a rock concert ought to be. People standing throughout the show. Fans that know every word of the songs (well, almost every word. It's amazing that after 18 years, people still haven't figured out that they're saying "Sa-te-litte of lo-o-ove" in "Rocket").

We were within 30 feet from the stage in a sea people that seemed to stretch all the way back to the infield and my voice was hoarse by the end of their 90-minute set. They played 'em all: "Women," "Photograph," "Love Bites," "Let's Get Rocked," "Bringing on the Heartbreak," and they saved "Pour Some Sugar on Me" for the final encore.

Def Leppard is now officially on my list of groups that I must see a second time in concert. They were just too much fun this time around and they actually still seem to get the idea of how to put on an exciting live show. Sometime soon, I'm going to write a posting about how some of the best stage acts today are ones that have been around for 25+ years (e.g. Jimmy Buffett, Neil Diamond, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones). As for right now, I'll just say that it was a band from Sheffield, England that helped me properly usher in July 4th, 2005.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Classic Rock is Dead---or is it? (Part I)

This week was Bono's birthday. I know that because the radio station made a really big deal about it.....20 years ago when I was on my way to my high school youth organization's Spring Convention. But it wouldn't have shocked me to hear a radio station making the same big deal about Bono's birthday this past Tuesday because they are just as hot now as they were then. Considering the music landscape of today, that is nothing short of amazing.

If you think I'm speaking as a partisan U2 fan, think again. In my collection of 300 or so CDs, a grand total of 0 are by U2 (though I probably should have picked up "War" or "October" at some point). I thought "The Joshua Tree" was one of the most overrated rock albums of all time. I am fairly sure that their version of "Helter Skelter" is one of the worst Beatles remakes ever. Finally, when I hear Bono's buffoonesque screaming of "Uno...Doz....Tres....Catorce," I get a strong urge to punch somebody...hard!

But U2 has my respect. They have my respect because in the 1980s they were often the only new band that classic rock elitists would admit to liking and they have my respect because in 2005, they are the only members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that are still on the top of the game. Sure, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton remain popular and sell out arenas, but none of them have put out a relevant album with staying power since the 1980's (the last Bruce album to really stand the test of the time was "Born in the USA" back in '84).

U2 on the other hand continues to remain fresh and hip and their new music is welcomed with the same enthusiasm as their old. Back in April, I went to The Eagles sold-out concert at MSG and on the two occasions that they played a song less than 20 years old ("Hole in the World"; "Love Will Keep Us Alive"), the audience responded with either confusion or ambivalence. At a U2 concert, I would imagine that much of the audience expects a set list that draws heavily from the three most recent albums.

I remember back in the Spring/Summer of 1983 when the band was just beginning to catch on. Two things struck me at the time. First, that they were being embraced by a contingent that otherwise hated 80's music. Many a Classic Rock fan who otherwise insisted on a steady diet of Stones, Floyd, Doors and Zeppelin adopted U2 as the one then-current band that mattered. Second, that they were being embraced by another, equally surprising contingent. Their records were being bought by listeners of Top-40 radio, despite the band receiving next to no airplay on those very stations. In fact, U2 would not score a Top-20 until 1987. By contrast, Men at Work was working on their fourth Top-10 hit in 12 months during the Summer of '83. Talking about the two groups back then, many might have predicted that twenty-two years later one band would still be releasing platinum albums and the other would be merely the answer to a trivia question (and probably a difficult one at that). But how many would have picked the right group?

I was a Freshman in college in the Spring of 1987 when "The Joshua Tree" came out. As I said earlier, I never much cared for that album, but I was quite impressed by the anticipation and hype surrounding its release. Back then, the vinyl (and tape) versions of the album would become available 2-3 weeks before the CD and there were plenty of people in the dorms who bought the vinyl (knowing darn well they were going to buy the CD a couple of weeks later) because they simply couldn't wait that long to own the new record.

U2's status as the token 80's band for classic rockers was taken to a new, sometimes absurd level by K-Rock (92.3 in New York City, back when it was classic rock from 1985-1996 or thereabouts). The station would play up it's classic rock identity by filtering its records through a slight distort over the air and having its DJs sound like Steven Wright's character in "Reservoir Dogs" (Yep....he was the DJ that you heard throughout the flick). But whenever they wanted to show that they "didn't believe a song needed to be old, to be classic," they'd play some U2. They'd even play the 12-inch version of "Desire" which sounded downright ridiculous throught their distort sound, but their point was clear: 80's music s__ked, but U2 was cool!

