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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

This was written for my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), but is not in the book’s current blueprint.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!

ELTON JOHN: Saturday Night’s Alright For FightingWritten by Elton John and Bernie TaupinProduced by Gus DudgeonSingle, MCA Records, 1973
Somebody’s gonna get their head kicked in tonight.
In 1973, I had never heard (nor heard of) the song with that title. “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight” had been the non-LP B-side of Fleetwood Mac‘s “Man Of The World” single in 1969; for that rockin’ B-side (written by Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer), the group used the pseudonymous nom du hooligan Earl Vance and the Valiants, perhaps to establish plausible legal deniability for its intent to bash in craniums with mallets aforethought. Years later, it became something of a punk rock standard via a cover by the Rezillos. In ’73, relatively few Americans knew the song. Hell, in ’73, I had barely heard of Fleetwood Mac.
Oh, but I betcha Elton John and Bernie Taupin knew it. They didn’t copy the valiant Mac, but the pugnacious spirit of “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight” drinks at the same bar as a song Elton and Bernie wrote and Elton released as a single in 1973: “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”

Elton John’s big hit singles were among the highlights of my prime AM radio days, commencing with “Crocodile Rock” in 1972. I discovered (and embraced) his previous nuggets “Your Song” and “Rocket Man” shortly thereafter, and rode right along with his subsequent hits “Daniel,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” I hated “Bennie And The Jets”–I still do–but was otherwise all in for whatever our Reg was doing on the radio. There was a TV special called Goodbye Norma Jean to promote his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album; I loved the documentary and I was intrigued by the album (especially the [then] less-familiar “Candle In The Wind” and the girl-girl enticement of “All The Young Girls Love Alice”), even though I didn’t get around to owning a copy of that album until many, many years later.

No, my sole contemporary EJ artifacts were his Greatest Hits album and later his “Philadelphia Freedom” 45, the latter purchased because my friend Jim Knight told me its B-side featured John Lennon in a live performance of the Beatles‘ “I Saw Her Standing There.” SCORE!! Greatest Hits allowed me the chance to play my Elton favorites again and again. I memorized Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for “Your Song,” and they became among my preferred passages when I was practicing typing, mentally dedicating the sentiment to every pretty girl I ever knew. (On the other hand, my choice for another practice typing piece–a quote from the 1940s comic book superhero the Sandman–kinda illustrates why I didn’t have a girlfriend.) 

“Your Song,” “Rocket Man,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” But my # 1 was “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” its rat-a-tat percussive opening and furious tempo oddly presaging the interest I would develop in punk rock just a few years later. That borders on the ironic, since punk is a large part of why I lost interest in Elton John’s music in the late ’70s. Still, other than “Crocodile Rock,” I’ve never relinquished my affection for the Elton John songs I loved in my teens. 

Especially this one. 

I didn’t pay particularly close attention to its lyrics. If I had, I might have been put off by its stated endorsement of drunken bar brawls. But I was 13; what the hell did I know about bar brawls? I had been in my share of fistfights at school, none of them drunken, all of them stupid and ill-advised. No heads were kicked in during the making of my middle school years. Nor was I much aware of the British pub experience, the Us v. Them scene combusted from the volatile mix of football and alcohol. The belligerent approach of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” was in the tradition of aggressive records by the likes of the Rolling Stonesthe Who, and the Faces. And by Fleetwood Mac, alias punters Earl Vance and the Valiants. Somebody’s gonna get their head kicked in tonight. It is, after all, Saturday night.

So yeah, let’s have a drink, and raise a cheer for our side. Don’t give me none of your aggravation. Get a little action in. Elton John’s alright, alright, alright…!

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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

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Hey Jude

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

For years and years, “Hey Jude” was regarded by many as The Beatles‘ crowning achievement among singles, the fabbest of the fab, the toppermost of the poppermost. No, wait–neither fab nor poppermost, for “Hey Jude” was far more mature and accomplished than that earlier yeah-yeah-yeah hold my hand stuff. It had depth! It had meaning! It had purpose! It had a big room full of people swayin’ and singin’ Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na!, as if they’d lost their way and forgotten the precise words to “The Batman Theme!”

