Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bachman-Turner Overdrive – "Takin' Care of Business" (1973)

And if your train's on time
You can get to work by nine
And start your slaving job to get your pay

(I've taken the train to get to my office in downtown Washington, DC, for over twenty years.  I used to get to work by nine . . . then I got to work by ten.  These days, I get to work by . . . actually, I think I'll keep that my little secret.)

Although I always reserve a cheap rental car when I go to Cape Cod for Memorial Day weekend, I seem to always end up with a car that comes equipped with a satellite radio.  I guess it's just the universe's way of rewarding me for being such a good guy.

This year, my rental car was a Chevrolet Cruze, which is a fairly generic compact sedan.  My Cruze was the top-of-the-line LTZ model, and it was loaded -- I got a rear-view camera, sunroof, navigation system, and 18-inch alloy wheels in addition to the aforementioned satellite radio.

Last year, I noticed that the display on my satellite radio sometimes truncated the names of the songs that were playing, as well as the names of the performers.  For example, it turned the Rolling Stones classic, "Mother's Little Helper," into "Mother's Little."  Freddie and the Dreamers appeared as "Freddie & the D."

The same thing happened this year, but with an odd little twist.

Here's what the display screen looked like when Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business" started playing -- "Overdrive" was truncated to "O" and "Business" was truncated to "B."

But as the song continued, the display changed as well.  First, the "O" changed to "Overdrive" after several seconds:

Eventually, the "B" changed to "Business":

I don't know why that is.  Do you?


Randy Bachman wrote the first version of "Takin' Care of Business" when he was the lead guitarist for the Guess Who.  Burton Cummings, the group's lead singer, thought that version of the song sounded too much like "Paperback Writer," and told Bachman the Beatles would no doubt sue them if they ever recorded the song.

Bachman rewrote the song, but the Guess Who never recorded it.  Bachman left that band in 1970 and later formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive -- often referred to as "BTO" -- which released "Takin' Care of Business" in 1973 on its second studio album.

The piano part on the record was played by Norman Durkee, who was delivering pizzas to the Steve Miller Band the same night that BTO was recording in an adjacent studio.  Durkee stuck his head into the studio was BTO was listening to playbacks of "Takin' Care of Business," and told Bachman that the record needed some piano. 

Bachman didn't know Durkee was an accomplished musician as well as a pizza delivery guy, but decided to give him a chance for some reason.  Durkee scribbled down some chords on a pizza box, then nailed the piano part in one take.

The record made it to #12 on the U.S. singles chart, and is a staple of classic-rock radio playlists today.

Here's "Takin' Care of Business":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Earth, Wind & Fire – "Shining Star" (1975)

You're a shining star
No matter who you are

My son Peter recently joined the staff of the University of Maryland's student newspaper, the Diamondback.

The Diamondback, which publishes five editions a week during the school year and has a print circulation of 14,000, has been an independent, self-supporting publication since 1971.  That was when the university's Board of Regents cut off the paper's funding after the editors ran two pages blank to protest censorship of antiwar articles.

My son's most recent story for the paper was inspired by the Maryland men's lacrosse team's advancing to the NCAA tournament finals.

Lacrosse is a huge sport in the mid-Atlantic region, and Maryland's lacrosse teams are usually highly ranked.  The men's team hadn't had a losing record in sixty years, and won its conference regular-season championship in each of the last three seasons.  But it hadn't won a national championship since 1975.

The 1975 University of Maryland lacrosse team
Peter's article took a look back at what else was going on in the world in 1975 -- which I remember vividly, but which seems like ancient history to Peter and his contemporaries.

Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen (who were 19 and 22 years old, respectively) in 1975, which was also the year when the Vietnam War ended and Muhammad Ali beat Joe Frazier in the "Thrilla in Manila."

The average price of gasoline was 57 cents a gallon in 1975, and the best-selling car was the Oldsmobile Cutlass.  (I drove a Cutlass in 1975.  Since it had a 350-cubic-inch V8, it was good for me that gas cost only 57 cents a gallon.  Otherwise, I would have been even broker than I already was.) 

