Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy birthday, Van Morrison

Van Morrison is 66 today. Happy birthday, Van!

I don't know anyone who can write a love song like Van.

What a great line-up for this 1977 Midnight Special appearance with Elvin Bishop and Mickey Hart.

That is, unless you can get Ray Charles to do some of your backup singing.

Morrison's introduction was in the band, Them. "Gloria"--next to "Louie Louie"--might be the song most covered by '60s garage bands everywhere.

The first song I heard from Them was "Here Comes the Night" and here the band is singing it live in '65. Van screws it up at the first, but recovers quickly and despite using a prehistoric sound system they manage to carry it off.

If you encounter a black screen on any of these videos it's YouTube's doing. They sometimes break the links for copyright reasons, so enjoy them while they're here.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

W. C. Fields was a gift

I’m still going through online issues of Life magazine from the post-War era, the period into which we Baby Boomers were born.

W. C. Fields died almost 65 years ago, on Christmas Day, 1946. This movie, It’s A Gift, from 1934, is 77 years old, still very funny. Do kids today appreciate Fields’ humor? They should, but my impression is that kids today have a whole other sense of humor, one based on how outrageous and gross the comic can get.

The advantage of many old-time comedians like Fields is that before they went into movies they had years to perfect their timing, jokes and sketches in vaudeville. It shows in the precision of his comic delivery. The description in the article of the Fields’ crooked cue stick, and his story of the man with the glass eye, made me laugh just reading it. Fields was funny without dropping f-bombs into his act. It helps to make his humor timeless. I wonder how many of today’s comics that will be said of 77 years from now? I believe at that time people will still find W. C. Fields funny.

Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the movie. The whole sequence is timed perfectly, uses a blend of visual humor and sound effects, with funny dialogue. My favorite part is Fields’ scene with T. Roy Barnes, the exuberant annuity salesman with the “Carl La Fong” exchange.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More British invasion A to Zed

As promised, here are more songs from 1964, the year of the big British Invasion. I remember serious talk that year from the American musicians' unions about keeping these guys out of the States because they were taking work from hard-working Americans! It obviously didn't work. The Brits just kept on coming. Many American bands were inspired by groups from the UK; the British were emulating American rockers and bluesmen, and in turn imitated by Americans trying to keep up with the British. Eventually it all got sorted out.

The Applejacks I had forgotten until my brother reminded me of them. They had a female guitarist. That was very cool for 1964; I wonder if she got together with the drummer from the Honeycombs (yesterday's post) and jammed?

The Beatles come in with two songs, both showing how powerful they were in live performance. If anyone could hear them for all the shrieking girls, that is. "I Saw Her Standing There" is from '64, but "She Loves You" is a color film from 1963...fudging a bit on my 1964 theme, but in America "She Loves You" wasn't a hit until 1964.

There was some hype in 1964: "Will the Dave Clark 5 beat the Beatles?" The DC5 were pretty good, but they just weren't as big as the Beatles and never would be. My dad said of them, "At least they comb their hair!" as a slam at the Beatles. Those mop tops looked wild in '64, and in contrast the DC5 does seem a well-combed lot.

I believe "You Really Got Me" is the granddaddy of punk rock. I remember thinking it was the wildest song I'd ever heard.

I've shown this Zombies song before because I love it. Each of the songs on this list was a hit on American top 40 radio in 1964. It's a pleasure to bring these videos to my blog.

As I mentioned yesterday, YouTube giveth and YouTube taketh away. If you encounter a black screen on any of these vids it means that YouTube has deleted the link, probably because of some copyright claim. Enjoy them while we have them.


Monday, August 22, 2011

My favorite year

When it comes to nostalgia, for me there will never be another year like 1964. I was 16, had my driver's license and a car, my first “real” girlfriend (as opposed to imaginary), and as 1964 started the Beatles hit the American airwaves, changing popular music in our country overnight.

There were a lot of great songs in 1964. I’ve gone to YouTube and this is just a sample of songs I liked that year. There were others, and tomorrow I'll show more of them.

YouTube being what it is, a video can be here today and gone tomorrow. If you’re looking at this and see a black screen telling you the video has been removed well, unfortunately, that’s how YouTube works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be).

First up: Cilla Black does a song written by Lennon and McCartney, who make a cameo appearance in this rare video of “It’s For You.”

