Friday, July 21, 2017

Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – "Superstar (Groupie)" (1969)

And I can hardly wait
To sleep with you again

A few nights ago, I heard the Carpenters’ 1971 hit, “Superstar,” on the Sirius XM ’60s on 6 channel.

I usually change channels quicker than you can say “Jack Robinson” when a Carpenters song – any Carpenters song – comes on the radio.  (“Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begin,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Top of the World” – it’s hard to say which one I dislike the most.)

For some reason, I listened to “Superstar” all the way through that night.  It turns out that it is a GREAT record.  The song itself isn’t anything special, but Karen Carpenter’s singing and her brother Richard’s arrangement are quite extraordinary.  

So I decided to make the “Superstar” the subject of a 2 or 3 lines post.  But I ended up writing five posts about five different recordings of the song.

That’s just how it works sometimes.  I like to think I’m in control of 2 or 3 lines, but but my wildly popular little blog has a mind of its own.  Stuff happens, and when it does, all you can do is try to hold on and enjoy the ride.

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In 1969, Rolling Stone bought a full page ad in the New York Times to promote an upcoming special issue on “groupies.”  (The story goes that publisher Jann Wenner had to empty the magazine’s bank account to pay the $7000 that the ad cost.)

The term “groupies” was originally used to describe the screaming teenage girls who innocently worshipped the Beatles and other pop groups of that era.  But by the time the Rolling Stone issue came out, the word had taken on a sexual implication. 

Groupies were no longer the innocent female fans who got picked up and driven home by mom or dad after a concert.  Instead, they were the adventurous women who went backstage after the show and usually ended up spending the night at the band’s hotel (or on the tour bus).

Rolling Stone's “groupies” issue
Frank Zappa, one of the musicians who were interviewed by Rolling Stone, had this to say about groupies:

New York groupies are basically New York chicks. They're snobbish and uptight -- they think they're big. San Francisco groupies are okay, but they think there's nothing happening outside San Francisco. L.A. groupies are without doubt the best -- the most aggressive and the best fucks, and the only drawback is the incredibly high rate of venereal disease.

(That’s a little harsh, but it’s the kind of provocative thing that Frank Zappa was always saying.)

Later that year, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends released a song titled “Superstar (Groupie).”  It told the story of a gullible groupie who believed that a touring musician she had slept with would someday come back to be with her.

The chances of that happening, of course, are slim and none – and slim just left town, as did the musician and his band.  But every time the groupie hears the musician’s record on the radio, she thinks about him and wishes for his return.

Eric Clapton with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett
“Superstar (Groupie)” was written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett – or that’s what the record label says.  After the Bramletts divorced, Delaney claimed that he assigned the ownership of a number of songs he had written or co-written to Bonnie in order to avoid the provisions of an onerous publishing contract he had signed.

Rita Coolidge later said that she came up with the idea for “Superstar (Groupie),” and the next 2 or 3 lines will feature her cover of the song.

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Here’s the original Delaney & Bonnie and Friends recording of “Superstar (Groupie),” which was released as the B-side of the group’s “Comin’ Home” single in 1969.  (Both songs were released on Delaney and Bonnie’s sixth and final studio album, D&B Together, in 1972.  The couple divorced a year later.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – "Comin' Home" (1969)

I'm comin’ home
To your love

Delaney Bramlett moved from Pontotoc County, Mississippi, to Los Angeles in 1959 and became a session musician.  He eventually was hired to play in the Shindogs, which was the house band for the ABC-TV series, Shindig!  Other Shindogs included Glen Campbell, Billy Preston, and Leon Russell.  

In 1967, Delaney married Bonnie Lynn O’Farrell, a talented young singer from Illinois who had once been a backup singer for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.  She was the first white Ikette, but disguised her race with the help of a black wig and “Man Tan” skin darkener.

The couple then formed Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, which included Russell and other session veterans like Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Jim Keltner and Rita Coolidge.  (Take a look at the credits on the Derek and the Dominoes album, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St., and All Things Must Pass, and The Concert for Bangladesh, and other classic rock albums from that era, and you’ll see those names over and over.)

