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The Greatest Record Ever Made: “Life On Mars”?

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

DAVID BOWIE: “Life On Mars?”
Dear David:
I am sorry that I’ve never written to you before. I’m sorry that I never took pen to paper to scribble a fan letter, and I regret that I didn’t write about you at all during the decades I spent writing about pop music. I wrote about Gary Glitter. I wrote about Toni Basil. I wrote about Stars On 45, for cryin’ out loud. How silly does that seem now?


The thing is, I always considered myself just a casual David Bowie fan. I mean no offense when I say that you were never one of my very favorite artists. Because, casual or not, I was still a fan. I heard “Changes” on the radio, and had to own the 45. I delved a bit deeper when I got to college, starting (perhaps incongruously) with a used copy of Pinups, and falling hard shortly thereafter for “Suffragette City” and your magnificent Ziggy Stardust album. I knew a couple of other disaffected teenagers who were big Bowie fans; one was a high school pal who adored the sense of alienation conveyed in the lyrics of “All The Madmen” on The Man Who Sold The World, and the other was a college acquaintance into hard rock, metal, and David Bowie. The high school pal killed himself in 1979; the college acquaintance was a kleptomaniac with a heart of gold, and I betrayed his trust in a manner I still regret, almost 40 years later. Let me collect dust. Memories….


But if I was just a casual Bowie fan, why am I so sad that you’re gone? The news was a true shock, delivered to me in an email from my friend Gretta, under the subject heading “Bowie Departs.” I have even found my eyes stinging, watering–just a little–in memory of this artist, of whom I was just a casual fan.


And I think I’m starting to understand the reasons why.
More than any other artist, performer, or public figure I can think of, you made it okay to be different. You made it okay to be weird, or strange, or left-of-center. You made it okay to be gay, or straight, or neither, or both. You made it okay for anyone to be whomever his or her inner muse wanted to be. Sometimes it was a struggle, and sometimes our efforts would fail, but you made it okay for us to try our own way. Maybe you even made it okay to be a lonely, chubby teenager from the suburbs of Syracuse. Casual fan? I loved your music more than I even knew. I still have my copies of your ‘70s LPs; they have survived every drastic purge of my record collection, over a span of many, many years. Although I stopped buying your albums after 1979’s Lodger–casual fan, that’s me!–I had a chance to see you in concert in 1983, and you were terrific. I’ve been listening to your stuff again all week, including a few things I never really played much before. You influenced so many other artists I love, and you made wonderful, timeless music that will live on and on and on.


I took you for granted. I miss you now.


Many of us believe in forever. In your new digs, I’m sure you’ve already had a chance to re-connect with Mick Ronson, with old friends like John Lennon and Klaus Nomi, maybe Freddie Mercury, Lou Reed, or Andy Warhol, perhaps Bing Crosby…because, why not? I bet you’ve chatted with Salvador Dali and Arthur Rimbaud, and with Einstein, too. I hope you’ll have a chance to meet Buddy Holly, and James Jamerson, and Elvis, maybe play with all of them. You can play with Miles Davis, and Count Basie, and Hank Williams, and Bob Marley, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Caruso, and Leonard Bernstein–that would be really, really cool, and each would consider you a peer. Lemmy’s probably got it all set. Heaven must indeed have one hell of a music scene. We wish we could hear it down here.


But now, there’s a Starman waiting in the sky. Our minds have already been blown. And we mere mortals can only gaze upward, and note that the stars look very different today. Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.
There is one thing you were wrong about. Unlike the spat-upon children you mention in “Changes,” I was not quite aware of what I was going through. I know better now. And I wanted to write you, just to say thanks. Thank you, David. Thank you for everything.
Sincerely,
Your fan


I didn’t see it coming.

David Bowie’s death in January of 2016 had far more impact on me than I would have ever thought likely. There were external factors in play; my daughter had just begun a semester in London, and it would be, by far, the longest time I would ever go without seeing her. I felt fragile, mortal. I felt sad, my pride in her accomplishments and delight in her opportunities not quite sufficient to ease the ache inside. Bowie died. I wasn’t even all that much of a fan. Yet his passing hit me harder than any celebrity death since losing Joey Ramone on Easter Sunday in 2001.


I needed to release the feeling. Somehow. I wrote this open letter to David Bowie, intending to use it as commentary for the posted playlist of our This Is Rock’n’ Roll Radio tribute to Bowie, which played on January 17th of ’16. My 56th birthday. Look at that caveman go.
It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t email the playlist out and just let it go. I needed more. I started my blog on January 18th, with this letter to Bowie as my inaugural post. It had been ten years since I gave up freelancing; it hadn’t been fun anymore. I promised myself I would post something, however slight, every single day. Every. Goddamned. Day. No excuses. I had largely stopped writing. I needed to get back to writing. Immediately.

Although I had always liked the track “Life On Mars?,” particularly when I saw Bowie perform it in concert, it had never been one of my top Bowie tracks. “Rebel Rebel,” “Panic In Detroit,” and “Suffragette City” had been my go-to Bowie tunes. That changed in 2016, as I found myself listening to “Life On Mars?” obsessively, clinging to its…what? Its artiness? Its desperation? The smoke and mirror of its implied depth, the verve of its execution, the simple beauty of its being? Yes. And Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, tickling the ivories so expressively on that recording. Sailors fighting in the dancehall, a lawman beating up the wrong guy. The song felt like a connection to what was lost, to what could still be recovered, to what could always be remembered.


The drumbeat of mortality seemed just incessant in 2016. Prince’s death in June felt like the last straw, but it wasn’t. Trump’s election was a vicious blow. On election night, Meghan texted me from college, looking in vain for reassurance as we both watched the electoral results with growing dread and horror. Jesus, 2016 wasn’t even two weeks old when Bowie died. We should have taken that as a sign to return the damned year to sender, postage due.


