NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and there are definitely days when the Technology Gods don’t like me very much.
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It’s Trivia Time for ye, and this time around we’re talking band names. Some bands have very simple names, like U2 or REM, and other bands have very long, complex names. Most of them seem to be very hardcore metal or grindcore bands, and they’re usually pretty gnarly, enough that I don’t think I’d like to repeat it here. So I’m going to narrow the scope of my question to more popular fare. So what is the longest name for a band that has scored a hit in the Top 20 on the Billboard charts?
I’ll have that answer for you near the end of the show.
This time around we’re looking at Dan Fogelberg’s 1981 hit “Same Old Lang Syne”. And for a change, I don’t think there will be any weird surprises in this story. It’s just kind of a sweet tale that I thought I’d share with you.
But in my typical fashion I’m going to back up juuust a little bit. Dan Fogelberg was born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1951. His father was the band director at Woodruff High School in that town and his mother was a classically-trained pianist.
Fogelberg taught himself to play a Hawaiian slide guitar he’d gotten from his grandfather, with the help of a course book, and he also learned to play the piano. When he was 14 he joined a Beatles cover band called The Clan.
Now, while Fogelberg was attending Woodruff High School, he dated a girl named Jill Anderson, but when they graduated in 1969, she went to Western Illinois University and he attended the University of Illinois, and while they kept in touch…well, you know how it goes. He went to California to pursue his music career and she went to Chicago, ultimately to teach elementary school in Northbrook, and life and careers generally got in the way.
Now, here’s the thing I want you to know about Dan Fogelberg. He’s mostly known for these singer/songwriter light rock ballads like “Leader of the Band,” which is about his father, or “Longer,” which is still played at a lot of weddings. And, of course, “Same Old Lang Syne,” which gets most of its airplay at Christmas time because of the setting. But Fogelberg was a total package musician who by all accounts was a great rock guitarist, and an excellent bluegrass musician, and it frustrated him a little bit that he had a reputation for ballads.
[PART OF THE PLAN]
In the early 1970s he toured with The Eagles, and the Eagles in turn—especially Joe Walsh—helped him with his second album, Souvenirs. Souvenirs had one big hit in this song called “Part of the Plan”, which unfortunately has been largely forgotten by radio stations. It helped push Fogelberg into the public consciousness and the album into Platinum territory. His third album, called Captured Angel, didn’t yield any hit singles but it still did very well in both sales and on the Billboard album chart.
In 1975, Fogelberg’s father became ill, so he went back to Peoria to help out for a few months. And on Christmas Eve, Fogelberg wanted to make Irish coffee but there wasn’t any whipped cream in the house, so he headed out to a local grocery store called the Convenient Food Mart. See that store in the show’s cover art? That’s the store. And by that, I mean that’s literally THE store he went to. Convenient left the space and a couple of private concerns took it over. Nowadays it’s called the Short Stop Food Mart, just like in the picture.
As it happened, Jill was also in Peoria visiting her childhood home, and they’d run out of eggnog; which is not a cool thing to have happen to you on Christmas Eve. So she nipped out to the Convenient Food Mart, because on Christmas Eve in 1975, most stores closed early and it was the only place that was open. And the rest, as they say, is history.
[SAME OLD LANG SYNE]
They bumped into each other in the store, he got his whipped cream, she got her eggnog, they paid for their stuff, and they decided to split a six pack of Olympia Beer, which they drank together in the parking lot over the next couple of hours. The bottom line is that nearly all of the story in the song is absolutely true, with a couple of small exceptions. Jill had, in fact, gotten married but it was to a physical education teacher, not an architect, and Jill’s eyes are green, not blue. But I think it’s pretty clear that Fogelberg was taking a little artistic license because, come on. He needs the song to rhyme.