Delaney and Bonnie got their big break when Eric Clapton invited them to be the opening act for the one and only Blind Faith tour.  Clapton seemed to enjoy playing with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends more than he did with Blind Faith, and recorded a live album with them that was very successful.

That album – titled On Tour with Eric Clapton – featured not only Clapton but also George Harrison and Dave Mason.

L to R: Clapton, Bonnie, Delaney, Harrison
Delaney & Bonnie and Friends sort of ran out of steam after that.  The group released its last studio album in 1972, and the couple got divorced the next year.

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I think Delaney & Bonnie’s best song was “Comin’ Home.”  

A studio version of that song was released as a single in 1969, but pooped out at the #84 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  There’s a live version of “Comin’ Home” on the On Tour with Eric Clapton album.  Both versions are great.  

I think redneck soul reached its epitome with “Comin’ Home,” although you can make a case for Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady.”

(Does the term “redneck soul” bother you?  Excuse me all to pieces.) 

*     *     *     *     *

I don’t need an excuse to feature “Comin’ Home,” but I’ve got one.  

The B-side of the “Comin’ Home” single was a song called “Groupie (Superstar),” which was later covered by a number of other well-known female singers. 

The next several 2 or 3 lines posts will feature the original recording and several of the covers – including one that was a big hit for an artist who sounded nothing like Bonnie Bramlett.

*     *     *     *     *

Here’s the studio version of “Comin’ Home”:

And here’s a video of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – including George Harrison and Eric Clapton – performing the song live:

You can click below to buy the studio version from Amazon:

Or you can click below to buy the live On Tour with Eric Clapton version:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Golden Earring – "Radar Love" (1973)

The radio is playing some forgotten song
Brenda Lee's “Coming on Strong”

Golden Earring is a Dutch band that was formed in 1961 by 13-year-old George Kooymans and his 15-year-old neighbor, Rinus Gerritsen.

They’ve released 25 studio albums – the first in 1965, the most recent in 2012 – and have had 30 singles make the Dutch top ten.  (Five of those singles made it to #1.)  In other words, THEY WERE A BIG DEAL IN THE NETHERLANDS!

Golden Earring (circa 1973)
But in the U.S.?  Not so much. 

I always thought they were a one-hit wonder.  But they had a second U.S. hit with “Twilight Zone,” which peaked at #10 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in 1982 – almost a decade after “Radar Love” made it to #13.

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The band’s frontman, Barry Hay, explains on the Golden Earring website how he got the idea for the “Radar Love”:

One evening I had a few friends over, one of whom was American, and I was brainstorming with them about the form and contents of the story.  It had to be something very simple, to which every average person could relate, such as someone in the bathtub.

(“Someone in the bathtub”?)

Everyone started to put in ideas, and when it got too chaotic, I kicked them out of the house and sent them to some nightclub so that I could work in peace.  The idea of an ordinary guy in his car became to take shape, and when my American house guest got home in the early hours and read the lyrics, he went wild: “This is it; brilliant!  The ultimate American car song!”

I’ve heard Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” about a thousand times on the radio, but I never realized that it includes a shout-out to Brenda Lee’s 1966 hit single, “Coming on Strong,” until this week.

Why is there a reference to that song in “Radar Love”?  According to entertainment writer Deanna Darr,

Golden Earring lead singer and lyricist, Barry Hay, was a fan of “Little Miss Dynamite,” as Lee was known.  During the writing of “Radar Love,” Hay recalled hearing a song by Lee on the juke box in the bar where his mother worked.  The song reportedly was “I’m Sorry,” but Hay decided that the title did not fit and chose instead to reference Lee’s song, “Coming on Strong.”

(“I’m Sorry” was a #1 hit single for Lee in 1960.  It’s a much more familiar song.)

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“Radar Love” is one of the 35 songs that’s in the soundtrack of the brand-new action movie, Baby Driver.  Since Baby Driver is full of spectacular car chases, “Radar Love” was an inspired choice for the movie – and for the trailer:

“Radar Love” is also the perfect song to come on the radio when it’s late at night, and you’ve had wayyyyy too much 3.2% beer to drink, and you’re driving like a bat out of hell.

