Tuesday, December 15, 2020

10 SONGS: 12/15/2020

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 # 1055.

KING MIXER: Talking Down To Me

Man, this radio gig has some fab perks. I don't believe King Mixer has released any music to the public yet, so this track comes to us courtesy of our mutual pal Steve Stoeckel. Now, Steve's a TIRnRR legend. The Spongetones! Jamie & Steve! The THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO All-Stars! I probably forgot one of Steve's essential credits, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn he was also the fifth Beatle, the finest swordsmen in all of France, and the only person who knows to whom the voice of the invisible Shadow belongs. Nice guy, too. Hella talented. Reportedly a better'n decent cook. Can't rap to save his life, but nobody's perfect.

Anyroad. King Mixer is piloted by a band o' brothers, Danny Stevenson and Bruce Stevenson, and they're working on a CD. They let Steve have a listen, and the song "Talking Down To Me" caught his fancy. Steve added some sublimely Spongetoney bass to the track, and presto: Instant hit! And because we just so happen to play the hits, Steve forwarded us the track for immediate broadcast. We will hear more from King Mixer. Even if it costs us a fortune in Breach of Promise cases, we're dead pleased. 'Ello, Grandfather! The perks of radio, my friends. The perks of radio.

THE MONKEES: Love Is Only Sleeping

In 1967, "Love Is Only Sleeping" was almost released as The Monkees'  fourth single, a plan nixed when some label or network stiff realized the potential scandal of suggesting that love = sleeping (i.e., bouncin' with frisk-filled intent). It would have been the first Monkees 45 cut with lead vocals by Michael Nesmith instead of Micky Dolenz or Davy Jones. Peter Tork never got anywhere near singing lead on a Monkees A-side. The song is a highlight of my favorite Monkees album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., and this is what I said about it in a blog piece about my Top 25 Monkees tracks:

I've written elsewhere of my discovery of the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. and Head albums as a high school senior in the Spring of 1977. I had already heard "Love Is Only Sleeping" in TV reruns, but it really hit me for the first time in '77. Lyrically, this Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil song may be about female sexual dysfunction (more so than Sandie Shaw's deceptively-titled "Girl Don't Come" anyway), but it's so much more than that. It's a tale of hope. It's a tale of frustration and despair conquered by passion and persistence, sweet deliverance earned and embraced. Chip Douglas' bass and Nesmith's guitar slice, as Michael's lead vocal shimmers with cool, calm confidence, all made breathier and more inviting by harmony from Dolenz. Love is only sleeping. Try it! It can work for you, too!


When speaking to my peers in '77, "Love Is Only Sleeping" was Exhibit A in pleading my case on behalf of The Monkees. Teenagers in the '70s deemed The Monkees uncool. I knew better. This track helped me prove it.

ORBIS MAX WITH LISA MYCHOLS: Ooh Baby Baby

The combined talents of Orbis Max and Lisa Mychols bring us this dreamy cover of The Miracles' classic "Ooh Baby Baby," a song which I first knew from Linda Ronstadt's hit cover in 1978. This new version made its SPARK! Syracuse debut Sunday afternoon on Rich Firestone's essential Radio Deer Camp show. We played it again on TIRnRR Sunday night, and our Lisa's silky-smooth and swoon-worthy delivery prompted loyal RDC and TIRnRR listener Joel Tinnel to quip, "I don't smoke, but after hearing that twice, I feel like I need a cigarette." Swoon away.

IRENE PEÑA: Ridiculous

Attempts at branding are part and parcel of my silly ambition to pretend TIRnRR is a force in pop culture. Humor me; I'm harmless. So we become The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet, preaching The Joy Of Radio, noting that Radio's Job Is To Sell Records. The Kinks become The House Band. The Ramones are The American Beatles, The Greatest American Rock 'n' Roll Band Of All Time. And Irene Peña is America's Sweetheart.

Because she is. Here's further proof. Sometimes branding gets it exactly right.

POP CO-OP: Persistence Of Memory

Hey, it's that Steve Stoeckel guy again! Oh yeah, that's the Stoeckel group I forgot to mention: POP CO-OP! Our above-mentioned branding initiative lists Pop Co-Op's Factory Settings as Your Favorite Album Of 2020, and who are we to argue with that? 

SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES: The Tears Of A Clown

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. From my eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1):

I've written extensively about how important AM Top 40 radio was to me when I was (in theory) growing up. In the period from, say, 1970 to 1975, maybe 1976, my ears were surgically attached to WOLF-AM and WNDR-AM in Syracuse, the soundtrack of my sentence as an adolescent and teen. The giddy thrill of enjoying pop songs on the radio--the very place where pop songs were most meant to be enjoyed--shaped me in ways I had no idea about at the time. Amidst the splendor of Badfinger and Johnny Nash and Gladys Knight & the PipsAlice CooperThe RaspberriesIsley BrothersSweet, a Chuck Berry oldie, and some guys who used to be in The Beatles, AM radio gave me the gift of Motown's greatest miracle: the gift of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.