And I loved it. Wholeheartedly.

“Hey Jude” was released in the summer of 1968, a double-barreled 45 with the raucous “Revolution” as its flip. The Beatles promoted it via a video clip aired by British TV host David Frost and subsequently in the U.S. on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. I missed all of this, and I don’t remember hearing it on the radio or anywhere until the early ’70s. That’s when I finally heard “Hey Jude,” as I was visiting my brother Rob in Albany, and listening intently to an oldies radio countdown of the all-time greatest songs. “Hey Jude” came in second, falling just short of the unstoppable juggernaut that was “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe. Or maybe it was the other around, but no matter. I adored both songs immediately.

There was never a time where I didn’t like The Beatles, at least no such time after Beatlemania hit the States in ’64, when I was mere lad of four. But the early ’70s was a huge period of discovery and rediscovery for me in terms of your John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I listened to the Beatles records I knew, sought out the Beatles records I didn’t know, saw the Beatles films I hadn’t seen, and re-watched the one I knew–A Hard Day’s Night–whenever it turned up on TV. The Beatley Badfinger was my favorite current group on the radio, and the Beatley Raspberries later became my favorite current group on the radio; in the period between Badfinger and The Raspberries, Paul McCartney & Wings was likely my favorite current group on the radio. But my all-time favorite group? There was never, ever any question about who that was. There still isn’t.

Granted, the onslaught of punk in the late ’70s prompted me to re-examine my ongoing allegiance to The Beatles. My newfound devotion to The Ramones rivaled my Beatlemania, but certainly didn’t replace it. I did grow tired of the solo careers of the former Beatles by that time, and even started writing a song urging them to never get back to where they once belonged (‘Cause you got a good reason/For staying apart just as long as you can/You got a good reason/All things must pass, you can’t do that again). I developed a distinct preference for The Beatles’ pre-1967 recordings, before they got too serious with the Sgt. Pepper and the “All You Need Is Love” and the goo goo ga joob. On the other hand: RevolverRubber SoulBeatles VI and Beatles ’65 and Meet The Beatles and the American mix of “Thank You, Girl” on The Beatles’ Second Album? Yeah, yeah, a thousand times yeah! 

In my 1980s Beatles milieu, “Hey Jude” was not here, nor there, nor everywhere. I still liked it, but it was no longer in my Top 100, not even close. Hell, when a rummage-sale dive at a church basement in Buffalo netted me an Atlantic 45 of Wilson Pickett testifyin’ his own take on “Hey Jude,” the Wicked, Wicked Pickett’s rendition instantly became the version in my mind. That remained the case for decades thereafter. And seeing Paul (now Sir Paul) haul the song out again and again for seemingly every TV appearance honoring The Beatles’ legacy eventually caused “Hey Jude” to grate on me. Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na. No. No-no-NO-no-no-no.

There was an exception to this recently. I don’t remember what show it was, what specific honor or accolade or day-in-the-life matter was at hand. But there was Paul McCartney, on my little 32″ TV screen, once again recommending that we take a sad song and make it better. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. But after years of indifference, even disdain for this song…

…Well, all of a sudden “Hey Jude” clicked with me, for the first time in years. I may have even joined in with the na-na-nas, as I sat on my couch and remembered how large this song once loomed in my legend.

It would be difficult to name one track as the definitive Beatles track. I usually regard “Rain” as The Greatest Record Ever Made, but that doesn’t make it the definitive Beatles track. “Yesterday” is underrated in spite of its ubiquity, but it’s three Beatles shy of even being a Beatles record, let alone the definitive example. One could argue on behalf of the moptopped frenzy of “She Loves You” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” the mind-expansion of “A Day In The Life” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “I Am The Walrus,” the pathos of “Eleanor Rigby,” the elegance of “Penny Lane,” the sheer beauty of “We Can Work It Out,” the Utopian promise of “All You Need Is Love.”

