Archives

Harry Chapin

The Cat’s In the Cradle and the Silver Spoon

December 7, 2021

On December 7, 1974, Singer Songwriter Harry Chapin was, arguably, at the apex of his career. He turned 32 years old that day, his album Verities and Balderdash had been released in late August and was performing well on the charts. Two weeks later, his single Cat’s In The Cradle would claim the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

If he were still alive, Harry Forster Chapin would be celebrating his 79th birthday. Born in New York City,  the second of four sons, Chapin’s first exposure to music was trumpet lessons, encouraged no doubt by his father, Jim Chapin, a renowned percussionist. His younger brothers, Tom and Steve, formed a musical group as  teenagers and Harry would perform with them.

But music, it seems, was not the direction he went… at least not at first. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker and took a job with The Big Fights, a company run by Bill Cayton that owned a large library of classic boxing films. Chapin directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary Academy Award. In 1971, he began focusing on music. With John Wallace, Tim Scott, and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various nightclubs in New York City.”

Having a father in the music business probably helped his career along. He became the prize in a bidding war between two high powered executives at Columbia and Elektra records. The result being a multi-million dollar contract with Elektra which, at the time, was one of the biggest ever signed.

On his debut album was the song Taxi – a wistful story of a chance encounter with an old girlfriend the taxi driver picks up one night. That song catapulted Chapin to fame. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“When asked if the song was true, Chapin said ‘It’s emotionally true, if not literally true. I’ve been in the film business on and off for a lot of years, and wasn’t doing well at one point. So I went out and got a hack license for bread, and during the month that I was waiting for it to come through, I heard an old girlfriend of mine had gotten married and instead of becoming an actress she married a rich guy. I envisioned some night I’d be driving a cab in the big city streets and this lady would get in the back, and I’d turn and look at her and she’d look at me and know we both sold out our dreams.’ Billboard ranked ‘Taxi’ as the 85th song of the year. ‘Taxi’ also earned Chapin a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist of the Year.”

By 1974, Chapin had a string of memorable songs and a reputation as a talented songwriter. Cat’s In the Cradle – his most successful recording – is a poignant and memorable song about a man who has a son, but no time to spend with his child. We follow the man through the stages of life and, at the end of the story, we learn that his son has followed in his father’s footsteps, never finding the time for his family either.

Sadly, Chapin lost his life in a horrific auto accident on July 16, 1981. He was on his way to play, for free, at a benefit concert.

Chapin with son Josh and daughter Jennifer

In addition to his music, Chapin championed a number of social issues. In 1987, on what would have been his 45th birthday, Chapin was recognized for his work on behalf of fighting world hunger and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. That award is given to individuals “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”

A few years back, the organizers of a class reunion for my high school sent out a questionnaire as a way of engaging classmates. One of the questions was ‘which song from high school best represents our experience?’

I did not hesitate a moment and wrote Cats In The Cradle. When the list came out at the reunion, I was pleased to see that many of my classmates felt the same way.

Perhaps, that song is Chapin’s most enduring contribution to people everywhere – a reminder that life holds no guarantees and can be over in an instant. The best any of us can do is pause every once in a while and give our time to those we love and value.

Time, after all, is the true currency for all. But it cannot be earned or purchased. It cannot be borrowed. It can only be spent. Chapin seemed to understand this and did so very much with his allotted 38 years.

The lyrics for Cats In The Cradle:

A child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad,
You know I’m gonna be like you”

Chorus: And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man in the moon

When you comin home, Dad, I don’t know when,

But we’ll get together then,

You know we’ll have a good time then.


My son turned ten just the other day
He said “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets play
Can you teach me to throw? ” I said, “Not today,
I got a lot to do” He said “that’s okay”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him”

(Chorus)

Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile

“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please? “

(Chorus)

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said “I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It’s sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It’s been sure nice talking to you…….. “
And as I hung up the phone it had occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me…………..

(Chorus)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Chapin

https://harrychapinmusic.com/

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”

November 9, 2021

This band achieved international fame when its song “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” hit number one on the Billboard charts November 9, 1974.

Simply saying the letters B-T-O is enough for most who were teenagers in the 1970’s. For those who don’t know, the group is Bachman-Turner Overdrive which, for a few short years, was able to pack stadiums and concert halls with their rock and roll music.

Randy Bachman played with a group called Brave Belt whose sound was decidedly country. That all changed one night. We go to the Infallible Wikipedia to learn about the group’s beginning:

 “…the seeds of the BTO sound were sown at a university gig in Thunder Bay, Ontario, shortly after (Chad) Allan’s departure. A promoter, disheartened with reactions to Allan’s country-flavoured songs, which the band was still playing, decided to sack Brave Belt for the Saturday night show and bring in a more rock-oriented replacement from Toronto. When that didn’t materialize, he begged Brave Belt to stay on and play a set of classic rock cover songs. As the band played songs like ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘All Right Now’, the dance floor filled up and, according to Randy, ‘We instantly saw the difference between playing sit-down music people could talk over and playing music they would jump out of their seats and dance to.’

