Monday, July 13, 2015

Back to Rock Writing

Music has always played a key role in my life. My mother bought up 45s by the armful back in the '60s and through her I grew up loving everything from Tom Jones to Peggy Lee to Blood, Sweat & Tears to the Rolling Stones. And of course Joe Cocker.

In high school it wasn't cool to have the same tastes as my Mom so I spent more time in my room immersing myself in The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd...Mom might know a song here and there but she had started dating an old guy and no longer kept up with current music. I had it all to myself, and I embraced it.

After college I wrote about audio technology and home video before moving into covering music video during MTV's musical heyday. By then, thanks to disco dorm parties and a neighbor who played jazz 24/7, I'd developed an appreciation for a wider variety of music than just Top 40 or rock.

Rock is my roots, though, and that's why I'm fortunate to be writing for a new website, I'm reviewing and writing the occasional longer piece. Check it out here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Farewell Joe, Thank You Mom

My mother bought the Mad Dogs and Englishmen album when it came out in 1970. I was only 12, so she had to explain why the two-disc set was so exciting: the line-up, the repertoire, the captured rawness of life on the road. We listened to it on the stereo console in our den with the sloping floor.

She had an appreciation for contemporary music trends that my friends' mothers did not share. Those other mothers listened to pap; mine understood pop. She knew what made a pop song great. Decades before 20 Feet From Stardom belatedly paid tribute to the unsung heroes of popular music, she pointed out the contribution of the background singers in "Honky Tonk Women," as well as the songs on Mad Dogs and many others. She knew about the roots of rock and had an archive of 78s to prove it.

Our favorite song on the Mad Dogs album was Joe Cocker's "The Letter." We had the 45 of the original 1967 Box Tops version and it was fun to analyze the differences.

Joe Cocker was the king of the differences. Like Linda Rondstadt, he specialized in making other people's hits his own. From "With a Little Help from My Friends" (the Beatles, of course) to "Feelin' Alright" (Traffic/Dave Mason), "Whiter Shade of Pale" (Procol Harum) to "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (Randy Newman) Joe Cocker made everything his own.

A year and a half after Mad Dogs, at 14, I bought the Concert for Bangladesh. I played it in my room and didn't share it with my mother. That's the difference between childhood and the teen years: the adolescent yearning for independence is in full force. I no longer wanted my mother to like the same music I did.

But we'll always have Joe Cocker. When she heard he'd died Christmas week, she sent me a link to a Youtube video of him with John Belushi and the oh-so-true comment "Cocker certainly had a sense of humor."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Musical Library: Part 3 (Sex)

This is third in a series of stories told through the titles of songs in my iTunes collection. 

C’mon Girl
Sexy Eyes
You Sexy Thing
I’m Old-Fashioned
Change Your Mind
Let’s Get It On
Let’s Go Crazy
Let’s Groove
Let’s Go All the Way
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Sexy Love
Sexy Sadie
Sexy Plexi
Let’s See Action
It Started with a Kiss
Sexual Healing
Go All the Way
Love Me Like That
You Sure Love to Ball
Hump De Bump
In the Bush
Rock On
Sexbomb (Peppermint Jam Mix)
Sex with a Move Star (The Good Witch Gone Bad)
Sex on Fire
You’re So Damn Hot
Too Hot
You Took the Word Right Out of My Mouth
Sex and Candy
Sex Type Thing
Sexed Up
Torture Me
Animal Bar
Hot Stuff
Hot White Cum
Shot in the Dark
Hot Shot (Long Single Version)
Let’s Stick Together
The Sticky
It’s All Over But the Smoke
Hold On
Victim of Love
I’m Confused
We Just Had Sex
Hurt Feelings
Relax (Sex Mix)
Find Your Way Back
Hard to Concentrate
All These Things That I’ve Done
Believe Me, I’m a Liar
Are You Happy Now?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Musical Library: Part 2 ("I'm")

This is second in a series of stories told through the titles of songs in my iTunes collection. Check back for what happens next!

I’m Still Here
I’m Still Standing
I’m Not Dead
I’m Gonna Be Strong
I’m So Young
I’m Gonna Find Another You
I’m in Great Shape
I’m a Believer
I’m One

I’m Free
I’m in the Mood for Love
I’m Coming Out
I’m Every Woman
I’m Searching for a Love
I’m So Trampomatic
I’m Happy Just to Dance with You
I’m Not Scared
I’m Ready for Love
I’m Shooting High
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
I’m Gonna Love You Too
I’m on Fire

I’m a Man
I’m an Ordinary Man
I’m All Over It
I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little
I’m Beginning to See the Light
I’m Feeling You
I’m Your Man
I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man
I’m Your Boogie Man
I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)
I’m With You
I’m Always Touched by Your Presence Dear
I’m Sitting on Top of the World
I’m in Seventh Heaven
I’m So Crazy (‘bout You)
I’m Into Something Good
I’m Just a Lucky So and So
I’m All Smiles
I’m Alive
I’m Gonna Live Until I Die
I’m More than Happy (I’m Satisfied)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Musical Library: Part 1 ("I'm")

This is the first in a series of stories told through the titles of songs in my iTunes collection. Check back for what happens next!