But if it’s gotta be just one, it’s “Hey Jude.” “Hey Jude” is the definitive Beatles track. It captures one moment among many, just another snippet of time when The Beatles ruled the world. It captures it perfectly, the movement we need right there on our shoulders. It’s The Beatles still playing as a band, the fractures in that foundation still bonded together in a way only four specific people would ever truly understand. It’s The Beatles with nothing to prove, already reigning o’er their domain by divine right, the four kings of EMI sitting stately on the floor. It’s The Beatles proving it anyway, because they’re the goddamn Beatles.

So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin. You were made to go out and get her. Tonight, I will see Paul McCartney in concert for the first time. He’ll play some songs I know and love, representing a body of work I cherish above all others. He’ll sing “Yesterday.” He’ll command us to “Let It Be.” He’ll channel James Bond with “Live And Let Die,” a license to thrill. And a splendid time will be guaranteed for all.

And he will sing “Hey Jude.” Where once I dreaded that notion, I now embrace it and anticipate it as a highlight. And I will sing along, full voice, with over 30,000 of my fabbest friends. Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na. For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder. Better, better, better, AH!

Categories
Pop Sunday

The Weeklings / In Their Own Write

The Weeklings

In Their Own Write (JEM Records 2021)

http://www.jemrecordings.com/


Live albums are the next best thing to being there, especially when brought to you by a group as great as The Weeklings. Recorded on the stages of the Strand Theater in Lakewood, New Jersey and Daryl’s House in Pawling, New York, In Their Own Write truly does capture the widely adored combo in all their energetic and exciting splendor.

 Because The Weeklings are so adept at composing and playing heritage genres, you would swear on a stack of vinyl that their songs were platinum-plated hit singles from the golden age of pop rock. 
Bobbing with jingling guitars and cheery choruses, Little Tease, Don’t Know, Don’t Care and Little Elvis mimic the mop-topped Liverpool Class of 1963, where Morning, Noon And Night projects a stirring folk rock feel, accompanied by the tremor of a bluesy harmonica. 

Wrapped in rotating rhythms, surrounded by power chords  and drum drills snapping like rubber bands, In The Moment bears a potent Who presence, the chugging roll of 1,000 Miles Away rests firmly on Chuck Berry turf, and the melodic shimmer of Leave Me With My Pride would have been right at home on a Raspberries album.

No Weeklings’ gig is complete without greeting The Beatles. That said, In Their Own Write contains a pair of John Lennon and Paul McCartney covers, but rather than recycling the songs note for note, The Weeklings offer treatments that are far different from the original versions. Both The Word and Baby You’re A Rich Man are shaped of  a stately stance,  marked by weighty arrangements, a measured intensity and harmonica interludes, resulting in very unique and imaginative takes.

The Weeklings flex their stadium rock muscles to maximum momentum on the pulsing Running Away, which climaxes to a whirring jam, as well as the ultra-catchy 3, that bucks and bounces with stabbing hooks, elevated harmonies and a powerful and gritty lead vocal reminiscent of John Waite during his Babys days.

Intended to be experienced to at ear-splitting volume, In Their Own Right will have listeners clapping their hands, stomping their feet and singing along with these nifty tunes. The Weeklings have passed the audition. Here’s to a standing ovation and an encore! 

Categories
Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Thank you, Girl!

I put this piece together as a potential chapter for my (clearly imaginary) book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), but it is not included in the book’s current blueprint. That may change, but for now, it’s a blog piece instead.(And, considering the parts-is-parts manner in which Capitol Records cobbled together the American versions of The Beatles’ early LPs, it’s fitting that this chapter was itself stitched together from sections contained within two previous posts. Waste not, want not.)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!

