February 3rd, 1978, was a cold, cold Friday in the Delaware Valley, with highs in the mid-20s (Fahrenheit) and lows in the low teens. As anyone alive out there can confirm, that winter of 1977-78 was a rough string of months for much of the Midwest and Northeast, with extreme cold and snowstorms the norm. In the Philly area, for example, some 13-15 inches of snow paralyzed the region two weeks prior; and from Sunday the 5th through early Tuesday morning, we’d endure a repeat performance that dropped 14 more inches of the white stuff. 

I was 12 1/2 years of age, and bitterly recalled thinking 60 degrees was freezing. (Life in a desert kingdom may not have been ideal, but at least we didn’t have snow or actual cold.) I hated winter, in other words. (I still do.) About the only relief: Escape via books, television and, increasingly, music. As I charted in this long-ago post, Elvis Presley’s death the previous August essentially kickstarted my interest in rock ’n’ roll.

My parents picked up the book-thick Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer early Saturday evening most weeks, and we would spend part of the night reading through it. At that juncture, Michael St. John’s oldie show on WPEN-AM, which I routinely listened to, was on Sunday night – but there were plenty of oldies to be had around the dial. (Oldies, back then, primarily meant the rock, pop and soul/R&B of the 1950s and early ‘60s.) My parents and older brother weren’t much into music, but indulged me. So, for at least an hour, the sounds of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, the Ronettes, Supremes and Beach Boys filled the living room.

On occasion, Jan & Dean rode the wild surf from California to the eastern seaboard… 

…I loved the songs of theirs that I heard on the radio, most likely because they were often catchy and funny. Over time, I bought three 45s that sported hits on each side (and, eventually, the cool two-LP Anthology) – and, this night, turned on our local CBS affiliate, Channel 10, to watch Deadman’s Curve, a made-for-TV movie about them.

My memory tells me that it was a dramatic, dark and ultimately uplifting film accented by top-notch performances. My memory is wrong. A while back, I stumbled upon a gray-market DVD of the movie while looking for the 1977-78 James at 15 TV series, ordered it and, last Wednesday, gave it a go. Wow. It’s almost as awful as the Inky calling Jan Berry “Jan Perry” in its TV highlights for this night…

The TV movie was inspired by a 1974 Rolling Stone article by Paul Morantz, who also helped with the screenplay. One problem: Jan is presented as a first-class jerk from the get-go, which begs the question: Why would anyone want to work with him? Also, his friendship with Brian Wilson, who cowrote “Surf City” and “Ride the Wild Surf,” isn’t mentioned, nor is Jan & Dean’s memorable stint hosting the T.A.M.I. Show

Still, the film is a product of its time and environs, as TV mores were not what they are today. If James at 15’s attempts to deal with teen life in an authentic manner were met with resistance, one can only imagine the hurdles faced by Deadman’s Curve. 

The film did help re-energize the duo’s career, however. As this L.A. Times article explains, they began by touring with the Beach Boys before venturing out on their own. Dean says, “I didn’t want to play for just the over-30 crowd, but I found out that teen-agers were coming out for the music. In 1978 Jan and I toured with the Beach Boys to test the waters. It went OK, and in ’79 we became Jan and Dean again.” (That article is well worth the read in full, I should mention.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Jan & Dean.

1) “Surf City.” Where this video comes from, no idea, but it portrays their humor very well.

2) “Dead Man’s Curve.” 

3) “Honolulu Lulu”

4) “Sidewalk Surfin’” Dick Clark welcomes them to American Bandstand, where they lip sync to their latest release – and then Dean demonstrates his skateboard skills. 

5) “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” This hails from the T.A.M.I Show – a classic performance from a classic film, and yet another example of their humor.

Death has been much on the mind of near everyone these past seven months. How could it not? As a result, although recorded pre-pandemic, the new album from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Letters to You, is in sync with the zeitgeist of the moment. The ghosts of lost friends haunt some of the 12 tracks, while Springsteen contemplates his mortality on others. He also rejoices in the days that used to be via three cast-off songs of yore. As a whole, the album explores the same basic themes that accented last year’s Western Stars LP and Western Stars movie, but trades the pop gloss for the glorious cacophony that is rock ’n’ roll.

“One Minute You’re Here,” the first song, is not raucous, however, but a stark rumination about the dark clouds gathered in his soul: “I thought I knew just who I was/And what I’d do, but I was wrong/One minute you’re here/Next minute you’re gone.” It’s not a sentiment unique to him, of course, yet those of us who long ago grabbed our tickets and suitcases and boarded his train to the land of hope and dreams may well hear ourselves in the lyrics.