We survived. Not intact, not good as new, but…survived. As I mourned David Bowie here, my daughter was in England mourning actor Alan Rickman, so beloved by her for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. We commiserated with each other’s loss. She wrote Rickman a touching thank-you note, which she placed at Charing Cross Station in his memory. I wrote a letter to David Bowie, and I started a blog. I cried. I wrote. I wrote more in 2016 than in any single year before that.


And I played a song called “Life On Mars?” Is there life on Mars? Is there life anywhere? The ache we feel is part of it. Talking about it helps. Writing about it helps. It’s about to be writ again. It’s a God-awful small affair. That’s life.

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, 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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Superpulp Paperbacks!

I have always loved to read. As a teenager in the ’70s, my prevailing interest in superhero comic books led me into superhero and fantasy hero paperback books. Most of these were reprints of pulp magazine adventures from the ’30s and ’40s, starring such ten-cent stalwarts as Doc SavageThe ShadowThe SpiderThe Lone Ranger, and The Avenger. I also read a few of the Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, maybe a Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard or a James Bond by Ian Fleming,Ted White‘s original Captain America novel The Great Gold Steal, and paperback prose adaptations of comic-strip storylines featuring Flash Gordon and The Phantom. There were also the Weird Heroes books, a series of then-new pulp hero anthologies (and some solo titles, too). The Phantom and The Shadow were my favorite series, and The Great Gold Steal was my favorite individual book.

At the Super DC-Con in New York in 1976, I picked up copies of two original hero pulp paperbacks from the ’60s, Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom by Winston Lyon (aka William Woolfolk) and The Avengers Battle The Earth-Wrecker by Otto Binder. I thought the latter lacked the panache of Ted White’s Captain America novel, but I kinda liked the Batman book’s attempt to balance the camp of the TV show with the demands of an adventure novel. When the first Superman movie came out in 1978, egotistical novelist Mario Puzo had a contractual clause prohibiting a paperback adaptation of his Superman screenplay; instead, comics writer Elliot S! Maggin was brought in to write an original novel, Superman, Last Son Of Krypton, that was a far better book than anyone would have been likely to cobble together out of Puzo’s ramblings.

The ’70s were almost a Golden Age for paperback superhero novels. And I still wanted more! In the book All In Color For A Dime, I read about Captain Marvel Story Book, a 1940s comic book series starring Captain Marvel in prose novels (with illustrations), and I ached to see these reprinted as paperbacks, available for me to pluck from the spinner rack and purchase for my own reading wonder. I wanted there to be new Batman novels, and new Green Hornet novels. Hell, why not new Blue Beetle novels, too?

I still pick up the ’70s vintage books on occasion, but I don’t have the same teen interest in immersing myself in superhero pulp. I have an Operator 5 novel I picked up in Florida in 1974, and a G-8 And His Battle Aces book I bought in  Berkeley in 1999, but I’ve never read either of them. I’m still on the lookout for a reasonably-priced copy of William Rotsler‘s Blackhawk novel. I have a few Captain Future paperbacks, but have never found them interesting enough to finish reading. (On the other hand, I loved the too-few Dick Tracy books written by Max Allan Collins.) There’s a plethora of pulp reprints available now; Vintage Library/Sanctum Books does an amazing job with its ongoing series of double-novel presentations of The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Whisperer, and even Batman’s then-contemporary pulp counterpart The Black Bat. I can’t keep up, but I still buy them every now and again, and I’m glad they exist.

But, except for a few collection purges inspired by the need for rent money years ago, I’ve kept most of the ones I already have. They have no expiration date. They don’t spoil. If the mood ever strikes me again, pure pulp adventure remains within easy reach.

I still wish someone would reprint Captain Marvel Story Book, though. Downloading ’em just ain’t the same, man. Just ain’t the same.

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Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): DAVID JOHANSEN, “Hot Stuff”

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

In the late ’70s, disco and punk were supposed to be at war with each other. As a self-professed punk rocker in that era, I can attest that, yeah, punks didn’t like disco, and the bumpin’-n-hustlin’ set was appalled by the loud and fast noise my people favored. Hatfields and Capulets, meet McCoys and Montagues. Never mind the fact that the mainstream rock crowd held both punk and disco in nearly equal disdain; this was war!
Except that it wasn’t. I’m skeptical of the notion that many of the Saturday Night Fevered ever took much interest in The Damned or The Dead Boys, but some among the new wave brigade did eventually allow their ears and minds to be a bit more open to non-pogo dance music, to the beat of dat ole debbil disco. Maybe it was just me, but I was a pop fan anyway; my intense dislike of disco music evolved into occasional tolerance, and tolerance evolved into a sporadic realization that some of the records weren’t bad. Plus, Donna Summer was gorgeous. I feel love.

At the age of 19 in 1979, my belated discovery and embrace of early ’70s proto-punks The New York Dolls was still at an early stage. My local Syracuse heroes The Flashcubes introduced me to the Dolls’ classic “Personality Crisis” via their own Cubic live cover in ’78. By the end of my spring ’79 semester at college in Brockport, I think I may have heard former Dolls lead singer David Johansen‘s solo track “Funky But Chic” on the Brockport campus radio station WBSU. I had heard a handful of Dolls tracks, “Personality Crisis,” “Who Are The Mystery Girls?,” and probably “Babylon,” and I was aware of the group’s importance at Ground Zero of my cherished punk movement. Given an opportunity to see ex-Doll David Johansen live, with The Flashcubes opening the show, I had just enough basic familiarity with the headliner (and abundant enthusiasm for the opening act) to declare there was no way in Hell I was missing that show.

