This week's edition of 10 Songs draws exclusively from the playlist for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 1031.
THE BEATLES: Thank You, Girl
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.
|The proximity of the S and the H on this cover may indicate the British record label guys didn't really respect The Beatles all that much more than the American record label guys did.|
And 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, which lacked much of the buoyancy and echoey atmosphere of the familiar American release. 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.
CHUCK BERRY: School Day
The master. Chuck Berry wasn't the first rock 'n' roller, not by a long shot, but he influenced nearly everyone, even including his predecessor Elvis Presley. King Elvis I and maybe Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and/or Fats Domino might have still managed to thrive in a world where Chuck Berry never played his guitar like a-ringin' a bell, but it's hard to imagine The Beatles, The Rolling Stones--hell, all of the British Invasion, and all that followed--ever happening on any kind of grand scale without Berry's inspiration. Hail, hail rock 'n' roll.
BLONDIE: Rip Her To Shreds
My first Blondie record was the "Rip Her To Shreds" 12" single, released in 1977 and added to my burgeoning vinyl collection in 1978. Given the song's lyrical reference to "Miss Groupie Supreme," I guess it's fitting that the first picture of Blondie's lead singer Debbie Harry I ever saw was a photo of Ms. Harry with influential SoCal DJ Rodney Bingenheimer and noted groupie Sable Starr.
The photo appeared in the April 1977 issue of Phonograph Record Magazine, and it was also the first time I had even heard of Blondie. I've written elsewhere of the importance and impact of PRM on this then-seventeen-year-old future blogger; for now, let it suffice to sum up PRM's influence as seismic as far as I was concerned. The above pic accompanied Bingenheimer's Vicious Dirt, Rumors And Scandals From Hollywood column in that issue, and while it was the only visual of the divine Ms. H in my first PRM, the larger impression came later in that same issue, when columnist Mark Shipper described Blondie as "reminding one of Marilyn Monroe backed by The Dave Clark Five."
So: I was 17. I was smitten with the picture. I was totally sold on the concept. Now I just needed to hear the music, which I already knew I would love. As a freshman in college the following fall, I called the campus radio station about, oh, a zillion times to request Blondie's "X-Offender," and the record confirmed my certainty that I was going to be a Blondie fan.
But, for some reason (probably money), I didn't get the group's eponymous debut LP until a later date. I started instead with this single, which also included "X-Offender" and the dreamy "In The Flesh." More Blondie acquisitions would follow in short order. See that girl? Gentlemen prefer Blondie.
JAMES BROWN: Papa's Got A Brand New Bag
1965: pop music's best year ever. If "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" wasn't my first James Brown song, it was the first one I noticed. I may or may not have heard it during its reign on the charts; I was only five, but believe me, even five-year-olds knew the irresistible sounds of the radio, the jukeboxes, and neighborhood teenagers blastin' their 45s in 1965. It's possible I didn't actively recognize it until it became an oldie in the '70s, played back on a nostalgic weekend AM radio shindig or in a TV commercial hawking the great old hits by the original artists.
I didn't become a fan until much later. I don't remember hearing Brown's anthem "Say It Loud--I'm Black And I'm Proud" on the radio in 1968, but I do recall seeing it mentioned in an issue of the Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane comic book. Believe it or not. And I remember being mesmerized by Brown's live performance in 1964's The T.A.M.I. Show when I caught that flick on cable in the mid '70s. A bit later, during the 1980 Democratic National Convention, my girlfriend Brenda and I were having dinner with our friends Les Odom and Yvette Nixon, splitting our time between watching a firebrand speech by Senator Ted Kennedy and listening to James Brown's Live At The Apollo LP. (You may have heard of Les and Yvette's son, actor Leslie Odom Jr. Brenda and I are looking forward to finally seeing the younger Leslie as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, courtesy of Disney+.)
My own first James Brown records were weathered 45s of "Cold Sweat," "Don't Be A Drop-Out," and "Say It Loud--I'm Black And I'm Proud," salvaged in the early '80s at a church basement rummage sale underneath the Buffalo day care center where Brenda worked. And all of it--1965, Lois Lane, The T.A.M.I. Show, Les and Yvette and Ted Kennedy, my rummage sale 45 haul, all of it--came together in my head when Cal Zone, a great DJ at Buffalo State College's incomparable WBNY-FM, included "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" among his '60s garage and trash thrash delights one night at a Buffalo nightclub. Connection. CC's got a brand new bag
ARTHUR CONLEY: Sweet Soul Music
Do you like good music? Well...of course! I first encountered Arthur Conley's durable 1967 call-to-waivin'-arms on a various-artists Atco Records album called Smash Sounds. Smash Sounds was also from '67, but for me it was a used record store purchase when I was a freshman in college, Spring '78.
Looking back, I'm not sure what specifically motivated cash-strapped li'l me to spring for Smash Sounds. I probably only knew three of its songs--Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On," The Shadows of Knight's "Gloria," and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth"--but that must have been sufficient inducement (especially the Springfield). It worked out well, as the LP introduced me not only to Arthur Conley, but also to "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King, "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols, and Otis Redding's fantastic original version of "Respect," from before that girl Aretha Franklin took it from him, just took it...!
Redding also co-wrote "Sweet Soul Music" with Conley, based in large part upon Sam Cooke's "Yeah Man," combined with elements of Redding's "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and an opening nicked from The Magnificent Seven. Its litany of then-contemporary soul giants--Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, and Redding himself, with a lyrical nod to The Miracles' "Going To A Go Go"--leads to a coronation of James Brown as "the king of them all, y'all." "Sweet Soul Music" is one of the most recent additions to the list of songs to be discussed in my book-in-progress The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Smash sounds!