After Reprise Records dropped Brave Belt from their label, Randy Bachman emptied his own bank account to finance another set of recordings with the Brave Belt II lineup, and began to shop around the next album. Said Randy in 1974, ‘I went to A&M, Epic, Atlantic, Columbia, Asylum – you name it. A week later, I’d get letters saying ‘Dear Randy, We pass.’ We’re thinking of calling our greatest hits album We Pass and printing all those refusals on the jacket. I’ve got all 22 of them.’

The band eventually landed a deal with Mercury Records, one which Randy proclaimed as a pure stroke of luck. In April 1973, Charlie Fach of Mercury Records returned to his office after a trip to France to find a stack of unplayed demo tapes waiting on his desk. Wanting to start completely fresh, he took a trash can and slid all the tapes into it except one which missed the can and fell onto the floor. Fach picked up the tape and noticed Bachman’s name on it. He remembered talking to him the previous year and had told Bachman that if he ever put a demo together to send it to him.”

Bachman shared further:

“’I could hear ‘Gimme Your Money Please’ playing in the background, and that was the first song on the tape. Back then, you sent out two 7+1/2-inch reels of your album, an A-side and a B-side, and that was side one, cut one. He said, ‘Randy, this is fabulous. Is the rest of the album like this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s all just good ol’, dancing rock-and-roll.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have a meeting with my A&R people, but as far as I’m concerned, this is great and I want to sign it.’

With their record deal in hand, the group needed a new name. While at a steak house in Ontario, one of the members saw a trucker’s magazine called Overdrive. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Turner wrote ‘Bachman–Turner Overdrive’ and the initials ‘B.T.O.’ on a napkin. The rest of the band decided the addition of ‘Overdrive’ was the perfect way to describe their music.”

The group’s most famous song, perhaps, is one which always gets crowds up and moving, hands inevitably being clapped in time to the memorable beat: Takin’ Care of Business.

Now, to be fair, I knew the group’s songs. I’d danced to them. Truly who had not heard of BTO? But I did not own any of their albums and would not be considered a super fan.

And, like most – if not all – successful musical acts, there comes a day when the people are not showing up in the tens of thousands to hear you; when your songs no longer get the radio air time; when your venues are now nightclubs frequented by 30 and 40 something baby boomers who had a rare night out and saw that you were in town.

Which brings us to March of 1995. The hubby had a business conference in Orlando. What better excuse did we need to pack up the two kids – ages 5 and (almost) 2 – and fly across the country for a few days at Disney World and explore Florida?

We rented a condo and a car and spent a couple days doing the Disney thing before the hubby had to go to his conference. The kids and I drove out to the Atlantic Ocean and got sunburned at Cocoa Beach; we went to SeaWorld; we hung out at the pool by the condo ; we played and had a great time.

But, like all vacations, the day arrived when once more we had to get on that plane and head home.

When my kids were little, I had a strategy for flying. If the plane had six seats across with the aisle in the middle, I would split the family up so that each child was in charge of a parent. I also made sure to book the window and center seats as being able to look out was good for at least two half hour segments of the plane ride.

Blair Thornton (right) on the inside of the “Not Fragile” album cover

And so it was when we boarded the plane in Orlando which would take us to Los Angeles and then to Seattle. Our seats were near the back of the plane with my daughter and I on the right side and the hubby and son on the left. Because we were traveling with children, we boarded before most of the other passengers.

The plane filled up. Among the last to board were a group of four: three men and one woman who had the four aisle seats: the two adjacent to our middle and window seats, and two aisle seats in the row in front of our row.

As I look up at my ‘seatmate’ – a forty something man with longish hair, I note the expression which clearly says, “Damn, I drew the Mom with the small child.” I had seen that look before. I’d probably given that look before.

What my seatmate did NOT know is that I was anything BUT the typical mom with the small child. I came prepared for every trip we ever took with an arsenal of activities. I had a half dozen favorite books. I carried snacks. My daughter had a tape player with headphones and listened to stories on tape. I would gift wrap small toys and give them out at various intervals to keep my children occupied.

On this particular trip I had made a ‘dollhouse’ for my daughter’s  two inch tall Playmobile Dolls out of three nested shoe boxes. The plane prizes for my daughter were some new dolls and small pieces of furniture to go in the house. That ‘house’ did wonders keeping her engaged.

Eventually, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate and learned that his name was Blair. I asked what had brought him to Orlando to which he replied that he was in a band that had played a gig there.

“Oh, might I have heard of your band?”

He smiled and said, “It’s ETO.”

ETO? Nope. I had never heard of ETO. BTO, yes. ELO – Electric Light Orchestra, yes. But not a band called ETO.

Two of the BTO albums in the hubby’s vinyl record collection

I shook my head and said I wasn’t familiar with it.

We chatted off and on throughout the flight. I learned that the woman sitting across the aisle was his wife. He had ordered the vegetarian meal option but didn’t like the doughnut which came with it so he gave that to me. In all, it was a pleasant flight. We were on final approach to Los Angeles when Blair turns to me and says, “You know, I was worried when I saw where I was sitting but your children are the best behaved kids I’ve seen on a plane… and I’ve seen a lot.”

I thanked him for his kind words, wished him well, and he deplaned, while we stayed on for the last leg to Seattle.

