The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

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I’ll Give You Something To Cry About

September 22, 2012

Occasionally, I will be surprised to find Ravi, our smallest cat, hanging from the top of the curtains in our living room.

I find these moments to be hysterically entertaining. It’s like being in a cartoon.

Paloma is less amused. In fact, for reasons inexplicable to me, she is not amused.

Not at all.

Ravi’s hanging antics – and whether or not they should be celebrated, perhaps even encouraged – is one of the few major points of contention between Paloma and I.

The other is her declaration that Morrissey would take Bruce Springsteen in a fistfight.

I thought it was kooky talk.

Paloma will profess her affection for Springsteen, but she is a long-time devotee of The Smiths and has argued that, should fisticuffs ensue, Morrissey would fight dirty.

I first heard The Smiths, for whom Morrissey sang lead, on 97X in high school – it must have been their clasic How Soon Is Now? – and the band was hugely popular with a lot of my friends and peers in college.

I just was hardly rabid about The Smiths, though, and The Smiths fans that I knew often were.

(as a lot of Springsteen fans are rather obsessive about Bruce)

I liked The Smiths, but I never totally embraced the band. However clever and literate the lyrics, despite the wonderful, jangly guitar, the mopiness of it all wore out its welcome with me.

“What’s he bitching about now?” I’d ask a college buddy when he’d put on The Smiths and Morrissey would lament how he never got what he wanted.

I thought of Paloma’s pugilistic prognostications regarding Morrissey and Springsteen the other morning while commuting to work.

I often bounce between E Street Radio and the ’70s station on Sirius and had the latter dialed up as Gilbert O’Sullivan was singing Alone Again (Naturally). I couldn’t help but hear the morose lyric and imagine Morrissey covering the song.

Given the sensitive inclinations of many of the singer/songwriters of the decade, several other hits of the ’70s popped into my head.

I believe that Ravi should be allowed to dangle without restrictions and I have no doubt that Bruce would indeed triumph should he and Morrissey enter Thunderdome.

And, here are four songs from the ’70s that I think might be ideal for Morrissey to cover…

Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again (Naturally)
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Pretty grim stuff, Mr. O’Sullivan – a groom left at the altar, two dead parents, and suicidal thoughts.

God only knows how I interpreted this song as a child. I imagine that I was too entranced by the nursery rhyme-like melody to ponder Gilbert’s existential angst.

Michael Murphey – Wildfire
from Blue Sky – Night Thunder (1975)

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.

Michael Johnson – Bluer Than Blue
from The Very Best Of Michael Johnson: Bluer Than Blue (1978-1995) (1999)

To paraphrase Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, how much more blue could Michael Johnson be?

The answer is none. None more blue.

Henry Gross – Shannon
from Release (1976)

And then there is ex-Sha Na Na member Henry Gross and his elegy about the death of Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s Irish setter Shannon.

So, to recap, we have four songs with a jilted, suicidal groom, a pair of dead parents, a dead girl, a pony lost in a blizzard, a disheartening break-up, and a dead dog that drove Casey Kasem to distraction.


Stevie Who?*

April 1, 2012

Recently, the television provoked me into doing some research on one-hit wonders of the ’80s. As I live in the States, I noticed some of the striking differences between those with one Top 40 hit in the US and the UK.

Thomas Dolby and Tom Tom Club each only had one hit in the UK (as is the case here in the US).

However, in the UK, those lone hits were Hyperactive and Wordy Rappinghood, respectively – neither being the songs that were hits here.

(that would be She Blinded Me With Science and Genius Of Love).

But, perhaps the act that puzzled me most was Stevie Nicks.

Apparently, Stevie Nicks is a one-hit wonder in the UK during the decade of the ’80s.

Such a thing seems unfathomable. There were few female artists in the early ‘80s who had more music on the radio here in the States. Nicks’ first two solo albums, Bella Donna and The Wild Heart were massive.

One of the rock stations I listened to at the time would even play the hell out of something like Violet And Blue, a song from the Against All Odds soundtrack, simply because it was by Nicks.

And it’s not like Fleetwood Mac was a footnote act and for many fans – especially those who wouldn’t know Peter Green if he was taking potshots at them with an air rifle – Stevie was the soul of the band.

Apparently, few of those fans reside in the UK.

In the UK, her only ’80s Top 40 hit was in 1989 with Rooms On Fire, not a bad song, but it came well after her solo career had peaked in the US.

(she did hit #40 a couple years later with Sometimes It’s A Bitch, a collaboration with Jon Bon Jovi from her greatest hits compilation Timespace)

Why had the UK proven to be impervious to the charms of Ms. Nicks?

Was it all the twirling?

Was it the shawls and lace?

Was it that she sang a song glorifying a Welsh witch?

Here are four songs by Stevie Nicks…

Stevie Nicks – After the Glitter Fades
from Bella Donna (1981)

Bella Donna was inescapable when it came out in ’81 with its hits Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Leather And Lace, and Edge Of Seventeen constantly on the radio.

Though I wanted nothing to do with it at the time – it was perilously close to country music – I now prefer the twangy, fourth single After The Glitter Fades which was more low-key and intimate than Bella Donna’s other hits.

Stevie Nicks – If Anyone Falls
from The Wild Heart (1983)

Leading off with the song Stand Back, Nicks’ follow-up to Bella Donna, The Wild Heart, picked up where the former left off in 1983. Despite my relative indifference to Bella Donna, I purchased a copy of The Wild Heart and, start to finish, I still think it’s her best solo album.

(though, I’ve only heard a handful of songs from her more recent releases).

And the clamorous If Anyone Falls would likely be my favorite track by Nicks as a solo artist.

(with Fleetwood Mac, it would undoubtedly be Sara).

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with Stevie Nicks – Needles And Pins
from Pack Up The Plantation: Live! (1986)

Nicks’ first solo hit, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, found her accompanied by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and The Wild Heart included a similar union with the song I Will Run To You.

However, I prefer their cover of a hit by The Searchers’ Needles And Pins – co-written by Sonny Bono – which appeared on Petty’s album Pack Up The Plantation: Live!

Stevie Nicks – Rooms On Fire
from The Other Side Of The Mirror (1989)

Rock A Little, Nicks’ third solo effort, was the last studio album of hers which I owned (though I did snag a promo copy of her Enchanted box set from a label rep). I thought it really suffered from the slick, glossy production which was the norm in the mid-‘80s.

There would be a four-year gap until Nicks’ next solo release in 1989 with The Other Side Of The Mirror (apparently it was inspired by Alice In Wonderland) which gave Stevie her only UK hit of the ’80s with Rooms On Fire.