Tuesday, June 9, 2020

10 SONGS: 6/9/2020

10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night's edition of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don't Hear A Single.

This week's edition of 10 Songs draws exclusively from the playlist for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 1028.


For decades, I thought of The Five Stairsteps' sublime 1970 soul hit "O-o-h Child" as a song of comfort offered by a parent to a distraught child, rather than as a larger call for peace in times of social strife. Now I realize that it's both, and the song still resonates in that sense today. Black lives matter. Our troubles continue, with no immediate path to deliverance. 

But things are gonna get easier. Some day, when the world is much brighter. We can allow ourselves the soothing balm of reassurance, the bond of love, family, friendship, unity, all blessed to us in song. And we'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun, eyes fixed on the prize. 

Some day.


Given that I co-host a weekly radio show named after a line in a song about radio, it should be no surprise that I have a soft spot for songs about the radio. TIRnRR has been playing the music of The Forty Nineteens for years, and 40-19 drummer Nick Zeigler's former group The Leonards for years before that. Dana and I are also long-time fans of Tony Valentino's old band The Standells, so a collaboration between The Forty Nineteens and Tony Valentino--playing a song about radio!--just has TIRnRR written all over it. This is available right now as a digital single from Big Stir Records, and The Forty Nineteens are working on a new album. We'll play it on the radio.

JUDAS PRIEST: Heading Out To The Highway

I'm not really a metal guy, but there have been a few fist-shakin', head-bangin' truncheonfests that I have found to be agreeably bludgeoning, albeit all of them on the pop side. I love Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" without any hint of guilt or apology. I enjoy some Def Leppard, a little bit of Black Sabbath, and--maybe stretching the parameters--some Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, plus the light hair-metal of "We Stand Alone" by Killer Dwarfs. And Mötörhead. And KISS! I mean, if you wanna count KISS as metal, I guess.

And Judas Priest?

There was something about the Priest that made me unable to take them seriously...which would be okay if they didn't seem so hell-bent-for-leather intent on being taken seriously. I very much liked the first Judas Priest track I ever heard, which was their gloriously unsubtle take on the Joan Baez folk chestnut "Diamonds And Rust." After that, though, I thought "Breaking The Law" was tiresome, and its video really made Judas Priest look dumb beyond redemption. CREEM magazine started to make fun of them, and I went right along with that spirit of derision and dismissal.

But..."Heading Out To The Highway." GodDAMN I loved that from its first bombastic chug and squeal, and in the present day it still inspires turn-it-UP volume and a defiantly paradoxical mix of sneering and grinning when it plays in my car. 

Especially if I happen to be heading out to the highway. LOUDER! LOUDER!!! 

JUNIPER: Best Kept Secret

Juniper first turned up on TIRnRR a couple of weeks back, when Dana played a fine track called "Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys!," a scrappy tune sung from the POV of a teenage girl acknowledging the universal truth that boys ain't nothin' but trouble. The girl in question is Juniper Shelley, and her new debut album Juniper finds her backed by her dad, Michael Shelley, for twelve a-boppin' and a-poppin' numbers with roots in '60s girl group and '80s left-of-the-dial, while not really sounding like either. The elder Shelley's "Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys!" is a highlight, but my favorite is "Best Kept Secret," written by a pair of true pop stalwarts--Tommy Dunbar of The Rubinoos and solo star/ex-Candy front man Kyle Vincent--and sportin' a guitar solo by the right honorable Marshall Crenshaw. Find out more at Michael Shelley's website.

JUSTINE'S BLACK THREADS: You And Me Against You And Me

I am a constant recipient of endless emails from publicists, labels, and even the occasional performer desperate for airplay. These are mass submissions, rarely really targeted to TIRnRR and whatever it is that we do. I don't have anywhere enough time to deal with all of them, so the vast majority of these solicitations get junked. I can usually tell at a glance if it's a style or genre outside of TIRnRR's interest; if it's just a link to stream something, it likewise gets unceremoniously dumped. I have some favored resources, and an eye for what might merit consideration. Most blind submissions go straight to the trash bin, unheard. 

