Archive for the ‘Natalie Merchant’ Category

Sunday July 20th, 1969, marked a momentous moment in the history of humankind: Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module Eagle and descended a ladder to the surface of the moon. After touching ground at 10:56pm ET, he paused to say, “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” is in brackets because it wasn’t audible on the transmission beamed to the 600 million people watching on Earth.)

The U.S. president – the 37th in the country’s history – was Richard M. Nixon, who took the oath of office six months earlier. His time in office was accented by chicanery, cynicism and brilliance, though much of that was yet to come. At this point in time, though he was viewed with disdain by some, his approval ratings were routinely in the 60s.

On the economic front, the unemployment rate began the year at 3.4 percent and ended at 3.9 percent. Everyone who wanted one had a job, just about. Inflation, on the other hand, was a source of concern: When Nixon took office, it was already high at 4.4 percent, and it continued to inch higher each month. 

When it came to foreign affairs – specifically, the Vietnam War – this very month marked two significant events: the first U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam occurred on the 8th; and, on July 25th, the “Nixon Doctrine” – aka the Vietnamization of the war – was announced. The plan was for the U.S. to turn over the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese.

In the Philly region, it was an atypical summer’s day, topping out at a mere 78 degrees (Fahrenheit). The Phillies didn’t take advantage of the cool weather, however, as starting pitcher Bill Champion failed to live up to his surname in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Connie Mack Stadium.

Among the movies playing in the theaters: Hook, Line & Sinker, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider, which was released on July 14th. As I’ve noted before, however, this was the era when it could take a movie six or more months to make it to your local cinema.

Aside from the moon transmission, TV was basically in yesteryear’s DVR mode – rerun season. It’s when folks caught up on episodes they had missed.

In the world of music, June and July 1969 saw the release of a few notable – and not-so-notable – albums, including Roberta Flack’s First Take, Elvis Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis, Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking, Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad, The Doors’ Soft Parade, and Yes’ eponymous debut. 

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 19th).

1) Zager and Evans – “In the Year 2525.” The next time a baby boomer laments the state of today’s music, point them to this song. And laugh. Because on July 20th, 1969 – less than a month before Woodstock – this “prophetic” song was the No. 1 song in the land.

And for you Gen-Xers feeling smug right now, here’s R.E.M. covering it:

2) Blood, Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel.” Holding steady at No. 2 for a second week is this jaunty philosophical ode, which was penned by BS&T singer David Clayton-Thomas. 

To again leave the pop charts for a moment, earlier in the year Peggy Lee released an effervescent rendition of the song that reached No. 24 on the Easy Listening charts…

3) Three Dog Night – “One.” Dropping from No. 5 to No. 6 is this song, which I first heard in the mid-1970s on a commercial for a mail-order compilation. The song was written and originally recorded by Harry Nilsson, who released it in 1968.

And – yes, this is a trend – Aimee Mann recorded “One” for the For the Love of Nilsson tribute album in 1995. It also appeared on the soundtrack for Magnolia.

4) Elvis Presley – “In the Ghetto.” Elvis continued his comeback with this classic song written by Mac Davis that tackles poverty. (Sad to say, 50 years later, it remains as relevant as it was then.)

A few decades years later, on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour, Natalie Merchant – accompanied by Tracy Chapman – sang the song.

5) Jackie DeShannon – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this catchy plea for love, which jumps from No. 55 to 48. FYI: Jackie co-wrote it.

And, finally, Dolly Parton recorded a wonderful version of the song for her 1993 album Slow Dancing With the Moon. Here she is singing it a few months earlier on the CMA Awards… 

We finished the second and final season of Joan of Arcadia yesterday. For those of you counting at home, that means we whipped through the 23 Season 1 episodes and 22 Season 2 episodes in exactly 22 days. One of the things I like about the series is that it avoids the typical pitfalls associated with dramas that explore faith and humanity. Within the show, as in real life, faith leads to questions, doubts and realizations, but never easy answers.

