Posted in 1960s, 1967, Holiday Songs

58–Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

Click here for a transcript of this week’s show. 

Arlo Guthrie in a still from
the 1969 film Alice’s Restaurant 

The early-to-mid 1960s was a great time to be a folk singer, whether or not you were the protesting type. And Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, had the decade pretty much fall into his lap. It didn’t hurt that he was actually kind of good at it.  And when, as a freewheeling 17-year-old, he and a friend took a fateful trip to the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts to visit a couple of friends for the Thanksgiving weekend. It turned out to be an adventure that he later immortalized in a song. Between airplay on a single radio station in New York City and its inclusion on the Newport Folk Festival’s main stage, Arlo was able to get a record contract and the song became the entire first side of his debut album. 

And despite the song’s 18-1/2 minute length, and its subject matter (much of which was taboo then), and some of the language used (some of which is taboo now), the song continues to get radio airplay, in full, and unedited. 

Although the restaurant and the microbus are long gone, Guthrie continues to perform the song from time to time, though he’ll update the lyrics so that they’re either more topical or less offensive. Or both. 

And as usual, for the nine of you who don’t use the podcatchers, here’s the episode for listening or downloading:

And of course, if you DO use a podcatcher of some kind, please leave a rating and/or a review. I really appreciate the support. 

Posted in 1960s, 1968, 1970s, 1972

57–Shel Silverstein, Part I

Click here for a transcript of today’s show. 

Image result for shel silverstein -site:pinterest.com

Shel Silverstein was a humorist, a poet, a cartoonist, and a musician who had a strong, if not especially obvious, influence on pop music through the late 1960s, up into the 1980s. Most people know him for his poetry books largely aimed at a children’s audience, but he also provided cartoons for Playboy Magazine, usually inserting a caricature of himself into the image: 

Image result for shel silverstein playboy cartoon -site:pinterest.com

And he’s also responsible for the dark, subversively comic Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, an alphabet book you do NOT want your kids to read (but you should, because it’s hilarious): 

Image result for uncle shelby ABZ -site:pinterest.com

But Silverstein was a songwriter who had an especially strong relationship with Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and that led to a couple of their bigger hits, including a song that was essentially a parody of the rock star life, but it led to the sort of fame that only he could imagine: 

Image result for dr hook rolling stone cover -site:pinterest.com

You know the drill by now–Either you have the episode, or you’re looking to get it here: 

And if you’ve taken the time to leave a rating somewhere, thanks so much for the boost! If you haven’t, that’s OK but please consider doing so. 

Posted in 1950s, 1959, 1970s, 1978

56–Shout

Click here to view a transcript of this show. 

The Isley Brothers were an act that seemed to do well on stage, but they were having difficulty getting traction as far as record sales or radio airplay were concerned. While performing in Philadelphia, Ronald Isley recognized that their cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” was getting a terrific response from the audience, so he started ad-libbing a call-and-response section to keep the song going. It worked out so well that they kept doing the bit, and when they’d finished the series of performances, their producers suggested that they turn the bit into a single of its own. And a gigantic hit was born!

Ha, Ha! Just kidding. The song only went to #47 on the Billboard charts. But it became a popular party tune, and was covered repeatedly by numerous artists, including Lulu, who was only 13 years old and still performing as Lulu and the Luvvers. Here’s her 1965 appearance on Ready Steady Go. I like the full ending she puts on the record, and the way she gives up lip-synching before she’s quite done: 

Finally, 1978 rolled around and the song was used in the film National Lampoon’s Animal House, performed by a fictional band called Otis Day and the Knights, which re-activated the song’s popularity (and contributed heavily to the Isleys getting Gold certification for their version), and allowed the singer of the band (not the guy you see on stage, that’s a lip-synching actor) to put a real Otis Day band together and go on tour. Over ten years later they recorded an album with a new recording of “Shout”. 

The Knights, with Otis Day off-camera. That’s Robert Cray playing bass, second from right. I have to admit, at first I thought it was Matt “Guitar” Murphy. 

If you usually get your podcasts from somewhere else, well, you should already have it by now. Either that or you ran out of data on your plan and you’re waiting for the next cycle to come around. But anyway, if you listen and/or download from here, have at it:

And, of course, ratings and reviews are always welcome. Which reminds me to send a big Thank You to StampingJulie, who was too kind to me over at Apple Podcasts recently. 

Posted in 1980s, 1984

55–Ghostbusters

Dan Aykroyd, who is well-known for being interested in parapsychology, came up with the idea of creating a comedy horror film in the tradition of the movie comedians he’d grown up watching. The first draft was a bit of a mess, but Aykroyd is a good egg in this respect and knows that he’s a better Idea Guy than a Polished Script Writer, so he handed off the project to director Ivan Reitman and a few others, and threw in some jargon and other ideas along the ride. 

