January 28, 2012

There were few greater things in childhood than popcorn.

Popcorn was a foodstuff that you ate at the movies or a basketball game.

Pretzels, potato chips and their ilk might be in the pantry at home, but popcorn was not such a common nosh.

Popcorn was an event.

I was likely munching on popcorn as King Kong ascended to the top of the Twin Towers and, later that same winter, when Rocky almost upset Apollo Creed for the heavyweight title.

Popcorn meant spectacle.

Of course, there was the occasional tin of Jiffy Pop on the stovetop. If it lacked the scale of the cinema, popcorn at home in the household den still made an impression. In the more intimate setting, popcorn was the spectacle.

The exploding corn under the ever-expanding foil of the Jiffy Pop container was a bit like playing with fireworks in the house.

And, as any kid exposed to a billion hours of Brady Bunch reruns in the ’70s will tell you, it was a trail of popcorn that played a pivitol role in Mike and Carol rescuing the boys from the clutches of Vincent Prince.

Yeah, popcorn is all right.

It would have been early 1972 when I would have seen the first movie I recall seeing in the theater, the cinematic classic Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, the trippiest of all the Godzilla flicks and an experience I’ve recounted before.

As I was four, music wasn’t really on my radar, but here are four songs that I might have heard at the time that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 during this week in 1972…

Don McLean – American Pie
from American Pie (1971)

Few songs have been as dissected and parsed as thoroughly in the history of mankind as Don McLean’s magnum opus, so, really, what more is there to add.

Climax – Precious And Few
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I remember Precious And Few from some television commercial in the ’70s – Kodak, maybe? I don’t know and I’m too lazy to care, but I will consider it a middle finger to the marketing world that I still know the song if I can’t recall what was being shilled.

The Stylistics – You Are Everything
from The Stylistics (1971)

I know that Philly is famous for soul music, but there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the genre. The Stylistics are one of those acts who I love the handful of songs I know and keep intending to check out their music beyond the hits.

They’re still on that list – thanks to a combination of apathy and forgetfulness – because I never tire of songs like Betcha By Golly Wow, I’m Stone in Love With You, Break Up To Make Up, and the silky smooth You Are Everything.

Elton John – Levon
from Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II (1977)

One of the few times I remember taking note of a song as a kid was hearing Elton John’s Benny And The Jets blaring from a jukebox in a Pizza Inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I don’t remember hearing Levon from a couple years earlier.

I do love Levon, though. The lyric has always intrigued me and the song is more striking to me the older I grow.

You Go Canoeing To Aintry With Burt, You Take Your Chances

January 8, 2011

I stumbled across Deliverance the other night and stopped.

After a grueling day under the flourescent lights of an office, a commute from hell, and the rawness of a dark winter’s day in early January, does anything goose the spirits like a river trip to Aintry, hillbillies, and Ned Beatty getting sodomized?

I checked out before the mountain man lovin’, but I did watch the early part of the movie.

I barely remember the hulabaloo surrounding the movie when it came out in the ’70s. I do recall it airing on television as ABC’s Friday Night Movie and the previews issuing one of those omnous voiceovers warning that the following feature was “of a mature nature.”

I didn’t see it then.

I actually didn’t see Deliverance until college, fifteen or so years after the acclaimed movie was in theaters.

Several housemates and I were hanging out one weeknight, watching our school’s basketball team on television. The game ended and, like the other night, we stumbled across Deliverance on cable.

I think that I knew nothing about the movie, but it had a strange vibe that drew me in.

I had no idea where the flick was headed, but I knew within the first few moments of his character’s introduction that following Burt Reynolds into the sticks was asking to be made an example of by natural selection.

We all have a buddy or acquaintence who will constantly be willing to test the bounds of good sense, legal statutes, rational thought, and/or physics, but, if Burt Reynolds invites you to ride the rapids for some weekend thrills in the mountains, there is no excuse for not caveating the @#$% out of the emptor.

It wasn’t more than fifteen minutes into the movie and we had already met the hillbillies and had the bluegrass jam of Dueling Banjos between Ronny Cox’ character and Banjo Boy.

Growing up in a small, Midwestern town, we had our share of rural types, but the hill people in Deliverance were unsettling.

I don’t think any of us moved for two hours as we sat in the dark and watched the movie. We’d gone from boisterous during the basketball game to – for the most part – quietly engrossed by the palpable sense of dread and wondering what would go wrong for our intrepid quartet next.

(maybe Burt Reynolds will open a chain of Deliverance-themed water parks and call it Burt Reynold’s River Ride Through Hell)

And I do still remember jumping a bit at the end when that pale, lifeless hand popped up to the surface of that eerie lake.

Dueling Banjos is well-known, but I seem to remember some trippy, electronic music during one part of the movie that made things super-surreal.

In the real world, I was four when Deliverance was released in July, 1972, so there wasn’t a lot of music I was hearing – mostly in the car from the radio or the random times the parents might put on an album.

But there are a lot of songs that I do recognize from the Billboard Hot 100 from that July in ’72 – a few from then, most from hearing them in the years since…

Looking Glass – Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

I seem to recall Looking Glass’ one major hit from that time and, apparently, they had another lesser hit called Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne which, if I have heard, I’m unaware.