Here’s “Radar Love”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Simon & Garfunkel – "Baby Driver" (1970)

I was born one dark gray morn
With music coming in my ears
They call me Baby Driver

The new movie Baby Driver currently scores 97% on Rotten Tomatoes – 202 of 209 critics who have reviewed the movie to date have liked it.  

Even the snooty New York Times gave it a positive review:

“Baby Driver” [is] a pop pastiche par excellence, crammed with cubistic action; glowering and golly-gee types . . . and an encyclopedia of cinematic allusions, all basted in wall-to-wall tuneage.  At times, the whole thing spins like a tribute album, a collection of covers of varying quality: diner yaks à la Quentin Tarantino, Godardian splashes of color.  When it works, the allusions give you a contact high, like when a friend turns you on to a favorite movie. 

Tout le monde is talking about the fabulous car chase sequences in Baby Driver – which are real stunts, not CGI fakery.  

But the best thing about the movie is its eclectic soundtrack, which consists of some 30 songs that represent just about every pop music genre of the last fifty years.

The New Yorker wasn’t crazy about Baby Driver, but tipped its critical hat to director Edgar Wright’s  use of music:

[A]lthough “Baby Driver” is not much of a movie, it is an excellent music video—a club sandwich for the senses, lavishly layered with more than thirty songs.  These include the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, T. Rex, Queen, Golden Earring, Barry White, the Damned, the Commodores, and, for funk’s sake, the Incredible Bongo Band.  Sometimes, as on an album, one track simply fades out and makes way for the next, with events onscreen bustling to keep up; most telling of all is the sequence in which Baby, listening intently to a tune of his choice, advises his comrades, poised to jump out of the car and to start robbing, to wait until the beat kicks in.  There are nights when that kind of rush is all you require from a film . . . .

Trust me, Baby Driver delivers just such a rush, as this video demonstrates:

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“Baby Driver” was released in 1970 on the Bridge Over Troubled Water, which was Simon & Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album.  It’s not one of the stronger songs on that album.  

And it’s not of one the stronger songs on the Baby Driver soundtrack.  But given the title and the driving references in the song’s lyrics, how could the director of that movie not include it?

Here’s “Baby Driver”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

deadmau5 (ft. Greta Svabo Bech) – "Raise Your Weapon" (2011)

Rippin' my heart was so easy
So easy

Today was a red-letter day for 2 or 3 lines . . . and for its loyal readers.

(Yes, I am talking about little ol' you!)

This morning, I showed my commitment to making my wildly popular little blog the best it can be by investing in a brand new iMac, which represents a major technological upgrade over my old (circa 2011) iMac.

The new 21.5" iMac
Before I can start cranking out posts on my new computer, I will have to migrate all my documents, photos, and music (23,240 songs at last count) from the old iMac to it.

But my hipster “specialist” (which is what Apple calls the salespeople at its stores) assured me that the migration process would be a piece of cake.  We’ll see about that.

To celebrate, I went to see the new action film, Baby Driver.  We’ll be featuring songs from its soundtrack in the next few 2 or 3 lines posts.

Here's the Baby Driver trailer:

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The oxymoron, “Damn with faint praise,” first appeared in Alexander Pope’s 1734 poem, “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot.”

Greta Svabo Bech
Is it damning with faint praise to say that Greta Svabo Bech is one of the best singers to ever come out of the Faroe Islands?

After all, the population of the Faroe Islands – an archipelago located in the North Atlantic between Norway, Iceland, and Scotland – is only about 50,000.

The Faroe Islands
Bech is the singer on today’s featured song, which is not included on the Baby Driver soundtrack.  It’s the featured song because it popped up on my iPod while I was walking around a lake near the movie theatre where I saw Baby Driver.  (Baby, the hero of the movie, owns a number of old-school iPods.  I think he and I may be the only two people left who use iPods rather than smartphones to listen to our music.)    