Now the band has come full circle. They're the one classic rock band that are not being labeled as aging dinosaurs and have kids waiting in line to buy their new albums and concert tickets. They're also proof that classic rock and roll is not dead, even though at times it seems like it's in a coma. I'm not quite sure what it is that U2 is doing right, but whatever it is it seems to be working.

Vive Le Rock!
P.S.---I recently purchased Pete Battistini's "American Top 40 With Casey Kasem (The 70's). It is a must-own for all AT40 fans and I e-mailed Pete to thank him for putting it together and see if he needed any help with an 80's version (there's none in the works at this time). I also asked him to visit "Life is a Soundtrack," and he took me up on it.
He made a very interesting observation about my first post (from June 20, 2004). He was wondering if I was mistaken about listenting to the countdown on WNBC in June of 1982, since ABC-affiliates cornered the AT40 syndication market around that time. Well, the countdown did switch from WNBC to WPLJ, but I don't believe that happened until Thanksgiving Weekend 1983 (I remember turning on WNBC on the return ride home from spending the holiday weekend with my grandparents and was shocked that the countdown was nowhere to be found). But.....Pete's note helped me remember another point relevant to the June 20th post. When I noted that I had a late start on the morning of December 11th, I must really have had a very late start. When the countdown switched over to WPLJ, the times changed as well from 9-1 to 10-2. So, I must have not turned on the countdown until around 10:30 that morning. Thank you Pete, for keeping me accurate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's All in the Call

Last month, everyone was talking about the 25th anniversary of the USA's upset victory in hockey over the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Many forget that it was non-elimination game that didn't mean anything until the USA upset Finland two days later (Until 1992, the format for awarding Gold-Silver-Bronze in hockey did not resemble a playoff mode and instead was based on cumulative points against other teams that made the medal round).

Nevertheless, the 4-3 victory over the Soviets did give us one of the greatest calls in broadcast history. Yes, of course, I'm talking about "Do you believe in miracles?!" but those five words alone don't do it justice. To get the entire feel, you've got to take in Al Michaels from the 11-second mark:

"Eleven seconds, you got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now...Morrow up to Silk...five seconds left in the game! Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

The game would have been no less significant without Al Michaels, but once we had his call, we could never relive the moment without it. This is why I believe there will always be a place for the radio DJ, no matter how many iPods are sold. If you don't believe that the right intro (or outro) can elevate a song, then you haven't been listening to the right radio hosts.

So what makes a great intro? It should you get psyched to hear the song. It should be tailored uniquely for that song. The right DJ can deliver their intro with just the right inflection, just the right tempo, just the right build-up and will know the just right instant to stop talking and let the music take over.

Fans of American Top 40 were treated to the art of the great into on a weekly basis. Of course, in many cases it was the producers filling in the music over the taped intros long after Casey had left the building, but that didn't diminish the beauty of the end product. I can still remember this one from around 9:35 AM on Sunday, November 7, 1982:

"Of the eight British acts in our survey, three are from the town of SHHHeffield! Paul Carrack who we heard at #37; Joe Cocker who appears at a higher position in our countdown; and the band at #35, here's ABC with The Look of Love!" (Note: For full effect try reading the above text over the intro of "The Look of Love," still one of the greatest musical intros of all time).

As much as I loved Casey, you have the respect the DJs who had to ad-lib on the fly. Here in New York, WCBS-FM used to have a program where they'd play the Top 20 from that week in a past year (i.e. on April 1, 2005 they might feature the Top 20 of April 1, 1972). I happened to be listening on Saturday Evening December 7, 1991 when they were playing the Top 20 from December 7, 1978. Since my sister was born on December 8, 1978, I figured I'd tape the show for her (No, I never got around to giving her the tape....serves her right for complaining that I overuse parentheses in my writings).

Recently, I gave the tape a listen because I remembered it had some great calls on it, and yes I do mean great! The DJ for the night was Mark Summers (not the Mark Summers who hosted Double-Dare and to whom I've been told I bear more than a slight resemblance) and he was on a roll. The best was when song #7, Alicia Bridges' "I Love the Nightlife" is fading out. "Yeah, Disco was big back then as we count down the Top 20 from December 7, 1978.....," and then as the unmistakable opening rifts of Foreigner's "Double Vision" begin, "........But so was ROCKNROLL BABY!!" Mark kept it going throughout the countdown. As "Double Vision" was fading out, right before Gino Vanneli's " I Just Wanna Stop came in at #5, he added "Who cares about double vision? With great rock and roll like that, you don't need to see!"

