Transcript 93–Vehicle

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, which rhymes with Fall, which may have finally arrived here on the east coast. 

Remember to check out the website, How Good It Is Dot Com, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and of course the Facebook page, which can be found over at Facebook dot com, slash, (ow) How Good It Is Pod.

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Let me do a little housekeeping before we dive in, and specifically I’d like to address the listener surveys that so many of you have been great about submitting. Now, I’ve made a conscious choice to keep the show more or less “radio friendly”–that is, I don’t use George Carlin’s Seven Words, and when I did a show that had some material you might consider “Adult,” I offered a warning at the start of the show. But I’ve gotten a couple of surveys that have suggested that the show is occasionally “vulgar”, and that’s kind of confused me, because of the way I write the show. Now, because the surveys are anonymous, it’s not like I can write back and challenge anyone on it, but I’d genuinely like to know where I might have gone astray without realizing it. So, if you think the show occasionally dips into vulgarity, I’d appreciate it if you’d drop me a line at howgoodpodcast at gmail dot com, or post something on the Facebook page, and let me know. You can do that whether or not you’re one of the people who wrote a survey. No judgment here but I was a little lost by those comments, so please set me straight. Thanks. 

Let’s move on because  I do have some trivia for ye, and I think this is one of those where you either know it right away or you don’t kind of deals. What does the song “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey have in common with the song “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace? Paper Lace’s song is from 1974, and Journey scored with their song in 1981, and the bands are from different countries, but these two songs have something in common, and I think it’s not giving too much away by saying it’s in the lyrics. I’ll have the answer for you later on, in the show. 

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This week’s show comes to me also by survey request, so again I can’t give you the personalized shout-out, but thank you. I kind of feel like I’m cheating because it turns out that the story behind this song is rather well-documented, in the sense that the songwriter and lead singer, Jim Peterik, is very forthcoming about it and has talked to various outlets. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago he told the Nashville Tennessean that he doesn’t get tired of the story because hey, it’s his life. But, if you don’t know the story, then settle back and enjoy, because it’s kind of cute and a little weird. 

Peterik was a 17 year old junior in high school. He and his classmates had already put together the band The Ides of March, and were playing local gigs in the Chicagoland area. They were small ones, at high schools and small auditoriums, but they were opening for groups that had a lot of local clout and even some national airplay. 

At any rate, Peterik got word that one of his favorite bands, The Turtles, was coming to a high school to play, and because it was a general admission show, meaning that seats weren’t assigned, he showed up a couple of hours early so he could get a good seat. And the move paid off, because he did wind up close to the front of the line. Peterik says that not long after he arrived, he noticed this gaggle of girls–that was his phrase–dancing near him, and he says that each girl in the group was prettier than the last. But one girl in particular caught his attention, because she had these really big eyes and she was kind of playing it cool, not looking his way and such. So he said to himself, “well, this girl is way out of my league”, when she suddenly turns to him and says, “Aren’t you Peterik?”

Well, it turns out that she recognized him from a recent gig he’d done, opening for New Colony Six, and she thought they were pretty good. As he tells it, that was the crack in the armor, and they began talking like they’d known each other for a hundred years. He also remembers specifically that she was wearing orange culottes, knee socks and what he called “Clunkies”, which is another word for saddle shoes. For those who don’t know, saddle shoes are the ones that are all one color with the exception of a stripe that runs across the shoe. The entire area where the laces are is the second color, and the stripe gets narrower as it gets closer to the sole, so if you squint it looks kind of like a horse’s saddle. 

Anyway. 

The girl’s name was Karen, and after the show, he offered to drive her home in his car, but she declined, saying that her father wouldn’t permit that, but she did let him walk her to her friend’s house. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Until.

One day about six months later, she broke up with him because she was younger than he was, and he was her first boyfriend and she wanted to know what else was out there. And, he was heartbroken, for months. 

Jim spent the next few months writing sad songs, depressive melodies, stuff he later called “introspective garbage,” and forcing the Ides to do long Blues jams for their show encores.

One day, out of the blue, he gets a call. “Hey Jim, it’s Karen. Remember me?” Of course he remembers her. She says, “It’s not a date or anything, but would you take me to modeling school?” He figures, sure, why not, thinking he might be able to re-kindle the relationship, but no dice. Two weeks later, she again asked him for a ride, and two weeks after that. 

Now, at this point, our hero Jim is starting to get a little annoyed. In that article in The Tennesseean, he says to himself, . “You know, all I am is her limousine. No, wait a minute. All I am is her vehicle, baby.” I was like “Wait a minute. Vehicle. What a unique word.”

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that there’s a slightly different version of the story. In a different interview with songfacts dot com, he says that he said it directly to her: In that article, he’s quoted as saying that one day in a fit of frustration, he heard himself blurt out to her ‘You know, all I am to you is your Vehicle’. He says, “Just then the light bulb popped up on top of my head and I thought about all the guys like me who don’t mind being taken for a ride by a beautiful girl. I said ‘See you later’ and started writing the song.”

Believe it or not, this band of high schoolers had a horn section, and he had a horn riff going on in his head, which he managed to tie to this song he was working out. By now, Jim was 18 years old, but when they worked out the nuances of the horn riff, they knew they’d captured lightning in a bottle. 