“Raise Your Weapon,” which was released in 2011, was the first deadmau5 single to crack the Billboard “Hot 100.”  It was nominated for the “Best Dance Recording” Grammy the next year, but lost out to Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.”

Here’s “Raise Your Weapon,” which is kind of breathtaking:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Starland Vocal Band – "Afternoon Delight" (1976)

And the thought of lovin' you
Is getting so exciting
Sky rockets in flight

[NOTE: All the photos below were taken at the 4th of July celebration at my neighborhood pool and tennis club, which featured a parade of decorated bicycles and tricycles, a goldfish “hunt” in the kiddie pool, and many other events that were fun for the entire family.]

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Let’s say I challenge you to name three better left-handed hitters than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds.

You answer, “Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, David Ortiz and Hank Aaron.”

First of all, Hank Aaron was a righty, not a lefty.  So he doesn't belong.

Next, you’ve given me a list of seven hitters, not three.  

The crowd at my neighborhood pool
Also, two of the seven were on my list, and you can’t be a better hitter than yourself.  

Finally, there’s NO F*CKING WAY David Ortiz belongs on that list – he’s not even close.

But other than that, it was a great answer! 

*     *     *     *     *

You’re probably wondering why I'm talking about left-handed hitters.  Let me explain.

In a recent 2 or 3 lines, I noted that the same songwriter was responsible for “Honey,” “Little Green Apples,” and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”

I then challenged my loyal fans to name three worse #1 hits from the sixties and seventies.

Decorated bikes
(Yes, I know that “Little Green Apples” only made it to #2 in 1968.  The #1 song that kept “Little Green Apples” out of the top spot was “Hey Jude,” for cryin’ out loud – pretty serious competition – so stop busting my b*lls.)

One of said loyal fans responded with the following list:

Having My Baby
Little Green Apples
MacArthur Park
Take a Letter Maria
Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon

Only three of those songs made it to the #1 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  Three others peaked at #2.  But I included a #2 song in my original list, so I’m not going to complain that she failed to follow directions by doing that.

But she did fail to follow instructions by including a song that never got higher than #10 on the U.S. pop charts — Neil Diamond’s “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”  (#10 is a long was from #1.) 

The next problem with her list is that it includes not three, but SEVEN songs.

A decorated poodle
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on that one, too, because she might have been making the point that she could come up with more than three songs that were worse than the three I listed.

Another problem with her list is that she included two of the songs that were on my list.

But the biggest problem is that one of the songs she listed is not only not one of the worst #1 songs of all time, it’s one of the BEST #1 songs of all times.

*     *     *     *     *

Let’s go down her list, song by song.

“Having My Baby” is awful.  It doesn’t bother me as much as “Honey” or “Little Green Apples,” but that’s a matter of taste – I’m willing to admit that one can reasonably argue that it is just as bad a song as those two.

How about “Brandy”?  Yes, it’s bad – cheap sentiment up the ying-yang.  But if you can ignore the lyrics, the music’s not half bad.

I’d never really thought much about “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”  Neil Diamond’s songs are all pretty brown-eyed, and this one is more brown-eyed than most.  But once again, the music isn’t bad – it you don’t pay attention to the overwrought lyrics, it’s not unpleasant to listen to.

Goldfish hunters wait for their prey to be released
“Take a Letter Maria” doesn’t really bother me.  

That leaves “MacArthur Park” – which not only isn’t one of the worst songs of the sixties and seventies, it’s one of the best songs of all time.

I’m not sure Richard Harris was the best choice for the “MacArthur Park” lead vocal, but everything else about that record is perfect.

Want to hear it right now?  OF COURSE you do!

Like the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” “MacArthur Park” is a masterpiece despite the fact that it is a mélange of musical bits and pieces that are sewn together so that the seams are very obvious.  

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What could explain my fan’s including “MacArthur Park” on her list of songs that are worse than “Honey” and “Little Green Apples”?  

The answer may be sheer perversity on my fan’s part.  But I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was thinking of Donna Summer’s disco version of “MacArthur Park,” which was a #1 hit in 1978.  (Setting “MacArthur Park” to a disco beat is a very odd thing to do – almost as odd as doing a disco version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”)

The crowd at the kiddie pool
Summer’s cover doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should.  That may be because I’ve only heard it a few times.  