Rum Bar Records, on the other hand, has been sending some interesting stuff. This year, we've happily played Rum Bar releases from The Real Impossibles, Brad Marino, and The FleshtonesKen Fox, and an ace track called "Vengeance" by Justine and the Unclean has appeared on the ol' playlist a few times already. Justine and the Unclean's Justine Covault is also the Justine of the more country-flavored Justine's Black Threads. Justine's Black Threads have a new five-song mini-album called Cheap Vacation, which includes a nice cover of "Needles And Pins" that TIRnRR played a few weeks back. It also includes this swell juke joint lament "You And Me Against You And Me," a tale that sounds like it could take place as a prelude to the honky-tonk classic "You're Still On My Mind." An empty bottle. A broken heart. You and me against you and me. See, this is why we drink.

THE KINKS: Tired Of Waiting For You

This was my first Kinks LP. Though my copy was considerably more beat-up than this one.
In my oft-told story about how I became a fan of The Kinks, 1964's "Tired Of Waiting For You" represents the tipping point, the seismic event when I heard the song on the radio in 1977 and knew, just knew before the DJ said, that it was The Kinks. The Kinks' primal oldies "All Day And All Of The Night" and "You Really Got Me" had only recently taken my fancy hostage, a mere decade and change after the fact. Radio introduced me to The Kinks with "Lola" in 1970, my burgeoning interest in the mid-'60s British Invasion prompted a deeper dive into Sire's History Of British Rock collections, and radio came back to seal the deal with a spin of "Tired Of Waiting For You." It's not an oversimplification; that really was the precise moment when I became a die-hard Kinks fan. It's your life, and you can do what you want. And I want to listen to The Kinks.

AMOS MILBURN: Down The Road Apiece

When I was freelancing, unsolicited promo CDs routinely turned up in the mail, like, all of the time. I was writing a lot of reviews then, and if I liked something enough to wanna write about it, I'd pitch Goldmine editor Jeff Tamarkin to get a review assignment. I never got a review assignment for Down The Road Apiece, a 1993 EMI Records compilation of R & B singer/pianist Amos Milburn's 1946-1957 output for the Aladdin label, but its title track grabbed me at first boogie-woogie. The song itself dates back to a 1940 version by The Will Bradley Trio, but Milburn speeds it up just a little, and just enough to make it a bona fide rock 'n' roll song that predates the rock 'n' roll era.


I don't know a damned thing about The Shins, other than the fact that I heard one of their albums playing in a store once and I knew I needed to own the damned thing, stat. And that they were on an episode of Gilmore Girls once. The music reminded me of The Kinks for some reason I couldn't articulate, a similarity I no longer hear (and I swear I was sober both then and now). A more apt comparison might be to The New Pornographers, if only in the idea that both groups may overload their songs full-to-bursting with hooks, cram in an awful lot of clever wordplay, and seem to employ a compressed songwriting template that suggests a very small and confined space, an approach that should cause my claustrophobia to flare but instead manages to feel like rockin' pop liberation. I should learn more about The Shins. And we should play them more often. We'll start with this intoxicatingly appealing track from their 2007 album Wincing The Night Away.

THE STANDELLS: Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White

I mentioned The Standells up above. I became a fan as part of my overall exploration and embrace of '60s rock 'n' roll when I was a teen in the '70s. I started with a used 45 of their only big hit, 1966's classic "Dirty Water," and a various-artists set called 15 Original Rock N' Roll Biggies Vol. 2, which included "Why Pick On Me" and "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White." My interest in The Standells expanded even further as I fell hard for the notion of '60s punk/garage Nuggets, Pebbles, and dazzlin' debris of all description. Years later, I interviewed Standells drummer/lead singer Dick Dodd for an ultimately-abandoned Nuggets retrospective; I never finished the piece, but the interview can be read here.

"Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" was the first Standells track played on TIRnRR, making its playlist debut on our sixth show, 1/31/99. I have a long radio history with the song. My first-ever radio shows were two guest-hosting gigs on the Buffalo State college station WBNY's amateur DJ show Ha Ha, I'm On The Radio! in the mid '80s. I no longer have any record of what I played on those shows, but it's for damned certain that I played The Standells' "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White." God, I love that track. The only reason it's not (currently) in my proposed book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) is because I needed to make room for other songs, too. 

