Posts Tagged ‘Top 5’

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.)

April 30, 1977: Even at my young age – a mere 11 years and 10 months – I knew enough to note the momentous event of the date in my rarely used desk diary: legendary Bruno Sammartino lost the WWWF championship to the colorful and flamboyant Superstar Billy Graham! 

Over the prior two years – less, actually – I’d become a big fan of the “sport.” When we returned from Saudi Arabia in the summer of ’75, after a near 5-year spell, I was a few months shy of 10. I was totally out of the loop on current American everything. I didn’t know anything about baseball, basketball, football or hockey, color TV, TV shows, popular music, or anything else. Oh, I knew about Mighty Mouse – the only Saudi TV station played those cartoons, along with a variety of other American and British shows, most of which were older than I was. Returning to the States was a bit like getting tossed into the deep end of the culture pool – all I could do was flail around and pray not to drown. One thing that I grabbed hold of: pro wrestling. The colorful characters, the drama and violence grabbed hold of my young imagination. I watched the syndicated shows that aired every weekend, bought and read the wrestling magazines, and slowly, ever-so-slowly, came to realize that “sport” wasn’t totally on the up-and-up.

I thought of that earlier this month when it was announced that Bruno had passed away at the age of 82. He was a good man, a great champion – but not my favorite wrestler. That was…yep, you guessed it: the Superstar! The excitement of learning he had won the coveted championship belt is evident in my scrawl, I think.

Beyond pro ‘rassling, as I now call it, I was often glued to the TV…though pop music was gradually infiltrating my world. The previous week, I picked up the Monkees’ Greatest Hits; and, by year’s end, I’d also own The Osmonds’ Greatest Hits, the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, and a few Elvis Presley LPs. But, back to TV: I watched almost everything ABC, including the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on Sunday, The Captain & Tennille Show every Monday night, and the Brady Bunch Variety Hour when it aired in the same slot; Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Eight Is Enough on Tuesdays; Welcome Back, Kotter on Thursdays; and Donny & Marie every Friday.

I’ve written a fair bit about this year before, so won’t dredge up the same stats here. (And now that I’ve looked them over, there is some overlap in the chart hits…but rest assured that the renditions featured here are different than the ones there, wherever there may be.) To revisit those past entries, along with everything else 1977-related I’ve written, go here. 

And, with that out of the way, onward to today’s Top 5: April 30th, 1977 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Glen Campbell – “Southern Nights.” The No. 1 single in the land this week was this joyous tune from the Rhinestone Cowboy. Written by the legendary Allen Toussaint, it conjures the magic of childhood memories, star-lit nights and family. 

2) Eagles – “Hotel California.” From Glen’s moony optimism to the Eagles’ bitter cynicism in one slot…how’s that for summing up the ‘70s? “You can check out anytime you like/but you can never leave.”

3) Thelma Houston – “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Say what you will about disco, but know this: There were plenty of great – and I do mean great – singles that came out of the genre. This is one of them. Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert, the song was originally recorded by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes in 1975, and hit No. 3 on the disco charts. This version? It went to No. 1 on the disco and pop charts – though, this week, it dropped from that top spot to No. 3.

4) Leo Sayer – “When I Need You.” Rising to No. 4 from No. 9 is this song from bushy-haired Leo Sayer, of whom I know little. In fact, I’ve never knowingly heard any Sayer recording until this very moment, while writing this sentence. (And now that I have, I don’t feel compelled to seek out his other hits.) Anyway, this song was written by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager, and was first released by Hammond in 1976; and was later covered by Rod Stewart, Celine Dion and Luther Vandross, among others. 

5) Natalie Cole – “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.” Rising to No. 5 from No. 6 is this treatise on love (or should I say L-O-V-E?), which was written and produced by Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. True story: in 1990 or early ’91, prior to her Unforgettable comeback, Diane and I, and some friends, bought tickets to see Ray Charles with Natalie Cole at the now-defunct Valley Forge Music Fair. Ray was supposed to be the headliner, but due to a hiccup in her travel plans, he went on first…which meant the friends, who purposely arrived late to miss Ms. Cole’s set, wound up missing Ray! (Worse: She screeched most of the night, and the venue slowly emptied out as she sang. It was sad.)

And two bonuses…

6) Yvonne Elliman – “Hello Stranger.” Rising to No. 24 from 33 is Yvonne’s smoky rendition of the classic Barbara Lewis hit.

7) Henry Mancini & His Orchestra – “(Theme From) Charlie’s Angels.” Jumping from No. 51 to 45 is this, one of the week’s “power plays,” as kitsch a hit as I’ve ever heard – without the opening montage of Angels, it just doesn’t pack much of a punch. (And, no, I didn’t miss Charlie’s Angels on the list of ABC shows I watched above – I didn’t start watching until Season 2.)

I’ve written before of Da Boot!, the fanzine I was involved with during the late 1990s, so I won’t go too deep into it here. Suffice it to say, however, that it was a good idea, but about a decade too late. If we’d launched it in, say, 1988, when the CD-bootleg boom was just beginning and the Internet had yet to become a threat to both newsprint and the music business, we would have had a nice decade-long run instead of two years. (My only complaint about it, now that my eyes are 20 years older, is the small type used to squish all the words onto the page. I find it hard to read.)

