Archive for the ‘Top 5’ Category

Yesterday, WXPN featured a day-long “Throwback Thursday” devoted to 1968. Although I didn’t listen all day, what I heard was an interesting mix of the expected and unexpected, with Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” followed by the raw rock of Big Brother & the Holding Company, the soft psychedelic lather of Jefferson Airplane, and a five-track tour of some of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic tunes, as well as songs by the Temptations, Laura Nyro, Van Morrison and the Delfonics.

Today, their “Throwback Thursday” inspires my “Flashback Friday,” which looks back 50 years to Saturday June 8, 1968. The biggest story in the news: Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral.

But that wasn’t the only news of the day: James Earl Ray, the prime suspect in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. two months earlier, was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Among the movies one could expect to see in the theaters this weekend: Planet of the Apes; Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows; Yours, Mine and Ours; The Odd Couple; Prudence and the Pill; The Detective; and Wild in the Streets. Due for release in just four days: Rosemary’s Baby. As I’ve mentioned before, however, in those days “wide” releases weren’t the way of the movie world. Films opened in select markets at select theaters, with new markets and theaters added each week and month.  

In the land of TV, the 1967-68 season was over. The Andy Griffith Show concluded its eight-year run atop the Neilsen charts at No. 1, and The Lucy Show ended its six years on the air at No. 2. Gomer Pyle, USMC was the third-ranked show; and three shows tied at No. 4: Gunsmoke, Family Affair and Bonanza. (I actually remember seeing an episode of Family Affair when my family visited Beirut in the early 1970s, but that’s grist for another post.) Variety shows were also in vogue: The Red Skelton Show, Dean Martin Show, and Jackie Gleason Show were No.s 7, 8 and 9; and NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies, which featured both made-for-TV and theatrical films, rounded out the top 10.

In my world: I was 2 years old, soon to be 3, and our family lived in a row home in northeast Philly. Not that I remember much beyond our pet cat, Missy, and the backyard – none of our immediate neighbors had installed fences, so it was a huge expanse to little me. And most of those neighbors also had young children. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone had fun.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: June 8th, 1968 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson.” Enjoying its second (of three) weeks atop the pop charts is this memorable song featured in The Graduate, one of the era’s defining films. 

2) Archie Bell & the Drells – “Tighten Up.” Clocking in at No. 2 is this funk classic, which was perched atop the charts just a few weeks earlier. An interesting sidenote to this song: Bell was drafted shortly before recording it, and by the time it reached No. 1 he was in Germany, where he was assigned to the 53rd Transportation Unit – and in the hospital due to an accident. (He talks about it in an insightful interview with the Rebeat blog.)

3) Herb Alpert – “This Guy’s in Love With You.” Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about this classic song: It may never have been recorded if not for Albert asking Burt Bacharach (who wrote it with lyricist Hal David) if he had any old songs lying around. It’s since been sung hundreds of times by a who’s who of singers far more gifted than Alpert, often with “girl” substituted for “girl,” including Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and Rumer.

4) Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus – “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The title song of the movie of the same name hit its peak the week before, when it claimed the second slot. Here, it drops two spots to No. 4.

5) Tommy James & the Shondells – “Mony Mony.” So James had the music, but not the lyrics. While in New York, he and one of the song’s co-writers, Ritchie Cordell (who’d go onto produce Joan Jett and the Ramones, among others), were about to throw in the towel when, from the terrace of his Manhattan apartment, he saw the Mutual of New York building, which was illuminated with its initials. And, thus, a smash hit was born… 

And a few bonuses…

6) Merrillee Rush and the Turnabouts – “Angel of the Morning.” Jumping from No. 30 to 14 is this single, which was produced by Chip Moman and Tommy Cogbill at Moman’s American Studio in Memphis; and though Rush’s band received billing on the 45, the actual musicians were Moman’s usual crew. The song itself was written by Chip Taylor, and was first offered to Connie Francis – but she turned it down due to its “risqué” theme. (It’s about the morning after a one-night stand.) It was recorded by Evie Sands and a few other artists, but Merrillee’s was the first to chart. It garnered her a Grammy nomination for best Contemporary Pop Female Vocalist. 

7) The Rolling Stones – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” After their ill-advised dalliance with psychedelia on Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones get back to the basics with this classic single, which would top out at No. 3 in July. It debuts on the charts this week at No. 62.

And, last, here’s a clip of Paul Simon discussing “Mrs. Robinson” and The Graduate with Dick Cavett in early 1970:

When we moved from the apartment to the house in the spring of ’14, I assumed the outdoor yard work would be a relative breeze – especially since we have a guy to mow the lawn. But the side of the house features a column of bushes and flowers and things that, quite frankly, I have no idea what they are, just that they’re green, grow, and grow close to and onto the front porch and house, and sprawl into the driveway. And the lawn guy just does the lawn. Which means that, every so often, I have to cut everything back.

And, this morning, I did just that. I spent close to two hours cutting this and grabbing that, and stuffing full four big paper refuse bags. All in all, I’d rather have been here, at my desk, reading this or that blog, listening to music new and old, or surfing the waves of YouTube, where one clip leads to another and then another and, before you know it, you’ve whiled away the day pruning the good from the bad.

There’s much good music, these days. And, as always, there’s much bad. If you’re on the lookout for the former, here are five artists and acts that, in my estimation, are worth the download. 

1) Whitney Rose – “Can’t Stop Shakin’.” I learned yesterday that the honky-tonkin’ Texas transplant from Canada – she hails from the land of Anne of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island –  is slated to play the City of Brotherly Love come November. Here, she and her band perform “Can’t Stop Shakin'” in the Netherlands:

2) Middle Kids – “Mistake.” I drove Diane to the airport early Friday morning – as in, we left home at 3:45am, as she had a 6am flight – and then headed into work, only to discover once I arrived that I left my work laptop at home. Argh! I dutifully drove home, and did the roundtrip in less time than it normally takes to go one way. And this intoxicating song from the Aussie rock band served as the perfect pick-me-up when WXPN’s morning show featured it at 5:25am. Here they are performing it on CBS This Morning’s “Saturday Sessions” a few weeks back:

3) Anna Calvi – “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy.” The British operatic rocker – one of David Bowie’s spiritual heirs, in a way – unveiled this video today. It’s the first taste of her forthcoming album, Hunter, which promises to be a tour de force. She explained in a lengthy Instagram post on Monday that “I’m hunting for something – I want experiences, I want agency, I want sexual freedom, I want intimacy, I want to feel strong, I want to feel protected and I want to find something beautiful in all the mess. I want to go beyond gender. I don’t want to have to chose between the male and female in me. I’m fighting against feeling an outsider and trying to find a place that feels like home.”

4) Mikaela Davis – “Other Lover.” In March 2017, Diane and I were lucky enough to see the Staves at the World Cafe Live. Mikaela – who plays harp – opened. As I said in my review at the time, “When I first saw the harp on stage, I braced for a set of elevator music. Far from it. She was, in a word, hypnotic.” And those weren’t empty words on my part – they were preceded by action: I purchased her five-song EP, Pure Divine Love (The Mission Sessions), after the show. Anyway, next month – just in time for my birthday – she’s releasing her first full-length effort, Delivery. Here’s the latest teaser track…

5) Amilia K. Shirer – “Lightning.” Sometimes I hear an artist or band, like the Stone Foundation, and wonder why I’ve never heard of them before. Here’s another. Amilia K. Shirer released a few albums in the early 2000s, placed songs on various TV shows, and…well, I’m not sure of her entire backstory. But I am sure that the 2017 album this song is from, Wow and Flutter, is just plain great. After one listen, you’ll swear it’s been with you forever. (Among the supporting players: guitar great Gurf Morlix, former Lone Justice/X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, and bassist extraordinaire Daryl Johnson.)

And speaking of the Stone Foundation… I discovered the British soul band a while back via Paul Weller, who produced their 2017 album Street Rituals. They are, in a word, phenomenal. Here’s hoping that they tour the States someday soon…

1978 was a monumental year in my life, so much so that I’ve littered this blog with posts about it. (Click here for those.) For the uninitiated: I was 12 when the year dawned, and 13 when it faded to black; and graduated from listening to the oldies to the era’s new music during those 12 months.

This day was a Saturday, the first of the traditional start of summer, Memorial Day Weekend. Which meant I slept later than usual, watched Saturday morning TV while reading the morning newspaper, and…who knows? We likely visited the grandparents, or great-aunts and -uncles. Temperatures were in the 60s for the day. 

In the wider world: As with most of the decade, life could have been better: The unemployment rate was a notch below 6 percent, and inflation clocked in at 7 percent. Even if you had a job, in other words, it was difficult to get ahead. Beyond those pocketbook issues, at the end of the prior month, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was discontinued, with the units being integrated into the Army proper. And, though we didn’t know it at the time, the first Unabomber attack took place just two days earlier.

Here’s an entire newscast, complete with commercials, for this day from WJKW in Cleveland:

When it came to popular films and music, America had been gripped by a “Night Fever” for much of the winter and spring thanks to Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees. But “Disco Inferno” was slowly subsiding. Among the movies in the theaters this weekend: FM; I Wanna Hold Your Hand; The End; The Buddy Holly Story; and Thank God It’s Friday. And among the songs on the radio…

Yep, you guessed it. Here’s today’s Top 5: May 27, 1978 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” The single concludes its two-week run at the top of the charts. I featured the music video for it a few weeks back, so here’s something a tad different: the 1978 UK DJ promo 45. I know some folks hear the song as lightweight, but I hear it as great: A commercial for the London Town album that featured the song spurred me to begin investigating new music, after all.

2) Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.” The oeuvres of these artists are blind spots for me, and unlike the other songs in this week’s chart, I have no memory of this specific song, which clocks in at No. 2. According to Wikipedia, Mathis is the third best-selling artist of the 20th century, behind only the Beatles and Frank Sinatra; and Williams, who has a four-octave range, would go on to win a Grammy in 1987.

3) John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – “You’re the One That I Want.” The week’s No. 3 single is another song that I never grow tired of. Grease wouldn’t open for a few weeks, so it’s success, thus far, was due to its own charms.

4) Andy Gibb – “Shadow Dancing.” To my ears, the No. 4 sounds a lot like Andy’s older brothers, the Bee Gees. But that’s a conclusion I’ve come to after only a few cursory listens.

5) Roberta Flack & Donnie Hathaway – “The Closer I Get to You.” Rounding out the Top 5 is this sweet love song.

And two bonuses…

6) The O’Jays – “Used Ta Be My Girl.” One of the week’s power plays is this propulsive ode about a lost love, which jumps from No. 54 to 44.

7) Steve Martin – “King Tut.” Debuting on the charts is this catchy novelty tune, which still makes me laugh. Here he is on Saturday Night Live performing it…

I’ve taken the turnpike, a toll road, every work day for the past 18 years, save for those occasions when I work from home, but I don’t have – nor do I want – E-ZPass. For those readers who aren’t from one of the 16 states that offer it, it’s basically an automated toll taker. You place a transponder on your windshield, pay into an account online, and then, when you drive through the correct entry or exit lane, the payment is instant. There’s no muss or fuss, and – theoretically speaking – no backed-up lines of cars at the toll plaza. (In practice, however, at least for the times I enter and exit, the E-ZPass lanes are often backed up even more than the cash lanes.) Pennsylvania, my state, also offers a discount vs. the cash option.

In other words, I generally see the same faces collecting tolls, and often trade quick talk about the weather, traffic and other stuff. “Hey buddy.” “There he is.” “How you doing?” “See you tomorrow.” “Have a great day.” “How ‘bout them Eagles?” Or, sometimes, “You’re later than usual.” I always thank them, and bid them a good day or night. It’s routine. It’s nice.

There’s a larger point I could make about the downside of automation, but that’s for another day. Rather, I’m sharing my toll booth tales for no other reason than this: More often than not, music – though not too loud, as I always turn it down – engulfs the background of those short conversations. And yesterday morning, one of those same faces commented, “You’re always listening to something good. Who is that?”

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Toll Booth Tales (aka What I Listened to This Week)

1) Erin O’Dowd – “Wewoka.” The answer to the question the toll booth collector asked is Erin O’Dowd, whose Old Town has received many plays from me this week. My hopes were high when, just about this time last year, I pledged for it on her Kickstarter page. I suspected it would be good. But this good?! After a week of listening, I can safely say that everything I wrote in my First Impressions of it is an understatement. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year, thus far.

 2) Belly – “Shiny One.” Back in 1993, I fell under the spell of Star, the Rhode Island band’s debut album, and played it the only way I know how – again and again, and again after that. “Feed the Tree” was, and remains, freakin’ awesome – one of the greatest songs of the era. I’d love to say that I also played their 1995 follow-up, King, in the same fashion, but can’t – my main memory of it is one of disappointment. Anyway, leap forward to the present, and I can say without equivocation that the reformed Belly’s third studio offering, Dove, is a keeper. (Highway Queens has a great review of it.) Also, just as an aside, this song – the lead single – seemingly channels one of the great under-appreciated bands of the 1980s, Opal.

3) Mazzy Star – “Quiet, the Winter Harbor.” And speaking of Opal, there’s this, the lead single from the forthcoming Still EP from Opal’s successor, Mazzy Star, which I have on pre-order from Amazon. It’s the kind of dreamy song that takes you places. 

4) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Warning Sign.” One of my big regrets of recent vintage is not recording this killer song when Diane and I saw Courtney Marie & Band perform it in Philly. It collects and reflects a myriad of influences, so much so that you’ll swear you heard it buried somewhere on either the Complete Stax/Volt Singles or Beg, Scream & Shout: The Big Ol’ Box of ‘60s Soul mega-sets. And with that…here she is delivering a stirring rendition of it in Liverpool last month. (The video’s only negative: Dillon’s guitar gymnastics take place off screen.)

5) Juliana Hatfield – “Suspended in Time.” Juliana performs this Xanadu song, from her insta-classic Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John album, just last week in Somerville, Mass. (She’s not touring at present, which is both a shame and understandable.)