Time To Bust A Yule

December 15, 2012

ornamentAs a kid, Christmas was the one time of year that music was played in our house more than any other.

Our mom would throw on seasonal music from the ’50s and ’60s and Johnny Mathis or Andy Williams would croon from the stereo console in the living room.

The song that keeps coming to mind the past few days is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. The version that I keep hearing contains an opening verse about palm trees and Beverly Hills that is omitted in most including Bing Crosby’s iconic take on the song.

We might not be in Southern California and the nearest palm trees are hundreds of miles away, but the sentiment of meteorological dissonance resonates.

Outside, it’s a gray, rainy Saturday morning that has a feel more befitting Halloween than Christmas and the temperatures today are expected to climb into the low ’60s, unseasonably warm as it has been this season.

The one recording of White Christmas that fits the time frame and my memory of it being a female singer would seem to be one by Darlene Love from the mid-’60s, but the singer I hear in my head doesn’t have the soul that I’d expect from Ms. Love.

But it is a mere week and a half until Christmas and Paloma has ensured that – though the weather outside might not suit the season – there’s no doubt what time of year it is.

For the first time since we’ve been together, we’ve put up a tree that has not been – as anticipated – a source of interest to the three felines and Paloma has garnished it in Christmas card-worthy fashion from the astounding inventory of ornaments that she has collected over the years.

There are also other traditional accoutrements – wreaths, garlands and such – as well as the smell of baking from the kitchen.

So, here are four holiday songs…

David Bowie and Bing Crosby – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy
from The Singles Collection (1993)

Working in record stores in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was a given that the holiday season would bring confused shoppers who didn’t set foot in record stores the rest of the year.

It was also a given that you would have to repeatedly explain that Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, the unexpected Christmas duet by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, was unavailable.

Recorded during the summer of 1977 for a Crosby television special scheduled for that November, the duet was released in the US as a single in 1982 and, then, quickly went out of print. The situation was finally rectified a decade later with the song’s inclusion as a bonus disc on Bowie’s two-CD The Singles Collection.

The Pretenders – 2000 Miles
from Learning to Crawl (1984)

Following the deaths of original members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon in 1982, Chrissie Hynde put The Pretenders on ice for a time. With new members Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster in place, the wistful 2000 Miles became the reconstituted band’s first release in late 1983.

Though apparently about guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the seasonal references and the song’s sense of longing led to 2000 Miles becoming a modern Christmas staple.

Billy Squier – Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You
from A Rock And Roll Christmas (1994)

In the Midwest in the ’80s, Billy Squier was a rock god. The rock stations to which I was listening played not only the hits like The Stroke, Everybody Wants You, and In The Dark, but practically every track from the albums Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion.

So, the rollicking Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You was in heavy rotation each December.

Bryan Adams – Christmas Time (1985)

Like Billy Squier, Bryan Adams was a fixture on radio stations in our part of the Midwest from his debut. By 1985, the Canadian had firmly established himself as a superstar and he was still notching hits from his album Reckless, which had been released a year earlier.

So, it was hardly surprising that when he released the holiday-themed Christmas Time that year, it garnered considerable radio airplay. Like the string of hits he had had at the time, the song isn’t rocket science and Adams hardly reinvents fire, but the sentiment is true and it’s an engaging track.

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Hanging Out At The Zap

June 27, 2012

It was hardly the most clever of names, but, it was so generic that it now strikes me as endearing.

The Zap.

It could have been an arcade in any small, Midwestern town in of the early ’80, but it was all ours.

Our town wasn’t unlike the one in the movie Footloose, though we did have a bowling alley, a public pool, and a ratio of bars to citizens that I have only observed in the UK.

(any (all) of those establishments might have been verboten in Footlooseville)

And we had The Zap.

For the couple of years that it existed, The Zap was the hub of my friends and my world. It was the dingy command center for our plots, plans, and schemes.