Sometimes an anticipated classic call disappoints. Just as Al Michaels had one one of the greatest sports calls of all times, I happened to be listening to the radio when I had what might have been one of the all-time worst. The night was July 31, 1990 and I had just listened to the Expos beat the Mets 7-4. Joe T. Mac (at least I think it was Joe T. Mac) was going through the wrap-up on WFAN and then announced that he had a surprise. We were going to pick up the feed for the 9th inning of the Texas-Milwaukee game, because the Rangers were up 11-3 and Nolan Ryan was going for win #300. And calling the game...the one and only Bob Uecker. Sure, Ueck was the play-by-play man for the Brewers, but Milwaukee had the game lost anyway and they weren't going anywhere and he was BOB UECKER! This was bound to be a great call.....Not! He treated the end of the game as just another frustrating Brewers loss and then acknowleged in passing that Nolan's teammates were congratulating him on the mound. The classic call of the night actually went to Joe T. Mac when they came back from the feed, "Whoa! Way to be emotional Euck!! I bet Mr. Belvedere could have done a better job!"

Sometimes it takes a little time to appreciate whether or not a call is classic. On Sunday Morning, September 29, 1985 my family was in the middle of our annual ritual of putting up the Sukkah (a clubhouse of sorts which commemorates the Jewish holiday of Sukkot). I knew I had to find an excuse to get inside for a coule of minutes around 9:1o or so, because I was expecting a once in a lifetime historical call that could not be missed. I had first heard The Hooters on WNEW in early June and then had seen their popularity spread in cult-like fashion all summer. I had them pegged as The Next Beatles and I knew that their first American Top 40 hit, "And We Danced" was about to debut at #38. No way was I missing Casey's call on this one. Well, the call was mediocre, "And We Danced" peaked at #21, the follow-up "Day By Day" made it to #18 and the band mustered only one more Top 40 single after that. "Nervous Night" is still a great album, but the band fell way short of my projected Beatlesque stature.

I've always admired Scott Shannon, not only for his own great calls but for his recognition of the art. He's one of the few DJs who will publicly laud other industry-mates on the air and even incorporate them into his routine. In the past, when he's played a song like Patrick Hernandez's "Born to be Alive" he'd intro it with "This is Paco on WKTU Disco 92." (An inside joke for those who used to listen to the OLD WKTU circa. 1981 when it occupied the 92.3 signal now possessed by K-Rock). And it's Scott and Todd's show that on an annual basis provides one of the greatest calls that one hears all year. On the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, every year since at least 1993, shortly after 8 AM, Joe Nolan gives an amazing into to "Born to Run" that officially welcomes in summer. Every year it seems to get a little bit longer and a little bit better, but the basic theme is always the same. "It's 1976, (as the opening drumroll kicks in) whether you're in Atlantic Highlands, Point Pleasant, Asbury Park or Long Branch, it's summer...and Bruce is on the radio!"

Now there's something you can't get on an IPod.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Isn't it Romantic?!

I'm FINALLY compiling my first list. I'm a little excited because this is one of the reasons I started a blog in the first place. When I was nine, one of my favorite books was Irving Wallace's "Book of Lists" and I would never have become the music geek that I am if I hadn't bought Dave Marsh's "Rock Lists" when I was 13 and then spent the whole Summer of '82 memorizing the darn thing (or near-memorizing it, heck it was 500 pages with something like 2,000 lists).

In honor of February 14th, I'm putting together a list of 20 of the most romantic songs of all time. I want to emphasize that these are not necessarily THE 20 most romantic songs of all time but just 20 that I felt made a nice compilation. There are plenty of great ones left for another list next year. Hence, these songs are not being ranked. Rather, I've listed them in a manner that I felt gave the order a nice flow. One that could be taken and played and the progression of songs would resonate with the ear of the listener.