Bad songs that aren’t hits aren’t that bothersome – for a song to have a chance at landing on a “worst #1 songs” list, it has to be a song that was so ubiquitous when it was released that it makes you want to scream every time you hear it.

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Today’s featured song is one that many people would say belongs on the “worst #1 songs” list.  But I don’t think it’s as bad as “Honey” or “Little Green Apples.”

Those songs are nothing to write home about when it comes to music, but the worst thing about each are the words.

The lyrics to “Little Green Apples” are mawkish and sentimental – and while I don’t necessarily object to sentimental, the sentiment here comes entirely from the songwriter’s head, not his heart.  It’s as phony as a three-dollar bill.

My daughter and grandson celebrate the 4th
While “Honey” matches “Little Green Apples” when it comes to insincerity, it blows that song away when it comes to being maudlin.  Only a songwriter with absolutely no sense of shame would write a treacly song about a lovely, young, innocent woman, and then kill her off.  

The only way to top that would be to write a song about a child who dies of a lingering, incurable disease. 

It wouldn’t hurt to throw in something about a puppy as well.  (As the saying goes, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”)

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“Afternoon Delight” was a #1 hit for Washington, DC’s Starland Vocal Band in 1976.  It was so popular that CBS gave them a variety show to host in the summer of 1977.  (David Letterman was one of the show’s writers.)  None of the group’s subsequent singles came closer to breaking into the top 40.

The Starland Vocal Band
The Starland Vocal Band consisted of two married couples, both of whom ended up getting divorced.  (I guess afternoon delight got old for at least one member of each couple after a few years.)

Here’s a live performance of “Afternoon Delight” on the old Midnight Special TV show.  It was a mistake not to allow the group to lip synch to the record – this performance is excruciatingly bad:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bobby Goldsboro – "Little Things" (1964)

I love those little things in my ear
That you say when there's no one near

The Little Things website proclaims that it publishes “engaging, meaningful content for women across generations.”

Little Things must be doing something right: it has over 50 million unique visitors each month, which is more than any other standalone “lifestyle” website.

And a helluva lot more than 2 or 3 lines.

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If you’re looking for a job, Little Things has a lot of openings.  If you’re looking to become a CFO, a copy editor, a director of branded content, a PHP engineer, or a graphic designer, you should check out Little Things.

The Little Things logo
I don’t know if they pay well, but the benefits include unlimited free snacks, fruit, beverages, and organic coffee; Thursday evening happy hours; Friday catered lunches; a ping-pong table and other games; and in-office massages.

*     *     *     *     *

What kind of content does Little Things feature?

Here are the headlines for some of their current stories:

– Teen Boy Dies, But then His Friends Tell Mom and Dad, ‘There’s A Video Online You Should See’

– Hairstylist Takes One Look At Woman And Refuses To Touch Her, Then She Posts Story On Facebook

– Rude Neighbor Blocks Old Man’s Driveway With Cinder Blocks, So He Teaches Him A Lesson

– Teen Looks Ordinary From Waist Up, But They Can’t Explain Large Thighs Until Lipedema Diagnosis

– Bride Begins Speech, But Suddenly She Tells 6 Confused Police Officers To Stand Behind Groom

– People Say Her Curvy Butt Is Fake, Then She Has Doctor Conduct An Ultrasound To Prove Them Wrong

I find each one of those headlines absolutely irresistible, but the final one is clearly the irresistiblest.

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When Abby Pollack was 18, she had an eating disorder.  Because she often ate fewer than 1000 calories in a day, she was 20 pounds underweight and had a boyish figure.

Now the 5’ 7” Abby weighs 150 pounds, and has a butt that looks like she stole it from one of the Kardashians.

Abby Pollack, before and after
From Little Things:

When Abby got to her breaking point, she discovered an amazing community of weightlifters.  It stunned her.  Weightlifters didn’t want to be thin; they wanted to be fuller, thicker, heavier, and stronger.

