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 GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: We Used To Be Friends

This expansion of an earlier, unrelated piece was prepared for my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). It remains in two of the book’s six current potential drafts.

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!
THE DANDY WARHOLS: We Used To Be Friends

Written by Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Grant Nicholas, and Bjorn Thorsrud

Produced by Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Nick Rhodes

Single from the album Welcome To The Monkey House, Capitol Records, 2003

A long time ago
We used to be friends
But I haven’t thought of you lately at all

My awareness of the Dandy Warhols has always been peripheral at best. I have to admit my main interest in the group’s work comes through “We Used To Be Friends,” a Dandy Warhols track used as the theme song for the television series Veronica Mars.

I came to Veronica Mars years after its network TV run, binge-watching it obsessively on-line. It became one of my all-time favorite shows, its potent stew of teen alienation, betrayal, and pulp noir annexing my rapt attention and devotion. And its theme song cast me back to memories of bonds severed, trusts discarded, bridges burned, a long time ago.

Many years ago, I had a friend whom I’ll refer to here as Julie. If you’ve known me for a very long time, and you think you know who Julie really is, you’re probably wrong, unless you happen to be right. Julie’s true identity isn’t the point. 

Julie was one of my best friends. We had similar tastes in music, and generally had a good time around each other, times of camaraderie and youthful exuberance. Julie could be moody at times, subject to the familiar, warring emotions of depression and delight. In spite of that, I don’t recall Julie and I ever really having an argument or a fight, none that my consciousness can call forth all these decades later.

Until we did have a fight. And we came to a definite parting of the ways.

It happens, even among friends, even among best friends. Look at Lennon and McCartney. Hell, look at Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. There was regret on both sides, I think, but there was no chance of reconciliation. We said goodbye. There may have been tears–there were tears–and we have not seen each other since. Decades have passed. We will likely never see each other again, and likely never have any further communication. I don’t wish to discuss the details. Like the song says: we used to be friends, a long time ago.

We did speak one time after that. For the sake of closure, I called Julie on the phone one night. Julie had been drinking, and Julie was surprised to hear from me. It was a pleasant call nonetheless, or at least it was as pleasant as a farewell phone call can be. Closure. One side can’t undo, one side can’t forgive, and neither side can forget. We will never speak again. At this point, I don’t want to anymore.

I remember better times. I wrote this passage a long time ago, well before I’d heard or heard of the Dandy Warhols, inspired by my memories of Julie, and of a few other close friends who used to be integral parts of my life; I lost all of them along the way. It happens. It hurts, but it happens. These words I wrote linger in my memory: 

Sometimes in my dreams, we still talk to each other
Although in real life I know we’re done with one another
I don’t think I’d want you to return
I’d just feel better if I could learn
What became of you
Because I remember you

Maybe we’re not meant to get over the things that still haunt us, decades after it was too late to do anything about them. We bleed, we mend, we move on; the scar lingers. Guilt lingers. Regret lingers. But sometimes the glow of better times can linger, too.

Godspeed, Julie. I don’t think I’d want you to return. I wish you well, wherever you are. But I haven’t thought of you lately at all. That line’s a lie. One thing remains true, and the Dandy Warhols wrote a song about their version of it. Bring it on now sugar. Just remember me when. A long time ago, we used to be…

…you know.

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: They Don’t Know

From my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). 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!

TRACEY ULLMAN: They Don’t Know

Written by Kirsty MacColl

Produced by Peter Collins

Single, MCA Records, 1983

I moved from Brockport to Buffalo in August of 1982. The two years spent in Brockport after graduation had been…well, they certainly had been. Maybe I’ll write about all of that some day. I kept on listening to the radio, AM and FM. At the beginning of ’83, a new job required my own set of wheels, so my Dad arranged for me to get the 1969 Chevy Impala that had previously belonged to my grandfather. My first car. My first opportunity to drive with the radio on. Like Jonathan Richman: I got the AM radio on!

