King Kong, Hippie Empowerment And The Towers*

September 11, 2012

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Happening across the movie King Kong on cable the other night, something occurred to me – it might have been the most influential movie of my childhood.

I’d seen the original version watching it on the late, late show when I slept over at a friend’s house in second grade. Not long after, the hype began for the remake.

It was nothing compared to the hullabaloo for some movies now – no cable, no internet – but it seemed to begin a year before and the scope and duration was something I’d never seen at the ripe old age of eight.

I vividly recall a poster in our small-town theater of Kong, astride the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center with a Santa Claus hat perched on his noggin’.

The tagline read “Guess who’s coming for Christmas?”

I knew that it would be months after the national release before it would arrive in our town. That poster should have shown him wearing a leprechaun’s hat and clutching a bottle of Guinness.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn a lesson in patience. My dad was kind enough to drive me and several friends into the city to see the movie during our Christmas break.

I did learn a lot of other things. I learned that oil company board rooms were populated by the ruthless, the kind of men who might twirl their moustaches as a train headed down tracks to which a distressed damsel was detained.

Of course, Charles Grodin as a petroleum executive had far more panache than the corporate officers I know. They burp up banalities like “sweet spot,” “drill down,” and “bring to bear.”

Grodin uttered things like “If that island doesn’t produce huge, I’ll be wiping windshields,” “Sweet Jesus! Dear Rockefeller!” and “It’s some nutty religion – a priest gets dressed up like an ape and gets laid.”

(you don’t get such rich fare in a business meeting)

The lush island scenery and the underlying message of the movie certainly made me receptive to an environmental consciousness in a way that a Native American crying over litter in a television commercial couldn’t.

As much as Christopher Cross, viewing King Kong likely fueled in me the desire to travel. I haven’t been to Indonesia – from where Grodin and company began their voyage – but I have been to Borneo and, in Malaysia, some friends and I scaled hundreds of steps, monkeys roaming about us, to reach some cave.

Jessica Lange was fetching enough as Dwan, but blondes have never held me as entranced as they apparently do most males of the species.

(although I have been known to be drawn to vacuous girls with unusual names and a flair for the dramatic, so she must have made some impression)

King Kong was also the first movie I think I ever saw with Jeff Bridges whom I’d argue might be the most underrated actor of his generation.

Not only was Bridges the dashing man of action in the flick, he was a hippie.

(of course, at eight, any guy with long hair was a hippie to me)

It was Bridges, as a long-haired paleontologist from Princeton, who taught me that a guy with long hair could grow up to be a paleontologist from Princeton, able to tangle with large apes and woo Jessica Lange.

Years later, in my twenties and en route to London, I first visited New York City and saw the Twin Towers.

I’ve seen some things in my time.

I’ve been to Bangkok.

There are few things that have left me as jaw-droopingly stupefied as standing in front of those buildings. For me, it inspired the same sense of wonder as seeing King Kong in the theater as a kid.

It was during the first few days of 1977 that I saw King Kong. I hadn’t discovered music, yet, but there was a lot of music on Billboard’s chart in early January of that year that would someday be quite familiar to me…

Elton John – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
from Blue Moves (1976)

I can’t claim to have intimate knowledge of Elton John’s entire catalog as it does encompass four decades. I do know his extensive string of hits and I own a number of the classic albums, though, and I’d have to choose the wistful Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word as my favorite of his ballads.

Boston – More Than A Feeling
from Boston (1976)

For some reason, even though it was apparently a hit in the winter months, I think of More Than A Feeling as a summer song. Although I’m not rabid about the song, it does conjure up a good vibe for me and I’ve never quite understood the venom reserved for Boston.

Also, I find it amusing that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit echoes the song.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Blinded By The Light
from The Roaring Silence (1976)

When I saw Blinded By The Light on the chart, I realized something – this song was likely my first exposure to Bruce Springsteen’s music.

10cc – The Things We Do For Love
from Deceptive Bends (1976)

Since Paloma and I started collecting vinyl a little over a year ago, we’ve snagged several 10cc albums and they’ve been a revelation of musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.