The show took place at The Slide Inn in Syracuse. A quick check of Pete Murray’s Flashcubes timeline reveals that the date was 7/26/79. Prior to reconciliation and reunions in later years, it was the last time I saw the original line-up of the ‘Cubes, just a few days before guitarist Paul Armstrong parted company with the group, ejected over musical differences. With no knowledge of the tension within The Flashcubes at the time, I just thoroughly enjoyed their set, a set which included my first exposure to a trio of ‘Cubes originals: Paul’s “You’re Not The Liar,” Gary Frenay‘s “I Wanna Stay All Night,” and Arty Lenin‘s “Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young.”

The David Johansen Group were amazing. Johansen’s fellow former Doll Sylvain Sylvain was no longer in David’s group by the time I saw them, but it was an incredible show nonetheless. It didn’t matter at all that I didn’t know many of the songs; I knew ’em by the end of the show. “Frenchette,” in particular, floored me, and I immediately adored “Cool Metro” and “I’m A Lover,” all three of those gems turning out to be from Johansen’s eponymous debut solo album, an LP I purchased not long after hearing it played live at the Slide.

Johansen and company also did a little bit of Dolls material: “Babylon” and their Bo Diddley cover, “Pills.” The encore was “Personality Crisis.”

If you’re familiar with the Dolls’ original recording of “Personality Crisis,” you know there’s a pause in the song just before its two-minute mark, followed by Johansen whooping And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon!, the band returning as well with wolf-whistles and guitar grunge. In a live performance of the song, it’s a natural spot to throw in a snippet of a different song as a willful non sequitur, illustrating the schizophrenic nature of a personality crisis. In ’79, I think I’d read in Trouser Press that Johansen was doing “Personality Crisis” as an unlikely medley with Bonnie Tyler‘s “It’s A Heartache” (a song which channeled Rod Stewart so effectively that I thought Bonnie was Rod; she was, in fact, bigger than Rod). That night at the Slide, I’m sure I half-expected to hear “It’s A Heartache” in the middle of “Personality Crisis.”

But…no. The song’s pause came, and a familiar guitar riff suddenly filled the Slide, as patrons like me, with senses slowed by beer, struggled to mentally name that tune in…OH MY GOD, IT’S DONNA SUMMER!!

I guess the divine Miss S actually appearing at the Slide to duet with David Jo would have been a bigger surprise than just hearing him sing a Summer song, but maybe not by much. Sittin’ here eatin’ my heart out waitin’, waitin’ for some lover to call. “Hot Stuff.” Donna Summer. One could argue that Summer’s own version of “Hot Stuff” was already more of a rock song than it was a disco song. It certainly rocked in the capable hands of The David Johansen Group. 

The connection was monumental. We were punks and rockers, boppin’ with unironic intent to a song–a great song–by the reigning queen of disco. Johansen’s short cover was faithful and true, so we couldn’t claim he’d somehow redeemed the song. The song was already great; our own closed ears may have made us deaf to its charm. Until that instant.

This wasn’t my first realization that maybe some disco or disco-related music wasn’t necessarily awful. I already liked Donna Summer’s percolatin’ hit “I Feel Love,” and (as I’ve noted elsewhere) I’d already approved of “In The Navy” by The Village People, figuring that the sound of an openly gay group chanting They want you! They want you! They want you as a new recruit! on American Top 40 radio was more punk than The Sex Pistols.

But David Johansen singing Donna Summer, even if it was just an excerpt of one of her songs, performed and contained within a cantankerous classic by The New York Dolls, was an irresistible manifesto for a brokered peace between the battling factions of punk, disco, and rock ‘n’ roll. Cease fire. War is over if you want it.

Yeah, I know it wasn’t really that simple. Schisms remained, and would remain. But I saw. I heard. I wasn’t alone in that. By the ’80s, as punk and new wave had slid into new (later alternative) music and disco’s commercial day had passed for the time being, lines continued to blur. Much of the mainstream rock crowd still hated us, but that was okay. We were fighting the good fight. Looking for a lover who needs another, don’t want another night on my own. Fall in, troops. No sleep ’til victory. A New York Doll says Donna Summer’s here, and the time is right for dancing in the streets. 

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: Love, The Bangles

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 133 essays about 133 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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GAME SHOWS, Part 1: My Love Is Jeopardy!, Baby!

The late Alex Trebek’s final appearance as the host of Jeopardy! will air tonight. Columnist Carl Cafarelli wrote this piece in 2018, and we reprise it here in tribute to a beloved personality. What is courage? Alex Trebek.

I’ve never spoken much about my love of game shows. It’s not a secret, and I’m certainly not ashamed of it, but it doesn’t come up much in conversation, nor have I ever really been inspired to write about it. When I fell hard for the old What’s My Line? via black-and-white reruns on Game Show Network, I toyed with the idea of slappin’ together a piece about that show’s status as a unique and captivating time capsule of the entertainment world in the ’50s and ’60s. I found What’s My Line? utterly fascinating, and I may yet write about that at length some day.

My favorite game show is Jeopardy!, and I still watch it faithfully. I also watch Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, though I’m a Johnny-come-lately on that one; I never watched it much when it was in prime time, and only began following its afternoon airings a few years ago. Most of the prime-time game shows fail to interest me. When I say I love game shows, that love is not indiscriminate. Jeopardy!Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and the music-oriented Beat Shazam are the only current game shows I watch regularly; the latter is between seasons right now, and I haven’t quite forgiven it for using Shazam in its title but not even bothering to reference the original Captain Marvel, the bastards. (In Beat Shazam‘s favor, though, it’s difficult to be mad at a show which uses “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire as its theme song.)