In the Impala, I was sometimes able to pick up a great AM hit station out of Toronto. More often, the Impala’s AM dial was locked on 14 Rock, a former Christian station that had recently converted to a pop format. It was my last gasp of trying to listen to AM Top 40, and it had its moments. 

In late ’83, Tracey Ullman‘s “They Don’t Know” was one of the finer moments. I was not familiar with Kirsty MacColl‘s original British single, nor could I even figure out initially who was responsible for this splendid, irresistible confection emanating from my car’s speakers; note to DJs then and now: if you play it, SAY IT! Jeez, how can radio do its job of selling records if we don’t know the names of the records playing?

In that flashpoint of mystery, when the singer was still an anonymous discovery that would not reveal her secret identity, “They Don’t Know” filled my Impala as no other song could. It was the sound of the ’60s girl groups, of course, but its tacit nostalgia didn’t overwhelm its sense of immediacy, its importance as an AM Top 40 hit RIGHT NOW, or at least the “right now” of that very moment in 1983. Hearing it at home, when I could close my eyes and let the song play in my waking dreams (an approach best avoided when one is driving), it felt like 1965 again. And this time, I was old enough to appreciate it. It was 1983. Anything could happen in 1983. 

Right?

I eventually ID’d the singer and the song. Tracey Ullman became far better known as an actress and comic performer, but she made her mark in music, too. She’s considered a one-hit wonder in America, but her British hit cover of Irma Thomas‘s “Breakaway” shoulda been a smash on these shores as well. Wish I coulda heard that on the radio, too.

I did hear “They Don’t Know.” I didn’t hear it often enough to suit me, but I heard it, and it mattered. Its cute MTV video, with the comic emphasis and the cameo by Paul McCartney, didn’t necessarily enhance the song, but it didn’t detract from it, either. As Ullman’s career progressed and her profile grew grander and more widespread, I wished her well from my humble sidelines, rooting for her as if she’d been an old friend. As I guess she had been, in a way. She was a voice on the radio. What better friend could one ask for?

(And if Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” really was my final big AM Top 40 song, then I went out in style. Radio up. Windows down. Let’s hit the road and drive.)

By Carl Cafarelli

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

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.

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Somethin’ Else

This chapter from my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) previously appeared in different form as part of a longer post. This is how it will appear in the book (IF it’s included in the book’s final draft).

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

EDDIE COCHRAN: Somethin’ Else

Written by Sharon Sheeley and Bob Cochran

Produced by Eddie Cochran

Single, Liberty Records, 1959

Power pop’s point of origin remains a point of contention for many of its fans. Some insist that power pop was a reaction against prevailing musical trends in the ’70s, and therefore nothing recorded before the Beatles‘ 1970 break-up can be called power pop. I don’t agree with that at all. Power pop is a genre, a sound; claiming that sound can’t exist prior to a specific date reduces it to nostalgia, some kind of retro move, and I reject that notion. Power pop existed in the ’60s. Pete Townshend coined the phrase around 1967, and the Who‘s early records embody the power pop ideal. The KinksThe CreationThe Nazz. I think the label also applies to some of the Beatles’ singles, and I pinpoint “Please Please Me” as power pop’s Ground Zero. 

While I still don’t think that the great rockin’ pop stuff from Buddy HollyPhil Spector, or the Beach Boys quite qualifies as power pop–it all strolls amiably, but doesn’t LEAN FORWARD with the urgency I expect from power pop–it’s difficult to dismiss the power pop bona fides of Eddie Cochran. Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” is really close, its stroll balanced by legit power chords and seething teen frustration. (The Who did a fantastic cover of “Summertime Blues” on the Live At Leeds album, and Blue Cheer bludgeoned it into a distinctive proto-metal hit single, but I don’t think either of them topped our Eddie.) The party anthem “C’mon Everybody” is maybe a further half-step removed, but “Nervous Breakdown” and especially “Somethin’ Else” provide concrete evidence of pre-Beatles power pop.