Over the course of years, Abby, who was once underweight in her “before” photos, began to bulk up.  Her large bum is a result of maintaining a healthy diet and some serious heavy lifting.

Ultrasounds don't lie: that caboose is all-natural
When people saw Abby’s before-and-after photos online, they couldn’t believe they were real.  She was accused of having butt-cheek implants.  So she went on “The Doctors” television program, where Dr. Andrew Ordon conducted an ultrasound of Abby’s behind.

The results?  Dr. Ordon confirmed that Abby’s hindquarters were 100% natural!

You could strike a match on that derrière!
For you ladies who are looking to get yourself a “Georgia peach” posterior like Abby’s, her advice is to forget the squats and do barbell hip thrusts instead.

Here's a video of Abby's lower-body workout.  You can see her doing the hip thrusts at about 3:00 of the video:

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Alabamian Bobby Goldsboro played guitar for Roy Orbison before striking out on his own.

His biggest hit single was “Honey,” the #1 single in the U.S. for five weeks in 1968.  Her next biggest hit, “Watching Scotty Grow,” makes my skin crawl when I hear it, but “Honey” is a thousand times worse.

“Honey” was written by country singer/songwriter Bobby Russell, who was briefly married to Vicki Lawrence.  Russell also wrote “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (a #1 hit for Lawrence) and “Little Green Apples” (a #2 hit for O.C. Smith).   

I challenge you to name three worse songs from the sixties or seventies that made it to the #1 or #2 spots on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  (It wouldn’t be that hard to hard three worse #1 or #2 hits from the fifties – almost every hit song from the fifties is horrible.)

Goldsboro penned today’s featured song – “Little Things” – which was a #13 hit for him in 1964.  It’s not a bad little song.

Here’s “Little Things”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:   

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Steam – "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" (1969)

He might be thrillin' baby, but a-my love
So dog-gone willin', so kiss him
Go on and kiss him goodbye

(From the annotation for this song:  “Not all pop rock songs have [lyrics with] very deep meaning.”  No sh*t, Sherlock.)

*     *     *     *     *

In 1977, Chicago White Sox stadium organist Nancy Faust started playing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” whenever White Sox hitters knocked an opposing pitcher out of the game:

Pretty soon, other stadium organists began to play the song to serenade departing hurlers.

The song is still a staple at all kinds of sporting events.  It has also been sung by politicians from both parties to taunt their opponents.

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Nancy Faust wasn’t the first person to use Steam’s song to heckle visiting teams.  That honor goes to me and several of my Parkwood High School friends, who got the bright idea of playing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” on our kazoos in the waning minutes of basketball games when our school’s team led by a safe margin.

We called ourselves the “Kazoo Krew,” and were quite taken with ourselves.  Fortunately, we had a really good basketball team that season, so we had plenty of opportunities to gloat by playing the Steam hit and otherwise acting like the obnoxious little smart-asses that we were.

Here’s a picture of the kazoo that each of us wore on a ribbon around our necks at games that year:

A kazoo is played by humming into the larger end of the instrument.  It makes a nice little buzzy sound, although it doesn’t produce a lot of volume.  

The Kazoo Krew made enough noise to be quite annoying – especially to the many girls in the Pep Club and their advisors, who seems to think they had a monopoly of cheering for the home team.  (Get over yourselves, b*tches!)

I wish I still had my kazoo, but I'm sure my mother threw it away years ago.  THANKS A LOT, MOM!

*     *     *     *     *    

In 1968, a singer named Gary DeCarlo recorded four songs for Mercury Records.  His friend Paul Leka produced the four tracks, which impressed the folks at Mercury Records enough that they decided to  issue all four as singles.  

Singles need B-sides, of course.  For one of the B-sides, DeCarlo and Leka decided to use a song called “Kiss Him Goodbye” that they had written in the early 1960s when they were members of an obscure Connecticut doo-wop group.

