SPRING 2023: My First Book

Before writing MY book, I contributed material to these books.

I’ve been telling you for a while that I have a book coming out. My first book! It is NOT my long-threatened epic The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), but it is a nonfiction work about rockin’ pop music, and it’s very dear to my heart. The publisher has asked me to hold off on announcing specifics, but the book is now scheduled to see the light of day and dark of night in Spring 2023.

Within the next few days, I’ll be chatting with the manager of the company’s sales and marketing division to discuss the road ahead. The manuscript itself was completed by the end of last year, and it’s in the hands of skilled people who know how to take my insights and ramblings and turn ’em all into a book. 

This is the achievement of a lifelong dream for me. A book! I’ve contributed to other writers’ books on several occasions (as pictured in the stack of books seen up top), but it feels so razzafrazzin’ fine to finally have a book to call my own. I can’t tell you how much it means. And one book may lead to another.

On an unrelated note: Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) is nearing three-quarters of a million views. That’s not a huge number by any real-world standard, but it ain’t bad for an unknown author basically yelling at the clouds. HEY! YOU! Get off of my cloud. 

But pull up a chair! The long slog to my first million views continues here. Thanks for boppin’ by.

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

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.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: 20th Century Boy

This was adapted in part from a previous piece for use in my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). It is no longer part of that book’s blueprint, but will likely resurface in the even more hypothetical This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 2.

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

T. REX: 20th Century Boy

Written by Marc Bolan

Produced by Tony Visconti
Single, Ariola [U.K.], 1973

Marc Bolan–the voice and personification of the ’70s U.K. glam act T. Rex–was killed in a car accident on September 16th, 1977. It was less than a month into my first semester at college, and I heard the news while listening to the radio in my dorm room. I went out to tell people on my floor that Marc Bolan had died. No one had any clue whatsoever about who this Marc Bolan guy was. It was another early sign that I had chosen the wrong musical environment for my college experience.

But, to be fair to my collegiate peers and their divergent musical tastes, I didn’t know all that much about Bolan at the time, either. I knew just one song: “Bang A Gong (Get It On),” an enduring radio classic from 1972, a track even more familiar to me from its inclusion on an oddball 1974 double-album various-artists set called Heavy Metal.

(I have no idea of the thought process that created Heavy Metal; if there’s a definitive account of the record’s genesis out there somewhere, I’d love to read it. The great and powerful internet suggests that Heavy Metal was a sequel to a 1973 four-record set called Superstars Of The 70’s, and I kinda wish I’d snagged a copy of that one when I was a young teen. The lineup on Superstars Of The 70’s includes Otis Redding, the KinksTodd RundgrenWilson Pickettthe Rolling StonesRoberta FlackJoni Mitchellthe Beach Boys, and Gordon Lightfoot, a diverse menu that whet the ol’ Me Decade musical appetite. MORE!! Heavy Metal met the next stage of that insatiable demand, with a curious disregard for any plausible parameters of its title genre. Heavy Metal includes tracks by Black Sabbaththe Allman Brothers Bandthe Eaglesthe Grateful DeadLed Zeppelinthe J. Geils BandYesDeep PurpleWarVan MorrisonAlice Cooperthe MC5, and T. Rex. It was the most liberal interpretation of “heavy metal” until the Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Recording went to Jethro Tull in 1989.)

For dramatic purposes, the role of GRAMMY-winning metal act Jethro Tull will be performed by the members of Spinal Tap

My own relative ignorance about the T. Rex catalog didn’t stop me from still being appalled by the notion of no one in my dorm even recognizing Bolan’s name. I knew that much, thanks; I read rock mags, I read rock histories, and I knew Marc Bolan and T. Rex had been a big deal.

Had I ever seen T. Rex on TV by that point? Maybe? If they were on Midnight Special or the British import Supersonic, I may have had the chance to see Bolan and friends sing about jeepsters, or riding a white swan, or bangin’ a gong, gettin’ it on, bang a gong!  I betcha I’d heard something on the radio, AM or FM. I definitely felt the loss one feels when a rock star passes, even if it was a star I knew upon reflection only.