The British Invasion took over the radio for many months, but some American groups managed to sneak onto the charts. Among them the doo wop group, the Reflections. Besides being a great song with catchy hooks, the lead singer has one of the world’s great pompadours.

I liked “You’re No Good” but it's taken all these years to find out that the song I misremembered being by the Hollies was actually by the Swinging Blue Jeans. I got that information from my brother, Rob, a human encyclopedia of the pop music of the era.

The Hollies did “Just One Look.” Give just one look to a very young Graham Nash.

After I bought the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on 45 rpm, the next single I bought was the Searchers' “Needles and Pins.”

The Honeycombs had a female member, a drummer, predating Karen Carpenter by several years.

…and then there were the Beatles, whose songs will be played long past the time we Baby Boomers are all gone. The Beatles are still the giants upon whose shoulders the other groups stood.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

They don't write 'em like that anymore

Shell Scott, a private detective character created by Richard S. Prather, appeared in a successful line of paperback originals in the 1950s and '60s. Prather's books were full of vividly humorous description, a change from the more serious hard-boiled fiction of many of his contemporaries. I picked up a collection of Shell Scott stories, Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters, all published in the 1953-54 period, anthologized in 1961. Despite some dated slang, I think some of the opening paragraphs are great examples to aspiring writers of how to write a paragraph that grabs a reader.
"The cab dropped me off on the outskirts of Silver Beach and I looked around before I walked through darkness down the narrow alley. I didn't see anybody who looked like Bruno, the guy Ellen had told me was due for a stretch at the cackle factory. Any guy who'd try twice to kill a sex-charged hunk of dreamy tomato like Ellen had to be one step removed from the net. The crazy guy was probably still around here somewhere; he had been when Ellen phoned me, fright twisting the words in her throat." --"The Best Motive"

"It was a pleasant enough party, I suppose, if you like sherry in thin, brittle glasses, ancient babes without bustles who look like ancient babes with bustles, and stern-faced old ducks conversing gently about a coloratura soprano's ecstatic debut at La Scala--which I don't.

"No, I like parties with bourbon in water and in me, juicy tomatoes dancing can-cans, and conversations about tomatoes and no conversation at all. This would have been a grand party for centenarians dating octogenarians under a large oxygen tent, but it was not a grand party for me, not for Shell Scott. But, then, I wasn't really invited." --"Babes, Bodies and Bullets"

"This was a morning for weeping at funerals, for sticking pins in your own wax image, for leaping into empty graves and pulling the sod in after you. Last night I had been at a party with some friends here in Los Angeles, and I had drunk bourbon and Scotch and martinis and maybe even swamp water from highball glasses, and now my brain was a bomb that went off twice a second.

"I thought thirstily of Pete's Bar downstairs on Broadway, right next door to this building, the Hamilton, where I have my detective agency, then got out of my chair, left the office and locked the door behind me. I was Shell Scott, the Bloodshot Eye, and I needed a hair of the horse that bit me." --"The Double Take"
Scott mixes it up with the usual run of fictional private eye cases: beautiful women in trouble, sinister guys with murky motives whacking him over the head to the point where you wonder if, between the babes, alcohol and concussions, Scott will live to see the next day (or not spend his latter days in a nursing home for dementia patients). But he takes care of the babes, sexually, of course, shakes off the alcohol fogs and the beatings, and like other good paperback dicks, emerges, not unscathed but triumphant. What made the genre popular was the sex and violence formula, marketed to men who were looking for some fast fiction with which to kill some time in a bus station, in a hotel room or even at home. Before television was ubiquitous, before the Internet or gaming, people--even men--actually sat down to read. Imagine that.