Leaning forward as forward can be, “Somethin’ Else” is simultaneously earnest and horny. Written by Cochran’s girlfriend Sharon Sheeley and his brother Bob Cochran, the song combines joy and frustration seamlessly and winningly, acknowledging that it’s a bummer when you can’t afford a cool car, but concluding (as someone once wrote) that the wheels don’t really matter as long as you get the girl. She’s sure fine-lookin’, man. WOW! She’s somethin’ else! 

No less an avatar of rebellion than Sid Vicious did a surprisingly faithful cover of “Somethin’ Else,” released under the Sex Pistols‘ aegis but recorded after the group had already taken its final holiday in the sun. Sid’s version should have been awful, but it was actually pretty damned good. And it was either his version or a live performance by the Flashcubes that introduced me to the song. 

But Eddie, man. Eddie. He was somethin’ else indeed.

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: Uncle John’s Band

This appeared previously here at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) in October of 2018. It has been slightly adjusted to reflect how it will appear in my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1).

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

THE GRATEFUL DEAD: Uncle John’s Band

Written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter

Produced by Bob Matthews. Betty Cantor, and Grateful Dead

From the album Workingman’s Dead, Warner Brothers Records, 1970


It’s the same story the crow told me
It’s the only one he knows
Like the summer sun you come
And like the wind you go
Ain’t no time to hate
Barely time to wait
Oh, but what I want to know is
Where does the time go?

OCTOBER 21, 2018
We try to hold on. We try to cling to things we cherish. We can’t hold on. We shouldn’t. We can’t.

When I was a teenaged college student matriculatin’ my way through the late ’70s, I actively loathed the Grateful Dead. To this power-poppin’ punk rocker, the Dead’s music, image, and interminably jamming vibe were anathema. Gimme the Ramones. Gimme the Sex Pistolsthe Buzzcocksthe Flashcubes. Gimme British Invasion. Gimme the Monkees. Gimme something short ‘n’ sharp, fast ‘n’ catchy, and play it loud. Gimme some truth. The Grateful Dead? No. Thanks anyway, but no.


Nonetheless, somewhere in this time frame, I heard the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.” Maybe not for the first time–it was, after all, released way back in 1970, the lead-off track on the Workingman’s Dead album, and some radio station somewhere must have played it within my sovereign air space–but maybe for the first time that mattered. I still found time to hate the Grateful Dead. I made an exception for “Uncle John’s Band.”

Why? There was something…inviting about the track. I dunno. Something comforting, something pretty, something intrinsically appealing on a deeper level. Something that mattered. By the early ’80s, I quipped that “Uncle John’s Band” was a great track, and that I just wished it was by the Hollies instead of the Dead. I think I said the same thing about Van Halen‘s “Dance The Night Away” and “Lorelei” by Styx, in each case ripping off something I’d once read in Phonograph Record Magazine about “Cherry Baby” by Starz. Collectively, these were the beginnings of my eventual conviction that even a band you despise might be capable of putting out one track you adore.

I grew up. I’m sure I have that in writing somewhere. I graduated from college in 1980, got married in 1984, and became father to a newborn baby girl in 1995. Now, that baby girl is herself a college graduate, herself deep into the process of growing up. And today, she’s moving out of our house. She’ll be close by–not even ten minutes away–and she’ll still carpool to work with her mother during the week. I’m sure I’ll see her often. It’s a good thing, a great thing. A necessary thing. Our pride in our daughter far outshines the fragile nature of our emotions. It is a moment to celebrate. My eyes sting just the same. Where does the time go?

She and her boyfriend are moving into the house where I lived from 1960 until 1980, birth to graduation. My mother’s house. Mom doesn’t live there anymore. Dad passed away in 2012, and my sister (who lives in England) bought the house to keep it in the family as the inevitable marched its odious way in our direction. The inevitable happened faster than anticipated, as my mother fell at home in December of 2017. It soon became apparent that she could no longer live on her own, and she relocated permanently to a nursing home facility by the end of 2017. Ain’t no time to hate. Barely time to wait.

