Monday, April 21, 2014

Late Night Listening: The Best of Sade

For some reason, it seemed to be trendy to dismiss Sade's music as easy listening pablum, but I've never understood that. She has a beautiful, emotional voice, and her jazz-pop arrangements are engaging and satisfying. I hadn't even thought to look for any of her work on vinyl until I ran across this two-album Best of Sade at a bargain price.  I've actually given it several plays since then, and I like it a little more each time.

I only knew a few of her biggest hits—"Smooth Operator" and "The Sweetest Taboo" and "Is it a Crime"—so most of this album was new to me. I was quite impressed; she has the confidence and talent of Amy Winehouse, who was also quite jazz influenced, but she lacks the stridence or anger of Winehouse, which is just fine with me.

As I listen to her album, I'm also reminded of some of the best music of the early 80s; the instrumentation, carried by an strong rhythm section that highlights Paul Denman's impeccable bass. There's also some wonderful saxophone courtesy of Stuart Matthewman, who does double duty on sax and on guitar.

You can't find better after-midnight listening than this.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Late Night Listening: Tracy

My close friends have heard me praise this album in the past; my love of this record hasn't waned at all in forty-five years. The Cuff Links are in reality Ron Dante—who recorded and overdubbed all of the vocal tracks and harmonies—and whatever session musicians were available. Dante is one of the most talented singers you've never heard of, but you've heard his voice: not only did he have a huge hit with "Tracy," but he was also the voice of the Archies, who had such hits as "Sugar Sugar."

Dante's voice is the selling point of this album, but the songwriting of Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss is just as important. They're the authors of the bouncy, energetic "Tracy," and Dante promised them that if the song was a hit, they'd do a whole album together. Well, it was, so they did. Vance and Pockriss wrote a bunch of songs, they added a couple of cover versions ("Put a Little Love In Your Heart," which had been a hit for Jackie DeShannon, and "Sweet Caroline," one of Neil Diamond's best) and a couple of songs that Vance and Pockriss had previously written with other songwriters ("Heather" and "Early in the Morning"), and the result is the album Tracy.

Ron Dante is gifted with an earnest, sincere voice that conveys emotion wonderfully, and that's what sells these songs. Next time you hear "Tracy" on the radio or on a hits-of-the-sixties compilation, listen closely and fully appreciate the fact that all of those voices you hear are one guy meticulously overdubbing again and again to create that wonderful sound. And I challenge you to listen to it all the way through without tapping your toes to the music, or tapping out the beat with your fingertips.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Getting Get TV

For the past couple of years, I've had an HD television antenna that allows me to pull in all the over-the-air broadcasts in the metro area. When I mention this in conversation, some people are surprised to hear that any channels are still broadcast over the air; those who knew that there were still free over-the-air broadcasts are usually surprised to hear that the picture quality of the primary network stations over-the-air far exceeds what they see on cable or satellite; and those who knew about over-the-air broadcasting and its improved picture quality are almost always surprised when I tell them that there are more than sixty area channels that I can pick up with the antenna.

Now this doesn't mean that there are fifty channels that I'd want to watch. The channel count includes stations that broadcast in French, Korean, Japanese, and Spanish; it includes a number of religious-programming stations; it includes some shopping channels; and it includes some channels that you'd normally watch for only a few minutes, such as weather channels.  (That's not surprising, though; cable and satellite have hundreds of channels, but I'll bet that 90% of my viewing involves no more than fifteen of those channels). Over-the-air broadcasting, however, does include some channels worth watching that are not currently available either on satellite or cable. One such channel is 34.3, Atlanta's Get TV affiliate.

Get TV is a classic film channel that is available in several cities (and on a few cable systems) across the country, including here in Atlanta on WUVG-DT 34.3. If Dad were alive, he's love this channel; it has lots of great Westerns from the 1930s and 1940s, along with a mix of other genres. Some of the films are more recent than that—they're showing the Dean Martin Matt Helm films, for example, and Anatomy of a Heavyweight—but the important thing is that they're showing films that aren't in heavy rotation on other channels. I watched most of Square Shooter, a 1935 Tim McCoy Western, this afternoon, and would have kept watching the next film if I hadn't been committed to do something else.

