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Hamilton

This is a piece I wrote in 2016, right after Hamilton won its barrel full of Tonys. Thanks to Disney +, I’m finally set to enjoy my first view of Hamilton this month. And the opportunity prompts me to think back to when I first became aware of the play and its phenomenon, and its peripheral connection between me and and an old college friend.

Leslie Odom, Jr.

This year, for the first time in many, many years, I watched the Tony Awards broadcast.
I don’t watch a lot of awards shows.  Neither the Oscars nor the Emmys hold any interest for me; I record the Grammys and the American Music Awards, but I fast-forward through the looooong stretches of each that bore me to tears–left to my own devices, I can watch a three-hour Grammy or AMA show in twenty to thirty minutes, maybe forty minutes, tops.  Middle-aged power pop fans are just not the target demographic of these shows.
But one of the things that did catch my interest on this year’s Grammys was the performance from the Broadway sensation Hamilton.  Honest to God, I just thought it was captivating.  So I tuned into this year’s Tony Awards show to try ‘n’ soak up a bit more of that Hamilton buzz; and, more specifically, my wife Brenda and I wanted to root for Leslie Odom, Jr., the actor who plays Aaron Burr in Hamilton.  Now, we’ve never actually met Leslie; but–a very long time ago–we knew his Mom and his Dad.
First, a bit of background about me and The Great White Way.  I’ve spent a lot of time writing about rock ‘n’ roll, punk, bubblegum, pop, and power pop.  It may surprise some to learn that someone like me–whose all-time favorite musical acts are The BeatlesThe Ramones,The FlashcubesThe Kinks, and The Monkees–also loves Broadway.  But there were always Original Broadway Cast albums around the house when I was a kid, so I was exposed to this music, immersed in it, since even before John, Paul, George, and Ringo paid that first visit to ol’ stoneface Ed Sullivan one Sunday night in ’64.  As a toddler, I would accompany my parents on shopping trips to J.M. Fields or K-Mart, and I’d randomly sing snippets o’ show tunes while sitting in the shopping cart.  This could border on the awkward and embarrassing, like when I would suddenly bellow, Here’s to the son of a B–tra la! from Carnival, or re-enact the domestic quarrel scene from Gypsy, concluding that I was gettin’ my kids and gettin’ out.  Hello, Child Protection?  Yeah, there’s this kid in the department store, and you won’t believe what’s comin’ outta his mouth…!
West Side Story.  The Music Man.  Camelot.  Funny Girl.  Carousel.  And, my favorite, Carnival.  I heard all of these, and many more, and they were ultimately as much a part of my formative musical alchemy as the British Invasion and The Monkees.  The lure of rock ‘n’ roll was ultimately too much competition for musical theater to withstand, but I never exactly stopped loving Broadway, either.  I’ve never seen a play on Broadway, but I did see an Off-Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973, and I saw Wicked in London’s West End in 2010.  I’ve seen many, many local theatrical productions, both professional and amateur; Brenda and I have even been known to attend high school musicals, and I mean high school musicals where we didn’t know any of the student performers–we were just there to enjoy the play.


This ongoing love of music and musicals also led me to a short-lived TV series called Smash.  Smash ran for two seasons, from 2012 to 2013, and it was kind of a mess, really.  But it had its moments, and I never missed an episode.  And I noticed an actor who had a recurring role on Smash, and I called Brenda in while I watching him on the show.  Hey, Bren.  This actor’s name is Leslie Odom, Jr.  It could be a coincidence, but damn–doesn’t he look a little like Les?
I met Les Odom in college at Brockport, in Spring of 1979, I think.  Les was friends with a couple of the guys I lived with, Truck Thacker and Ray Ramos, so I saw Les here and there in our dorm suite–partying, kibbitzing, listening to music (with The O’Jays‘ live “Wildflower” a particular favorite, as I recall).  Les was from Queens, so he was on the school’s charter bus to New York City during Spring Break; I was also on that charter bus, accompanying Brenda back to Staten Island, where I would be meeting her parents for the first time (and, of course, also making a side trip to see The Flashcubes play on the Bowery).  That bus trip was a bacchanalia on wheels, a mobile version of dorm life, and enough fun that I only minded a little when all these downstaters kept putting down my home town when the bus passed through Syracuse.  You call this a city?  Man, this ain’t even big enough to be a borough!
(And this may be a case of my memory rearranging facts to suit my narrative, but I do believe it was Les who said, Naw, man–come on!  It seems like a nice place.  Leave CC be!)
When I graduated from college in 1980, I decided to stay in Brockport while Brenda completed her studies.  We got an apartment in the village, and were surprised to discover that Les and his girlfriend, Yvette Nixon, were also living in the same small complex, Villager Apartments.  We were never really tight, but we renewed our friendship nonetheless, and spent some time hanging out over the course of that summer. I have a specific, vivid memory of Yvette making dinner for us in their apartment one night, and we spent a lovely evening drinking and partying, alternating between watching Ted Kennedy’s firebrand speech at the Democratic National Convention and listening to James Brown’s Live At The Apollo LP.  I remember it as a happy, happy time.
But Villager Apartments didn’t seem to remain a happy place for Les and Yvette.  Brenda and I both remember them as a really cool, very nice couple, and we all got on quite well.  But Villager’s manager, Pete–who lived next door to Brenda and I, and was also a friend of ours at the time–may not have shared our affection for Les and Yvette.  It may have been racial (which is an easy stone to cast, even when it’s not true), or it may have been a simple matter of friction between tenants and an apartment manager.  I didn’t see any of it.  All I know is what Pete told me: that Les was banging on Pete’s door late one night, presumably to report a problem with Les and Yvette’s place, and Pete opened the door and pointed a gun at Les.  Les shouted, No, Pete!  It’s me–Les!  No shots were fired, and no one was hurt, thank God.  But Les and Yvette moved out not long after that.  We never saw them again.
When we saw this Leslie Odom, Jr. on Smash, we knew in our hearts he had to be Les’ son.  Had to be.  Odom’s a common name, but the resemblance was strong enough.  Now, Les was a big guy, and Leslie, Jr. didn’t seem to be as physically large–well, on TV, anyway.  But Yvette was of slighter build, so it was plausible. I did the Google Stalk thing that everyone does now:  Leslie Odom, Jr. was born in August of 1981 in Queens–roughly a year after we’d last seen Les and Yvette, and in Les’ home town.  But no matter how much we researched, we couldn’t confirm the identities of this actor’s parents.  Well, yeah, we knew his father was Leslie Odom, Sr–we are indeed that well-versed in the time-honored art of deduction–but we didn’t know his mother’s name, and we couldn’t say with absolute certainty that his Dad was the Les we used to know.
When we saw the performance from Hamilton on this year’s Grammys telecast, we noticed Leslie Odom, Jr. in a prominent role.  The performance was intriguing; the idea of “a hip-hop musical” wasn’t intrinsically attractive to me, but this seemed so powerful, so well-executed, so goddamned irresistible, that it just knocked me out, man.  My budget wasn’t likely to accommodate a trip to New York and Hamilton tickets any time soon, but I kept my eyes open for further TV glimpses.  Everyone knew Hamilton was going to dominate the Tonys.  And that meant Brenda and I were going to watch the Tonys.
The awards show itself was amazing, actually.  Host James Corden was fantastic, the comedy bits and musical numbers were endlessly engaging, and–unlike the Grammys or the AMAs–I never felt like fast-forwarding through anything except the commercials.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of television.  Watching the scene from Hamilton, I found myself mesmerized; the only comparison I could think of was The Beach Boys‘ masterpiece Pet Sounds; not because Hamilton is in any way reminiscent of Pet Sounds, but simply because that’s what comes to mind when something is as good as it gets, nonpareil, a summit of achievement and accomplishment.  Tough to make that pronouncement based on a couple of numbers seen on a 32″ TV screen, but screw objectivity anyway.  There was a giddy joy in surrendering to the moment, and letting it sweep all cynicism away.
When it came time to award the prize for Best Actor In A Musical, we knew that Leslie was up against Hamilton‘s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and we figured Miranda was a lock. But Leslie won!  We whooped and hollered as if he were one of our own.  And, in the conclusion of his acceptance speech, Leslie, Jr. acknowledged, “Leslie Odom, Sr., Yvette Odom, and Elizabeth Odom taught me well as well.”
And there it was.  Confirmation!  I’m not embarrassed to admit that Brenda and I both screeched like young teens at a One Direction show. And we’re pretty sure we saw Les–Les, Sr.–in the audience, pumping his fist in jubilation, proud of his son. It felt so damned good.
They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway.  Sometimes that harsh glow can be blinding, too much to take in; but sometimes, there really is magic in the air.  That magic can manifest in music and art, and also in friendships long gone, but still remembered fondly.  That glitter never rubs off.  It never will.

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Movies In My Mind / Jukebox Express (1958)

Movies In My Mind is a celebration of films that don’t exist, never existed, and were never planned. This is fiction. 

Ginger Grant as Kirby Lee in Jukebox Express

Jukebox Express (Stark Pictures, 1958)

Directed by Carl Denham

Produced by Howard Stark

Story by Roscoe Kane

Screenplay by Clay WashburnGeorge McFly and Alan Brady [with uncredited assist by Tom Miller]

Starring;

Sophie Lennon

Stan “King” Kaiser

Kathy Selden             

Jenny Blake

Simon Brimmer             

Larry Davis

Christine Marlowe

Lucky Day

Simon Trent             

Johnny Fever

Ashley St. Ives 

[uncredited]Special appearances by; 

Conrad Birdie                                     

Ricky Ricardo                                     

Otis Day & the Knights                                     

Danny Fisher                                     

Bobby Fleet and his Band with a Beat 

 The Cry-Baby Combo

Sven Helstrom & the Swedish Rhyth Kings

Introducing; 

Ginger Grant                   

Troy Chesterfield

Leather Tuscadero

Sophie Lennon

Jukebox Express was an odd little film trifle which relatively few have ever seen. Although it was made at the height of comic Sophie Lennon‘s popularity in 1958, legal complications severely limited its original distribution. It has never been issued for the home video market in any format, and Lennon’s estate has determinedly blocked any effort to rectify that. It is not on YouTube. Even bootlegs are rare, effectively non-existent. Only a handful of prints are known to exist, and those prints are not being shared with anyone, anywhere.
While Jukebox Express doesn’t have quite the cachet of such unseen celluloid legends as Orson Welles‘ The Batman or The Beatles in Up Against It!, it’s nonetheless something a handful of dedicated rock ‘n’ roll fans and film buffs have been aching to see for a long, long time.
We still can’t see it, but a new book offers the public its first real chronicle of the story behind this niche Holy Grail of beat flicks. Mallory‘s Jukebox Express: The Story Of The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Movie You Never Saw (Rocket Media) is an exhaustively-researched journey behind the scenes of a lost cinematic work.
Although Mallory is primarily known as a mystery novelist, his attention to detail and evident affection for his chosen subject matter serve him well in nonfiction, too. The Gun Was Silenced, Mallory’s biography of his hero, hard-boiled detective writer Roscoe Kane, was as compelling a page-turner as one of Kane’s own pulp potboilers. Mallory’s interests in pulp fiction, early rock ‘n’ roll, superheroes, pinup girls, and 20th century eccentrics prompted his previous books about writer Clay Washburn (Wordsmith), the hard-traveling combo Bobby Fleet and his Band with a Beat (Mayberry Jailhouse Blues), noirish costumed TV crimefighter The Gray Ghost (Beware The Gray Ghost!), heartthrob actress Jenny Blake (Jenny And The Rocket Man), and inventor and entrepreneur Howard Stark (A Cool Exec With A Heart Of Steel). All of these individual interests dovetail in Jukebox Express. It was inevitable that Mallory would choose that film as his next subject. Mallory provides us with this summary of Jukebox Express and the story behind it:

