Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dealing with The Beagles

(Or: The six essential Eagles songs.)

The new girlfriend and I have only a couple of problems so far.
She doesn't have much use for the Beatles.
And I have a big blind spot when it comes to the Eagles.
She says the Eagles were the greatest American rock group ever.
Better than Creedence?, I ask. And how about the Beach Boys?
She insists that HELL FREEZES OVER is one of the great albums of our time.
And I counter that I'm only likely to listen to it when hell freezes over.
However, the Eagles do pass my "Reason For Being Here" Test musically -- they do have half a dozen songs that I'd find it difficult to get along without. These are:
Peaceful Easy Feeling, James Dean, Outlaw Man, Seven Bridges Road, I Can't Tell You Why, The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks.
I find it hard to recommend any of the others. Though they do have more great songs than Nirvana.
However, greatness is relative. Perhaps we should discuss some of their misses....
* Many Eagles songs died long ago from overplay. "Hotel California" is Exhibit A. But also "Take it Easy," "New Kid in Town," "Best of My Love," "One of These Nights," "Lyin' Eyes," "Life in the Fast Lane," "Already Gone," "The Long Run," "Heartache Tonight," "Take it to the Limit," etc.
* They have more than their share of women problems ("Take it Easy," "Lyin' Eyes," "New Kid in Town," "Heartache Tonight," "Already Gone," "Fast Lane," etc).
* Their only lasting friendships are with men ("James Dean," "Desperado," many others).
* Then there's the whole cocaine undercurrent (THE LONG RUN, "Life in the Fast Lane," etc).
* They can be a little vague. What is "Take it to the Limit" ABOUT? And does anyone CARE? How 'bout "Hotel California"? And then there's "Desperado," which I stopped being able to hear YEARS ago....
* I keep hearing other bands in the Eagles' work -- the Byrds' country-rock phase, Buffalo Springfield, Poco. Timothy Schmit, who wrote "I Can't Tell You Why," was in Poco. So was Randy Meisner.
* I don't like how they kept ditching members of the band so it could become more and more the Don Henley and Glenn Frey show. Meisner, Bernie Leadon and later on Don Felder fell by the wayside -- then to beef up the guitars they drafted Joe Walsh. Producer Glyn Johns said in an interview in MUSICIAN back in the '80s that the Eagles were always The Don and Glenn Show, and the longer it went on, the more those two crowded everybody else out. And he was right. Felder even sued, then wrote a book about the whole mess. Don't sound like a good work environment to me.
* The Eagles could do nice mood music -- "Seven Bridges Road," "I Can't Tell You Why," "Peaceful Easy Feeling." But then they'd throw a "Witchy Woman" atcha. That was OK the first few times, but after that....
* I like "Greeks Don't Want No Freaks" because it's FUNNY. It was a shock to me that they actually knew how to crack a joke. They shoulda got their sense of humor out more often. "Disco Strangler" (also on LONG RUN) should have been funny, but it wasn't. Boy, was it wasn't.
* Then there's the whole allegedly laid-back Southern California mindset, dealt with way too often on tracks like "Fast Lane," "The Sad Cafe," "The Last Resort," "Hotel California," etc. So laid back we can't even crawl out of our beds to express our lethargy and disgust. Very SoCal, man. Sure marks the era.
Maybe it was all just bad PR. Perhaps I'm overdoing it. Wouldn't be the first time.
Any advice? Can this relationship be saved?


Marathon 3

I have a vacation coming up in the middle of July. Thank Ghod. I thought it was never going to get here.
But to get to it I have to work 12 nights in a row. A couple of those are 10-hour nights.
This would be no big deal if I was 35. But at my age it might be a little bit of a stretch.
So it should be educational. I'll update here on how it goes.
Still, if I can have nine days off in a row at the end of it, I'll do it. And there's the overtime money, of course....

Last night was the first of the dozen nights, and it was a breeze, the easiest "Monday" I've had in a long time, thanks in part to the new girlfriend who cheered me up and brought me dinner.
I've told myself to take it easy -- that anything I can't handle tonight will still be there tomorrow, waiting for me, so there's no pressure.
I can sure tell it's summer, though. There's tons of people out -- including a good share of Crazies -- and when folks start pouring into the store, they don't stop. Everybody was in a good mood last night, though, so no complaints.
At one point I spent two hours -- from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. -- just ringing people up. Never got out from behind the cash register. Usually when I'm trapped like that I end up doing The Potty Dance and begging Ghod for a break. But last night it was all good. I'm hoping tonight is the same.
I've been in pretty good form at work lately (thanks again to the new girlfriend) -- my mood is better, everything seems easier, things don't bother me as much, I can roll with it.
But people still get in a hurry, and sometimes I feel that. Last week, I had two folks who started talking to me over the top of each other and neither would stop -- and finally I had to yell at them to give me a break, because neither of them would budge and I couldn't hear EITHER of them. One guy gave me a hard time afterward, but whatthehell?
And yet I still have a job....