The first single, “Letter to You,” ups the tempo, with electric guitars and an organ rising, falling and rising again like waves in rough water. Bruce has said the song is directed to us, his fans, but it matters not, really. It’s just a great song. His oft-used locomotive and religious metaphors continue with “Burnin’ Train,” with the band barreling down the long twin silver line.

“Janey Needs a Shooter,” one of the cast-off songs mentioned above, is next; like the other two, “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans”, it dates to the early 1970s and sports a tangible Bob Dylan vibe. (It was reworked as “Jeannie Needs a Shooter” by Warren Zevon and Bruce for Zevon’s 1979 Bad Luck Streak at a Dancing School album.)

There are other sonic ghosts, too. “Last Man Standing” finds Bruce recalling his first band, the Castiles. The initial song written for what became this album, it was influenced by the passing of former Castiles bandmate George Theiss and the realization that he was the last group member alive. (Though, best I can tell, there are a few short-term members still walking.) In spots, at least to my ears, it conjures the Drifters’ “On Broadway” – especially when Jake Clemons takes a sax solo.

In similar fashion, the piano intro to “House of a Thousand Dreams” conjures another song: “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do).” (Listen to both back to back for proof.) That said, it’s a great song about the salvation inherent in rock ’n’ roll: “So wake and shake off your troubles my friend/We’ll go where the music never ends/From the stadiums to the small town bars/We’ll light up the house of a thousand guitars…”

“Ghosts,” the second single, is yet another killer track from the album, this one also inspired by the passing of Theiss: “I hear the sound of your guitar/Comin’ from the mystic far/Stone and the gravel in your voice/Come in my dreams and I rejoice….” Another ghost rises from the grooves by song’s end: the late Michael Been, as the outro conjures the Call’s “When the Walls Came Down.”

Sonically speaking, the E Street Band sounds huge; to borrow Bruce’s penchant for train metaphors, they’re often like a mammoth locomotive rolling faster and faster down the tracks, except that when they need to stop, they stop on a dime. There’s also something of a Neil Young and Crazy Horse ethos throughout, as it was primarily recorded live in the studio with minimal (if any) overdubs. As a result, the result marries Born to Run’s Wall of Sound (in this case, a tsunami of guitars) with Darkness on the Edge of Town’s straight-ahead attack. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s rock ’n’ roll. It cleanses the soul.

October 11th, 1975, began as an overcast day in the Delaware Valley, with occasional showers gradually giving way to the sun by the afternoon, when the temperatures topped off in the low 70s. At least, that was the prediction in the morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

The big story: Pennsylvania governor Milton J. Shapp couldn’t recall what he did with two large cash contributions that were handed to him during his 1970 gubernatorial campaign; he claimed to have funneled the money into one of his many statewide campaign committees, but couldn’t produce records to back him up.

Shapp, I should mention, didn’t need the influx. A millionaire, in the mid-1960s he spent his own money in a campaign to prevent the merger of Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central. The effort went for naught, however, and cost him when he sought the governorship in 1966 – the Pennsylvania Railroad president was a pal of President Lyndon B. Johnson. As a result, he lost in the general election to Republican Raymond P. Shafer; the national Dems abandoned him, more or less. But he ran again in 1970 and came out victorious, becoming the state’s first Jewish governor in the process. Not everything he did won favor, such as instituting a state income tax, but – despite allegations of corruption that surrounded his administration – he was popular enough to win a second term.

In retrospect, however, the biggest story of the day occurred after the late news came to an end at 11:30pm: 

Yep, SNL – then known just as Saturday Night – debuted on this date – not that I stayed up to watch it, as I was 10 years old. Instead, I probably tuned into the other Saturday Night Live, a short-lived show hosted by Howard Cosell. The guests: Bill Cosby, Roberta Flack, Barry Manilow, the Rockettes, and Andy Griffith. I was not into music at this point in my life, however, though I enjoyed it enough to watch Hee Haw at 7pm – so, though my first memory of hearing Roberta Flack is 1978, the reality is I likely first heard her this night. Her most recent single was “Feelin’ That Glow,” but whether that’s what she performed is anyone’s guess…

For those curious what a pre-cable/pre-streaming TV life was like on a Saturday night in 1975, here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer’s TV listings:

And, for the movie fans in attendance, here are the movies in the theaters:

You may notice among the listings many non-recent films; that’s the way it was, back then. Without cable and streaming services, movies had a much longer shelf life. The Budco Hatboro theater, for instance, lists a “kiddie matinee” of The Shakiest Gun in the West, which was released in 1968.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: October 11, 1975 (via Top40Weekly.com). I’m digging beyond the Top 5 to uncover some hidden treasures…

1) Helen Reddy – “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady.” Helen Reddy was more than “I Am Woman.” This, the second single from her No Way to Treat a Lady LP is a somewhat stereotypical adult-contemporary tune, tasteful as all get out. It reaches No. 8 on the pop charts this week, where it will remain for 14 days before dropping to No. 22. (Ain’t no way to treat a fine pop tune!) It does top the adult contemporary charts, however.

2) Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons – “Who Loves You.” Given that we saw Frankie and his Faux Seasons in January 2020 (one of our last pre-pandemic concerts), how can I not include this catchy and classic song? It’s No. 14 this week and will eventually reach No. 3. 

3) Linda Ronstadt – “Heat Wave”/“Love Is a Rose.” The ‘70s rock queen’s infectious take on the classic Martha and the Vandellas song, taken from her Prisoner in Disguise album, leaps 13 spaces to land at No. 18, where it won’t remain for long; it peaks at No. 5 in November.

4) Janis Ian – “At Seventeen.” Above, I mentioned the premiere of Saturday Night Live; one of the musical guests was Ms. Ian. At No. 28, the song is on its way down the charts after reaching No. 3 in September. 

5) Silver Convention – “Fly Robin Fly.” The West German disco act consisted of Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze, who relied on session vocalists to complete their catchy conconctions; and this, their Grammy Award-winning earworm – which will top the charts in late November – began life as “Run, Rabbit, Run”; they changed the simple lyrics mere moments before recording it. (Incidentally, the enthusiastic women in the video – Penny McLean, Ramona Wulf and Linda G. Thompson – came on board once the duo realized they’d need someone to appear on camera.)

Throughout the 1960s, many Motown albums followed a predictable pattern: a few hits (or would-be hits), songs made popular by other artists and, depending on the singer or group, a show tune or two. The formula wasn’t unique to Hitsville, U.S.A. – most of the era’s popular acts, including the Beatles on their early albums, adhered to it. Everyone, or almost everyone, sang other people’s songs – until they didn’t. Within the world of rock music, then just over a decade old, the shift began with the Beatles’ Rubber Soul LP, which arrived just in time for Christmas 1965. Suddenly, the idea that an album could be an artistic statement took hold and cover songs became the exception, not the rule.

That said, and forgive this indulgence, the Fabs and their contemporaries weren’t the first to see the possibilities inherent in the LP, which was introduced in 1948 by Columbia Records. Self-proclaimed saloon singer Frank Sinatra released the 10-inch Songs for Young Lovers LP in 1954; the eight songs, all recorded for the project, sported a unified theme. He followed it later that year with Swing Easy!, another 10-inch set, and then released the classic In the Wee Small Hours, a 12-inch LP often credited as the first concept album, in 1955. Ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t alone, either – jazz artists and other performers released sets that were more than just their latest single(s) and filler.

Not that any of that matters when it comes to Silk N’ Soul. It’s simply evidence that, by 1968, pop-oriented Motown had yet to follow the route laid down by the Beatles and other mainstream acts, preferring the old-school, supper-club approach instead. It also serves to show how Gladys Knight & the Pips were treated within Hitsville at the time. Although they were fresh off of a No. 2 hit with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and a Top 20 hit with “The End of Our Road,” there are no original songs. Instead, the 12 tracks were known quantities at the time of the album’s release – and “I Wish It Would Rain,” the LP’s lone single, was a recent hit by the Temptations.

In a sense, it’s almost as if they were being punished for their success. It’s been well-documented, after all, that Diana Ross’ petty jealousies caused Gladys and the Pips to be ditched from a tour with the Supremes, as she feared they were too good. (As she told Gladys years later, “We all had to grow up.”) Was Berry Gordy trying to sabotage their careers?

Well, if he was, it doesn’t much matter. Gladys and the Pips, simply put, are at the top of their game throughout the album’s 12 tracks, with Glady becoming one with the songs when she sings. She’s similar to Elvis and Aretha, among others, in that every song she sings becomes hers in the moment.

Available on the usual streaming suspects, including YouTube, Silk N’ Soul is a thoroughly enjoyable album. No, it’ll never make anyone’s Top 10 list (nor should it), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile listen. It’s a glimpse of the way life used to be. Pull it up, press play and let the music cleanse the soul. You won’t regret it.