In Stark’s crowded, busy mind, concepts always raced with daunting velocity. These fevered notions could and would range from potential breakthroughs in cutting-edge technology to how to make a better pastrami on rye. Stark’s mental maelstrom of creativity conjured the idea of a movie about this rock ‘n’ roll music that was driving the kids crazy. He figured an entertaining rock ‘n’ roll flick should feature the beat and its stars, sure, but he also wanted gangsters and gumshoes, broad comedy, romance, pretty girls, more pretty girls, and a train. The movie had to take place on a train. And the movie would be called Jukebox Express.
With a springboard and a star, Stark needed a script, a director, and more players. To concoct the story, he brought in an old drinking buddy, Roscoe Kane. Stark Pictures had successfully adapted some of Kane’s novels, and Kane had in turn worked a bit on the first entry in the studio’s Western series Kid Colt, Outlaw. Kane came up with a framework to unite Stark’s kooky ideas. That story was turned over to pulp veteran Clay Washburn, by then an experienced screenwriter, and a new science-fiction writer named George McFly. McFly was an odd choice to help write a film with no science-fiction aspects whatsoever, but Stark was impressed with the kid’s imagination and enthusiasm. Comedy star Alan Brady added jokes to the dialogue, possibly with additional ghost-writing from his own gagmeisters Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers. (Of course, none of these writers had much–or any–familiarity with rock ‘n’ roll, so a music publicist named Tony Miller was recruited to add beat music verisimilitude, albeit uncredited verisimilitude.)

Carl Denham

The director was Carl Denham, another old Stark pal. Denham’s once-promising film career had floundered back in the ’30s, following his disastrous attempt to build a show around a giant ape he’d brought to New York from a remote tropical island. Denham persisted and rebounded, thanks in part to behind-the-scenes support from Stark; by 1958, he was once again a respected film director, though nearing the end of his work. Denham owed Stark, and worked with him often. Jukebox Express would be their final collaboration.
The plot of Jukebox Express centers on Kirby Lee, an attractive secretary and girl Friday to Archibald Toby, a young, would-be music impresario bitten by the rock ‘n’ roll bug. Miss Kirby Lee is smart, savvy, and competent, so she generally does most of the work her hapless, klutzy boss can’t quite accomplish, but she secretly (okay, not so secretly) loves him anyway. Through Lee, Toby has discovered an exciting new female rock ‘n’ roller, and she just may be Toby’s ticket out of perpetual debt and into the big time. Right now, though, Toby owes a fortune to gangster Rocco “Death” Manzetti, and about 37 months’ back rent to his kooky but kindly landlady Rose “Mama” Mammamia. Lee comes up with the only-in-a-movie idea of a rock ‘n’ roll train tour, “Jukebox Express,” to promote their new rock ‘n’ roll queen alongside other a-rockin’ and a-boppin’ artists, all making whistle-stop appearances on the rails across this great country. Manzetti and his hoods tag along to protect (and, if need be, violently collect on) his money. Manzetti’s moll Cupcake O’Hara tags along to keep tabs on Manzetti. Mammamia tags along because, well, of course she does. Toby’s mother tags along because she likes Lee and is worried that her idiot son is going to mess things up further. And police detective Danny Mammamia–Rose’s ex-husband–tags along to finally find evidence to send the Mazetti gang off to the hoosegow. (Officer Mammamia views it as hazardous duty, and tries to keep as far away from his ex-wife as possible.) Further hijinks ensue as Toby starts to fall for his comely rock ‘n’ roll singer, but Lee makes him see the light–by force, if necessary! Show business success is achieved when superstar variety TV show host Whizzy Matthews discovers the Jukebox Express and arranges for a live broadcast from Grand Central Station. The Jukebox Express winds up crashing into the station, but the show goes on! All past debts are paid, Rocco Manzetti asks Mama Mammamia to marry him, Detective Mammamia locks lips with Cupcake and rips up the warrant for Rocco’s arrest, Whizzy Matthews asks Toby’s mom out, and both Kirby Lee and their new rock ‘n’ roll stargirl shower a deliriously happy Archibald Toby with kisses. Mama shouts out, “That’s rock ‘n’ roll!,” Kirby purrs, “And that’s the end!” And it is, in fact, the end.
What nonsense. What delirious, glorious, infectiously fun nonsense.

Stark wanted nascent teen idol actor Dash Riprock to play Toby, but Mammoth Studios wouldn’t budge, insisting that their contract player was not going to appear in a Stark Pictures release, no way, no how. Stark considered buying Mammoth and just firing everyone there, but started flirting with a meter maid and basically forgot about the whole thing. The role was given instead to a then-unknown Troy Chesterfield. Chesterfield had appeared in small roles on a few TV series (The Purple AvengerMr. DowntownPleasantvilleInvitation To LoveCaptain Spaceman) and had been a contestant on the popular game show The $99,000 Answer. But long before he became a household name as Terry Legend on the hit ’60s series The Vindicators, before he co-starred with Gina Lollobrigida in 1964’s Out Of This World!, before the record six times he guest-hosted The Hollywood Television Showcase, before co-starring with Joanie Janz in the underrated comedy classic The Wolfgirl Meets The Vampire In The Old West, before Oscar-nominated turns in Jessica Fletcher’s The Messengers Of Midnight and Blood On The Badge, and before the scandals that nearly ended his stardom, Chesterfield’s feature film career began with Jukebox Express. With no disrespect intended to Chesterfield’s many other roles, his effervescent portrayal of Archibald Toby will always be my favorite Troy Chesterfield performance.

The rest of the cast was assembled by Stark and Denham with an eye largely toward veterans that one or the other (or both) knew and trusted. Stark thought comic Sophie Lennon’s on-stage persona was hilarious, but he detested her personally; however, she was a friend of Denham, so Stark deferred. The casting of TV comedy legend Stan “King” Kaiser as Rocco Manzetti was inspired, and Kaiser chewed all scenery in sight with remarkable comic efficiency. Former radio detective Simon Brimmer provided a surprising comic flair as Officer Mammamia. Terry Embrose, a dancer who’d initially found fame during World War I, was initially sought to play Toby’s mother; she was unavailable, so the role went instead to film star Kathy Selden. Selden was known as a singer, so a scene of her dueting with Broadway star Christine Marlowe was added; Marlowe played an investigative reporter theoretically covering the Jukebox Express, but really hoping to get a scoop on Manzetti. Comic Larry Davis effectively played a much more obnoxious version of himself as Whizzy Matthews. Silent film star Lucky Day and young actor Simon Trent played Manzetti’s thugs. And veteran actress Jenny Blake was both stunning and hilarious as Cupcake O’Hara. (Although uncredited and unknown at the time, future porn star Ashley St. Ives has a small non-speaking part as a young rock ‘n’ roll fan sneaking aboard the Jukebox Express. DJ Johnny Fever appears as–wait for it!–a DJ.)

As riveting as Leather Tuscadero was, they still needed more music to make this all into a rock ‘n’ roll movie. A number of acts were recruited to lip-sync performances sprinkled throughout the film. Some of these were plainly not rock ‘n’ roll. Stark was a fan of the champagne shuffle of Sven Helstrom & the Swedish Rhythm Kings, and he insisted they appear in Jukebox Express. Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo also performed, and had a scene with Christine Marlowe’s reporter. The rest of the film’s musical guest stars were firmly within the rockin’ field. This was about a year before rock ‘n’ roll superstar Conrad Birdie was drafted; his rendition here of “Honestly Sincere” brings the house down, and his duet with Leather Tuscadero on “Fever” just simmers with pure heat. Danny Fisher is electrifying, performances by both The Cry-Baby Combo and Bobby Fleet and his Band with a Beat make one ache to see more than the few known filmed appearances by each, and rhythm ‘n’ blues kingpins Otis Day & the Knights are flat-out amazing, especially on two performances with Leather Tuscadero. This movie rocked, Sven Helstrom notwithstanding.

And it was absolutely doomed at the box office.
Part of the initial problem stemmed from what would have seemed a commercial advantage: Sophie Lennon. Lennon was enormously popular, but her fans didn’t want to see a rock ‘n’ roll movie; a backlash against Lennon within more Bohemian circles–Lenny Bruce actively hated her–may not have mattered all that much, but it dovetailed with a potential controversy in her own career. It’s difficult now, decades later, to guess what Lennon was thinking at the time, but whatever it was, she did her best to quietly discourage people from going to see Jukebox Express. Stark never forgave her. Denham broke off his friendship with Lennon, and they never spoke again. His relationship with Stark was strained, but not destroyed. Stark and Denham parted company, but they parted amicably.
But that was not the film’s worst obstacle. Moral watchdog groups, already concerned about the threat of rock ‘n’ roll and race music, sought to protect impressionable (white) youth from its potentially corrupting influence. The Ku Klux Klan condemned it for scenes of the pretty Caucasian Tuscadero singing closely–too closely!–with the black Otis Day. You know you’re doing something right if the KKK doesn’t like you, but parroting of the hate group’s talking points via like-minded emissaries hurt ticket sales in the South, and elsewhere–the Northern states weren’t necessarily as forward-thinking as some pundits would pretend. The film’s final shot, depicting Toby’s face covered with lipstick kisses from both Kirby Lee and Leather Tuscadero, was decried as a scandalous suggestion of menage a trois–a stretch even within the close-minded parameters of strict ’50s morality. Detective Mammamia’s failure to arrest Manzetti was criticized as a slap against law enforcement. And frankly, a lot of folks just hated Howard Stark, and didn’t believe he was innocent of the spurious charges of treason that had been hurled at him a decade before.
Howard Stark was a fighter until his dying day. He could have taken Lennon down, and was surely tempted to do so. He might even have been able to mount a publicity campaign to counteract his stodgy opposition, one that could have convinced movie fans and rock ‘n’ roll fans to flock to theaters to see Jukebox Express. But it wasn’t worth it. There were hundreds of other projects awaiting his attention, from cocktail waitresses to fortifying the nation’s defenses. Jukebox Express was done.
In my book about the film, I delve more deeply into the behind-the-scenes drama of Jukebox Express. The stories range from silly disruptions in shooting caused by Lucy Ricardo‘s efforts to be included in the film with her husband (and her consternation with him appearing in a scene–albeit a non-romantic one–with Christine Marlowe, who was a virtual twin of Lucy Ricardo) to more dire interference from genuine criminal elements. The biggest by-product of the story is simple regret: I regret that you will never have a chance to witness this film for yourself. Jukebox Express is the greatest movie you’ll never see.
That’s rock ‘n’ roll. And that’s the end.

WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE ANYWAY? Here’s annotated guide to The Fictional Players In Jukebox Express

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The Archies: An American Band

It all started with a jukebox.  Don’t you wish more stories started with a jukebox?

The jukebox in question was a beat-up Wurlitzer that used to blast out the hits of the day at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, a popular teen hangout in the small Midwestern town of Riverdale back in the 1960s.  One snowy afternoon in December of 1966, a couple of pretty teen-aged girls, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, were at Pop’s, giggling and dancing to the brand new 45 by their favorite singing group, The Monkees.  “I’m A Believer” was just beginning its short journey to the top of the pop charts, but it was already # 1 with a sugar-coated bullet as far as Betty and Ronnie were concerned.  And they played it over and over and over again.
The activity at the jukebox did not go unnoticed by the boys at Pop’s, particularly Archie Andrews and Reggie Mantle. These two boys and two girls had known each other since childhood, and they had a tangled relationship.  Archie and Reggie were frequent rivals for Veronica’s affection, while Betty was head-over-heels infatuated with Archie, and therefore Veronica’s de facto rival; Archie, for his part, could never seem to decide between Betty and Ronnie.  Yet the rivalries never tore them apart; Betty and Veronica remained always the best of friends, and while Archie and Reggie certainly got on each other’s nerves, they generally stayed on somewhat friendly terms, at least.
And on this particular afternoon at Pop’s, the two jealous boys were cooking up a scheme together.  If the girls seem so interested in a rock ‘n’ roll group, they reasoned, why not form a group of our own?  Bet that’ll get the girls intrigued, for sure!
But what began as a simple (okay, make that convoluted) ploy to impress the opposite sex led to the formation of one of the most fondly-recalled pop bands of the late ‘60s, The Archies.  It was an inauspicious beginning; neither Archie nor Reggie was really a musician, but Archie did have a battered folk guitar (a left-over from an earlier summer camp escapade) and was able to fumble a few chords, and hyper-active Reggie attempted to flail away on the drums.  Archie brought in his best pal, Forsythe “Jughead” Jones, to try his hands at the keyboards, and this embryonic version of The Archies was born.


And they were terrible.  An inept garage band with no chops to speak of, all they had going for them was the exuberance (and, dare we say, arrogance) of youth.  Still, that’s often all you need in rock ‘n’ roll, and as they kept at it, thrashing their way through covers of the hits of the day, they got a little tighter, a tiny bit better.  The girls were impressed with The Archies’ efforts, but not in quite the way the boys had imagined.  Before long, Betty and Veronica were members of the band, both singing and banging on tambourines (“The only kind of banging either of ‘em did back then,” Reggie would later recall wryly.)
While the instrumental roles were perhaps oddly chosen–Veronica had played piano since grade school, and would have certainly been better on keyboards than Jughead, while Betty was a more than competent guitarist—it’s likely that the girls were initially relegated to vocalist/percussionist positions simply because it was deemed more ladylike in pre-Women’s Liberation Riverdale. Nonetheless, the addition of their singing voices transformed The Archies immediately, from a fledgling garage band to…well, a fledgling garage band with killer harmonies, the kind of harmonies you can’t get outside of a group of people that have sung together their whole lives.
Still, The Archies remained just another one of hundreds of garage bands toiling in obscurity across America, and their story might well have ended right then and there, if not for a concerned, protective father and a spurned music mogul, and the weird way their paths collided.
Veronica’s father, wealthy industrialist Hiram Lodge, had never been terribly fond of Archie, and always felt his daughter was wasting her time with him.  Now that she was frittering away her ambitions by being in–ugh!—a rock band with that Andrews boy, things had gone too far.  Lodge was not an unkind man, nor an unwise one, but he knew there had to be a way to show Veronica that The Archies would never amount to anything.  To do that, he contacted an old acquaintance:  Don Kirshner.
Kirshner, an ultra-successful music executive, had just parted ways with what was probably his most successful project ever, The Monkees.  Originally hired as The Monkees’ musical supervisor, Kirshner had helped the band become the most popular rock ‘n’ roll group in America.  But The Monkees bristled under Kirshner’s tight control, and eventually rebelled, dismissing Kirshner from his duties.  Furious, Kirshner vowed to find another band to supervise, one that wouldn’t question his authority.
Like, maybe, a band of teenaged amateurs from Riverdale.
Hiram Lodge arranged for Kirshner to hear The Archies play, figuring that Kirshner would make them see that they had no real future in the music biz.  But Kirshner loved The Archies—not because they were a great band (Lord knows!), but because he saw potential in their look, their image.  “America’s typical teens!,” thought Kirshner.  With The Archies under his aegis,  Kirshner was sure he could make the world forget The Monkees had ever existed.
The Archies were ecstatic—who wouldn’t be, in such a dizzying environment?  Although they certainly wouldn’t be playing on their records, they would provide all the vocals.  Kirshner did (wisely) suggest some changes in their instrumentation, as Reggie moved to bass, Jughead became the drummer, and Veronica settled in at the keyboard; Betty was still stuck with a tambourine for the time being.  The Archies increased their concert schedule, and began recording their first album, The Archies, which was released in 1968.
Unfortunately, The Archies’ initial chart action was unlikely to make The Monkees quake in their Thom McCann’s.   The first single, “Bang-Shang-A-Lang,” made it to respectable (if unspectacular) # 22, but the album never got past a pathetic # 88.  Sensing that perhaps his time-tested formula might finally be ready for some tweaking, Kirshner did what would have been unthinkable for him when he was supervising The Monkees:  he let the band have a bit more involvement in the recordings.
Such a simple thing, such a big difference.  The Archies had become a pretty good combo by now, and Betty was even finally allowed to fatten the group’s sound with her own guitar playing.  The next single, “Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.-D.O.O.)” had already been recorded by session musicians, and it missed the Top 40 entirely.  But The Archies’ third single would feature singing and playing by Riverdale’s Finest.  And, to further Kirshner’s revenge, it would be a song previously rejected by The Monkees, an irresistible pop confection called “Sugar, Sugar.”
Words can’t express how huge the “Sugar, Sugar” single was.  # 1 for four weeks, and by some accounts the biggest record of 1969, “Sugar, Sugar” made The Archies into superstars.  The concert tours became bigger, the TV appearances more frequent, the dollar signs written larger in bright lights and starry eyes.  Briefly, brilliantly, The Archies were on top of the world.
As is so often the case, such giddy success sowed the seeds of its own demise.  These five teenagers had been so close for so long, and that’s likely the only thing that kept them stable in the eye of this hurricane.  Because they were together now all the time—in planes, hotels, recording studios, everywhere—and all the old complications became even more magnified.  Archie and Reggie argued constantly, and the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle remained unresolved.  Jughead was content to keep the beat and scarf down an endless supply of hamburgers (his relatively benign vice of choice), but the band was in imminent danger of imploding.
The Archies were unable to translate their singles success into album sales.  The awesome “Jingle, Jangle” single (featuring Betty on a shared lead vocal, the first time Archie hadn’t sung all the leads on an Archies single) made it to # 10, but the album of the same name—as brilliant a pop record as anything released in 1970—languished at an utterly shameful # 125.  The end was at hand.
By the time of The Archies’ fourth album, 1970’s Sunshine, the long-simmering rivalry between Archie and Reggie had reached a boiling point.  Reggie was particularly unhappy; he was stung by criticism that the group hadn’t played on its earliest records, and was now seething with jealousy as one of The Archies’ old opening acts, Led Zeppelin, was fast becoming one of the hottest groups around.  Reggie was done, and he announced his intention to leave The Archies and form his own hard rock group, Old Man Weatherbee (flippantly named for an administrator at Riverdale High School).  Archie had already tested the solo waters with a country single, “I Need Something Stronger Than A Chock’lit Malt,” and was likewise ready to move on.  However, in a final show of solidarity, The Archies rallied to make their last record a great one.  Sunshine is a sublime rockin’ pop album, a fitting farewell from this often-misunderstood band. The highlight of Sunshine was undeniably “Who’s Gonna Love Me” an exuberant track that inspired Andrews to give his most soulful, commanding vocal ever.  Ultimately, after all the bickering, The Archies parted as friends.  Archie went on to his solo career (though his solo debut, This Is Love, was credited to The Archies, to fulfill a contractual obligation, and a legal issue prompted him to use the pseudonym Ron Dante for his second album, Ron Dante Brings You Up); he eventually moved into artist management, and even wound up as the publisher of the highbrow literary magazine The Paris Review.  Reggie moved to England and remained a fixture on the hard rock circuit for years to come; he produced Spinal Tap’s Shark Sandwich LP, and is rumored to be the bassist on KISS’s 1979 disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.”  Jughead became an in-demand session player, Veronica began a film career, and Betty retired from show business entirely.  For years, The Archies repeatedly turned down multi-million dollar offers for a reunion tour, though they did agree to a touching, emotional on-stage reunion at Live Aid.   That reunion was temporary for the band, but far more permanent in a matter of the heart:  Archie and Betty rekindled their relationship, and were married in 1987.  Veronica was the maid of honor, Jughead was the best man, and Reggie, bless ‘im, presented the happy couple with a voucher for unlimited studio time at his recording complex south of London—just in case they were ever taken with an urge to get back into the game.
In 2005, all five of The Archies returned to Riverdale for a retirement ceremony honoring Pop Tate, whose teen bistro Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe had been the start of everything for them.  The same jukebox was still there.  Sure, the records had been updated and changed many times over the years—and each of The Archies’ singles had earned a permanent spot on the jukebox—but THE record was still there.
Giggling like the teens they once were—and, in many ways, would always be—Betty and Veronica rocked the coin right into the slot, and the decades melted away as Micky Dolenz again testified that he was a believer.  Sometimes just believing is its own greatest reward.

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The Greatest Record Ever Made: “You Really Got Me”

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns.  Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
This post was originally published privately, for Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) subscribers only, on January 4th, 2017. This is its first public appearance. For as little as $2 a month, supporters of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on Patreon receive one exclusive bonus post each month: Fund me, baby!

THE KINKS: “You Really Got Me”
The record had no precedent.

