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 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.


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.”

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 ( 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:

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 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:

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:

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:

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

Seasons In The Sun

March 3, 2020

Illness is a funny thing. Oftentimes our memories of it are sharp and clear – as it has such a profound impact on our lives. And yet our brains play funny tricks on us, causing us to ‘remember’ things that did not occur.

I will forever associate the song Seasons In The Sun with the year I had the hard measles. More about that in a bit. First some information about the song.

Seasons In The Sun was an adaptation of the 1961 song Le Moribund written by Belgian Jacques Brel. Poet Rod McCune wrote the English lyrics. Canadian musician Terry Jacks arranged them to the original tune by Brel. The piece was going to be recorded by the Beach Boys. When they decided not to go forward with the project Jacks, and his then wife Susan, recorded it in December 1973. It hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 the first week of March, 1974, and spent three weeks in the number one position. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“(Terry) Jacks released his version as a single in 1973 on his own label, Goldfish Records. “Put the Bone In”, an original composition about burying a deceased pet dog, was included as the B-side. The single soon topped the record charts in the U.S. (where it was released on Bell Records), in Canada, and the UK, selling over 14 million copies worldwide.

Jacks’ version was released in the United States in December 1973, and made the Billboard Hot 100 a month later. On March 2, 1974, the song began a three-week run at number one atop the Hot 100, and remained in the top 40 until almost Memorial Day weekend. Jacks’ version also spent one week on the Easy Listening charts. Billboard ranked it as the number two song for 1974.  Although he released several other singles that were moderately successful in Canada, “Seasons in the Sun” would become Jacks’ only major solo hit in the United States. In Canada, the single (Gold Fish GF 100) reached number one on the RPM Magazine charts January 26, 1974, and remained there four weeks.

Though the song enjoyed contemporary success, modern criticism takes a dimmer view, considering it overly sentimentalized. Jacks’ version has been held up as an example of bad music, such as having been listed as one of the worst pop songs ever recorded and ranking number five in a similar CNN poll in 2006.”

Now regardless of how one might feel about the song, it was memorable and played perfectly into the baby boomer consciousness of 1974. We were all a bit melodramatic and, as is often the case for teenagers, had become aware of our own mortality. The song preyed on that understanding.

Barb's February 20 1974 Diary entry

My 1972 diary entry which chronicled the beginning of the measles

Enter my own faulty memories. On February 20th I got very sick, and did not return to school until February 29th; I have a distinct memory of laying in bed in my darkened room. I had the hard measles, a case so severe they had settled everywhere including my eyes. The only thing I would or could eat were milkshakes which my mother made for me… I eventually refused even those. I found out much later that she sneaked chocolate protein drink mix into them to try and boost their nutritional value. This totally changed the flavor rendering them undrinkable. (Pro tip to parents: when your skinny teenager is lying in bed running a 103 degree fever for over a week, that is not the time to be concerned about nutrition. Calories are what matters, especially when said child is 5’7 and weighs 110 pounds to start and ends up losing 20 pounds…)

But back to the song. I spent my illness with my deceased grandmother’s old black and white TV set up near my bed, watching whatever I could get on the few channels. One night, unable to sleep, I happened upon a particularly disturbing horror film, Village of the Damned. I read the book The Search for Bridey Murphy. I was in a really, really dark place emotionally. And I was positive that as I lay in bed that last week of February, it was Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun which added to that dark place as I contemplated not surviving the measles.

But Season’s in the Sun was a faulty memory. I was sick in late February 1972… and Season’s in the Sun didn’t hit the airwaves until 1974. Perhaps there was another illness in 1974 which took me down for a couple days when I listened to that song. To this day those depressing lyrics are implanted on my brain and associated with the 1972 illness. And I’ve always wondered WHY the junior class at my high school thought it would be a good theme for prom my Senior year.  I’ll wait IKE class of 1976 for the explanation.Reveille 1975 Prom page

This past week I’ve been sick with an upper respiratory ailment. There have been moments when I thought I would cough up my lungs. I’ve wondered is it or is it not Coronavirus? I called the Dr.’s office and got what I wanted: a series of questions as to my symptoms and confirmation that, although it’s not pleasant, it is not Coronavirus. Based on how I’m feeling today, I think I’ll live.

And my reading and TV viewing habits? Way better than in 1972. This past week, I enjoyed a nice upbeat LaVyrle Spencer novel – Small Town Girl – and have watched hours and hours of HGTV programs as well as the Hallmark Movie Channel and American Pickers. I’ve crushed candy and found Pokemon lurking in my house. And slept. I think I might be on the other side of it… just in time to take care of the hubby as he begins his week long odyssey. Poor guy.