It was only AFTER they had left that I began to wonder who, exactly, had I been seated next to. I told the hubby the band was named ETO which, as one can imagine, got the ‘are you sure’ face. The identity of my seatmate was now bugging me. Once we got home, things were unloaded and the kids settled, I ventured into the closet where the hubby kept his collection of vinyl albums and thumbed through them until I found BTO. I flipped the album over and there on the back cover was the face of one Blair Thornton, the bass guitar player for BTO smiling back at me. I shook my head, irritated by my lack of asking additional questions of Blair.

I had noted that Blair wore a rather large hearing aid; something that seemed out of place for a guy his age. Apparently, however, I WAS the one who needed it that day. I kept the doughnut he gave me for a time but it wasn’t exactly the sort of memento one keeps from a rock star.

Instead the words echoed through my head… “Here’s something that you never gonna forget… B-b-b-baby, you just ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet” the day I flew across the United States with Bachman Turner Overdrive. 

Without You

‘The killer song of all times’

February 23, 2021

Paul McCartney once said of this ballad that it is ‘the killer song of all times.’ Pretty high praise from someone who’s written more than a few great songs himself.

Since its release by the group Badfinger on their 1970 album ‘No Dice’, Without You has been recorded by over 180 artists. Of those Harry Nillson’s version was the most successful, sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks from February 19 to March 11, 1972.

Tom Evans and Pete Ham

The song was borne through the work of two of Badfinger’s members: Pete Ham and Tom Evans. The Infallible Wikipedia shares how the song was written:

“Pete Ham wrote a song originally titled ‘If It’s Love’, but it had lacked a strong chorus. At the time of writing, the band shared residence with the Mojos at 7 Park Avenue in Golders Green. One evening, in the midst of the parties, songwriting, touring, in Golders Green, Ham and his girlfriend Beverly Tucker were about to go out for the evening. But just as they were leaving Tom Evans said he had an idea for a song – Ham said, ‘Not tonight, I’ve promised Bev.’ But she thought he would be wondering if he had done the right thing later, if he went out, – she told him – ‘Go into the studio, I’m fine about it’ … He said, ‘Your mouth is smiling, but your eyes are sad.’ The song Ham wrote that night was called ‘If it’s Love’ and has the verse ‘Well I can’t forget tomorrow, when I think of all my sorrow, I had you there but then I let you go, and now it’s only fair that I should let you know … if it’s love’. But Ham wasn’t happy with the chorus.

Evans’ relationship with his future wife Marianne influenced his lyrics:

Nillson’s 45 version of the song

One evening he [Evans] went to her [Marianne’s] friend Karen and told Karen, ‘She’s left me. I need her back. I can’t live without her.’ He flew to Bonn to find her – he wrote a song called ‘I Can’t Live’. Its chorus included ‘I can’t live, if living is without you, I can’t live, I can’t give any more.’ And so the merging of the two songs, Ham and Evans created the hit [with] Ham’s verse, ‘warm, sweet, sentimental’ and Evans’ chorus, ‘intense, dramatic, heartbreaking.’

Both Ham and Evans said they did not consider the song to have much potential at the time Badfinger recorded it, and the track was slotted to close the first side of their 1970 album No Dice. Badfinger’s recording of the song, which is more brusque than its successors’ versions, was not released as a single in Europe or North America.”

The lyrics and the melody are an amazing combination of a soulful, unforgettable tune, and lyrics which capture the pain of heartbreak.

In the writing of this article, I ended up listening to the ten most successful versions of the song. It was recorded by several country artists, as well as R&B favorite Ruby Winters and, more recently pop Diva, Mariah Carey. Pop Groups Heart and Air Supply each have versions.

And all, in my opinion – including the original Badfinger rendition – pale in comparison to Nillson’s version; when he sings the song, seems to really mean it. Now, I suppose that my love of that interpretation can be traced back to the fall of 1971 when pop radio was a huge part of my life.

I remember listening to this song as well as hearing it played at the various dances I attended. Who wouldn’t want to dance with that cute guy you had a crush on while the words ‘Can’t live, if living is without you’ seemed the most romantic thing you’d ever heard? Exactly.

For teenagers, it seems, everything is MORE. Feelings are more intense. First love is more intense. First breakup is more intense. Without You captured all of that in one heart-wrenching song.

From the perch of a different time of life, however, one comes to understand that along the way that first love usually fades and others follow. That first breakup – which at the time does seem like the end of the world – starts to be not quite so life ending.

The intense feelings give way to other needs: to eat, to work, to live life. And, for most people, one eventually understands that, as cliché as it may sound, life does go on.

Being a teenager was emotionally exhausting if for no other reason than most teens hold the erroneous belief that NO ONE EVER has felt the same way as them. But it’s simply not true.

If someone had told me this at the time I probably wouldn’t have believed them. Of course no one had ever felt like I felt. In my arrogance I was certain that I had a monopoly on heartache and disappointment.

It was only some decades later that I belatedly came to understand that everyone has problems in life. Or, as I frequently say, Everyone has ‘stuff.’ I might have used a different, not as benign word but, since this is a family friendly blog, I’ll leave it as stuff.

Whatever ‘stuff’ you are facing my friends, I wish you the strength to get through it.

A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Without_You_(Badfinger_song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Nilsson

Dolly Parton

I Will Always Love You

January 19, 2021

Hers is a household name. Superficially, she is known for her over the top persona as a country music performer and icon. There is, however, a reason for her successful career which has now spanned 60 years. Long before Madonna or Lady Gaga invented their outrageous selves, we had Dolly Parton, a true original.