Link Wray was the closest thing it had to a prototype; the growling, cantankerous power chords of Wray’s “Rumble” sounded like a force of nature, a monolithic, lumbering whamwhamWHAM! pouncing through cheap speakers to devour unsuspecting radio listeners in 1958. “Rumble” influenced anything loud and threatening that was ever played at 45 rpm from that second forward. And one imagines it must have influenced The Kinks, as well. Nonetheless, even six years later in 1964, there had still never been another record quite like “You Really Got Me.”

It’s not just a matter of velocity; “You Really Got Me” seems faster than it really is, and attempts to play it too fast or (worse) too heavy–like Van Halen‘s meatball cover in the late ’70s, or even The Kinks’ own live renditions in the ’80s–feel insincere, wrong. No, the song is methodical, deliberate, but still pounding with desire and passionate, right-now insistence. Its implied speed, its breakneck illusion, makes it all the more powerful, menacing, like a cobra poised to strike and rob you of your last breath. It’s a punk song, even a proto-metal song, but it has a groove. It has a soul. It has a heart.

And it seethes with the frustration from which it was born.

The Kinks had released two previous singles: a perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” (backed by a great beat raver, “I Took My Baby Home”) and a lovely Britpop number called “You Still Want Me.” The former had sold respectably (but unspectacularly) in the UK, and the latter had been a relative stiff. The song’s composer, Ray Davies, is said to have pounded out “You Really Got Me”‘s bluesey creation at home, on his parents’ piano. Frustrated. His frequently estranged brother, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, couldn’t get the dirty, gritty six-string sound he wanted on the song–Frustrated!–and wound up slashing his amp with a razor blade just to get the guttural effect he could only hear in his head. Ray Davies thought the first recording too polite, too polished, too smooth. FRUSTRATED!! He begged the record label to let them have another go at getting it right.

And they did. Release! Girl, you really got me goin’. Cigarette?

With “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks had their first big hit, and not just in the UK. That simple, ferocious riff echoed across the Atlantic, and The Kinks were suddenly part of a British Invasion, an insurrection armed with guitars, bass, and drums, a rock ‘n’ roll police action that reclaimed the colonies for Her Majesty. Yes, of course, The Beatles were the shaggy-headed faces of this unexpected Britmania, and those Liverpudlians’ wit and style and sheer pop brilliance were the driving force of that scene and its sound. But no other rock ‘n’ roll group was more British than The Kinks, and no song ever summed up the British Invasion as well as “You Really Got Me.” 

The Rolling Stones tried to surpass it, tried to make a record that could beat the overwhelming, transcendent urgency of “You Really Got Me.” And while the Stones created a lot of terrific singles in the process, they couldn’t match The Kinks. Nor could The Who, nor The Sex Pistols, nor even The Ramones, though Forest Hills’ Finest likely came the closest. The Kinks also tried; their follow-up single “All Day And All Of The Night” was arguably even better, a steamrollin’ refinement of “You Really Got Me”‘s primal attack. But “better” isn’t the same as Greatest. In the visceral realm of pop music, of rock ‘n’ roll, immediacy can be immortal. God save the greatest. And God save The Kinks.

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Dennis O’Neil

Comics is a visual medium. But no matter how dazzling the individual images, how pretty the pictures, how powerfully the lines have been drawn, the story is what’s at the heart of it all. Without a story, all we have are pinup pages. Maybe they’re great pinup pages. But it’s not really comics without a story. Writer and artist. You need both to create comics.

Sometimes the writer and the artist are one and the same, from Will Eisner to Art Spiegelman to Carol Lay. More often (especially in commercial comics), there is a division of labor. The writer writes, the artists–usually more than one artist–pencil, ink, and letter, and also color if the work’s not for black-and-white publication. When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to be one of the writers. I wanted to be like Dennis O’Neil.

Dennis O’Neil had been a journalist from Missouri before breaking into comics as a writer in the ’60s. O’Neil initially wrote for Marvel Comics, then for Charlton, and began writing for DC Comics in 1968. It was at DC that O’Neil made his name.

I’m not sure of when I first became aware of O’Neil, nor can I identify which comic offered my first exposure to his work. Maybe it was in Beware The Creeper, or possibly Justice League Of America, neither of which would be among my favorite O’Neil runs. There was also his underrated work on Wonder Woman, chronicling the adventures of a de-powered Amazon Princess. I can tell you I loved his early ’70s work on Superman, the “Kryptonite Nevermore!” run that moved Clark Kent out of The Daily Planet to new duties as a TV newsman. O’Neil brought an unexpected sense of verisimilitude to his portrayal of the Man of Steel. I was 11 and 12, 1971-72, and I thought it was just the greatest thing ever.

It would not be O’Neil’s only claim to greatness. With artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, O’Neil took over Green Lantern in 1970, bringing the titular cosmic hero down to Earth to team with a costumed archer named Green Arrow, an also-ran superhero who’d hung around without much distinction since the ’40s. This dynamic creative team infused Green Lantern/Green Arrow with new energy, excitement, and an embrace of social relevance that drew the attention of mainstream media. Understand: Green Arrow was strictly a second-banana character up to that point; O’Neil and company revamped this Emerald Archer into the model for the popular character we know today. You don’t get to the Arrow TV series or the subsequent successful DC superhero shows on The CW without O’Neil, Adams, and Giordano showing the way. O’Neil also revived The Shadow for DC, wrote the return of the original Captain Marvel in Shazam!, crafted the magnificent Superman Vs. Muhammed Ali one-shot, and much later turned in some stunning work on The Question. He did more work for Marvel, as well. This isn’t even a thumbnail of O’Neil’s c.v.

But O’Neil’s most important and lasting work in comics was on Batman. No–make that THE Batman. Following the cancellation of the campy 1966-68 Batman TV series, the once-formidable Caped Crusader had become a joke. Batman’s tarnished reputation could only be salvaged with a return to his pulp roots. O’Neil wasn’t the first to consider reestablishing the shadows in The Batman’s world; Neal Adams had started adding noirish visuals to Batman’s appearances in the team-up book The Brave And The Bold, and writer Frank Robbins and artist Irv Novick (inked by Giordano) had already separated Batman from Robin the Boy Wonder by sending the latter off to college, all prior to O’Neil’s first Batman script.

Nonetheless, it all came together when O’Neil began to chronicle the goings-on in Gotham City. Whether working with Adams or Novick (both almost always inked by Giordano), O’Neil’s Batman was undeniably The Batman. From the early ’70s onward, this vision of The Batman as The Dark Knight influenced nearly every subsequent interpretation of the character. O’Neil created a new nemesis named Ra’s al Ghul, revived Golden Age villain Two-Face for the first time since the ’50s, and turned The Joker from the buffoonish Clown Prince of Crime that he’d become back to the murderous harlequin created by Bill Finger (and, I guess, Bob Kane, maybe) in 1940’s Batman # 1. 

Dennis O’Neil saved Batman. The lasting impact of his Batman writing is beyond measure; if not for O’Neil, you can be damned sure that Batman–THE Batman–wouldn’t have become the multimedia juggernaut we now know. It wasn’t just O’Neil, of course. Still, none of it–the movies, the mania, the pop cultural preeminence, none of it–could have ever existed otherwise.

I was blown away by O’Neil’s Batman. I’d been hooked on superheroes in general and Batman in particular by the TV show in 1966, when I was six. As an adolescent and young teen, I read O’Neil’s Batman and exulted in the thrill of a Dark Knight, a Batman I could believe in. 

I was 13 or 14 when I decided I wanted to be a writer. Specifically, I wanted to write comics. I wanted to write Batman. Goddamn it, I wanted to write Dennis O’Neil’s Batman.

I failed at that. And that’s okay. The effort made me better, gradually, over time. Dennis O’Neil was one of my biggest influences as a writer. If you have ever enjoyed anything I’ve written, fiction or non-fiction, for this blog or elsewhere, it all comes from me wanting to be Dennis O’Neil, and Harlan Ellison, and Woody Allen, and Mark Shipper, and Max Allan Collins, and…yeah, it’s a long list. The list starts with Dennis O’Neil.

Dennis O’Neil passed away last week. He was 81. Comics fandom mourns. Gotham mourns. If The Batman also mourns, his emotions remain hidden in the shadows that are his home, his mask and cloak concealing any hint of his thoughts. He sees a signal in the night sky, and knows he is needed elsewhere.

And he is gone. As if he were never there.

Thank you, Dennis O’Neil. My life and my imagination would have been much poorer without you. Thank you. Just…thank you.

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Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Unfinished and Abandoned: The Notebook Notions, Part 1: The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can.

Some time in the early ’70s–probably circa 1973 or ’74, when I was 13 to 14 years old–I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I’ve never made much money in that endeavor, but there hasn’t been any extended period in the past four-decades-plus where I haven’t at least dabbled in writing… something.

So, while still a teen, I started filling notebooks with ideas for things I might want to write. “Ideas” inflates their worth and weight; these weren’t ideas, but little notions, germs of ideas, usually no more than a title or a vague concept at best.  Most of these notions were for comic-book stories (like The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, my recently-completed Batman pulp story), but I also imagined things I could write for movies, magazines, TV, radio, and paperback novels.

In this open-ended series of Notebook Notions, I’ll be looking back at some of these half-baked, quarter-baked, sixteenth-baked, and damn-this-thing’s-still raw! almost-ideas that I jotted down in my notebooks.  If any of the notebooks themselves still survive, I hope to unearth ’em someday.  For now, this is all from memory; long before I became a middle-aged wannabe, I was a teen-aged wannabe, and I had a few notions, I did….
The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can

I’ve written a lot over the years about The Bay City Rollers; Scotland’s phenomenal pop combo was the subject of my first article for Goldmine in 1987 (later updated here), and even my blog bio mentions my interest in writing the liner notes to a Bay City Rollers anthology.  But I wasn’t really all that big a fan of them initially.  I thought their claim to be the next Beatles was absurd, but I liked their first two U.S. singles–“Saturday Night” and “Money Honey”–well enough, I guess, and I loved their third hit, “Rock And Roll Love Letter.”  Go ahead and have another listen to that one; I’ll wait here.

Yeah, still good.

So maybe I was a fan after all.  As silly as the Beatles comparison was, I’m sure the idea of a Scottish Fab Five intrigued this British Invasion zealot, and it surely fed my interest in them.  If The Bay City Rollers couldn’t be the next Beatles, perhaps they could be the next Dave Clark Five, or the next Herman’s Hermits, and that would be fine by me.  And if that were the case, the Rollers would need to do what The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, and Herman’s Hermits had all done before them:  The Bay City Rollers would need to make a movie.

It’s further illustration of what an out-of-time square peg I’ve always been:  in 1976, when pop music was at the awkward melting point of disco, metal, mellow, hard rock, prog, skyrockets in flight, and the early rude, loud stirrings of punk, I thought there would be commercial prospects for the razzafrazzin’ Bay City Rollers to star in a latter-day update of A Hard Day’s Night.  See, this is why I didn’t have a girlfriend.