Now I've been planning this post for weeks, but then earlier today I got my weekly copy of Entertainment Weekly in the mail and they decided to list what they felt were the 50 Greatest Love Songs of all time. I'll stick with my 20 for right now. People actually read lists of 20 items, but at 50 they're glancing and browsing at best. I also prefer to use the word "romantic" over "love" when discussing music. Romance describes an atmosphere or mood. Love is an emotion. Music can set the mood, but in the end the emotion needs to come from the heart. In the end our lists had two songs in common and a few others on their list just missed making mine. So, the next time that you need the perfect song to set the moment just right, consider one of these:

1) "Never My Love"----The Association

There's a reason why it's still the third most played song in the history of radio at nearly 7 million spins (surpassed by only "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and "Yesterday"). The Association's 1967 recording of The Addrissi Brothers' tune is as relevant and refreshing as ever in 2005. My buddy Dave wondered how I could have chosen "Never" for my list over "Cherish." Well "Cherish" would have been a good choice (it made the Entertainment Weekly list) and it would have allowed me to tell my anecdote about meeting The Association and having them autograph my 45 of Cherish (see, I just managed to get that anecdote in anyway). "Cherish" could pop up on a future list, but in the meantime ask yourself the following question: If you were with your ideal mate, in the ideal romantic location, at the ideal romantic moment and you had to choose between hearing "Never" or "Cherish" at that moment, which would it be? Thought so.

2) "I Love How You Love Me"----Bobby Vinton

The Paris Sisters may have had the original and bigger hit with this tune, but it was Bobby who sang it like he meant it. There aren't too many guys who can seriously pull off a line like, "I love how your eyes close whenever you kiss me." Bobby did and the women swooned.

3) "We've Only Just Begun"----The Carpenters

Many couples have chosen this one for their wedding song. If I were making a movie, it would be the song playing the instant after the groom carried the bride over the threshold and closed the door.

4) "When You Say Nothing At All"----Alison Krauss

My friend Annemarie has a great story on this one. She had never really been into country music until one night when she was in a bar and this one came on over the loudspeaker. As the song played on, one of the couples dancing had their eyes lovingly glued to each other and were singing each word in unison. Needless to say, she's been hooked on the genre since.

5) "5-10-15-20 (25-30) Years Of Love"----The Presidents

For better or for worse, there are many more romantic songs about falling in love then there are about having stayed in love for a lengthy period of time ("Still The One" by Orleans is fun, but not what I would call romantic). When my parents celebrated their 30th anniversary on May 29, 1996, this was the one song I wanted to hear on the radio. Back then, WPLJ was still big on 70's music and I tried to get Scott and Todd to play "5-10-15-20 (25-30) Years of Love" for them. They didn't play the record, but they did wish my parents a happy anniversary on the air and then proceeded to make fun of me for another four minutes. Off the air, Scott Shannon and I dueted on a few bars of the song. Hey, I thought we sounded great.

6) "Sharing The Night Together"----Dr. Hook

This one gets into your senses even before the vocals start and, ever so subtly, becomes more intoxicating as it progresses. By the time the song hits the "We can bring in the morning light" part, your face definitely needs a splash of water.

7) "Here, There & Everywhere"----The Beatles

Might not even rank among The Beatles 100 biggest hits, but all-around this was probably their best love song.

8) "La-La Means I Love You"----The Delfonics

Here's one of the two songs that my list shared with Entertainment Weekly's. You can feel the yearning in the singer's voice all the way through until the final fade-out.

9) "On The Wings Of Love"----Jeffrey Osbourne

So soulful, yet so optimistic. Even on days that you feel unlucky in love, this one still sounds great.

10) "Faithfully"----Journey

Written by Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain as an anniversary present for his then-wife Tane. The fact that they later divorced in no way diminishes this immensely moving musical love letter.

11) "Truly Madly Deeply"----Savage Garden

I was being to think that the sweet pop song had become extinct when this one came out in 1997. It shook me from the first time I heard it and within a couple of days it seemed that everyone had discovered the record. I remember walking past a row of cubicles in the office when the song was playing and one of my co-workers was glowing, as if she had never heard a song that made her so happy.

12) "What You Won't Do For Love"----Bobby Caldwell

The first time I ever went to a karaoke bar was in Washington, DC on New Year's Weekend 1995-96. My turns at the mike were less than memorable, but towards the end of the night a guy got up and tried his hand at "What You Won't Do For Love." The hostess noted that the number of women in the room doubled during the course of his performance. I would pay good money for voice lessons if the teacher could guarantee me that I'd sound half-decent singing this one by the end.

13) "Love Is"----Vanessa Williams & Brian McKnight

We always knew Heather Locklear was sexy, but we never realized how much we ached and longed for her until that night in January, 1993. It was the middle of Season 1 of Melrose Place and Billy and Amanda were to about to make love for the first time. The scene wouldn't have hit home like it did without the then just-released "Love Is" playing in the background. It wasn't the first time I wanted Heather, but it was the first time I cried at the sight of someone else kissing her.

14) "All I Know"----Art Garfunkle

An all-around beautiful tune written by Jimmy Webb ("MacArthur Park," "Galveston," "Worst That Can Happen," "Wichita Lineman"), that gave Art Garfunkle his first major hit as a solo artist. Just a few years earlier, Art had sung about how love calms all in "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The message and tone of "All I Know" was almost a complete U-Turn. Love hurts and has more than its share of disturbing moments, but in the end the reward is worth the pain....usually.

15) "It's Your Love"----Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

It seems that most die-hard country music fans have a great story on how they became attached to the genre (see #4 above). Here's mine. I was flying SwissAir to Israel in the Spring of 1998. There was no movie on the Zurich-Tel Aviv leg, so I checked out the various music-listening options. One of the channels was offering an eclectic mix of mellow tunes including some I hadn't heard in quite awhile. I was especially excited to hear Linda Rondstadt's "Heartbeats Accelerating" and a few songs that were following shortly thereafter in the program. But I was also curious about the tune that was scheduled immediately after "Heartbeats Accelerating." I knew who both Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were (Tim's father, Tug "Quick Draw" McGraw had been the star closer of my beloved Phillie teams in the late 70's and early 80's), but I didn't think I had ever heard any of their songs in entirety to that point. I didn't even know they were married until hearing it from that program's emcee. I never expected to be blown away by the song like I was. I was actually hoping that the flight would be long enough for the program to wrap around to the song again (it was). Eight days later, I got the same program again on the Zurich-New York leg and I made sure to catch "It's Your Love" everytime it came up in the program. I also knew that if even a fraction of country music could affect me even a fraction of the way "It's Your Love" had, I was going to be listening to a lot more of it when I got back to New York.

16) "You're The Only Woman"----Ambrosia

Ambrosia's blue-eyed soul never quite reached the popularity of The Doobie Brothers or Hall and Oates, but their tunes had a sweetness to them that was unmatched by their more prominent counterparts. What makes this song so extra special is that it's so well thought out. Limited backing vocals on the first chorus, only to be added later on. The sensual "Don't speak....Shhhhhhhhhhh," at the start of what would be the third verse. The intrumental that follows with the volume fluctuating ever so slightly up and down. One of the last great songs to come from The Golden Age of Lite Rock.

17) "Baby, I Need Your Lovin' "----Johnny Rivers

Originally a #11 hit for The Four Tops, it was Johnny Rivers who took the song into the Top 5 three years later and made it the romantic masterpiece that it is. My friend Ivan who's written with the best of them, said that one time Jimmy Webb (see song #14 above) was in a car when this song came on the radio and he had to pull to the side just to compose himself.

18) "Follow You, Follow Me"----Genesis

One moment Genesis and Phil Collins would be dark and deep, the next sappy and sweet. Rarely were they able to mold the two together into a truly romantic song that at the same time wasn't whiny. They got the balance just right with "Follow You, Follow Me." One time, back on Dave Herman's morning show on WNEW over a decade ago, they were bemoaning the fact that so many couples were using Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" as their wedding song. "Follow You, Follow Me," was the one they pushed for as the more appropriate choice.

19) "I'll Never Break Your Heart"----The Backstreet Boys

Put all your biases about The Backstreet Boys aside, they did just fine on this one. I wouldn't have smirked if someone included "More Than That" on one of their lists either.

20) "When A Man Loves A Woman"-----Percy Sledge

This was the other song to appear on both mine and Entertainment Weekly's lists. Simply too obvious to be left off.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Aborted Holiday Post

Over the past six weeks, I have been writing and re-writing a post entitled "What I don't want for Channukah!" The basic idea was that I had no desire to get an iPod and how I thought digital downloads were destroying the idea of the classic album. I still hold by many ideas and the thoughts (and I had some great one-liners) but that post is being put on the back-burner for the following three reasons:

* After six weeks the piece is nowhere near complete and what is complete is nowhere near satisfactory.

* To the shock of many industry insiders (and yours truly), CD sales actually rose in 2004. The first annual increase since 2000.

* Many of my concerns and points I wished to make were articulated quite nicely by David Browne in this past week's Entertainment Weekly (Jan. 14, 2005). I encourage all to read.

G-d willing, I'll be back next month with my first musical list. In honor of Valentine's Day, we'll look at 20 of the most romantic pop songs of all time.
Stay tuned.......