Today, January 19, 2021, marks the singer/songwriter’s 75th birthday.

It’s been a remarkable career. Especially for a woman born in a one room cabin in east Tennessee. The family was beyond broke but it was, perhaps, that beginning which helped to galvanize Parton’s will. We turn to the Infallible Wikipedia for the background:

“Parton has described her family as being ‘dirt poor.’ Parton’s father paid the doctor who helped deliver her with a bag of cornmeal. She outlined her family’s poverty in her early songs ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’. For approximately 6 to 7 years, Parton and her family lived in a rustic, one-bedroom cabin on a small subsistence farm on Locust Ridge. This was a predominately Pentecostal area located north of the Greenbrier Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains. Music played an important role in her early life. She was brought up in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), in a congregation her grandfather, Jake Robert Owens, pastored. Her earliest public performances were in the church, beginning at age six. At seven, she started playing a homemade guitar. When she was eight, her uncle bought her first real guitar.

Parton began performing as a child, singing on local radio and television programs in the East Tennessee area.] By ten, she was appearing on The Cas Walker Show on both WIVK Radio and WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. At 13, she was recording (the single ‘Puppy Love’) on a small Louisiana label, Goldband Records, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where she first met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to follow her own instincts regarding her career.”

Unless you were a fan of country music you likely had never heard of Parton until the 1970’s or 1980’s. It was in these two decades that her career crossed over into the Top 40 charts; she was also cast in several movies and featured on variety music shows with such stars as Cher and Carol Burnett.

Parton has won two Academy Awards, seven Grammys, 11 Country Music Association awards, and five Golden Globes. In her career, she has sold over 100 million records.

In my mind, however, it is her songwriting which will be her most enduring legacy. I would argue that she’s been, perhaps, the most prolific and successful songwriter of the 20th century.

During an interview on Larry King Live in March 2009, she answered his question about how many songs she’d written this way:

“Well, you know, I don’t count them, Larry. But I’ve been writing since I was a little bitty girl. I was probably 7 years old when I started playing the guitar and writing some serious songs. So, I know that I have at least 3,000 songs that I have written. I’ve got songs in boxes, drawers, stuff I carried from home when I left, that I still haven’t gotten through. And I write something almost every day, least an idea down. But that’s not to say they’re all good, but that’s what I do and it’s what I love to do.”

Image from quotefancy.com

I understand how powerful the impetus to write is for a person. One’s brain is constantly tumbling new ideas and thinking ‘what if.’

Songwriting, however, is a completely different world and one which inspires awe, at least for me. For some songwriters, they hear the music and can create that alone. For others, they work with composers to make a marriage of their poetic words with someone else’s music. And then there are those, like Dolly Parton, who do both things. It’s a rare talent.

Over 3,000 songs – that was in 2009 – and she is still writing them. Amazing.

When the hubby, my son and daughter, and I visited Nashville in 2013, we toured the Country Music Hall of Fame (CMHF); A truly fascinating place which pays tribute to the biggest stars of the genre.

My favorite section in the building turned out to be an interactive display which featured five Country Music songwriters including, of course, Dolly Parton. The rest of the visitors, as well as my own family, melted into the background as I really began to understand and appreciate Parton’s amazing contribution to the American experience.

It was there – still reading about Parton – that the family found me quite some time later and pretty much had to force me to leave to go get lunch.

The fact that I never got through the entire display just gives me an excuse to return to Nashville so I can read the rest of what I missed. Next time I’ll head straight to that section of the CMHF. And, as long as I’m in Tennessee, I think continuing east for a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains and Dollywood might also be in order. Sounds like a great roadtrip!

The exhaustive article from the Infallible Wikipedia is found here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_Parton

A list of songs she’s written which have been published: https://www.azlyrics.com/d/dollyparton.html

Gordon Lightfoot

Carefree Highway

November 17, 2020

This Canadian born singer-songwriter wrote more than 200 published songs in the folk-rock/country genre and was one of several who pioneered what became known as soft rock in the 1970’s.

Gordon Lightfoot’s distinctive voice and style – with a penchant for melancholy – made him a favorite for angsty teenage girls of the era. If You Could Read My Mind – his first US hit – was released in December 1970, rising to number five on the Top 40 and number one on the US Easy Listening charts in February 1971. Other hits followed including Sundown – his only number one Top 40 hit – was immediately followed up by Carefree Highway (#10 on the Top 40 and #1 on the Easy Listening Charts). The hits continued for several years and the classic Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald reached the Top 40 number two spot the week of November 20, 1976.

Today, November 17th, is Gordon Lightfoot’s 82nd birthday.

Lightfoot is considered by many Canadians to be their greatest songwriter. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Gordon Lightfoot’s music career has spanned more than six decades, producing more than 200 recordings. He helped define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s, with his songs recorded by artists such as Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. The Canadian band The Guess Who recorded a song called ‘Lightfoot’ on their 1968 album Wheatfield Soul; the lyrics contain many Lightfoot song titles.

Bob Dylan made this comment about the artist: ‘I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever…. Lightfoot became a mentor for a long time. I think he probably still is to this day.’

In June 2017, Lightfoot rated fifth in the CBC’s list of the 25 best Canadian songwriters ever.