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Frampton (Be)Comes Annoyed! (But Stays Classy)

July 9, 2011

I was eight years old during the summer of ’76 when Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! set was shattering sales records for a live album.

I have no doubt that I heard Show Me the Way and Baby, I Love Your Way blaring from the car stereos of older kids at the time and I do recall incessantly hearing the title track to I’m In You, the studio follow-up to his iconic breakthrough, the following summer on the bus rides to our swim team’s meets.

However, the hullabaloo over Frampton meant little to me and, as the ’70s became the ’80s and music became an important part of my life, the guitarist with the leonine tresses seemed to be an ancient artifact.

The tracks from Frampton Comes Alive! continued to be radio staples and – during my senior year of high school – Frampton even had a mini-comeback with the song Lying (which one of my friends loved).

But, Peter Frampton was never really a part of the musical landscape for me.

By the mid-’90s, I was the head buyer for a very large record store and our manager decided to add some pizzaz to the bins by adding comments – usually trivia-based – to the leader cards for the artists.

Stocking product one day, I headed to the Fs with an armful of titles.

As I mindlessly filed away CDs, I noted the plastic divider card for Peter Frampton on which, beneath the artist’s name, our manager had added some commentary…

Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the best-selling albums of the ’70s…yeah, we don’t get it, either.

Our location – in a city that was a major center for the music industry – meant that amongst our customers each day were some of the acts whose work was sitting in those racks and bins.

And, I knew that Peter Frampton not only lived in a suburb of the city but frequented a high-end eyeglass store across the street.

Months later, I was again on the main floor stocking product, when I headed toward the main counter to retrieve more CDs. As I approached the counter, I could see our administrative assistant talking to some well-dressed fellow who had his back to me.

In my friend’s hand was a leader card.

And, slowly, as I walked up to the pair, I realized that the person with whom my buddy was speaking was Peter Frampton, the leader card was his, and I was suddenly in the middle of the conversation.

During one of my first shifts at this store, I had to contend with some songwriter of little note who had come completely unhinged on me as we had not had a copy of the album containing their one claim to fame.

(the damned thing was out of print)

But Frampton was an absolute gentleman about the affair. He politely asked if we could simply replace the card with one that merely had his name on it.

(which I summarily did)

All of these years later, I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of Peter Frampton’s music, but if my former manager had questions as to how or why Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the best-selling albums of the ’70s, I might just chalk it up to – if nothing else – good karma.

Here are four songs that I might have heard on the radio during this week of July in 1976 – had I been listening to the radio – as Peter Frampton was dominating the musical landscape…

Starland Vocal Band – Afternoon Delight
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day

If there is one song that I do remember from that summer, it is most certainly Afternoon Delight. Though I had no idea what the song was about at the time, I loved the song and found the wooshing sound effect to be magical.

JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ wrote at length about the song earlier this year. It’s a good read and it’s also why now (and forevermore), when I hear the song I will also think of his quite accurate assessment that Starland Vocal Band’s Bill Danoff outkicked his coverage.

Starbuck – Moonlight Feels Right
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day

Starbuck’s soft rock smash always puts a smile on Paloma’s face and the marimba-laden hit makes me think of hearing it at the pool, blaring from the radio that entire summer.

The Beatles – Got To Get You Into My Life
from Revolver

I had to do some quick research to find out why The Beatles were hitting the Top Ten in 1976 with a song from an album released ten years earlier and six years after the band had broken up.

Apparently Capitol Records felt that the band needed to be introduced to music fans that had come of age since the break-up and opted to issue the driving, upbeat Got To Get You Into My Life as a single from the compilation Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.

(and, then, two years later Earth, Wind & Fire hit the Top Ten with their take on the song)

Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billie Joe
from 20 Original Country Greats

Like The Beatles, singer/songwriter Bobbie Gentry was on the charts in 1976 with a song from nearly a decade before with Ode To Billie Joe. In her case, the song had already been a hit, reaching #1 in 1967 and earning Gentry a couple of Grammy Awards the following year.

In 1976, the song – in a rerecorded version – reached the Hot 100 in conjunction with the release of a movie based on the track. I remember the film playing at our town’s theatre, but I’ve never seen it.