My first T. Rex album was a cutout copy of 1974’s Light Of Love, itself a lesser light in the T. Rex canon. In the ’80s, regular video play on MTV Closet Classics hooked me on T. Rex’s fabulous “Jeepster.” “Bang A Gong” had become a hit again via an unsubtle cover by Power Station, but I preferred the T. Rex original. 

I don’t know when I first heard “20th Century Boy.” I swear it was some time before it was used in a car commercial, but if it had been that, I would admit it proudly; I have no objection whatsoever to advertising making use of great songs when appropriate. By whatever means, “20th Century Boy” became my favorite T. Rex track, a confident, lurching guitar strut that embodies the nebulous concept of glam/glitter with greater authority than even the best of SladeSweet, or Suzi Quatro. Bolan’s preening yelps and wails elevate him to the status of rock god within a framework of loud, dissipated abandon. The guitar riff alone is sufficient to overcome naysayers with cool, disconnected efficiency. I’m your toy, your 20th century boy.

Gratuitous picture of Suzi Quatro. Because…BECAUSE!!

At 17, I barely knew who Marc Bolan was. But I knew enough to mourn, to feel that the pop world had suffered a loss even though so few seemed to realize it or understand it. On some level, though, I knew. Farewell, 20th century boy.

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

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.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For H

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

HELLCAT

I was reading The Avengers regularly in 1975-76, when writer Steve Englehart brought the character of Patsy Walker into the mix. I don’t think I’d read any issues of Marvel‘s Patsy Walker teen humor comic book in the ’60s, nor had I seen Patsy’s more serious appearances as a supporting character in The Beast (starring in Amazing Adventures). I had seen Marvel’s short-lived Claws Of The Cat book, so I recognized the costume Walker donned in The Avengers # 144, which was Patsy Walker’s first appearance as Hellcat. Decades later, I was several episodes into Marvel’s Jessica Jones TV series on Netflix before I realized that the character “Trish Walker” was Patsy Walker, albeit without the Hellcat identity.

THE HOLLIES

“Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” was yet another of my many favorite songs on the radio in the early ’70s. I didn’t remember any of The Hollies’ ’60s hits from when I was younger, but I sure loved this song. My interest in The Hollies expanded as I began to explore more oldies radio, and I picked up a copy of The Very Best Of The Hollies outta the cut-out bin at Gerber Music in Penn Can Mall. Granted, it didn’t include “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress,” but it did have “Bus Stop,””Look Through Any Window,””Stop, Stop, Stop,””I Can’t Let Go,” and “On A Carousel,” among others, so I was in Heaven. I also picked up the soundtrack to the David Essex movie Stardust out of the dingy basement at Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights, and that contained The Hollies’ “Carrie Anne.” And, after all these years, I still don’t care about The Hollies’ 1974 hit “The Air That I Breathe.”

HOLLY & THE ITALIANS

In 1981, Creem magazine described Holly & the Italians’ debut album The Right To Be Italian as something like Lesley Gore or The Angels backed by Leave Home-era Ramones. Well, was sold! I first heard Holly & the Italians on a CBS Records various-artists collection called Exposed II, which included “Rock Against Romance” and the group’s signature tune, “Tell That Girl To Shut Up.” A Holly & the Italians flexi-disc was also included with one of my subscription copies of Trouser Press magazine, and I bought a copy of The Right To Be Italian (with a water-damaged cover) from a record store in New York. The Right To Be Italian remains one of my all-time Top 25 albums.

HOT WHEELS

I was a big fan of Mattel‘s Hot Wheels cars–my first Hot Wheels car was Splittin Image–and I liked the 1969 cartoon TV series on ABC. DC Comics licensed the rights to adapt the TV series, and these were some really well-done comics, with stunning artwork from Alex Toth and (in its final issue) Neal Adams.  DC’s Hot Wheels comic ran for only six issues, and the daunting prospect of trying to navigate the Sargasso Sea of licensing complications will likely prevent it from ever being reprinted.

