Ladies And Gentlemen, Boys And Girls…The Accordion

December 10, 2012

happywanderersWhile trekking about this morning, I had the Sirius tuned to the Bruce Springsteen station because, as you might be aware, there is no channel devoted to The Smiths.

As Be True blared from the speakers, The Big Man was – as the jazz cats might say – blowin’ notes and it occurred to me that the saxophone has all but vanished from rock and roll over the past several decades.

Then, it occurred to me that, though the saxophone might not be as prominent in rock music as it might have been in the ’50s and ’60s, at least the instrument does have a time-honored place within the genre.

Then, there is the accordion.

I learned a lot of things from the movie Ishtar. It aired often on cable in the late ’80s and when it comes to trekking forty-five minutes through snow and a sub-zero wind chill to a ten o’clock class or watching Ishtar on cable…at home…where it’s warm…Ishtar it is.

Aside from learning that it is unwise to buy a blind camel, a lyric from a song in the movie has stuck with me…

Telling the truth can be dangerous business
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand
If you admit that you play the accordion
No one will hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

As a child of the ’70s/’80s, I also am well aware that, growing up, Dennis DeYoung played the accordion. I’m not disinclined toward the former leader of Styx, but cool does not come to mind when I hear his name.

There is “Weird Al” Yankovic, who first came to me and my friends attention in junior high school when My Bologna got a lot of airplay, but, after immediately thinking of Springsteen’s 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), I struggled to think of other rock songs that made use of accordion.

A bit of quick research and I suddenly had a lengthier list of stuff that I owned with accordion. Here are four of them…

Billy Joel – The Downeaster ‘Alexa’
from Storm Front (1989)

I was in Thailand when Storm Front was released in late 1989, but when I returned to the States at Thanksgiving my dad mistook R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It for Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire, already the album’s mammoth initial hit.

I’ve always dug The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ on which Joel sings about the plight of Long Island fisherman with the driving music capturing the nautical vibe. In addition to accordion, there’s some cool violin credited in the liner notes to “World Famous Incognito Violinist.”

(rumored to have been Itzhak Perlman)

k.d. lang – Constant Craving
from Ingénue (1992)

As I was working in record stores, I knew the name k.d. lang as her early records arrived in the latter half of the ’80s. But, she was filed under country, so I couldn’t have been less interested at the time.

By the early ’90s, I was working in a much, much larger record store and I was invited to see lang shortly after Ingénue was released. So, the first time I ever heard lang’s music was live and I was blown away. She remains one of the more captivating live acts that I have ever seen.

Ingénue went on to be the singer’s commercial breakthrough and leading the way was Constant Craving with its mesmerizing melody – “borrowed” several years later by the Rolling Stones on Anybody Seen My Baby? – and lang’s yearning vocals.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
from Peepshow (1988)

I wasn’t a fan of everything by Siouxsie & The Banshees, but there was stuff that I thought was brilliant and quite inventive. They’re undeniably one of the iconic acts of modern rock.

Peepshow, on which Peek-A-Boo first appeared, got a lot of play in the record store where I worked in college. Peek-A-Boo was genius – a bizarrely hypnotic pop song comprised of samples, backwards masking, accordion, discordant guitar, and Siouxsie Sioux’ haunting vocals.

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining (1983)

Good for The The’s Matt Johnson getting a boost to his bank account from This Is The Day being used in commercials for M&Ms. Critics’ favorite Johnson was largely ignored in the States, though I’d occasionally hear The The on 97X at the time.

The The mostly reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved them – or him as The The was essentially Johnson – in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.

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Nothing Like The Threat Of Armageddon To Stoke An Appetite

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, like the once annual airing of The Wizard Of Oz used to be, is an event.

Yeah, some people make it out to be dysfunction junction (and for them, maybe it is), but getting to watch football all day on a day which usually would be spent slogging through work is a brilliant concept.

And, of course, it is a chance to feast.

It’s like being king for a day.

Bring me gravy! I shall gnaw on this turkey leg in a slovenly fashion as these superhumans on the television perform amazing feats for my amusement!

OK. It’s not necessarily that dramatic and, as the Lions always play on Thanksgiving Day, the feats are not always amazing in a good way.

(though I cannot imagine how empty a Thanksgiving without the Lions playing the early game would be – it would be like a Halloween without a visit from The Great Pumpkin)

One Thanksgiving was spent living in London, eating some take-out pizza in an ice-cold flat.

And, in a cruel twist, my favorite team was making a rare Thanksgiving Day appearance. They would lose, in overtime after a bizarre coin toss snafu to begin the extra period.

It was a game that would have been maddening to have watched and it was maddening to miss.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been brilliant every year, but that year – no food, no football, no heat – is really the lone one I recall as being truly miserable.

As a kid, our parents dragged us off to mass. I mean, you have the day off school and can sleep in and lounge on the couch; the last thing you want to be doing at an early hour is trudging off to church.

When I was fifteen, the priest decided to use his sermon to rattle off a laundry list of accidental nuclear exchanges between the US and USSR that had been narrowly avoided.

(this was 1983 and two months earlier there had been all of the hullaballoo surrounding the television movie The Day After)

I kept having images of an extra crispy bird and excessively dry stuffing.

It was a bit of a bummer.

