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140: Cars

When I was in high school, there was a guy I knew named Phil. Phil and I shared an art class, a class I had to be talked into attending because I’d had a bad experience with an art class in the eighth grade. But I was told that the teacher was really good and kind of a cool guy, and sure enough he was.

Mr. L, our art teacher, let us bring in our own music to listen to while we worked. So one fine day in the spring of 1980, Phil brings in a bunch of 45 records, and one of them was this song.

“Cars” was the kind of tune that, at the time, was unlike anything I’d heard before, and I was both fascinated and hooked. The first opportunity I had, I went out and got my own copy of the record (I wasn’t very album-focused yet), and played that record hard.

Numan didn’t see a whole lot more action in the United States after that, probably because New Wave came along and nudged him out of the way, but I don’t think I’ll forget the impact of hearing that record for the first time, even on that crummy, bulky, big brown nearly-portable record player that so many schools used.

In retrospect, it occurred to me that you kind of have to see the original video–at least the first minute or so–to understand what they were doing with part of the Die Hard commercial, so here’s the original 1979 video:

And here’s the Die Hard commercial in full:

What song did you hear that just knocked you out on the first listen? Tell me in the comments!

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139: And When I Die

Laura Nigro was a sixteen-year-old musical prodigy who was trying on several last names, as creative types sometimes do. She happened to be “Nyro” when she finally started to catch on in the music industry, so Laura Nyro she became.

Nyro was never a huge star in her own right. But she left behind a musical legacy in a bunch of songs that became big hits for other artists. That’s a roster that would include Three Dog Night, the Fifth Dimension, Barbra Streisand and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Nyro wrote “And When I Die.” Peter, Paul & Mary made it kinda-sorta famous. But it was Blood, Sweat and Tears that really brought it to the fore. David Clayton Thomas’ voice, combined with Dick Halligan’s arrangements made for a relatively light-hearted romp through the graveyard. And while BST’s version is musically different from Nyro’s, they never lost sight of that gospel feel that it had, even as they gave it the cowboy instrumental section.

In doing the research for this show, I went down a little bit of a rabbit hole of listening to Laura Nyro’s music. I may have to do a whole bunch of shows dedicated to her sometime soon. Nyro is definitely an under-appreciated talent.

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138: Wish You Were Here

In a relatively short period of time, Pink Floyd went from a band with a fairly small but loyal fan base to an international phenomenon. And it was taking its toll on the members of the group. Even as they were putting together this, probably their most cohesive album, they were largely working in isolation. Only occasionally were all four members in the studio at the same time as they worked on it.

This sense of alienation from each other and their newfound audience, plus the cynicism of the record label executives they met up with after the success of Dark Side of the Moon, gave rise to Wish You Were Here. (The story goes that they did, indeed, have someone ask them “Which one’s Pink?”) In addition, the band was sorely missing founding member Syd Barrett, who’d left the group a few years earlier after having a breakdown. There were a few attempts to bring him back, but Barrett just wasn’t able to bring the spark he’d had previously.

Wish You Were Here the album explores all of these themes separately, but I’d argue that “Wish You Were Here” the song ties all of them into a neat little bow. From that point there are only about twelve minutes left to the album. That leaves twelve minutes of a coda bringing the whole thing to a tidy close.

So where have I been the last few weeks? I’ve been doing some pondering about re-working the show a little bit, and getting some new elements in. So you’ll hear some big differences in the beginning of the show (and a little bit at the end), and I’ll be trying out a couple of other things soon as well.

Here’s a for-instance: the show has new theme music! Thanks to the generosity of the show’s Patrons, I was able to commission some custom music for the show. I’ll always have a soft place in my heart for “Surfing Day” but I think this new track has a little bit of the same feel and I hope you like it as much as I do. (You can hear it unsullied by my voice on the Facebook page.)

For what it’s worth, the show has been away for a few weeks, but I haven’t. I’ve been communicating with the Patreon crowd every Sunday morning via the newsletter. If you’d like to see what that’s about, click here to become a Patron of the Show. You won’t be able to see the recent newsletters, but you can see the ones from this past fall.

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A New Means of Support

Someone asked me recently about how to support the show financially if Patreon isn’t really your speed. I get that; we’ve got all got enough things to keep track of, and there may be other reasons not to enjoy Patreon.

Well, now there is an additional avenue: PayPal.