Lightfoot’s biographer, Nicholas Jennings, sums up his legacy this way: ‘His name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness. His music defined the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He is unquestionably Canada’s greatest songwriter.’”

Perhaps the thing one most admires about Lightfoot is that it has, apparently, always been about the music and the songs. Even when the folk rock sound lost popularity, he stayed true to his roots and his passion, keeping his base of loyal fans who have continued to attend his performances. Sadly, some health issues in the past few years have impacted his ability to perform but one suspects that as long as he walks this earth he will continue to sing, write music, and share that music.

It was the song If You Could Read My Mind which first brought Lightfoot to my attention. As a young teenager, it was the folk rock/soft rock songs which I preferred. I recall going to Valu-Mart in Yakima where I bought my first 45 records. Three were purchased that day, one of those the aforementioned If You Could Read My Mind.

For my regular readers, you know that I like to weave a story which ties in to the person or theme of each week’s blog. I’ve had this topic set for November 17th for some time now and even when I began writing it I wasn’t sure where it would take me.

As the hubby said this evening, serendipity was at work this week. For the past 11 days, he and I have been on a mission which brought us to Arizona. We’d been tasked with the job of packing up and sending back to his parents all their personal belongings from a trailer home they’ve owned in Apache Junction for the past 16 years. Due to some health concerns the decision was made to sell the place. But someone had to go in person to do it.

On November 5th, he and I left Washington State headed south. We traveled 500 miles a day, and navigated the Covid world with as few personal interactions as possible. The job was huge: make sure that we get everything back to his parents that they wanted, clean it up, sell a car and sell the trailer. All in just over 6 days if possible.

On Saturday, November 14th, we crammed the car with things that simply were not shippable (we packed and sent 21 shipping boxes!) including an outdoor metal floral piece and a roughly 2 ½ foot long by 1 ½ foot tall ceramic donkey which I dubbed the wonky donkey.

This author on the Carefree highway in Arizona

We headed north on Highway 17, headed for a detour to see Sedona (worth it!) and then to spend the first night of the return trip in Flagstaff. After getting gas at the last Costco in north Phoenix, we continued up the free way for about 17 miles and ended up on highway 76… also known as The Carefree Highway.

Sure enough, we had found the place which inspired one of Gordon Lightfoot’s most popular songs. The hubby obliged when I asked him to take a photo of me at one of the intersections. Of course I then had to look up the lyrics. As is typical of many of Lightfoot’s songs, the lyrics are a bit of conundrum. But this section seemed somewhat appropriate to the task at hand:

Turnin’ back the pages to the times I love best
I wonder if she’ll ever do the same
Now the thing that I call livin’ is just bein’ satisfied
With knowin’ I got no one left to blame
Carefree highway, got ta see you my old flame
Carefree highway, you seen better days
The mornin’ after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree highway, let me slip away
Slip away on you.

There was sadness for the hubby and me as we drove away from his parents’ place, knowing that everyone would have preferred that they could spend another winter there. As I packed up every single personal item, I came to understand this place was so much more than just a winter getaway, for them is was their Carefree Highway and a special place they truly called home.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Lightfoot

I Said oo-oo-oo-wee

Undercover Angel

July 7, 2020

If there was one thing the 1970’s was known for it was the plethora of questionable songs and their popularity. I’ve covered some of these songs in previous articles. Songs like Muskrat Love and The Streak, for example. Another questionable song was at the top of the charts for one week in July 1977.

Alan O’Day – the singer who penned the tune – dubbed it a “nocturnal novelette.” An apt description for this schlocky song.

94edeb0026cdb5d69f8eb2db8a0a8709Undercover Angel, in my opinion, should never have made it to number one. Perhaps the lyrics were just racy enough and just cryptic enough to cause the teenagers of the era to listen again and again in an effort to dissect its meaning.

The Infallible Wikipedia offers a brief hint:

“The song begins with a man describing his loneliness, when a woman suddenly appears in his bed and encourages him to make love to her. The rest of the song describes his feelings about her, then he discovers she must leave him, and he is saddened. She tells him to ‘go find the right one, love her and then, when you look into her eyes you’ll see me again’.

It then becomes apparent that he has been telling this story to a woman he is trying to seduce; he tells her he is ‘looking for my angel in your sweet, loving eyes’.”

The internet has been helpful in that the lyrics to pretty much every song ever written can be found with a simple search. Here’s a link https://www.elyrics.net/read/a/alan-o_day-lyrics/undercover-angel-lyrics.html so you can read them yourself if you are so inclined.

That said, the whole premise of this song is a bit disturbing. I would describe it a bit differently: A creepy guy has nocturnal fantasies which he then shares as a way to try and pick up a girl. Then, if the lyrics aren’t bad enough, the actual song itself has a repetitive and suggestive ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ being sung over and over and over.

I turned 20 the year this record was popular and, being tuned in to music, knew the song but never thought much about it. Until the summer of 2013, that is. My own daughter – who just so happened to be 20 that year too – had started working at Michael’s (craft store).

As the weeks wore on she would come home and complain about the awful ‘70’s music’ which played on continuous loop through the store’s intercom system. I suppose they broadcast music of that era to appease the 40 and 50 something soccer moms who were their biggest customers. But it drove my daughter crazy.