But a notebook notion is a notebook notion.  At 16, A Hard Day’s Night was already my all-time favorite film.  I’d seen all of The Beatles’ movies:  A Hard Day’s Night on its first run at The North Drive-In in Cicero in 1964 (and on many a TV rerun thereafter), Help! on Channel 3’s weekday afternoon matinee, Yellow Submarine on network TV, and both Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be in a weekend matinee double-bill at The Hollywood Theater in Mattydale.  I had also seen Herman’s Hermits’ dreadful Hold On! at the Hollywood, and I think I’d seen The Monkees’ Head on the CBS late movie.  I had not yet seen The Dave Clark Five’s  Having A Wild Weekend, but I loved its companion album (not exactly a soundtrack LP), and I loved seeing that film’s stills on the LP’s cover.  And I figured, that’s the kind of movie The Bay City Rollers should make.  And that’s the kind of thing I should write, to further my sinister end game of becoming rich, famous, influential, irresistible to gurls, and ultimately married to hot actress Valerie Perrine.

One of my favorite songs at the time was The Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can,” a song I’d heard on the radio and declared The Greatest Record Ever Made.  I didn’t realize that Catch Us If You Can had been the actual title of The Dave Clark Five’s 1965 feature film, re-titled Having A Wild Weekend for us dim Yanks here in the Colonies.  So my thought was that the Rollers should cover it as the title theme for their own breakout, career-defining feature film debut.

The notion never got all that much more specific than that.  My idea was heavily influenced (possibly to the point of outright thievery) by the film Good Times, a Sonny and Cher vehicle I had recently seen on TV.  In that movie, pop stars Sonny and Cher struggle with corporate entertainment-biz weasels for control of their own name-above-the-title flick.  I thought a similar plot would work for a Bay City Rollers movie:  The Man tries to treat Les, Derek, Eric, Alan, and Woody like puppets in the music business’ plastic cookie-cutter pop assembly line, and our heroes struggle with the gaudy temptations of success:  women, fame, women, wealth, women, adoration, women, and, y’know…groupies ‘n’ stuff.  The allure of such enticing prizes seems too much for five simple Scottish lads to resist, and individually they could well succumb to these sinful pleasures of greed, lust, and hedonism, but at the cost of their souls.  But standing together, The Bay City Rollers are too strong, too true to their own working-class roots, to be fooled by empty promises.  The group rebels, refusing to play the game, even if it costs them their fame, their fortune, and their future; for even without all of that, The Bay City Rollers would still have their music, and their tartan-clad friendship.  In a climactic showdown with the suits and the moneymen, The Bay City Rollers walk away from it all, gleefully, triumphantly, to the tune of “Catch Us If You Can.”  Their boldness resonates with youth across the globe, and The Bay City Rollers become bigger than ever, with no Big Company ever again telling them what they could or couldn’t do.  Catch this if you can, suckers!

Plus, they get to hang on to the women.  Finders keepers, man.

The bare-bones nonsense detailed above was farther than I ever got with Catch Us If You Can, and it still leaves such banal trivialities as plot, motivation, dialogue, pacing, and common sense to be tossed in some time down the road, I guess.  Even in my most starry-eyed flights of fancy, even as a more-naive-than-most 16-year-old, I knew this picture wasn’t gonna happen, ever.  If one could pretend for a second that I had the talent and drive to work up a complete project proposal for this–a bona fide synopsis, some sample script pages, something more concrete than a scrawled notebook entry that read The Bay City Rollers:  CATCH US IF YOU CAN [movie]–that leap of faith would still plummet into the murky depths of a Scottish loch, me laddies and lassies.  This was a fantasy.  And it was fun to imagine.

While I had the minimal intelligence necessary to discard the notion of The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can, I ultimately became a bigger fan of the group.  They were never my favorite, but I was never ashamed to proclaim my approval of the Rollers’ best power pop tracks, particularly “Rock And Roll Love Letter,””Wouldn’t You Like It” (which I somehow convinced The Flashcubes to cover for a Bay City Rollers tribute CD), and “Yesterday’s Hero,” among others.  In college, I had a BCR poster in my dorm room as an act of defiance, right alongside my KISS, Sex Pistols, and Suzi Quatro posters–a heady stance to take in the Southern Rock/Deadhead hotbed that was my college campus.  I pestered my friend Jane Gach to play “Wouldn’t You Like It” on her radio show; she protested, she refused, she told me to go to Hell…but she finally played it just to shut me up.  Surprise!  She loved the song, and said so on the air.  Just like at the climax of Catch Us If You Can:  the music of The Bay City Rollers transcended differences, and provided its own happy ending.  Roll credits!

(And, although Valerie Perrine never did deign to notice my existence, I met a girl named Brenda in college. On an early pizza date, listening to oldies on the restaurant’s radio, we discovered a mutual affection for a song I didn’t think anyone else my age knew about:  “Catch Us If You Can” by The Dave Clark Five.  Bonding!  Brenda and I have been together ever since.  Maybe my notebook notion of a song to further my sinister end game wasn’t as far off course as I’d thought.)

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Spiderman, Spiderman (My Marvel Comics Try-Out)

In 1983, Marvel Comics published a gimmick called The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book, and challenged readers and prospective creators to, in essence, audition for Marvel. The book provided a tutorial on how a comic book is created, and then presented the beginning of a new, unfinished Spider-Man story. The idea was for budding writers and artists to submit their attempts to complete the story, demonstrating their skills in scripting, plotting, pencilling, inking, coloring, and/or lettering. The most promising candidates would likely find work with the House Of Ideas, Merry Ol’ Marvel.

What a scam. What a shell game. And yes, of course I attempted a try-out.

The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book gives the first 14 pages of the Spider-Man story (“Personals” by Jim Shooter, who was Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief at the time), plus the unscripted, pencilled pages 15 through 19. For the writing auditions, hopefuls had to write a script for pages 15 through 19, and then write a plot breakdown, completing the story from page 25 through 29.

The first 14 pages of “Personals” show us that Spidey’s foe Doctor Octopus has escaped from prison, and Spider-Man has grown discouraged in his own failure to apprehend that nogoodnik and his accomplices, Chris and Louise. Meanwhile, an unknown girl named Janet witnesses a rooftop battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, and has been writing letters to Spider-Man, letters that have appeared on The Daily Bugle‘s Personals page. The printed exchange of letters between Spider-Man and Janet have captured the public’s fancy, and the letters have encouraged our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to keep on keepin’ on in his quest to defeat Doc Ock.

The script try-out begins with a confrontation between Peter Parker–the everyday nebbish who is secretly everyone’s favorite wall-crawler–and his protective Aunt May. All characters are copyright Marvel Entertainment–well, except for The Hooded Halibut; Marvel passed, so I’m keepin’ ol’ HH. And keep an eye out for a sneaky cameo appearance by a lesser-known DC character, too. Take it away, Capable Carl Cafarelli:

PAGE 15
1.  MAY:  I didn’t particularly care for your tone of voice when I spoke to you on the phone last night! Maybe you were a little depressed, but you sounded like a coward, a quitter

2. MAY:  …Parkers aren’t quitters, young man!

3. MAY:  See this story in the newspaper? Even a masked hoodlum like that horrible Spider-Man can bounce back from the doldrums and display some backbone…!

4. MAY:  If he can do it, you certainly can!

5. PETER:  Aunt May…

6. MAY:  Oh!

7. PETER:  …you’re the greatest!

8. PETER:  That little pep talk was just what I needed to lift my spirits! You should try coaching the Mets in your spare time!

9. MAY:  My goodness, you’re such a kidder!

10. MAY:  It’s good to see you’re back to your old self again, Peter! Can I expect you for dinner tonight?

11. PETER:  Count on it!

12. MAY (t):  Hmmm–maybe Peter and I should have these talks more often…!

13. PETER (t):  What a gal!

14. PETER (t):  Even though my spirits didn’t really need lifting by now, it was sweet of her to try!

PAGE 16
1. CAPTION:  The next day, back on Long Island….

2. VOICE:  Spider-mania…

3. LOUISE:  …I don’t believe it! Dozens of personals, all claiming to be from Spider-Man or his so-called “secret girlfriend!”

4. CHRIS:  Plus several others from Captain America, Bucky, Papa Smurf and someone named Irving Forbush!

5. OCK:  Indeed…

6. OCK:  …every paper in the area is filled to the bursting point with those personals, glorifying Spider-Man, stroking the web-head’s ego…

7. OCK:  mocking me!

8. OCK:  If not for this “secret girlfriend” and her personals ad, that accursed wall-crawler might have given up his meddlesome ways and left me in peace!

9. LOUISE:  What’re you gonna do about it?

10. OCK:  I believe it is time I placed my own ad in the personals!

11. OCK:  Listen carefully….

12. CAPTION:  Later….

13. S.E:  Kra-aaash!

14. JJJ:  What in Sam Hill–?

PAGE 17
1. OCK:  Get up, Jameson! Have you no manners!
2. JJJ:  I-I was just, er, looking for my contact lens!
3. OCK:  I have a personals ad that I want you to run immediately!

4. JJJ:  Groan! Not again!

5. OCK:  Quiet!

6. OCK:  I believe your deadline is approaching, Jameson?

7. JJJ:  Ulp!

8. JJJ:  Stop the presses, Ms. Leeds!

9. JJJ:   I said, stop the presses!

10. CAPTION:  Some time later….

11. PETER:  What the–?

12. PETER:  Oh…my…

13. PETER:  gosh!
PAGE 18
1. PETER:  A bluff–it’s gotta be a bluff!

2. PETER:  The police would know!

3. TYPESET:  PHONE

4. SGT:  Fifth precinct, Hainer–what? Spider-Man’s secret girlfriend?

5. SGT:  Now listen, sonny–we’ve logged roughly 300 calls at this precinct alone from people claiming to be Spider-Man, his secret girlfriend, Doctor Octopus or his second- cousin, The Hooded Halibut!  The crank callers are having a field day! We have no way of knowing which calls–if any–are the real McCoy!

6. PETER:  So you have no idea if that girl’s life is really in danger?

7. PHONE:  Nope. Sorry!

8. PETER:  Not as sorry as I am!

9. S.E:  Klik!

10. PETER:  Blast! Even the police aren’t sure if this whole thing is a hoax or not!

11. PETER:  But meanwhile, an innocent girl could die just because she supported me publicly, and gave my spirits a much-needed boost!

12. PETER:  I don’t have any choice!  I’ve got to meet Doc Ock’s challenge! I can’t take the chance that he might really be holding her hostage!

13. PETER:  But if he harms her–

14. SPIDEY:  –then Heaven help Doc Ock–

15. SPIDEY:  when SPIDER-MAN breaks loose!
PAGE 19
1. CAPTION:  Soon after, at the office of New York’s most beloved newspaper publisher….