The late Gary DeCarlo in 2014
Leka thought the song was too short, and needed a chorus.  “I started writing while I was sitting at the piano going ‘Na, na, na, na . . . na, na, na, na,’” he told an interviewer years later.  “Everything was ‘Na na’ when you didn't have a lyric.”  DeCarlo came up with the “Hey, hey,” and the rest is history.

B-sides are usually ignored by DJs.  But DJs started playing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” and it reached #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart in December 1969.  

Guess what record it displaced in the top spot?  “Something”/“Come Together” by the Beatles.  (Hooray!) 

The record was attributed to a group called Steam, but there was no such group.  With Leka’s help, Mercury put together a group of musicians to record an album and go on tour to exploit the single’s popularity.

DeCarlo didn’t hit the road with that group.  Leka said that DeCarlo was embarrassed by the record, and didn’t want to perform it in concert.  But DeCarlo says he was squeezed out of Steam by Leka and Mercury.

Gary DeCarlo died earlier this week of lung cancer.  He was 75 years old.  

Here’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” which is one of my favorite all-time one-hit wonders:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Awolnation – "Sail" (2010)

Maybe I should cry for help
Maybe I should kill myself
Blame it on my ADD baby

I recently started watching Longmire, a neo-Western TV series that’s on Netflix.  The show just wrapped its sixth and final season.  

The writing on Longmire is God-awful – it’s almost as paint-by-numbers as the writing on Law & Order.  (It’s a mystery to me why millions of people had an unquenchable thirst for that show.) 

Like Law & Order, Longmire relies on “ripped from the headlines” plots.  For example,  the second episode of the show’s first season was about rumspringa – the Amish practice of giving teenagers a chance to experience life in the outside, “English” world before they get baptized, get married, and settle down to live traditional Amish lives.  

There’s been more than one “reality” series about Amish teenagers moving to the big city and diving headfirst into sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, and a lot of  the TV-viewing booboisie seem to find rumspringa as fascinating as the Kardashians.  The fact that Longmire’s writers were desperate enough for plot ideas to fall back on a rumspringa story for the show’s second episode says a lot about said writers.

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Longmire is set in a fictional Wyoming county that is home to a Cherokee reservation.  The relationship between the white residents of the county and the Cherokees who live on the reservation is uneasy at best.

“Dog Soldier,” the fifth Longmire episode, is about a murder committed to cover up a plot to make money by taking reservation children away from their parents and placing them in foster care.

Not long before “Dog Soldier” was filmed, NPR alleged that South Dakota officials were improperly removing hundreds of Native American children from their homes in order to take advantage of a federal program designed to encourage the adoption of kids in foster care.

A scene from “Dog Soldier”
At that time, the feds were giving states about $4000 for each child who was moved out of foster care and into an adoptive home.  But if a foster child who had “special needs” was adopted, the state was paid $12,000. 

South Dakota classified all Native American kids as “special needs,” and NPR’s theory was that the state was taking native boys and girls away from their biological parents without just cause and putting them up for adoption because they wanted that extra federal money.

The Longmire writers wrote a “ripped from the headlines” script based on that NPR story, but added a murder to juice up the plot.  They also threw in some ghost-story nonsense about the legendary Cheyenne “Dog Soldiers” and added a bunch of misdirection about who the killer was.  

But good ol’ Sheriff Longmire saw through everything and identified the real villain by the end of the episode.  The denouement was as neat and tidy as those of the hour-long Westerns and crime dramas that populated network television when I was a teenager.  Longmire seemed to pull the solution to the mystery out of his cowboy hat – the other characters in the show didn’t see it coming, and neither did I.

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Traditional hour-long episodic dramas – shows like Longmire and  Gunsmoke and Perry Mason and Law & Order – are to TV series with a season-long or multi-season story arc what short stories are to novels.  All else being equal, a novel is going to be more satisfying than a short story because there’s more there there.

“Longmire” is the new “Gunsmoke
There was a need for episodic shows like Longmire when I was a teenager.  We didn’t have DVRs or online streaming services like Netflix.  If you wanted to watch a show, you had to watch it at a particular time on a particular channel.    