The music I've been playing at work lately likely has helped. I started last night with....
Aerosmith -- Seasons of Wither, Walk This Way, Big Ten Inch Record.
Beach Boys (hey, it's summer, right?) -- All Summer Long, Kiss Me Baby, Please Let Me Wonder, Let Him Run Wild, She's Not the Little Girl I Once Knew, Wendy (a comedy classic), Surf's Up, Feel Flows, 'Til I Die, Sail On Sailor, Help Me Rhonda, Here Today, Sloop John B, Let's Go Away for Awhile.
Moody Blues -- The Story in Your Eyes, Question, It's Up to You, Tuesday Afternoon, Ride My See-Saw, Gypsy, Peak Hour.
Beatles -- You Never Give Me Your Money, Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End, Oh! Darling.
Joe Cocker -- Feelin' Alright, With a Little Help From My Friends, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, Cry Me a River, The Letter, High Time We Went.
Van Morrison -- Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile), Domino, Wild Night, Cleaning Windows, Caravan, Into the Mystic.
Todd Rundgren -- Couldn't I Just Tell You?, Just One Victory, The Very Last Time.
Tedeschi Trucks Band -- Anyhow, Made Up Mind.
Derek Trucks Band -- Down in the Flood, I Know, Days is Almost Gone.
Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart -- I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know.
Kate Bush -- Cloudbusting, Wow, Running Up That Hill, The Man With the Child in His Eyes.
Monkees -- Tapioca Tundra, Listen to the Band.
Rivieras -- California Sun.
Trashmen -- Surfin' Bird.
Grateful Dead -- Uncle John's Band, New Speedway Boogie.
Rod Stewart -- You Wear it Well, Handbags and Gladrags.
Dave Edmunds -- Girls Talk, Information, Slippin' Away, I Hear You Knockin', Crawling from the Wreckage, Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Jim Croce -- Workin' at the Car Wash Blues, I Got a Name, Lover's Cross, Operator.
Joni Mitchell -- Raised On Robbery, Chelsea Morning.
Steely Dan -- My Old School, Bodhissatva, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Third World Man, Josie, Reeling in the Years.
Elvis Costello -- What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding.
Bob Dylan -- One of Us Must Know.
America -- I Need You, Sandman.
James Brown -- I Feel Good (I Got You), Papa's Got a Brand New Bag.
Warren Zevon -- Werewolves of London, Lawyers Guns and Money.
Jefferson Starship -- Find Your Way Back.
Journey -- Feeling That Way/Anytime, Something to Hide.
ELO -- Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle.
Joan Armatrading -- I Love it When You Call Me Names, When I Get it Right, Temptation.
Billy Joel -- The Entertainer, All for Leyna.
Elton John -- Friends, Madman Across the Water.
Supertramp -- From Now On.

More updates coming soon as things get weirder....

Monday, June 27, 2016

The 75 essential Moody Blues songs

I always thought it was a shame that the Moody Blues didn't have more hits in the '60s and '70s, since they were a great pop band, they had lots of great songs, and I've still never heard anyone else quite like them.
So, partly inspired by THE 100 BEST BEATLES SONGS (reviewed below), here's a list of the 75 most essential, greatest Moody Blues songs ever ... in chronological order....
Items with an * are especially recommended.

Go Now
* Peak Hour
* Tuesday Afternoon
* Evening: Time to Get Away
* Twilight Time
* Nights in White Satin
Late Lament
* Departure
* Ride My See-Saw
* Legend of a Mind
* Voices in the Sky
* The Actor
The Word
* Simple Game
* In the Beginning
* Lovely to See You
Send Me No Wine
To Share Our Love
So Deep Within You
* Never Comes the Day
* The Dream
Have You Heard?/The Voyage/Have You Heard Part 2
Eyes of a Child
* Eyes of a Child Part 2
* Out and In
* Gypsy
Sun is Still Shining
Candle of Life
* Watching and Waiting
* Question
* Don't You Feel Small?
Tortoise and the Hare
* It's Up to You
* Minstrel's Song
* Dawning is the Day
* Melancholy Man
* The Story in Your Eyes
* Our Guessing Game
Emily's Song
After You Came
* One More Time to Live
* You Can Never Go Home
* For My Lady
* You and Me
* Land of Make-Believe
* I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band
(From Justin Hayward and John Lodge's album BLUE JAYS: *This Morning, *Remember Me My Friend, * My Brother, *You, *Saved by the Music, *Who Are You Now?, Maybe, *When You Wake Up)
* The Voice
Gemini Dream
* In My World
* Meanwhile
* Nervous
* Veteran Cosmic Rocker
* Blue World
* Meet Me Halfway
Sitting at the Wheel
* It's Cold Outside of Your Heart
* Running Water
I Am
* Sorry
* Your Wildest Dreams
The Other Side of Life
* I Know You're Out There Somewhere
No More Lies

