From The Backseat Of A Turquoise Gremlin

May 21, 2011

Paloma was sweet enough to set me up with a Sirius satellite radio for Christmas to help tamp down the existential angst of the commute for me.

It is the ’70s channel, conveniently nestled between its ’60s and ’80s counterparts, to which I often gravitate. Though I am decidedly a child of the ’80s, enough of that childhood took place in the ’70s that the decade of shag carpet and disco is hardly terra incognita.

I was two as the decade began and twelve as it concluded. Music was just beginning to be of interest to me in the period after disco had crashed and burned. It wouldn’t be until the first couple years of the next decade – the ’80s – that my interest in music became more than passive.

Yet there’s something about the music of the ’70s that makes for a good commute.

The Sirius ’70s channel plays, so far as I can tell, songs that made the US Top 40 in Billboard during the decade. So, here and there are songs that I don’t recognize when the title pops up on the dashboard screen.

Often, the mystery song will click when it hits the chorus and I will think, oh, yeah, I know this.

(White Plains’ My Baby Loves Lovin’ )

Now and then, there will be a song that, though it was a hit and I might have head it at the time, I don’t recall ever hearing.

(Vanity Fair’s Hitchin’ A Ride)

So, most of the playlist is familiar, but there are surprises. It’s that mix – I think – that has drawn me to the station.

And, unlike the stuff that I grew up with in the ’80s when I was listening to the radio obsessively, even many of the big hits of the decade that get played on Sirius’ ’70s channel are songs I’ve probably heard less than some of the minor hits of the ’80s.

Freda Payne’s Band Of Gold might have been a #4 hit in 1970, but I suspect that I heard something like Planet P Project’s Why Me? considerably more during the summer of 1983 despite that song not even making the Top 40.

Even now, I doubt that I’ve heard Band Of Gold as many times as Why Me?, which was constantly on the radio as I was listening thirty years ago. I have no recollection of hearing the former in 1970.

And though the ’70s – like the ’80s – have certainly been unfairly maligned, hearing Hot Chocolate’s Every 1s A Winner, 10cc’s The Things We Do For Love, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, and The Knack’s Good Girls Don’t (as I did on the commute one morning this past week) works well enough for me.

Inspired by whiteray over at Echoes In The Wind, I thought I’d peruse one of the Billboard Hot 100 charts from the earliest parts of my childhood and see if there was much I actually remember hearing at the time.

So, here are four songs that were on Billboard‘s chart
during this week in 1971
when I was three and whatever music I was hearing was likely from the backseat of the family’s Gremlin…

The Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays
from Gold

One of my earliest memories of music is The Carpenters and I can effortlessly picture sitting in the back seat of the Gremlin and there always being something on the radio from the duo. Maybe it’s because the song was a Springtime hit or maybe I’m channeling the lyric and vibe of the song, but it does make me think of overcast skies.

Paloma actually bumped into songwriter Paul Williams who co-wrote the song not long ago. Apparently, he is not tall.

Carole King – It’s Too Late
from Tapestry

Not surprisingly, the songs that I do remember hearing from forty years ago are by some of the most popular acts of the time and Tapestry would, for a time, hold the distinction of being the biggest-selling album of all time.

(not that Carole King’s place in pop music history would be any less secure had she never released anything as an artist)

The Raiders – Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian)
from Have A Nice Decade

About all I knew about Native Americans in 1971 would have been from whatever Westerns I had seen and the anti-littering PSA featuring Iron Eyes Cody that debuted that Spring.

Though the message behind The Raiders’ smash Indian Reservation was likely lost on me then, I vividly recall loving the groove of the song at the time.

T. Rex – Hot Love
from The Legend Of T. Rex

Despite tooling around in a stylish turquoise Gremlin, the parentals were quite pedestrian and, based on the music that I remember hearing, the radio must have been tuned to light rock stations. So, no, I can’t imagine hearing Hot Love in 1971.

And I would wager a lot of folks listening to the radio at the time missed out on hearing Hot Love, too, as T. Rex’ massive success in their UK homeland was largely ignored here in the States.