Angelina Jolie, Tiger Woods, 50 Cent,  Bradley Cooper, David Beckham, and Russell Brand are just a few of the celebrities who were  born in 1975.  (It's hard to believe Russell Brand is almost 40 -- most 14-year-olds are more mature.)

Jaws and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest were the biggest movies of 1975, and Saturday Night Live made its debut that year.

The original cast of Saturday Night Live
All that is well and good, but this is a pop music blog.  What was the state of pop music in 1975?

To put it bluntly, pop music SUCKED in 1975.

According to Billboard magazine, the top song of 1975 was Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together."  (Did you know that both the Captain -- Daryl Dragon -- and Toni Tennille had played keyboards for the Beach Boys?)

Number two in the Billboard rankings in 1975 was "Rhinestone Cowboy," by Glen Campbell, while number three was Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom." 

Other songs to make the year-end top-ten list in 1975 included "My Eyes Adored You" (Frankie Valli), "Fame" (David Bowie), "One of These Nights" (the Eagles), and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (John Denver).

(Your Honor, the prosecution rests.)

You can click here to see the entire list of the top 100 singles of 1975.  Don't blame me if you turn to stone as a result of perusing that list.

One of the few good hit singles that was released in 1975 was Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star."

Saw what you will about Earth, Wind & Fire's music . . . but you can't argue with their outfits:

Earth, Wind & Fire
Here's "Shining Star" – it's funkalicious!

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lizzy Caplan – "You Don't Know Me" (2013)

To you I'm just a friend
That's all I've ever been
You don't know me 

My workday lunches usually consist of a homemade sandwich that I eat at my desk.  Sometimes that sandwich is supplemented with a salad or a cup of soup from the cafeteria in my building.

I used to read a book or a New Yorker while eating that sandwich.  A couple of years ago, I started watching public-library DVDs of cable TV series -- one episode if it's an hour-long drama, two episodes of half-hour comedies.

Kate Mara ("House of Cards" and "Entourage")
So far, I've made it through Breaking Bad (five seasons), Entourage (eight seasons), House of Cards (three seasons), Justified (five seasons watched, one to go), The League (five seasons watched, two to go), Homeland (three seasons watched), Orange Is the New Black (two seasons watched), and Masters of Sex – I just finished season one of that series. 

Recently, I started season one of The Americans, which is off to a good start.  The episode I just finished is set on the day that John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan.  

Keri Russell ("The Americans")
I was working in the Federal Building in San Francisco then, and I remember everyone in my office crowding around the one television in our suite to watch the news.  A few weeks later, I flew back to Washington, landing at Dulles Airport and taking an airport bus that drove past George Washington Hospital – where Reagan was treated after he was shot – en route to the Washington Hilton, the site of the attempted assassination.

I was glad to see Margo Martindale in The Americans.  She also had a small role in Masters of Sex, and was the primary villain in season two of Justified.

Katie Aselton ("The League")
There are a surprising number of other actors who have shown up in more than one of the series I've watched.  Timothy Olyphant, who starred in Justified, also appeared as a sushi chef in The League.  Kate Mara was in House of Cards and Entourage.  Constance Zimmer was also in House of Cards and Entourage.  Lizzy Caplan, who is one of the leads in Masters of Sex, appeared in The League.

I'm not sure where I'll go after season two of The Americans. The new season of Orange Is the New Black is scheduled to be released next month, and I'm hoping the final season of Justified will be available not too much later.  (I could have watched Justified when it aired on FX earlier this year, of course, but I hate waiting a week between episodes – and I hate commercials.)  Eventually I'll get around to Bosch, Fargo, True Detective, Better Call Saul, Boardwalk Empire, Rome . . . who knows what else?

Alicia Witt ("Justified")
(Don't hold your breath until I watch Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or anything with zombies or vampires.  It ain't happenin'.)