Picture quality varies widely on broadcast TV; while the major stations like WSB, WAGA, WXIA, and the like are broadcasting at full strength in beautiful HD, other stations are squeezing in as many channels in as little bandwidth as possible, resulting in some pretty pixellated broadcasts. Even worse, some of the stations are working on a shoestring budget, showing worn-out prints with blown-out video details and muddy audio tracks. But Get TV is not one of those channels; the picture quality was superb, the prints were clean, and the sound was crystal clear.

There's also a retro nostalgia to watching over-the-air television; I remember when I was a kid in Rome and we relied on a large antenna, a tall mast, and a finicky rotor to pull in signals from Atlanta and Chattanooga. Had someone told us back then that everyone would pay a monthly fee to watch those channels, we would have thought they were crazy; now I've rediscovered the immense amount of free entertainment that's all around us if we just install an attic-mounted antenna to pull it in!

Late Night Listening: The Association Greatest Hits

One one level, I've thought of Greatest Hits albums as a form of cheating. I figure that artists put a lot of time into preparing individual albums, creating a musical entity that should be allowed to stand on its own. As a result, I generally buy individual albums and enjoy the hits interspersed with the other songs produced at the same time.

So yes, I do own every individual Association album. But I still have a copy of The Association Greatest Hits (the absence of an apostrophe and an s at the end of Association is their titling, not my error), because it was my first exposure to the Association back in 1969. Susan had this album and liked it a lot; she recommended it to me, and I picked it up without really knowing the group or its music much at all.  Somehow, I had only heard an occasional song from them on the radio, because I really didn't listen to radio very much in the 1965-1969 time period, so songs like "Never My Love" and "Cherish" and "Requiem for the Masses" were all new to me. I was hooked immediately. I love harmonies, and there are harmonies galore on this album, along with great melodies and strong instrumentation.

In the decades since, the Association have become sort of a "parents' band," an easy-listening sort of 1960s group. But at the time they were recording, they were bold and innovative. Most of all, they were energetic and sincere; even with lyrics that might seem a bit simple and sappy, such as those of "Never My Love," they convince you that they really mean every word.

So this remains one of the half-dozen or so Greatest Hits albums that are on my frequent-play list. And this album is so burned into my memory that to this day, when I listen to the actual albums the various songs came from, I find myself confused for a split second when one of their hits isn't followed up by another one of their hits...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 4/20/1964 to 4/26/1964

After a cool, soggy beginning, spring warmed up in a hurry, with temperatures hitting the mid-80s by April 20th and continuing in that range for most of the week.  Following the snow, ice, and rain (with subsequent flooding) that marked the first three months of the year, not too many people were complaining, even though most of us didn't have central heat or air back then.

Kids Day 1964 was held at West Rome on April 22nd; for those who don't remember this offbeat event, West Rome Teen Beat correspondent Tony Ledwell described it as being "for the seniors; it's their last fling at being a 'little brat' before leaving school days and childhood behind. All-day suckers, child clothing, and illegal water guns are always present during this tradition-filled day that was started many years ago at Rome High." The highlight of the day was an assembly program consisting of musical numbers and skits, along with a costume contest for the most original child clothing (the winners were David Hendrix and Anita Boatwright).

West Rome's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was organized in April 1964; almost three dozen boys were on hand for the first meeting.

West Rome's Hi-Y elected its 1964-65 officers. Jack Collum was elected president; Len Willingham, vice-president; David Godfrey, secretary; Tom McMahan, treasurer; and Charles Smith, chaplain.

Chris Lawler was West Rome's representative at Georgia Tech's meeting of the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers on April 24th and 25th.

Four esteemed members of West Rome's faculty—Mrs. Underwood, Mrs. Smiderski, Mrs. Finley, and Mr. Finley— were awarded study grants for summer continuing education. Meanwhile,  Mr. Midkiff received a John Hay Fellowship to attend Northwestern University.

We tend to think that McDonald's has been around forever, but Rome's first McDonald's (at 1504 Turner McCall Boulevard, in the heart of Gladiator territory) opened this week in 1964. "You'll find dining at McDonald's one of the good things in life," the ad touted. "Everything is so inviting... so convenient... so spotlessly clean. The service is instant and friendly. The food is the best of the best--prepared to your taste right before your own eyes... Plenty of parking... no car hops... no tipping--just the tastiest food in town at prices that please!"

The baseball season continued to prove mixed for the Chiefs, with the team winning 9-8 against Model on April 20th, then losing 1-0 to Calhoun on April 21st. This put Calhoun in first lace for the sub-region--a position that would have gone to West Rome had they been able to pull out a win.