I see Mom every day after work. I check in, I chat, I see if there’s anything she needs, anything I can do for her. I get her audio books, even though her hearing is diminished. I make sure her TV is working, even though she’s now legally blind. I get her to the few doctor’s appointments that aren’t handled on the premises. I check her mail. I handle her accounts. I make sure she’s adequately stocked with whatever is appropriate to keep her as comfortable and content as we can. And then I go home for supper. I am Sisyphus. And like the summer sun I come, and like the wind I go.

I started to develop a little bit of appreciation for the Grateful Dead in the ’80s. Perhaps to my horror, I discovered that I loved their 1987 MTV hit “Touch Of Grey,” and I felt compelled to purchase both their then-current LP In The Dark and the greatest-hits set Skeletons In The Closet. The ’67 psychedelic rocker “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” became another fave rave, much later joined by another debut album track called “Cream Puff War,” plus “Can’t Come Down,” an earlier track dating from when the Dead were billed as the Warlocks. Cool stuff, all of this.

“Uncle John’s Band” remained the kingpin. Such a mystically comforting track, even as we feel time slipping away, the sands within its hourglass dropping at a rate too rapid to comprehend. Come hear Uncle John’s band playing to the tide/Come with me or go alone, he’s come to take his children home. Magnificent sadness, magnificent glory. In spite of the obvious fact that it really doesn’t sound anything like the Kinks, it is somehow a peer to the peerless music of my favorite Kinks album, The Village Green Preservation Society. At 18 or 19, I never envisioned myself speaking glowingly of the Grateful Dead alongside the Kinks. At 18 or 19, I never envisioned the melancholy ache of the question: Where does the time go?
Tomorrow, I’m going to help my daughter install some smoke detectors in her new abode. I’ll see my Mom tonight, like every night. I’ll eat supper with my wife in a house that will seem emptier than it did just a moment ago. I will hold her close. We first met forty years ago this weekend. My roommate at the time was into the Grateful Dead, and he vowed to make a Deadhead out of me. It never happened, except in the ways that it did. 

Well the first days are the hardest days. Life has never looked like Easy Street. There has always been danger at our door. Another singing group tried to tell us that all we’d need was love. We also need to be strong. We need to hold on. Our walls are built of cannonballs. And we’ve got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide. We’re grateful. We ain’t dead yet.

POSTSCRIPT: Mom left us on December 9th, 2021. Time is the enemy. Yet it’s an enemy we’re grateful to have for as long as we have it.

“Uncle John’s Band” written by Jerome J. Garcia and Robert Hunter

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

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: This Ain’t The Summer Of Love

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!

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: This Ain’t The Summer Of Love

Written by Albert Bouchard, Murray Krugman, and Don Waller

Produced by Sandy Pearlman, Murray Krugman, and David Lucas

From the album Agents Of Fortune, Columbia Recoirds, 1976

I’ve written many times about my friend Tom, who killed himself in 1979. The other day, the random thought occurred to me that, if he had lived, Tom and I probably would have parted company somewhere along the line. It was an unsettling, sobering thought. As much as we had been friends, our paths were already starting to diverge when he carried out that final act. He is frozen at a point in time when we were friends. It’s been more than forty years, and the memory still aches. Losing a friend is difficult. Losing a friend to suicide leaves a wound that never quite goes away. That mental scar inevitably dominates my recollection of a former friend. 

There are specific songs that always remind me of Tom, songs I first heard when Tom played them. Both David Bowie‘s “All The Madmen” and the Runaways‘ cover of the Velvet Underground‘s “Rock And Roll” are superglued to Tom’s memory. And that is likewise true of “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love,” a track from Blue Öyster Cult‘s 1976 album Agents Of Fortune. I only knew the band from radio play of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” but Tom had the LP, and played it for me. Tom was particularly fond of “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love,” and his enthusiasm was infectious. 