I'm a poor boy born in the rubble/And some say my manners ain't the best. A chip on my shoulder and a song in my heart. When I played the record at home in the '70s, my Mom thought Dodd sounded like Sonny Bono, and she wasn't wrong. And, coincidentally, Bono did work with The Standells earlier in their career; Sonny's own "Laugh At Me" shares some cantankerous DNA with "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White." Surly and put upon, misunderstood, a shrug that's somehow defiant. We stand with The Standells.

SWEET: Ballroom Blitz

The music of Sweet was huge for me in the '70s. I was happily addicted to AM radio, and Sweet's records were an integral part of that pop-music mainline directly into my eager veins. I don't know if I made note of the group itself when I was diggin' "Little Willy" and "Blockbuster" on Syracuse's Big 15 WOLF in 1973, but I knew the songs. "Little Willy" was a Top Ten hit across the country, and although "Blockbuster" struggled to breach the charts nationally (Billboard peak at # 73), it was in regular rotation on the 'Cuse airwaves.

I didn't know anything about Sweet. I don't think I even knew they were British, nor that they were considered part of an amorphous U.K. glam/glitter scene, alongside the disparate likes of Slade (whom I also loved), Suzi Quatro (with whom I was teen-crush besotted), and Gary Glitter, even The Bay City Rollers. I eventually saw all of those acts lip-syncin' on Supersonic, a weekly British jukebox TV show available via cable from New York's WPIX, and I presume I musta seen Sweet there, too. 

Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) will never skip any excuse to post a picture of Suzi Quatro
But it was another TV show--the venerable American Bandstand--that hooked me on 1975's "Ballroom Blitz." The group itself didn't appear on this particular Bandstand; it was just Dick Clark playing the record as his assembled AB dancers did their thing. I was 15. I'm sure I ogled the girls, envied the guys, but most importantly, I listened to the damned song. I'd probably already heard it on the radio by then. But something about this televised rockin' pop moment just...clicked. It wasn't the sight of the girls bouncin' about, honest. It was the song. It's always the song.

Well all right, fellas

"Ballroom Blitz" bopped. The phrasing is not accidental. About a year later, The Ramones would basically revamp "Ballroom Blitz" with some added chanting inspired by The Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" into their own masterful call to arms "Blitzkrieg Bop." Sweet provided the blueprint. It's quite possible that I would never have fallen so hard for The Ramones if Sweet hadn't prepared me for such rapture.

It took me and my minuscule record-buyin' budget a while, but I eventually acquired a copy of Sweet's Desolation Boulevard LP, most likely via the RCA Record Club. The album included "Ballroom Blitz" and its follow-up hit "Fox On The Run." "Fox On The Run" was my highlight on Side Two, but I mainly obsessed over Side One: "Ballroom Blitz," "The 6-Teens," "No You Don't," "A.C.D.C.," and "I Wanna Be Committed," the latter song almost certainly another inspiration for The Ramones. I played that side relentlessly, joyously. During my senior year, 1976-77, I often brought Desolation Boulevard to school for spins when I was hanging out at the newspaper office, as much a go-to album as my Beatles and British Invasion, my Raspberries' Best, my decidedly odd 2-LP compilation Heavy Metal, and the Monkees albums introduced to me by a girl I knew somewhere. As I learned about The Kinks, as I learned about punk, as I prepared to trade one set of experiences for the next in that overrated growin'-up sequence, Sweet was as important a part of my soundtrack as everything else. 

Oh yeah!
It was electric
So perfectly hectic
Then the band started leaving
'Cause they all stopped breathing

And the man in the back said, "Everyone attack!" Sweet bassist Steve Priest died last week. That news did not break until after we had already recorded this week's TIRnRR. The presence of "Ballroom Blitz" on the playlist is a coincidence. It's not even a testament to my ongoing allegiance to a still-vivid recollection of listening to Desolation Boulevard during the musical crucible of my teens; Dana's the one who played it this week. 

But I hear the song. And I remember. I remember what it meant to me, how great it was, how great it still is, how great it will always be. Are you ready, Steve? Uh-huh. Andy? Yeah. Mick? Okay. And alright, fellas. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for being Sweet.


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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 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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