There were two songs which she particularly loathed: Knock Three Times by Tony Orlando and Dawn and the one she dubbed the angel song… Undercover Angel.

screaming-blonde-woman-in-sweater-covering-her-ears-with-closed-eyes_ryckzumfl_thumbnail-full01

This is not my actual daughter… but close enough.

In fact, if I wanted to bug her all I had to do was sing ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ like O’Day did on the record and she would tell me to stop in no uncertain terms. My fun ended when she moved away at the end of that summer, probably just to escape the music where she worked and, possibly, me for having a little fun at her expense.

Who knew that the worst songs of the 1970’s would live on as earworms* and haunt future generations decades later? It makes me wonder what songs of subsequent eras which were very popular are now seen by today’s teens as ridiculous: Barbie Girl? Macarena? Wannabe?

I think I need to call my daughter and ask her opinion… but not before I sing ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ to her. It will make her day.

*An earworm, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, is “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undercover_Angel_(song)

Funny how a Melody…

… Sounds like a Memory

June 23, 2020

20160802_203234Of all the seasons, summer is the one which seems to take us back to our youth. That sentiment is related, perhaps, to the provenance of children, whose best days happen when that school bell rings on the last day of classes. Ahead stretches a glorious few months of getting to play all day and curfews that seem to follow the long arc of light as it stretches into twilight.

For these reasons, I suppose, the summer solstice is an occasion to wax a bit nostalgic as we recall those childhood evenings playing kick the can until Dad yelled from the front door to come home. It was also the season for teenagers when evenings were spent with friends and, if one was lucky, perhaps a bit of romance was discovered.

Many a musical artist has captured that nostalgia but none, in my opinion, quite as effectively as Eric Church with his number one country hit “Springsteen” which topped that chart on June 23, 2012.

As always, the Infallible Wikipedia shares a bit of information:

“ ‘Springsteen’ received critical acclaim from many music critics. Billy Dukes of Taste of Country gave the song five stars out of five, calling it ‘the best song from one of 2011’s top country albums.’ Matt Bjorke of Roughstock also gave the song five stars of five, writing that ‘the strong, sing-a-long lyrics and driving, percussive melody brings Eric Church to an accessibility that he’s previously never had.’ Noah Eaton of Country Universe gave it an A-, saying that it is ‘a gorgeous, bittersweet anthem-to-be that will likely leave even some more hardened hearts simultaneously smile and cry listening.’  Eaton went on further to say that this song would propel Church’s career to the next level. American Songwriter chose the song for its Lyric of the Week feature, for the week of June 11, 2012.  The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards – Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song – on December 12, 2012, but failed to win any of the awards at the ceremony in 2013.

Thom Jerek of AllMusic said the song had ‘a clever, if somewhat cloying, tune, but it gets the feeling across in spades.’  The A.V. Club reviewer Steven Hyden claims that Church ‘is just as effective on slower, more thoughtful songs like ‘Springsteen’ and that the song ‘[reflects] reflecting on music’s power to revive forgotten emotions from the past.’

Bruce Springsteen himself took note of Church’s music, specifically the song ‘Springsteen’, and wrote Church a note on the back of a setlist. Church received the letter from Springsteen after a show on August 19, 2012. In the note, Springsteen explained his and his family’s love of the song and that he hoped to have their paths cross at some point. Church was surprised when receiving the note and said that ‘it’s a long note, takes up the entire back page of this setlist for a show that lasted three hours and 47 minutes.’”

Between the ennui inducing lyrics and the memorable tune, Church’s song sounds as fresh as it did twelve years ago. He nailed it in the refrain with these lyrics:

Springsteen lyrics meme

Church, like so many great songwriters, based his song on a relationship he had. It wasn’t a Springsteen song which provided the actual music, however. That, to the best of my knowledge, is a well kept secret. From the SongFacts website:

“Church told Reuters this is his favorite song from Chief (his third album). He explained: ‘I lived that song. I was 15 years-old and she was 16. We had that love affair where you connect with someone, and the artist that was playing becomes a soundtrack to your relationship. We didn’t stay together, but to this day, when I hear Bruce Springsteen, I think of her and I hope she thinks of me.’”

A few weeks ago, my blog was about the radio (https://barbaradevore.com/2020/06/02/like-a-song-on-the-radio) and how important that was to the teenagers of my era. We listened for many an hour in hopes of hearing our favorite songs over and over and over. It was inevitable, then, that there are songs which instantly transport us back to another place and time; songs which are associated with events and the people who were significant to us then.

When you walk outside some evening this summer – and look up at the lingering colors in the fading light – perhaps you, too, will recall a melody which sounds like a memory to you, like a soundtrack from a July Saturday night.

And a couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springsteen_(song)

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/eric-church/springsteen

Against All Odds

May 5, 2020

Phil Collins

If ever there were a singer songwriter who captured the romantic angst of the 1980’s it was Phil Collins. He recorded a string of hits which listeners purchased in numbers that sent seven of his songs to the top of the Billboard Charts.

Against All Odds was the first number one hit during his solo career. On May 5, 1984 it was in  the top spot for the third week in a row.