I've seen bits and pieces of The Sopranos, Californication, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The Wire over the years, and someday I'll go through each of them more systematically.  I actually own all the DVDs for The Wire, but I'm saving them for a rainy day.  (Yeah, yeah, I know . . . I'd better not wait too long.  I'm not getting any younger.)  

Constance Zimmer ("House of
Cards" and "Entourage")
I've also got the DVDs for The Larry Sanders Show in the bank.  Most of you have no doubt forgotten about that show.  It ran on HBO from 1992 and 1998 – 89 episodes altogether – and starred Garry Shandling (as an insecure and passive-aggressive late-night talk-show host), Jeffrey Tambor (as his buffoonish second banana), Rip Torn (as the Machiavellian producer), and Jeremy Piven (as the flaky head writer).  

Wikipedia lists 172 of the show's celebrity guest stars – everyone from Jennifer Aniston, Alec Baldwin, Warren Beatty, Sandra Bernhard, the Butthole Surfers, Jim Carrey, Carrot Top, Ellen DeGeneres, Angie Dickinson, Peter Falk, Farrah Fawcett, Al Franken, Hugh Hefner, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marlee Martin (who calls Brooke Shields the C-word in sign language), Sean Penn, Tom Poston, William Shatner, Gloria Steinem, Sharon Stone, Alex Trebek, Robin Williams, and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Claire Danes ("Homeland")
The show also featured guest appearances by a number of real talk-show figures, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen, Tom Snyder, and Larry King.

Today's featured song is Lizzy Caplan's cover of "You Don't Know Me," which was originally recorded by Eddy Arnold in 1955.  The version that Ray Charles recorded was a #2 hit in 1962, and the other artists who have covered it include Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Jerry Vale, Mickey Gilley, Bob Dylan, Don McLean, Bette Midler, and . . . Meryl Streep?

(When in doubt, just start listing famous people.)

Lizzy Caplan ("Masters of Sex" and "The League")
Lizzy Caplan, who plays pioneering sex research Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex, sings "You Don't Know Me" during the ending of the first season's penultimate episode:

Here's a better recording of the song:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mark Knopfler – "Song for Sonny Liston"

Some say the Bear took a flop
They couldn't believe it 
When they saw him drop

Today is the 50th anniversary of the second heavyweight championship fight between Charles "Sonny" Liston and Muhammad Ali.

Any guesses as to where that championship rematch took place?  Here's a clue: it wasn't Las Vegas, or Madison Square Garden, or any place like that.

No, that fight was fought in a half-filled minor-league hockey arena in . . . Lewiston, Maine?

The Central Maine Youth Center,
site of the Ali-Liston rematch
Sonny Liston – "The Big Bear" was one of his nicknames – was born on a farm in Arkansas in 1932, give or take.  (There's no official record of Liston's birth, and he wasn't sure when he was born.)

His father, Tobe Liston, had 13 children by his first wife and 12 more by his second wife, who was Sonny's mother.  He whipped Sonny so harshly when he was a boy that the scars were still visible many years later.  "The only thing my old man ever gave me," Sonny once said, "was a beating."

Sonny Liston
Liston was still a teenager when he was arrested for robbery and sentenced to five years in the Missouri State Penitentiary, where he learned to box.  He quickly earned a reputation as a ferocious fighter who hit harder than any of his contemporaries.

Liston's criminal history and his association with mobsters caused some promoters and potential opponents to shun him.  But when he finally got a shot at the heavyweight championship in 1962, he took advantage of his opportunity and knocked out reigning champion Floyd Patterson in the first round.  

Sonny Liston nails Floyd Patterson with a right
Liston was a 7-1 favorite when he faced challenger Cassius Clay in Miami Beach in February 1964.  But Clay dominated the fight, and Liston failed to answer the bell for the 7th round.

A rematch was scheduled to take place at the Boston Garden later that year, but it had to be delayed by six months when Muhammad Ali (who had just changed his name from Cassius Clay) needed emergency hernia surgery just a few days before the fight was to take place.