One of my earliest TV favorites was a game show, specifically a kid’s game show called Shenanigans! hosted by Stubby Kaye. Man, I loved that show. On 1960s afternoons when I was home sick from school, I delighted in all manner of sitcom reruns, the occasional soap opera (The Edge Of Night and Secret Storm), and games shows from Concentration and Hollywood Squares to Let’s Make A DealThe Newlywed Game, and The Dating GameTo Tell The Truth was a particular favorite, and I always loved Jeopardy! I’m not certain, but I think my brother Art may have tried out for the old Jeopardy!, when it was hosted by Art Fleming.

In the ’70s, I continued to watch game shows: The Match GameThe Wizard Of Odds (with some guy named Alex Trebek billed as the man with the money to make a dark day sunny), Musical Chairs (a short-lived musical game show hosted by Adam Wade, featuring a then-unknown Sister Sledge, and probably the first U.S. game show with an African-American host), and Beat The Clock!, among others. I never liked Name That Tune. And nothing ever touched Jeopardy!‘s status as my favorite. Still, I probably didn’t even realize when it went off the air in 1975, concerned as I was with surviving high school and maybe finding a girl willing to share some lovely parting gifts and a copy of her home game or something.

When Jeopardy! returned in 1984, I wasn’t impressed. I missed Art Fleming, thought Alex Trebek should go back to wizarding his odds, and probably figured the revival was doomed. I…uh, revised my opinion. I’m not kidding when I say the only reason I haven’t cut the cable is so I can keep watching Jeopardy! and Who Wants To Be A Millionare? at the convenience of me and my DVR. Don’t judge. I am as God made me.

I tried out for Jeopardy! once, in the late ’80s. There was a traveling open call for contestant try-outs, and it stopped in Syracuse. Well, what the hell, right? Well, the hell indeed. The try-out was a written test, give to me and a large number of others gathered at a hotel conference room. We weren’t informed of our individual test scores, but I was among that vast majority of prospective contestants whose names were not called to move on. Alex, what is frustration? The only bright spot for me and my fellow losers? A somewhat obnoxious applicant, bragging throughout the pre-test milling period about how he was a MENSA member and a sure-fire future Jeopardy! champion, was sent home right with the rest of us. What is schadenfreude?

Watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? with my wife and daughter over the past few years, I occasionally think about what a kick it would be to get on there and try my luck and vast repository of utterly useless trivia. I don’t actually think I’d do all that well. When the show relocated from the East Coast to Vegas, I gave up any fanciful notion of wanting to be a wannabe millionaire.

I’ve only ever tried out for three game shows in my lifetime. Jeopardy! was the biggest name I ever attempted. Around 1989 or ’90, a proposed music trivia game show (if I ever knew its title, I don’t recall it now) was, I guess, going around different places trying to put together a presentation to sell the show. One of its stops was Camillus Mall in Syracuse’s Western suburbs. A game show? Music trivia? I couldn’t resist that!
And I did pretty well. I sailed through the written test (though another audience member had to give me a helpful nudge when I couldn’t remember the name Billy Joe Royal), and was chosen to compete in the actual game. My opponent was a much younger girl, a teenager I think, though she seemed to have a decent command of older rock ‘n’ pop trivia. The show’s host kept exhorting us (the contestants) and the audience to display the proper giddy level of over-the-top enthusiasm. I was in my mercifully brief laid-back phase–I was a mature adult of thirty years, after all–but I did my best to seem, you know, breathless and in-the-moment. I was in the lead pretty much the entire game, but ultimately lost on the final question, failing to name the common trait among Percy Faith‘s “Theme From ‘A Summer Place’,” The Ventures‘ “Hawaii Five-O”,” and Paul Mauriat‘s “Love Is Blue.” They’re all themes!, I blurted out. NO, YOU FOOL! The host didn’t really say that, but he was surprised I’d missed it; he’d made the mistake of believing I was competent. My young adversary knew they were all instrumentals, and she won the gazillion dollars and the life-time supply of Turtle Wax. I won a set of headphones. No one got a copy of the home game.

I vaguely recall that we were all invited to come back the next day for another go at the same location, but I already other plans. I was, in fact, going to try out for another game show.

The day after almost winning but finally self-destructing on this would-be musical game show, I was set to participate in open auditions on the Syracuse University campus, with a chance to appear on what was then my favorite of all game shows.

I was going to audition for MTV’s Remote Control. That story unfolded in a previous Boppin’ Pop-A-Looza (https://popalooza.art/2020/04/10/remote-control/) But don’t touch that dial! The MENSA guy would be so disappointed with you.

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Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): THE FLASHCUBES, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”

THE FLASHCUBES: Arty Lenin, Tommy Allen, Gary Frenay, Paul Armstrong

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

THE FLASHCUBES: Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter [Herman’s Hermits]
I believe I’ve already mentioned that I kinda like Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes; insisting that my all-time favorite groups are The BeatlesThe Ramones, and The Flashcubes is a pretty direct statement, right? ‘Cubes shows in 1977 and ’78 included a lot of covers; as time went on, the bulk of their set lists became (rightfully) dominated by their own compositions.

The Flashcubes had terrific taste in covers, encompassing ’60s British Invasion, ’70s punk, power pop, new wave, and Eddie Cochran. The ‘Cubes introduced me to the music of The New York DollsBig StarChris Spedding, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. They covered The TroggsThe JamThe HolliesTelevisionThe RaspberriesThe Sex PistolsThe Yardbirds, and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” 

And The Flashcubes covered Herman’s Hermits. Just, y’know, usually not the song listed above.