I’m Losing You
I’m Not Your Stepping Stone
I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking
I’m Walkin’
I’m Going Home
I’m Going Slightly Mad
I’m Henry VIII, I Am
I’m a Chiquita Banana
I’m Afraid of Americans
I’m Mad About You
I’m Affected
I’m a Loser
I’m a Pushover
I’m Livin’ in Shame
I’m Not That Smart
I’m Gonna Tell Santa Claus on You
I’m Slowly Turning into You
I’m Not like Everybody Else
I’m So Tired
I’m Down
I’m Confused
I’m Broke
I’m Bound to Pack It up
I’m Blue
I’m Tore Down
I’m Still in Love
I’m Still in Love with You
I’m Not in Love
I’m Through with Love
I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man)
I’m a Boy
I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

Friday, July 18, 2014

Elaine Stritch: A Tribute

Elaine Stritch, 1925-2014, was a favorite of mine. Her performance in Stephen Sondheim's Company is iconic, as is her appearance in a D.A. Pennebaker documentary on recording the soundtrack of that show, my favorite musical.I recently watched Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, a warts-and-all expose. I saw her one-woman show, Eileen Stritch: At Liberty when she was on the road more than a decade ago. I've recently been reviewing the recording of it, since I'm about to perform my own one-woman show, although unlike Elaine I plan to wear pants.

Here's my homage to Stritch (and to Sondheim), which I wrote after seeing Follies a few years back.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cusp Song of the Day: Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)"Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)," sung by the movie's star Diana Ross, came out at the end of 1975 and went to number 1 on the pop charts in January 1976.

It was written by the late, great Gerry Goffin (after his many previous solo hits and Carole King collaborations) along with Michael Masser; Masser also produced. It received a Best Original Song Academy Award nomination, losing to "I'm Easy" by Keith Carradine from Nashville

In Cusp, Karen and Mark go to see Mahogany together and she notes it's "pretty lame but still makes me cry." Later, on New Year's Eve at the cusp of the Bicentennial, a Diana Ross impersonator performs with two fake Supremes then, when she wants a solo spotlight, "walks toward them singing, "Do you know where you're going to?' They squeal and scurry off the stage in mock terror. She then turns back to the audience and finishes the song. They lyrics are gloomy ('How sad the answers to those questions can be') but this drag Diana turns it into a triumph for herself and sadness for her former sisters Supreme. It's a funny bit, and probably pretty accurate as well." 

I have to admit, this was never my favorite song, or movie; both are overblown and slightly ridiculous. But worst of all is the song's bad grammar. Every time it came on the radio (which was a LOT back then) I wanted to yell, "It's 'Do you know where you're going'! Not 'going to'!" I'm anal that way.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cusp Song of the Day: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Neil Sedaka's original upbeat 1962 hit "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" was remade in 1975 as a ballad. Both versions of the song appear in Cusp on the same jukebox as ZZ Top's "Tush." And both hit the Top 10 and were completely ubiquitous in their respective years.

According to Weekly Top 40, only two other acts in the history of Billboard's Hot 100 chart have made the Top 10 with two versions of the same song. Surf icons the Ventures did it with the instrumental “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1960 and ”Walk, Don’t Run ’64″ in, duh, 1964. Elton John did it twice, with “Candle in the Wind” in 1974 and ”Candle in the Wind 1997″ in honor of Princess Diana, as well as “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” a solo hit in 1974 and as a duet with George Michael in 1991-92. Interestingly, Elton was responsible for '60s hitmaker Sedaka's '70s comeback, as detailed here.

"Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" was written by Sedaka with Howard Greenfield. Each version spent about three months on the charts, the original version hitting number 1 and the remake, which entered the chart Christmas week 1975, peaking at number 8.

Since the Supremes feature so heavily in Cusp, here's a little Supremes-Sedaka history: A 1983 Sedaka concept album Come See About Me, redid '60s pop hits with an interesting collection of collaborators. Producer Dan Hartman brought in Edgar Winter, with whom he'd performed as a member of the Edgar Winter Group, to play sax. Ashford & Simpson, Gary U.S. Bonds, Neil's daughter Dara Sedaka, Hartman and Mary Wilson all contributed vocals - Mary Wilson reprising her Supremes-era background sound on the title track. The talented Dan Hartman died in 1995 and is missed by those who knew his kind and generous ways.