Archive for the ‘Today’s Top 5’ Category

Make no mistake: We have been here before. The 1918-20 flu pandemic infected some 500 million people around the globe, with experts citing anywhere from 17 to 100 million succumbing to it. Social-distancing measures were employed in some U.S. cities, and while they fared much better health-wise than those that didn’t, they suffered economic downturns. Life looked like it might be forever changed. But it wasn’t. As this World Economic Forum article shows, once the flu faded away, life pretty much picked up where it had left off.

That doesn’t lessen the stress of today’s stay-at-home orders, grocery shortages, economic disruptions and the incompetent federal response, mind you, or the fear of falling victim to COVID-19. The days may blur into weeks and the weeks may soon morph into months, but we, as a people, will endure.

That said, to me it feels like we’re stuck in the opening stanza of “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings: “Stuck inside these four walls/never seeing no one…”

I haven’t been listening to much in the way of new music these days, preferring instead to treat the isolation blues with a heap of old favorites, including (but not limited to) McCartney, Rumer, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Suzanne Vega, Neil Young and, though she’s not “old” per se, Courtney Marie Andrews. There’s a comfort to be found in their tried-and-true grooves. They soothe the soul.

I thought I’d share select songs from some of them today.

Courtney Marie tapped into the collective unconscious for her 2016 Honest Life album, a set o’ songs I consider one of the best of the 2010s. “Put the Fire Out” slays me every time I hear it, especially when the backup voices come in on “hear the rock ’n’ roll at the Blue Moon Tavern.”

On a not unrelated subject, I experienced something of a spacetime anomaly in early March when I celebrated my 30th anniversary at my 23-year-old company. (I was grandfathered in during several takeovers, for those curious.) Anyway, the company doles out virtual tokens for such events, which can then be used to pick out a reward or rewards from a fairly extensive catalog. I used mine to get Diane the latest iPad Mini and both of us the Apple HomePod, as I’ve wanted one since it was first introduced. It may not be an audiophile’s dream, but the sound is excellent – and we subscribe to Apple Music, so it works out.

The first thing I asked Siri to play is a song I never tire of:

This morning’s picks included Van Morrison’s Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, which flows through and buttresses the soul like few others. It’s been one of my favorites of his since first hearing it during my college years; the poetic “Rave on John Donne” with its literary references and floating saxophone stops time for me.

Last night, I watched the April 7, 1979 episode of Saturday Night Live on Hulu, though not for the skits but the musical guest: Rickie Lee Jones, who performed “Chuck E.’s in Love” and “Coolsville.” This morning, after Van, I played her debut for what must be the 1000th time in my life (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating!). It sounds as fresh today as it did in 1979.

Stay safe, people. 

From pandemics to politics, and the associated panics therein, there’s much going on in the world that I could comment on. By and large, however, they lead me to this line from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “What’s past is prologue.” Everything that was has led to what is; and we, as a collective, are responsible. (As I wrote a few years back, “it’s never us vs. them, as much as we sometimes wish it so. It’s us vs. us.”) Yet, this morning I found myself instead dwelling on matters of art instead. In the celebrity-driven daze that is the Social Media age, it’s become commonplace to confuse artists, who are as flawed as the rest of us, for their fevered imaginings.

Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) said it best in “Ars Poetic”: “A poem should not mean/but be.” That is, its success rests on the words, rhythms and rhymes therein; it lives and breathes, figuratively speaking, on its own, divorced from its creator. The same is true, I think, for all art. What do we know of Thomas Pynchon? Must we know his life to enjoy and decipher the torrent that is Gravity’s Rainbow? Must we know of the inner demons that haunted Sandy Denny to find meaning in her songs? 

Of course not.

And, with that, here are today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. MMXX (AKA “Ars Musica).  

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – “If I Told.” CMA announced this week that she has a new album due on June 5th. (You can order it from her site.)

2) Hazel English – “Combat.” Hazel English is an Australian-American indie pop musician based in Oakland whose songs conjure the swaying psychedelia of the mid-‘60s as well as the Paisley Underground. 

3) Emma Langford – “Sowing Acorns.” The second single from the Irish singer-songwriter’s forthcoming sophomore album is, in a word, mesmerizing. (That’s her mom, at about 12 years of age, in the picture.)

4) Maria McKee – “Let Me Forget.” It’s Maria. Need I say more?

5) Jane Willow – “Give It Time.” The Dutch-Irish singer’s latest single is unadorned – just her gorgeous voice and piano. It’s sad and hopeful at the same time.

Last night saw a who’s who of singer-songwriters gathering for a swank soiree at one of the region’s finest (if over-priced) restaurants. While some arrived in tuxedoes and others in gowns, a few underdressed artists explained/complained that they would have bedecked themselves if only they’d known they should. (“Who would’ve thought,” said one of the offenders.) The occasion: the Old Grey Cat’s first-ever “Album of the Decade” fete.