“A Must To Avoid” was the Hermits track that eventually made its way onto Cubic set lists, a song ready-made for live power pop (though the ‘Cubes always skipped its final verse, presumably to keep it lean ‘n’ stripped). But one night in 1978, upstairs at either The Orange or The Firebarn, the ‘Cubes did a seemingly impromptu snippet of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” They were introducing a Sex Pistols cover, guitarist Paul Armstrong saying they were going to do a song by a group that had just broken up. “The Beatles…?!,” bassist Gary Frenay joked. “No,” said Armstrong, “and it’s not Herman’s Hermits either.”

For dramatic purposes, the part of Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter will be played by the lovely actress Pamela Sue Martin

At which point guitarist Arty Lenin started picking the distinctive faux ukulele intro to “Mrs. Brown.” Paul paused, conferred with Arty, who then resumed his picking as Paul joined in briefly to wail along, Missus Brown you’ve gahht a luuuuvleeee dawwwwwwwterrr…! Drummer Tommy Allen may have thrown in a rim shot, completing this Borscht Belt power pop connection. The gag completed, The Flashcubes launched into their planned cover of either “God Save The Queen” or “Pretty Vacant.” 

She’s so lovely, she’s so lovely…she’s a DAUGHTER…!

Was this whole schtick planned out in advance? Maybe. Probably? If so, The Flashcubes pulled off the illusion of spontaneity with grace and aplomb, perhaps not a phrase often applied to the clattering Wall of Noise that defined the sound of Flashcubes ’78. 

My memory insists that I witnessed Arty throw in his “Mrs. Brown” lick during at least one other Flashcubes show, that time without Paul Armstrong channeling a punk Peter Noone. If he ever did it again, it was still an isolated incident. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” would not be listed in any document of songs The Flashcubes ever covered. But I saw it. I heard it. I just didn’t hear it coming.

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: David Johansen sings disco!

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, 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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My First LP

I was trying to remember what would have been the first LP I owned. My first pop or rock album was probably Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen, a group from Ocala, Florida whose only hit singles concerned the World War I exploits of the Peanuts comic strip’s funny-lookin’ dog with the big black nose. I loved the “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” single (and, later on, the subsequent hits “The Return Of The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas”), so I may have received the album as a gift in 1966. I know I brought the album in to my first grade class that year at least once.

The album was also my introduction to a number of familiar rockin’ pop standards, which I heard for the first time via The Royal Guardsmen’s covers: “Li’l Red Riding Hood,””Peanut Butter,””Battle Of New Orleans,””Bo Diddley,””The Jolly Green Giant,””Road Runner,”and “Alley Oop.” The album also contained a cover of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” but I’m pretty sure I already knew Gene Pitney‘s original version from my older siblings’ record collection. The LP also included a song called “Bears” (which I only recall hearing here), plus “Sweetmeats Slide” (later the B-side of “The Return Of The Red Baron”) and a lovely pop tune called “Baby Let’s Wait,” which was also recorded by The Young Rascals.

But the album’s title track was the main attraction. Years later, I realized that the instrumental break was actually a rip of “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, and I remain okay with that.

Before that, my first album may have been Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole in: SUPER SPY, a tie-in to Hanna-Barbera’s Secret Squirrel cartoon TV series. There were always lots of albums around the house, but I don’t think there was anything prior to Secret Squirrel that I could call my own. I couldn’t even begin a guess at identifying my first 45, since I was accumulating them before I started grade school.

And my second pop album? Gotta be California Nights by the lovely Ms. Lesley Gore. There would be many, many more albums added to my collection after these….

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The Greatest Record Ever Made: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”

“Columnist Carl Cafarelli originally posted this on his 59th birthday in 2019, and it will be included in his book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). The sentiment seems appropriate as we prepare to kick 2020 to the curb. Here’s to 2021 being our year.”

EYTAN MIRSKY: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”
Annus mirabilus. The ideal of the miracle year is intriguing, enticing, yet elusive, and damned near unattainable. We touch it sometimes, briefly. Our favorite sports team exceeds expectations. Our favorite performer delivers a brand new masterpiece, a film or novel or record that thrills our ever-fannish spirits. We connect with the one we love the most, and our hearts rise to a higher horizon. Something great happens to friends or family, or something great happens directly to us, and we feel the elation of miracle. This year…!
That euphoria is short-lived. Setbacks temper our optimism. We win, we lose, we remain precariously steady in place, all with varying and unequal proportion. People leave our lives, whether through death or distance, sudden discord, changes in goals, or a simple freakin’ fork in the road. Time. See what’s become of us.

But as we reach the calendar’s final crumpled page, and we crawl from the rubble of the preceding twelve months’ accumulated yin and yang, we still hope for something better beginning. Our new year’s resolution may be survive and advance. But more than that, no matter how much past experience insists we should expect neither miracles nor miracle years, some resilient spark within us may still whisper, This year’s gonna be our year.

In pop music–a cherished refuge for fragile hopes and unsteady ambition–the feeling is expressed elegantly by The Zombies in their delicate wonder “This Will Be Our Year.” It’s my favorite Zombies track, which is saying something when we’re talking about the group that did “She’s Not There,” “Time Of The Season,” “Care Of Cell 44,” “A Rose For Emily,” and so many more perfect, polished gems. For all that, though, the ultimate reconciliation of facing long, crushing odds and forging ahead anyway has gotta be “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” by singer-songwriter Eytan Mirsky.

