Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Love Won’t Let Me Wait Chapter 4:  The soul classic "Love Won’t Let Me Wait" has been performed by numerous artists over the years, but former Delfonic Major Harris sang it first.  It's from his album My Way and it spent 14 weeks on the pop charts in 1975, rising to number 5.

In Cusp it's playing on the radio just as Karen and Patrick are about to "do it" for the first time. He asks, “Are you ready? Because I am!” She thinks, "Oh no, am I going to laugh because the radio is playing 'Love Won’t Let Me Wait'?" Luckily, she manages to hold back her laughter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Listen to What the Man Said

It pains me to admit it: While I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for Paul McCartney, since 1971 I've found his music mostly unlistenable. And if forced to pick a least favorite album, I'd have to go with Venus and Mars. The fact that "Listen to What the Man Said" went to number 1 in the summer of 1975 does not deter me from my conviction that the song is dreadful. The melody is weak, the lyrics are insipid, the sax feels pasted in and McCartney's voice sounds forced.

Sorry, but when it comes to pop icons, I have strong feelings. Don't get me started on Rod Stewart!

In Cusp, the song is on the radio as Patrick tells Karen he loves her. As she is about to respond, she says to herself, "Why is 'Listen to What the Man Said' by Wings playing? I’d rather say my first 'I love you' to some meaningful soundtrack, not that dreck." What a coincidence that she felt the same way about the song that I do!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Live Radio Interview Thursday

Tune in to at 9:30 am Eastern time on Thursday, May 31 to hear me talk live about The Cusp of Everything.

Cusp Song of the Day: I Think of You

Annie Haslam's pure and confident tone on Renaissance's "I Think of You" is the perfect counterbalance to the song's ethereal lyrics about a lover feeling the presence of the one she loves in a flowing stream, shining sun and cool wind. It's one of the more straightforward of the band's songs from its Turn of the Cards albumindeed, from any of their progressive rock albums, which incorporate influences from classical, jazz, folk and, naturally, Renaissance music. It can get a little heavy-handed at times.
Cover (Turn of the Cards:Renaissance)
"I Think of You" is the title of Cusp's fourth chapter. In the book, the song plays as Karen and Patrick go to his bedroom to make love for the first time. It's mentioned only as a passing reference to what's on the radio as they enter his room.

I saw Renaissance at the long-gone Westchester Premier Theater in Tarrytown, NY in December 1975 with a friend who was unfamiliar with them. I knew them only from "I Think of You." The band's rabid fans had what my friend considered a misplaced ardor. A funk aficionado who was only there because it was my birthday, she detested the show and insisted we leave early. And so we did.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Souvenirs

Dan Fogelberg - Souvenirs.jpg
From Chapter 3: For me, the '70s were an extended Dan Fogelberg lovefest. I wore out several of his albums and saw him play Carnegie Hall. In particular, his 1974 album Souvenirs felt as if it been written just to me. That's why, when I needed a song to describe how Karen feels about her house, I turned to the title song

And here is the key to a house far away
Where I used to live as a child.
They tore down the building when I moved away
And left the key unreconciled.

Karen's family lives in a rented and run-down house. Her feelings for her home of many years veer between love and shame, but "Souvenirs" perfectly sums up what she knows will be its destiny.

Souvenirs was Fogelberg's second album. After its upbeat top 40 hit, "Part of the Plan," the rest of Side 1 had a dreamlike and thoughtful quality, tailor-made for a teen girl spending hours wondering what life is all about.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Visions

Stevie Wonder. Sigh. If you told me I could only listen to music made by one artist for the rest of my life, I would choose Stevie Wonder without hesitation or regret. Heck, he's mostly what I listen to anyway! And if I had to pick one album, it would be Innervisions, one of the greatest collections of songs ever put on vinyl. Think about it: "Living for the City." "Higher Ground." "All in Love Is Fair." "Golden Lady." As the late-night commercials used to say, "and many more!" And every one of them written, produced and performed almost solely by Stevie Wonder. Genius.