Several links for all the obscure cultural references this week:

Postscript: March 3, 2021. Upon further contemplation I believe it was Covid19 which both the hubby and I had a year ago. At the time of the Doctor’s visit, it was believed that only those who had recently traveled out of the country may have contracted it. Over the past year I’ve read numerous accounts of COVID being in the United States as early as late November 2019. Unfortunately, when I got sick the tests were not being given except to those who landed in the hospital. Thankfully that wasn’t us.

Goodbye To Love

February 4, 2020

Karen Carpenter

February 3, 1959. August 16, 1977. December 8, 1980. February 4, 1983. April 5, 1994.

For any person who is a true fan, any one of these dates might invoke an unpleasant memory of the ‘day the music died’ for them. Each date marks the passing of a well loved and famous musical artist. Do you recall where you were and what you were doing on any one of these days?

My brother – who is a disc jockey – still talks about August 16, 1977. The day Elvis died. For Nirvana fans it’s April 5, 1994. Beatles devotees recall December 8, 1980 as a day which shocked the world. And, of course, February 3, 1959, marks the tragic date when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash along with a few others.

Karen Carpenter early 1970s

Karen Carpenter in the early 1970’s

If you don’t recognize February 4, 1983, you can be forgiven. But for me that was the date when the first artist whose voice and music truly captured me died: Karen Carpenter.

To this day I wonder it was an avoidable outcome if only…  if only her mother had been more loving and less controlling… if only she hadn’t been forced to come out from behind her drums… if only the press had not been so awful to her… if only she could have loved herself the way her fans loved her.

By all accounts, Karen’s life could have become a fairy-tale come true. At the age of 19 Karen, as one half of The Carpenters, saw their first big hit “Close To You” rocket to the top of the pop charts. Fame and financial success followed with a string of Top Ten records. Concerts, TV specials, and an invitation to the White House were all a part of those heady years.

And yet. Karen was particularly sensitive to body image. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Carpenter began dieting while in high school. Under a doctor’s guidance, she began the Stillman diet, eating lean foods, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and avoiding fatty foods. She reduced her weight to 120 pounds and stayed approximately at that weight until around 1973, when the Carpenters’ career reached its peak.  That year, she happened to see a photo of herself taken at a concert in which her outfit made her appear heavy. Carpenter hired a personal trainer who advised her to change her diet. The new diet caused her to build muscle, which made her feel heavier instead of slimmer. Carpenter fired the trainer and began her own weight loss program using exercise equipment and counting calories. She lost about 20 pounds and intended to lose another five pounds. Her eating habits also changed around this time, with Carpenter trying to get food off her plate by offering it to others at the meal as a taste.”

With increased success, came increased pressure to look and be perfect. By most accounts it seems that Karen spent her life trying to gain her mother’s love and approval. Older brother Richard was the focus of the family’s attention. At age 3 he was playing the piano and identified as a child prodigy with immense talent. It must have come as a huge shock to her parents when it was Karen and her amazing voice that proved to be the secret to success. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“(Karen) Carpenter had a complicated relationship with her parents. They had hoped that Richard’s musical talents would be recognized and that he would enter the music business, but were not prepared for Karen’s success. She continued to live with them until 1974. In 1976, Carpenter bought two Century City apartments which she combined into one; the doorbell chimed the opening notes of ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’.”

Karen carpenter in grip of her disease

In this photo, you can clearly see that she is not at a healthy weight.

Most of the focus on Anorexia Nervosa came after Karen’s untimely death. In the decades since there has been research and a public push to find solutions for those who are afflicted by the disorder. Karen Carpenter’s struggle has been largely responsible for this.

One of the things I would have loved would have been to attend a Carpenter’s concert. Alas, being only 13 when they hit the top of the charts, it was not going to happen. My mother believed rock and roll concerts (the Carpenters were not exactly rock and roll BTW) were not appropriate places for young women. In fact, the first concert I attended was in 1980’s, long after the Carpenters were no longer touring.

For several years in the 1970’s, however, I purchased every one of their albums and would listen to Karen’s dulcet tones for hours on end. I loved her voice.

Fast forward to Friday, February 4, 1983. I was working at Microsoft – then located near the Burger Master on Northup Way in Belleuve, Washington – paying more attention to selling computer software and not listening to music for hours each day.