That made it impractical to have a show with a long story arc.  If you miss one or two episodes of a show like Homeland or The Americans, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to understand what’s going on in future episodes.  But if you miss an episode of one of those shows when it first airs, you can wait for a rerun or watch it on a streaming service.  You couldn’t do that fifty years ago – which is why every episode of an old-fashioned network drama needed to stand on its own.  

Today you can consume a TV series by binge-watching the whole thing – you’re not limited to watching one episode per week.  That’s essentially the same thing as reading a novel in one sitting, without interruption,

Of course, few of us have the time or the patience to do that.  I usually read novels during my subway rides to and from my office – roughly half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening – and while I’m eating dinner.  I often have time for longer bouts of reading on weekends or during vacations or while I’m on an airplane on a business trip, but I almost never read a novel straight through.

I usually consume a TV series by watching one episode a day.  During the week, I’ll watch an episode on my office computer while eating lunch.  On weekends, I’ll watch during a meal or just before I go to bed.

I watch most series on DVDs from my public library, which gives you three weeks to read a book but only a week to get through a TV series.  You can renew a TV series a couple of times if no one has put a hold on it, but a newer series is likely to be in high demand.  Rather than count on being able to renew my DVDs for an additional week or two, I’ll try to get through a season’s worth of those shows in a week by watching two episodes a day.

I did binge-watch the latest season of the Amazon series Bosch over one 24-hour period.  I was babysitting my grandson Jack overnight, and my daughter has an Amazon Prime subscription.  Jack  sleeps a lot, so I was able to watch ten 45-minute episodes between 200p on Saturday and 200p on Sunday.  The experience left me a little woozy, but it was a great way to watch Bosch, which has a relatively dense plot – it’s easy to get lost when you wait a day or two between installments of a series  like that.

The typical movie is twice as long as an episodic TV show.  But that’s still much shorter than a ten- or twelve-part TV series.  That’s why few movies can hold a candle to a series like Breaking Bad, Homeland, The Americans, The Affair, The Sopranos, The Wire, The Missing, or Line of Duty.  

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Ryan McGee is a TV critic who doesn’t like shows with series-long story arcs:

Calling The Sopranos a novelistic approach to the medium means praising both its new approach to television and its long-form storytelling.  But HBO has shifted its model to produce televised novels, in which chapters unfold as part and parcel of a larger whole rather than serving the individual piece itself.  Here’s the problem: a television show is not a novel.  That’s not to put one above the other.  It’s simply meant to illuminate that each piece of art has to accomplish different things.  HBO’s apparent lack of awareness of this difference has filtered into its product, and also filtered into the product of nearly every other network as well.

Critic James Poniewozik disagrees:

Every medium works best when it takes advantage of what’s distinctive about it.  TV is linear and cumulative, allowing a story to unfold over weeks, months or years.  There were good business reasons to structure TV stories that began and ended within one episode, and many of them are still best told that way, but the ability to spread a story out is part of what makes TV TV. . . .

[T]he crux of McGee’s argument [is that] “creating a layered, lengthy narrative is really f*cking hard,” and a number of shows have wasted viewers’ time trying to tell stories beyond their skill sets.   One big danger, he says, is that you end up with series that are so focused on nailing down and mapping out a long-term story . . . that they sacrifice character. . . . But that’s not an argument against serial stories; it’s an argument against bad serial stories.

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After only five episodes, I’ve decided that Longmire is fatally flawed.  Its traditional episodic nature is a big problem, as is its reliance on “ripped from the headlines” plots.  Then there Longmire’s bad writing, which exacerbates the show’s inherent structural faults.

Three strikes and you’re out, Longmire.  I’m a long-term-relationship kind of guy, and I wanted to stick it out with you for all six of your seasons.

But that ain’t happening.

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“Sail,” which was originally released in 2010, is Awolnation’s biggest hit to date.  It spent 79 weeks on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart – almost but not quite an alltime record – and has sold 5.5 million copies in the U.S. alone.

“Sail” can be heard in the fifth episode of season one of Longmire.  Why it was featured in that episode – which doesn’t feature an ADD baby – is a mystery to me.

Here’s “Sail”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: