Archive for the ‘Top 5’ Category

It’s a damp and dreary day in the Triangle, cool but not cold, with the lousy weather stretching up the east coast to our old stomping grounds outside of Philadelphia. The main difference: It’s chillier there.

I’m listening to Melody Gardot’s Sunset in the Blue for the third time today, after playing it over and over again on Friday and Saturday; that it distracted me from Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You speaks volumes. Simply put, it’s a sumptuous set that possesses a narcotic-like effect, providing needed relief from the craziness that’s inhabited the U.S. this past month. (Most presidential election cycles are tense times, but toss in a pandemic and this one has been nuts.) Her smoky alto massages the soul like a kneading cat, just about; and when her vocals lighten a few shades, they’re akin to a rainbow cresting the sky. To say that Sunset in the Blue is already in the running for my much-ballyhooed Album of the Year honors would be stating the obvious, I suppose.

As I mentioned long ago, I discovered Ms. Gardot while investigating Peggy Lee CDs on Amazon; Worrisome Heart appeared at the bottom of one of the pages in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section. (I’d seen her name prior, in Philly-area concert listings, as she’s a Philly/South Jersey girl and had been playing local clubs, including the Tin Angel, for a few years. In retrospect, I wish I’d checked her out then.) Thanks to my Amazon order history, I actually know the specific date I ordered the CD: July 15th, 2008.

At its best, as the title track demonstrates, it’s a smoldering, hypnotic set in the mode of Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee; at its worst, it’s still very good.

My One and Only Thrill, released the following April, follows the same basic approach, but expands upon it, incorporating orchestral flourishes. We saw her in concert shortly thereafter and, wow. Just wow. As I wrote in my concert summary, it was like stepping into a film noir. (There used to be a video from that show on YouTube, but it’s disappeared.)

Her 2012 set, The Absence, explores the space between notes, allowing the music to breathe in a way that’s rare in today’s world. My favorite track from that sterling album, however, hails from the deluxe edition: her rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose,” which she recorded for a French TV commercial. To say that it’s “tres bon” is an understatement.

Currency of Man, released in 2015, is an excellent album through and through – one of my favorites of that year, in fact. It’s also a stylistic departure, sporting a taut R&B groove that’s best exemplified by the lead single, “Preacherman.”

Live, the songs still took on a different flavor, punchier than on album and, when appropriate, expanding into propulsive jazz workouts that incorporated elements of The Absence and My One and Only Thrill. She shared the stage with her band, as opposed to fronting it, exploring riffs and leading the audience to rapture again and again. “Morning Sun” was stunning.

Watching that “Morning Sun” clip, however, is somewhat bittersweet. In the pre-pandemic age, one would expect Melody to hit the road to promote Sunset in the Blue, with the songs essentially morphing into new entities on stage. Now? At least in the U.S., I don’t see that happening for at least a year, if not two. (And when it does happen, the issue will be whether she comes to my neck of the woods….)

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 still adjusting to the realities of winter; just a few years earlier, I’d actually thought 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.) 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 oldies 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.

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.)

I’ve been enjoying a slow-mo Fringe binge over the past few weeks, indulging the sensory perceptions with one or two episodes most afternoons. For those who’ve never experienced the inventive sci-fi thriller, which first aired on Fox from 2008 to 2013, it integrated such things as spacetime, parallel universes and odd phenomena into its storylines. In the largest sense, a small FBI unit is tasked with investigating so-called “fringe” events, but as Season 1 progresses the puzzle begins to reveal a very complex picture.

I discovered it during the summer of 2010, not long after Season 2 had concluded. Back then, OnDemand and online resources weren’t what they are now, but I managed to work my way through the first 43 episodes before Season 3 premiered. Nowadays, however, the entire series can be found on IMDb TV – with commercials, unfortunately. (While it’s a standalone streaming service, IMDb TV is also available via Amazon.)

Of course, one reason I have time to indulge in my Fringe binge is that my evening “commute” consists of about 10 steps from here, my desk in the den, to the living room. Diane and I have played it extremely safe since the pandemic began, venturing out only to get the mail, to visit a doctor or dentist, to pick up groceries via curbside pickup, or – now that fall’s upon us – a walk around the neighborhood. Occasionally, a friend of Diane’s will stop by, but masks and social distancing are mandatory. On a nice day, they sit on our balcony; on a lousy day, they sit inside, but with the windows open.

I miss going into the office, of interacting with colleagues face to face as opposed to via Zoom. I even miss the ride to and fro’ work, believe it or not, and listening to music via my car’s speakers. Certain songs are just meant to be played while on the road.

I also miss our weekend excursions to B&N, restaurants and, heaven knows, concerts. On the last point: On Thursday, I woke to a dream fragment – Diane and I walking out of a venue located on the third level of the Willow Grove Park Mall. (For those who know the mall, my imaginary club was located between the Bloomingdales and mall entrances.) We’d just seen a band called, I think, Reconsider Baby – after the Elvis song.

Earlier in the week, we listened to the Elvis channel on SiriusXM for a bit; it must have been one of the songs we heard, but I can’t say for sure.

That all leads to to this: The COVID-19 cluster at the White House is a metaphor for President Trump’s response to the pandemic. Even a lay person such as myself knows that rapid tests, while valuable tools, are flawed; that the White House apparently did not is incomprehensible. This Nature article from a few weeks back, for example, explains that, while a positive result is almost always accurate, a “negative” result doesn’t mean what it seems. A person in the earliest stages of infection is likely not to be detected; it’s why wearing masks, as annoying as they are, is important. When the White House relied on a rapid test to screen attendees for an overcrowded and mask-less event in the Rose Garden, the odds were good that an infected person would spread the coronavirus to others.

If Trump and his team remain in charge, my fear is that America won’t return to a semblance of normalcy anytime soon; instead, the odds are good they’ll bungle the rollout of a COVID vaccine. From where I sit, his response to the pandemic isn’t all that different than President Carter’s handling of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, not to mention the economic and energy difficulties that accented life in America during his term. Incompetence breeds incompetence.

As my Fringe binge (hopefully) demonstrates, however, I go out of my way to focus on things beyond the pandemic and politics; I’d encourage everyone reading this to do the same, if only for reasons of mental health. For me, music also is important: During my workday, especially in the morning, I listen to new and old favorites. Today, a Sunday, was no different – I pressed play on the Stone Foundation’s latest album yet again…

…then flashed back to the ‘80s for a spell with the Singular Adventures of the Style Council.