It was also a year when my team had a Thanksgiving game and Detroit bottled them 45-3.

But, global tensions and football smackdowns aside, I have no doubt that the food was good.

That autumn, I was still listening to a lot of Top 40 stations, but Q95, an album rock station out of Indianapolis, had caught my attention as well and 97X was exposing me on a semi-regular basis to modern rock for the first time. Some of the songs on the radio that Thanksgiving…

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining (1983)

Yes, it’s the M&M song and I say good for The The’s Matt Johnson for banking some nice coin after being essentially ignored in the States (I think that the project had a bit of success across the pond).

As for the song, it reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved The The in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.

Men At Work – Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive
from Cargo (1983)

By the end of 1983, Men At Work, who had burst onto the scene a year earlier, was over. It was amazing how massive they were and how quickly it ended, but their quirky music still sounds delightful twenty-five years later.

Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive was their third hit from Cargo, following Overkill and It’s A Mistake on the airwaves. I still think the former is their finest moment, but the latter did little for me.

I don’t actually recall hearing Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive on the radio much, but I always smiled at the line, “He loves the world except for all the people.”

(some days, I concur)

Michael Stanley Band – My Town
from You Can’t Fight Fashion (1983)

Cleveland’s Michael Stanley was a major act in the Midwest in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Living on the Indiana/Ohio border, their music found its way onto many of the stations to which I was listening.

There was a lot of economic malaise in the first few years of the ’80s, especially in the Rust Belt. The punchy, anthemic My Town was rock straight from the heartland and its sing-a-long chorus got it a lot of airplay, especially when stations began editing in a shout out to their respective city – Cincinnati! – into the song.

Rufus And Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody
from Stompin’ At The Savoy (1983)

I wasn’t much into R&B growing up. There was one station and, on occasion, I would end up there, but, unless the song crossed over to the pop stations, I wasn’t likely hearing it.

Ain’t Nobody crossed over big time and it hooked me the first time I heard it.


Bye Bye Music Television

February 11, 2010

From what I read, it’s now official – MTV is no longer Music Television.

It’s just MTV.

I missed out on the station’s infancy, but we were all aware of what it was. It might not have been available in our corner of the universe, but most of us had seen it on vacations and such and told spellbinding tales of what we had witnessed.

Those of us that did have cable had access to Night Flight on USA Network. The rest of us subsisted on the meager offerings of Friday Night Videos for the wonder of music videos.

Our cable providers didn’t offer MTV until 1984. The homes of our friends with cable was where we’d gather, often for hours, sprawled about some family’s den. I didn’t have the chance to truly maximize the amount of time I could waste with the channel until college a couple years later.

(and I did waste plenty of time staring vacuously at videos and MTV – with ESPN – was essential to a day of skipping classes and lounging on the couch when there was weather like we’ve had this winter)

By the time I was knocking out the last dozen credits I needed to graduate, we were already lamenting the sorry state to which MTV had been reduced. Our chief gripe was that the playlist was shrinking fast. Videos still made up most of the programming, but the latest clip by Janet Jackson or Bon Jovi popped up constantly and the more fringe acts in which my friends and I were interested were relegated to the middle of the night.

(we were often up, but we weren’t always home)

Of course, we were getting a glimpse of the future with some of the channel’s first attempts at original programming. Remote Control, the Jeopardy-like game show was on, which I dug – there was a great category called Dead Or Canadian.

And there was that dance show with Downtown Julie Brown.

(I thought Julie was fetching, but I had no interest in dancing)

There was 120 Minutes which was the place to catch videos by the college rock acts I was listening to at the time. But, though I discovered some new artists on the show, I was discovering new music elsewhere and working in a record store.

I didn’t need my MTV any longer and the channel was headed off the rails, condemning its soul to eternal damnation as it began to foist reality television upon an unsuspecting world.

It was fun for the brief time it lasted.

The 120 Minutes Archive catalogs the playlists for 120 Minutes through its years on MTV. I don’t necessarily recall a lot of the videos for the the episodes I might have seen twenty winters ago, but I do know a lot of the songs…

New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle
from The Best Of New Order

New Order brings back fond memories of those years in college when it seemed as if every cover band in every club had at least a few songs by the group in their repertoire.

Kate Bush – Love And Anger
from The Sensual World

Having discovered Kate with 1985’s Hounds Of Love, I was eagerly awaiting the follow-up. I had to wait four years, but when The Sensual World finally was released, it spent months in my own personal heavy rotation.

(and you might recognize David Gilmour on Love And Anger)

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining

Yes, it’s the M&M song and I say good for The The’s Matt Johnson for banking some nice coin after being essentially ignored in the States (I think that the project had a bit of success across the pond).

As for the song, it reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved The The in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now
from The Best Of The Smiths, Vol. 1

The Smiths – there might be no issue more decisive between Paloma and me than The Smiths.

I’ve always enjoyed The Smiths. If you went to college between ’85 and ’89, you were legally mandated to be batty for The Smiths or risk being ostacized by certain segments of the pack.

I do dig a lot of their stuff. It’s wonderfully twisted and the music is candy-coated, but Moz’ drama wears on me in large doses.

Our difference in this matter escalated to something historical the day she declared The Smiths to be a better band than Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band.