In Cusp, Karen discovers Stevie Wonder on WBLS, a New York soul station that in the '70s promoted its call letters as an acronym for Warmth, Beauty, Love and Sensitivity. She'd been unaware of the station, and the musical genre, until clued in by her new friend Mark. In Chapter 3, one of the first songs she hears on 'BLS is the haunting "Visions."

Innervisions spawned three top 40 hits, including two that hit number 1 on the R&B charts. But "Visions" was an album cut, a special treat for those who bought the record, or heard it late at night on a well-programmed radio station. Records? Well-programmed radio stations? Just two reminders that The Cusp of Everything is a period piece.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Swearin' to God

Jersey Boys Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons had dozens of hits beginning with "Sherry" in 1962. Valli is still touring, with four younger "Seasons," and he has a deep reservoir of hits to keep his fans happy.
Cusp features two songs by the group and two by Valli as a solo actfour of the prolific performers' five 1975-76 chart hits. During that period, the group had two hits ("Who Loves You" and the number 1 "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)" and Valli had three solo hits ("My Eyes Adored You," "Swearin' to God" and "Our Day Will Come").  

"Swearin' to God" hit the charts in June 1975 and rose to number 6. It was produced by Bob Crewe, with whom Valli had worked since 1958.

In the book, the song plays right after Karen and Patrick's first kiss. She notices, but he probably doesn't, since as it starts he asks, “Want to get out of here?”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Peanuts, Featuring Elton John

This is how popular Elton John was in 1975.

Cusp Song of the Day: Someone Saved My Life Tonight

From Chapter 3: When Karen and Patrick go on their first date in July 1975, she hears Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" playing on a radio in the kitchen of the Arthur Treacher's. To Karen, the song's title hints at a new romance; she's looking for someone to save her own life, to fill it with meaning and love.
But this is no love song. It's a scathing kiss-off to a scheming, manipulative woman who "almost had your hooks in me." The life saved is the singer's own, and he's happy to be sleeping alone. Bernie Taupin's often complex lyrics ("I'm strangled by your haunted social scene / Just a pawn out-played by a dominating queen") can be difficult to take in on early listens. Sometimes it requires serious attention for the subtle and not-so-subtle messages to sink in.

The song, from the fantastic Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, spent 10 weeks on the pop charts during that summer, rising to number 4.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Get Cusp on Your E-Reader!

Let's get digital! The Cusp of Everything is now available for the following e-readers:


 Nook is coming soon!

Cusp Song of the Day: Riot on Sunset Strip

From Chapter 2: I've already highlighted several songs from Mark's 1967 party, but today's selection actually inspired that event. In 1975 Mark watched the 1967 movie Riot on Sunset Strip.  Although the Summer of Love had been only eight years earlier, this exploitation film was already a laughable period piece about hordes of good-for-nothing teens rebelling against curfew.

Mark put out the word to his friends to come dressed like it was 1967—no platform shoes!—and decorated his backyard with a giant joint made out of a sheet hanging on a clothesline. All the music played at the party was from 1967.

The inspirational movie's title song was sung by "godfathers of punk" the Standells over the opening credits. It was written by band members Tony Valentino and John Fleck for the film. Chart action? Uh, no.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Reflections

In a book with 21 Supremes songs, "Reflections" appears firstappropriately, since in writing Cusp I spent years reflecting on the events and music of the book's era. The song plays at Mark's 1967-themed party in Chapter 2, and indeed it was released in 1967 at a seminal moment for the group. That year's name change from "The Supremes" to "Diana Ross & the Supremes" was a key step in Berry Gordy's plan for Diana's superstardom.

The song was among the last of a long string of Supremes releases written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, featuring Florence
Ballard, and with backing by the Funk Brothers. Its psychedelic sound and use of synthesizers made it a perfect fit for the Summer of Love, when it charted. It rose to number 2.

My first errata: In the listing of songs in The Cusp of Everything, I mistakenly credit this song to The Supremes. In fact, it was the first single released under the name Diana Ross & the Supremes. A rookie mistake!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Could It Be Magic

A lyric from this song is the title of Chapter 3: Along with Pilot’s “Magic,” Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic” plays on the radio at Arthur Treacher’s during Karen and Patrick's first date. One reference to magic might be a fluke. But two? He must be the one!