It was payday and at lunchtime one of my fellow Microsofties, Sue C., and I decided to go deposit our paychecks in the bank. We headed to downtown Kirkland, a few miles north. Once our banking was complete, we drove south on Lake Washington Boulevard. We likely had the radio on – background to our chatting – when I heard the announcement “Pop star Karen Carpenter has died.”

I think Sue was behind the wheel and immediately stopped the car as we both exclaimed shock and dismay. How could it be? What I most recall about that day is that it seemed dark to me. In reality, according to the weather history, it was a fairly mild, clear day. But in my mind, it’s dark.

Karen Carpenter was such a part of our growing up experience; she was 32 years old, a mere seven years older than ourselves.

In 1989 I watched with interest the CBS TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story. In the years since her death I had not listened much to The Carpenters. The moment I heard those favorite songs and her voice, however, it was as if I was transported back to the early 1970’s. What a voice. It was filled with emotion and able to convey a sadness that transcended the years. Like so many artists who died young, I wonder what wonderful songs the world missed out on when Karen Carpenter left us on February 4, 1983.

A few links:

I couldn’t make up my mind as to which of these two songs to share… so I did both. I think Superstar also captures the depth of whatever pains she felt in life.


Looking For Space

New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2019

He was the unlikeliest of stars. From his wire rimmed granny glasses, to his bowl cut hair, and his nasally voice, this introvert took the pop world by storm in the mid 1970’s. Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., however, possessed two qualities which proved to be the essential ingredients necessary for success: he could write songs and he was persistent.
John Denver early years.jpgThe world, of course, knew him as John Denver. Born on New Year’s Eve 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico, one can wonder if some other world force was at play when he arrived in this world.
His childhood was not an easy one. His father, being a Captain in the Air Force, was moved every two years which prevented Denver from forming strong friendships. Denver, however, found his talent and his solace in the guitar given him on his eleventh birthday from his grandmother. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“He learned to play well enough to perform at local clubs by the time he was in college. He adopted the surname ‘Denver’ after the capital of his favorite state, Colorado. He decided to change his name when Randy Sparks, the founder of The New Christy Minstrels, suggested that ‘Deutschendorf’ would not fit comfortably on a marquee. Denver attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock and sang in a folk-music group called ‘The Alpine Trio’ while pursuing architectural studies. He was also a member of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. Denver dropped out of the Texas Tech School of Engineering in 1963 and moved to Los Angeles, where he sang in folk clubs. In 1965, Denver joined the Mitchell Trio, replacing founder Chad Mitchell. After more personnel changes, the trio later became known as ‘Denver, Boise, and Johnson’ (John Denver, David Boise, and Michael Johnson).”
In the late 1960’s Denver self produced a number of songs he’d written and gave them out as Christmas presents. Included on this record was one titled Babe I Hate To Go. When Milt Okun, Denver’s producer of his recently released RCA album Rhymes and Reason heard the song, he pitched it to the popular trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary. The song’s title was changed to Leavin’ On A Jet Plane and catapulted to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
220px-JohnDenversGreatestHitsBut RCA was not actively promoting Denver’s album via a tour, so the persistent Denver took matters into his own hands. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Denver himself embarked on an impromptu supporting tour throughout the Midwest, stopping at towns and cities as the fashion took him, offering to play free concerts at local venues. When he was successful in persuading a school, college, American Legion hall, or local coffee house to let him play, he would spend a day or so distributing posters in the town and could usually be counted upon to show up at the local radio station, guitar in hand, offering himself for an interview. With his foot in the door as author of ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’, he was often successful in gaining some valuable promotional airtime, usually featuring one or two songs performed live. Some venues would let him play for the ‘door’; others restricted him to selling copies of the album at intermission and after the show. After several months of this constant low-key touring schedule, however, he had sold enough albums to persuade RCA to take a chance on extending his recording contract. He had also built a sizable and solid fan base, many of whom remained loyal throughout his career.”
It was his album, Poems, Prayers, and Promises, released in 1971 which sent his career soaring. The single Take Me Home, Country Roads proved popular and peaked at number two on the charts.
The highlight of Denver’s career was in 1974 and 1975 with a series of number one hits, solidifying him as a superstar: Sunshine on My Shoulders, Annie’s Song, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, and I’m Sorry. Additionally, he had three number one albums in the same era, starred in a number of TV specials and performed opposite George Burns in the movie Oh, God.
In all, Denver wrote hundreds of songs and produced more than 50 albums. Of his 44 released singles, 11 became number one hits.
There is  much, much more to his story and I encourage my readers to visit the John Denver website and read the Wikipedia overview. (links below)
I had heard Denver’s songs during my early teens but dismissed them as country. It was in 1973, however, that I understood how his songs had impacted the culture. I was over at my best friend Daphne’s house and she walked out of her bedroom carrying his Greatest Hits album and we listened to it together.
From then on I was a fan and found in his music a troubadour who captured the emotions of life in his insightful lyrics and memorable tunes.
Many of the guys I knew sported wire rimmed glasses and Denver-esque hairdos. I even made a shirt for my boyfriend in the style Denver wore.
Of all his songs my favorite is Looking For Space. In it, Denver captures some elemental truths about the nature of people and life.
When Daphne, a triplet, unexpectedly lost one of her two brothers in the fall of 2017, it was this song I shared with her in memory of him… and when I lost my Dad earlier this year, she evoked the emotions of that song for me by painting this picture.
Soar on Wings of Eagles
As John Denver so poignantly wrote:
And to find out who you are
When you’re looking to try and reach the stars
It’s a sweet, sweet, sweet dream
Sometimes I’m almost there
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
But sometimes I’m deep in despair
Sometimes I fly like an eagle, like an eagle
I go flying, flying
None of us can know the triumphs and trials which await us in the New Year. Live each day to the fullest my friends.

