Archive for the ‘Today’s Top 5’ Category

Anyone conscious of pop culture in the mid ‘80s likely remembers that, at the start of the 1986-87 TV season, the primetime suds fest Dallas dismissed its previous season, its ninth, as nothing more than a a bad dream. 

The backstory: At the end of Season 8, with his contract up, Patrick Duffy – who played the show’s white knight, Bobby Ewing – left in pursuit of other projects and, rather than have his character embark on a never-ending world cruise, or some such thing, the show’s creative team simply killed him off. 

One result: The show’s ratings dipped in Season 9, sliding from No. 2 to No. 6, the first time it hadn’t been No. 1 or No. 2 in five years. (Some accounts point to increasingly outlandish storylines as a contributing factor.) Duffy, meanwhile, failed to attract the offers he hoped for. So when the Dallas masterminds reached out with a plan for Bobby’s return, Duffy agreed. Thus, at the start of Season 10, Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) woke to the sound of the shower echoing through her room…

… and, in one fell swoop, everything that happened during Season 9 was written off as a dream – well, less a dream and more a nightmare. 

In a sense, then, Dallas unwittingly demonstrated the quantum model of the multiverse, which posits “parallel universes” are, at root, alternate timelines. The road not taken in this reality is the road taken in another; and the next fork in the road in this or that one generates yet another timeline. If spacetime is truly infinite, it stands to reason that there are also an infinite number of presents, pasts and futures.

Or so the theory goes.

Adding to the complexity: A dimple in the fabric of spacetime enhances the possibility of time travel, as the curvature causes the distance between some present and past points to decrease; one could argue that’s essentially what the Dallas creative team did, jumping into the past in order to save the future. Of course, we’re then thrust into Back to the Future territory: Even the smallest alteration to the past can cause the present to become unrecognizable; and, in the case of Dallas, that meant dropping from No. 6 to No. 11 in the ratings.

On an alternate timeline, however, the show could well have returned to No. 1.

That infinite possibilities lead to infinite outcomes matters not to the specific reality we find ourselves in, however. That reality is, sadly, that Lyndon LaRouche Mach 2 occupies the Oval Office and has surrounded himself with henchmen who pay fealty to him, not the Constitution. Unlike Season 9 of Dallas, it can’t be undone with a few flicks of a pen in the writer’s room; the new season, scheduled to begin on Jan. 20th, 2021, unless Congress intervenes before then, will pick up where this one leaves off. Between now and then, aside from messaging our representatives, there’s not much we, the people, can do… except distract ourselves through music.

And, on that cheery note, here’s today’s Top 5: Americana, Season 9…

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Sundown (From the Film Western Stars).” Diane and I already have our tickets for the film, which features Bruce, band and a 30-piece orchestra performing the Western Stars album – one of the year’s best, if not the best – in full. I didn’t think he could top the album version of any of the songs, as they’re all intricate hymns of the heart; I was wrong. 

2) Beth Bombara – “I Only Cry When I’m Alone/Upside Down.” As luck would have it, I stumbled across Beth’s recent album, Evergreen, early this afternoon, just before a 75-minute road trip. I cranked it up on the drive – and, damn, it’s sounds better than good. The St. Louis-based singer-songwriter delves into matters of the heart and soul while connecting with the intellect, and does so accompanied by a crack band. 

3) Michaela Anne – “By Our Design.” Michaela’s album, Desert Dove, is earning acclaim even from folks who aren’t keen on the idea of “Americana” as the (makeshift) genre it is. I haven’t yet had the chance to listen to it unencumbered from conversation, unfortunately, but what I have heard tells me that the acclaim is merited. She reminds me a lot of Emmylou Harris. 

4) Leslie Stevens – “On the Levee.” When we saw Leslie two weeks back, I was only familiar with her most recent album, Sinner. After the show, I picked up her 2016 album The Donkey and the Rose at the merchandise table, and listened to it and the rest of her oeuvre – by way of Apple Music – for the much of the following week. This song is a stunner.

5) Kelsey Waldon – “Anyhow.” Here’s a live rendition of the first single from Kelsey’s recent album, White Noise/White Lines (which I always read as White Light/White Heat – but that’s me). We have tickets to see her in the weeks ahead – can’t wait!

Days become weeks, months and then years, and soon enough the communal memories are relived on the Decades TV channel via its flagship “Through the Decades” program. For those who’ve never seen the show, it’s a magazine-styled documentary series that delves deep into what happened on a particular date across the decades. Sometimes, though, I wish it dove deeper into specific days or timeframes. 

