Caldwell Jones

January 16, 2013

caldwellGrowing up in a basketball mad state should have made my friends and I rabid about the NBA franchise a mere two hours north of us.

We weren’t.

No one was.

Yes, it was a basketball mad state, but that fervor was stoked by the high school teams dotting the hinterlands and the in-state college programs, several of which were national powers.

Our NBA team during those childhood years was mediocre at best and abysmal at worst.

And boring.

Yet we were NBA fans and fans that were there as the league was suddenly becoming of interest to an increasing number of folks thanks to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entering the NBA.

As we felt no strong allegiance to the state’s NBA franchise, we were more inclined to be fans of players than specific teams.

Of course, we loved the stars of the day – Bird, Magic, Dr. J – we all loved the good doctor – George Gervin, David Thompson, Alex English, Darrell Griffith, Sidney Moncrief, Gus Williams, Kareem, World B. Free…

There were also the non-marquee players who captured our imagination and, of these, none more than a spindly 6’11″forward for the Philadelphia 76ers named Caldwell Jones.

Caldwell was a teammate of Dr. J.

That was cool.

He had a way cool Afro and goatee.

And Caldwell was a rebounding machine.

Caldwell was a member of those seriously loaded Philadelphia ’76ers teams of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Darryl Dawkins was breaking backboards and providing entertaining, fantastical quotes about the planet Lovetron.

Later on, Moses Malone arrived and the team won a title.

And though other players got more attention, Caldwell was in the line-up, blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, and hanging with Dr. J.

(I looked it up and the guy missed a mere ten games in his six seasons with the Sixers)

Well done, Mr. Jones.

Thirty-three years ago, Caldwell and the Sixers were halfway through a season that would end with them losing the finals to Magic, Kareem and the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, I had far more interest in hoops than music.

However, here are four songs that I might have heard at the time as they were residing in the Top 40 of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 in mid-January of 1980…

The Dirt Band – An American Dream
from An American Dream (1979)

An American Dream, written by Rodney Crowell and with Linda Ronstadt adding backing vocals, was one song which, even with my limited knowledge about pop music at the time, was quite familiar to me. It seemed to be on constant rotation on the jukebox of the bowling alley where my friends and I spent numerous hours loitering and playing pinball during the winter months of 1980.

It’s laid-back vibe and promise of a getaway to warmer climes had a distinct appeal to those of us mired in January in the Midwest.

Cheap Trick – Voices
from Dream Police (1979)

To paraphrase Mike Damone, it’s the magnetism of Robin Zander and the charisma of Rick Nielsen…

Hall & Oates – Wait For Me
from X-Static (1979)

Whether you listened to a lot of music in the ’80s or not, if you are old enough to have been there, you likely know (or would recognize) a good number of songs by Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, Maneater

And twenty-five plus years later, the stuff holds up and seems to have earned a measure of belated respect. As good as their big hits were, the duo had a lot of hits that seem to have been forgotten a bit – Did It In A Minute and Family Man come to mind – that were pretty fantastic.

I’d put Wait For Me on that list, too.

Fleetwood Mac – Sara
from Tusk (1979)

I’ve read for years that Sara was about a child that Stevie Nicks’ had aborted.

I have no idea what Stevie’s going on about, but I don’t care. The haunting Sara might be her finest moment and it really does sound like someone “drowning in the sea of love.”

If It’s December, It Must Be Christmas

December 2, 2012

iawlOn one of the however hundred or so cable channels, NBC is airing It’s A Wonderful Life. Most years, since I first watched the seasonal classic in my mid-twenties, I’ve made an annual viewing a habit.

(Paloma finds the flick too depressing and annually doesn’t watch it)

Instead, I’m watching the alma mater’s top-ranked basketball team as they finally lower the boom on a plucky low major that has hung tough but is gassed.

When I went to bed last night, it was still November. The last remnants of the Thanksgiving bird are still in the fridge.

(Paloma wants to dispose of the remaining scraps; I’m having separation anxiety)

And though I have – surprisingly – already finished some holiday shopping, the windows behind me are open as it is twenty-five degrees warmer than would be expected for this time of year.

It certainly doesn’t seem to be time for It’s A Wonderful Life, just yet.

Meanwhile, across the street, a local university’s recital hall is emptying following a Christmas pageant. Since late afternoon, holiday-themed music has been blaring from a sound system that had been assembled earlier in the day which left us – particularly the three felines – feeling a bit like we’ve been re-enacting Manuel Noriega’s last stand.

(I’ve heard Greensleeves at least a dozen times since dinner)

During the past week, I did hear Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band barrel through a rollicking version of the Darlene Love staple Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on Sirius’ Springsteen station and I also caught Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas on the ’80s channel.

I didn’t change the stations, but, as I stared up at sunny, blue skies through the open sunroof of Jeepster, the songs seemed a bit like green bananas.

(and, I should remind Paloma that while there is a Sirius station devoted to Bruce, there still isn’t one for The Smiths)

There’ll be plenty of time for holiday songs over the next three weeks and change and they’ll seem a bit more fitting when I can see my breath in the air.

And, I do hope that NBC will rerun It’s A Wonderful Life, perhaps a week before Christmas as I believe happened last year.