(maybe everyone’s parents were tooling around in turquoise Gremlins and listening to light rock in ’71)

But, the song gets included here as it’s just so damned catchy and hearing it instantly and without fail improves my mood.

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Aliens, Monks And The Kumbaya Moment

October 6, 2010

I stumbled down a rabbit hole in cyberspace the other day. One moment I was reading the comments on an article posted on Newsweek‘s site; the next I was searching for information on one of the commentator’s claims.

The comment referenced speculation about what would happen in 2012.

According to a piece in the India Daily from six years ago, Tibetan monks expect aliens to arrive in 2012 , clink the heads of the humans together like Moe did the other Stooges and get us to quit engaging in jackassery.

There are also folks that believe aliens have bases in the Himilayas.

It’s entirely possible I suppose.

It seems that every religion on the planet has followers that are militantly enthusiastic, but, if there are militant Buddhists, I haven’t heard about them.

Traveling in Thailand, I often saw Buddhist monks, clad in their bright orange robes. It was not uncommon to come across one of them sitting in prayer or meditation in the middle of the sidewalk as the flow of pedestrians gave a respectful berth.

After travelling however many thousands of light years to some strange world, who wouldn’t opt to attempt communication with the beings that seem to be calm, cool, and collected?

(as opposed to the ones behaving like poop-flinging monkeys)

It makes total sense that Buddhist monks would be sought out by the aliens.

As someone that is still transfixed when I happen upon Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, I hope that this forthcoming alien experience resembles the one in that movie.

The visitors arrive with a lightshow that dazzles the humans with the ultimate – and peaceful – display of shock and awe.

Then, Buddhist monks make the introductions.

The bobble-headed, child-like aliens are a global sensation.

Children love them.

Adults are charmed by them.

Madonna makes an embarassing attempt to adopt one.

The world’s leaders are called to the mothership for a trip to the galactic principal’s office and everyone on planet Earth gets a whole lot more humble.

(given the situation in Tibet, I’d think the Chinese would feel rather awkward)

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Yeah. It all makes sense.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind arrived in theaters in mid-November, 1977. Thirty-three years ago, I was nine-years old and eagerly anticipating the film’s release. I had minimal interest in music, but here is a quartet of songs that were on Billboard‘s charts during this week in 1977…

Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

ELO is one of those bands that is always welcome to shuffle up on the iPod. I can’t say that I’m familiar with much beyond their hits (though there were plenty of those for the band in the ’70s).

I know that the group gets slagged some for being some pale imitation of The Beatles, but, if you’re going to imitate an act, you could do far worse, yes? And Telephone Line is simply gorgeous and angelic.

The Carpenters – Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft
from Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition

I’ve loved The Carpenters since hearing them on the radio during their ridiculous string of hits in the early ’70s. The radio wasn’t on too often in our household, but it was usually on in the car and, if it was on, there was rarely a long wait to hear something from the duo.

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft is a cover of a song by Klaatu (who, like ELO, had their own connection to The Beatles).

This song has really grown on me over the years. I don’t really recall hearing it back in the day, but it has a wonderfully spacey vibe, an odd, yet endearingly jaunty midsection and, as always, Karen’s voice makes it worth the price of admission.

(and, it happens to suit the subject at hand well)

Styx – Come Sail Away
from The Grand Illusion

I’ve noted that Styx – on their infamous Kilroy Was Here tour – was my first concert.

But years before, my buddy Beej’s older brother had The Grand Illusion on eight-track and I was fascinated by the cover. We’d hang out in Beej’s basement and blast the album until parental supervision intervened.

(and, like The Carpenters’ song, this one also fits this post’s themes)

Foreigner – Cold As Ice
from Foreigner

Foreigner’s debut album also has a link to an older brother. Lynn, lived in our neighborhood with Evan, who was roughly the same age as me and my other friends. Sometimes we’d shoot hoops at their house.

As I think back to then, Lynn kind of resembled a young Axl Rose and, pondering him from thirty-years of experience, was undoubtedly a stoner. He drove a black Trans-Am and he’d tear through the neighborhood, Foreigner blaring from the eight-track player in the car.