2. SPIDEY:  I’ve heard of cross-ventilation, but this is ridiculous!

3. JJJ:  You!
4. JJJ:  You masked menace! You wall-crawling criminal! This is all your fault, you–you–

5. SPIDEY:  Okay, okay, I get the idea!

6. JJJ:  That blasted first letter should’ve never been run! You probably cooked this whole thing up to publicize yourself, you gloryhound! My next editorial will show the whole city what a cheap phoney you are!

7. SPIDEY:  Calm down, willya Jameson–I’m starting to blush!

8. SPIDEY:  Just tell me what Doc Ock wants me to do!

9. JJJ:  Just wait here–and be quiet!

10. SPIDEY (t):  Oh no! I’ve got to wait here and listen to Jolly Jonah rant and rave?

11. SPIDEY (t):  Man! Ock’s really fighting dirty this time!

12. CAPTION:  Meanwhile, in the Bugle‘s reception room…

13. REPORTER # 1:  What’s the story? Is this another of Jameson’s publicity stunts?

14. COP:  If it is, then we’d like a few words with him as well!

15. REPORTER # 2:  Has there been any word from Spider-Man?

16. REPORTER # 3:  Is it true that this “secret girlfriend” is really Brooke Shields?

17. RECEPTIONIST:  One at a time, please..!

18. CAPTION:  Suddenly…

19. JANET:  This is all a mistake! No one’s holding me hostage!


MARVEL TRY-OUT: PLOTTING (Story resumes after Dr. Octopus has captured Janet, and is forcing Spider-Man to submit to a beating)
PAGE TWENTY-FIVE:  Ock’s tentacle connects and Spider-Man crumples to the floor. Ock continues to batter Spidey’s motionless form; Janet screams in protest, tears streaming down her face, but there’s no stopping Ock now. He begins to cackle insanely–after all these years, he’s finally beaten Spider-Man! Louise and Chris look on disapprovingly as Janet sobs and Ock picks up Spider-Man’s body and waives it triumphantly before him.

PAGE TWENTY-SIX:  Spider-Man comes to life! He knocks Ock to the ground, disconnects the controls to Janet’s death-trap (rips the button out of the wall, actually) and dodges Louise and Chris’ fire. Doc Ock can scarcely believe it–defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, again! Recovering his web-shooters, Spidey makes short work of Louise and Chris and quickly frees Janet. The reunion is short-lived, however, as Ock recovers his composure and Spider-Man has to face a fighting-mad Doctor Octopus.

PAGE TWENTY-SEVEN:  Ock attacks, but Spidey outmaneuvers him at every turn, taunting the villain with his usual Spidey banter. Ock attempts to grab Janet and again use her as a hostage, but Spidey’s webbing stops Ock in his tracks, Janet slaps Ock’s face hard (shocking him far more than hurting him) and a right cross from Spider-Man puts Ock down for the count. Justice doesn’t come without a price, though: Spider-Man’s knuckles hurt something fierce.

PAGE TWENTY-EIGHT:  Spider-Man summons the police, and he and Janet swing away as the police arrive. Spidey takes Janet back to the rooftop where they’d first seen each other. Janet asks how Spider-Man survived Ock’s should-have-been-fatal assault, and Spidey explains that it’s kind of a trade secret (his spider sense enabled him to foresee where Ock’s blows would hit, so Spidey could effectively roll with the blows and escape serious injury). Standing on the rooftop, Spidey and Janet face each other almost like two teenagers on a blind date, but now Spider-Man has a question: who is Janet? What was she doing on this rooftop at four o’clock that morning? At first, Janet mumbles something about a “trade secret,” but relents. Her parents are recently divorced, she says, and she lives with her mother in this very building.

PAGE TWENTY-NINE:  Janet doesn’t really get along that well with her mother; at best, they put up with each other. To Janet, it sometimes seems as though everyone she’s ever looked up to has deserted her or let her down in some way, from her estranged father through the rock star she once bumped into in Manhattan (and who was a real condescending jerk). She’d come to the roof that morning, unable to sleep, just to be alone and get away from her mother and that one-room apartment. But then she saw Spider-Man in action, and she saw…not just a remote hero, but a real hero who was also a real person underneath, and she was impressed and considerably cheered up. Janet and Spider-Man embrace briefly, and Spider-Man raises his mask half-way to give Janet a brotherly kiss. They vow to get together soon for an informal date (seriously, but with absolutely no inclination toward romance). Meanwhile, Spidey is due for dinner at Aunt May’s–and, come to think of it, he’s starving!

2016 POSTSCRIPT:  I wrote all this in 1984, and it’s probably been thirty years since I last re-read it.  The scripting is too wordy, which is a common problem for me, but (in the words of the great philosopher Popeye) I yam what I yam. But otherwise, I like the script okay. The plotting portion isn’t as bad as I remembered it; I don’t think I would have, like, bought it or anything if I were an editor, but it’s adequate, and a little better than my memory told me it was.
This was the only writing I ever submitted to Marvel. I also submitted a number of things to DC over the years, and this Marvel try-out was probably better than anything I ever sent to DC (which gives you an idea of the aroma wafting above my DC attempts). The closest I ever got with either company was around this same time frame, when DC returned several of my proposed plots, but kept one–a proposal for a World War II black superhero called The Trident–for further review. Nothing came of it, unless, I dunno, maybe they’re still reviewing it.
Say, if DC suddenly decides to do something with The Trident, maybe I can team him up with The Hooded Halibut. After all, The Hooded Halibut’s a free agent now.

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The Monkees: Good Times! Review

In the novel Glimpses by Lewis Shiner, the protagonist develops the power of time travel, but a very specific sort of time travel:  he is able to travel back in rock ‘n’ roll history, and he tries to help artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors complete works that were left unfinished in the real-world timeline.  Our hero’s crowning achievement is shepherding Brian Wilson through the completion of The Beach Boys’ unrealized 1967 masterpiece Smile; returning back from ’67 to the novel’s present-day setting, the now-completed Smile is released, and is embraced by fans worldwide as an unexpected, enduring source of pure joy and happiness.

Don’t worry:  no one’s going to compare Good Times!, the new 50th anniversary reunion album by The Monkees, to the mythical 1967 Smile, nor even to Brian Wilson’s 21st-century version.  But the above scenario is pertinent to today’s discussion, for one simple reason:  just as Smile caused pop fans in the novel to rejoice, The Monkees’ new album likewise inspires a delighted grin, a smile that grows wider and wider upon repeated listening.   Good Times!  Never has an album been more aptly named.

It’s a gift we may not have really anticipated.

Many of us know this story by heart:  The Monkees were formed in the mid-’60s by neophyte TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who cast singin’ actors Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones alongside singin’ musicians Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork as the titular struggling rock ‘n’ roll combo in a new weekly television series; the series debuted September 12, 1966 on NBC.  Music mogul Don Kirshner was brought in to make Monkee music, bringing with him songwriters and session players, and directing the TV show’s four young stars to sing, Monkees, sing!  The records sold.  And sold.  And how!  A # 1 single, “Last Train To Clarksville.”  A # 1 album, The Monkees. Another # 1 single, “I’m A Believer.”  Another # 1 album, More Of The Monkees. Buoyed by success, but chafing under Kirshner’s control, The Monkees sought a more active role in their musical efforts, and were allowed to play on their recordings, and given a (somewhat) larger say in their fortunes.  More great and even greater records followed, but the TV show ran its course; after the dismal box office failure of The Monkees’ bitter, brilliant feature film Head, The Monkees’ pop success faded.  Tork left.  Nesmith left.  In 1970, Dolenz and Jones killed the lights on their way out, too.  The TV show’s two seasons were rerun again and again, across the course of generations.  There was a partial reunion (without Nesmith) in the late ’80s, and all four regrouped in 1996 for a new album, TV special, and a brief UK tour; both reunions ended in a flurry of bickering.  Dolenz, Jones, and Tork returned for an acclaimed 2011 tour that embraced The Monkees’ vast recorded legacy as never before.  Jones passed away in 2012.  To the surprise of…well, everyone, Nesmith rejoined Dolenz and Tork for a fantastic reunion tour in 2012-13.  Nesmith eventually withdrew from touring again, leaving Dolenz and Tork as The Last Monkees Standing (and Touring).

This was the state of Monkee affairs when word of a 50th anniversary reunion album leaked in February of 2016.  The questions came unbidden:  Would Nesmith participate?  Hell, would Tork?  Would it be a glorified Micky Dolenz solo album?  Would it be any damned good at all?  And how could these blasphemers presume to do this without the late Davy Jones?!

The answers arrived in a slow-cooked stew of guerilla hype and sly rumors let slip.  By the time of its release, we knew that Good Times! would be prepared under the auspices of Monkees superfan Andrew Sandoval and producer Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains Of Wayne and That Thing You Do! fame).  The album would be a mix of new recordings–including songs written by each of the surviving Monkees, as well as songwriting submissions from XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Hibbard, and the Britpop Modgasm pairing of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller–with unfinished (and now finished!) ’60s stuff from the vaults.  Micky, Peter, and Michael were involved; Davy would be represented by a remixed 1967 recording, with new backing vocals from Micky and Peter.

This could have been a recipe for a big ol’ mess.  Instead, Good Times! has a good shot at being the best pop album of 2016.

Good Times! starts and ends with explicit exhortations of good times to be had and good times to be remembered.  The album opens with a title track written by the late Harry Nilsson; the track is actually Nilsson’s 1968 demo of the song, with Nilsson’s 1968 voice dueting with present-day Dolenz, a potentially scary prospect that avoids being ghoulish by just being so much freewheeling fun. You can feel Dolenz’s affection for his departed friend in every loose ‘n’ swingin’ hoot and holler.  The album closer, “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time),” co-written by Dolenz and Schlesinger (based on Dolenz’s oft-told anecdote of being at a bacchanalia with The Beatles), likewise swaggers with satisfied pride in all the gusto grabbed along the way.  It’s not strictly essential, but it’s not a throwaway, either.  Perhaps that’s the nature of good times.

And in between those two tracks?  Oh Lordy–Good Times! is just magic.