BÖC’s best-known tracks are “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and (later on) “Burnin’ For You,” with maybe an honorable mention for “Godzilla.” My favorite remains “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love,” a lean and efficient LP track from Agents Of Fortune(the album that gave us “Don’t Fear The Reaper”). I learned of the song through my doomed high school pal Tom, prompting me to purchase my own battered, used copy of the album in time for college. During my freshman year, Side One of Agents Of Fortune was as much a go-to slab of vinyl as my Sex Pistols and Monkees records, and “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love” in particular fit well alongside my steady diet of RamonesTelevisionJam, and Dave Clark Five.
For me, 1979 was the summer of love. I had met Brenda the preceding fall, and we were getting increasingly serious about committing our hearts to each other. She was with me the night I saw Tom for the last time, and she was with me the next morning when a phone call delivered the news of his death. She tried to comfort as best she could. It was a summer of love, no matter what a song said. It was also a summer marked by the start of a lingering sadness that’s not ever going to go away. Friendships end. That’s the nature of all things in this physical world. 

We make our way as best we can. Some are unable to make their way. The day a good friend of mine killed himself in 1979 was one of the worst days of my life, until an even worse day took its place decades later. The emotional scar never heals. I look back, and wish I could have helped.

If you find yourself in something similar to my old friend’s shoes, help is available. If you know someone else going through whatever it was my friend went through, please try to be a guide toward that helping hand, that helping voice, the bedrock of support your friend needs. Indeed, the support we all need. Your friend is not alone. You are not alone. 

We are not alone.

So this ain’t the summer of love. Who says it can’t be? Don’t fear the reaper. And don’t be afraid to fight back.

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

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Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Rockaway Beach (On The Beach)

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

This entry originally appeared as part of a larger post, and is not currently intended for my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1).

GENERAL JOHNSON AND JOEY RAMONE: Rockaway Beach (On The Beach)

Written by Ramones and General Johnson

Produced by Ben Wolff and Andy Dean

Single, Forward Records, 1994

I first heard about this beach-music team-up of Joey Ramone and former Chairmen of the Board singer General Johnson when Joey Ramone called to tell me about in 1994. Yes, I am cooler than you are. (I should probably let that illusion stand in place, but Joey’s call to me was just a follow-up to a Goldmine interview we’d done within the previous week, as he wanted to make sure I was aware of a number of projects he was doing outside the Ramones‘ aegis. He never called again. My claim to being cooler than you are is, y’know, suspect at best.)

But: back to the record! It’s an ongoing testimony to the greatness of Ramones songs that they can thrive in different interpretations. The Swedish girl-pop group Shebang did a girl-pop bubblegum version of “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.” Ronnie Spector covered “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” and “She Talks To Rainbows.” KISS did “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” with more kitchen-sink Phil Spector than the Spector-produced original. The Nutley Brass and the Ramonetures did entire albums of Ramones covers, in the respective styles of elevator music and surf instrumentals. It all worked. These Blitzkrieg bops remain more versatile and universal than anyone realized at the time.

Remaking the power-pop bubblepunk of “Rockaway Beach” as a soulful slow-groove Carolina beach shag would seem a preposterous notion…until you hear it. Whoa! Grab a blanket, grab your honey, and snuggle by the fire as the sun descends. It’s not hard, not far to reach. Hitch a ride, baby.

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

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Rescue Me

This entry is not currently part of the plan for my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1).

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

FONTELLA BASS: Rescue Me

Written by Carl Smith and Raynard Miner [possibly with Fontella Bass]

Produced by Billy Davis, Carl Smith, and Raynard Miner

Single, Chess Records, 1965

That most excellent year of 1965 rewarded singer Fontella Bass with a huge pop smash called “Rescue Me.” It’s a true classic, but believe it or not, I once read of someone shrugging it off as a mere attempt to imitate the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. That seems a little harsh, but it’s also kind of impressive. I mean, Aretha didn’t achieve any notable success until 1967, which would make Fontella’s choice to imitate Aretha remarkably prescient. Gotta jump on these things early, I guess.