(would a stoner have listened to Foreigner in 1977?)

Though the group received little love from critics, Foreigner put out some great songs, peaking with the mega-selling Foreigner 4 in ’81. The dramatic Cold As Ice has all of the things – a nifty balance between guitar and keyboards, soaring vocals, and immediately memorable choruses – that made Foreigner a high school staple.


Noah, Noah, Everywhere…

May 4, 2010

Several co-workers got all excitible early last week over news reports that Noah’s Ark had been discovered.

It immediately took me back to being a kid and the spate of documentury films in the mid-’70s on the search for sasquatch, UFOs, and Noah’s Ark which were regular viewing fare on Saturday afternoon matinees at our hometown theater.

During the hulabaloo of the pious over this latest “discovery” of the bibilical mariner’s vessel, I heard one of them ask loudly to no one in particular about the a link from the “news” site to the original story.

“What’s sun dot co dot uk?”

Maybe there is an antediluvian cruise ship permanantly in port somewhere on Mount Ararat, but I think I’ll wait for a source other than the UK’s The Sun.

There’s no shortage of folks ’round here waiting for Jesus to bring the porkchops and I quickly forgot about this interest in the flood.

Then, a few days later, I came home from work to find Paloma watching Evan Almighty, a film starring The Office‘s Steve Carell as a modern-day Noah.

Still, I thought little of it as I ventured into the rain early Saturday morning to have some regular maintenance done on the car. I muttered to myself on the drive about the dismal performance of the windshield wipers, making a note to have them replaced.

“You’re going to love these,” Thomas, my mechanic, told me enthusiastically as he brandished a wiper blade. “These are like going from dial-up to a DSL.”

(Thomas is well aware that any automotive suggestions he makes to me are best expressed in non-automotive terms)

As I drove home, the storm increased in intensity, making for a good test of the new wiper blades and their performance was as good as advertised. I returned home, thinking that I would wait ’til later to do a few other chores.

I stretched out on the couch to the soothing sound of steady rain drumming on the eave outside the window.

Thirty-some hours and fifteen inches later, the rain finally stopped drumming on the eave outside the window.

It was a lot of rain but maybe I should have seen it coming.

There is no shortage of rain songs. Here are four that I felt like hearing today…

The Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays
from Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition

One of my earliest memories of music is The Carpenters and I can effortlessly picture sitting in the back seat of our Gremlin and there always being something on the radio from the duo. At five, that suited me just fine and it still does.

Albert Hammond – It Never Rains In Southern California

Right in the same time period during which The Carpenters were dominating the pop charts, Albert Hammond was also all over the radio with It Never Rains In Southern California and the five-year old me absolutely loved the song.

The 45 for the song was one of the first few singles I ever owned and, as I didn’t really develop an interest in music for another six or seven years, that was high praise indeed.

I Mother Earth – Rain Will Fall
from Dig

I Mother Earth’s debut Dig was recently featured over at the very cool Forgotten Disc Friday. I serendipitously discovered the band before Dig was released.

Out of college, I worked a couple of internships for record labels, including one in radio promotion. One afternoon, on my way out, my boss gave me a cassette and instructed me to critique it that evening. When I popped it into the player, I was blown away. It was demo recordings of I Mother Earth.

Combining the blistering, tribal rock leanings of Jane’s Addiction, the otherworldly poetry of The Doors, and percussive elements reminiscent of Santana (they actually toured with an ex-member performing percussion), I Mother Earth should have been huge. Our label lost them in a bidding war to Capitol Records who torpedoed their career by marketing them as a metal act. Well done, Capitol. Well done.

Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains
from Garbage

I loved the first few Garbage albums. I’d adored Blondie in my teens and, a decade later, Garbage filled a void that had been left when Blondie split up. Butch Vig parlayed a hot hand as a producer into one of the finest alternative rock acts of the ’90s.

I kind of lost track of Garbage and have only heard tracks here and there over the past decade. The songs I have heard were pleasant enough but didn’t lead me to believe that I missed too much.

And, as it was posted a couple years ago, you might have missed the near-miscommunication between lead singer Shirley Manson and me.