The year 1975 was huge for Manilow, who had four hits: "Mandy" (number 1), "It's a Miracle" (number 12), "Could It Be Magic" (number 6) and "I Write the Songs," which hit the charts late in the year and rose to number 1 in January of 1976. 

In a long-lost article I read back in the '70s, Manilow discussed writing "Could It Be Magic," saying he felt it pour out of him. Playing it back, he was overcome with how great it was, until he realized that it completely ripped off Chopin's "Prelude in C Minor," which he had been playing prior to sitting down to compose. At first he was disappointed by his lack of originality, but ultimately decided to go with it, even opening the single with a segment from the classical piece. One version has just 13 seconds, but the longer version starts with 53 seconds and really shows Chopin's contribution to pop history. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Jive Talkin'

Losing two disco icons in one week is heartbreaking. Robin Gibbs' death following so closely on the heels of Donna Summer's means the two will be forever linked, like a 125-beats-per-minute version of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. OK, probably not the best comparison, but honestly, Donna Summer and (one of) the Bee Gees, in the same week? Sorry, Jackson Browne, but that's the true disco apocolypse. I'm less than a decade younger than these influential artists and with their conjoined deaths I can feel my generation moving through the python of time like a dying rat.

But I digress. The purpose of this feature is to spotlight a song that appears in The Cusp of Everything, providing background on its history and its context within the book. Two Bee Gees songs appear in Cusp, both released during its 1975-76 timeframe: the number 1 hit "Jive Talkin'" in Chapter 8 and the sweet "Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)" in Chapter 16more on that one later. The Bee Gees also had a hit with "Nights on Broadway" during this year, an impressively prolific period, but nothing compared to the era-defining success of Saturday Night Fever beginning in 1977. ("Jive Talkin'" is on that soundtrack album as well as Main Course, their 1975 album release, although the song does not appear in the movie.)

The lyrics of "Jive Talkin'" refer to a lovestruck fool being lied to by the woman he cares about; to someone feeling guilty for faking emotions it has a special resonance. The song, a hit in the summer of 1975, plays on a jukebox at the Labor Day closing-night party of Playland, the amusement park where Karen and Patrick have worked and fallen in love.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Magic

From Chapter 3: "Oh, it's magic. Never believe it's not so!" If you heard this on the radio during a first date, would you take it as a sign? You might if you were a yearning-for-love teen in 1975. Pilot's "Magic" plays for Karen and Patrick on their first date, at an Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips. Coupled with another magic-themed song (more on that one tomorrow*), it makes a powerful argument for falling in love over tartar sauce.

Pilot, probably not the only '70s one-hit wonder with a greatest hits album, entered the US pop charts for the first (and last) time in May 1975 with this song. It rose as high as number 5. Producer was Alan Parsons.

My son somehow heard this song and fell in love with it. We played it numerous times during carpool and I included it in Cusp because of him.

* Robin Gibbs' death today warrants a tribute that will run May 21. Part 2 of Karen and Patrick's "magic" will appear May 22. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Stand!

From Chapter 2: Karen, Cusp's main character, grew up indoctrinated into pop music by her mother Bonnie, an expert in Top 40. Bonnie even had an arrangement at a local record store to set aside one of every new single released, so she could buy her favorites.

When they were younger, Karen and her sister Ruth stacked up these records inside the family's stereo console and programmed their own dance parties. When she thinks about Sly and the Family Stone's "Stand!" Karen is remembering those days.

The song hit #22 in 1969 and followed the band's number 1 hit "Everyday People."

Personally, for years I thought this song was about a guy named Stan.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Love to Love You Baby

From Chapter 12: Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" was released around Thanksgiving 1975 and entered the pop charts Christmas week, ultimately climbing to number 2. Essentially an extended orgasm you could dance to, the song was shocking at the time, especially in its 17-minute-long form. In The Cusp of Everything, to deflect the awkwardness of sharing the listening experience with Mark, Karen compares it to "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida," a non-orgasmic song that also filled an album side.