Alas, the golf team fared no better, losing to arch-rival East Rome on April 21st, in spite an outstanding performance by Louie Akins, who managed to post an even-par 70 at the Callier Springs match.

West Rome's track team posted a win at a three-way track meet, defeating Armuchee and Calhoun with 85 1/2 points, which was more than twice the number of points the second place Armuchee team racked up. Ste Holland set a school record in the 220-yard dash, while Jerry Coalson broke his own record in the 880-yard run and Wayne White broke his own mark in the shot. 

Piggly Wiggly had sirloin steak for 89¢ a pound, Sealtest ice cream for 69¢ a half gallon, and JFG coffee for 59¢ a pound. A& P had 2 pounds of Allgood bacon for 79¢, Ann Page tomato soup for a dime a can, and winesap apples for 13¢ a pound. Kroger had five pounds of sugar for 49¢, corn for 6¢ an ear, and smoked hams for 39¢ a pound. Big Apple had 25 pounds of Best Biscuit flour for $1.79, celery for a dime a bunch, and a pound of flounder filets for 49¢. Couch's had an 18-ounce jar of Blue Plate peanut butter for 29¢, Stokely's cream-style corn for 17¢ a can, and chicken breaset for 49¢ a pound.

The cinematic week began with Dr. Strangelove at the DeSoto and Flight from Ashiya at the First Avenue, both continuing from the end of the prior week. The mid-week movie change brought Sunday in New York (with Cliff Robertson & Jane Fonda) to the DeSoto Theater and Shock Treatment (with Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, & Lauren Bacall) to the First Avenue. The West Rome Drive-In continued its weekends-only policy with a showings of Captain Newman MD (with Gregory Peck & Tony Curtis) on Friday and Saturday nights.

The number one song this week was "Can't Buy Me Love" by the Beatles, who also had the #3 song ("Do You Want to Know a Secret?") and the #7 song ("Twist and Shout"). Other top ten its included "Hello Dolly!" by Louis Armstrong (#2); "Bits and Pieces" by the Dave Clark Five (#4); "My Guy" by Mary Wells (#5); "Don't Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)" by the Serendipity Singers (#6); "Suspicion" by Terry Stafford (#8); "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan & Dean (#9); and "Ronnie" by the Four Seasons (#10).

Late Night Listening: Pendulum

Cosmo's Factory may be Creedence Clearwater Revival's most successful album (and it has so many great songs it's hard not to love it), but I've always been drawn to Pendulum, their post-Cosmo's release. It's not a musical tour de force, but I enjoy its lack of showiness. My two favorite songs are "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" (John Fogerty obviously likes rain motifs, since this followed the prior album's "Who'll Stop the Rain?") and "(Wish I Could) Hide Away." Every song on the album is a CCR original, which is a plus; I like their cover versions well enough, but I always prefer hearing a group doing their own material. I also like the musical diversity that Pendulum offers: more keyboards, more horns, and overall a more full sound. Alas, this was their last album with the full CCR lineup; Tom Fogerty left the group shortly after this was finished, and CCR would only do one more album before everyone went their separate ways.  And if you listen to Pendulum, you hear a lot of evidence that John Fogerty was aware that the group was already growing apart; "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" seems to allude to the friction between the Fogerty brothers.  If you only own two Creedence Clearwater Revival albums, this should be the other one.

If any track fails, it's "Rude Awakening #2." Haven't heard of it? There's a good reason; it's an experimental piece built around a couple of musical riffs, layered with instrumentation in a sort of audio montage, and for the most part it alternates between tedious and grating.

One thing about the album that has always bothered me is the track listing on the back cover. For some reason, CCR chose to list the tracks randomly; the song order on the record is totally different. Created confusion the first time I listened to the album, because my normal practice was to keep the album cover close at hand to see what track was playing and what was coming up. Ultimately, the order of songs on the album itself is better; side one on the album is wonderfully moody for the most part, while side two is a much more energetic, rocking side. No surprise that I prefer side one...