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GUILT-FREE PLEASURES (A Defense Against The Dark Arts): R.Dean Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me”

There is really no such thing as a guilty pleasure in pop music. Unless you happen to love neo-Nazi ditties or glorifications of hatred or violence, I’d say it’s okay for you to dig whatever you wanna dig. Yes, even the hits of The Eagles. Why? BECAUSE THEY’RE POP SONGS! Guilt-Free Pleasures (A Defense Against The Dark Arts) celebrates pop songs. The guilty need not apply.

R. DEAN TAYLOR: Indiana Wants Me

Written by R. Dean Taylor

Produced by R. Dean Taylor

Single, Rare Earth, 1970

He fought the law, and the law won.

R. Dean Taylor‘s “Indiana Wants Me” was all over AM Top 40 in 1970, the very year I began listening to radio with more deliberate intent and focus. Is it a guilty pleasure? SPOILER ALERT: no, don’t be silly. It’s a terrific single, I love it, and I still attempt to sing along with it each time I hear it play.

But let’s talk about its story.

“Indiana Wants Me” tells the sad tale of a guy on the run from the police. This fugitive is a murderer; he confesses his guilt in the song’s first line, If a man ever needed dyin’, he did. We learn immediately that the murder victim had said something inappropriate about the murderer’s wife, thus prompting his violent demise and the murderer’s status as a wanted man fleeing justice. The murderer has no remorse whatsoever for his crime; his only regret is the pain he’s caused his beloved wife, his only real wish that he could see her, their home, and their little baby. One last time. The law catches up with him, he refuses to surrender, and his story ends in a hail of gunfire. 

Pulp as pop. But I think there’s even more pulp beneath this story’s surface.

For reference, let’s give our three principal characters names, just so I can stop calling them “the murderer,” “the victim,” and “the murderer’s wife.” I thought of calling them Archie, Reggie, and Veronica, but–let’s face it–the Riverdale TV series has done enough damage to those names. I almost went with Pancho, Lefty, and Emmylou, but that woulda been unfair to Emmylou (and besides, Pancho needs your prayers, it’s true, but save a few for Lefty, too). So we’re gonna go with Manny, Moe, and Jaqueline. Manny is our killer on the run, Moe is his late victim, and Jacqueline is Manny’s soon-to-be-widowed wife.

What in the world could Moe have said about Jacqueline that so enraged Manny? No one had the right to say what he said about you. I guess it’s possible that Manny’s skin was so thin that an offhand comment about our Jacqueline’s looks or demeanor ignited homicidal fury. If so, well, it’s amazing Manny lived as long as he did before running afoul of the whole Thou shalt not kill thing. Instead, I keep coming back to one line of thought:

What if?

What if Moe said he loved Jacqueline? And what if Moe swore that Jacqueline loved him? Furthermore, what if Moe claimed that he and Jacqueline had consummated their love. Y’know…physically. Bouncy-bouncy.

If a man ever needed dying, he did. How dare Moe tell such an awful lie?

With that, we understand what sparked Manny’s sudden rage. We don’t excuse it–Manny is very much guilty of murder–but at least we can comprehend what happened. But I say that ain’t all.

Because Moe wasn’t lying.

Moe and Jacqueline were together. Whether a single night’s shaking of the sheets or a long-term affair (or more), Moe and Jacqueline did it, marital vows be damned. 

And I’ll add one more little detail: the little baby that Manny wishes he could see, just once more? The baby ain’t his. Moe is the father. 

Regardless of R. Dean Taylor’s actual real-world intent in crafting the lyrics, I’m convinced that “Indiana Wants Me” is about a guy whose wife cheated on him, and the hijinks that ensued thereafter. Whether Manny is in willful denial of the affair or knows (but won’t admit) what really happened, the sins of the flesh led to the mortal sin of murder. And it’s so cold and lonely here without you. All that’s left is the loss.

And the guilt.

VERDICT: Well, the song’s characters are guilty as sin. But the song itself? Innocent, not guilty.

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

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.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Elevation

This chapter is in some potential drafts of my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), but is more likely to be pushed back to an even-more-theoretical This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 2.

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

TELEVISION: “Elevation”

Written by Tom Verlaine

Produced by Andy Johns and Tom Verlaine

From the album Marquee Moon, Elektra Records, 1977
Vertigo.