"The Tears Of A Clown" was a song out of time. It had been an album track on the Miracles' 1967 LP Make It Happen, but it was not originally released as a single; "More Love" and "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage" were the chosen 45s off Make It Happen. A year passed. Two years, three years, a freaking eternity in the ephemeral world at the top of the pops. In 1970, this by-now-ancient track was exhumed and dusted off as a single release in England, and it cried all the way home to a UK # 1. British success prompted an American single release, which also hit # 1, the only Smokey Robinson & the Miracles single ever to top Billboard's Hot 100.

The motif of the clown who cries is held in disdain as trite, hoary. I remember once seeing a TV movie scene that took place in a writers' workshop. The scene contrasted the approaches of two would-be writers: a pretty young woman (our heroine) whose elegant and aching study in quiet desperation depicted her protagonist's nearly-empty refrigerator as a long-term effort to slowly commit suicide by starvation; and a middle-aged hack in the making, writing cloyingly about the tears of a clown. The former creative effort could be art; the latter could only be rubbish.

But we forgive and embrace the use of this motif when it transcends itself, in Pagliacci, and in the careful grace of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. Robinson had touched on the allusion previously in The Miracles' 1965 gem "The Tracks Of My Tears," with its couplet "People say I'm the life of the party 'cause I tell a joke or two/Although I might be laughing loud and hearty, deep inside I'm blue." Robinson used the lines "Just like Pagliacci did/I'll keep my sadness hid" in "My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down)," a song he co-wrote and produced for Carolyn Crawford in 1964. It's familiar, it's pat, but it works just fine as a pop lyric. Hell, in the right context, it approaches genius as a pop lyric....

SPARKS: Lawnmower

I was a relative latecomer to the music of Sparks. I betcha I heard them at some point in the '70s; it seems likely that Utica's WOUR-FM must have played somethin' Sparky during that 1976-78 time frame when I was moving from AM Top 40 to freer-form FM. But the closest memory I can conjure would be the similar sound of The Quick's 1976 cover of The Beatles' "It Won't Be Long." I did see an ace New York City group called The Fast on a bill with The Flashcubes in 1978, and The Fast were also a little influenced by Sparks. 

Other than that, Sparks was just an act I read about in the rock press. My first conscious exposure to the sound of Sparks was "Tips For Teens," a track I heard and loved via a 1981 budget compilation LP called Blitz. '81 was also the year I was introduced to the 1979 Sparks song "Beat The Clock," albeit by the incongruous second-hand means of Stars On 45's hit disco medley. I discovered more Sparks over time (including the actual "Beat The Clock," which I specifically associate with a memory of crossing the bridge to Canada on an early '90s visit to Montreal). "Tips For Teens" remains my favorite Sparks track. You never forget your first kiss.

And decades later, I'm delighted that Sparks is still with us, and still making new tunes that are quirky, engaging, and fun. "Lawnmower" comes from Sparks' 2020 album A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, and it continues the proud Sparks legacy of peerless, percolatin' pop music.

VEGAS WITH RANDOLPH FEATURING KEN STRINGFELLOW: Howl At The Moon

When the mighty Vegas With Randolph joined forces with the likewise-mighty Lannie Flowers for the 2017 track "The Weekend's Coming" (heard on our CD and digital compilation This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4), I wrote:

As a life-long fan of comic books, I very much appreciate the idea of two separate favorites joining forces as one. Superman and BatmanSpider-Man and Red SonjaWonder Woman and Jerry Lewis! The list goes on and on, from Mary Marvel and Bulletgirl to KISS and Vampirella, Archie and The Ramones. Your two fave raves in one adventure--who can resist that?

So Dana and I feel like the power pop equivalent of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as we announce this epic team-up of Vegas With Randolph and Lannie Flowers. Face front, True Believers--this one's got it all!

The above applies equally to "Howl At The Moon," a new super team-up uniting VWR with Ken Stringfellow of The Posies and Big Star. So...go ahead and howl. Heroically!

WAR: Low Rider

Has anyone ever used the word "imperious" to describe the rhythm of War's 1975 hit "Low Rider?" I'd presume it hasn't been done, and it may be a stretch to use it now. But GodDAYum, that regal riddum rules by divine and absolute right. Imperious War!

THE YES IT IS!: The Night I Heard A Scream

Well, make that the YEAR I heard a scream. Nonetheless, great cover of 20/20's fab original, done now by a jingle-jangle bubbletoon group called The YES IT IS! Yep, The YES IT IS! is a contemporary Saturday morning TV cartoon combo lacking only a Saturday morning TV cartoon show to accompany them. You can read their story and buy their digital single (complete with its virtual B-side cover of XTC's "Senses Working Overtime") right here. I'm grabbin' a bowl of cereal, then I'll meet you on the dancefloor.

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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
Waterloo Sunset--Benefit For This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio:  CD or download

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.

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