(One other thing worth mentioning: for some reason, Fantasy Records was using thinner vinyl than most companies in 1970, so most copies of this original album are amazingly flimsy. Nevertheless, they managed to get great sound into those vinyl grooves, including a very rich bass sound that is often lacking in thinner vinyl, since the grooves are often more shallow.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Late Night Listening: Mellow Yellow

Mellow Yellow is one of my three favorite Donovan albums (the other two being Open Roads and Barabajagal, each a favorite for a different reason), but oddly enough, I'm not that big a fan of the title song--it's gimmicky and poppy enough, but it lacks any real depth.  No, it's "Young Girl Blues" and "Hampstead Incident" and "Writer in the Sun" and "Sand and Foam" that make this album work for me--an amalgam of folk, blues, and jazz, with superlative production by Mickie Most and arrangement by John Cameron and John Paul Jones. Yes, that's the same John Paul Jones who was a member of Led Zeppelin--and he's not the only Zeppelin member on this album, as Jimmy Page also plays on "Mellow Yellow."

The presence of two future Led Zeppelin members is particularly intriguing because their presence in the studio means that they were most likely very much aware of the song "Hampstead Incident." Listen to that song and you'll recognize the acoustic guitar chord pattern as the same one that Jimmy Page  used on "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" on the first Led Zeppelin album. Page was notorious for "borrowing" riffs, phrases, lyrics, and even entire songs from other musicians, so it's not surprising that he would lift this moody progression for an arrangement of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" that is totally unlike prior recorded versions of the song written by Anne Bredon and recorded by Joan Baez.  (And if you've never heard of Anne Bredon, don't be surprised--Led Zeppelin didn't originally credit her as the author of the song, although they've added her as "co-writer" of the song since 1990 and have paid her a very tidy sum in royalties.)

For years, people have mis-heard Donovan to be saying "quite right, slick" on the title song—and in fact, SiriusXM Radio once asked him to record that phrase for a promo for them. He asked them why, and they said it was the phrase he used on "Mellow Yellow." No, he said—the phrase in the song is "quite rightly."  I have to admit that, for years, I also heard it as "quite right, slick," and only heard it properly after Donovan pointed out the correct lyrics.

The Beatle fan in me considers this a must-have because Paul McCartney performs on "Mellow Yellow" (don't listen for him... you'll never recognize him). And a few years ago, I mentioned that I was a big fan of Nick Drake; turns out that Drake credited the Mellow Yellow album as having a major influence on his music, and I can definitely hear that in the slower, more introspective songs.

And as much as  I love stereo, mono is the way to go on this recording.  I also recommend vinyl over any CD version because every CD I've ever heard overloads the guitar on "Young Girl Blues," distorting the sound of the lovely finger-picking strumming pattern in several places.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Late Night Listening: Hearts and Bones

Hearts and Bones comes along more than a decade after Paul Simon began his solo career, but it's still my favorite of all his solo albums. Reportedly, a lot of what's on this album was originally planned for a reunited Simon & Garfunkel album; when that plan went south, Garfunkel's tracks for some of these song were wiped and it became a Paul Simon album instead. Can't verify if it's true, but it might explain why it's so very good: I think Paul Simon the songwriter rose to the challenge of creating something great for a Simon & Garfunkel reunion.

My favorite tracks here are "Train in the Distance," one of the most poignant tales of faded love and separation ever recorded; "Think Too Much," which is here twice, but it's the second version with its distinctive harmonies that always gives me a musical thrill (my knowledge of harmony isn't sophisticated enough to say why the harmony on the "maybe I think too much" line is so irresistibly delightful, but I wish that someone with a more learned ear could explain it to me—are you listening, Janice Gelb?); and "The Late Great Johnny Ace," a touching, introspective  song of loss inspired by the death of John Lennon.

With most albums, I have a favorite side, but with this album, it's a win-win, whichever side I play. Alternating between solemn and effervescent, silly and somber, bittersweet and bouncy, this is Paul Simon at his very best.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Late Night Listening: If I Could Only Remember My Name

For the past few nights, I've posted my Late Night Listening album on Facebook. Over the past few months, it has become a bit of a ritual for me to pick an album and load it onto my turntable as I was wrapping up my activities for the evening. Last week, I began posting the cover image and a line or two about each night's chosen album. Tonight, it occurred to me that some of you who don't see my Facebook posts might have some fleeting interest in whatever album was playing on my turntable as the night wound down.
Tonight's late night listening is If I Could Only Remember My Name, David Crosby's brilliant 1971 album. Following in the wake of Deja Vu, this album is a star-studded musical tour de force, as Crosby is joined by Graham Nash, Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, Joni Mitchell, Greg Rolie, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, Phil Lesh, Michael Shrieve, Mickey Hart, and others. What could have easily turned into musical chaos is instead the most listenable album from the entire CSNY-related canon. Particularly love the second side, with "What Are Their Names?" and my personal favorite, "Song With No Words." No matter how many times I play this one, it still captivates me with every listening.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 4/13/1964 to 4/19/1964

Chieftanacts took place on April 17th and 18th at the West Rome High School Auditorium. The program, which was sponsored by the Chieftains Club, was directed by Clarda Ellison; members of the National Honor Society served as ushers.