For the disaffected and dissatisfied in 1977, no track expressed the feeling of rock music in dizzying free fall with greater menace and implied ennui as “Elevation” by Television

A large part of growing up manifests in staking one’s own claim on fresh vistas. We don’t necessarily crave a complete break from the past, from the frontiers settled by older siblings or preceding generations. But we want some real estate to call our own. 

From Television’s debut album Marquee Moon, the track “Elevation” just fascinated me when I was 17. Fall of 1977, freshman in college, trying to finally hear all these punk or new wave or whaddayacallit bands I’d read so much about in the pages of Phonograph Record Magazine. I asked the campus radio station for help, and was rewarded with the sounds of the Ramones,Blondiethe Dictatorsthe Advertsthe JamWillie Alexander and the Boom Boom Bandthe Runaways, and oh yeah!, Television. I could never get enough of this jagged, loping, serpentine noise, so mesmerizing, so different, so gratifyingly dizzying in its willful application of elevation going to my head. And staying there. Marquee Moon was among my earliest LP purchases in this broad category of NEW MUSIC circa ’77 and ’78. It would not be the last. 

Oh, no. Not even close to the last.

Years later, I read something that compared Television to the Grateful Dead, keying on the group’s essential musicality in contrast with the three-chord image of much of their CBGB‘s contemporaries. That comparison would have horrified me in the ’70s, and I doubt many Deadheads would have agreed with it either. Minus the determined DIY stance of original Television bassist Richard Hell, though, the members of Television–guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, drummer Billy Ficca, and Hell’s four-string replacement Fred Smith–could be jazzier, more inclined to improvise, while still maintaining a Bowery edge. Television might not have jammed like Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, but their sound was in some ways closer to the Dead than it was to the Ramones or Blondie, or even to Talking Heads.

Television split after their second album, 1978’s Adventure, and did an eponymous reunion album in 1992. Marquee Moon was their signature work, an acknowledged classic in rock ‘n’ roll’s storied history of fresh vistas claimed, frontiers settled. A song on that album begged (or warned), “Elevation, don’t go to my head.” The plea is for naught. The head surrenders. The body falls. 

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

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.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For G

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

GENERATION X

Bomp! magazine’s epic power pop issue in early 1978 was the first I ever heard of this British punk (sorta) group. I may or may not have heard them on campus that Spring–there was a Punk Night at our on-campus bar The Rathskeller, and occasional punk/new wave records played on our radio station, WBSU, and either of those sources could have served up some Generation X–but I can say with certainty that I bought two Generation X import 45s by the end of that summer. The singles were “Ready, Steady, Go” and “Your Generation,” and I loved both of those loud ‘n’ vibrant records beyond rational description. “Your Generation” was also included on an album called Geef Voor New Wave, a freakin’ fantastic compilation that no home should be without. But I never got around to owning any Generation X albums. I bought one more single, “Dancing With Myself” (billed under the truncated name “Gen X”), and remained resolutely unmoved by lead singer Billy Idol‘s subsequent solo success. Local faves The Dead Ducks used to cover Generation X’s “King Rocker” in their live set, and just recently opened their 2016 set at Bright Lights! The Syracuse New Wave Rock ‘n’ Roll Reunion with a rendition of “Ready, Steady, Go.” And while I never got any Generation X LPs, I do have the Perfect Hits best-of CD. And I want it fabulous!

THE GHOST RIDER

Some time in the early ’70s, I received a grocery bag full of fairly recent comic books. I have no recollection of who gave them to me, but I think it was probably a friend of someone in my family, just passing on a bunch of funnybooks they had and didn’t want. These contained a number of Marvel Comics titles, including some outside the superhero genre that was my main interest. So this was a great opportunity to try out a bunch of titles I might not have seen otherwise. I remember an Amazing Adventures starring The Beast (whom I’d previously known in his original, less-furry form in The X-Men), an issue of Sub-Mariner (featuring some of the last work from the character’s creator, Bill Everett, and inspiring my immediate affection for Subby’s nubile young cousin Namorita), and an issue of Marvel Spotlight, introducing a new character called Ghost Rider. (I was..what? 12 or 13? Forgive me that Namorita made a more lasting impression than Johnny Blaze, his motorcycle and blazing skull notwithstanding.)