Micky Dolenz–one of the most underrated pop singers of the rock ‘n’ roll era–is given three brand-new pop confections, all made with real sugar, and they’re irresistible.  Andy Partridge’s “You Bring The Summer,” Rivers Cuomo’s “She Makes Me Laugh,” and Adam Schlesinger’s “Our Own World” are light and sunshiney in all the right ways, as if More Of The Monkees had been made in 2016, and someone found a way to beam its tracks directly into the radio that plays inside your head.  “Radio-ready” is one of this blog’s favorite phrases, describing perfect pop music that is so pure as to be undeniable, the stuff you wish you were listening to right now on a car radio turned up way too loud. Man, pop tunes don’t come any more radio-ready than these.  Speaking of More Of The Monkees, Dolenz also gets to sing two songs that date back to that 1967 album:  the Jeff Barry/Joey Levine “Gotta Give It Time” is a sturdy garage-pop nugget, its backing track completed in 1967 by the Kirshner hit machine, now with newly-added vocals by Dolenz (and uncredited backing vocals by Nesmith); Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s “Whatever’s Right” was also submitted for The Monkees in ’67, but this is an all-new recording (with Hart himself joining in on vocals).  At 71, Dolenz can still bend a pop tune to his will like no other can, and all five of these tracks (plus the two “Good Times” celebrations) give him ample opportunity to do so.

Peter Tork was never The Monkees’ key singer, but he acquits himself quite well on his two tracks. The first is “Little Girl,” a song Tork originally wrote as a follow-up to “I Wanna Be Free,” a popular Davy Jones-sung ballad from The Monkees’ eponymous debut in 1966. While Jones never quite got around to recording a version of “Little Girl,” Tork’s all-new rendition is amiable and likable.  But Tork’s lead on the Carole King/Gerry Goffin “Wasn’t Born To Follow”–a track begun in the studio in 1968, with added vocal by Tork in 2016–is an understated triumph, one of the best performances that Tork has ever given on record.

Still, it’s Michael Nesmith who ultimately puts Good Times! over the top.  His own song “I Know What I Know” is disarming, quietly mesmerizing, uncluttered, and fascinating–yet it’s still somehow the least among the three tracks with Nesmith lead vocals.  Ben Gibbard’s “Me & Magdalena,” with harmony and counterpoint vocals from Dolenz, isfull of hope and/or heartbreak–one is never quite sure which–but the song just aches with love’s promise and life’s compromise; regardless of whether the song reflects the heart’s ongoing victory or an imminent, devastating loss, it is unforgettable.  The album’s tour de force is the Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” where Nesmith’s co-lead vocals are again complemented by Mr. Mick.  This track certainly calls to mind Gallagher’s old band Oasis, but it sounds equally like THE Great Lost Monkees track.  It would have fit in well on 1968’s The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees album; it would have fit in well on the soundtrack of Head.   It’s a freakin’ psychedelic pop masterpiece, and it may be one of the all-time greatest tracks to ever bear The Monkees’ brand name.  Make no mistake:  if Good Times! had been completed without this track, it would still be a terrific album, maybe a great one; the inclusion of “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” tosses that “maybe” away, and ensures that yes, Virginia (and Sandra, and Mary, and Valleri, and Fern), The Monkees have indeed made a great album in 2016.

The late Davy Jones is represented on Good Times! by Neil Diamond’s superb pop song “Love To Love,”  which was recorded in 1967 but unreleased until the ’80s.  Its inclusion here is curious; it’s certainly a wonderful track, one of Jones’ best, but it’s hardly a rarity.  Although this is its first appearance on a proper Monkees album, the track has been on compilations and repackages galore.  It is slightly remixed for Good Times!, with Davy’s original double-tracked lead vocal stripped to a single track, and with new Micky and Peter backing vocals on the chorus.  So yeah, an odd choice. Still, a great song’s a great song. “Love To Love” had a circuitous path to get here, but it’s a nice remix, and none should complain about it finally taking its rightful place on an actual Monkees album.

As a 50th anniversary celebration, Good Times! was specifically designed to include key figures from The Monkees’ history.  There are The Monkees themselves, of course (including Davy), plus songwriters Boyce & Hart, King & Goffin, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and “I’m A Believer” producer Jeff Barry, the late “Fast” Eddie Hoh (drummer on much of The Monkees’ best album, 1967’s Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.), and even Don Kirshner is sorta represented by the 1967 studio musicians performing on “Love To Love” and “Gotta Give It Time.”  Notable MIAs would be songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who wrote “Shades Of Gray” and “Love Is Only Sleeping”), and especially Chip Douglas, who produced both of The Monkees’ best ’60s albums, Headquarters and Pisces, and played on them as well. Douglas played an enormous role in The Monkees’ emancipation in ’67, and it would have been a kick to see him involved in here somehow.

Reunion albums are tricky, especially if it’s a reunion of a group you loved a long, long time ago.  There have been a handful of interesting reunion records by ’60s groups–The Animals’ 1977 album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted comes to mind, as well as The Beau Brummels in ’75, and The Beach Boys’ more recent That’s Why God Made The Radio–but you’d be hard-pressed to find many reunion albums that could truly stand shoulder-to-shoulder among any group’s best-loved work. Hell, until now, you’d be hard-pressed to find one.  But Good Times! pulls it off–unexpectedly, miraculously, and convincingly–and can be considered right alongside the much-loved records The Monkees made in the ’60s.  Even its sequencing evokes the arc of The Monkees’ original recording career, from the prefab, peerless pop of the earliest tracks, skipping the self-contained hey-hey-we’re a-rock-band of Headquarters, but running full-force into a contemporary PiscesBirds & Bees, and Head, even subtly suggesting a post-1968 version of The Monkees if Tork had stayed in the fold.

With its mix of studio hotshots (particularly Schlesinger, guitarist Mike Viola, and drummer Brian Young on the new Dolenz-sung tracks) and bona fide contributions from The Monkees themselves, the album’s approach recalls the heyday of the Pisces record, mixed with a bit of the ol’ Golden-Eared Kirshner More Of The Monkees method on Dolenz’s sugarpop tracks.  “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” then builds a bridge to the psychedelic heights of Head, and the whole damned thing should just make you gleefully, willfully giddy.  If this is The Monkees’ swan song, they’ll go out on top.  If they do more in the future…well, that would be welcome, welcome news.  Good times?  GREAT times.

Oh, and next stop?  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  What on God’s green earth is there still left for The Monkees to prove?  We’re believers, anyway.

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Lights! Camera! Reaction! My Life At The Movies: Read The Movie

Home video didn’t really exist in the early to mid ’70s. There were film buffs who owned their own prints of classic movies, I guess, and there were short ‘n’ silent Super 8 flicks (which were my introduction to the 1941 Captain Marvel movie serial), but no ready way to capture and keep your favorite movie, to have access to watch it and re-watch at will, Jiffy-Pop sold separately.

So, other than repeated visits to the Bijou and the occasional TV late show, the only way to re-live the magic of a favorite film was in a paperback novelization. When I was a teenager circa 1973-77, two of my all-time favorite movies were the 1972 Barbra StreisandRyan O’Neal comedy What’s Up, Doc? and The Beatles‘ 1964 classic A Hard Day’s Night. I inherited the paperback adaptation of the latter from my older sister, and purchased my copy of the former at a bookstore in Springfield, Missouri’s Battlefield Mall. You could say these were imperfect simulations of the cinema experience, but I loved having the opportunity to re-live these cherished movies at my leisure. I read both books over and over again.

Those two were the only based-on-the-hit-film spinner-rack tie-ins I recall reading in that time period. I presume there was a Billy Jack book, and a Trial Of Billy Jack book, and I’m surprised I never grabbed either of those. I didn’t get the book based on the 1966 Batman movie (re-titled in book form as Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome) until the ’80s, so that’s not part of this discussion of the blogger as a teenaged movie novelization reader. No, the What’s Up, Doc? and A Hard Day’s Night were the only ones that were a significant part of my 1970s reading, and they were right up there with my Harlan Ellison, my superpulp paperbacks of The ShadowThe AvengerThe PhantomTarzanFlash GordonWeird HeroesCaptain AmericaJames Bond, and Doc Savage, my histories of comic books, my Lenny Bruce, my Woody Allen, my Star Trek, my Ellery Queen.

As I grew up (in theory), I bought or borrowed a few other movie novelizations here and there. Some, like Max Allan Collins‘ adaptation of the Clint Eastwood thriller In The Line Of Fire, were based on movies I never got around to seeing; some, like Peter David‘s The Amazing Spider-Man, Max Allan Collins’ Dick Tracy, and Dennis O’Neil‘s Batman Begins, weren’t so much attempts to re-live the movies as they were opportunities to expand the experience with authors familiar with the comics upon which these films were based. Collins’ Dick Tracy even led to two more original Dick Tracy novels in the same continuity, and I loved the lot of them.

(I should note in passing a couple of tangents to the subject. Putz novelist Mario Puzo‘s contract with the filmmakers prohibited a novelization of his screenplay for 1978’s Superman or its sequel, a situation which prompted the need for Elliot S. Maggin to instead write two terrific original Superman novels, The Last Son Of Krypton and Miracle Monday. And, while I’ve seen many, many movies based on novels, Eddie And The Cruisers and V. I. Warshawski stick out as films that inspired me to seek out books I hadn’t known existed. P. F. Kluge‘s Eddie And The Cruisers differs from the movie, and feels slightly more believable; the V. I. Warshawski movie was awful, but it hipped me to Sara Paretsky‘s Warshawski books, which quickly became one of my all-time favorite novel series.)

Movie novelizations still exist today, of course, though it’s been a while since I’ve been inclined to read one. I picked up a novelization of The Beatles’ Help! some years back, but haven’t yet been taken by the impulse to read it. I do recognize that it won’t and can’t be the same now as it was to immerse myself in my paperback A Hard Day’s Night or What’s Up, Doc? when I was a mere lad and beardless youth. The one movie novelization I really wished for woulda been That Thing You Do!, and I can’t believe that we missed a chance for America to get to know The Wonders in prose form. I’d buy that now. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I had the VHS, and the DVD, and the director’s cut DVD, and now I have the director’s cut blu-ray, and I still stop and watch the whole damned thing again if I ever stumble upon it when channel surfing. That Thing You Do! is my favorite film ever. I’d just like to read it, too.

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10 Songs

10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night’s edition of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don’t Hear A Single.

The Beatles / No Reply

I wrote a piece some time back asking the rhetorical question “Is Beatles VI Really My All-Time Favorite Album?” And it is, especially if we could combine it as a two-in-one with its predecessor Beatles ’65, creating a compilation of two American record company cash-grabs. Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI were Capitol Records hatchet jobs, scarfing up tracks from the British Beatles For Sale along with scattered single sides, mods, rockers, and mockers. But they were glorious hatchet jobs, and they were how I (like most Americans at the time) came to know and cherish this material. Pretty much everything The Beatles released from 1964 through 1966 forms my collective touchstone of what pop music can be. That is not likely to change, ever. And I was introduced to all of it via Capitol’s Philistine patchworks.

From Beatles ’65, or from Beatles For Sale if you must, “No Reply” is staggering, just irresistible in its majesty and mastery of pop form. It’s one of my 25 favorite Beatles tracks, and its middle eight may be the single best bridge ever accomplished by anyone. Its main competition for that title is also by The Beatles: “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” from Beatles VI (or from Beatles For Sale, if you must). I will never tire of hearing this stuff. Even sitting here just thinking about this music, with the stereo off, makes me smile. I saw the light. I saw that light a long, long time ago. It shines for me still.