 

Originally, I was going to feature just the song but the more I researched, the more interested I became in learning about Collins and his impact during the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. The Infallible Wikipedia states that Collins is:

“an English drummer, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actor, best known as the drummer/singer of the rock band Genesis and for his solo career. Between 1982 and 1989, Collins scored three UK and seven US number-one singles in his solo career. When his work with Genesis, his work with other artists, as well as his solo career is totalled, he had more US Top 40 singles than any other artist during the 1980s. His most successful singles from the period include ‘In The Air Tonight’, ‘Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)’, ‘One More Night’, ‘Sussidio’, ‘Two Hearts’ and ‘Another Day in Paradise.’

Born and raised in west London, Collins played drums from the age of five… (snip) He then pursued a music career, joining Genesis in 1970 as their drummer and becoming lead singer in 1975 following the departure of Peter Gabriel. Collins began a solo career in the 1980s, initially inspired by his marital breakdown and love of soul music, releasing a series of successful albums, including Face Value (1981), No Jacket Required (1985), and …But Seriously (1989). Collins became ‘one of the most successful pop and adult contemporary singers of the ’80s and beyond’. (snip)

Genesis

Genesis Band members in the early 1970’s, clockwise from bottom left, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Peter Gabriel, and Tony Banks.

Collins’s discography includes eight studio albums that have sold 33.5 million certified units in the US and an estimated 150 million worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling artists. He is one of only three recording artists, along with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, who have sold over 100 million records worldwide both as solo artists and separately as principal members of a band. He has received eight Grammy Awards, six Brit Awards (winning Best British Male Artist three times), two Golden Globe Awards, one Academy Award, and a Disney Legend Award. He was awarded six Ivor Novello Awards from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, including the International Achievement Award. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010. He has also been recognised by music publications with induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2012, and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2013.”

In reading the rather exhaustive Wikipedia article, one is left with the impression that Collins wanted to be everywhere and involved in every creative endeavor during the height of his popularity. In addition to Genesis and his solo work, he managed to play drums and provide vocal backups for many of the other popular groups of the day; he was involved with TV and movies. Did voice work for Disney and wrote songs for the movies. And he paid for his workaholic behavior with the demise of three marriages.

Phil Collins drums

His strong personality and singular career focus has made him the target of much criticism over the years. While his undeniable talent has been lauded by many, there are those in the rock and roll world who derided Collins as a sell out to his acoustic rock roots by taking a more commercial approach to his career in the 1980’s.

When I think about music from the 1980’s it does seem to fall into two camps: the more cutting edge sound of a Michael Jackson or Prince, or the soft ‘pop’ of the era as exemplified by artists such as Collins, John Waite, and Wham!

The music of the cutting edge artists required one to stop and listen, while those in the latter group provided the backdrops for our lives.

I have often said, when the topic of the 80’s and music comes up, that it produced some of the best songs ever. Don’t get me wrong. I love the music of the 1970’s and a lot of the 1960’s. It was in the 1980’s, however, when there was a diversity of sound which appealed to pretty much anyone’s taste.

And, love him or hate him, Phil Collins was a big part of the decade.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Collins

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Against_All_Odds_(Take_a_Look_at_Me_Now)

Facebook Answers:

  1. Sting – The Police
  2. Phil Collins – Genesis
  3. Dianna Ross – The Supremes
  4. Beyonce – Destiny’s Child
  5. Lionel Richie – The Commodores

Congratulations to this week’s winner of the FB quiz: Linda Barkley!

 

 

 

I’m Just A Singer…

In A Rock and Roll Band

April 14, 2020

But, oh what a band. When this group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, 2018, the music world rose up and exclaimed, “It’s about time.”

Singer in Rock and Roll Band

The Moody Blues in 1971. From left to right, Graeme Edge, Ray Thomas, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, and Justin Hayward.

The Moody Blues is one of the longest running bands in rock and roll history, their music spanning six decades. It all began near Birmingham, England, in 1964. The original group consisted of Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder, Denny Laine, Graeme Edge, and Clint Warwick.

The group had some moderate success in Great Britain for the next two years but it was in 1966 with a couple of key personnel changes when their sound and style really coalesced. At that time both Laine and Warwick left the group and were replaced with John Lodge and Justin Hayward.

Even with the new musicians in place, the group struggled to find their style. It was in 1967, however, that they released what is, arguably, their most significant album. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Released in November 1967, Days of Future Passed peaked at number 27 on the British LP chart. Five years later it reached number 3 on the Billboard chart in the US. The LP was a song cycle or concept album that takes place over the course of a single day. The album drew inspiration in production and arrangement from the pioneering use of the classical instrumentation by the Beatles, to whom Pinder had introduced the mellotron that year. It took the form to new heights using the London Festival Orchestra, a loose affiliation of Decca’s classical musicians given a fictitious name, adding the term ‘London’ to sound impressive, to provide an orchestral linking framework to the Moodies’ already written and performed songs, plus overture and conclusion sections on the album, including backing up Graeme Edge’s opening and closing poems recited by Pinder.”

Since their formation the group produced 16 studio albums, 26 compilation albums, and eight live albums. Of their 21 singles which charted in the Billboard Hot 100, Nights in White Satin (1972) was the biggest hit coming in at number two on November 3. Their next big hit occurred 14 years later with Your Wildest Dreams. It topped out at #9 on July 11, 1986.