THE BEATLES: Thank You, GirlWritten by John Lennon and Paul McCartneyProduced by George MartinOriginal release: Single (B-side of “From Me To You”), Parlophone Records [U.K.], 1963GREM! mix: From the album The Beatles’ Second Album, Capitol Records, 1964

Americans old enough to meet The Beatles‘ records in the ’60s (or even for a good while thereafter) were introduced to this forever fab sound via U.S. label Capitol Records‘ much-maligned and possibly Philistine muckin’ about with the original British tracks. The American LPs were shorter than their nearest U.K. counterparts, there were consequently more Beatles albums released here than in Her Majesty’s domain, and a lot of the tracks were tweaked and meddled with by Yankee hands indifferent to the intent of The Beatles and their producer, George Martin. One could imagine an American record producer chomping on a cigar and shrugging off criticism of such crass creative butchery: It’s not ART ferchrissakes, it’s a freakin’ pop record! Jeez, it’s for kids who don’t know any better; otherwise they’d listen to something good instead. But until they grow up outta this Beatle nonsense, WE know what the American kids wanna hear!

Philistines? Yeah Yeah Yeah. But I remain adamantly devoted to The Beatles’ American LPs. It’s how we heard The Beatles, how we fell in love with The Beatles. My Rubber Soul is the American Rubber Soul, the one that inspired Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds. My two all-time favorite albums are the U.S. patchworks Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI. I prefer Meet The Beatles to With The Beatles. I recognize the purity of the British originals. I can’t and won’t shake my affection for the records that made me.

For all the (sometimes deserved) crap hurled at Capitol Records’ somewhat ham-handed treatment of The Beatles’ records before Sgt. Pepper, “Thank You, Girl” is one shining example of Capitol taking a fab song and making it better. The original U.K. version of this track is fine. But the U.S. version, on Capitol’s money-grabbing hodgepodge LP The Beatles’ Second Album? Man, that track explodes with more energy than even virgin vinyl can carry, adding extra harmonica parts, absolutely superfluous (yet paradoxically essential) echo, and a full-volume, full-throttle atmosphere that could be seen as over-the-top if weren’t so exactly, unerringly right. There are days when this is The Greatest Record Ever Made. And there are certainly occasional evening commutes when this is the only song worth playing, over and over, making me glad when I was blue.

The American mix of “Thank You, Girl” is better than the U.K. version. It’s not even close. I remember the first time I heard the British “Thank You, Girl.” I was in high school, spring of ’77, and I bought an import reissue of The Beatles’ Hits EP, specifically to own a copy of “Thank You, Girl,” a track I knew and loved from my cousin Maryann’s copy of The Beatles’ Second Album. And I was so disappointed with the relatively lifeless mix on the EP. AND IT HAD LESS HARMONICA! Heresy! Sure, it turned out to be heresy in reverse, I guess, but no matter. I knew which version moved me. I still do. I chalked it off to experience, and snagged a beat-up copy of The Beatles’ Second Album at the flea market. And all I’ve gotta do is thank you, Capitol. Thank you, Capitol.

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Boppin'

He THOUGHT He Was An Artist!


When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an artist almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. I kept writing, and I got better at it; I didn’t really stick with the art to the extent that would have been necessary, so those skills never improved. 

This is a piece I did for art class in 1976, when I was 16, a junior in high school. Honestly, although that date felt accurate, my unreliable memory didn’t think I took an art class during my junior year. But I did, and this was from that class: 

The character of Agent 690: Man Of Action! was created by my friend Michael DeAngelo, intended as a one-off gag depicting me as an ass-kickin’ adventurer. Mike was a senior, and a much more accomplished artist than I was. We collaborated on comic strips for our high school literary magazine The NorthCaster. Those collaborations were strictly writer-and-artist, with me cobbling together the words and situations and Mike providing the pretty or gritty pictures necessary to tell the story. I had hoped we could take that collaboration to a higher level, working for DC Comics as the next Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, but the good folks at DC did not share my enthusiasm, and our Batman submission drew nothing more than a polite rejection slip.