But I totally dig the song with its palpable sense of dread, mysterious vibe, and a narrative so strong that it’s easy to imagine that you’re actually sitting at that dinner table and listening to the conversation.


Please Put The Laser Down

April 10, 2011

I half-heartedly and groggily took in the yammerings of the assembly-line spokesperson.

He was a freshly-scrubbed fellow and his casual, yet completely unrumpled attire made it obvious that he could be trusted. He was just one of the guys, hanging out on my television, yipping and yapping.

It must have been Saturday morning and I was channel-surfing for something that would allow me to ease into consciousness with coffee.

(morning is an extremely confusing time for me…seriously)

Why I would have paused where I did is inexplicable. Perhaps I had momentarily abandoned the remote to light a smoke.

It was an infomercial from our cable provider touting some new, wonderful feature that would have pop-ups pop up for products and, with a click of the control, I would be able to pause my viewing and be provided with more information on some product or service.

The psychotically pleasant spokesman presented this new effort in the onslaught to commercialize each and every waking moment of my life as something to be applauded and celebrated.

I lit the damned cigarette, swigged some coffee, and with all of the vigor I could muster in my still-sleepy state, remotely banished this Stepford huckster from the screen.

(some Three Stooges cleansed the mental palette quite nicely)

I forgot about witnessing this ad for more ads.

Until tonight.

There, during a commercial break, the bottom third of the screen was filled with an offer for more information on the service being advertised. All necessary for me to be learn about my options for laser hair removal was to hit “OK” on the remote.

I don’t mean to sound ungracious. This truly is the land of opportunity and I’m genuinely choked up that total strangers are so concerned that I might have hair needing to be removed.

It’s just that I’m requiring nothing more this moment than to slouch on the couch and watch Indiana Jones overcome obstacles and battle Nazis. Laser-hair removal is not on the radar.

I might be often inert, but when I make a decision and action needs to be taken – it’s time to make a sandwich! – I take it.

So rest assured good people slaving tirelessly to laser remove my hair, if I need your services, I will get in touch.

Blue Öyster Cult invented the laser in ’76, though it wasn’t for hair removal but, rather, for the band’s lightshow on its Agents Of Fortune tour.

(or, maybe the laser was designed for the US’ bicentennial hullabaloo that year – it’s really impossible to know for sure)

Agents Of Fortune wouldn’t come out until May, but here are four songs that I might have heard on the radio in April of 1976 (had I been listening to the radio as an eight-year old)…

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
from Greatest Hits

How did listeners react to hearing Queen’s iconic Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time in the spring of ’76?

Were they completely baffled? Were they spellbound and delighted? Did it immediately resonate with listeners or did they need repeated hearings of the track before it clicked?

I did some quick research and found that, at the time of Bohemian Rhapsody‘s release, Queen had only had a few hits in the UK and one lone hit in the States (that would be Killer Queen).

Was the band in any danger of being labeled a novelty?

Fleetwood Mac – Rhiannon
from Greatest Hits

I realized some years ago while listening to Fleetwood Mac’s box set The Chain that there is little by the band – from the early Peter Green stuff through their time as a commercial juggernaut – that I don’t enjoy.

That said, I’ve always been relatively indifferent about Stevie Nicks’ signature song. Mostly, when I hear Rhiannon, I hear a friend who would croak, “I’m a witch, I’m a witch,” whenever the song came on the radio.

Andrea True Connection – More, More, More

Anyone that has ever come across one of those VH1 retrospective shows on the ’70s is well aware that Andrea True was an adult film actress from the period. According to Wikipedia, True recorded the breathy More, More, More while stuck in Jamaica during a political crisis.

Of course, the song gained renewed attention twenty years later when the Canadian band Len sampled More, More, More in their delightful 1999 hit Steal My Sunshine.

Paul McCartney & Wings – Silly Love Songs
from All The Best

Though I wasn’t hip to much music in ’76, I vividly remember Silly Love Songs. The breezy little song seemed to be played constantly at the pool where I spent a lot of time that summer.

More than three decades later, I still associate Silly Love Songs with warm weather and the song’s mellow vibe and infectious melody suits the season well.