The Heston

February 17, 2013

hestonAs a kid watching television in the ’70s, it was understood that the future might involve dealing with intelligent apes, urban overcrowding and pollution, or a noctunal clan of mutant cultists.

It was also understood from the regular airings of Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man after school or on late-night television that the one man with the skills to survive in these various dystopian futures – at least until the final reel – was Charlton Heston.

Heston was teaching us about survival well before Gloria Gaynor, Bear Grylls, or Survivorman‘s Les Stroud and, like Stroud, Heston wasn’t bashful about going au naturale.

(watching Planet Of The Apes on an AMC marathon of the movie series, I have already been blindsided twice by Heston’s bare ass in HD)

Over the latter part of his life, Heston was best known for his interest in guns, but, as he had spent so much time battling intelligent apes and mutant cultists as well as trying to avoid becoming finger food for the masses, his desire to be a well-maintained militia of one is understandable.

And no matter how dire the situation around him, Chuck was able to make time for the ladies and, in the case of The Omega Man, he – like the titular character in The Big Lebowski and to paraphrase The Dude – was racially pretty cool.

But, as a kid, it was Heston’s adventures as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor that were most fascinating to me and, fortunately, it was not uncommon to tune into CBS’ Friday Night Movie and find that Planet Of The Apes or, even more so it seemed, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes was the featured flick.

Thirty-eight years ago, I was one bummed out seven-year old as the short-lived (and Heston-less) television series based on The Planet Of The Apes had been cancelled. I might have found solace in music, but that wouldn’t be of interest to me for another four or five years.

However, had I turned on the radio, here are four songs I might have heard as they were on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart at the time…

America – Lonely People
from History: America’s Greatest Hits (1975)

Though I hadn’t yet developed an interest in music in 1975, I was well aware of the songs of America from the light rock stations my parents seemed to favor on the car radio.

The trio received a lot of comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and, of the songs I know by America, the lovely, resilient Lonely People captures that vibe to me more than any other.

John Lennon – #9 Dream
from Lennon Legend (1997)

I certainly knew the music of The Beatles, but I wasn’t familiar with John Lennon’s solo stuff or #9 Dream at the time. I would have to catch up years later.

Of course, no one would be hearing new music from John Lennon after 1975, at least not until he ended his self-imposed exile to be a stay-at-home dad five years later with Double Fantasy. I eventually got a cassette of The John Lennon Collection in 1982 or so and was introduced to the (suitably) dreamy #9 Dream.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra (1995)

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which was the group’s first major single in the States.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Jackie Blue
from Billboard Top Hits: 1975 (1991)

The title character in Jackie Blue sounds like one confused girl, but I can’t help but think of pizza when I hear the song. It seems like every trip we made to Pizza Inn during the time that the song was a hit guaranteed one of the patrons putting down their money for Jackie Blue on the jukebox.

I dug the song as a kid. It was catchy and mysterious, though, at the time, I mistook drummer Larry Lee’s falsetto for a female vocalist.

The Four-Year Old Who Discovered America

July 30, 2011

It was rare when my parents would throw something on the turntable of the console stereo inhabiting the living room.

Yet, in the car, the radio was usually playing and, from the backseat of the Gremlin, the first hit songs that I experienced was the soft rock of The Carpenters, Jim Croce, John Denver. Cat Stevens, The Bee Gees…

…and America.

Paloma and I had long joked of our cat Sam having an affection for ’70s soft rock, especially America.

With Sam moving on last week, I couldn’t help but pause when – two days later – I read of the death of Dan Peek, one the three musicians that formed the trio in England.

I took it as synchronicity and couldn’t help but picture Sam hustling along through the scrub, dutifully following her new, troubadour friend as he rode a nameless horse through some desert in the afterlife.

(though, personally, I’m hoping that she’s lounging about in Clarence Clemons’ garden)

A Horse With No Name does occupy a special place in my heart, though. If I try and pinpoint the first song that I can actually remember hearing while it was popular, I do believe it would be that song which topped the charts in early 1972.

I was four.

The song fascinated me. It was all quite exotic and mysterious – a horse, the desert, birds, trees, rocks, things…

It had undeniable appeal to a four-year old tyke.

A Horse With No Name was America’s debut, so I was discovering the trio with the rest of the world. I doubt that I necessarily knew the band’s name, but I knew the song as I would I Need You, Tin Man, Lonely People, and Sister Golden Hair as well as several others.

By the time I reached grade school, I had never really known a world where one song or another by America wasn’t in constant rotation on the radio.

The commencement of my education meant less time in the car, held hostage on a seemingly never-ending succession of daily errands. That meant less time hearing the radio.

It would be another five or six years until curiousity led me to listen to the radio of my own volition and America was gone.

Their ’70s hits still popped up on light rock stations, but the group – now a duo following Peek’s departure – managed only a few hits in the early ’80s which didn’t appeal much to me.

But those early ’70s hits by America…yeah, I totally get why Sam and I were fans. Here are four songs by America…

America – A Horse With No Name
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

It’s raining for the first time in weeks as I write and I remember that it always seemed to be raining when I’d hear A Horse With No Name on the radio as a kid. Using the logic of a four-year old, I felt the song’s desert setting was somehow connected to that rain.

(of course, the song was a hit during the spring months of ’72, so…)

I still love the song and its trippy vibe. Plenty of folks have carped over the lyrics throughout the years, but, even if arguably non-sensical, I find them evocative and far more interesting than your typical June/moon stuff.

I truly care little as to what the song is about as it feels like a trek through the desert.