Mike’s father Richard DeAngelo was my 11th-grade art teacher, and possibly my 10th-grade art teacher, too. Mr. DeAngelo was NOT–big letters, in italics, and what the hell, let’s put it in bold NOT–the high school art teacher referenced in my reminiscence The Jack Mystery Story, the teacher who told my parents he had to break me. No, no, no. Mr. DeAngelo may not have been terribly impressed with my prowess as an art student, but he never really discouraged me; that was my freshman art teacher, who I guess figured it was his job to crush the uppity art-makin’ aspirations previously nurtured by my eighth grade art teacher John DiGesare. Mr. DeAngelo did throw me out of his house once–I spent quite a bit of time there, visiting Mike and later on his younger sister Lissa–but that’s another story. 

(There’s also a story–perhaps apocryphal–that Mr. DeAngelo, as an active member of the local arts community, invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his house when Yoko’s This Is Not Here exhibit was at the Everson Museum in 1971, and that they accepted his invitation. But I digress.)

Anyway. I don’t remember whether or not I asked Mike if I could use Agent 690 for my own one-off art project, but use him I did. The result was silly and inconsequential, but I was 16, and I look back upon it fondly.

When He THOUGHT He Was An Artist! returns: before Agent 690, I did another one-off comic strip for Mr. DeAngelo’s class, a dark ‘n’ gritty superhero tale called Hero. My apparent lack of shame means it will post here soon.

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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 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Boppin'

LOST IN THE GROOVES: ELEVATOR by THE (Bay City) ROLLERS

We’ve spoken of the 2005 book Lost In The Groovesthe self-described “capricious guide to the music you missed” which contained two entries written by me, covering Subterranean Jungle by The Ramones and Tell America by Fools Face.  I also submitted a short piece on Elevator, a 1979 album by The Rollers, the act formerly known as The Bay City RollersLost In The Grooves editors Kim Cooper and David Smay took a pass on that one. I can’t find my original manuscript so I wrote a new one for you:

THE ROLLERS
Elevator (Arista, 1979)

By 1979, The Bay City Rollers were clearly on the ropes. The hits had stopped, and the group’s fan base of screaming young girls had chosen not to grow older with their formerly-cherished tartan-clad heartthrobs. A Saturday morning TV series had not kindled a new audience; on the contrary, it was a tacit surrender, an admission that The Bay City Rollers’ S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! night had ended. As even the TV show faded to black, lead singer Les McKeown couldn’t split fast enough.

But the remaining members of the group–Eric FaulknerStuart “Woody” Wood, and brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir–remained together, determined to become the solid, successful rock ‘n’ roll group they felt they could be. They recruited a new lead singer, Duncan Faure, previously of a South African group called Rabbitt, and attempted to distance themselves from uncool, unfashionable teen idolatry, ditching the tartan togs and shortening their name to just The Rollers. And so The Rollers sought fame fortune anew, with an album called Elevator.

Elevator was neither new wave rock ‘n’ roll nor FM rock fare, but it was a splendid work that could have been appreciated by fans of The Babys or The Records. Faure’s vocals were identifiably influenced by John Lennon, lending a palpably Beatley sheen and edge to a confident collection of rockin’ pop tunes. The Bay City Rollers had been an underrated pop group, capable of creating a few unforgettable power pop tracks amidst the prerequisite morass of balladry and goop expected of lads gracing the covers of teen magazines. But Elevator was the group’s most consistent and listenable album to date. Sure, the drug references were winkingly and obnoxiously self-conscious–C’mon, an LP cover depicting a giant red pill in an elevator going up? Really?–but the songs and performances were first-rate. The single, “Turn On Your Radio,” was catchy and engaging, and it combined with terrific album tracks like “Playing In A Rock And Roll Band,” “I Was Eleven,” and “Who’ll Be My Keeper” to convey a compelling tale of the yin and yang of the good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll road show. The title song rocked, and the aforementioned “Who’ll Be My Keeper” was one of the best tracks of the year. Seriously!