Shell Scott was sexist, but so were most of the male heroes of the era. Women existed to provide sex for the main character. The women were always beautiful with great bodies, and there for instant gratification. A perfect male fantasy. In the days when sex acts weren't described in graphic terms, there was a lot of titillation:
"She was stark naked. I had seldom seen anyone so stark . . . then she turned around and walked back into the room. She was about five-six and close to 130 pounds, and she was shaped like what I sometimes muse about after the third highball. Everybody who had described the blonde, and she was a blonde [alluding to public hair, unspoken but understood], had been correct: she was not only 'stacked' but 'ah, curvaceous.' . . . the one time a man can be positive that a woman's shape is her own is when she is wearing nothing but her shape, and this was really in dandy shape." --"The Double Take"
No one could write a paperback novel without being able to describe scenes of fighting, because private detectives got into a lot of fights:
"I hit him with a left in the gut, swinging with all my strength, 205 pounds moving, fast behind the blow, and that would have been enough, that one punch. Noodles was thin, bony, and I'll swear I felt the bones of his spine hit my knuckles. But I swung my right hand up to his jaw, forgetting for the moment the gun in my hand, and it ripped across his face, clicking as it tore into the cheekbone." --"Babes, Bodies and Bullets"
Prather's Shell Scott books were everywhere in the golden age of paperback original novels. I saw them every time I went to the paperback book spinner.

Prather went from Gold Medal books to Pocket Books, and later sued them. He turned to growing avocados. So his writing career was about 25 years, from 1950 to 1975, although he did a couple of books in the '80s. His last published work was 20 years before his death.

This obituary, from the New York Times is a good and concise look at Prather's career. The Wikipedia entry on Prather has a bibliography of his published works, as well as a photo.

Prather was a talented original working in the field of paperback originals.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy birthday Robert Plant and John Hiatt

Robert Plant is 63 today.

John Hiatt is 59.

Happy birthday to both of you!

Robert Cray had his 58th birthday on August 1. You can check out a couple of great videos by this modern bluesman here.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thirty-four years later, Elvis still deceased

Elvis died 34 years ago today. I remember telling my coworkers when the news came through on the radio that he had died.

For some reason some folks still don’t think he’s dead. Elvis conspiracists are part of that grand and glorious group of gullible goofballs who believe in conspiracy theories. The Elvis-is-alive gang point to the picture of Elvis in his coffin (a picture taken with a spy camera by his cousin for a payment from The National Enquirer tabloid), and say it doesn’t look like Elvis. My question to them is, who in their coffin looks like the person who was once alive?

Weekly World News, June 28, 1988:

Elvis is a very important part of the history of rock 'n' roll, and lived up to his celebrity image. He may be one of the best known persons on the planet, alive or dead.

Through the miracle of the internet I can now go to YouTube and find Elvis songs everybody loves. The songs alone keep Elvis alive worldwide.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Happy birthday Joe Jackson and Eric Carmen

Joe Jackson is 57 today.

Eric Carmen is 62 today. "Hungry Eyes" was a big hit from the movie Dirty Dancing:

Eric with the Raspberries, back in 1974 when "going all the way" was the real dirty dancing.

Happy birthday, Eric and Joe!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The day the world changed forever

On August 6, 1945, Americans in a single B-29 bomber dropped the bomb heard 'round the world. Three days later another bomb was dropped.

The bombs were, of course, the two atom bombs then currently in existence. They brought about the end of the war without having to invade Japan, a nation its militarist leaders swore to defend to the last citizen. After the bombings, the thought of oblivion at the hands of such awesome weaponry made sure wiser heads in the Japanese government prevailed, and the war was brought to a close.

My wife and I have had a debate over those bombings for years. She thinks that under no circumstances should nuclear weapons have been dropped on a civilian population. While I agree it was cold-blooded, I argue from the standpoint of the wartime American military and government leadership, appalled by heavy losses of men and equipment invading and occupying island after island in the Pacific in order to secure a foothold for the final assault on Japan. There was a threat that thousands more American men would die in an invasion of Japan.

In 1945, dropping those bombs changed the world. Maybe some saw them as a means to the end of a nasty, costly war, and didn't look down the road decades in the future to imagine what those bombs would mean to future generations.

The contemporary account in Life, August 20, 1945, tells the story of the bombings to readers who had just been through the biggest war in the history of humanity. More often than not, Americans were probably sympathetic to the idea of bombing Japan with the most awful weapons ever built. As long as those weapons were in our hands and not an enemy nation.

The enemy nation got its bombs soon after. It remains, though, that the United States is the only nuclear power (so far) to have deliberately dropped bombs on civilian populations during a time of war.

Friday, August 05, 2011



I got this message in my e-mail this morning. So, WTF? has invited you to join the sokhanrani8847 group
with this message:

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new inflationary are are meet also along .