Reitman and his (and Aykroyd’s) agent Michael Ovits went to Columbia Pictures and, pulling a dollar figure out of a hat (roughly three times what Reitman spent on Stripes), got a budget of $25,000,000, which was HUGE for a comedy at that time. Columbia slated the film to open about a year later, which really put the team in a crunch position, especially since the script was still being re-written and there were lots of special effects to create. 

Parker says he still has this original shirt, but he doesn’t wear it because he doesn’t want it worn out. Instead he wears one of many copies he has. 

So many things could have gone wrong and made the film a flop (in fact, Columbia execs thought so at first), but it caught on with audiences, and part of that success was the support it got from its theme song, written by Ray Parker Jr after several other musicians had either turned down the project, or given it a shot and found lacking. But his original 20-second effort (what he was commissioned for) excited Reitman so much that he convinced Parker to write a complete song, and he’d support it with a video. That video became only the second one featuring an African-American artist on MTV. 

Cindy Harrell in the video. Shortly before making the video,
she married producer Alan Horn, and she retired from acting a few years later. 
They have two children, one of whom is actress Cody Horn.  

As I mention during the show, the video involved a lot of items painted on glass, and then the camera shot through the glass, giving everything a funky, ethereal look. 

Glass shots were also popularly used in films as a cheap way of creating illusions that are more easily done nowadays with green screens and CGI imagery. In this shot from Star Wars below, only the walkway to the right (where the stormtroopers are standing) and the cone-shaped gizmo on which Obi-Wan Kenobi is standing is real and full-size. Everything else, including the pillar below the cone-shaped gizmo, is painted on a sheet of glass carefully placed in front of the camera. It’s like doing a matte shot on the cheap. 

By now you should be seeing the show in your podcatcher, but if not, give it a listen or a download right here: 

And, of course, leaving a rating wherever you get your shows is always appreciated. 

Posted in 1970s, 1973

54–Walk on the Wild Side

Click here for a transcript of today’s show. 

Lou Reed had been out of the Velvet Underground for about two years, and his first solo album had tanked, but people like David Bowie still believed in him, and brought him to London to record his second album. One of the songs he recorded during the ten days they spent on Transformer was a song he’d been noodling with for about a year. It started out as part of the score for a show that never materialized, but over time it morphed into a tribute to several of Andy Warhol’s “Superstars” at his studio-cum-crash pad, The Factory. 

Candy Darling
Holly Woodlawn

Jackie Curtis

Joe D’Alessandro (left) in a still from the film Flesh that was cropped to create The Smiths’ first album sleeve.

The song got a remarkable amount of airplay despite its subject matter (and because of how well it was coded), and propelled Transformer into the Billboard Top 30, cementing its place as a touchstone of the Glam Rock genre of music.

Incidentally, the album’s cover was photographed by Mick Rock, who’d accidentally over-exposed the image in the darkroom, but he liked the way it came out and submitted it as a possible cover anyway.

And if you know anything about this show then you know if you’re reading this, then your podcatcher software already has it, but if you’re not one of the billions of users of Podcast Republic, you can always listen to, or download the show from right here: 

And, as usual, leaving a rating and a review makes my world go round, so have at it.

Posted in 1960s, 1967, 1968, 2000

Episode 53–Both Sides Now

Click here to view a transcript of this show. 

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes. They’re still stunning to look at. 

The late 1960s was a great time for the fusion of folk and pop music, and a lot of singer-songwriters made their marks with recording their songs, and those of other performers, during that time. So it was when Judy Collins first heard Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now” down a telephone line one late night in 1967. Collins met with Mitchell and Al Kooper that very night in the bar  from which Kooper placed the phone call, and the song wound up as the opening track to Side Two of Collins’ seventh album, Wildflowers.

For whatever reason, though, the song wasn’t released as a single for about a year, but releasing the song turned out to be a great idea, because it turned into Collins’ first foray into Billboard’s Top 40 and propelled Wildflowers to the Number 5 position on their albums chart. 

Joni Mitchell, in the meantime, managed to score a recording contract of her own and recorded it, along with several other songs that had already been cut by other artists (including “Chelsea Morning”, which Collins had recorded and released as a single earlier that year) and a few new tracks. “Both Sides Now” became a stealth title track for her self-produced second album, Clouds, and finally propelled her into the public light. 

The song has been covered literally dozens of times from 1967 all the way up to this decade, and by artists of all ages and genres so clearly this is a song whose impact will be felt for many years to come. 