Which leads to this date in 1979: September 8th. It was a Saturday and, in the Delaware Valley, a wondrous pre-fall day. As predicted by Jim O’Brien, the weather forecaster on Action News, temperatures remained in the low 70s through the afternoon, thanks in part to the sun hiding behind billowy clouds, and then dipped into the 60s that evening.

The main issue on everyone’s mind: the economy. The unemployment rate jumped from 5.7 percent in July to 6 in August, due in large part to layoffs in the manufacturing sector, and inflation was – yet again – on the move, clocking in at 15.4 percent.

Two months earlier, on July 15th, President Jimmy Carter had delivered his infamous “malaise” speech about the palpable unease in the land: “It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” Carter, it should be noted, was half-right: There was a crisis in confidence – but it wasn’t directed inward. Rather, the American people had lost confidence in him.

The median income of households in the U.S. was $16,530 (click here for a full report), which comes out to $58,418 in today’s money. (The average cost of a car, for those curious, was $6,848.)  

Anyway, Saturday being Saturday meant me heading up the street to play make-shift baseball, basketball, football or street hockey with friends, all to a soundtrack provided by the Top 40-oriented WIFI-92. That night, along with the mom of two of the friends, we took in one of the funniest movies I’d yet seen, The In-Laws.

I know the date not due to a photographic memory, but old-fashioned deduction: It’s the only Saturday in September that the movie was booked at the one-screen Hatboro Theater, which is where we saw it.

If I’d stayed home, my TV options would have been severely limited…

…so, odds are, I’d have hightailed it to my room and listened to music. And speaking of music, here’s today’s Top 5: September 8, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) The Knack – “My Sharona.” Topping the charts for the third week in a row is this tasty track, which I owned – and still own. In time, an anti-Knack backlash took hold, as the band was seen as calculating and somewhat crass. Whatever. 

2) Chic – “Good Times.” Within a year, Chic would find themselves cast aside due to the anti-disco backlash deejay Steve Dahl’s Disco Demolition Night ignited on July 12th at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. But that doesn’t diminish their work. (Nile Rogers’ memoir, by the way, is well worth the read.)

3) Earth, Wind & Fire – “After the Love Has Gone.” The classic soul group channels their inner-Christopher Cross in this adult-contemporary classic.

4) Electric Light Orchestra – “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The final single from ELO’s 1978 Discovery album reached No. 3, their highest-charting 45 yet. (It would take an assist from Olivia Newton-John for them to hit No. 1, which they did the following year with the title tune to Xanadu.)

5) The Charlie Daniels Band – “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Folks who heard this on country radio back in the day may not know, but the line that goes, “’Cause I told you once, you son of a gun, I’m the best that’s ever been” was dubbed in after the fact to accommodate radio airplay. As heard in the clip below, it originally went, “I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been.” 

It’s early Sunday morn as I write, and Roberta Flack is killing me softly with her songs. My trusty Tribit headphones cover my ears, and – though Bluetooth capable – are plugged into my Macbook Pro via an M-Audio Micro DAC. It’s a plug-in sound card that, as the picture shows, is just a tad larger than a thumb drive, and enables me to listen to 24-bit, 192-kHz music files in all their glory without first copying said files to my Pono player. 

A MacBook Pro can output 24/96 through its headphone jack, of course, by switching the settings in the MIDI utility, and the sound quality is quite good for both high-res files and the Neil Young Archives, which streams up to 24/192. But this $100 Micro DAC improves the sound, be it through my headphones or solid Logitech Z623 THX-certified 2.1 computer speakers.

I should mention that, a few summers back, I stopped using the Pono player on a regular basis. It overheated once, then twice, and then a few more times during the summers of ’16 and ’17 while I was out and about, and then, while listening in our den one hot-and-humid afternoon, it didn’t just overheat, but fried the 128g micro-SD card inside. (I made the “mistake” of listening while charging.) By that point, however, I’d already grown tired not just of adding and subtracting files from my micro-SD cards, but of toting two gadgets around.

Around the same time, I decided to give Apple Music a go. While there was a drop-off in quality, there wasn’t a drop-off in what – to me, at least – is the most important factor when it comes to music: emotional quotient. And, truthfully, what I hear via my iPhone or MacBook Pro is better than what I enjoyed via the Realistic stereo system my parents gifted me with for Christmas ’77  and the Realistic cassette deck I installed in my little brown Chevette in ‘85, to say nothing of staticky AM radio. All things are relative, in other words. Sometimes “good enough” is enough.

Yet, when at my desk and in the mood, I often fire up the Vox app and play some of the high-res files I collected from 2014 through early ’17 – or just stream from the NYA site. How to enjoy that music to its fullest? While there are many options, some of which are rather pricey, for me right now it’s the M-Audio Micro DAC. It gets the job done.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Sunday, 9/1/19. 