Seriously, no one should dismiss Fontella Bass. She was a one-hit wonder, sure, but there were many, many great acts that created a wealth of superlative material, but only found real commercial success with one, maybe two songs. Ask the Knickerbockers, or the Bobby Fuller Four. Hell, ask Sammy Ambrose, who didn’t even get one frickin’ hit record to call his own. 

Fontella Bass also deserved at least had one more hit. 1966’s “I Surrender” is nearly the equal of “Rescue Me” without really sounding anything like it. Nor does it sound like Aretha, for that matter. 

It sounds like a hit.

But it wasn’t. Nonetheless, presaging Aretha is itself a pretty neat accomplishment. If Fontella Bass had but one incredible hit that everyone knows, we know there were more obscure worthies that would have enriched us if we’d heard them. On the pop charts, though, rescue proved fleeting for Fontella Bass.

You can support 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: The Batman Theme

This chapter from my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) includes bits from a few other previous posts, all remixed into its own unique piece. It was distributed privately to this blog’s paid patrons on September 1, 2020. This is its first public appearance. You can become a supporter of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) for just $2 a month: Fund me, baby!

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!

NELSON RIDDLE: The Batman Theme

Written by Neal Hefti
From the 20th Century Fox TV series Batman, 1966
I grew up in a time when TV theme songs routinely entered the public consciousness. The catchy ditties that opened shows like Gilligan’s IslandF TroopThe Beverly HillbilliesThe Patty Duke Show, and Car 54, Where Are You? weren’t hit records in the usual sense, but within our shared pop culture they were nonetheless as big as any 45 spinning on the radio. 

Many theme songs were sufficiently hook-laden to prompt release as a single, sometimes by the original artist and sometimes in cover versions, and sometimes to chart success. The Cowsills‘ swell cover of “Love American Style” wasn’t a hit, but it should have been, and it remains a staple of their live act. The VenturesPerry ComoHenry Mancini, and Johnny Rivers all made the Top 40 with their respective renditions of themes from Hawaii Five-0Here Come The BridesPeter Gunn, and Secret Agent Man. Television tunes continued to maintain a radio presence throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In June of 1995, The Rembrandts‘ “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme from the NBC sitcom Friends, was the # 1 song on radio the week my daughter was born. I thought that was appropriate, and pretty cool.

The campy 1966 Batman TV series had a seismic effect on me when I was six. No other television program could ever equal Batman‘s lasting impact on impressionable li’l me, creating a life-long interest in comic books and superheroes in general, and in the Caped Crusader specifically. I didn’t understand that the show kinda poked fun at the character, because actor Adam West played the title role straight, and to perfection. As West said decades later in a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory: “I never had to say ‘I’M BATMAN!’ When I showed up, people knew who the hell I was.”

Batman was the most flamboyantly POP! TV show to ever grace the home screen, more so than The Monkees or Laugh-In, more even than essential jukebox shows like Shindig!  Each episode was an explosion of color and attitude, of purposely hammy acting accompanied by on-screen BIFFs, BANGs, and POWs.

But it wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll show, at least not musically. Its musical direction was charted by bandleader Nelson Riddle, its simple theme song written by Neal Hefti, both of whom were traditional swing/jazz guys who normally eschewed rock. Paul Revere and the Raiders and Lesley Gore appeared as guests on the show, but it was always clear that Batman‘s producers considered themselves above such primitive noise.

(To illustrate this point that Batman‘s higher-ups did not love rock ‘n’ roll, consider the two-part episode guest-starring British pop duo Chad and Jeremy. When Catwoman literally steals Chad and Jeremy’s voices, a character played by Steve Allen [himself a vocal critic of rock ‘n’ roll] quips that maybe that loss isn’t such a bad thing. And we’re talking about agreeably goofy ‘n’ grinning Chad and Jeremy, who were wonderful but hardly hide-your-daughters ruffians on the authority-threatening scale of, say, The Rolling Stones.)

All of this just makes “The Batman Theme” all the more remarkable. It is rock ‘n’ roll; it’s rock ‘n’ roll written and performed by jazz guys who don’t care if you know they’re just slumming, but it rocks anyway. It transcends its secret origin. 

