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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the three THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, March 3, 2017

THE EVERLASTING FIRST, Part 11b: My First Exposures To Some Singers And Superheroes

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.

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TODAY'S LETTER IS K

THE KINKS!



I'm gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that AM radio Top 40 playlists in the early '70s didn't generally include an awful lot of songs about transvestites, at least not in regular rotation. There was Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" in 1972, of course, but beyond that? I can only think of one other example, from a couple of years before Reed's Holly came up from F-L-A. In 1970, she spelled her name L-O-L-A, Lola.

Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls
It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world 
Except for Lola
Lo lo lo lo Lola

Well I left home just the week before
And I'd never ever kissed  a woman before
Lola smiled and took me by the hand
And said, "Little boy, I'm gonna make you a man"

Now I'm not the world's most masculine man
But I know what I am
And I'm glad I'm a man
And so is Lola

The ambiguity is deliberate; in its context, the phrase "so is Lola" allows the possibility that Lola isn't necessarily a male in female guise, but perhaps is a woman, and she's glad that the singer's a man. No one interprets the song's meaning in that way. The clear consensus is that Lola's a dude.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I was oblivious to all of this. I was just a clueless li'l adolescent during Nixon's first term, and "Lola" was a great song I heard on the radio. Its distinctive guitar opening, its lyrical imagery of a Soho nightclub where the champagne tastes just like cherry cola, and its irresistible singalong chorus made my radio yearn for greater volume to accommodate the song's pop power. And it was the first time I remember hearing The Kinks.



In retrospect, it seems odd that I had no awareness of The Kinks prior to "Lola." Yeah, I was just an elementary school kid in the '60s, but I sure knew The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, and at least one song ("Get Off Of My Cloud") by The Rolling Stones. And I must have heard The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," since I recall using some variation of a Kinks riff as the melody for a song I made up about Baron Daemon, Syracuse's popular vampire TV personality. (Though it's just as likely I nicked that riff from "Treat Her Right" by Roy Head.)





But I learned, all in due time. By the time I was in high school, I began to read mentions of The Kinks in rock histories, and I was intrigued. I became a Kinks fan in my senior year, hooked by the oldies, by hearing "No More Looking Back" (from the Schoolboys In Disgrace album) on Utica's WOUR-FM, by the Sleepwalker album, by my friend Linda McLaren bringing her "Lola" 45 to school so I could play it over 'n' over, and by seeing The Kinks on Saturday Night Live. The Kinks' first SNL appearance in 1977 never gets mentioned in anyone's list of all-time great Rock On TV moments, but I tell ya: seeing Laraine Newman excitedly introduce the band (Ladies and gentlemen, the Saturday Night show is proud to present THE KINKS!!) as if she were on Shindig! in 1965, followed by a half-second dramatic pause that lasted an eternity, and then the piledriving BA-DA-DA-DA-DAAA! of "You Really Got Me"--well, it's one of my all-time top Rock On TV moments.

The Kinks on Saturday Night, 1977

Within a few days after The Kinks' SNL spot, I was speaking on the phone with my friend Lissa DeAngelo. As grizzled, mature high school students, we now understood the meaning of "Lola"'s lyrics, and Lissa wondered if that meant Kinks leader Ray Davies was gay. I shrugged--yes, one can shrug over the phone--and said basically, I dunno, don't think so, but whatever. The previous year, a guy in the Class of '76 had brought a male companion to the Senior Ball; attitudes were changing--slowly, incrementally, at a glacier's breakneck pace, but changing nonetheless, and changing for the better. There was still a long way to go, and there's still a long way yet to go. The Kinks don't deserve much credit for that. But "Lola" was undeniably a factor in my own evolving realization that gay rights were human rights. Years before Seinfeld made it a punch line, "Lola" demonstrated that yeah, there wasn't anything wrong with that.

Also in '77, Lissa accompanied me to a Rock Of The '60s show at Syracuse University. (Not a date! She made that clear.) The program included video clips of The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Hollies, The Yardbirds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Buffalo Springfield, et al., and concluded with The Beatles' 1966 Budokan concert. It was an amazing opportunity to see these clips gathered together, and to expand our appreciation of mid-'60s rock 'n' roll. About a year later, in May of 1978, I got to see The Kinks in concert for the first time; that will probably be the subject of a future edition of my Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery series, but for now, suffice it to say that it was magic. I eventually saw The Kinks on two more occasions, but the first time was the best time.