Worried about Liston's ties to organized crime, the local district attorney went to court to block the postponed fight from happening in Boston, forcing promoters to find a new venue for the bout.

At the urging of Maine Governor John Reed, the rematch was moved to Lewiston, a city of some 40,000 souls.  Only 2434 seats were sold, which set a record for the lowest attendance at any heavyweight championship fight.  

The second Clay/Ali-Liston fight – which took place on May 25, 1965 – was a chaotic debacle.  Ali knocked Liston down in the first round, and unbeknownst to the referee, the ringside timekeeper counted Sonny out before he got back to his feet and tried to resume the fight.  (According to Liston, the referee – who was occupied trying to get Clay to go to a neutral corner after the knockdown – never gave Liston an audible count.)

Ali's knockdown of Liston
Ali later said he knocked out Liston with an "anchor" punch.  But skeptics called the knockdown blow a "phantom" punch, and many believed that Liston threw the fight.

Why would Liston have taken a dive?  Some say the Mafia told him to throw the fight and then bet heavily on Ali, while others speculate that Liston bet against himself in hopes of winning enough to clear his debts to the mob.

Others believe the Nation of Islam was involved.  (Ali had close ties to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, who was alleged to have been responsible for the assassination of Malcom X.)

Ali speaking to a Nation of Islam meeting
In fact, one author wrote that the Nation of Islam kidnapped Liston's wife and son before the fight, and told Liston that he would never see them again if he won the fight.

You can click here to read a lengthy New York Times article about the Ali-Liston fight and Lewiston, Maine, in general.

The morning after: Ali reads
about his victory over Liston
After taking a year off, Liston made a successful comeback, winning 14 consecutive fights – 13 of them by knockout.  He finally lost to Leotis Martin in December 1969, but beat Chuck Wapner in June of the following year in what proved to be his final bout.  (Wapner's nose and cheekbone were broken in that fight, and he needed 72 stitches.)

On January 5, 1971, Liston's wife discovered the former champ dead in their Las Vegas home.

The police said Liston had died of a heroin overdose on or about December 30, 1970, but a number of his friends (including his trainer and his dentist) insisted that was impossible because Sonny was too afraid of needles to ever inject himself with heroin.  

Some of those who don't believe Liston died from an overdose think he was murdered – perhaps by loan sharks or drug dealers he worked for, or because he threatened to reveal that his rematch with Ali fight was fixed, or because he failed to take a dive in the Chick Wapner bout.  

Sonny Liston had a record of 50 wins and four losses in his 17-year professional boxing career.  His headstone reads simply "A Man."

Muhammad Ali inspired a lot of songs.  Some people disapproved of Ali on political grounds, while others thought he was a hero.  Whichever group you fell into, it was hard to deny that he was good-looking, clever, charming, and charismatic.

Sonny Liston was none of those things.  He was uneducated and violent, an ex-con and as associate of mobsters – the kind of black man that white people would cross the street to avoid.  (If he were alive today, that would likely still be the case.)

Perhaps its not surprising that today's featured song is the only one inspired by Sonny Liston.  Sad, yes – but not surprising.

Mark Knopfler, who is best known as the singer and lead guitarist for Dire Straits, released "Song for Sonny Liston" on his 2004 solo album, Shangri-La.  You can click here to read a New York Times interview with him about the song.

Here's "Song for Sonny Liston":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Wilson Pickett – "Mustang Sally" (1966)

Mustang Sally
Guess you better slow that Mustang down

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Joplin, Missouri, and my parents still live there.  I've visited them two or three times a year since an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin four years ago today, killing some 160 people and dramatically altering the city's physical appearance.

One of the most significant losses from the tornado was Joplin High School.  It took over three years to rebuild the high school, which has about 2200 students.

Members of the Joplin High School band
When I was in Joplin last month, the high school's marching band held a "Band Geeks and Car Freaks" car show to raise money.

If you are a male who came of age in the sixties, you probably lusted after a 1965 Mustang.  (You probably lusted after all six of the varsity cheerleaders as well.  I know I did.)