[VEHICLE]

Now, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from writing the song to recording it. For instance, the original opening line was “I got a set of wheels, pretty baby, won’t you hop inside my car?”, which nobody really liked. It didn’t really scan and had no real rhythm to it. Fortunately, the government provided a little inspiration when they created an anti-drug pamphlet, featuring an illustration of a sleazy guy cruising the streets looking for targets. And the caption on the photo read “I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan, won’t you hop inside my car?”. So there you go: the first line came from some nameless copywriter from the US Government. The rest of that verse, about the pictures and the candy, actually came from Peterik’s mother’s warnings about staying out of trouble when walking home from school. 

But the other problem that happened came during the recording of the song. The band went into the studios and, by all accounts, the first take was very good but the second take was perfect. Now, all they had to do was dub in the brass section and the recording would be pretty much ready. Unfortunately, multi-track recording was still in its infancy and the engineer pressed a wrong button, resulting in about 13 seconds of the entire take being erased completely. Now, this was long, LONG before digital recording; it’s not like you can just hit control-Z and undo your goof. Those 13 seconds were gone forever. The problem here is that you can’t just take the same audio from Take One and paste it into Take Two, because the tempo, the tuning, the overall feel aren’t going to be exactly the same. Not usually. Because that’s exactly what they were able to do. It took the engineers about an hour, but they managed to splice the 13 second piece of Take One into the missing segment of Take Two, and it’s nearly seamless. The only thing that had to be re-recorded was part of the vocals. 

So where does this miraculous edit take place? It happens at about a minute, eighteen seconds into the song, where Peterik sings “Great God in heaven you know I love you” for the second time, all the way up to the start of the guitar solo. I’m going to play the segment for you in a moment, but I’m also going to note that I’m usually pretty good when it comes to finding edits, and I think the first part is pretty seamless. The end of the edit is a little bit more noticeable because the guitar solo starts kind of abruptly. 

[EDIT SEGMENT]

But that wasn’t the end of the recording, as it happens. The Ides didn’t think it was a great recording song. They’d been playing it live for a few months by then, and it was great for performances, but they figured it was too simple to be a hit. So when they originally sent their demo to Warner Brothers, they were pretty surprised to learn that the reaction was to throw out the other three and use “Vehicle”. It wasn’t until then that they started thinking of the song as a potential hit. So one of their managers took the song to Art Roberts, who was a huge disc jockey at WLS in Chicago, maybe one of the most powerful at the time, and he agreed. However, Roberts suggested that they do the “Love ya, need ya” sections as a call-and-response. So they went back into the studio, but the problem was that all the tracks were taken up, so the Ides did something called wild-tracking. At its heart, wild-tracking is a low-tech solution to adding or replacing audio. It gets its name because it’s not recorded at the same time as everything else. If you’ve ever seen a movie on TV where they’ve changed part of the dialogue censored by replacing it with other dialogue–which often doesn’t make a ton of sense–that’s an example of wild tracking. 

[SNAKES ON A PLANE]

Monkey fighting snakes on a Monday to Friday plane! That’s where it’s at. 

Anyway, those background vocals don’t exist on the master tape as a result. Which is why, if you’ve ever seen the 1990 Sylvester Stallone film Lock Up, “Vehicle” does get used, but you don’t hear the call-and-response vocals in the song. 

The record was released in March of 1970 and by May it had reached Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100, making it one of the fastest-selling singles for Warner ever, and certainly the fastest-selling for the label at that time. It was also a Top Five song in Canada and made it to Number 31 in the UK. 

And, of course, having a hit song in 1970 worked out well for the Ides, because it meant that they got to perform in a bunch of pop festivals that year, meaning that these teenagers shared a stage with Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead at one point or another. 

The Ides split up in 1973 or, more accurately, they took an extended hiatus until 1990. During that break, Jim Peterik co-founded the band Survivor, and he was the writer or co-writer on all of their big hits. He also wrote or co-wrote hit songs for other artists, several of which also did well on the charts. And, as I mentioned, in 1990 the Ides got back together and they’ve been active since then, touring by themselves and acting as the house band for a “Cornerstones of Rock” series featuring other Chicago-based acts. 

Finally, I guess I should tell you what happened to Karen, the girl who was just using Jim to get to and from modeling school because he drove that cool Plymouth Valiant. Well, after the record hit big, Jim was home for a short break from the touring when he got a phone call from her. She said she’d been thinking it over and thought maybe they should start seeing each other again. Jim says he waited several seconds before telling her, “Yeah, sounds good.” 

Jim and Karen have been married for 46 years, now. 

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[DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’]

And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you to tell me what the songs “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “The Night Chicago Died” have in common, and as an extra hint I told you that it was somewhere in the lyrics. Well. 

Coincidentally, the common thread happens in the first few seconds of both songs. Let’s listen in first on Journey…

[NIGHT CHICAGO DIED]

…and now let’s have a listen to Paper Lace…

…here’s the thing. Both songs mention a city, and a lot of songs do that. But the kicker here is that they both mention a place that doesn’t exist. There’s no portion of Chicago that locals refer to as “the east side.” The east side of Chicago is pretty much Lake Michigan. 

Likewise, South Detroit isn’t a place either. In fact, if you look at a map of the area, you’ll see that the vagaries of geography and our borders place South Detroit in…Canada! Steve Perry has said in interviews that he tried all the other cardinal directions, but none of them sounded right. So, there’s our city boy, enjoying dual citizenship, I guess. 

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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is to discover you’ve got a Touch of Grey. 

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.