Do you know Eytan? He’s had some success as a song-seller for film soundtracks, crafting tunes for The Tao Of Steve (“[I Just Want To Be] Your Steve McQueen,” sung by Eytan), Happiness (the title song, sung in the film by actress Jane Adams and during the credits by Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix), and American Splendor (the title song, sung by Eytan on screen). He’s released six albums from 1996 through 2016, with a new one on the way, and he’s recorded a number of additional tracks for various compilations and tribute albums. His public persona is a snarky Everyman, and he’s made a lot of really good music. If you’re a rockin’ pop fan, you should get to know Eytan Mirsky. You should most especially get to know “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year,” the lead track on Eytan’s 2012 album Year Of The Mouse

Do you remember
Way back in January
The way we had it all worked out?
Knew what we wanted
Knew what to do to get it
If there was ever any doubt
Then we’d say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
Which wasn’t good at all

Confidence. Forward! This year’s the year. I know it. I think I know it.

But it so rarely works out that way.
Do you remember
The way we felt in August
When nothing seemed to go as planned?
We didn’t waver
We never hesitated
‘Cause it was time to make a stand
And we said
This year’s gonna be our year…

At what point do we give up? When is it time to concede, to surrender?

Today is my 59th birthday. It’s a number neither great nor small, not ancient, not new. My brain thinks I’m a teenager. There are days when my body’s aches and my mind’s troubles seem like even more than just under six decades of dead weight. There’s so much to do. Sometimes, I don’t want to do any of it. 

But things get done. Bills are paid, responsibilities met. Goodbyes. Hellos renewed. Laughter gives way to tears, but laughter returns. I still know delight and wonder. I have my superhero comic books. I listen to my invigorating pop music, my loud rock ‘n’ roll. I read, I watch TV, I follow the ups and downs of my basketball team. I like food. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning more than I ever enjoyed a beer at night. I still enjoy a beer at night. I love, family and friends. I write. I look at my wife, and randomly say to her, “You’re pretty;” every mundane task we do together, I call a date. Hugs and kisses. I clear the snow from my driveway, and set my car’s radio to magnetic North. 

And now we’ve reached December
And it’s been so disappointing
That we’re glad this sorry year’s about to end
But in just a little while
We’ll be back in January
And you know we’re gonna start it all again
And we’ll say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
And the year before
Guitars and drums. Harmony. Purpose. Eytan sings, and we know he’s right.

Every year, and every moment of every year, we will discover that our path has been blocked. We will overcome the obstacles, until the day comes that we can no longer overcome them. Today isn’t that day. Not now. Not yet. We haven’t quite exhausted our supply of miracles. Like freedom fighters, abolitionists, and suffragettes before us. Like Tom Joad moving his family west, or Green Lantern vowing to shed his light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light. Allen Ginsberg putting his queer shoulder to the wheel. ElvisChuck BerryRosa ParksThe Beatles aiming for the toppermost of the poppermost. Lesley Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me.” The miracle MetsBarack Obama insisting Yes, we can. Malala. Anyone who’s ever looked ahead and seen the promise of possibility, the odds against us be damned. Win or lose. This year. Annus mirabilus. This year’s gonna be our year. 

It must be true. I have a song that says so. This year, man. This year.

“This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” written by Eytan Mirsky, Mirsky Mouse Music BMI
You can hear the song hereand order music from Eytan here.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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Yoko Ono For Christmas

Yoko Ono does not get a fair shake. I’m serious.

Look, it’s not that I’m a big Yoko fan, because I’m not. Neither her music nor her art appeal to me, though I will say that in late 1980 I very much preferred her B-side track “Kiss Kiss Kiss” to John Lennon‘s A-side “(Just Like) Starting Over.” My This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn is on Team Yoko, but I do not share his enthusiasm for her work.

But I have nothing against her, the person, Yoko Ono. I don’t think she’s somehow evil or bad. I certainly don’t think she’s some cartoon Dragon Lady who broke up The Beatles, a group destined to split circa 1970 with or without a Yoko in John’s life (or a Linda Eastman in Paul McCartney‘s life). Hell, when I wrote my fantasy piece about a fictional 1976 Beatles reunion, I made Yoko the unsung hero who helped to make it happen. I think–I hope–that Beatles fans no longer demonize Yoko for whatever they think she did, nor who they think she is.  I’ve seen hateful comments, but I believe such bile is an anomaly. I hope I’m right about that. That’s still a pretty low bar to clear, though, and Yoko merits better consideration than that.

These thoughts occurred to me a few nights ago, as I listened to our annual spin of The Beatles’ Christmas messages. Yoko figures prominently in the 1969 message, the final Fab Yuletime track. It’s struck me before, and it strikes me again: at the beginning of this track, as John and Yoko chat and (sort of) banter, Yoko sounds like a woman in love. Scratch that–she sounds like a girl in love, giggly and giddy, as the eternal boy to whom she’s married mugs and capers, perhaps trying to impress and dazzle the girl to whom he’s married. It’s so, so sweet, touching…real. I don’t care if you tell me they rehearsed it with painstaking precision, or if it’s actually as off-the-cuff as it sounds. It feels genuine. How could anyone hate something like that?

Yoko Ono may have saved John Lennon’s life. When he met Yoko, John was floundering. His first marriage was doomed; that was mostly (entirely?) John’s fault, and neither fame nor acclaim, nor even artistic accomplishment, were helping him find happiness. He found happiness with Yoko. When they split for a while in the ’70s, John realized leaving Yoko was a mistake; the separation didn’t work out. So, once again, they were together, man. Happy.

John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has always been one of my favorite Christmas records. It acquired a bitter taste of melancholy at the end of 1980, but its sense of hope, its embrace of light, its repudiation of our darker impulses all shine on (like the moon and the stars and the sun, as another Lennon song phrased it). The song makes me sad, but it makes me happy, too. I don’t think that song would exist if not for Yoko.