One of my favorite moments comes near the end of its run, in the “Common Thread” installment. God commands Joan to return to knitting, a hobby she stopped when she was a kid. As always, there’s far more to the episode than just that; we don’t just see Joan casting on, stitching and purling for the next 40+ minutes. I’ll skip the rest of the story, however, to the moment in question, when Joan gently rebuffs her folks, who are trying to ease her guilt regarding a bad decision made by her former boyfriend, Adam. “I mean, we’re all connected like the scarf. One piece of yarn, if you cut it up into little pieces, it’s useless. You can’t make anything out of it. I am responsible, partly. We all are…for everything that we touch and everything that touches us.”

It’s never us vs. them, as much as we sometimes wish it so. It’s us vs us. 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Of Questions & Faith (aka Joan of Arcadia, Part II)…

1) Kasey Chambers – “Abraham”

2) Van Morrison – “When Will I Ever Learn to Walk in God”

3) Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer – “Into My Arms”

4) Bruce Springsteen – “Rocky Ground”

5) Paul Weller – “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)”

And two bonuses…

6) Natalie Merchant – “I May Know the Word”

7) Maria McKee and Bryan MacLean – “Sweet Dr. Jesus”

Fun, but frustrating. That, in a nutshell, summarizes my reaction to the Facebook challenge of naming 10 all-time favorite albums over the course of 10 days. I have far more than 10 all-time favorites, many of which are equally weighted on the scale I employ to rate records. (Among my measurements: “wondrous,” “wow. just wow,” “sublime,” “mesmerizing,” “transcendent” and “it takes you there, wherever there is.”)

Selecting them also meant adopting a different mindset than when choosing my ballyhooed Album of the Year honor. There, I look back at what I’ve bought and played most often during the previous 12 months, and gauge what resonated with my soul at such a deep level that I know, just know, I’ll be listening to it for the rest of my life. (Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong.)

Memes weren’t created to be fair, however, but to entertain. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 10 All-Time Favorite Albums, Part 2. (Part 1 can be found here.)

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Day 6: Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo. I’ve yet to feature this album in my “Essentials” series, but will at some point. It’s one of Juliana’s best albums – and her second to nab my esteemed Album of the Year honor.

Day 7: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ’n Roll. It may not be Joan’s best album (her debut, Bad Reputation, is likely that), but it’s her most important – and, in my estimation, one of the most important albums in rock history. Thus, its “Essential” status. 

Day 8: 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden. As perfect an album ever released, in my opinion. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 9: Stephen Stills – Manassas. A two-LP (now one-CD) gem. Another “Essentials” pick.

Day 10: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Darkness on the Edge of Town. This 1978 album is one of the greatest albums of all time. What’s amazing about it, to me, is that the themes that Springsteen explores, both lyrically and musically, speak to their time and to all times. (It’s a future “Essentials” pick, in other words.)

And a three non-Facebook bonuses…

Day 11: Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis. Another perfect record. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 12: The Jam – Snap!. One of the greatest best-of compilations to be released on vinyl, and a set I’ve listened to as much in the past year as I did in the first year I bought it. It never grows old. (It’s an “Essential,” in other words.)

Day 13: Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life. It may be a relatively recent album, and as such doesn’t qualify for “essential” status just yet (my homegrown rule is an album has to be at least five years old for that), but it shot to the top of my internal charts the moment I heard it, and hasn’t left. It’s everything good about music. 

I currently have not one, not two, but eight external hard drives on my desk, a network drive plugged into our router, plus my rarely used HP desktop. Most contain the result of the Great Undertaking of 2007, when I invested in a then-pricey external HD and began ripping our CDs. It was a six month-long endeavor born from frustration: We owned thousands upon thousands of discs, but had run out of space for them in our over-stuffed apartment. Stacks of jewel boxes took up residence here, there and everywhere.