Culture Club / Church Of The Poison Mind

Culture Club may seem one of the odder entries in my concert-goin’ ticket-stub gallery, but my then-fiancee Brenda and I did indeed see Boy George and his cohorts in 1984 at the Aud in Buffalo. My most distinctive memory of the show is the young girls going batty over the members of the group, as one such female fan squealed with delight, Oh my God, she touched him…! I thought that sequence of events was amusing, but not in a condescending or (worse) hipper-than-thou way; I was in favor of pop mania, from The Beatles to, I dunno, Duran Duran, so I approved of such teen idolatry. 

Why were we there? Why not? We couldn’t afford to go to many concerts, but this must have come along at the right moment, we liked Culture Club’s radio hits, so yeah, why the hell not? Maybe I wouldn’t have gone for it just on the basis of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” or “Time (Clock Of The Heart),” or even “Karma Chameleon.” “Church Of The Poison Mind” was a different story. 

“Church Of The Poison Mind” was one of my favorite songs on the radio in ’83. I’m not sure if I heard it first on the AM Top 40 station 14 Rock or on the engagingly eclectic WUWU-FM, but I found the song pleasingly reminiscent of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and I adored it. 

Dirty Looks / Let Go

Statement of intent. This Staten Island trio’s eponymous debut LP was released on the Stiff America label in 1980, and “Let Go” was an immediate fave rave on 97 Power Rock, a Sunday night alternative-rock showcase aired on Buffalo’s 97 Rock FM. Hmmm. A Sunday night rock ‘n’ roll radio show? I may have made note of that particular notion for possible future use. “Let Go” is a perfect post-punk radio pop song, fueled by new wave rock energy, rooted in catchy 1960s radio fare, and dead certain that The RamonesThe WhoJoe Jackson, and Paul Revere and the Raiders are Heaven-sent inspirations. It’s not easy to write a song about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not. Too many attempts at rock anthems feel forced, or overly earnest, pompous, clueless, heavy-handed, and…blechh. With “Let Go,” Dirty Looks pull it off with style, and they make it seem like a cinch. Don’t you know that rock ‘n’ roll is still the best drug? The drumming is hyperactive, the bass pushy (in a good way), the guitar simple and authoritative, the vocals and harmonies steadfast, reflecting the confidence of a group secure in the knowledge that it has God on its side. All you gotta do, let go, let go, let GO! GO! GO! GO! Belief is infectious. And godDAMN, this sounds so exhilarating on the radio. It always has.

The Grip Weeds / For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home)

The Grip Weeds are a great, great band. They’re a superb live band, they make fantastic records, they’re a bunch of nice folks, and we like ’em a lot. They’ve allowed us to use two of their tracks on TIRnRR compilation albums, and this is part of what I wrote about them when their “Strange Bird” appeared on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4:

...The chronology of my rapid and total indoctrination into the blissful Grip of Weedsmania blurs. I may have become more interested via the group’s connection with The Rooks, another of the great pop bands of the ’90s. Rooks guitarist Kristin Pinell was (and is) also in The Grip Weeds. Kristin’s husband Kurt Reil was (and is) the drummer and lead singer for The Grip Weeds, and he played with The Rooks, too. I don’t know whether or not guitarist Rick Reil also served any Rooks time, but either way: The Grip Weeds seemed like a band I oughtta know.

And getting to know The Grip Weeds was its own sweet reward…

…The Grips Weeds are a treasure. They kick ass live, too; Dana and I had a chance to see ’em in Rochester on the How I Won The War tour (with special guest Ray Paul), and The Grip Weeds deliver, man. If you’ve never heard them, we firmly recommend you gather everything they’ve ever released directly from the band, and beg their forgiveness for taking so long to get hip. But it’s okay. Music has no expiration date. I discovered Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly in the early ’70s, and that music was as fresh to me then (and now) as it woulda been if I’d been spinning 45s in the fabulous ’50s. We always say: right now is the best time ever to be a rockin’ pop fan, because you have everything that came before, everything in the moment, and everything yet to come. Turn it up. That’s what it’s there for.

And right now–in this generation, in this loving time–The Grip Weeds have a brand new cover of The Monkees‘ shoulda-been-a-hit “For Pete’s Sake,” the song that used to close second-season episodes of The Monkees’ television series. We used The Grip Weeds’ version to open this week’s radio show. With its title altered slightly to “For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home!)” for our quarantined times, there’s a fab YouTube video of the song, and the track may or may not find its way into the next Grip Weeds album. This is something we all need.

Mandy Moore / I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week

I don’t remember who it was that hipped me to “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week,” an absolutely ace 2009 single by Mandy Moore. I may have read about it on a blog, but wherever I discovered it, I loved it at once.

Prior to that single, I didn’t know all that much about Moore. Other than her capable covers of some XTC and Joan Armatrading material (from her 2003 all-covers album Coverage, which John Borack had recommended), I don’t remember hearing any of Moore’s earlier records. I must have heard her on Radio Disney when my daughter was young, but I have no recollection of that. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of her movies; I do remember seeing her brief guest tenure on the TV sitcom Scrubs. I’ve never seen This Is Us or A Walk To Remember. I know who Mandy Moore is, but my awareness of her work doesn’t even rise to the level of perfunctory.

But this song, man. This song…!

“I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week” was co-written by Moore with Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers (and the voice of The Wonders‘ “That Thing You Do!”). It’s from her album Amanda Leigh, and while I’ve owned the digital single for more than a decade, I’ve just picked up a copy of the CD. It’s time I learned more about Mandy Moore. But meanwhile: this song, man. Any day of the week.

The Mynah Birds / It’s My Time

The Mynah Birds‘ story is one of pop music’s most intriguing almost/what-ifs. The group included both Rick James and Neil Young, and they were set to release a single of “It’s My Time”/”Go On And Cry” on Motown in 1966. We can debate genre labels, but I think The Mynah Birds would have been Motown’s first rock group. Instead, the single’s release was cancelled when James was arrested for being AWOL from the Navy. The Mynah Birds ended, Young and fellow group member Bruce Palmer wound up joining Buffalo Springfield, and Rick James went on to craft ’70s and ’80s punk funk of his own after leaving the hoosegow.

What might have been? “It’s My Time” is a strong pop single, and while there’s no guarantee it would have been a hit even if it had been released, one wonders how things could have played out differently. The handful of Mynah Birds tracks that surfaced decades after the fact are intriguing, and I wish we could have been enjoying those tracks, along with more that were never made, over all these years that have passed. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice Buffalo Springfield. But The Mynah Birds coulda been something.

The Partridge Family / I Woke Up In Love This Morning

I don’t care.

I don’t care that this is supposed to be teenybopper pop music, created as a TV sitcom soundtrack, marketed to a puppy-eyed Teen Beat demographic of adolescent girls staring with undefined intent at their David Cassidy pinup. I don’t care if it was created in a boardroom, a stockholders’ meeting, a business planning session, or on the island of Dr. Moreau. I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s uncool, because anyone who does think that way is wrong, period. This record rocks. That’s all I care about.

Like The Monkees before them, the music of The Partridge Family didn’t have to be good; it just had to be commercial. The fictional Partridges didn’t reach the effervescent zenith of the less-fictional Monkees, nor of the Partridges’ real-life inspiration The Cowsills, but their machinery was likewise well-constructed, and with Cassidy’s accomplished lead vocals backed by the studio magic of The Wrecking Crew, The Partridge Family were occasionally able to transcend their test-tube genesis. Unlike The Monkees or The Cowsills, The Partridge Family never existed. But their records did. Some of those records were actually pretty damned good, with debut LP tracks “Somebody Wants To Love You” and “Singing My Song” particularly worthy of a fresh and appreciative listen.

“I Woke Up In Love This Morning” is the truest gem. Drummer Hal Blaine is just a monster on this track, and David Cassidy once again proves he was so much more than just a face, with a voice so perfectly suited to deliver on the promise of pop music. The little girls understood. Maybe we should pay attention, too.

A token picture of Partridge Family actress Susan Dey, who had nothing whatsoever to do with “I Woke Up In Love This Morning.”

Prince / I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man

We’d been playing Prince‘s “When Doves Cry” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio a bit throughout the first few months of 2016, and I betcha it would have made our year-end countdown even if Prince had remained one of our greatest living rock stars into 2017. His death in April sealed the case for that year’s ongoing infamy, prompting me to post, “2016 is fired.”

“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” was never a song I thought much about before–if I were going to play Prince, I’d be more likely to go with “When Doves Cry” or “When You Were Mine”–but a request for the song from TIRnRR listener Joel Tinnel prompted us to play it on the show the week after Prince died. And it just clicked with me, suddenly but unerringly. I’ve been playing it ever since.

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton / Hound Dog

From this song’s chapter in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1):

Where and when did rock ‘n’ roll start? There are a few key records that one could name as possibilities for the first rock ‘n’ roll record. “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brentson and his Delta Cats (1951, and really Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm) is the closest we have to a consensus choice, though some would point to “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino (1950). I would at least add Amos Milburn‘s “Down The Road Apiece” (1947) to the discussion, and no less an authority than Lenny and Squiggy (on TV’s Laverne And Shirley) spoke on behalf of “Call The Police,” a 1941 single Nat King Cole made with The King Cole Trio. There are other progenitors and trailblazers from across the heady mingling of jump blues, R & B, country, and swing that birthed this bastard child we call rock ‘n’ roll. What was the daddy of them all? Not even a blood test is going to make that determination…
…Most of us know “Hound Dog” best from Elvis Presley‘s incredible 1956 hit rendition. But as much of a legitimate threat as King Elvis I represented to the straight-laced status quo in the ’50s, his version of “Hound Dog” is an agreeably goofy novelty tune, patterned after a sanitized 1955 cover by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys rather than Big Mama Thornton‘s rude and salacious kiss-off. Elvis’ version is still great–it’s freakin’ Elvis in his prime, for cryin’ out loud–but not even the King could touch the sheer orneriness of Thornton kicking that ol’ hound dog out the door….

Among songs closely associated with Elvis, there aren’t very many that I would concede the heresy that someone else did it better than the King did. Wanda Jackson‘s “Let’s Have A Party” may be one exception. Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” definitely is another.

The Tweakers / Super Secret Bonus Track

I would like to tell you all about this track: its mysterious origin, the players hidden in the shadows, the mythic circumstances that sparked its creation. But I can’t. It’s not just a secret; it’s a super secret, just like its title insists. Rumor has it that the song was written and originally recorded by a left-handed bass player from England–Sir Prize, or Sir Plus, something along those lines–and that eventual TIRnRR singin’ star Rich Firestone is connected to it in some way. It’s currently only available on the digital download version of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 3. I can say no more. Shhhh. It’s a secret.

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