Summer herself was never comfortable with the sexual nature of the song, although she came up with the concept and wrote it with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte (it was produced by Bellotte). From a debut derided as a pornographic novelty, Donna Summer and her "Love to Love You" collaborators went on to have a remarkable string of hits over the course of six more albums.

Unlike lesser artists who are unable to shake off their early embarrassments, Summer was instead defined by her incredible vocal range, effortless artistry, success in multiple musical formats and striking beauty. She in turn defined a generation. Her untimely death yesterday receives a fitting tribute from my former Billboard colleague and friend Paul Grein.

I can't resist sharing a classic Donna Summer performance. I'll never get sick of "Last Dance," a huge hit at the end of my final semester of college that beautifully defines that time for me. This is a particularly nice version. Thanks to my sister Lisa for the link.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Press for The Cusp of Everything

My terrific publicist has been getting the word out. Here are a couple of links:

Scarsdale Patch 

Check them out!

Cusp Song of the Day: One of These Nights

The title of Chapter 1 is "One of These Nights." The song plays on the radio as Karen drives to her summer job at Rye Playland on the book's opening page. She describes it as her "current favorite" song, in part because of its lyrics, which talk of demons and desires. What teenager doesn't know about those?

One of These Nights, released in 1975, was the Eagles' fourth album, and most successful to date. But its 4 million sales were quickly eclipsed by two Eagles releases the following year: Hotel California (16 million copies) and their first greatest hits collection (29 million copies). You could say the band was on the cusp of its commercial peak.

"One of These Nights" hit the Billboard Top 40 chart in June 1975, going to number 1 later that summer. It was their second number 1 hit, after "Best of My Love" the year before.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Remember Me

From Chapter 7. "Bye, baby. See you around." Mark plays "Remember Me" for Karen on the Mamaroneck Inn's jukebox to help her accept that her "summer romance" is ending. She likes it, but doesn't find it completely appropriateespecially the line, "Remember me as a big balloon."

The song, by the incomparable Ashford and Simpson, was Diana Ross' third solo single, immediately following the number 1 "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." (Moremuch moreabout that one later!) "Remember Me" only reached number 16 when it was released in 1971. As Mark notes in Cusp, it's off her Surrender album.
To me, one of the more interesting aspects of this and other Diana singles of the post-Supremes era is the heavy use of background singers. On later Diana Ross and the Supremes releases, the voices of Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong are practically nonexistent as Diana heads toward solo stardom.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Thank God I’m a Country Boy

From Chapter 7: John Denver liked "Thank God I’m a Country Boy" so much he put it on two consecutive album releases: a studio version on 1974's Back Home Again and a live version on 1975's An Evening with John Denver. In June 1975, the live version became his third number 1 hit.

The song's role in Cusp comes at the Mamaroneck Inn, the diner  where Mark and Karen escape from Eric's dreadful party. They discuss Karen's potential breakup with her current boyfriend, and Mark offers to play a song to help her through. He punches a code and up comes "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," with audience clapping and hooting. Karen worries that Mark might not really "get" her, but he quickly explains that he picked something completely different, that this must be the tail end of another person's selection.

What did Mark pick? Check back tomorrow!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: All Around My Hat

From Chapter 6: "All Around My Hat" is played in Cusp at a party given by Eric, widely known to have terrible taste in music. So terrible, in fact, that guests Karen and Mark become friends in part due to their shared disdain for his musical programming. They escape together to a diner, and make their own selections from the tabletop jukebox.

Steeleye Span is allegedly still active after more than 40 years, despite numerous personnel changes and a lack of commercial success. The British folk band has released more than two dozen albums, but only one yes, 1975's All Around My Hat! actually went gold. The title track was released as a single but, unsurprisingly (just listen to it!) did not make Billboard's pop chart. The band specializes in "traditional" music only slightly catchier than Gregorian chants: non-charting reels and jigs, for example. "All Around My Hat" incorporates part of an early 19th-century song, which doesn't help endear it to Cusp's characters, or the music-consuming public.