Investigate these if you haven't heard them before, and you can thank me later. These are all well worth your time.... My all-time favorite is "You and Me," but "Simple Game," "You Can Never Go Home," "It's Up to You," "Meanwhile," "Blue World" and "When You Wake Up" will all getcha too....

TAD's 100 favorite Beatles songs

OK, here's a list of my 100 favorite Beatles songs, inspired by Stephen Spignesi and Michael Lewis's HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE: THE 100 BEST BEATLES SONGS, and by the fact that my wonderful new girlfriend DOESN'T LIKE THE BEATLES. Even though she bought me an ABBEY ROAD T-shirt.
As with Spignesi and Lewis's book, these are all songs composed by the Fabs, not cover versions of other people's hits (like "Money," "Rock and Roll Music," "Twist and Shout," or "Everybody's Trying to be My Baby").
Ah well, away we go anyhow. If we can't agree on some of this stuff we'll never agree about anything....

1. A Day in the Life.
2. ABBEY ROAD Side 2 Medley ("The Big One"), from "You Never Give Me Your Money" through "The End."
3. Eight Days a Week
4. Got to Get You Into My Life
5. There's a Place
6. Tell Me Why (great show-biz-zy sound)
7. She Loves You
8. I Want to Hold Your Hand
9. Ticket to Ride (first Beatles song I ever learned the words to, age 6)
10. Please Please Me
11. Back in the USSR
12. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
13. Norwegian Wood
14. In My Life
15. No Reply (great Ringo drums, almost as great as "Ticket to Ride")
16. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
17. I'll Be Back
18. Things We Said Today
19. Hello Goodbye (first Beatles song I ever paid attention to, age 12)
20. I Am the Walrus (same here, "HG's" B-side)
I'm a Loser
Eleanor Rigby
For No One
The Night Before
I Need You
Any Time at All
Dear Prudence
Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
I'll Cry Instead
30. Across the Universe
Paperback Writer (hilarious lyrics)
And Your Bird Can Sing (great guitars)
Oh! Darling (great Paul vocal)
A Hard Day's Night
It's Only Love
Helter Skelter
I'm Down (the line about Paul keeping his hands to himself cracks me up every time)
40. Hey Bulldog (great -- but what does it mean?)
All My Loving
Baby You're a Rich Man
I Feel Fine
I Will
Old Brown Shoe (stronger vocal woulda made this a classic)
Penny Lane
Nowhere Man
50. Tomorrow Never Knows (awesome psychedelic rock that ROCKS)
Sgt. Pepper/With a Little Help From My Friends
I'm Happy Just to Dance With You
Cry Baby Cry
And I Love Her
If I Fell
Don't Pass Me By
Happiness is a Warm Gun
I Want You (She's So Heavy)
60. Here Comes the Sun
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party
She's a Woman
I'll Follow the Sun
I'm So Tired
Yer Blues
Maxwell's Silver Hammer
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
70. You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) (...hey, this is getting hard.)
I Saw Her Standing There
Getting Better
We Can Work it Out
Mother Nature's Son
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
Piggies (mean-spirited, but...)
Strawberry Fields Forever (great production, but...)
Hey Jude (death through overplaying)
The Long and Winding Road (worth it for the "many times I've been alone" midsection)
80. Thank You Girl
Glass Onion
Yesterday (overrated, but....)
The Ballad of John and Yoko
Can't Buy Me Love
Come Together
Do You Want to Know a Secret?
P.S. I Love You
90. Don't Let Me Down
Her Majesty
Yellow Submarine
This Boy
I'm Looking Through You
I've Just Seen a Face
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Octopus's Garden
Rocky Raccoon
She Said She Said
100. When I'm 64

OTHER NOTES: OK, I admit defeat around Number 70. After that, the stuff I've heard WAY too much can't be separated from the stuff I don't like all that much.
We can talk about my obvious bias toward John later....

COMING SOON: The 100 essential Moody Blues songs!

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Great 38

100 BEST BEATLES SONGS: AN INFORMED FAN'S GUIDE, by Stephen J. Spignesi and Michael Lewis (2004).

INITIAL FINDINGS -- This is a reprint. The book was initially titled HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE: THE 100 BEST BEATLES SONGS. Inside, the book is subtitled A PASSIONATE FAN'S GUIDE. So there is some confusion here. Lots of black-and-white photos of the Fabs, but the photo reproduction isn't always the best. Stills from their movies look especially dark and grainy. There are occasional typos -- one indicates that the BBC aired a documentary on the Beatles in December 1884, which is not only astonishingly early for the BBC, but nearly 80 years before the Beatles got rolling. So.

DISAGREEMENTS -- Of course the whole idea of a Beatles "Top 100" is kind of silly, but whatthehell. And you can't fault the American authors' timing if this came out in 2004, the 40th anniversary of the Fabs conquering America.
In any fans' list of bests there are going to be some quirky choices, and there are definitely some here. But maybe it'd be simpler if I listed....

SONGS THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE TOP 100 -- Criteria for choices is that these are all Beatles-written songs released on their albums. Among the 100+ that didn't make the cut are:
Got to Get You Into My Life, Tell Me Why, There's a Place, Things We Said Today, Any Time at All, I'll Cry Instead, The Night Before, Oh! Darling, Wait, Old Brown Shoe, I'm Down, I'll Follow the Sun, Do You Want to Know a Secret?, I Don't Want to Spoil the Party, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, Misery, She's a Woman, When I'm 64, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Cry Baby Cry, Thank You Girl, Don't Pass Me By, Yer Blues, P.S. I Love You, Yellow Submarine, You Know My Name (Look Up the Number), I'm Looking Through You, and about a dozen more that I think are well above average and deserving of mention in a Top 100.

NO DISAGREEMENTS -- I'm grateful that "From Me to You" didn't get in. I've only heard one good version of it ever -- and that was in a Target Christmas commercial. It was very nice to see the gorgeous "Dear Prudence." The rockin' "Hey Bulldog" was a nice surprise. So was George's "I Need You." And the medley from Side 2 of ABBEY ROAD is included here, all as one piece, as it should be.

AUTHORIAL BIASES? -- They seem to have a pro-John bent, and I'm OK with that. They also admit they like material that pushes the envelope -- I'm OK with that too. But that means "A Day in the Life" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" lead off. No argument with the first one. And "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "She Said She Said" are here. But there are some odd choices as we work our way into the Hundred.

MORE DISAGREEMENTS -- I Do Not Get why a Beatles Top 100 includes:
Sexy Sadie, Good Morning Good Morning, All You Need is Love (at Number 5?!), Another Girl, Get Back (this is a big blind spot for me), Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!, Girl, It's All Too Much (what, no "Blue Jay Way"? It's not even in the index), Michelle, Savoy Truffle, She's Leaving Home, Within You Without You, add your least favorite Beatles original here. (Sorry, "Mr. Moonlight" was written by someone else and does not qualify for this list.)

BUT -- On first impression, the authors are engaged and thoughtful fans, know their history, and refer to solid research and references. Just because there are occasional problems (George DID write "Blue Jay Way," right? "It Won't Be Long" is indexed as left out of the book but is in there at Number 92), doesn't mean these guys are klutzes.
I was happy to see some respect for "Something" (low-key, gorgeous, underrated) and "The Long and Winding Road" (the "many times I've been alone" section gets me every time, despite the rest).
But I don't get why they have no love for "You Know My Name," "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Yellow Submarine," "Octopus's Garden," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Rocky Raccoon," "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," or even "Wild Honey Pie"? Immune to the silliness, perhaps? Surely it's not No Sense Of Humor?

I WOULD HAVE DROPPED -- Everything listed above in MORE DISAGREEMENTS, and MOVED DOWN: Strawberry Fields Forever, Here There and Everywhere, Good Day Sunshine, Martha My Dear, Day Tripper, Drive My Car, Lady Madonna, If I Needed Someone, Love Me Do, Long Long Long, Doctor Robert.

OVERALL -- These guys refer to the BEATLES ANTHOLOGY and Mark Lewisohn's BEATLES RECORDING SESSIONS as their main support material. If you haven't read those, you may learn a few new things here. Otherwise, not so much. And there's no point arguing over matters of taste, right?