I've written previously about my love of The Kinks, and it seems appropriate to conclude this entry in The Everlasting First by reprising what I've already said about the pride of Muswell Hill. ("Reprise?" "The Kinks?" There's a painful joke in there somewhere.) Here 'tis:

Of my five all-time favorite groups, I have the most difficulty articulating precisely why I am such a fan of The Kinks. The other four are easy: I fell hard for The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania, I was captivated by the weekly televised escapades of The Monkees, and hearing The Ramones' records and seeing The Flashcubes live combined to liberate me from my '70s suburban teenage doldrums. But The Kinks...why The Kinks? Why not The Rolling Stones, or Paul Revere & the Raiders, or KISS, or Badfinger, or The Beach Boys, or any of dozens of other worthy acts that I also love, but which aren't in my pantheon of the very Toppermost of the Poppermost? I guess I love The Kinks...well, because they're The Kinks.

Because they're The Kinks: the most quintessentially British of British Invasion groups. When I was a teenager, my knowledge of The Kinks was limited to their 1970 hit single "Lola," and to my sister's copy of a single album, The Live Kinks (from which I only ever listened to their version of "The Batman Theme"). The Kinks didn't really appear on my radar until Christmas of 1976, when my burgeoning interest in all things British Invasion manifested in a double-LP British Invasion compilation under the tree. Among the many gems on that set was "All Day And All Of The Night" by The Kinks, an eruption of LOUD rock 'n' roll energy that made me wanna jump up and down and sideways. This from the band that did "Lola?" Really? Some words of wisdom from my sister led me to "You Really Got Me," which was even more basic and primal than "All Day And All Of The Night." Listening to an oldies show on local radio, hearing a wonderful song about being so tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you, prompted me to whisper to myself, "Is this...The Kinks?" before the DJ confirmed that it was. BAM! Tipping point.  "Lola." "All Day And All Of The Night." "You Really Got Me." "Tired Of Waiting For You." I was now a Kinks fan. I tried to learn more about them, to hear more of their old stuff, to check out their new stuff. I bought a used copy of the Kinks-Size LP for fifty cents from Mike's Sound Center in North Syracuse; I bought the 2-record set The Kink Kronikles, really just to get "Lola," but found myself ushered into an undiscovered world of The Kinks after those early hits and leading up to "Lola." I sought out more, and marveled that it did indeed seem like exploring an undiscovered world.

See, few of my friends knew about The Kinks. I hooked a couple of 'em, but it was almost like The Kinks were this secret group that only a privileged few were allowed to discover. And it was a privilege, even after the fact, to discover The Kinks in all their myriad glory, to thrill to the savagery of "You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All Of The Night," to ache with the beauty of "Waterloo Sunset," to swoon with the pastoral perfection of the entire Village Green Preservation Society album, to chant in affirmation with "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion," to mourn with "Death Of A Clown," to laze on a "Sunny Afternoon." It was music worth discovering, worth the effort of seeking out and becoming immersed in the sheer wonder of it all. It is still a privilege, and it is still a thrill to re-discover. Why do I love The Kinks? Because they're The Kinks. And God save The Kinks.

So let's raise a glass to the rock stars of the past, present, and always. A toast to The Kinks, then. And damn, this champagne does taste like cherry cola.


Quick Takes For K:

KLAATU



I heard the Are-they-The-Beatles? hype long before I heard the music. A DJ on WOUR dismissed the rumor on-air with a sneering, They aren't The Beatles! I may have heard Klaatu's "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft" contemporary to its release, and I definitely heard The Carpenters' cover version. It's within the realm of possibility that I heard the Klaatu tribute album Around The World In 80 Minutes before ever hearing much of Klaatu's original recordings. I picked up a CD reissue of Klaatu's debut album, 3:47 e.s.t., on a visit to Brockport some time early in the 21st century. "California Jam" became my immediate favorite.

THE KNACK



Probably read about The Knack in Bomp! magazine before "My Sharona" was released. I had a love/hate relationship with The Knack, in the sense that I kinda liked them, I guess, but resented them for having the success I thought The Flashcubes deserved more. "Good Girls Don't" and "That's What The Little Girls Do" were my initial favorites on Get The Knack, but I like "Your Number Or Your Name" even more now. I have all of The Knack's albums in either LP or CD format, including their reunion albums, so I guess I must have finally gotten The Knack.

THE KNICKERBOCKERS



Easy one! I heard "Lies" one afternoon in my dorm room during the fall of 1977, as I was listening to Brockport's WBSU-AM. Listening to this incredible explosion of ersatz (but convincing!) Britboom, I wrote in my journal, They sound more like The Beatles than The Beatles do. In the spring of 1978, I bought a cutout copy of the Nuggets anthology just to get "Lies," so The Knickerbockers were indirectly responsible for introducing me to the concept of '60s psychedelic/garage/punk, and I thank 'em eternally. Much, much later, I'd discover that The Knickerbockers released a lot of other tracks that were nearly the equal of "Lies." There is often more than just one side to a One Hit Wonder.



WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: L is for