Housed in a minimally remodeled building that had previously been home to a beauty salon on one side, an auto repair garage on the other, The Zap was a less glamourous version of the game room in Dazed And Confused on a smaller scale.

The Zap had refrigerated air and concrete floors, making it one of the few places we kids could escape the heat and humidity of summer.

(though the place was frigid in the winter)

It had video games and pinball machines.

It was about the greatest place on earth.

(provided we define earth as the six square miles that was our hometown)

And The Zap had a jukebox.

That jukebox provided some of the earliest financial dilemmas we faced as kids – burn through your limited funds playing Defender or Robotron or playing a few more songs on the jukebox.

I usually opted for more music.

As the summer began in 1984, my friends and I had our driver’s license. The sole objective most days was, somehow, to procure a vehicle and head for Cincinnati.

(and, often, such plots were hatched at The Zap)

But once you’d roamed the malls of the dirty city – been to arcades that would fill a barn – a dozen games, a few pinball machines, and a pair of pool tables is not impressive.

It was sometime toward the end of that same summer that The Zap closed.

And as we left The Zap in our dust and escaped to civilization, we often had the radio tuned to 96Rock, a station that, despite its shortcomings, was the one that meshed most with our various interests.

Here are four fairly random songs that we would have likely heard on one of those summer road trips in the year of Orwell…

Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
from Through the Fire (1984)

HSAS brought together Sammy Hagar, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve who had been in Santana with Schon. There were a few songs from the short-lived union’s lone album that I heard on radio at the time.

Their version of the iconic A Whiter Shade Of Pale got played quite a bit and I suspect I hadn’t heard the original.

(and, if I had, I doubt I could have told you it was Procol Harum)

The Pretenders – My City Was Gone
from Learning To Crawl (1984)

I got really burned out on My City Was Gone in 1984. Most of the radio stations which we listened to were located across the state in Ohio, so the song – about Chrissie Hynde’s home state – got played on all of the rock stations.

By summer, six months after the wonderful Learning To Crawl was released and radio stations had stopped playing Middle Of The Road, Show Me, and Back On The Chain Gang, My City Was Gone was still being played as if it had just come out.

(I much like the song again twenty-eight years later when it pops up)

Box Of Frogs – Back Where I Started
from Box Of Frogs (1984)

I loved the name of Box Of Frogs, but I was mostly indifferent to Back Where I Started. Like Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve, Box Of Frogs had a brief existence, reuniting three founding members of The Yardbirds.

Fellow Yardbird Jeff Beck guested on several tracks including the shuffling Back Where I Started which I really dig now.

Iron Maiden – 2 Minutes To Midnight
from Powerslave (1984)

Though no metalhead, when 2 Minutes To Midnight arrived, I was well acquainted with Iron Maiden through my buddy Beej’s brother, who was obsessed with the band, and another buddy who, if we had snagged his dad’s car, would pop in a cassette with The Number Of The Beast on one side and Men Without Hats’ debut on the other.

The scorching 2 Minutes To Midnight got played a lot – 96Rock had an odd mix that ranged from Motley Crue and Ozzy to The Fixx and Missing Persons – and it was one of the few songs by Iron Maiden that I ever heard on the radio.


The Voodoo Economics Of Morgan Freeman And A Bunch Of Fish

March 11, 2012

My concerns are more than some sensationalistic ballyhoo.

They are more than some flimsy, baseless caterwauling from someone possessed by the spirit of a carnival barker, newsstand tabloid, or Republican pundit.

No, I fear that, sadly, there is considerable truth behind it.

Like many people, I have been a fan of the award-winning thespian, but I now realize that I might have been lulled into a false sense of admiration.

I used to look at him as a kindly fellow – compassionate and wise. I mean, if he wasn’t offering rides to cantankerous, elderly women, you might find him engaging in the much-needed rehabilitation of falsely convicted criminals or lending logistical support to masked vigilantes wishing to rid our cities of such criminals.