WATCH FOR my own picks of The Beatles Top 100 songs! What the hell?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Stairway to Cleveland

I have read with amusement the media coverage of the ongoing trial in L.A. in which the former members of Led Zeppelin are being sued for allegedly "stealing" the tune to "Stairway to Heaven" from Spirit's "Taurus."
"Taurus" is a two-minute guitar instrumental, pleasant enough as an album-filler, but it goes nowhere and is far from gripping. The opening acoustic theme perhaps vaguely sounds like the start of "Stairway." In no way is "Taurus" "Stairway to Heaven" in miniature.
Spirit was an excellent late-'60s Southern California band, who achieved one hit, the driving "I Got a Line on You," and peaked with their superb fourth album, THE TWELVE DREAMS OF DOCTOR SARDONICUS, before the original group broke up in 1970. The writer of "Line" and "Taurus," guitarist Randy California, has been dead since 1997.
"Taurus" is included as a bonus track on Spirit's expanded-CD BEST OF. I haven't heard it in awhile and I don't have it immediately at hand, but it is a very small lost classic, far from being in the same league as "Line" or "Nature's Way," "Animal Zoo," "Nothing to Hide," "1984," or "Aren't You Glad" -- other greats from the same band.
Much of the trial testimony has centered on whether the members of Zep and Spirit ever met and for how long, if Zep guitarist Jimmy Page might have had any Spirit albums in his collection, etc.
The idea that "Stairway" might be descended from "Taurus" has been out there for awhile -- I think it's even mentioned in the booklet that accompanies Spirit's BEST OF. Perhaps the opening of "Taurus" might have been borrowed and fine-tuned by Page. But California and the other members of Spirit didn't write "Stairway." "Taurus" is a sketch. "Stairway" is more like a symphony.
I wonder who brought this lawsuit, and I admit I'm not clear on the details. Perhaps it was a lawyer looking out for the interests of California's family and heirs. But somehow I think it was more likely filed by whoever owns the publishing on "Taurus" now -- some music-publishing company.
Surely if Randy California thought the resemblance between the two songs was too close he could have filed a lawsuit in 1972 -- by which time LED ZEPPELIN 4 was selling millions and California could have used the money.
Now I think some lawyer just smelled the cash. And presumed faulty memories of musicians' actions and motivations from 45 years ago.
Artists steal. Everyone knows this. There have been books written about it. Ideas are public currency. It's what you DO with the ideas that matters.
Zep have been sued for plagiarizing or not giving proper songwriting credit before, and they've lost.
But this case is different, to me. Because "Taurus" -- though it may include a mildly haunting opening acoustic-guitar figure -- doesn't include Robert Plant's lyrics, or the multi-part development, heavy drama, and cascading firestorm of electric guitar at the end that Jimmy Page brought to their creation.
A smart judge who's a big music fan would laugh this case out of court. And if justice prevails, that's what will happen.

(P.S. -- Further reading shows the lawsuit was brought by a lawyer for the estate of guitarist Randy California and his heirs, and the other surviving members of Spirit; in court, the jury is comparing sheet music -- "Taurus" is allegedly not currently protected by copyright, so a recording of it cannot be played in court; the acoustic opening of "Stairway" isn't included on the sheet music -- there the tune starts with Plant's lyric; the suit can be settled for $1, IF Page and Plant will grant California co-credit as songwriter ... That could be worth millions to California's estate. ... I still think somebody just smelled lots of money. The whole thing is beyond comedy -- "Taurus" must be protected by copyright SOMEHOW: Sony is still selling copies of CDs with the song included....)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Writing that changed my life