But Brandy is perfect, a song that is always welcome when it pops up on the iPod’s shuffle (or in the supermarket, for that matter). It seems that it would be ripe to be covered, but, then again, perhaps its nautical themes and tale of those residing at a port in a harbor town wouldn’t resonate with today’s pop audience.

The Hollies – Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
from Big Hits Of The ’70s

I can’t really say that I know much of The Hollies’ catalog aside from a handful of singles, but I’ve always quite liked Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress). It’s certainly more muscular than the other hits by the band with which I’m familiar.

The 5th Dimension – (Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All
from Up, Up and Away: The Definitive Collection

I do very much remember hearing (Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All on the car radio as a four-year old in ’72. I think that I was even aware that The 5th Dimension had also sang Up, Up And Away which I loved and seem to recall hearing on Sesame Street.

I also remember being quite captivated by (Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All as a kid, even though I had no frame of reference for the angst-riddled insomnia of the song. Instead, I’ve no doubt that the gorgeous melody and dramatic vocal was the hook.

And singer Marilyn McCoo, a natural beauty if there ever was one, would become familiar to me from her television series with husband Billy Davis, Jr. and, in the ’80s, as a host on Solid Gold.

The Eagles – Take It Easy
from Their Greatest Hits

Though I’m not as opposed to The Eagles as The Dude was in The Big Lebowski – in which his abiding hatred of the group gets him tossed from a cab – I’ve never been much of a fan, either. Maybe it was the overkill of hearing their music so much on radio as a kid.

Over the years, I’ve slowly softened my resistance to their music and find myself far less inclined to change channels or skip forward when I hear them. And, there is something about the carefree vibe of Take It Easy that is hard to resist.

Four-Year Old Rages Against The Machine

January 16, 2010

I have been mistaken for David Lee Roth, Axl Rose, Anthony Keidis, Andre Agassi (before he shaved his head), Andy Gibb (before he died), and some kid from some show on MTV. And that is the short list.

Yes, I am a guy with long hair and, apparently, we all look alike to most people.

A lot of people assume that we are criminals, stupid, hobos, or hippies which isn’t always the case. And, although my hair is long, it’s clean, so clean that, like Elaine Benes once boasted, you could eat off my hair.

(but that would just be strange)

Yes, it can be fun to be mistaken for a musician, but, just as often, people assume that I can’t count to ten or that I live on a commune.

(I’m not, I can and I don’t, haven’t, and likely wouldn’t)

So, when I read the tale of four-year old Taylor Pugh, I understood. This tyke got booted from kindergarten because he has long hair.

(he hardly looks like a menace – more like a child baffled by the angst of the grow-up humans around him)

But, he apparently likes his hair long and he heroically gave the finger to The Man, striking a blow for all of us guys with long hair. We should lobby to have him put on a postage stamp.

Way to go, little man. You bring great honor to the tribe and it’s always fun to rock the topknot.

You might come under greater scrutiny in airports, but sometimes strangers in foreign countries will buy you drinks or offer to steal a bicycle for you merely because they believe you might be some famous long-haired musician or tennis pro.

(the universe is funny sometimes)

But it is possible for a guy with long hair to accomplish whatever you want.

You could be a rock star.

Or a tennis player.

Or a hobo.

Or even an astronaut.

(OK, maybe not an astronaut because I think you have to have a military background to have a shot at the space program, but, in another galaxy, far, far away, a guy with long hair could be a Jedi Knight, so, you know, that’s pretty cool)

I would have been four in January, 1972, I had little interest to music beyond a song here and there. So, there are a lot of songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 for this week from that year which I might not remember hearing then, but a lot of them I know now.

Here are some of them…

Three Dog Night – An Old Fashioned Love Song
from Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1965-1975

Strangely, my boss – who had a few moments of glory as a musician – mentioned Three Dog Night the other day, telling me of a time he had worked lights at one of their shows.

I often forget how many songs I do remember from Three Dog Night’s string of hits in the early ’70s. I’ve never owned a single album by the band, merely stray tracks, but the choruses of half a dozen songs come easily to mind.

An Old Fashioned Love Song seemed to get played a lot on the station that was played at the pool when I was a kid.

Elton John – Levon
from Greatest Hits, Vol. 2

One of the few times I remember taking note of a song as a kid was hearing Elton John’s Benny And The Jets blaring from a jukebox in a Pizza Inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I don’t remember hearing Levon from a couple years earlier.

I do love Levon, though. The lyric has always intrigued me and the song is more striking to me the older I grow.

T. Rex – Bang a Gong (Get It On)
from The Legend Of T. Rex

Has there ever been talk of a bio-pic on Marc Bolan?

(did I wonder that when I yammered about T. Rex last autumn?)

The Carpenters – Hurting Each Other
from Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition

I do remember hearing The Carpenters as a kid and they seemed to be on television a lot, too. I liked them as a kid. I did take note of their numerous hits and Karen was a cutie.

Then, once I began to fall in love with music and learn more about pop culture, I learned what a horrible blight The Carpenters were on the collective psyche of pop music. They were loathed more than the Bee Gees and I promptly forgot about the duo.

I was fifteen when Karen died and, over the next fifteen years, there was a serious re-evaluation of The Carpenters and their music culminating in a host of alternative acts from the early ’90s paying tribute. Suddenly The Carpenters were cool and the flawless perfection of their singles was appreciated.

It’s been good to have them back.