Here is the group's description:

king Lzaymrz Mytvansth well and easily to

---------------------- Google Groups Information ----------------------

You can accept this invitation by clicking the following URL:

--------------------- If This Message Is Unwanted ---------------------

If you feel that this message is abuse, please inform the Google Groups staff
by using the URL below.


I admit to being baffled by this cartoon. I'm often baffled by Brevity, but this one is especially WTF?


I just found out that the Spy Vs. Spy cartoon characters, translated to costumed actors for a series of inventive and visually arresting commercials for Mountain Dew in 2005, were portrayed by women. I have to ask, WTF?

(Naw, I take it back. What difference does it make?)


Monday, August 01, 2011

Eagle rockin' with Daddy Cool

A fragment of a song has been stuck in my head for four decades. It floats along the neuron path, settles into the memory area, and suddenly erupts involuntarily from my mouth. It's four words, "...doin' the Eagle Rock..." I heard it on a local radio station twice in '71, thought it was pretty good, then never heard it again. But that damn line kept coming back to me. I've been telling myself lately, "Go to YouTube, see if it's there." But between that thought and actually sitting down to look at YouTube the memory has been going back into its hidey-hole in my gray matter.

Tonight I finally got it together enough to look for "Eagle Rock" by Daddy Cool...

Daddy Cool is an Australian band, and "Eagle Rock" was number one on the charts for ten weeks Down Under. I guess it just didn't go over in the U.S. It's not that we reject all things Australian...I'm thinking Bee Gees, INXS, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson (uh, we'd like to send Mel back, if that's OK with you.) The fantastic lead vocals for Daddy Cool are by Ross Wilson, and the lead guitar is Ross Hannaford, neither of whom I'd seen or heard of before tonight. So it's been something of an epiphany. My apologies to all Daddy Cool fans who have been listening to this band for 40 years. You've known all along and I'm just a Johnny Come Lately.

I didn't have time to listen to all their songs, but picked out some I thought might be interesting to fellow Americans. First one I came up with is "Gee."

 "Gee" is a great old doo wop song, and it blew shards out of my overworked mind to see a gaggle of Aussie hippies doing perfect doo wop harmony. I instantly understood the problem this would pose for Americans. We are very into IMAGE; it is everything. You have to look the part to meet public expectations. You wanna do Barry Manilow songs? Comb your hair, wear suits like Barry. Same for Frank Sinatra imitators, Beatles, or whomever. You have to look the part. I can hear the American rock promoter now: "These guys look like fukn Jethro Tull and sound like fukn doo wops." Americans could not handle the disparity. We had bands like Sha Na Na who dressed as 1950's greasers, with gold lamé costumes, sleeveless tees and duck's ass hairdos to project the image. However, there is always Chuck Berry. But then, Chuck Berry wasn't doo wop. He was roots rock, the rootsiest roots rock there is, right from the start of the rock era. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, every band in the world has done Chuck Berry in homage to American rock and roll: Then I went back to the YouTube listings and came up with two more songs. "I'll Never Smile Again" sent my mind spinning like a 33 at 78. So now I know, one of the greatest American roots rock bands wasn't even American. I thought, surely these guys can't still be around after 40 years, but I found a video of "Eagle Rock" being performed live in 2006 and despite the guys having quit the hippie look, they sound much as they did in 1971. And that's cool, Daddy!

Happy birthday Robert Cray and Michael Penn

Robert Cray is 58 today.

Robert Cray's first couple of albums really blew me away. I played his songs "Smoking Gun" and "Strong Persuader" a lot. A few years ago I saw Cray live and his songs sounded just like they did on the albums. He also played his Fenders so hard that after every song he swapped guitars with a roadie who went backstage and tuned it for the next song, so he kept his guitars in rotation and tuned.

Happy birthday, young Bob!

Singer/songwriter Michael Penn is 53 today.

Michael Penn had something to live up to: "No Myth" from his album March was a huge hit, but he wasn't able to follow it up with another commercial success. "One hit wonder" is kind of a slam, but think about it. How many hit records have you had? If you're like me, none. Well, then one hit doesn't seem like such a miniscule accomplishment, does it?

Penn also had to live up to being actor Sean Penn's brother, but I don't know if it was ever a problem for him. Happy birthday, Michael!