(and, I hope it’s on an evening when my school’s team isn’t turning an outgunned non-conference foe into steak tartare)

For now, here are four random songs…

New Radicals – You Get What You Give
from Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too (1998)

Few albums tickled Paloma’s fancy more as the ’90s drew to a close than Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, the lone release by the musical collective led by producer Gregg Alexander. The group included former child actress Danielle Brisebois, who had been an addition to the cast of All In The Family toward the end of the groundbreaking show’s lengthy run.

So, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too came out, garnered comparisons to power pop icons like Todd Rundgren, notched a smash hit with the ebullient You Get What You Give – which took some shots at Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, and Hanson – and, then, Alexander promptly split up the outfit to focus on songwriting and producing.

The Beautiful South – Everybody’s Talkin’
from Carry On Up The Charts (1994)

I can’t say I’m overly familiar with The Beautiful South (despite owning several albums), but what I have heard is consistently wonderful. And, the British group’s version of the lovely, melancholic Everybody’s Talkin’ seems tailor-made for their classic pop stylings.

Fleetwood Mac – Think About Me
from Tusk (1979)

The last of Tusk‘s trio of Top 40 singles, the sassy, upbeat Think About Me serves as an excellent reminder that, although Stevie and Lindsey might have gotten most of the attention, Christine McVie was an integral part of the Mac’s period as a ’70s pop music juggernaut.

Shivaree – Stealing Home
from Rough Dreams (2002)

I became curious about Shivaree after reading reviews of the band’s 1999 debut I Oughtta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump which was produced by Joe Henry. It was understandable.

The reviews were glowing, the band had named their debut I Oughtta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump, and the outfit was led by a singer/songwriter named Ambrosia Parsley.

So, I was quite pleased to receive an advance of the trio’s follow-up, Rough Dreams.

I was fortunate to snag a copy because, nearly a decade later, the album has yet to receive a proper release in the States. It’s too bad as Parsley might well have endeared herself to the audience that Shelby Lynne claimed during the decade with her soulful Americana.

Thirty-Three And Forever

October 14, 2012

I happened to catch part of an American Top 40 countdown while running errands with Jeepster this morning. Casey Kasem was doing his thing just as he had from this week in 1974.

At the time of the original broadcast, I was a first-grader trying to adjust to a school in a small town where I had lived for less than a year. Most of my classmates seemed to be related and most of their parents had gone to school together.

Not good times.

And most of the songs Casey was playing were ones that I recollect hazily, if at all, from that time.

So, I thought that I’d consult a Billboard Hot 100 chart from later in the decade, when there would be fewer cobwebs.

As October was reaching its mid-point in 1979, I was a sixth grader and my friends and I were engrossed in the 1979 World Series.

It was shaping up to be a short series as Baltimore had taken three of the first four games against Pittsburgh.

I was dismayed. The broadcasters kept reminding me that there were just four times in the 75 year history of the World Series that had rallied from such a deficit to win the title.

If you were a twelve-year old kid pulling for the Pirates, it might as well have been never.

I was a Pirate fan through birth with familial ties to Western Pennsylvania. As kids, my parents had known Bill Robinson, who was starting for the team in the outfield.

My grandfather had passed away a month into that season, having been devoted to the team since the days of Honus Wagner.

October 13, 1979 was a Saturday and the night before the Pirates had dropped game three of the series.

I had remained sprawled out in front of the television late into the night, until the last, miserable out and I was still brooding about it as I biked to a soccer game that morning.

That night, it would be a repeat as the Orioles took the seemingly insurmountable three games to one lead.

And, eight days later, I was watching when the Pirates won a third straight game – game seven – to clinch the World Series.

(and the team hasn’t returned since)

Music was just beginning to pull some of my attention from sports that autumn. I was most certainly a passive listener, hearing music mostly when exposed to it through others.

Here are four songs that were on the radio that autumn as the Pirates were playing in the World Series (in what it seems – as each year passes – might have been for the last time in my lifetime)…

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution (1979)

Journey was still two years away from Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids not old enough to drive, the song came on the jukebox.

As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed and inert, transfixed and mystified.

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
from Tusk (1979)

The bowling alley was the other premier place to see and be seen once you reached junior high school.

I heard unusual Tusk incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox that autumn. And, I would pester my buddy Tony to play his 45 of the song when we hung out at his house.

It’s “real savage like” and a fine example of the twisted genius of Lindsey Buckingham.

Foreigner – Dirty White Boy
from Head Games (1979)

I knew Foreigner for songs like Cold As Ice, Double Vision, and Hot Blooded. I’d hear them blaring from the Camaro of an older kid in our neighborhood as he raced through the street headed for somewhere.

And the title track and Dirty White Boy from Head Games were two more songs that I associate with the bowling alley jukebox. For all of the grief that Foreigner might be given, their straight-ahead rock stuff certainly did sound cool blaring from a Camaro eight-track player or bowling alley jukebox.

(and, the girl on the cover of Head Games was Lisanne Falk, who would play one of the Heathers in the 1989 black comedy Heathers)

Cheap Trick – Dream Police
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

Cheap Trick exploded in 1979 with Cheap Trick At Budokan and the quartet from Rockford, Illinois is one of the first bands I can recall my classmates embracing with fervor.

Dream Police was culled from the parent album of the same name – the follow-up to the mega-selling At Budokan – and we delighted in the manic, subconscious angst of the protagonist and the driving music of the power-pop classic.

And, I can’t hear Dream Police now and not think of sketchy ticket-scalper Mike Damone in the iconic Fast Times At Ridgemont High making his pitch – “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” – and singing a snippet of the song.