At any rate, it wasn’t long after that encounter that he started writing the song, although he didn’t really take it seriously at first. He saw it as a kind of a joke, laughing at himself as he looked back on the event. And at the time he also considered it an exercise in creativity, to see if he could write something about a relatively ordinary event like running into an old friend at the market. But by the time he finished it he realized that it was actually kind of an important song, so he held it back for his 1981 album, The Innocent Age. But here’s what else happened: The song was released as a single in December 1980 and of course it was a huge hit, reaching Number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 by February 1981, and Top 25 in Ireland and New Zealand. Of course, the record-buying public was hot to get their hands on the album, but there wasn’t one yet. And on New Year’s Eve 1980, as Fogelberg started to sequence the songs for The Innocent Age, he woke up to the idea that the album should be a longer project: a double album with a song cycle in it, starting with the past and moving into the present. So he stopped work on sequencing the album and wrote and recorded another half-dozen songs for the album, which landed “Same Old Lang Syne” almost dead-center, as the last track on the first album in the set. The album was finally released in August of 1981, and the wait paid off, because it yielded three other singles, it peaked at Number 6 on the Billboard Albums Chart, and was probably his most successful album, commercially.
So let me get into a few of the details behind the song, since I kind of skipped over that part. And let’s start with how we know that Jill Anderson is the girl he’s singing about, because while Fogelberg himself never told anyone her identity, she herself came forward about a week after he died in 2007 at the age of 56 from prostate cancer. In an interview with the Peoria Journal Star, she said she was driving to work one morning when she heard the song, but she kept quiet about it, partly because Fogelberg was keeping quiet and partly because she didn’t want to disrupt his marriage. Because, as it turns out, the line “She would have liked to say she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie” was prophetic: by the time the song came out, she’d divorced the phys ed teacher. Having said that, however, Jill has remarried and now goes by the last name Greulich, and her new husband James has a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing. He kind of has to, because in the years since she revealed herself, she gets lots and lots of messages from Fogelberg’s fans, especially around the holidays, just thanking her. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune called her for an interview recently and he answered the phone. When the reporter asked to speak to Jill, he asked “Why? Do you want to date my wife, too?” If you’re curious, I’ve posted what I think is a recent picture of Jill Greulich at the website; that it’s recent is largely a guess on my part only because it accompanies the Chicago Tribune article from December of 2020.
So here are a couple of things that I don’t know if you noticed. One of them I caught on to pretty quickly, and I have to confess it was a long time before I realized the other one. Specifically, a couple of melodies were lifted to create this song. They’re both in the public domain, so it’s not like anyone’s getting arrested. But it’s still kind of interesting. The first is this, and it’s the one I did notice pretty quickly:
Does that sound familiar? Speed it up, and maybe add some cannons:
It’s definitely a lift from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, now here’s the other one which I shamefully missed for a long, LONG time:
Honest to god, how did I overlook that Michael Brecker is playing Auld Lang Syne on that soprano saxophone?
Let me offer up one more thing about how true and straightforward the song is. When someone asked Fogelberg what that last line of the song symbolized, the answer was, “It symbolized the snow turning into rain.”
Let me offer up one more little snippet of information for you. In 2008, a stretch of Abingdon Street in Peoria, where Woodruff High School sits, was given the honorary name of Fogelberg Parkway. It’s also the street that runs by the parking lot where a couple of old friends shared a few Olympia Beers in 1975.
And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you for the longest-named band with a Top 20 hit on the Billboard chart. Now, I could be wrong on this one, but here’s what my research turned up. First, I found a band called The Magnificent Brotherhood of Eternal Love and The Happiness’s Close Companions, which comes out to eleven words and 70 letters altogether. They were usually known as just The Magnificent Brotherhood, but they didn’t have any hits that I know of; in fact I don’t even know that they released any singles, so they’re out. My second contender was a late 60s band called The Rock and Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Co. of Philadelphia, which also clocks in at eleven words but only 50 letters. This band DID have a charting single called “Bubble Gum Music,” but unfortunately it only made it to Number 74 on the Billboard Chart.
Nope, our big winner goes to this song and artist, which has gotten kind of ubiquitous in television commercials lately. The song is called “Express Yourself,” and the full name of the artist is Charles Wright and the Watts One Hundred and Third Street Rhythm Band, which is twelve words and 58 letters long. This song made it to Number 12 in 1970 and Number 3 on the R&B chart.
And that, my friend, is a full lid on another edition of How Good It Is. If you’re enjoying the show, please take the time to share it with someone, and maybe even leave a rating somewhere, and now you can support the show over at Patreon dot com, slash How Good It Is.
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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when we look at another song that has a little Tchaikovsky in it. If you guess right, I’ll send you chocolate chip cookies. And no, that’s not a hint.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next time.