There were a couple of Mustangs entered in the Joplin High School show – an older one and a newer one:

In case you can't read the front license plate on the older Mustang, here's a closeup of it:

Any car show worth its salt will have at least one Corvette.  The "Band Geeks and Car Freaks" show featured a red 1958 'Vette, and it was a beauty:

The oldest cars in the show were two beautifully restored Model A Fords – one was a pickup, one a roadster:

There was a 1938 DeSoto:

And there was a 1955 Chevrolet:

There were quite a few newer customized cars and trucks as well:

If you weren't interested in customized cars, you could pretend to be Luke Skywalker and shoot it out with a Star Wars stormtrooper:

"Mustang Sally" was written and originally recorded in 1965 by Mack Rice.  But the version you're probably familiar with is Wilson Pickett's cover, which was released in 1966.  

Click here to hear Rice's version of "Mustang Sally."  It's pretty good, but I think Pickett's is better.

Here's Pickett's recording of "Mustang Sally":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Herman's Hermits – "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" (1965)

She's made it clear enough
It ain't no good to pine

I was a serial hobbyist when I was a kid.

Name a nerdy hobby and it's a good bet I gave it a try.  I collected baseball cards, I collected coins, I collected stamps, I collected rocks and minerals, and I collected vintage nudist photos.  (Just kidding!)

One of my more long-lived hobbies was DX'ing, which is the hobby of listening to and identifying distant radio broadcasts.  ("DX" is telegraphic shorthand for "distant.")

Vintage tube AM radio
I spent many an evening slowly going up and down the dial on a vacuum-tube radio, searching for new AM stations.  (I never owned a shortwave radio, so I was limited to AM DX'ing.)  

When I picked up a new station, I would note identifying details of its programming (for example, that the station had aired a commercial for a local business at a certain time) and then write the station, asking it to verify that I had, in fact, received its signal and not that of some other station.  

Many stations printed up colorful QSL cards for just this purpose.  Here's a QSL card from Denver KOA, a clear-channel 50,000-watt AM station that I could pick up pretty regularly from my childhood home in Joplin, Missouri:

I was a member of an AM DX'ing club that published a mimeographed newsletter.  Some of the club members also collected and swapped the top-records-of-the-week lists published weekly by many pop, soul, and country-western radio stations and distributed at local records stores, drive-in restaurants, and other teenage hangouts.

These weekly lists were called "SCs" for some reason.  I ended up with SCs from over a hundred American and Canadian radio stations, all from the mid- to late sixties – which was the heyday of top-forty radio programming.

Based on my collection it appears that an inordinate number of local radio stations promoted their DJs as "The Good Guys."

For example, here the WKDA "Official Good Guys Survey" for the week of October 14, 1967, which pegged "Let It All Hang Out" by the Hombres as the current number one song.  (WKDA was the first rock-and-roll station in Nashville.)

DJs in the sixties almost never used their real names.  The WKDA "Good Guys" depicted on that survey included Doc Holiday, Sonny Light, and Johnny Wailin.

According to the WJET "Good Guys," the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" was the number one record in Erie, Pennsylvania, the week of December 27, 1966.

The oldest SC I own is this November 19, 1964, "Fabulous 57" from New York City's WMCA:

(The WMCA "Good Guys" included Dan Daniel and Harry Harrison – probably not their real names.)

Omaha's KOIL – "The Mighty 1290" – had some "Good Guys" as well:

WHOT (Youngstown, Ohio) was another "Good Guys" station:

WHOT's DJs included Smoochie Causey and Boots Bell, who had a fabulous beard and mustache:

WHOT DJ Boots Bell
The "Good Guys" in Des Moines could be found on KIOA:

Houston's KNUZ called its top-singles ranking the "Good Guy 50":

"Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" was the number-one song on the Billboard "Hot 100" fifty years ago today.  It was Herman's Hermits' first number-one hit in the U.S., and the third of nine straight top-ten singles the group released between January 1965 and April 1966.

Here's "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: