Thursday, December 07, 2006

Best of The Beatles

Got a chance to meet a Rock Legend last month. Playing two blocks from my apartment was Pete Best whom I'd long referred to as the unluckiest man in the world. Fired by The Beatles right before they hit it big, if anyone had a reason to be bitter it would be him. Instead, he decided to find the best musicians in Liverpool and put together the best darn Beatles cover band out there. Playing the Hamburg sets of 1961-1962 when he was the drumer of The Fab Five/Four (Stu Sutcliffe died in the midst of the period), his band proved to be one of the most fun live acts I've ever seen. After the show, I got a picture with him and I'll post a link if the shot comes out. And....I'll try to get my next post up in a timely manner. I'm working on a list of the best cover songs of all time...get psyched!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

30 Years Ago...(Part 2) or 13 Years Ago (Part 1)

Labor Day 1993 was rather boring. I don't remember what my initial plans were, except that they fell through and I spent the better part of the day listening to the newly-formatted PLJ countdown the Top 300 songs of the 1970's. Once we hit the Top 100, there were few surprises and most were tunes that still received regular airplay on the radio. But the highlight of the day came on the intro to song #78 (I think). "I understand this is Joe Nolan's favorite song. Going back to The Bicentennial Summer of 76, here's The Starland Vocal Band with Afternoon Delight..."

It may have very well been the first time in 16 years that I had heard the song in its entirety (a piece of it was featured in a 1991 episode of "Get a Life"; It was also Chris Elliot's character's favorite song). It was also one of the favorite song's of my best friend from college whom I first met 20 years ago this week. In today's day and age it may seem weird to have not heard one of your favorite songs in 15 years, but this was not only before the Internet but also before many "one-hit/two-hit wonder" songs were released on CD and out of print vinyls were often very hard to come by.

Afternoon Delight was the only hit by The Starland Vocal Band and it topped the charts for two weeks (the weeks ending July 10 & July 17, 1976). The band, which won the 1976 Best New Artist Grammy, was led by Bill Danoff and also consisted of his wife Taffy and another couple that would later marry, John Carroll and Margot Chapman. Bill and Taffy had co-written "Take Me Home, Country Roads" with John Denver and had sung backing vocals on the 1971 hit.

Memorial Day, 1976 and I'm with my family riding back from Jamestown to our home in Portsmouth, Virginia. In those days, the only ways to pass time in the car were listening to the radio and low-tech games. I was playing a bingo game of sorts where I marked off sights as I passed them (a barn, a windmill, etc.) until at some point I dozed off (you can see how much fun the game must have been). When I woke up, the radio was playing "Afternoon Delight." It was my first time hearing the song, and yes, as a six year old, I did really think they were singing about ice cream.

I'm not sure how many times I heard the song during the Summer of '76. Aside from the memories of the Bicentennial (rainy day in Williamsburg, clear night with fireworks in Virginia Beach), the lingering image of the summer was when my parents told me on my birthday that we were moving (yet again). This time to Philadelphia. The first weeks in the new town were tough, but one of the initial memories I have of living in Philly was going to buy new back-to-school "Jaws" sneakers at Buster Brown. Waiting to pull into the parking lot at 47th and City Line, there was Afternoon Delight on the radio like an old friend that had followed me along from Virginia.

Largely on the strength of Afternoon Delight, The Starland Vocal Band received their own variety show on CBS in The Summer of 1977. The cast included a couple of young comics named Jeff Altman and David Letterman (I'm pretty sure I remember Dave in an amusing skit where he played a mailman). Ironically, the show flipped from from Sunday Night to Friday Night in August of 77, to make way for "A Year at the Top" co-starring Dave's future bandleader, Paul Shaffer.

Afternoon Delight has experienced a second life over the past decade, appearing on numerous soundtracks. Most notably, over the closing credits of "Good Will Hunting." If ever they make my life story into a film, we'll have to add room for it there as well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

30 years ago....(Part 1)

I'd been planning an entry commemorating the 30th anniversary of May 31, 1976 for awhile and unfortunately have had no time to put it together. On Memorial Day, 1976, my family was living in Portsmouth, Virginia and we spent the holiday visiting historic Jamestown. On the way back home, I woke up from a nap in the backseat to the sounds of a tune that would leave an impression on me forever. The song: "Afternoon Delight," by The Starland Vocal Band. (more to come, I promise)!!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

One Less Bell to Answer; One Less Mag to Read

If my calculations are correct, I was an Entertainment Weekly subscriber for 604 weeks (dating back to the July 1, 1994, which I believe had The Lion King on the cover and reported that Tiffani-Amber Theissen was joining Beverly Hills 90210). The magazine was a good read in the pre-Internet era, but in recent years I'd found it to be nothing more than a regurgitation of weekly entertainment news that had already broke on the Web.