You don’t have to be a Yoko fan. You don’t even have to like her, I guess, but there’s no rational reason why you should dislike her. Maybe I should give some of her music another chance, though I doubt I’ll suddenly discover it’s, you know, my music. But I like Yoko herself. You should, too. Happy Christmas, John. Happy Christmas, Yoko.

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Well, Hello There, Famous Person!

I imagine that it’s not uncommon for folks who live in Manhattan or L.A. to spot celebrities on some kind of regular basis, or at least to not be surprised to see some big-name famous person while out grabbin’ a bagel. That’s life in the bright lights of the big city.

But such star sightings are a relative rarity in Syracuse. The other day, my wandering mind ambled its non-linear way to the famous people I’ve seen somewhere, here or there or anywhere over the years. I’m not talking about concerts or performances or lectures I attended, wherein I witnessed the magic of Eddie MurphyHarlan EllisonPresident Bill ClintonWilliam ShatnerStar Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, locally-staged plays starring the likes of Julie NewmarBert Parks, and Abe Vigoda, or the many musical acts in my Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery. I don’t mean getting into the locker room at Yankee Stadium on Old-Timer’s Day 1972 to meet Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford, or going to a comics convention in New York in 1976, where I met Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe ShusterBatman co-creator Bob Kane, and so many other writers, artists, and editors that I admired. I’m also not talking about celebrity signings and meet-n-greets, where I briefly met Mickey MantleAdam West, and Micky Dolenz, back-stage access opportunities where I met Peter TorkThe SearchersKISS‘ Gene Simmons and Bruce Kulick, and Mary Lou Lord (and actually chatted with Mary Lou for quite some time, two young parents talkin’ about their kids). Nope, none of that. I’m thinking about sightings in the wild, times when I wasn’t expecting to see someone famous, but there they were, ready (or not) for their close-up.

COLONEL SANDERS

I mentioned this to my daughter, and she was amazed to learn that KFC spokesman Colonel Sanders was a real person; she thought he was just a fast-food mascot, no less make-believe than a Ronald McDonald or a Burger King. But yeah, when I was a kid, traveling with my Mom some time in the late ’60s or early ’70s, I spotted ol’ Harland in the crowd at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It was definitely him, dressed in his familiar white suit, shuffling along with, I think, a small entourage of assistants. He looked very old, and very frail, and I don’t think anyone bothered him. Kentucky Fried Chicken was one of my favorite take-out foods when I was a kid, so there was something satisfying about seeing the man who’d developed KFC’s tasty secret recipe, even if I could only see him from afar.

PHIL RIZZUTO

If my 1972 visit to the Yankees locker room on Old Timer’s Day doesn’t count, maybe this does. Before I’d made my way to the locker room, I somehow ran into former shortstop and then-current broadcaster Phil Rizzuto in a public area of the stadium. I asked him for an autograph, but my pen ran out of ink. He told me to wait, he ducked into the press box, and came back with a fresh pen. Here ya go, kid. The Scooter rules!

ELVIS COSTELLO

This was right before an Elvis Costello show at my college in Brockport, so maybe this shouldn’t count either. Nonetheless, while my ex-girlfriend, her ex-boyfriend, and I all waited outside the student union ballroom prior to Costello’s concert, Declan Patrick MacManus hisself brushed by us, all brusque and sullen. Shortly after that, listening from outside the ballroom’s closed doors, we heard Elvis and The Attractions rehearsing “Alison” and “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes,” two songs they wound up skipping in the actual show, a show that was cut short abruptly when Costello stormed off stage.

CHRIS SPEDDING

British guitar legend Chris Spedding was playing with a band called The Necessaries when they toured as opening act for The Pretenders in 1980. This also shouldn’t count, I guess, because obviously I knew Spedding was going to be at the club, but I was surprised to see him by himself at a table, drinking his beer alone. Well, what the hell. I went over to his table, exchanged pleasantries, got an autograph, and let him get back to his beer.

MACHO CAMACHO

I was working in a shopping-mall record store in downtown Buffalo in 1985 when boxer Hector “Macho” Camacho stopped in. I had no idea who he was, and had not even heard of him at that point, but I quickly gathered that he was something of a big deal. He was there at my fine record emporium in search of a cassette of “Macho Man” by The Village People, with the intention of using that disco hit as his arena-entrance music. Alas, I had to break the news to The Macho One that The Village People’s catalog o’ favorites was out of print. He politely refrained from breaking every bone in my body, which was good. Someone snapped a photo of Macho and me, and I wish I’d had the good sense to snag the picture as a souvenir.

RICK JAMES

DAVID COPPERFIELD


When was this–1989? 1990? I was working in an appliance store in the Syracuse area, and a guy came in looking at boom boxes. I didn’t recognize him until the master illusionist introduced himself, and asked for the manager. I happened to be in theoretical charge of the store that shift, so Copperfield said to me, I’m doing a show tonight, and I need two of these. If you can give me a deal, and you can deliver them to the theater, I’ll give you two tickets to the show. Awright. I figured out an appropriate discount, and Copperfield handed me his AmEx. I delivered the boom boxes, and Brenda and I returned to the theater that night for a kickass magic show.

ALEC BALDWIN

I was kind of oblivious to this as it happened, but I was there. Actor Alec Baldwin has family in the Syracuse area, and one afternoon in the early ’90s he visited our store to buy a refrigerator for one of his family members. I didn’t wait on him, but I did see him, and I saw his credit application (which listed his occupation as Motion Picture Actor, and his income as in excess of $100,000 a year). He bought a nice fridge. His then-wife Kim Basinger was not with him.