The rains continued into mid-April, which made for a very soggy West Rome. By April 13th, Rome had received 7.23" of rain (normal was 4.59") and in March '64, Rome received 13.46" of rain, which was eight inches above normal.

The administration of the final round of polio oral vaccinations took place at West Rome High School and other area schools on Sunday, April 19th; volunteers from the Rome/Floyd County Medical Society estimated that 50,000 people received the three-dose sugar-cube oral vaccination.

West Rome's track team came in second in a three-way track meet on April 15th, racking up 59 points to 97 for Darlington and 10 for Rockmart. The track team only managed fourth place in the Lafayette Invitational Track Meet on Friday, April 18th, which was won by our arch-rival East Rome.

The week started off badly for West Rome's baseball team as they fell to Carrollton 5-0 on April 15th, managing just one hit, a single by Ronnie Parker; the next day, they lost 6-5 to Dalton. The situation improved on Friday, April 17th, as the Chiefs won 5-0 against Chattooga, led by Jimmy Brewer's superb pitching. On Saturday, they beat Berry 10-3; Gerry Law hit two homerooms, while Jimmy Brewer had three hits, including one home run.

Jeanne Maxwell was elected second vice president of the Northwest District Y Clubs for the 1964-1965 School Year, while Eighth Grade Try-Hi-Y President Lee Davenport was presented with the District World Service Trophy for the most outstanding project during the 1963-64 school year.

Georgia Power was still in the appliance business in 1964, and they were running oodles of spring specials, including a 13 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer for $249, a 10,000 BTU Westinghouse window air conditioner for $149.00, and a Westinghouse washer-dryer combo for $327.88.

Redford's brought back their Friday special, a chicken breast with lima beans, fresh corn, cole slaw, hot rolls, butter, and tea for 50¢.  Alas, this was offered at the Broad Street store only; as West Romans undoubtedly remember, there was no restaurant counter at the West End Redford's.

Piggly Wiggly had Sealtest Ice Milk for 19¢ a galloon, whole fryers for 23¢ a pound, and Swift's Premium olive loaf or liver loaf for 19¢ per 8-ounce package. A& P had sirloin steak for 85¢ a pound, Bisquick for 43¢ a box, and jumbo cantaloupes for 39¢ each. Kroger had chuck roast for 39¢ a pound, Kroger mayonnaise for 39¢ a quart, and lettuce for 15¢ a head. Big Apple had ground beef for 37¢ a pound, Heinz ketchup for 19¢ a bottle, and four pounds of pure lard for 39¢ (mmm... lard...). Couch's had spare ribs for 39¢ a pound, 9 ounces of Chef's frozen french fries for 9¢ (a penny an ounce!), and Jay Bird vienna sausages for 9¢ a can.

The first half of week offered cinemagoers two choices: Walt Disney's A Tiger Walks at the DeSoto or Man in the Middle (with Robert Mitchum & Frances Nuyen) at the First Avenue. For the last half of the week, we all learned how to stop worrying and love the bomb as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (with Peter Sellers & George C. Scott) came to the DeSoto, while Red River (with John Wayne & Walter Brennan) played at the First Avenue. In a truly odd move, however, the DeSoto also scheduled one showing a day of The Beatles Come to Town, a documentary, which aired in the early evening between showings of Dr. Strangelove. Not sure I see the overlap between audiences for this one...

The Beatles had only four songs in the Top Ten this week in 1964 (down from last week's record-setting five songs in the top ten): "Can't Buy Me Love" (#1), "Twist and Shout" (#2); "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" (#5), and "She Loves You" (#8). Other top ten songs for the week included "Suspicion" by Terry Stafford (#3); "Hello Dolly!" by Luois Armstrong (#4); "Shoop Shoop Song" by Betty Everett (#6); "Glad All Over" by the Dave clark Five (#7); "Don't Let the Rain Come Down (The Crooked Little Man)" by the Serendipity Singers (#9); and "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan & Dean (#10).

Comic book fans like me thrilled to the first meeting of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men in Fantastic Four #28, courtesy of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.