Sorry to any Steeleye Span fan(s) for my uncharacteristic snarkiness!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Tombstone Blues

From Chapter 2: Another song from Mark's 1967-themed party.

Partygoers were encouraged to come in costume1967 wasn't so far removed from Cusp's 1975 timeframe, but in many ways it was another era. One guest comes as Bob Dylan. As he leaves, he paraphrases a line from "Tombstone Blues": "Remember man the sun isn't yellow, it's chicken!" He then grabs Karen's friend Gwen and they take off for a night she will regret terribly.
"Tombstone Blues," while unquestionably a quotable classic, wasn't released as a single. Highway 61 Revisited, the album from which it came, reached number 3 on the Billboard Album chart in 1965, and spawned the number 2 pop hit "Like a Rolling Stone." (It was probably blocked from the top spot by the Beatles' "Help," but I'd have to check with my friend Paul Grein to know for sure.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: Somebody to Love

The title song from Chapter 2: When it plays in the summer of 1975, Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" was already dated. In fact, the band itself had evolved into Jefferson Starship and had a current hit with "Miracles." Still, "Somebody to Love" is always powerful and its message resonant. "Wouldn't you love somebody to love?" Well, yes, the characters in Cusp would - as would everyone else on the planet.

We hear "Somebody to Love" at a  party where we first encounter Mark, the host. He'd seen the 1967 movie Riot on Sunset Strip and wanted to re-create the era with a 1967 theme party. All the music played at the party, which gets a little out of hand, comes from that year.

The song, from Surrealistic Pillow, features Grace Slick on vocals and was written by her one-time brother-in-law, Darby Slick. It reached number 5 on the Billboard pop chart.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: That’s the Way of the World

First in a series. Cusp Song of the Day spotlights a song from the book, providing chart history and background on its context in the story.

From Chapter 1: "That’s the Way of the World" by Earth, Wind and Fire. One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. It was hard to limit tunes from EWF in the book; same with songs from Stevie Wonder and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. I never get tired of them, and many of those I love the most date to the early to mid '70s.

"That’s the Way of the World" makes its Cusp appearance on July 4, 1975 (a "special day"). It plays on a transistor radio during fireworks at Rye Playland, where Karen, the main character, works at a summer job. The lyrics set a tone: the world isn't a perfect place; it can turn a child's heart cold. But sorrowful days will fade if you stay young at heart and use your life to make a difference.

The single was released June 18, 1975 and reached number 12 on Billboard's pop chart.

Spoiler alert: another EWF song provides the soundtrack to the final scene in Cusp's sequel, which spans 1976-78.Yes, I have a lot to say about the '70s!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In My Hands!

Today I received the proof copy of The Cusp of Everything. It arrived on my front doorstep like any other shipment from Amazon, and when I opened it it looked like a real book! I was reminded of the moment my newborn son was first put in my arms and I suddenly realized the overpowering, if incredibly obvious, "Oh my God, it's a baby!" OMG, it's a book!

I love the cover even more in physical form than I did on a computer screen. It's colorful, it evokes the '70s, and it was made by my friend's company North South Studios. The font is from Astigmatic One Eye Typographic Institute. Tonight I feel like an author for the first time in my life.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Basis in Reality

The Cusp of Everything is a novel, but the journalist in me couldn't resist including factual material. My 1975 diary, calendar (above) and scrapbook were jumping off points. (Yes, my teen years are well-documented!)

I included in Cusp some of the same Westchester locations where I hung out back then. What flashbacks I had seeing those names again: Playland, Elmsford Drive-In, Cook's, Loyal Inn, Milk Maid, Tung Hoy, Korvettes, Cue Lounge, Sal's Pizza, Westchester Premier Theater, Steak & Brew, Mamaroneck Inn, Greenburgh Diner, Tommy's Tavern, Single Wing, Le Shack, The Sting, Candlelight...I think they're all gone now except for Playland and the Candlelight!