And yeah, Elevator was stuck in the basement level from the get-go. There were some attempts to promote it; Trouser Press ran an article on this supposedly more mature edition of The Rollers, and the group appeared on The Mike Douglas Show hyping its new direction. But honestly, The Rollers could have released a record that cured cancer, fed the hungry, and reunited The Beatles, and none of it would have made any difference; in 1979, the public was done with The Rollers–with or without a “Bay City” prefix–and that was that.

This line-up of The Rollers released two more albums–an Arista contract-breaker called Voxx (one of the best odds-n-sods contract-breakers I ever did hear) and an album called Ricochet–that are well worth seeking out and enjoying; neither has ever been issued in the U.S. Later on, there was a terrible synth record called Breakout; in between Voxx and Ricochet, there was a cassette-only release called Burning Rubber, which I’ve neither seen nor heard (though the Rollers film for which it serves as soundtrack is on YouTube, I think). The Rollers’ career ended in obscurity. ElevatorVoxx, and Ricochet deserved a better fate.

Categories
Pop Sunday

The Bablers / Psychadilly Circus

The Bablers

Psychadilly Circus (Big Stir Records 2021)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/psychadilly-circus


Formed in the late seventies as mere teenagers, The Bablers are best remembered for their 1980 debut album, What’s All About. The Finnish band carried on a few more years before going their separate ways. But music remained in their blood, and each member of band impressively claims at least one Finnish Grammy for their non-Bablers efforts. Yet the split proved to be only a mighty long sabbatical. Come 1998, the band cut a reunion album, Like The First Time, and are back in action once again with Psychadilly Circus, which reins in as another feather in their cap. 

Starring Arto Tamminen on vocals, guitar, bass, cello, drums and keyboards, Janne Haavisto on drums and vocals, Pekka Grohn on bass, keyboards and vocals, and Hannu Pikkarainen on guitar and vocals, The Bablers re-energize heritage pop rock values with care and clarity.

The title track of the album layers a chorus of trippy distorted vocals over a bounding rhythm, and the blindingly beautiful Love Is Everything proposes an explosive exposition of impassioned vocals, dashing piano arrangements and strong and steady drumming. I Hope It Wouldn’t Rain Tomorrow is assembled of chiming guitars and bracing breaks, while the casually-paced and pretty-patterned Love To Live is pricked with bluesy licks, and could easily pass as a prime John Lennon number.

 The apparition of Badfinger visits both the fetching power ballad All Because Of You and the breezy stride of Some Tears, where visions of The Kinks appear on Angry Young Man, which struts and prances to a foot-tapping dance hall beat.

Ringing and rolling guitar chords, combined with juicy melodies and radiant harmonies illuminate the perfectly poptastic When You Were Growing, and then there’s the waltzing tempo of the haunting and dramatic Queen Of Yesterday and the perenially punchy Walking On Sunny Beach that flickers with clicking hooks and glinted instrumentation.

The Bablers may be seasoned professionals, but Psychadilly Circus projects a solid sense of purity and wide-eyed enthusiasm. These folks know making music should be fun, and the songs on this album reflect such  intimate and earthy perspectives. Awash with top-line tunes, Psychadilly Circus is a bona fide keeper.  

Categories
Birthdays

Klaus Voorman

Born on this day in 1938, artist and musician, Klaus Voorman. Those familiar with the legend of The Beatles, will know that Voorman design the cover of The BeatlesRevolver Lp.

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Boppin'

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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Johnny Nash / I Can See Clearly Now

An infinite number of songs can each be THEgreatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is 

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!JOHNNY NASH: I Can See Clearly Now
Written by Johnny Nash
Produced by Johnny Nash
Single, Epic Records, 1972


The 1970s began with such promise. Not for everyone, sure, but I was in fourth grade when the calendar’s page turned to its first glimpse of 1970. I was nine, soon to be ten years old, and I had already spent a short lifetime as a misfit. I was the weird kid who sang to himself and others, who drew cartoons, who read too much, who didn’t play sports, and didn’t fit in. 
And then, suddenly, I did fit in. Fourth grade. Somehow, I belonged. That had never happened before. In with the in crowd! 

