I Could Grow A Moustache, I Could Be A Champion*

June 5, 2011

I’m ever vigilant for opportunities to add to my list of accomplishments. You know, new feathers for my cap and such.

Opportunity presented itself the other day as I read of some kid who, mere days ago, was declared a winner at the World Beard & Moustache Championships.

This seemed to be the kind of thing that is the calling of a select few – like climbing Everest or finding the image of Jesus in a grease spot on a pizza box.

And, best of all, unlike those feats, growing facial hair requires absolutely no effort, focus, or even consciousness from me. Even ordering a pizza demands some expenditure of energy.

However, in the time it takes to order, receive, and eat a pizza, my moustache would grow…well, it would be an imperceptible amount, but it’s still doing its thing at, I’ve read, the rate of one half inch a month.

There are numerous, intriguing categories in which to compete. In the partial beard division alone there is the Musketeer, Imperial, and the Alaskan Whaler.

These championships are held every two years so I have time to become a follicular force.

(Paloma has promised her full support)

For the moment, I’m leaning toward the Fu Manchu. Some fellow named Ted Sedman took the title at the 2007 championships in Brighton, England and I have already penciled him in as my latest arch-nemesis.

I figure that the Fu Manchu balances a sinister, malevolent vibe with a quiet, sinister dignity. I can imagine responding to the knock of the pizza delivery guy, throwing open the door, muttering something in an unintelligible growl, and pausing for a split second to offer a threatening scowl.

He would certainly flee in terror, unconcerned with payment, leaving me and my Fu Manchu to enjoy our free pie.

In the meantime, here are four songs from acts that come to mind when I consider who might be formidable bearded and/or mustachioed competition…

Bee Gees – You Should Be Dancin’
from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

I was nine when Saturday Night Fever ruled the world. At the time, I couldn’t have cared less and was indifferent when I received the double album as a gift. I imagine that soundtrack was probably the default gift for a lot of folks that Christmas.

As for the movie – I didn’t see it until twenty years later. It was on late night television one night in a hotel in Stratford-On-Avon. I was trekking through the UK with two friends and had just returned to the room. I decided it was a good time to check it off the list.

I also knew that the aunt of another friend had worked on the lighting and appeared in the nightclub scenes. I immediately recognized her the moment she appeared on screen (though I’d never met her).

She resembled an older version of my friend in drag.

(and, as either gender, this friend wasn’t as dashing or as bearded as Barry Gibb)

The Call – Let The Day Begin
from Let The Day Begin

I can’t picture The Call’s late lead singer Michael Been and not think of him as the apostle John in the movie version of The Last Temptation Of Christ. Of course, I remember him as bearded in all of the pictures of the band, too, so he might be a strong posthumous contender.

As for the underrated The Call, the band had a strong following on college rock when I was smack dab in that format’s demographic. Let The Day Begin was probably their best-known song and the rousing anthem featured actor Harry Dean Stanton (who also appeared in The Last Temptation Of Christ) playing harmonica.

George Michael – Cowboys And Angels
from Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1

I’m not sure if there’s a stubble division among the beard and moustache aficionados, but the most famous facial scruff of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s had to have belonged to George Michael (toppling Miami Vice’s Don Johnson from his pedestal).

The dreamy Cowboys And Angels appeared on Listen Without Prejudice, Michael’s follow-up to the mammothly successful Faith. Faith wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I thought that the more introspective and downbeat Listen Without Prejudice was glorious and near perfect.

Kenny Loggins – This Is It
from Keep The Fire

I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of Kenny Loggins, but This Is It served as the theme of the NCAA basketball championship at a time when the tournament was beginning to really capture the public’s imagination, so, that is certainly noteworthy.

Also, the bearded Loggins was accompanied on the song by Michael McDonald on background vocals, making This Is It a two-for-one in the musicians’ pantheon of facial hair.

*originally posted on May 24, 2009

The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2010

December 30, 2010

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Two years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2010 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986
The Blizzard Of ’78

“Wikipedia is one site that, if I’m not careful, can suck me in for lengthy periods…”

9. The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s
Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

“The first time I visited the UK, it was with a friend, TJ, and another friend of his, Donna, whom I didn’t know. It was a memorable two and a half weeks in a rented Daewoo…”

8. The Call – I Still Believe (Great Design)
from Reconciled
Once The Future Of American Music…

“In late ’83. MTV wouldn’t be available to us for another six months or so, but we did have Night Flight on USA Network, which aired music videos on late Friday and Saturday nights and into the next morning…”

7. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Change Of Heart
from Long After Dark
The Colonel

“Growing up in a basketball-mad state and half an hour away from the school that inspired the movie Hoosiers, this time of year meant the culmination of the hoops season with the state-wide tournament…”

6. Jason & The Scorchers – Take Me Home, Country Roads
from A Blazing Grace
Cover Me

“These are the times that try men’s souls and cause them to sweat in places I wouldn’t have thought possible…”

5. The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night
Little. Yellow. Different.

“Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air…”

4. Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack
“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks…”

3. Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

“Even before I really cared much about music, I knew the name Peaches. I’d seen it on the t-shirts of the cool high school kids in my hometown…”

2. Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat
Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

“Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful….”

1. Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw
Bye Bye, 97X?

“I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83…”

Once The Future Of American Music…

August 21, 2010

In late ’83. MTV wouldn’t be available to us for another six months or so, but we did have Night Flight on USA Network, which aired music videos on late Friday and Saturday nights and into the next morning.

Actually, our family didn’t have cable, but my buddy Beej had Night Flight and I had Beej’s second-hand accounts of the bands he had seen and heard, bands which usually didn’t get played on radio.

(at least not on the radio available to us)

One which I remember him mentioning was a video for a song called The Walls Came Down by a band named The Call.

I don’t think I would actually hear the song for several more years.

But I knew the name and I would hear plenty of The Call three years later when the quartet released Reconciled in early 1986. The rock stations to which I was listening gave a lot of airplay to that album’s I Still Believe (Great Design) and Everywhere I Go.

The Call seemed to be on the verge of stardom. Their sound was widescreen and the themes were big. The Call’s lyrics had definite spiritual and political overtones delivered with a bit of fire and brimstone courtesy of lead singer Michael Been’s husky vocals.

More than a few folks connected the dots across the Atlantic to Ireland and U2 who were a year away from their breakthrough with The Joshua Tree.

Peter Gabriel had supposedly referred to The Call as “the future of American music” in the early ’80s when he chose them to open for him.

It didn’t quite happen.

During the autumn of my freshman year of college, The Call released Into The Woods, a challenging record that wasn’t as immediate to me as Reconciled had been.

The only time I heard a song from Into The Woods on the radio was when a DJ friend of mine aired the odd track – usually the moody, gospel-tinged In The River – on his weekly campus radio show.

The Call almost broke in 1989 when the anthemic title track from Let The Day Begin almost reached the Top 40 in the States, but a year later the band would go on a decade-plus hiatus following the release of Red Moon.

I owned everything from Reconciled to Red Moon and thought that The Call should have had more widespread success.

It didn’t seem as though I was alone.

The Band’s Garth Hudson played keyboards on the group’s first three albums and his former bandmate Robbie Robertson guested on guitar on another.

Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr, Bono, T-Bone Burnett, and even actor/musician Harry Dean Stanton appeared on records by The Call.

I haven’t listened to some of those songs in twenty years, but reading of Michael Been’s sudden death in the news Friday morning prompted me to revisit most of them.

Touted by many as one of the more underrated bands of their era, The Call certainly deserved a wider audience. Here are a quintet of songs from The Call…

The Call – The Walls Came Down
from Modern Romans

The song that first garnered The Call widespread attention and a minor hit single thanks to a video that popped up on various outlets, the punchy The Walls Came Down alluded to the biblical as well as then-current events. It was a fusion of images and ideas that would be a trademark of the band.

Thirty years later, only the names have changed.

The Call – I Still Believe (Great Design)
from Reconciled

Anyone who was going to the movies in the late ’80s likely is familiar with I Still Believe through its use in the movie The Lost Boys. In the movie (and accompanying soundtrack), the song is performed by the muscled, shirtless saxophonist Tim Capello, who was – at that time – a member of Tina Turner’s band.

For The Call, the resilient song with its determined, chugging melody got a lot of radio play for the band.

The Call – The Morning
from Reconciled

Reconciled was not only The Call’s most commercially successful release, it also might have been the group’s finest moment musically. Maybe it’s the knowledge that Been and drummer Scott Musick were from Oklahoma, but I always pictured the band playing in a raw, windswept, Dust Bowl setting with everything in sepia tones (particularly on Reconciled).

Leading off Reconciled was the thumping The Morning which recalls Simple Minds’ Waterfront whose lead singer Jim Kerr provided backing vocals – along with Peter Gabriel – on the album’s Everywhere I Go. On The Morning, Robbie Robertson provided guitar.

The Call – Let The Day Begin
from Let The Day Begin

More than a few politicians – most notably Al Gore in his 2000 presidential bid – have appropriated the dramatic Let The Day Begin as a campaign theme. It’s understandable as the dynamic track is an infectious and rousing call to action.

The song was a rock radio staple during the summer of 1989, but it might have been a missed opportunity. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I was told that the song’s success took their record label by surprise and – as the song was clicking with listeners – there wasn’t enough product in stores to meet demand which stalled momentum.

The Call – What’s Happened To You?
from Red Moon

The ’90s began with U2 as one of the biggest bands in the world and The Call, who had drawn comparisons to the Irish band, confined to a cult following. The two acts intersected when Bono guested on vocals for What’s Happened To You?

Though less raucous and more rustic than previous albums, Red Moon was no less impassioned. The self-assured What’s Happened To You? bristles with a joyous sense of self-discovery and personal growth.

Red Moon would serve as a close on The Call who wouldn’t record together for another decade and, then, only issue one more album of new material. Michael Been – who had portrayed the apostle John in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ – would do a bit more acting and pursue a solo career that found no more success than The Call had.

Nonetheless, the group left behind a rich catalog that, unfortunately, many listeners will only be discovering in the wake of Been’s death.