THE GRASS ROOTS

Sometimes I find that my vivid memories of discovering specific pop songs don’t jibe with any real-world chronology. I remember listening to “Sooner Or Later” by The Grass Roots on the radio when it was a hit in 1971. I also recall their hits “Midnight Confessions” and “Temptation Eyes” later being cherished staples of my AM radio heyday…but both of those predate “Sooner Or Later.” Looking back, I can only presume WOLF or WNDR was still mixing those latter tracks into their hits lineup well after the fact, and I was too stupid to realize they weren’t current hits.

GREEN ARROW

It’s possible that I saw Green Arrow’s young sidekick Speedy guest-starring in an issue of Teen Titans before I ever saw The Emerald Archer himself. My first G.A. sighting was near the end of Justice League Of America # 55 in 1967, where he was one of a quartet of JLA members (along with SupermanThe Flash, and Green Lantern) brought in to meet a crisis. Those four made the cover of the next issue (pictured above). Green Arrow and Speedy had been created in the 1940s as a copy of Batman and Robin; by ’67, Green Arrow was the only JLA member without his own ongoing solo series–even The Martian Manhunter had a back-up series in House Of Mystery, but G.A. was a free agent. Green Arrow was also featured prominently in the next issue (“Man, Thy Name Is–Brother!” in JLA # 57), and was the center of attention in “Operation: Jail The Justice League!” in JLA # 61, my favorite issue of JLA for a good long time after that. Green Arrow was given new life with a costume redesign by Neal Adams in a Batman team-up in The Brave And The Bold in 1969, and given a lasting shake-up in the early ’70s by Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil in their headline-making series Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

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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. 

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: “September Gurls”

BIG STAR: “September Gurls”
The heart is often incapable of speaking its own mind. Please forgive the mixed metaphor, because it’s true: on an emotional level, the thing that is most important to us is the most difficult to articulate.  If you were ever a teenager in love, you know this first-hand; and if, at any age, you have watched a love slip away–casually or cruelly, by accident or design, temporarily or irrevocably–then you still remember the ache of your tongue-tied efforts to somehow express the poetry inside you, to give voice to the exact words that, when spoken, will make True Love prevail against unbelievable odds.  So many words, so much to say.  And all we can do as she walks away is mumble, “I loved you, well…never mind.”

With that phrase, Alex Chilton turned even our seeming helplessness into art.  A teenaged hitmaker with The Box Tops, a cult-pop legend with Big Star, and a fiercely (and frustratingly) independent solo artist, Alex Chilton was dismissive of his own legacy.  But he was a brilliant songwriter, responsible in whole or in part for a handful of what I believe to be among the most affecting, beautiful pop songs ever done.  With his Big Star partner Chris Bell, Chilton co-wrote “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” the single most transcendent expression of triumphant hope that I am ever likely to hear; their song “Thirteen” found the elusive words to articulate adolescence as no other song before or since.  And Chilton’s “September Gurls,” perhaps the greatest record ever made, is with me every day of my life, its haunting mix of longing and possibility providing a constant reminder of the heart’s struggle to speak its mind, and of the artist’s ability to turn the struggle itself into unforgettable, eloquent elegance. 

As we say goodbye to Alex Chilton, we reflect on the wealth of wonderful music he left us.  The Box Tops’ hits–“Soul Deep,” “Cry Like A Baby,” “Neon Rainbow” and, especially, “The Letter”–still sound terrific on the radio, and they will always sound terrific on the radio, for as long as there is radio.  Chilton’s solo work, while I won’t pretend to be a big fan of much of it, shows an artist and performer determined to follow his own vision, without regard for what his audience might expect, stubbornly insistent that it will take you home and make you like it.  And Big Star…!  I can’t say enough about the sheer brilliance of Big Star, about how much those records have meant to me, of how much they will continue to mean.  So many words, so much to say, but…never mind.

I wrote all of the above when Alex Chilton passed away in March of 2010. Like most of us, I discovered Big Star well after the fact. I knew The Box Tops, of course, particularly “The Letter” (which itself deserves a turn as The Greatest Record Ever Made). I first heard of Big Star when Bomp! magazine published a history of the group in its landmark power pop issue in early ’78. Although I read my copy of that issue of Bomp! into its current worn ‘n’ tattered state, Big Star remained a mystery to me: unheard, and undiscovered.