Again, in more-or-less chronological order....
* Ray Bradbury: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. First science-fiction I ever read, in spring of 1971. A collection of gorgeous, haunting short stories, the best of these will scar you for life. You'll never forget Bradbury's desolate, desert-like Mars with its delicate chessboard cities and the few surviving Martians hiding behind jeweled masks and sailing their fragile ships across sandy seas....
* THE ROLLING STONE RECORD REVIEW, VOLUME 2 -- Tripped over this in Boise, Idaho's Little Professor Book Center in summer of 1976, when they still had three copies left from when it was published as a thick $1.95 paperback in 1972. Wish I'd bought a second copy -- I've read through the first one so many times it fell apart long ago.
This was my introduction to Rock Criticism, and my first exposure to the demented ravings of Lester Bangs, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, John Mendelssohn -- as well as more sober souls like Paul Nelson and Jon Landau. But what struck me hardest was the gorgeous, vivid, lyrical writing about music: Arthur Schmidt on The Beach Boys is worth the price of the book, as is Mendelssohn on The Move, Who and Kinks, Richard Cromelin on a ton of arty British faves (Yes, Bowie, Procol Harum, etc.), and Bangs on ELP. But the rest was a huge education for me.
* Hunter S. Thompson: THE GREAT SHARK HUNT, FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72 -- SHARK HUNT is a huge, sprawling best-of, disorganized but jammed full of shocking, hilarious writing about the turbulent '60s and '70s. CAMPAIGN TRAIL follows Nixon and McGovern around the country and watches in horror as McGovern slits his own throat. Repeatedly. Mostly screamingly funny, though one 3 a.m. scene in Cleveland as fake primary-election results come in will make your head spin. Too bad HST isn't around today -- though he couldn't have MADE UP the last few presidential elections....
* Harlan Ellison: THE GLASS TEAT, short stories -- Wonder if Hunter and Harlan ever met? They should have. As much outrage and humor as Hunter got out of the '60s, Harlan mainly got outrage. GLASS TEAT is a book of 45-year-old TV criticism that will burn your face off and fill you with anger even now. The sequel THE OTHER GLASS TEAT is mellower, not as angry and despairing, but still incisive. Harlan's best short stories are wondrous -- too many greats to list. And he's still writing, despite a downturn in energy, a heart attack, and an earthquake that destroyed his house and nearly crushed him.
* Robert Silverberg: DYING INSIDE, DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH, THE BOOK OF SKULLS, short stories -- Silverbob cranked out the great stuff in the '60s and '70s, book after classic book, doing shorts with his left hand while novelizing with his right. DYING is about a telepath who loses his powers -- amazingly vivid and human. EARTH is a "Heart Of Darkness" on an alien planet, beautiful and visionary. SKULLS is a complex cross-country road-trip with betrayals and murders. Bob has tons of amazing short stories, but my all-time fave is the tricky "Sundance."  
* George R.R. Martin: DYING OF THE LIGHT, short stories -- Long before GAME OF THRONES, George was king of mood and setting in '70s science-fiction. Some of his short stories will haunt you for life, and DYING OF THE LIGHT is one of my Top 5 favorite SF novels ever. His characters and the background/history of his future-universe are unforgettable.
* Frank Herbert: DUNE. Best science-fiction novel ever? A sweeping epic that makes you FEEL what it's like to live on a desert planet. Cool cloak-and-dagger stuff and complex politics, amazing that Herbert pulled it together in 400 pages. Avoid the hideous mid-'80s movie at all costs.
* Samuel R. Delany: THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, EMPIRE STAR, short stories. Delany is a black science-fiction writer from New York City, but his best stories are closer to songs -- short, vivid, lyrical and filled with unforgettable images. EINSTEIN is about how aliens take over Earth legends, and what they do with them. EMPIRE is a complex coming-of-age tale -- a huge story pulled off in 110 pages. His short stories continue the vivid delight in surprises.
* Roger Zelazny: CREATURES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS, short stories. Zelazny is my pick for the Poet of '60s science-fiction. Some of his stories are gloriously sweet and nostalgic. CREATURES is a flawed novel that looks at how the Egyptian gods might have run the universe, but it's so freakin' funny that it's impossible to put down.
* John McPhee: COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, RISING FROM THE PLAINS, BASIN AND RANGE, ASSEMBLING CALIFORNIA, THE CURVE OF BINDING ENERGY, etc. -- McPhee has been writing great books since the early '60s. My favorites are on the geology and history of the American West. COUNTRY is about Alaska, and it's so vivid you hardly have to go there. ENERGY is about the creation and security of nuclear weapons, and it's terrifying -- especially the last 20 pages.
* Kathe Koja: SKIN -- The best horror novel ever, and my favorite novel ever. Koja takes the concepts of metal-sculpting, body-modification and performance-art and melds them to unforgettable characters, an awesome control of setting and mood, and her abrupt, jarring writing style -- and man, do the fireworks go off. Just about perfect, and stunning. When Koja's characters hurt, you will too.
* Gael Baudino: GOSSAMER AXE -- Second-greatest music novel ever. A harper from the land of Faerie forms a heavy-metal band to blast through the veil between the worlds and rescue her lost love. Funny, amazingly down-to-earth, vivid, a wonderful happy ending. And all the musical details are absolutely right.
* Lewis Shiner: GLIMPSES -- The greatest rock and roll novel ever. A stereo repairman discovers he can create great lost works of rock and roll just by thinking about them: Beach Boys' SMILE, Doors' CELEBRATION OF THE LIZARD, Jimi Hendrix's FIRST RAYS OF THE NEW RISING SUN. Meanwhile he has to cope with the collapse of his marriage, his father's death, and finding love in a whole new world. Amazingly warm, human, involving.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Music that changed my life