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

December 3, 2019

A Christmas Classic?


We know that the Christmas season is upon us when the calendar flips to December and those wonderful holiday songs waft nostalgic from the radio. And no song quite embraces the joyful Noel spirit more than… Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

It all began in December 1978 when songwriter/performer Randy Brooks sang the song during a live show at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe with husband and wife duo of Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire. The pair asked for – and received – a tape recording of the song from Brooks after the show. The next year the duo recorded the song and began selling the record during their performances.
As much as we can hope this 1979 novelty song will go away it has actually increased in popularity over the years.

From there things spiraled out of control.

Elmo and patsy

Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire

By the early 1980’s the song was being played on radio stations during the holiday season. Its popularity on the rise and the records sold out, it has been re-pressed and re-released several times.

The public continues to be split on whether the song is loved or hated. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Edison Media Research and Pinnacle Media Worldwide independently survey radio listeners on which Christmas songs they like and dislike. In both surveys, results of which were reported in 2007, the only song that reached the top of both liked and disliked lists was ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’ Its ‘loved’ ratings in the Edison and Pinnacle polls were relatively high—47 and 32 percent, respectively—but so were the ‘hate’ or ‘dislike’ ratings—17 and 22 percent.

A major Washington, D.C. radio station, WASH (97.1 FM), dropped the song from its playlist. ‘It was too polarizing,’ says Bill Hess, program director. ‘It wasn’t strong, except with a few people, and it had a lot of negatives.’ The song also gained notoriety at Davenport, Iowa radio station WLLR in 1985 when a disc jockey played the song 27 times back-to-back during the morning show before station management was able to stop him. The disc jockey, who was suspended, was reportedly depressed and upset that a co-worker had left employment at the station to work out-of-state.

Shropshire claims it is ‘a beloved holiday favorite.’ The video of the song was ‘a holiday staple on MTV for many seasons.’ It has been ‘incorporated into talking toys and a musical greeting card.’ ‘My royalties are four or five times what they were’ 20 years ago, claims Elmo, who performs the song with his bluegrass group year-round. ‘A lot of younger people say it’s not really Christmas until they hear it.’”


Songwriter Randy Brooks with Santa

When I first heard it – sometime in the early 80’s – I was amused. It did have a catchy tune and unusual premise. But upon listening to the lyrics I was appalled by the macabre theme wrapped up in a happy sounding jingle. For me, the song lands firmly in the dislike category and I will switch radio stations whenever it comes on.

For today’s Tuesday Newsday, however, I am taking one for the team so that my loyal readers can know the story behind the worst ‘holiday’ song ever.