The issue, as the above cover shows, featured my freewheelin’ second interview with David Crosby, which occurred in his Atlantic City hotel suite when he, Stills and Nash were headlining one of the casinos. (The entire exchange can be found here.) The second story was related to the first, in a fashion: I turned a lengthy phone interview with guitarist Jeff Pevar (of Crosby’s other band at the time, CPR) into an “as-told-to” piece that charted his career. It meant not just transcribing our talk, but rearranging his remembrances so that everything flowed in chronological order, and then checking with him on the changes. (That article can be found here.) I was also proud of the accompanying graphic, which I created – I imposed a cut-out of the Peev over the artwork of the first CPR studio album.

I’m bypassing both of those interviews, however, and focusing on the reviews. So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: March-April 1999 (via Da Boot!):

1) Kelly Willis – “What I Deserve.” Diane tackles What I Deserve, the third long-player (and fourth overall release, as she’d also released an EP) from the Oklahoma-born, and North Carolina- and Virginia-raised country-flavored singer. “What Kelly Willis has long deserved is widespread recognition in the music world – and hopefully, the stripped-down production that allows you to hear Willis’ voice in all its glory combined with her usual excellent selection of songs will draw her closer to universal acclaim.”

If I recall correctly, we saw Kelly twice in the late ’90s – on a tour prior to What I Deserve, and then on the What I Deserve tour. And based on those shows, and this album, she definitely did deserve more…

2) Lone Justice – “Drugstore Cowboy.” I tackle a Maria McKee bootleg, Absolutely Barking, and the Lone Justice compilation This World Is Not My Home in a twin-spin of a review. Of the former, which featured a crystal-clear DAT recording of a London ’98 show, I wrote “Maria is in more than fine voice, she’s in total command. The as-yet-unreleased ‘Be My Joy’ is just one highlight. From the opening chant of ‘feed me, feed me, feed me, baby/need you, need you, need you, baby’ onward, you’re in the audience pushed to the edge of the stage and swaying side to side in time to the beat, experiencing sonic bliss.” Of the latter, after lavishing similar hyperbolic praise on the previously released Lone Justice songs, I wrote that “it’s the band’s previously unreleased demos that prove most earth-shattering. The Maria-penned “Drugstore Cowboy,” for example, is a shotgun blast of authentic cowpunk – and far, far more.” (If you squint real hard, you’ll see that I cribbed part of the review for use in my “Essentials” entry on the Lone Justice debut. I subscribe to recycling, don’tcha know.)

3) The Who – “Baba O’Riley.” Jim tackles the Who bootleg Always on Top by noting that it’s a copy of another bootleg, Who Put a Better Boot in 1976, and also listing where some of the content is legitimately available. He also notes that “[t]he performance is excellent throughout, with the usual over-the-top, maximum volume performance that the band was famous for. There are six songs from the rock opera Tommy included, as well as staples ‘Summertime Blues,’ ‘Baba O’Riley,’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ There is also some funny, between-song banter included as Keith Moon and Pete Townshend introduce the songs.”

4) Lucinda Williams – “Right in Time.” When Diane and I saw Lucinda in June ’98 at the TLA, she arrived late due to, I think, fog – her afternoon flight was waylaid to New York, forcing her to hop a train to Philly, and then pray the audience didn’t grow restless and leave. The opening act, Jim Lauderdale, went on a little after nine; and she didn’t hit the stage until a little after 10. But despite her travel nightmare, and the delayed start, she still clocked in a two-hour show that was everything Bruce describes in this write-up of Lucinda’s January 1999 concert at the John Harms Theater in North Jersey six months.

One difference: Bruce was “[e]quipped with a recordable Sony Mini Discman MRZ-50, 2 blank 74 minute discs and a AIWA microphone.” In today’s age, when many shows are lit up from a sea of cellphones (really, folks: dim your damn screens!), it may seem bizarre to young folks to learn this, but there was a time you could get tossed from a venue if you were caught recording. And you also had to make tough choices due to the technological limits of recording gear, as Bruce did this night when he chose not to capture opening act Patty Griffin’s “short and sparkling set.”  Which makes this all the more remarkable: “An incredible version of ‘Joy’ developed into a fifteen minute guitar interplay jam that ended the first set at the 74 minute mark of the first disc!”

But because I used “Joy” in that prior Da Boot! piece, here’s another song from the night…

5) Bob Dylan – “The Death of Emmett Till.” In his take on The Third One Now, a three-CD set of unreleased Dylan gems, Jim chimes in on the freedoms – or lack thereof – afforded to American citizens in the 1950s. “Of the first seven songs on disc one, six are from what is referred to as the ‘Smith Home Tapes’ in 1962, and one track (actually two songs) is from the Oscar Brand Folk Festival from WNYC in New York in 1961. The sound is extraordinary on all of these and the performances are that of a budding musical genius finding his foothold and his confidence. Historically significant to be sure, but the subject matter of songs like ‘Death of Emmett Till,’ which deals with racism, is still significant all these years later.” (And almost 20 years on, it still remains relevant.)

And one bonus…

6) Neil Young – “Give Me Strength” (1976). The Neil Young bootleg Rolling Zuma Revue made me livid – and the review, honestly, makes me laugh. I write that “Wild Wolf, the ‘label’ behind this two-CD set should be skinned for its fur, with its carcass left for the maggots to infest.” I go on, and on, and use some profane language, while explaining that they coupled two 1976 shows – Chicago and Osaka – and arranged the tracks so that the Chicago songs opened each disc while the Osaka songs closed them. I.e., they split the shows in half. “What is this?” I ask. “Ring around the f-ng rosy?” I then go on to answer myself, and fill in readers: “the Chicago set offers stellar sound but the Osaka section sucks.” Which meant that if a fan did his or her due diligence, and asked the store proprietor to play a song or two on the in-house stereo system (as was common), he or she might be fooled into buying it.

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.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.