The group continued to tour as recently as 2015 but, with the death of founding member Ray Thomas, the group is now whittled down to three members. And, let’s face it, they are not exactly young.

Their entry to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in similar fashion to people warming up to their unique style, took years. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Moody Blues are members of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. In 2013, readers of Rolling Stone voted for them as one of the ten bands that should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ultimate Classic Rock called them ‘perennial victims of an unaccountable snubbing’ and inducted them into its own Hall of Fame in 2014. (snip)

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

During his acceptance speech in Cleveland, Ohio (to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) Justin Hayward said, ‘If you didn’t know already, well we’re just a bunch of British guys, but of course to us and to all British musicians, this is the home of our heroes and we all know that…’ acknowledging the inspirational role of America’s rock and roll icons. During the ceremony, Ray Thomas was included as a star that was lost in the past year.”

Over the past decade, the MB’s has become one of my favorite ‘hitchhiker’ CD’s as I call them. With the frequent trips to Yakima music became an essential stress releaser and keep me alert strategy. I find I tended to choose the MB’s as companions on days when the weather was dreary and melancholy seemed to serve me best. Some of their early songs take me back to my high school days and dances. Nights in White Satin was a perennial favorite when it was time for a slow one. And the MB’s Your Wildest Dreams effectively captures the lament of the man – once young – who wonders when the years slipped away and if those he once knew still remember him.

Most of all, however, is that the songs are great for ‘cara-aoke’ and for a few minutes we can all be singers in a rock and roll band.

The first article was quite exhaustive. A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moody_Blues

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moody_Blues_discography

https://www.billboard.com/music/the-moody-blues/chart-history/HSI/2

Congratulations to Paul Roe who correctly identified all four bands on my Facebook challenge. Here’s what Paul wrote: Magic = The Cars, Sultans of Swing-Dire Straits (Knoffler has an awesome guitar solo), Nights in White Satin-The Moody Blues and You Give Love a Bad Name-Bon Jovi.

He hit it fast and early and no one else even had a chance! Woo Hoo Paul!

I Will Survive

April 7, 2020

A Different Kind Of Fever

LIT181EA_12in-DISCO-BALLIn the spring of 1979 a different sort of fever gripped the United States. This fever, however, was one that encouraged people to get together in large groups. We called it Disco Fever. By the spring of that year, the musical airwaves were dominated by the catchy beat of Disco tunes and artists such as the Bee Gees, ABBA, and Donna Summer.

There was one song from that year – unlike any others – which has spanned generations and remains popular 40 years later. That song is I Will Survive.

On April 7, 1979, Gloria Gaynor’s anthem topped the Billboard Charts. The song’s path to popularity was one of being almost an afterthought… and yet the song survived and thrived. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Originally released as the B-side to a cover version of the Righteous Brothers song ‘Substitute’, ‘I Will Survive’ became a worldwide hit for Gaynor when disc jockeys played that side of the record instead (kick-started by legendary Studio 54 DJ Richie Kaczor). ‘Substitute’ appeared on the Billboard ‘Bubbling Under the Hot 100’ chart for four weeks in October–November 1978, peaking at No. 107. ‘I Will Survive’ then entered the Billboard Hot 100 in December that year and reached No. 1 on the chart in March 1979.”GLORIA_GAYNOR_SUBSTITUTE-402771

Even its three weeks at number one on the charts was unconventional. In March it arrived there for two weeks – March 10th and 17th – only to be knocked out by the Bee Gee’s song Tragedy. Yet, I Will Survive was back at number one two weeks later.

In writing this article I had to go out and find a YouTube of the Bee Gee’s Tragedy to remember it. Such has never been the case for Gloria Gaynor’s famous work. In list after list of ‘best’ songs, I Will Survive can be found. The Infallible Wikipedia provides additional information:

“The song received the Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording in 1980, the only year the award was given. It is ranked #492 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’, and ranked at #97 on Billboard magazine’s ‘All-Time Hot 100’.  In 2000, the song was ranked #1 in VH1’s list of the 100 greatest dance songs.

Go to any dance today and you are more likely than not to hear this song. Teens respond to its catchy beat and Gaynor’s soulful vocals with the same enthusiasm the young people of 1979 did.

The song has also become an anthem for anyone – particularly women – devastated by a relationship breakup. And perhaps that is one of the reasons for the song’s success. Its message resonates for souls whose heart has been broken only to discover their inner strength and be able to move on.

As a romance writer, breakups and finding one’s inner strength is elemental to many a story line. In fact, it is a theme which never gets old and connects with readers because nearly all have experienced it. I Will Survive taps in to that emotion, that moment in time, when the epiphany occurs. It’s storytelling at its best. That, I believe, is the essence of its staying power. The lyrics speak a universal truth which transcends time. My favorite lyrics of the song:

It took all the strength I had not to fall apart
Kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart
And I spent, oh, so many nights just feeling sorry for myself
I used to cry but now I hold my head up high

And you see me, somebody new
I’m not that chained up little girl still in love with you
And so you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free
But now I’m saving all my loving for someone who’s loving me

Stay Healthy everyone. We will SURVIVE!

I feel strongly that the co-writer’s of the song need to be acknowledged:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freddie_Perren

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dino_Fekaris

And, of course, a link for the song itself:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Will_Survive