1) Roberta Flack – “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” A few years back, Diane and I watched Killing Me Softly: The Roberta Flack Story, a one-hour documentary about Roberta’s ascent to stardom, on (I think) Amazon Prime. For me, it was something of a revelation – I picked up a few of her albums from the Pono Store in the weeks that followed. This, her rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel classic (found on her 1971 Quiet Fire album), is just mesmerizing. 

2) Simon & Garfunkel – “American Tune.” One of Paul Simon’s greatest songs, from his 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, was given the Simon & Garfunkel treatment during their now-legendary 1981 Central Park concert. The lyrics are as appropriate now as they were in ‘73: “And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered/I don’t have a friend who feels at ease/I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered/or driven to its knees/But it’s all right, it’s all right/We’ve lived so well so long/Still, when I think of the road/we’re traveling on/I wonder what went wrong/I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong.”

3) Courtney Marie Andrews & Deer Tick – “You’re the One That I Want.” Speaking of duets… and to lighten the mood… there’s this clip of a Grease cover, which I just discovered last night. Trust me when I say, “It’s electrifying!”

4) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Downtown Train.” Speaking of Courtney, she’s part of the forthcoming collection of Tom Waits songs, Come on Up to the House, which also includes Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, Rosanne Cash, Iris DeMent, Phoebe Bridgers and Patty Griffin, among others.

5) Allison Moorer – “The Rock and the Hill.” One album I’m anticipating is Allison Moorer’s Blood, which will be released alongside her memoir of the same name in late October. If this tasty track is any indication, it’s going to be flat-out great. (If you’re so inclined, head over to Allison’s website and pre-order both it and the book. And then check out her online journal, which is always an interesting read.)

And one bonus…

6) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Milky Way.” Another album I’m looking forward to is Colorado, which is also due out in October. It features Neil backed by a reconstituted Crazy Horse (with Nils Lofgren on guitar in place of Frank “Poncho” Sampredo). This, the first single, is both stirring and subdued at once.

At some point over the summer, as evidenced by recent posts, I shifted into a somewhat nostalgic state of mind, with the songs and albums of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger receiving the most play – though I’ve also leaned on a few artists of more recent vintage, such as Lucy Rose. Their oeuvres delve deeper into the human experience than most, articulating dreams both dashed and achieved – and, at least in the case of Bruce and Bob, transporting me across the spacetime continuum to my late teens and early twenties. (To borrow a line from Lucy Rose’s “Floral Dresses,” “I’m growing older each passing day, but my heart remains the same.”)

That’s not to say I’ve totally eschewed the new, mind you. In between my time-travel excursions, I’ve explored and enjoyed a range of new releases. Some have gotten more play than others, but all are items that have stuck with me long after the music faded to silence.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. DCCCXVIII: 

1) LoneHollow – “Shoot to Kill.” Rylie Bourne’s vocals, both tone and phrasing, are magnetic, and this track – like their EP as a whole – is guaranteed to pull you back for repeated plays. It’s not a new song or performance, as she previously released it as a single under her own name a few years back, but it remains as stirring now as it did then. If I owned a club, I’d book the band for a month-long residency. And then book ’em again.

2) Tyler Childers – “All Your’n.” Childers recently topped the country charts with his Country Squire album, which conjures yesteryear in form though not subject matter. It’s not a five-star release by any means, at least not to my ears, but is a damn good outing – and a welcome alternative to modern-day country music. This tune, which mixes in some heady Stax rhythm & blues, is my favorite.

3) Dracula’s Miniskirt – “Unbecoming.” This Philly-area glam-and-goth band cites David Bowie, T-Rex, Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground and The Rocky Horror Picture Show as influences. Lead singer Spook Marlow’s vocals remind me of Zombie Birdhouse-era Iggy Pop, which is somewhat apropos since one of the songs on their EP is titled “Zombie Love.” You can check them out, and purchase their EP, via BandCamp. (Disclaimer: In years past, I worked with two of the band members.)

4) Penelope Isles – “Leipzig.” I don’t know much about this band beyond what I read in Mojo or Uncut last week (or was it the week before that?) during a visit to Barnes & Noble. They’re an Isle of Man-based band fronted by sister and brother Lily and Jack Wolter, and the music they make is hypnotic.

5) P.P. Arnold – “Baby Blue.” P.P. Arnold started her career with Ike and Tina Turner, but parted ways with them while in the U.K. in 1966. She quickly carved out a niche for herself with such classic sides as “The First Cut is the Deepest” (1967) and “Angel of the Morning” (1968). I highly recommend the two-CD best of Angel of the Morning, which blew my mind when I first heard it in 2012, as well The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold, which was released earlier this month.