PayPal Reports Third Quarter 2018 Results | Business Wire

If you send a donation to the show via PayPal, you’ll still be able to get the weekly newsletter, albeit via email rather than through the Patreon site. It’s a (very) little extra work for me, but if you’re willing to take that step, it’s the least I can do. And never let it be said I didn’t do the least I could do.

Newsletters will be sent on a prorated basis according to your donation. The current donation level is $5/month, so if you send me a fiver, you’ll get the newsletter for 5 weeks. $10 will get you two weeks, and so forth. And you still get to be on the Wall of Fame, with no distinction between the donation method.

So you can either go to paypal.me/HowGoodItIs or click that gigantic PayPal logo above, and you’ll go straight to the show’s PayPal page. Or, if you prefer the old-school DIY route, use the howgoodpodcast@gmail.com address from the PayPal app.

And thanks for your continued support!

137: Same Old Lang Syne

It’s kind of melancholy for a song that many consider to be a Christmas song, isn’t it?

What you have in this tune is the true story of two people who re-encounter each other after several years of separation. And as they spend some time re-connecting, they both recognize that despite opening up to each other, it doesn’t mean that anything else is going to happen for them. The moment has passed them by, and they’re mostly just left with the restlessness and maybe even some self-pity that they hadn’t even realized they were experiencing earlier.

They’re glad they saw each other, and they still manage to come away sadder about their own situation, having gained and lost a shred of hope that this is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.

Jill Greulich, the woman in the Dan Fogelberg song "Same Old Lang Syne."

Fogelberg always insisted that the story was true, but he never revealed the identity of the woman in the story. But shortly after he died in 2007, she came forward and did an interview with a Peoria, Illinois newspaper. Her name is Jill Anderson Greulich, and she says she hears from Fogelberg’s fans all the time, with almost invariably positive messages, and especially around the holidays.

It’s not really a Christmas song in the sense of Christmas songs we typically think of. It’s set during Christmas, but it’s not the overly-happy, sanitized Christmas we’re used to singing about. It’s more like the Christmas that actually happens to us.

And that’s not always a bad thing.

I meant what I said about the cookies. If you come up with a guess, hit me up on the social media and I’ll let you know if you got it.

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136: Ain’t No Sunshine

Original photo by Marcus Castro, available on Scopio.

Bill Withers was an aspiring musician, but he kept his feet on the ground for a long time. Even after his first album started to climb the charts, he kept working his job assembling bathrooms in an airplane factory because he thought the music industry was fickle. He wasn’t wrong, incidentally. But in his case he may have been pessimistic. It wasn’t until “Ain’t No Sunshine” went Gold that he finally left the factory job and went on tour to support the album.

Just as I Am (Bill Withers album) - Wikipedia

Given the star power that supported him with the recording of his debut album, Just As I Am, it’s a small wonder that he became such a huge star right away. When you’ve got Booker T. Jones producing and the rest of the MGs, plus Stephen Stills and Jim Keltner on drums, you’re going to be a huge hit. Or, maybe you’re not nearly as good as you think you are, and you may as well spend the rest of your life in that factory.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” wasn’t the first single off the album. And I don’t think I’m spoiling any surprises here when I tell you this: It isn’t too tough to figure out how it got all the airplay, and eventually all the sales, that it did.

Oh—and, as promised, here’s the video of the cover by the Black Label Society from a few years back. They’re a heavy metal band, but this cover is mostly acoustic. Zakk Wylde kind of digs the negative attention that the video got for the use of the horse masks (and more) that you’ll see in this video. But maybe just lean back and enjoy it instead of reading into it too deeply.

I’m aiming for the next show to drop on January 3, so until then: have a Happy and Safe New Year!

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135: Lesser Known Christmas Pop

Merry Christmas!

I actually had a different show in mind but I got to listening to some old radio airchecks (not my own) and I was inspired to do something different from the usual show.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a half-hour long. That’s because I’m playing songs in their entirety and not really talking very much. (If any episode is going to net me a C&D letter, this’ll be the one.)

In this year’s Christmas episode, I’m playing eight songs that don’t get airplay anymore for some reason. A few of them are kinda goofy, a couple are kind of derivative, and I daresay a few of them are seminal to their genre. And while I share a little history with you here and there, the intent this time is to just sit back and wonder why the All Christmas All The Time station in your area is sticking with the same twenty songs, and not playing any of these guys.