DEVO: Freedom Of Choice
I was not a Devo fan, at least not at first. As much as I was taken with punk and new wave and power pop from '77 on, I was still primarily a pop fan. I wanted hooks. My idea of pop music had expanded sufficiently to include The Sex Pistols and (God, yes!) The Ramones, but I heard Devo chanting "Are we not men?" and doing a spastic, herky-jerky cover of The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and I dismissed it all as merely weird, without the redeeming quality of an internal pop sensibility. I wasn't necessarily opposed to weird; when Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" struck most of my peers as odd and outta place on AM radio in 1976, I was the only guy I knew willing to speak on its behalf, and while that track is mainsteam'r than mainstream now, it was a different spirit in '76. But Devo? Honestly, I thought Devo was noise.
Context matters. Because Devo was part of this new wave scene I'd embraced, I tried to keep my ears open to them, just in case I changed my mind. The Ramones' Rock 'n' Roll High School movie and soundtrack album in 1979 provided my entry point into Devo. Rock 'n' Roll High School's use of "Come Back Jonee," a Chuck Berry-influenced track from Devo's 1978 debut album Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo!, possessed just enough innate pop awareness to allow me to get into it. I heard a little more Devo courtesy of my roommate when I returned to college for my senior year, 1979-80, and I began to appreciate them a little bit more. 1980's Freedom Of Choice album was the turning point, as I saw Devo perform "Girl U Want" on the Fridays TV show. I also liked the album's title track, and its hit single "Whip It" was undeniable. My own freedom of choice led me to accept Devo from then on.
Never did care for The Residents or The Flying Lizards, though. Noise, man. Noise.
ELTON JOHN: 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 less-familiar "Candle In The Wind" and the girl-girl titillation 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. Don't give me none of your aggravation. Get a little action in. Elton John's alright, alright, alright...!
JUSTINE AND THE UNCLEAN: Fourth Love
I really, really need to actively seek out and immerse myself in the entirety of Justine Covault's recorded output. Earlier this year, "Vengeance" by Boston-based Justine and the Unclean served as my introduction to Covault's work, and "Vengeance" is first runner-up to Bill Berry's "1-800-Colonoscopy" for the coveted title of Carl's Favorite New Track In 2020. What I've heard so far from Justine and the Unclean and from Justine's Black Threads has reinforced my first impression of Justine and her not-always-merry bands as badass rock 'n' roll combos rooted in country, soaked in whiskey, driven by heartbreak, and powered by currents that just might be hooked up to a freakin' electric chair. Justine and the Unclean's "Fourth Love," from a free Rum Bar Records label sampler called Somebody Out There Is Having A Party Vol. 2, continues that black thread of toe-tappin' burners, a tear in your beer and some mace to your face, presided over by a woman who clearly learned everything George Jones and The New York Dolls could teach her about attitude. I got some Unclean homework to do.
KISS: Detroit Rock City
I'm used to people rolling their eyes whenever I say something positive about KISS. When that happens, I have a wide variety of two-word replies at the ready, and I usually settle on "Okay, then," because I'm, y'know...polite.
But I like KISS. I don't like 'em without reservation, and I don't bother trying to make excuses for bassist Gene Simmons and his frequently boorish behavior. I don't like everything they've done (nor even most of it), but what I like, I like a lot. "Shout It Out Loud" earns a chapter in The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), and I likewise turn the volume up to magnetic North for "Rock And Roll All Nite," "Calling Dr. Love," "Anything For My Baby," "I Love It Loud," "Strutter," and a few others. I prefer KISS's cover of "Then She Kissed Me" to The Crystals' wonderful original. Once again: I, Heretic.
After "Shout It Out Loud," my next top KISS track is likely "Detroit Rock City," edging out "Calling Dr. Love" and "Rock And Roll All Night." It is, in some ways, the definitive KISS track, conjuring loud arenas, teen dissipation, garish excess, and piledriving big-R Rock. It's also catchy; the best KISS tracks reveal the devotion to '60s pop music, British Invasion, and even '70s power pop, influences that the band masks in posturing, greasepaint, and pyrotechnics, but which are undeniably present. I don't regard KISS as a power pop band--the vocals and the overall approach don't quite fit my idea of the genre, from the early Who to The Raspberries and The Ramones--but it would be at best disingenuous to claim KISS hasn't listened to (and loved) a pop record or two in their time.
Yeah, KISS was my first concert, December 1976. I was neither a KISS fan nor a KISS hater, just interested in the experience of seeing a live rock 'n' roll show. I became a fan after that. Never regretted it. Two words: Oh, well. That's life. Move on.
POP CO-OP: Won't Be Me
Notwithstanding all the worthy attempts to channel Chuck Berry's welcome influence on rock 'n' roll, it ain't easy to create a new song that sounds like Chuck coulda done it. I'm not talking about a sound-alike, but something that pulls off the intricate motorvatin' of crafting an effective pastiche that never blunders into parody. Bob Seger did it with "Get Out Of Denver." And more recently, Pop Co-Op guitarist Joel Tinnel did it with "Won't Be Me," a track from Pop Co-Op's second album, 2020's Factory Settings. Gotta respect someone who can duck-walk the walk. Take us to the Promised Land, Agent J.
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Volume 1: download
Carl's writin' a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 155 essays about 155 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).