Normally, I would put a link to a video up so you can experience the song first hand. Not doing that. Instead, here are the lyrics which do support my supposition that this is NOT a joyful Christmas classic:

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe
She’d been drinking too much eggnog
And we begged her not to go
But she forgot her medication
And she staggered out the door into the snow
When we found her Christmas morning
At the scene of the attack
She had hoof-prints on her forehead
And incriminating Claus marks on her back
Chorus: Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe
Now we’re all so proud of grandpa
He’s been taking this so well
See him in there watching football
Drinking beer and playing cards with cousin Mel
It’s not Christmas without Grandma
All the family’s dressed in black
And we just can’t help but wonder
Should we open up her gifts
Or send them back (send them back)
Now the goose is on the table
And the pudding made of fig
And the blue and silver candles
That would just have matched the hair on grandma’s wig
I’ve warned all my friends and neighbors
Better watch out for yourselves
They should never give a license
To a man who drives a sleigh
And plays with elves

For those of you who ARE glutton’s for punishment and want this ear worm in your head for weeks, here’s the video and, of course, a link to the Infallible Wikipedia article. I’ve also included one about Randy Brooks, the songwriter, as his tales from his childhood and how his family inspired the song is worth a read.

You Light Up My Life

November 19, 2019

Debby Boone’s One Hit Wonder

You_light_up_my_life_posterOn November 19, 1977, this song was in the middle of a 10 week run as the number one song in America. You Light Up My Life was the one and only Top 40 hit from Debbie Boone, daughter of 50’s teen idol Pat Boone. It reached number one on October 15 and stayed in that position through December 23, making it – at the time – the only recording to stay that long in the top spot in Billboard history.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Besting her chart performance in Billboard, Boone’s ‘You Light Up My Life’ single topped Record World’s Top 100 Singles Chart for an unbroken record of 13 weeks. On Billboard’s chart, Boone was unseated from #1 by the Bee Gees, with ‘How Deep Is Your Love,’ the first of three #1 singles from the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack. On Record World’s chart, Boone kept the Bee Gees out of the number-one spot. In Cash Box Magazine, ‘You Light Up My Life’ managed only an eight-week stay at the top of the chart, before being dethroned by Crystal Gayle’s ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’.

The single, which was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), also hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and reached #4 on the Country chart. The single peaked at #48 I’m the UK Singles Chart. Boone’s hit single led to her winning the 1978 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, with additional Grammy nominations for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and Record of the Year. Boone also won the 1977 American Music Award for Favorite Pop Single.

Decades after its release, the Debby Boone version is still considered one of the top ten Billboard Hot 100 songs of all time. In 2008, it was ranked at #7 on Billboard’s ’Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs’ list (August 1958 – July 2008). An updated version of the all-time list in 2013 ranked the song at #9.

Although it was written by (Joe) Brooks as a love song, the devout Boone interpreted it as inspirational and proclaimed that it was instead God who ‘lit up her life.’”

The song was tainted by controversy, however, as songwriter Brooks apparently did not want to pay the agreed upon amount owed Kasey Cisyk, the artist who sang it for the movie of the same name, and whose version is included on the 1977 soundtrack.

Boone was told, when recording the song for release as a single, exactly how to sing it and her vocals were dubbed onto the original orchestral track.

At the time, I recall that Boone received much derision and the song was labeled as saccharin. In reading what occurred, however, I feel bad for both the women caught up in the controversy. Perhaps Cisyk was denied her shot at a Top 40 career and, perhaps, Boone was lulled into a sense of inevitability that she would become a star like her father. Although in listening to both versions, I think Boone’s is better.

Boone released additional songs into the pop market, but none ever came close to the success of “You Light Up My Life.” Her career eventually led her back to country music – where she had started – and then to work in the Christian music world.

In the fall of 1977, you simply could not avoid the song. It was played hour after hour on the radio. That autumn was one of the most memorable in my life: I was living away from my parents for the first time, having joined the Alpha Phi sorority at the University of Puget Sound. While I was studying, I don’t think I was studying quite as much as I should have been. Instead, I was attending frat parties every weekend and going on dates! That era in my life was punctuated by music and there were a couple other songs which should have, in my opinion, been number one instead.

These included Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are – an infinitely better song; Rita Coolidge’s version of We’re All Alone; Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better; and Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue by Crystal Gayle. The list of great songs also includes big  hits – but never number ones – from Foreigner, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Styx, Supertramp, and Steely Dan.

Yes, 1977 was an epic year for music and will, unfortunately, forever be associated with You Light Up My Life.

And in case you’d like to hear the Casey Cisyk version and really get the worm stuck in your head (it’s been in mine since I wrote this!) here’s that video also. Note that you are seeing Didi Conn on screen – she is doing a lip-sync to Cisyk’s vocals. Enjoy!

The links:

Answers to the Facebook Quiz: the other artists are Roberta Flack, whose hit The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face topped the Billboard charts for 6 weeks in 1972; and Rod Stewart who crooned Tonight’s The Night which spent 8 weeks there in late 1976 and the first week of 1977.