All of these songs can be found without too much hassle on Amazon Music or YouTube. If you want to revisit them, here’s the playlist:

  • Merry Christmas, Mary—Tommy Dee and Carol Kay
  • Merry, Merry Christmas, Baby—Dodie Stevens
  • Santa’s Song—The Oak Ridge Boys
  • Yulesville—Edd “Kookie” Byrnes
  • Santa Claus Meets the Purple People Eater—Sheb Wooley
  • Please Come Home For Christmas—Charles Brown
  • White Christmas—The Ravens
  • Silent Night—The Ravens (flip side of White Christmas)

    And just for the giggles, here’s one more song that didn’t make it into the show itself. It’s Bobby Helms’ other shot at a Christmas tune, from 1965. He wasn’t the original artist (I think he was the fourth) to release this song. I think the most popular version came from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1968, though Bobby Vinton’s version is kind of well-known, too. At any rate, here’s Bobby Helms:

    Sorry, no transcript of this episode, since it’s mostly music.

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134: Maggie May

NOTE: I got word that there was a problem with the uploaded file. It should be fine now. Apologies for those of you who had hassles.

(Original photo by Meg Wagener for Unsplash)

Let me start by thanking the show’s newest Patron, Scott Fraser, for joining the family!

Next: my apologies: I counted on taking a week’s break but not two. I got remarkably sick a couple of times in the past week, culminating with a trip that involved having testing swabs stuck up my nose to varying depths, depending on what they were looking for that time. They were relieved to tell me that I “only” had food poisoning…they think. Reassuring? Anyway, if I sound a little rough in this episode, now you know why.

There are several elements of the story behind “Maggie May” which are going to sound very familiary to you, if only because I’ve told a variation on them at some point in the past with regard to other songs.

On the other hand, there are definitely a few elements to “Maggie May” which you’re not going to hear anywhere else, because not every song starts with getting deflowered at a jazz festival’s swan song.

Oh–and as promised, here’s Godley and Creme’s first video, for their own “Englishman in New York.”

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133: All I Wanna Do

When Sheryl Crow finished her debut album, she decided that it didn’t sound the way she wanted it to. So she actually convinced A&M Records to scrap it and let her start over.

The result was a collaboration between her and several other Los Angeles-area musicians who met weekly to help each other with their songwriting. That quickly turned into a project dedicated to putting together Crow’s second debut album. That group became the Tuesday Night Music Club, because that’s the night they’d meet, and it also became the title of that album.

Now, some controversy arose around the TNMC and the album that arose from it, specifically who got credit for what, and it may have led to the death of one of the members. But that all came later on and as a result I didn’t focus on any of that in this episode. Instead I stuck to Crow’s early career and what led to the Club, her (second) first album and how “All I Wanna Do” went from a throwaway track to her breakout hit.

And as ever, I’m thankful for your support.

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132: Knock Three Times

So I’m in the Southern Studio again this weekend, which means I don’t have a good handle on the way the show sounds until long after I’ve posted it. Also, I tried something very different with my workflow this week so I’m curious to know what you think of the way the shows sounds at your end. I won’t be upset if you think it stinks, promise. Next week I’ll be back in Baltimore, sounding more typical.

To tell the story of “Knock Three Times” we had to dive a little bit into the early career of Tony Orlando and how he got that way. Orlando had actually retired from singing and was doing well with producing and working in Columbia Records’ music publishing department, when someone asked him a favor: could you please record this for us?

Orlando said, “No thanks. You’re not even a Columbia label. “

They said, “Please? We’ll give you three thousand dollars.”

And Orlando said, “Don’t put my name on this or there’ll be trouble.”

Candida (song) - Wikipedia

So Bell Records kept their promise and released the record under the name Dawn. They even took the time to fake a photo of the band for the 45’s picture sleeve. Look at those guys over there. None of them are on this record. They’re literally just four guys in a photograph. The band was composed of session musicians and a couple of backup singers, including Toni Wine, who co-wrote the song.

This wound up being a good news/bad news thing, because “Candida” was a pretty huge hit worldwide, and Bell Records got hot for a follow-up track. Orlando went back into the studio with the same session players and made an entire album, including a second single, “Knock Three Times.” That song was an even bigger hit, and Orlando was forced to come out in the open, hire some genuine members of Dawn and go on tour.

But I’m pretty sure it worked out okay for him in the end, yeah?

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