As usual, your podcast software should have this show by now, but if you dig listening to it from here (looking at you, Brother Of Mine), by all means have at it:

And, of course, I’d be thrilled beyond measure if you were to leave a comment or a rating/review wherever you get your podcasts. 

Posted in House Keeping, Production

What’s New, Pussycat

Hi-yoooooooooooooooo!

In an effort to make the show as a whole more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (and, let’s face it, to make it more visible to search engines), transcripts of each show will now be available. 

As it happens, because the show is heavily scripted, and because I’m weirdly obsessive about saving digital stuff, I still have the original Microsoft Word files for most episodes. I lost a few to accidental overwrites, but I’ll figure something out for those shows as well. 

So, beginning this week when the show returns for Episode 53, there will be a transcript linked from the episode’s blog post. In addition, I’ll be backfilling the older episodes over the next couple of weeks until everything is caught up. 

See you on Saturday! 

Posted in House Keeping, Production

Taking Two

As I mentioned last week, the show is taking a brief break so that I can get a little bit ahead of the production curve. 

Work has been extra-crazy this month, and life has thrown a few curveballs our way, and it’s pushed me into a place where I’m killing myself to put together a show that, ultimately, isn’t as good as what I’ve gotten used to producing here so far. And it arrives late, besides. That’s not fair to me OR to you. 

So go play catchup if you’re a new listener, and the show will be back on October 13 when I take a look at ‘Both Sides Now.” See you then!

Posted in 1980, 1980s, 1989

Episode 52–Into The Night

In 1978, Benny Mardones was a struggling singer-songwriter whose first album tanked partially because the label went bankrupt shortly after it was released. In fact, it remained out of print until 2012, when another label got ahold of it and released it on compact disc. 

The story goes that Benny was living in an apartment in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, and there was a family in the building that was on hard times, so he helped support them, in part by paying their 16-year-old daughter Heidi the sum of $50 a week to walk his dog. 

As they got close to finishing his second album (and the first for his new label), Benny and his writing partner were working out a song when Heidi came through the door to get the dog. It was then that they realized they’d been working all night long, and the partner’s response to Heidi’s presence inspired the opening line to the song. 

A rotary payphone flying through a bluescreen sky while a guy with feathered hair sings. Is there anything more 1979 than this image? If there is, I do NOT want to know about it. 

And, as the story goes, the rest of the song is Mardones trying to express his deep affection for the Heidi and her family despite all the bad stuff that’s happened to them. And there’s a certain recognition that his success isn’t necessarily their success. Now, that’s pretty much the story that Mardones has told repeatedly, and I guess you can believe him, but it also makes you wonder why he agreed to the plotline that appears in the video, which makes him look like a middle-aged guy creeping on a teeny bopper (who, incidentally, has exactly one facial expression throughout the video). 

The song made it to Number 11 in 1980, and again in 1989, putting in 37 non-consecutive weeks on the charts, the second-largest number of weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s, but not even close to the all-time record (I’ll let you Google it, the answer is kind of depressing). 

Anyway, your Podcast Republic app should already have this show captured, but if you’re a Ron Swanson type who does things the hard way, well then feel free to listen or download it from right here. 

And, of course, any and all feedback is all kinds of welcome. 

Posted in 1950s, 1958, 1960s, 1966

Episode 51–Barbara Ann

The year was 1958, and a guy named Fred Fassert wrote a song about his sister. Guess what her name was? I’m sure you know it was Norma Jean.

Ha, Ha! Just kidding! It was Barbara Ann! But I’m pretty sure the title of the post gave that away.

And now that I think about it, and all the girls named Barbara who had to put up with people singing that song at them, I’m not entirely convinced that he didn’t write the song to needle her just a little bit. 

Anyway, he and the rest of his group, the Regents, recorded the song but they couldn’t get a label to distribute it, so they eventually broke up. 

Three years later, a record distributor in New York picked up the recording and released it locally, where it became a hit in the NY Metro area. That distributor, in turn, leased the recording to Gee Records, which sent it nationwide and it became a #13 song for a band that no longer existed (and where have we heard that one before?)

Even the party pictures were faked. How about that!

A couple of years after that, the Beach Boys, under pressure to record something for Christmas 1965, put together a “party” album that was carefully crafted to sound like a spontaneous get-together, and they recorded a bunch of older songs that they happened to like. One of them was the old Regents tune, and they got Dean Torrence (of Jan & Dean) to sing lead. The tune closed out the album, and when radio stations started playing it, Capitol rushed out a single version of the record. 

There’s more to the story, but if I tell it all here then you won’t listen to the podcast, and I can’t have that. So go check out your podcatcher, or listen/download through the player below. 

And, as usual, please take a moment to leave a comment here, or a review wherever you get your podcasts from.