SUZI QUATRO

No such luck.

YOU CAN SEE ALL THE STARS AS YOU WALK DOWN ERIE BOULEVARD. Or something.

There may have been one or two others I’ve forgotten in the moment. Comic Jeff Altman, a frequent guest on Late Night With David Letterman, is originally from Syracuse, and he made a couple of purchases from me when he was back in town. Author David Hajdu also has Syracuse connections (and Brenda was a preschool teacher for one of his kids); he came back to play guitar with his wife, singer Karen Oberlin, in Porcelain Forehead for a BRIGHT LIGHTS! Syracuse New Wave Rock ‘n’ Roll Reunion live show that my This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio partner Dana Bonn and I co-hosted. I met Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants, through the same BRIGHT LIGHTS! series, and through our shared history as fans and associates of Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouses The Flashcubes. R & B duo Womack & Womack did an in-store appearance at my record shop in Buffalo, and I’m pretty sure I used to serve fast-food tacos to members of The Goo Goo Dolls before they were famous. Wait–before they were famous? Man, that doesn’t count either….

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: I Don’t Want To Grow Up

This was intended to be a chapter in my theoretically forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). It was originally added to the book’s Table of Contents because I thought my abiding love of The Ramones wasn’t sufficiently conveyed in the preexisting chapter on “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” and also because–let’s face it–The Ramones’ “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” IS The Greatest Record Ever Made.

But ultimately, although I like this chapter a lot, I don’t think it fits the book. So I’m going back to fortify the “Sheena” chapter, to let it more fully illustrate why I regard “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” as the record that changed my life. And we’re freeing up this chapter for public viewing. (My paid patrons have already seen it, but since it’s now being posted publicly so much earlier than planned, they’re also getting the as-yet-unseen 
Sly and the Family Stone chapter as a bonus private post.)

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, THIS is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

There would be no hit records. The road to ruin reached its predetermined end. 
In 2002, Spin magazine ranked The Ramones second on its list of the 50 greatest bands of all time, with only The Beatles perched above them. Writer Marc Spitz explained the rationale of placing this seemingly misfit Carbona Quartet just a step below that other Fab Four:
“Punk rock exists because of the false assumption that The Ramones can be imitated. ‘1-2-3-4!’ Three chords. ‘Second verse, same as the first.’ Technically speaking, it’s simple. Legend has it that in every city where The Ramones played in support of their 1976 debut, a handful of punk kids started up bands, thinking that they could do it, too. But The Ramones’ loud-fast style masked a pop genius. Slow their tempos, and you’ve got Beach Boys harmonies. Replace lyrics about sniffin’ glue and eatin’ refried beans, and you’ve got The Ronettes. Give everyone matching leather jackets, and you’ve got the punk rock Beatles. Just four lads from Queens who birthed thousands of bands, then blew each one away.”
I believe I may have dropped the magazine at that point just so I could give it a standing ovation.
We have not yet created a language that can adequately convey the sheer, visceral thrill of that precise second when I realized The Ramones were…perfect. Just perfect. Punk? Sure, yeah. Rock ‘n’ roll? Oh God, yes. But also power pop, bubblegum, every great song ever played on any AM radio ever conceived on Earth or above, all distilled into this massive, physical presence that’s simultaneously as heavy as a truncheon and as light as helium candy. Pop music, played loud, played fast, and played for keeps, our hearts sustained by its velocity, our souls redeemed by its purity, our faith in the transcendent power of music restored by forceful melody, accomplished as easily as the above-cited count of 1-2-3-4.
And for all that, The Ramones never had a goddamned hit record. Not in America anyway. “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” charted. “Rockaway Beach” made it all the way up to # 66 in Billboard, and a cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” wrote finis to The Ramones’ brief three-part invasion of the lower half of The Hot 100, all accomplished in 1977-78. Like the immortal “Blitzkrieg Bop” before it, “I Wanna Be Sedated” did not chart. “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” did not chart. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” did not chart. Radio’s ears were closed to The Ramones. Retail declared them niche, cult…lesser. MTV all but ignored them. 
The Ramones pretended not to care. They insisted that hit records never mattered to them. Their practiced scowls hid the fact that they were lying through their teeth. 
Of course The Ramones wanted hit records! They’d come of age in a time when the greatest records were hits, from Del Shannon to The Dixie Cups, James Brown to The Beatles. They never outgrew the quaint notion that the best stuff could be the most popular stuff, the most popular stuff the best stuff. They didn’t want to grow up. They couldn’t.
When I’m lyin’ in my bed at nightI don’t want to grow upNothing ever seems to turn out rightAnd I don’t want to grow up
The Ramones’ final studio album was 1995’s Adios Amigos!, its stated intent to be the Ramones’ farewell effort tacitly understood to carry an asterisk: the final album* (*unless this one’s a hit). It was not. But Jesus, it should have been.
The album opens with a supercharged Ramonesified reading of Tom Waits’s “I Don’t Want To Grow Up,” a triumphant bludgeoning that plants its feet and establishes one last Rockaway Beachhead. There would be no hit records. That 2002 Spin piece concluded, “Like sharks, The Ramones never evolved. They didn’t have to.” But growin’ up is for squares, man. The Ramones weren’t gonna do it. We don’t have to do it either.

“I Don’t Want To Grow Up” written by Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan, Jalma Music ASCAP

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Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.
(And you can still get our 2017 compilation This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4, on CD from Kool Kat Musik and as a download from Futureman Records.)

Get MORE Carl! Check out the fourth and latest issue of the mighty Big Stir magazine at bigstirrecords.com/magazine

Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, 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).