The six-hour event is now being edited into a one-hour TV special to air on the world’s top TV networks next Saturday night; apparently, watching an LP rotate on a turntable isn’t as enthralling as initially imagined. (That said, watching the LPs spin turned out to be more exciting than watching the CDs being dropped into a CD tray and then disappearing inside the player.)  

One of the night’s highlights came when select performers took to the stage to sing holiday songs. Up-and-coming Rhode Island-based country singer Charlie Marie, for instance, warmed hearts when she sang her latest single, “Old-Fashioned Christmas.”

And Shelby Lynne and Daryl Hall recreated their Live From Daryl’s House duet on Shelby’s bluesy “Xmas.” 

Lucy Rose, for her part, chided the Old Grey Cat for forgetting her No Words Left album in his rundown of the top albums of 2019 before forgiving him with her sweet rendition of Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone.”

Maja Francis and First Aid Kit brought the house down with their stirring cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” (Technically, it’s not a Christmas tune, but…)

Finally, the Greta Garbo of rock ’n’ pop ’n’ soul, Duffy, returned from reclusion to close the festive fun with her stripped-down spin on Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song.”

As I write, 40 years ago this day was a Friday. I was 14 years old and a ninth-grader at Keith Valley Middle School, the Hatboro-Horsham School District’s second of two middle schools. (At the time, the district’s elementary schools were K-5; Loller Middle School was 6-7; Keith Valley was 8-9; and the high school was 10-12; in the decades since, Loller closed; KV became 6-8; and the high school became 9-12.) 

In the Delaware Valley, you never knew what a December day might bring: One morning, such as this day, might be a brisk 40 degrees (Fahrenheit); and the next could dip into the 20s.

As was my custom, before leaving for school, I flipped through the Philadelphia Inquirer, which landed on our front porch every morn, while eating breakfast.

To me, the biggest news of the day was that the Philadelphia Flyers beat the L.A. Kings 9-4 and extended their unbeaten streak to 23 games. (The game was from the West Coast, so started late – too late to watch.) They’d continue with no losses for another month (12 games), racking up a record that still stands today.

I scanned the comics. Here’s this day’s Doonesbury, which is slightly prophetic: disco’s days were indeed numbered.

I’ve noted this before, but the late ‘70s were – economically speaking – tough. As the Inquirer reports on its front page, a jump in wholesale food prices showed that inflation had yet to be tamed:

For the year, inflation clocked in at 11.35 percent. That means, on average, items priced at $10 on January 1st, 1979, cost $11.35 by year’s end; but “on average” means just that. Some items skyrocketed higher while others remained about the same. If you look at fourth paragraph of the above article, you’ll see what I mean: “Energy prices rose by 2.5 percent in November, the smallest increase since February, but were still 62.7 percent higher than a year ago.”

Due to the increasing energy and food costs, something had to give: Discretionary spending. Except, that is, mine. My $5/week allowance still went far, especially when combined with Christmas and birthday cash. I hit the movies with regularity…

…and usually bought a 45 every week. LPs were a bigger expense, of course, so entered my collection at a slower pace. (That would change in a few years after I discovered a nearby used-record store.)

Speaking of albums, here are the Inky’s (uncredited) album reviews for the week:

Reading them now, I’m shocked: I had no idea I’d read a review of one of my essential albums, Hank Williams Jr.’s Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, this early in my musical development. (I discovered it a few years later.) 

For the TV aficionados, this was the night’s lineup:

And, with all of that context (and more) out of the way, here’s today’s Top 5: December 7th, 1979 (via the Top40Weekly.com charts that end Dec. 8th):

1) Styx – “Babe.” In some respects, Styx were little more than a white Commodores with Dennis DeYoung the Lionel Richie of the group. (Think about it.) This ballad tops the charts for the first of a two-week run at No. 1. 

2) Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer – “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).” In her never-ending quest to stay hip, Babs pairs with the era’s Queen of the Top 40 for this kitschy curio, which drops to No. 2 after its own two-week stay atop the charts.

3) The Commodores – “Still.” In some respects, the Commodores were little more than a black Styx with Lionel Richie the Dennis DeYoung of the group. (Think about it.) This ballad holds steady at No. 3.

4) K.C. and the Sunshine Band – “Please Don’t Go.” Coming in at No. 4 for the second week in a row is this out-of-character K.C. tune, which sounds lifted from the Dennis DeYoung/Lionel Richie playbook. It would eventually land at No. 1.

5) Rupert Holmes – “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” – Rising a notch to No. 5 and on its way to No. 1, this pop tune – which was inspired by a personal ad Holmes read – has been derided as one of the worst songs of all time. (Rolling Stone named it the sixth worst song of the 1970s, for example.)

And a few bonuses…

Blondie – “Dreaming.” In its 11th week on the charts, this perfect slice of taut rock drops from No. 27 (its peak) to No. 31. 

The Buggles – “Video Killed the Radio Star.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this foreshadow of the future, which jumps from No. 44 to 41.