In more-or-less chronological order....
* Top-40 radio 1971-72 -- It was the songs, the mood, the DJ's, the optimistic outlook of the times (to me), the energy, the brightness and friendliness of the format that grabbed me and woke me up. Too many great songs to list, music I still play every week.
* Moody Blues: "Classic 7," LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER, THE PRESENT -- I was hearing the Moodies by 1968 thanks to my cousins, but I didn't really notice 'til '72, when "Nights in White Satin" and "Ride My See-Saw" broke through the AM haze and grabbed me. I still think they should have had a dozen more hits in the '60 and '70s, I've still never heard anyone quite like them (except Providence, see below), and I still think THE PRESENT is their best, most consistent album. But I'm a sucker for nostalgia and mushiness. If you're a fan, don't miss Justin Hayward and John Lodge's great BLUE JAYS album, basically a Moodies album in disguise.
* Beach Boys: PET SOUNDS, SMILE -- Their mid-'60s hits were dreamy washes of gorgeous sound, but I didn't hear PET SOUNDS until 1978, and it was a whole 'nother world. Anyone who gets hooked by that seems to get obsessed by what followed -- the long string of uneven albums from SMILEY SMILE at least to HOLLAND. There's a whole CD or two that could be filled with gorgeous songs from those uneven eight albums. And when SMILE finally came out a few years back, it was everything I'd hoped for, absolutely NOT an anti-climax after 35 years of waiting.
* Beatles: ABBEY ROAD, WHITE ALBUM -- DOUBLE WHITE is of course the greatest piece of strange music ever. Who could have foreseen that the loveable moptops coulda come up with such a quirky, personal, dark and revealing collection of songs? You can disappear into the two discs for months and never figure them out. And ABBEY ROAD is pure sonic gorgeousness. The "Big One" Suite on Side 2 always sends me into a trance.
* Yes: YESSONGS. When I first got ahold of this, I was disappointed that it wasn't a studio-greatest-hits package. Don't know what I was thinking. The greatest live album ever, so great you can throw one disc away and not miss anything -- filled with gorgeous songs, great singing, great playing, lots of fireworks -- and the ultimate art-rock masterpiece, "Close to the Edge." I don't even care what the songs mean. I don't think they mean much. It doesn't matter. This could happen to you.
* The Who: WHO'S NEXT, QUADROPHENIA, etc. -- The clarity, drive and excitement of their best stuff from this period blew everything else off the radio, and they shoulda sold more. I still can't go too long without hearing "My Wife," "Going Mobile," "Behind Blue Eyes," "The Song is Over," "Gettin' in Tune," "Baba O'Riley," "Join Together," "The Relay," "Bell Boy," "5:15," "Love, Reign O'er Me."  
* Providence: EVER SENSE THE DAWN -- A kinder, gentler Moody Blues album on their Threshold label by a Boise, Idaho band. Gorgeous songs, great singing, amazing lyrics, and a laid-back pastoral approach that shoulda caught on in the singer-songwriterish early-'70s. Too bad their follow-up never got out of the studio. They coulda ruled the world, or at least the Pacific Northwest.
* Gryphon: RED QUEEN TO GRYPHON THREE, TREASON -- RED QUEEN is the greatest album of rock-flavored British instrumental folk music ever. TREASON is a kinder, gentler Jethro Tull album with one forgotten art-rock monument, "Spring Song." WHERE is their reunion album?
* King Crimson: YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE best-of -- Oh my Ghod. From the heavy-Moody-Blues of "Epitaph" and "Court of the Crimson King" to the guitar crunch of "Red" and "Starless" to the folk-music pastorals of "I Talk to the Wind" and "Cadence and Cascade," this was a stunning band with a wide range of moods. And some of their very best music isn't even included.
* Caravan: FOR GIRLS WHO GROW PLUMP IN THE NIGHT -- This swinging big-band art-rock sounded like nothing else, and between the pounding modal riffs and the hilarious lyrics, it coulda blown anything else off the radio. But they never broke through. Too clever.
* Nick Drake: BRYTER LAYTER -- Gorgeous folk music by the depressed English singer-songwriter. Luminous melodies ("Northern Sky" and "Fly" are breathtaking), sly, clever lyrics ("At the Chime of a City Clock," "One of These Things First," "Hazey Jane I and II," "Poor Boy"), gorgeous playing. Even the instrumentals are beautiful -- "Sunday" is heartbreaking. Addictive.
* KPLU's "All Blues" -- Over the past couple years, this weekend blues show has filled up huge holes in my musical education at a point where I thought I was bored with everything. I owe DJ John Kessler for introducing me to the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Joe Bonnamassa, Sonny Landreth, Johnny A., John Cleary, half a dozen great Aretha Franklin songs I'd never heard before, Joe Tex, Shaun Costello, Geneva Magness, Irma Thomas, The Neville Brothers, Elmore James, Slim Harpo, and so many more. And they're streaming from 6 p.m. to midnight Pacific Time each Saturday and Sunday at