In August of 1995, I received one of the most exciting phone calls of my life. Entertainment Weekly said there was an "80% chance," they were going to print my letter to the editor in the next issue. I was responding to an article about the casting of actors in believable (or non-believable) ethnic roles and it highlighted the issues surrounding the then-current film, "Unstrung Heroes." Since the original people chosen for the lead roles weren't "believable" as Jews, the parts ultimately went to Andie MacDowell and Jonathan Turturro (neither of whom are Jewish). Since this was 1995 and I was still using snail-mail, I don't have a copy of the letter I sent but it was something along the lines of:

Dear EW,

I have some news for you. Members of the Jewish faith come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and upbringings and most of us bear little resemblance to Woody Allen. If artistic credibility is the key, then maybe we should consider casting actual Jews such as William Shatner, Nell Carter, Michael Landon and Alicia Silverstone in these roles instead of non-Jewish actors who just happen to fit Hollywood's stereotype of how we should look, act and talk.

Best Regards,

Efrem L. Epstein

As exciting as it was to receive the call in late August, it only led to disappointment in early September when the letter ended up getting cut from the issue. I never again came close to getting a letter printed in the magazine, though I did try on several other occasions. For the first time ever, here are the letters I e-mailed to EW (usually complaining about their pop music coverage), which never received any more than an autobot response from the magazine.

Letter #1

This was in response to a special issue about the 100 Greatest Moments in Rock. I thought Casey Kasem's first broadcast was far more important than some of their other inclusions:

Subject: How about Casey?
From: "Efrem Epstein" <>
Date: 5/31/1999 11:13 AMMay 31, 1999

Letters to the Editor
Entertainment Weekly
1675 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Dear Editors,

For those of us raised in the 70's and the 80's pop music began and ended with the American Top 40 countdown. We often spent hours guessing, analyzing and obsessing over 13-notch jumps and long-distance dedications. Maybe Casey Kasem's first AT40 broadcast in 1971 didn't change the world, but surely it had a greater impact on the American music scene than Ginger leaving the Spice Girls or Michael Jackson's hair catching fire.


Efrem L. Epstein

Letter #2:

In reviewing the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the mag made a snarky comment about the inclusion of John Farnham in the ceremony who in their mind was inappropriate since they had never heard of him. For an average Joe to be unfamiliar with John Farnham is understandable, for a writer at a premier entertainment magazine to be unwilling to spend five seconds researching his background on the Internet was inexcusable.

Subject: Olympics Coverage
From: "Efrem Epstein" <>
Date: 9/23/2000 9:08 PM

I've always admired EW for its knowledgeable staff, which is why I was absolutely shocked that in your coverage of the Olympics' opening ceremonies you seemed clueless as to the credentials of Australian singer John Farnham(quote from magazine: "Who? He must be the Down Under Neil Diamond"). In 1982, John replaced Glenn Shorrock in The Little River Band (surely you remember them) and ended up singing lead on three of the bands 13 Top 40 hits including "The Other Guy" which hit #11 right here in the good old U.S. of A.

Best Regards and keep up the otherwise great work,

Efrem L. Epstein

Letter #3

New York, the headquarters for EW, is the largest market in the country and it lacks a country music station which is the largest format in the country. Over the years, EW has been unable (or perhaps unwilling) to recognize the popularity of the genre. I called them out on it back in 2001.

Subject: EW picking on Country
From: "Efrem Epstein" <>
Date: 4/10/2001 9:22 PM

Dear EW,

I "loved" your commentary on the TV listing for the George Strait concert (if there's one thing more gripping than women's soccer, it's country music). Question: Has anyone on the EW staff recently been to a country concert? If you actually had, you might have realized what millions of us already know: no other musical genre is currently producing more exciting live shows or better pop songs. Is it any wonder that the very short list of musicians who can still sell out a stadium would include the likes of Tim McGraw, Shania Twain, George Strait and The Dixie Chicks? Oh, and did I forget to mention that Garth Brooks is now second only to The Beatles in terms of total career albums sold worldwide?

Best Regards,

Efrem L. Epstein