(I just have long assumed that the three members were stoners)

America – I Need You
from History: America’s Greatest Hits

The lush, melancholic ballad I Need You has a dreamy quality that reminds me of The Beatles’ Something and, several albums on from America’s debut, the band would end up working with producer George Martin.

America – Lonely People
from History: America’s Greatest Hits

America received a lot of comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and, of the songs I know by America, the lovely, resilient Lonely People captures that vibe to me more than any other.

Maybe it’s the harmonies or the gentle melody or how much Dan Peek on lead vocal reminds me of Neil Young.

America – Sister Golden Hair
from Billboard Top Hits (1975)

Though I do find the lyrics on Sister Golden Hair to be pretty goofy and the protagonist to be a bit of a wuss – I keep picturing George Costanza bursting into tears to postpone his impending nuptials – I can’t help but be drawn to the song‘s sunny melody and infectious chorus.

Take Your Stinking Paws Off My Heart, You Damn Dirty Apes!

April 16, 2011

Several days ago I wondered how audiences reacted upon first hearing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and, similarly, I can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to see the climatic scene of Planet Of The Apes in the theater.

I wasn’t even walking when the original Planet Of The Apes was released in 1968, so I ended up viewing it for the first time on television in the ’70s no doubt on the CBS Friday Night Movie.

Planet Of The Apes is a classic flick and the entire film series was fun as a kid. I mean, aren’t most kids fascinated by monkeys and apes?

They’re furry humans with the smaller ones like cartoons brought to life and capable of hijinks and shenanigans.

The larger ones could scale buildings and woo blondes.

The idea of apes running the planet was certainly a thought-provoking one to a kid.

As an adult, I see plenty of upside to the other primates having the chance to call the shots.

Their politicians wouldn’t be bought and paid for by corporations as what value could pieces of paper with images of long-dead humans have for apes.

Environmental issues would be taken seriously if actual monkeys were in charge.

It would also be socially acceptable to work without pants.

Plenty of upside.

But seeing the original Planet Of The Apes as a kid in pajamas sprawled out in front of the television was a riveting experience. I doubt that I stirred, mesmerized immediately by the trippy opening in space and the unusual, evocative and eerie title music by Jerry Goldsmith.

(and, if you saw the movie as a kid, weren’t you creeped out by the mummified corpse of Stewart, the female astronaut?)

The tension built as the astronauts slowly trekked across the desert, Charlton Heston opining on the condition of the world that they’d left behind and the sky flashing with strange lightning.

And then the apes arrived hunting the humans.

By the time that Lady Liberty makes her cameo, I was already wondering why I had to study for a spelling test the following week if the future was going to be spent being hunted by monkeys.

I was thrilled beyond repair to hear that Tim Burton would do a remake of Planet Of The Apes and felt sucker-punched as I watched his (or, perhaps, the studio’s) “re-imagining,” which had none of the suspense of the original.

The nine-year old in me kept a year-long vigil waiting for Burton’s movie to hit the theaters, making the actual viewing of it one of the most anti-climactic moments of my life.

I know that some time ago I had read/heard of another movie in the Planet Of The Apes series, but I banished the idea of another go ’round on the monkey planet to the dim recesses of my mind.

So I was surprised to hear of the August release of The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

I was inclined to want nothing to do with awkwardly-titled flick, shaking my head and pondering if people would even care about it despite the financial success of Burton’s version.

Then I vowed that I would not be drawn in.

And, then, I saw the trailer.

I’m not sure exactly when I finally got to see Planet Of The Apes. I do vividly recall being five or six, seeing a commercial for an airing of it, and being told in no uncertain terms by my parents that I wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch it.

However, I have no doubt that by 1975 the parents had finally acquiesced. Here are four songs that were on the charts from this week in 1975…

Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Jackie Blue
from Billboard Top Hits: 1975

The title character in Jackie Blue sounds like one confused girl, but I can’t help but think of pizza when I hear the song. It seems like every trip we made to Pizza Inn when I was eight resulted in one of the patrons putting down their money for Jackie Blue on the pizza joint’s jukebox.

I dug the song as a kid. It was catchy and mysterious, though, at the time, I mistook drummer Larry Lee’s falsetto for a female vocalist.

America – Sister Golden Hair
from Billboard Top Hits 1975

Paloma has long expressed the belief that our eldest cat, Sam, is fond of light rock from the ’70s, especially America and such stuff does seem to capture her attention when played.

As for America, I do remember hearing a number of their hits – A Horse With No Name, I Need You, Lonely People – when my parents would have the radio on during their ’70s heyday. Though the lyrics are a bit meh and the protagonist comes off as a bit of a wuss, I dig Sister Golden Hair‘s sunny melody and catchy chorus.

Michael Murphey – Wildfire
from Blue Sky – Night Thunder

I wasn’t listening to music in 1975 aside from what I’d hear on the radio in the car, but I do remember hearing Wildfire. How could I not?

Before the first chorus, a young girl is dead and “the pony she called Wildfire” is lost in a blizzard. Oh, the carnage. Between hearing this song and seeing Old Yeller, would my parents letting me see a movie about talking apes hunting humans really been that traumatic?

David Bowie – Young Americans
from Young Americans

Though David Bowie’s Young Americans has oft been referred to as “plastic soul” which, according to Wikipedia, is a term coined by an unknown black musician in the 1960s, describing Mick Jagger as a white musician singing soul music, it’s plenty soulful if you ask me.

(undoubtedly aided by the legendary Luther Vandross providing backing vocals)

I was surprised to note the timeline of Bowie’s hits and note that Young Americans was only the singer’s second Top 40 hit in the States at the time. I’d not be surprised if, at the time, the idea of talking apes taking over the planet was less threatening a concept than David Bowie in middle America.