Rock comedy classics

As we all know from our many intense readings and re-readings of Dave Marsh's landmark study THE HEART OF ROCK AND SOUL, all of the greatest rock and roll songs are actually about sex.
All of them. We KNOW this.
And yet, some aren't about sex. Some are about ... other things.
Here's a few examples:
* Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" appears to be about the end of the world. In reality, it's about how CCR's leader John Fogerty couldn't find a bathroom when he needed one badly during an endless Creedence one-nighter in Lodi. But a fan finally got him pointed in the right direction: Note the repeated lines at the end of the choruses -- "There's a bathroom on the right." And as we all know, sometimes not being able to find a bathroom can FEEL like the end of the world....
* Electric Light Orchestra's "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" is actually about the U.S.-government-forced breakup of AT&T's nationwide phone network in the mid-1970s. ELO's captain Jeff Lynne was disgruntled because the breakup added complications to his trans-continental phonecalls searching for more string-players for the band. Marc Bolan of T. Rex allegedly plays the stark, jagged lead guitar on this track. Bolan had his own issues with phones, AT&T's breakup making it harder for the Boppin' Elf to keep in touch with his girlfriend in New York City. That the long-ago phone-system breakup is still a controversial topic is proven by how seldom you hear this rocker on classic-rock radio.  
* Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" appears to be about how a lonely man found friendship and wonder and new meanings in life by immersing himself in a totally new, wondrous, completely alien culture. But it's really about how nobody in South Africa could pronounce Paul's name right, so he asked them to call him Al just to keep it short and friendly. (Sorry about that "short" crack, Paul.)
* George Michael's "Faith" appears to be about holding on until True Love comes along. But in truth it's a heavily autobiographical piece about George's younger days, during which at one point he was attracted to a cute blonde next-door-neighbor girl named Faith. "Gotta have Faith, Faith, Faith, baby!"
* Bob Seger's "Feel Like a Number" seems to be a desperate rocker about a guy who's sick and tired of being ground-down by The System. But it's actually about how Bob couldn't find a joint when he really wanted one during a tough night performing at Detroit's Cobo Hall. (Did you know Bob's '60s band was called The System? Really.)
* Little Richard's "Tutti Fruitti" is actually about how Little Richard Penniman couldn't get the flavor of ice cream he wanted in a Southern small-town ice cream shop back in the early '50s. You can hear the frustration breaking loose in his voice as he finally permits himself to talk about it.
* Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" is about how the frustrated, globetrotting guys in the band couldn't make love to the Statue Of Liberty -- a woman big enough to take them all on at once. Don't believe me? Check out the heavily-coded lyric sheet. ...Oh, wow, guess this IS a song about sex after all.
* Bob Dylan's "One of Us Must Know" is about Bahb's many emotionally-fraught Relationship discussions with Joan Baez back in the '60s. Just ask either of them. But make sure you've got a few hours to spare for just listening....
* Spirit's "1984." Well, this has all come true now, hasn't it?
* The Monkees' "Tapioca Tundra." I have no IDEA what the HELL this song is about. Great guitar and vocal by Mike Nesmith, though. I feel much the same way about The Monks' "Your Auntie Grizelda," "Gonna Buy Me a Dog," "The Porpoise Song," "Daily Nightly," "Randy Scouse Git," "No Time," and some of their other absolutely classic album tracks.
More revealing studies in this area coming soon, he threatened....

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Sorry for the delays here, folks. I've gotten involved with someone new over the last six weeks, and it has become pretty serious and pretty mushy pretty quickly. So I've been spending less time here. I apologize for that, but I'm not going to apologize about having a real life again.
I'm still listening to music and reading, and that will continue. Still hitting-up my local Goodwills for cheap treasures. Latest scores include three Nick Drake CD's, Al Stewart's YEAR OF THE CAT, Creedence CHRONICLE best-of, John Lennon LEGEND best-of, Dylan's BLONDE ON BLONDE, Joni Mitchell HITS, Joan Armatrading best-of, Supertramp best-of, three Steely Dan CD's, best-of's by James Brown, Jim Croce, Warren Zevon, Roy Orbison, etc. Goodwill has been berry berry good to me.
Not finding any cheap CD's by Pink Floyd, Queen, Motorhead. Odd how that works.
My buddies at KPLU got their $7 million in public donations, so I assume their weekend "All Blues" program will be continuing. You can hear that great stuff from 6 p.m. to midnight Pacific Time each Saturday and Sunday over their streaming service at
I'm involved in yet another new writing project -- trying to turn the rock and roll novel I've been trying to write since at least 1982 into an after-the-bomb-drops fantasy/folk setting with magic and music and all the great friends I knew in and after high school. I'd like to make them all immortal -- especially since some of them are dead now. I'm 12 pages in, about 6,000 words, and already this writing just-for-fun is surprising me. So we'll see where it goes and I'll keep you posted.
Again, my apologies for not writing here more often. But I'm very happy and life is good ... and love is REALLY great. Hope all you out there are doing well, too.
More soon....