A bit later that year, I was at a Flashcubes show at The Firebarn in Syracuse. The Flashcubes, although basically an undiscovered local group, had already become (wait for it) big stars in my eyes. Their originals were great, their choice of covers was great, and if you didn’t like them, I’m sorry, you just weren’t wired correctly. 

On this particular night, ‘Cubes bassist Gary Frenay asked the crowd if anyone remembered The Box Tops. Hell, yeah! would sum up the collective response. And then Gary explained about Alex Chilton and Big Star, and The Flashcubes began to play “September Gurls.”

That mournful, unforgettable guitar opening; that determination for the heart to speak its mind; those lyrics, hiding heartbreak behind hope, aching with the uncertainty of a love that may be almost, almost within our grasp, or may already be just beyond our reach, forever unattainable.

September gurls do so much
I was your Butch, and you were touched
I loved you
Well…never mind
I’ve been crying all the time
As an eighteen-year-old pop fan, standing in The Firebarn, transfixed as The Flashcubes introduced me to this hidden world of yearning and beauty, my mind raced with the only three words that matter when one first hears the greatest song of all time: Oh. My. GOD!!

Big Star records weren’t all that easy to come by in 1978. I didn’t hear any of Big Star’s own recordings until Gary and Flashcubes drummer Tommy Allen played the original “September Gurls” during a guest DJ stint on 95X in 1979. I was…um, underwhelmed. The Flashcubes do it better!, I thought. But my appreciation of the song, and of Big Star, would only grow greater and greater over time.

“September Gurls” was covered in the ’80s by The Searchers and The Bangles. If The Flashcubes had gotten a record deal in the ’70s, I betcha they’d have recorded it, too. In fact, in an otherwise-unflattering New York Rocker magazine review of a Flashcubes show, the writer ended his pan by noting that “September Gurls” was great, though. At a Let’s Active show in Buffalo, I yelled out an amiable request for “September Gurls.” The band didn’t oblige, but bassist Faye Hunter seemed surprised and pleased by the idea, as she smiled and said, Did someone just request Big Star?

Big Star was a big secret. As I became familiar with Big Star’s records, I became a fan. And I soon learned that being a Big Star fan was like being a member of an underground pop society, a discerning, scattered network of music enthusiasts who knew–knew–there was more out there, old and new, than we were hearing on any radio station anywhere. Big Star was the golden ticket. You like Big Star? You’re one of us, then. 

This goes well beyond the limited parameters of hipster snobbery, of us versus them, of self-conscious cool that is, in fact, not cool in any way. This is faith. This is belief in the power of song. This is the inner certainty that there is greatness everywhere, awaiting someone to appreciate it and spread its Gospel. And there is no greater manifestation of that belief than the pure, tear-stained splendor of Big Star’s “September Gurls.”

How can I deny what’s inside?
 
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The Methodology Of THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO

“Methodology?” On this show? HA! As if!

The thing is…I wrote the above opening line in January of 2020. At the time, I had no idea that our approach to programming This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio was so close to a change, a change which is likely permanent. In March of 2020, the pandemic shut us down. 

But we only missed a week. For the week after that, we were already scheduled to do an on-air record release party for Factory Settings, the then-forthcoming new album from our friends Pop Co-Op. Their tech guru and marketing maven Laura Sessions Tinnel set us up to do the show as a Zoom meeting with the members of the band, chatting with them in between spinning tracks from the new album. It was my first experience with Zoom. Doesn’t that seem quaint now?

The week after our Pop Co-Op Zoom (and inspired by our pals Michael McCartney [host of The Time Machine in Maui] and Rich Firestone [now the host of Radio Deer Camp right here on SPARK!]), we made a last-minute decision to try recording a new TIRnRR from home. We had a playlist I’d previously set up as a blog post about isolating at home, so I gathered those tracks, barked some commentary into my phone, and sent the files to Dana for processing and alchemy. Dana raced the clock, beat the clock, and got the show on the air on April 5, 2020. We’ve been back in our weekly time slot ever since then. We have not returned to the studio, and I can’t guarantee that we ever will. But the show goes on. Only our method has changed.

The original, abandoned-after-its-opening-line January 2020 version of this post was intended in response to a listener’s question. A fan was curious about how Dana and I picked the songs for our playlists; he also wondered why we didn’t play more garage, and more R & B-influenced ’60s rock like the Animals. It was a good-natured inquiry, so I figured it deserved an answer.

Then: PANDEMIC!!

Still, some basics remain unchanged. Dana and I pursue a mix of old and new, balancing minty-fresh releases with classics, the familiar with the obscure. We have never really been a power pop show, even though that is our stated format. The actual show blends rock ‘n’ roll, pop. soul, bubblegum, punk, R & B, and whatever else flits into our wandering focus. Oh, and power pop. Of course. We’ve played a lot of the ’60s garage and blues-based rock our listener was curious about us playing, including Wimple Winch on this week’s show, and the Small Faces are playlist perennials; the Animals made our year-end countdown just a few years back, and a track by the Rolling Stones was in the original plan for last week’s show, cut because we needed to find room for something else in its place.

“Plan.” Yeah, I guess that’s the difference now. The off-the-cuff playlist-building that always characterized whatever the hell it is we do here has evolved into something with a little bit more premeditation. 

Or has it? We still assemble the playlist on the fly, a task accomplished in a back-and-forth phone call on Tuesday nights. Whether it was the old method of live programming or the current method of tele-programming, we’ve almost always had some specific tracks in mind when slappin’ this thing together. What has mutated is our ability to edit our selections, to decide after the fact (but before airtime) that some other track or tracks work better in context than something else we’d intended to play instead. The resulting show is still the product of Dana and I playing off each other’s song picks, building better radio through better radio. 

I concede that we’ve sacrificed some of our spontaneity. A new track that reaches us after we record the show on Wednesday can’t be programmed until the next show following. We can’t respond to listener requests in real time. And we can’t simulate the live banter between Dana and I; that’s the only important thing I think is missing, and it’s gotta be that way. Otherwise, I do think we do a pretty good job of creating an appealing and convincing approximation of TIRnRR‘s combustible charm.

In fact, I’m confident that This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio is still The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin’ Planet. Forgive the hubris, but when it comes to programming a rockin’ pop radio show, we are damned near infallible. It’s our method. And it works for us.

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

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.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For F

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

THE FANTASTIC FOUR

No idea! I first saw images of The Fantastic Four in Marvel’s house ads in (I’m guessing) 1966, the year I developed my life-long mania for superheroes. I watched the 1967 Saturday morning TV cartoon when I could, and I picked up a Fantastic Four comic book in there at some time. I do remember trying to figure out the characters’ names; I got The Human Torch, I think I figured out The Thing and Invisible Girl, but I couldn’t suss out the name of the elastic fantastic guy who seemed to be the boss. The other characters called him “Stretcho,” so it took me a while to realize he was supposed to be Mr. Fantastic. Although it definitely wasn’t my first issue, I vividly remember a 1968 FF with guest-stars ThorDaredevil, and Spider-Man. Artist Jack “King” Kirby made those pages come alive! A couple of years ago, I re-read the mid-to-late ’60s run of Fantastic Four, and it held up as just incredible, well-done comics done by creators at the top of their game. Writer Stan Lee always billed this as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” He was right. And Lee and Kirby were fantastic.

THE FLASH

I first saw The Flash near the end of Justice League Of America # 55 in the summer of ’67; this was also my very first issue of JLA. The story continued into the next issue, and The Flash was also featured in JLA # 57’s “Man, Thy Name Is Brother!” I saw The Flash cover-featured with The Spectre in an issue of The Brave And The Bold, but didn’t get to read that comic until many years later. The Flash was one of the revolving guest stars on the Saturday morning cartoon show The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure that fall. My first Flash comic book was Flash # 174 in 1967.

