SAM & DAVE
Well, this was certainly ass-backwards. I have no recollection whatsoever of Sam & Dave's music from when I was a kid in the '60s, nor did I develop any awareness of them as an oldies-obsessed adolescent and teen in the '70s. I'm embarrassed to admit that I first heard the song "Soul Man" via Saturday Night Live, when John Belushi and Dan Akroyd performed it on the show in their incarnation as Jake and Elwood, The Blues Brothers. I didn't care much about The Blues Brothers on SNL, but The Blues Brothers' subsequent recorded version sizzled, thanks largely to the irresistible guitar work of Stax Records legend Steve Cropper. Cropper and bassist Duck Dunn had also played on the original Sam & Dave recording of "Soul Man," and Jake and Elwood's faux soul revival eventually led me to the real deal. Gotta give Belushi and Akroyd some respect for knowing who to hang with. But once I did hear Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Coming," I would have neither time nor inclination to ever listen to The Blues Brothers again.
I think I had at least heard of something called ska music prior to the 2-Tone British ska revival in the late '70s, but I probably couldn't have told you anything about it at the time. By '79, I knew who The English Beat were (I believe I voted for Saxa as Best Saxophone Player in some music poll), and in 1980 my college roommate had The Specials' first album. My quirky memory associates my belated discovery of The Selecter with the guy behind the counter at Muesey's, a convenience store not far from my apartment in Brockport circa '80 or '81. I usually bought my Goebel's Beer supply at Muesey's, so yeah, I was there a lot. Chatty sort that I can be at times, I must have mentioned my love of punk, new wave, and power pop music on one or more Muesey's visit, prompting Counter Guy to sniff Yeah, I guess that stuff's okay, but you really should be listening to ska, man. Something with a beat. Do you know The Selecter? I'd probably read about The Selecter in Trouser Press, but I hadn't heard them yet. I took Counter Guy's advice sufficiently to heart to at least keep my ears open. Before long, via radio or TV or whatever, I heard The Selecter's magnificent "On My Radio." What a fantastic track! I eventually picked up a 2-Tone sampler LP that included "On My Radio" and the nearly-as-great "Too Much Pressure," though I wouldn't own a Selecter album until purchasing a best-of CD within recent years. Nonetheless: Thanks for the tip, Counter Guy! My taste for The Selecter aged much better than my taste for Goebel's.
Sham 69 was a British punk group that I read about in the '70s, but never got around to hearing. The press reports didn't exactly inspire enthusiasm, as descriptions of Sham 69 painted a picture of simplistic, laddish sloganeers, more pub-bound football hooligan than no-future anarchist in the U.K. I was curious about them, but not curious enough to seek out their music. It may have been as late as the '90s by the time I actually heard Sham 69, though I think I at least had some small exposure to them before that, or at least to lead singer Jimmy Pursey's appearance with The Clash in the film Rude Boy. Ultimately, Sham 69 struck me as the least-interesting of England's higher-profile punk groups of the day--all right, but no match for The Damned, and nowhere near the same league as The Sex Pistols. I wound up digging "Hurry Up Harry," a simple laddish track about goin' 'round the pub. Of course.
Girl groups were sweet. The Shangri-Las were the bad-girl group, tougher than the rest, hangin' out with bikers, doin' it on the beach, and regretting such transgressions a year later while [REMEMBER!] walking in the sand. Beneath their leather beat hearts of gold, more fragile than they would easily admit. The Shangri-Las' best records were tiny teen dramas writ large for AM radio. I presume I heard them in the '60s, but my awareness of The Shangri-Las didn't dawn until my oldies immersion in the '70s. I must have heard "Leader Of The Pack" on the radio, and screamed along, Look out! Look out! Look out! LOOK OUT! Man, is she really going out with him? My first Shangri-Las acquisition was "Leader Of The Pack" on the 2-LP various-artists set Dick Clark 20 Years Of Rock N' Roll, which used a defective master that omitted the line One day my dad said find someone new; either that, or my copy skipped. Whatever. A subsequent purchase of an oldies collection called Supercharged Rock N' Roll Hits gave me a complete and unexpurgated "Leader Of The Pack," as well as "Remember (Walking In The Sand)." Yet another oldies comp (15 Original Rock N' Roll Biggies Vol. 2) added "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" to my cavalcade o' Shangri-Las gems. My sister gave me a CD of The Shangri-Las' best; her daughters used to sing along with its track "Long Live Our Love," dressing up and acting it out in the infectious, flamboyant fashion of little girls. Years later, I played the song again on my radio show shortly after my sister's oldest daughter was killed in a stupid car accident. And I just sobbed, singing along Long live our love, long live our love. I still can't come to terms with what happened. (To close this on a happier note, I'll mention that former Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss' 2007 album Dangerous Game was one of the best albums released that year.)
SIMON & GARFUNKEL
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? In 1968, the success of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" was so vast and ubiquitous that even this eight-year-old knew it, and that's my earliest conscious memory of Paul 'n' Artie. I became a huge S & G fan in the '70s, to the extent that they probably rivaled The Monkees as runners-up to The Beatles in the countdown of my all-time top pop acts. (The Ramones and The Flashcubes ultimately knocked everyone who wasn't The Beatles outta my Top Three, with The Monkees and The Kinks right up there next in line.) I still love Simon & Garfunkel, too. An English teacher in middle school or high school used "The Sounds Of Silence" as an example of poetry in pop songs, and from there I moved on to "The Boxer," "Homeward Bound," "El Condor Pasa," "I Am A Rock," "The 59th Street Bridge Song," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." When the pair reunited in '75 for the single "My Little Town," it was the next best thing to The Beatles re-Beatling. (And I loved the sequence when Paul Simon hosted the second-ever edition of NBC's Saturday Night (later re-named Saturday Night Live), with musical guest Art Garfunkel. Paul said to his erstwhile partner, So. Artie. You've come crawling back. Homeward bound.)
The glittery 'n' glammy-looking (but rompin' 'n' stompin'-sounding) Slade were huge stars in their native British Isles in the early '70s, but nearly unknown in the States at that time. Except for in Syracuse; let's face it, we here in Syracuse were just plain ahead of you backward louts in the rest of America. You'll catch up with us. Someday. Harrumph. Slade's awesome "Gudbuy T' Jane" was a great big hit record on Syracuse's Big 15 WOLF-AM, and I freakin' adored it. I can't remember whether or not I ever saw Slade alongside the divine Suzi Quatro, the loathsome Gary Glitter, or the Tartan-clad Bay City Rollers on cable-TV airings of the British pop show Supersonic a few years later; even if I did, "Gudbuy T' Jane" is my only real Slade memory from that time frame (other than a radio ad for a Slade live concert appearance, which this young teen had zero chance of attending). As a college freshman in the spring of '78, I read more about Slade in Bomp! magazine's landmark power pop issue. A later Main Street Records purchase of the best-of set Sladest gave me "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" and "Cum On Feel The Noize," and I was a fan. When goofy metal group Quiet Riot hit big in the '80s with a cover of "Cum On Feel The Noise," I could only roll my eyes at my countrymen and countrychicks embracing this clunky imitation instead of the rockin' original. When Slade finally had U.S. hits in the mid '80s with "My Oh My" and "Run Runaway," I shook my head in wonder that it took my fellow Americans so long to understand and embrace what AM radio listeners in Syracuse already knew more than a decade before that. Come on: feel the noise.
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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin' pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins' Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens' track) is also available from Futureman Records.