(of course, lily-livered, bleeding-heart types would rather that we not rid our streets of falsely convicted wife-killing bankers and, instead, target bankers who merely engage in casual games of multi-billion dollar three-card Monte)

The existential threat posed by Morgan Freeman to America’s economy didn’t really register until this morning when I saw a commercial for Visa before I’d ingested enough caffeine to think straight.

(oftentimes things only make sense when you don’t really think about them)

In this commercial, serene images of undersea flora and fauna fill the screen accompanied by the soothing strains of The Moody Blues’ Tuesday Afternoon.

Then, the earnest voice of “the only guilty man in Shawshank,” asked, in a somewhat accusatory tone, “When was the last time you went to the aquarium, with your daughter, on a Tuesday?”

Sure, an aquarium crawl sounds like a lovely way to spend the day after Monday. One of the finest aquariums in the country is a two-hour drive away and, though I have no daughter, the way some of my co-workers squeeze out offspring of both sexes as though it was a bodily function, I could likely borrow one…

But that is exactly what Morgan Freeman wants me to do. In other words, he is promoting not only truancy, but he is espousing a fiscal policy that encourages absenteeism from work.

This would all be well and good for aquarium barons, fishmongers, and oceanographers who would likely see profits that would make those of Exxon be mere pocket change, but at what cost?

The rest of the economy would fall into a death spiral. If people were relaxing at aquariums instead of engaging in the daily grind of commerce, consider the revenue lost simply by those treating bleeding ulcers, intense malaise, and depression.

And think of the children…

Instead of learning how to take tests at a level that places them smack dab at mediocre compared to the rest of the world, these kids might end up as ichthyologists or marine biologists.

Fortunately, today is Sunday and I suggest we all give Morgan Freeman (and his dubious, probably Socialist economic theories) the finger and head to the nearest aquarium today.

Here are four Sunday songs…

Blondie – Sunday Girl
from The Platinum Collection (1994)

From the beginning of my real interest in music in the late ’70s/early ’80s, Blondie has been a favorite. The fetching allure of lead singer Debbie Harry and the percolating Heart Of Glass provided the first hooks, but it was soon the musical diversity of the group that charmed me.

On Sunday Girl, which according to Wikipedia topped the charts in the UK where Blondie has received more consistent love over the decades, the chameleonic quintet recreates a ’60s girl group vibe that drew me in the first time I heard it.

Joe Jackson – Sunday Papers
from This Is It! (The A&M Years 1979–1989) (1997)

Speaking of musical chameleons, I’d certainly classify Joe Jackson as such. Though best known in the States for the sophisticated pop of the hits Steppin’ Out and Breaking Us In Two from his breakthrough album Night And Day, Jackson has jumped between styles including rock, big band, swing, and classical.

On Sunday Papers, Jackson opts for staccato, reggae-inflected tones as the musician takes to task both the media and those who drive the demand for meaningless fluff pawned off as newsworthy information.

John Prine – He Forgot That It Was Sunday
from Lost Dogs And Mixed Blessings (1995)

Not long ago, I recounted the good fortune of having had a preview listen of folk singer John Prine’s Lost Dogs And Mixed Blessings with a small group of people that included the artist.

The loping He Forgot That It Was Sunday would seem to be a cautionary tale punctauted by Prine’s offbeat take on things which includes a chartreuse, foor-door Lincoln, Charlie Parker’s teddy bear, and a masterbatory Beelzebub.

The Pretenders – Everday Is Like Sunday
from Boys On The Side soundtrack (1995)

Paloma and I tend to be fairly sympatico, but I have never been as enamored by The Smiths as she is.

(appreciative, yes, but far from devoted)

This difference of opinion was seemingly benign until the day she declared The Smiths to be a more formidable musical entity than Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

(I quickly branded this claim as kooky talk)

However, we both seem to like The Pretenders in equal measure, so here is Chrissie Hynde and company’s rather faithful take on a Smith’s classic from Boys On The Side, a flick that may or may not have been about cannibalistic lesbians.