FOOLS FACE

Because I spent so many summers visiting my grandparents in Southwest Missouri, I took special notice in the early ’80s when Trouser Press magazine mentioned Fools Face, a great band from Springfield, Missouri. Much later, I’d also discover The Morells/The Skeletons, who were also from Springfield, but I learned about Fools Face first. Trouser Press also provided me with my first opportunity to hear Fools Face; TP subscribers like me used to receive an exclusive flexi-disc with each new issue of Trouser Press, and one month that flexi-disc was Fools Face’s “L5” and “Public Places.” While I wasn’t blown away, I was blown away soon enough. In ’82 or ’83, rummaging in the used bin of a record store at University Plaza in Buffalo, I found a copy of Tell America, the second album by Fools Face. “L5” was the only song I knew on the album, but I was transfixed on first spin of the LP.  My copy of Tell America remains the only copy of it that I’ve ever seen. I searched for years and years to find the rest of the Fools Face catalog, but these prizes were elusive. In the ’90s, a new online pal named Keith Klingensmith gifted me with a copy of the band’s first album,Here To Observe, some other friend–I forgot who!–made me a cassette copy of the Public Places album, and later someone made me a CD-R of Fools Face’s extremely hard-to-come-by cassette-only release The Red Tape. I eventually scored a copy of Public Places at a record show, and was thrilled when Fools Face reunited for a brand-new (and terrific) eponymous album. There has also been a vintage live Fools Face performance issued on CD, but the original studio material remains long out of print, seemingly never to be reissued. That’s a shame; Tell America remains one of my all-time Top 20 albums, probably Top 10.

THE FOUR SEASONS

“Big Girls Don’t Cry.” That falsetto was all over AM radio in the early ’60s. I was two, and I remember it!

THE FOUR TOPS

It surely seems like I must have heard The Four Tops’ cavalcade of Motown hits in the ’60s, but my first conscious memory of them is “Are You Man Enough” from the film Shaft In Africa. “Are You Man Enough” was an AM radio hit in the ’70s; I later went back to rediscover The Four Tops’ Motown treasures, and The Four Tops remain my favorite Motown group.

FUNNYMAN

Someday I will write at length about my trip to New York City in 1976, when Iattended the Super-DC Con. For now, suffice it to say that I met Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and I bought an issue of their late ’40s creation Funnyman in the dealer’s room. No one ever seems to have a positive word to say about Funnyman, but I loved The Daffy Daredevil, who was kinda like a superhero Danny Kaye. I did not have an opportunity to ask Siegel and Shuster to autograph my copy of Funnyman # 5, but I did get their autographs in my Super-DC Con program book.

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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. 

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Heading Out To The Highway

This previously appeared as an entry in my 10 Songs series, and was briefly scheduled to become a part of my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). It is not included in that book’s current plan.

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

JUDAS PRIEST: Heading Out To The Highway

Written by Rob Halford, K. K. Downing, and Glenn Tipton

Produced by Tom Allom

Single from the album Point Of Entry, Columbia Records, 1981I’m not really a metal guy. But there have been a few fist-shakin’, head-bangin’ truncheonfests that I have found to be agreeably bludgeoning, albeit all of them on the pop side. I love Twisted Sister‘s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” without any hint of guilt or apology. I enjoy some Def Leppard, a little bit of Black Sabbath, and–maybe stretching the parameters–some Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, plus the light hair-metal of “We Stand Alone” by Killer Dwarfs. And Motörhead. And KISS! I mean, if you wanna count KISS as metal, I guess.

And Judas Priest?

There was something about the Priest that made me unable to take them seriously…which would be okay if they didn’t seem so hell-bent-for-leather intent on being taken seriously. I very much liked the first Judas Priest track I ever heard, which was their gloriously unsubtle take on the Joan Baez folk chestnut “Diamonds And Rust.” After that, though, I thought “Breaking The Law” was tiresome, and its video really made Judas Priest look dumb beyond redemption. CREEM magazine started to make fun of them, and I went right along with that spirit of derision and dismissal.

But…”Heading Out To The Highway.” GodDAMN I loved that from its first bombastic chug and squeal, and in the present day it still inspires turn-it-UP volume and a defiantly paradoxical mix of sneering and grinning when it plays in my car. 

Especially if I happen to be heading out to the highway. LOUDER! LOUDER!!! 

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

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.