I even started digging baseball (a lot), and some of my friends shared my interest in superheroes. I was–could it be?!–popular. The euphoria was fleeting, and over before I even had a chance to realize it had happened.

Because of my reading skills, September 1970 found me in sixth grade at a new school, bypassing fifth grade with my peers back at the old elementary school. From fourth grade directly to sixth grade? Unnatural. That’s how I felt. That’s what I was. Unnatural. There would be no further quaint notion of ever again fitting in.
I still had my dreams. I still had my comic books. And I for damned sure still had my radio.
In eighth grade, I came as close as I ever would to rejoining the mainstream. Sixth grade was awful. Seventh grade was worse. But eighth grade…! Eighth grade was an opportunity. I could see it so clearly.


In the early to mid ’70s, I had no idea what reggae music was. None. I think I first encountered the word “reggae” in high school, either when John Lennon mentioned it to Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow TV show, or when a classmate and I were trying to figure out what the hell Stevie Wonder was singing about in “Boogie On, Reggae Woman.” I recall wondering if reggae might be the same as raga, which I’d seen referenced in (believe it or not) a Teen Titans comic book. It was not, but what did I know?


My rudimentary understanding of reggae didn’t begin at all until college (Peter Tosh singing with noted reggae star Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live, and name-checks of Toots and the Maytals in Playboy), and post-college on adventurous Buffalo radio stations that played DillingerYellowman, and Steel Pulse. I have no recollection of when or where I first heard Bob Marley and the Wailers, at least not directly. I knew Eric Clapton‘s cover of Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff,” and before that, I knew a cover of Marley’s “Stir It Up,” the latter courtesy of a singer named Johnny Nash.

Johnny Nash, of course, was already familiar to me because of his previous hit, “I Can See Clearly Now.” “I Can See Clearly Now” entered Billboard‘s Hot 100 in September of 1972, the same month I entered eighth grade. I would much, much later come to understand that the chunky and irresistible rhythm of “I Can See Clearly Now” was derived from reggae, albeit a very pop-friendly, mainstream American derivation of reggae. Not knowing any better–not knowing 

anything, really–I was fascinated, captured by its inviting sound, its comforting sway. I think I can make it now, the pain is gone. Maybe eighth grade could be okay, too.


Johnny Nash was not exactly a rookie singer in ’72. Nash had been making records since the ’50s, mostly with limited success. But he did have a smash hit with “Hold Me Tight” in 1968. “I Can See Clearly Now” was my introduction to his work.


I’ve often described the period of 1976 to 1977 as my musical crucible, a time when my discoveries of punk rock and FM radio and my increasing awareness of oldies forged the durable nature of my expanded rockin’ pop tastes. 1972 to ’73 was just as important. With my radio by my side, I thought maybe–maybe–I could make it now. Just like the song said.

I started trying to write. I kept on trying to draw, and spent a lot of time in art class working on a superhero comic strip I called Jack Mystery. I started a comic book club at school. I had some friends; I still felt picked on, bullied, but there were moments of light. I even talked to girls. Sometimes. 


(I also got my ass kicked because I had a smart mouth, and I often refused to back down from a fight, even though I had no chance of winning it. It took me decades to understand how much I contributed to my own malaise. I guess I couldn’t see as clearly as I thought I could.)


The radio was my truest friend. The radio played pop music both old and new, The Beatles and The RaspberriesChuck Berry and SladeStealers WheelThe O’JaysThe HolliesThe KinksElton JohnThe TemptationsSweet.

Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” seemed the song most emblematic of my hopes, my cautious optimism, my musical equivalent of an eye on the prize. The prize was elusive; I could indeed see all obstacles in my way, and all of the bad feelings didn’t disappear, in spite of the song’s promise. But I still believed in its blue skies. A bright sunshiny day? Why the hell not? Begone, dark clouds; I’m looking straight ahead.


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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:

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Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)will contain 165 essays about 165 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).