The Who covered it. The Jam covered it. The Kinks included it in their live set. George Harrison appropriated it for The Beatles‘ “Taxman” (which itself inspired The Bangles‘ “I’m In Line” and The Jam’s “Start!”), and Prince incorporated it into his 1989 Batman soundtrack single “Batdance.” The Marketts had a hit with it. Hefti recorded his own version, and it also charted. 

This entry represents the only spot in this book that’s not occupied by an actual record (although the track was finally given an official release on the CD version of the soundtrack to the 1966 Batman movie). The definitive version will always be the compact rumble performed by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra during the show’s opening credits, heard every Wednesday and Thursday night at 7:30, 6:30 Central on ABC. No subsequent recording has ever matched the specific feel, the unique sway of a caped-crusading call-to-arms accompanied by deadly-earnest chick vocals, rolling percussion, and the on-screen cartoon images of Batman and Robin boppin’ the bad guys at the start of another exciting episode. Riddle recorded a full-length version for the show’s official soundtrack LP, but even that fails to duplicate the simple magic of the short little TV version. 

Years ago, when I auditioned for a game show, prospective contestants were expected to dazzle and impress a small live audience. I did some schtick, got some laughs, and then said that I wanted to close with a rendition of  “The Batman Theme,” but couldn’t remember all the words. “Can anyone help me out?,” I asked. The response was tentative at first, then more confident, and soon everyone in the audience was singing with me: Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na BATMAN!
I whooped my approval. I didn’t succeed in getting on the game show, but I still felt that justice had triumphed. And right now, in your head, I bet you’re singing along with it, too. Thank you, citizen. And thank you, Caped Crusader.

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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
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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). My weekly Greatest Record Ever Made! video rants can be seen in my GREM! YouTube playlist. And I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: The Green Hornet Theme

This short piece was originally written as an entr’acte at the middle of my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). I’ve decided that it doesn’t quite fit, so it’s moved from book to blog in one superheroic leap.

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!

AL HIRT: “The Green Hornet Theme”

My love of superheroes rivals my affection for pop music, and it goes back nearly as far. TV reruns of The Adventures Of SupermanFlash Gordon, and Popeye and Astro Boy cartoons instilled a deep and abiding interest in the larger-than-life adventures of stalwart crusaders who protected the good from the malevolent machinations of evil. When the campy Batman TV series hit the screen in early ’66, that interest in superheroes shifted into supersonic overdrive. I remain a fan to this day. I will not be growing out of it any time soon.

The producers of the Batman show tried to duplicate its success with an adaptation of the old radio hero The Green Hornet; in contrast to the heightened sense of absurdity that made Batman such a hit, The Green Hornet was played as a relatively straight crime drama that happened to feature masked heroes with outlandish weapons. Sounds good to me! Alas, the public did not agree. and The Green Hornet‘s war on crime ceased fire after a single failed season.

I still like it. As The Green Hornet, actor Van Williams was steadfast without seeming corny, and future pop culture legend Bruce Lee was riveting as the Hornet’s high-flying enforcer Kato. Taking a cue from the earlier success of Peter GunnThe Green Hornet‘s jazzy score was as much a star as its heroes, propelling the action and making it all seem so, so cool. Al Hirt’s over-the-top performance of the show’s title theme–a busy, bouncing workout of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee”–rocked as hard as any TV show theme has ever rocked.

As a rabid devotee of both music and comic books, I’ve found a number of superhero-related tunes that thrill my inner six-year-old. Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme.” John William’s main title them from the 1978 Superman film. “Nobody Loves The Hulk,” an obscure ’60s garage number by a forgotten group called The Traits. None of ’em can surpass the conviction and authority of Al Hirt’s “Green Hornet Theme.” Another challenge for The Green Hornet? Nope. Kato’s gonna kick the bad guys’ asses, like he always does. Just turn the music up. Justice will triumph yet again.


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