After those six months, I bought a second external HD, copied everything over, and then plugged it into Diane’s computer. Presto, we had matching libraries – and more room in the apartment, as I boxed up the CDs. Whatever we wanted to listen to was, quite literally, a mouse click away, and because our library was so expansive…well, it was a bit like our own private Spotify or Apple Music. Then, in theory, if either of us bought an album, be it physical or digital, we’d copy it to the other’s drive.

But theories don’t always play out in real life the way they do on paper. Over time, our libraries took on slightly different hues. Sometimes Diane would procure a disc or download and not tell me. And vice versa. But, regardless, I routinely backed up my library. At one point, before I switched from the HP to a MacBook, I had two external desktop HDs plugged in at all times, and a third that I employed as a backup for the first two. Whenever I ripped a CD to the internal HD, I then copied it over to the externals. And, every month or so, I’d plug in the third external and do it again.

It’s just the way it was.

There’s more on those HDs, of course. One holds most of my high-res music. A few include now-ancient Super 8 home movies that I had digitalized, plus various versions of my own Long Medley – all those home movies edited into one long film and accented by a letter-perfect soundtrack. There’s also photos, photos, and more photos; my digital art, which wasn’t much in the way of art (as the example to the left demonstrates), that I played around with for more than a decade, and short animations that never came out as envisioned; the last iteration of the original Old Grey Cat website; umpteen versions of an unfinished novel; Word documents galore, including old TV GUIDE essays; and old mix-CD covers, such as the one below (and this one for a Juliana collection).

I may be wrong, but I believe it’s the last mix I made, as a Christmas gift (along with, I believe, a bottle of wine) for my brother and his wife in 2010. The cover art was an original, but something that I didn’t take much time with. I created it in an hour, rendered it, and was done.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Mixdisc 2010…as in, songs from that very mix.

1) Tift Merritt – “Mixtape.” What better song to start a mix than this, a song about mixtapes? (And, too, it was from my Album of the Year for 2010.)

2) Mazzy Star – “Fade Into You.” If you listened to that Tift song, you’ll hear her mention Mazzy Star in the lyrics. So what better song to bat second?

3) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross.” Yeah, I just featured this song in my Diane Birch roundup; and have featured it a few times before that, too. Back in 2010, however, it was relatively new – and totally unavailable anywhere but on YouTube. (That’s still true.) My sister-in-law liked Diane Birch, so it seemed a good idea to include it. (I used one of those crappy ad-heavy sites to strip away the video and save the audio as an MP3.) Also, on a more practical note, after the languid “Fade Into You,” the tempo needed a jolt, and “Heavy Cross” is like a double espresso…

4) Natalie Merchant – “maggie and milly and molly and mae.” Another hypnotic song, this time from one of my 2010 Album of the Year runners-up.

5) Rachel and Kurt (aka Lea Michele and Chris Colfer) – “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy.” Yeah, yeah, not everyone liked Glee. But I did, and always enjoyed the episodes that showcased Lea Michele, as her voice was (and is) magical. (I still wish they’d spun off Rachel into her own series. But c’est la vie.) It’s also a performance that, divorced from the TV, stands on its own. (And, yes, I’m aware it’s a knockoff of the Barbra Streisand-Judy Garland rendition. I still love it.)

And a few bonuses…

6) Kim Wilde – “Kids in America.” A classic new-wave entry from the dawn of MTV. Who doesn’t love this tune?

7) The Jam – “Stoned out of My Mind.” Paul Weller & Co. tackle the classic Chi-Lites tune. And it’s absolutely fantastic – one of my favorite Jam tunes, actually.

10) The Lemonheads – “It’s About Time.” Jumping down a few tracks to No. 10 brings us to this, my favorite song from the Lemonheads.

11) Juliana Hatfield – “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” This was a free download from the Daytrotter site back in 2009. It’s an absolutely brilliant, stripped-down rendition (and is a perfect followup to Evan Dando & Co.’s “It’s About Time” due to Juliana’s guest vocal on that tune).