Tuesday, January 5, 2021

10 SONGS: 1/5/2021

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 # 1058.

AMERICA: Sister Golden Hair

The music of the group America may or may not seem a bit outside of my usual rockin' pop parameters. They were generally far too mellow for my taste, and my embrace of punk in the late '70s certainly didn't leave me particularly open to soft rock, a phrase I viewed as an oxymoron. Furthermore, my roommate during my freshman year in college loved America, and our volatile relationship made me inclined to dislike anything that he liked.

I like to tell myself I've matured a teeny li'l bit over the past 43 years. Now, America's "Sister Golden Hair" is set to receive an entry in my eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Here's an excerpt:

...My perception of the group America remains permanently tethered to my memory of Arthur. I hated their records. I may or may not have been okay with (or, more likely, indifferent to) either "A Horse With No Name" or "Ventura Highway" when they occupied my radio in 1972, but I had no use for "Muskrat Love," "Lonely People," or "Tin Man." I don't remember hearing "I Need You" until Arthur played it for me, and its lyrics We used to laugh/We used to cry/We used to bow our heads and wonder why were like nails on a chalkboard to my ears. Now, I bow my head and wonder why. All these years later, I can't explain why I was so dismissive of this music. 

Even within my willful stance as a teen misanthrope, I had to concede that America's song "Sandman" was possessed of a simmering, surly spirit. And, no matter how much I claimed to hate America, I had to admit that "Sister Golden Hair" was just brilliant.

This was an unenlightened period in my young life. For example, I thought The Beach Boys were hopelessly square. RAWK! I thought anything mellow had to be the sound of capitulation to the mundane, the boring. I held fast to an underdeveloped mind-set cast somewhere between Annie Hall and Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols

Yet I loved pop music. I liked ABBA, I liked Bay City Rollers, I loved Herman's Hermits. Loving Shaun Cassidy's hit version of Eric Carmen's "Hey Deanie" at the same time that I was getting into The Clash isn't necessarily a contradiction--it's ALL pop music--but I was a contradiction, and so sure of my conflicting convictions. 

Will you meet me in the middle
Will you meet me in the air?
Will you love me just a little
Just enough to show you care?
Well, I tried to fake it
I don't mind sayin'
I just can't make it

"Sister Golden Hair" is everything you could want from an AM pop radio hit. It sounds bright and sunny, catchy as hell, while conveying a sense of yearning and regret. I understand regret: I still look back and wish I'd been better. Even within the maelstrom of sullen teendom, as I blithely made blunders and committed sins that I should have known enough not to do, as I dug in my heels to hate a band my roommate and former friend adored, I grudgingly--no, willingly--accepted the wonder of "Sister Golden Hair"....


"Renee" is a really great pop-song girl's name. The Click Beetles' righteous frontbeetle Dan Pavelich knows this, so he was empowered to follow in the tracks of The Left Banke and Material Issue to craft his own Renee tune for The Click Beetles' 2020 album Pop Fossil. "Hey Renee" was recently released as a digital single by the good folks at Big Stir Records, giving us an excuse to play it as a new record. See? That's the pop magic of Renee.

ARIELLE EDEN: Sagittarius

Well, now, this is pop music. Arielle Eden first came to TIRnRR's attention last year, through a recommendation from our pal, America's Sweetheart Irene Peña. "Sagittarius" is Arielle's best yet, a bubbly and inviting track that easily earns this Capricorn's eager approval. This is the dawning of the age of Arielle.

THE FLIRTATIONS: Nothing But A Heartache

The Flirtations' "Nothing But A Heartache" was on of my favorite 45s when I was a kid, and it certainly earns a spot in The Greatest Record Evber Made! (Volume 1):

One of the many lessons learned in the British Invasion was that rockin' pop fans in England sometimes appreciated American music more than Americans did. In the mid '60s, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, and others took inspiration from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, et al.--American acts that had lost preeminence on homeland radio and record charts--and sold that sound right back to the States. The British invaded and conquered with weapons at least partially made in the former colonies.

As a tangent to this phenomenon, some American performers relocated to the U.K. in search of a piece of the action. Nascent producer Shel Talmy traded Chicago for London, and wound up overseeing classic work by The Kinks, The Who, The Easybeats, and The Creation. Los Angeles-based vocal group The Walker Brothers found success elusive until relocating across the pond, and both Jimi Hendrix and Suzi Quatro discovered England was more receptive to their pursuit of stardom than their respective Seattle and Detroit stomping grounds had been. 

Add The Flirtations to that list. Sisters Shirley, Earnestine, and Betty Pierce were from South Carolina, and they formed a girl group called The Gypsies in 1962, with their friend Lestine Johnson completing the quartet. A pair of singles on the Old Town Records label in '64 and '65 failed to establish chart supremacy over Herman's Hermits or The Yardbirds, nor over domestic competition from The Supremes. Lestine Johnson split, replaced by Tuskegee, Alabama's native daughter Viola Billups. More singles, no more success, and the departure of Betty Pierce as the remaining trio of Shirley, Earnestine, and Viola became The Flirtations in 1966. In 1967, The Flirtations decided London was the place they had to be, and they moved to that place said to swing like a pendulum do, that rain-gray town known for its sound. London, meet The Flirtations...

..."Nothing But A Heartache" was The Flirtations' only hit, and a modest one, peaking at # 34 in Billboard. Its B-side was a sturdy and engaging out-of-season seasonal shot called "Christmas Time Is Here Again," a delightful little present deserving of greater Yuletime notoriety. The companion album Sounds Like The Flirtations is loaded with soulpop/girlpop gems awaiting proper appreciation. Oh, but that one hit....

CISSY HOUSTON: Down In The Boondocks

Another of my favorite singles as a child was
Billy Joe Royal's "Down In The Boondocks" from 1965 (pop music's best year ever). Soul singer Cissy Houston covered the song some time in (I think) the early '70s, and while I'm not prepared to surrender my lifetime allegiance to Mr. Royals's original version, Ms. Houston's Gospel-bred prowess makes it her own. Cissy Houston's niece Dionne Warwick, cousin Leontyne Price, and daughter Whitney Houston demonstrated that singing talent runs in the family. Um...yeah.


My Mom hated Melanie. I mean, it wasn't anything personal; if Melanie Safka had shown up at our house or something, I'm sure Mom would have offered her a bite to eat and a chance to sit and relax for a bit, all the while politely begging Ms. Safka not to sing. The distaste was based purely on artistic grounds; when Mom was working at a factory, Melanie's 1971 hit "Brand New Key" came on the radio. It came on the radio repeatedly, as hit records are inclined to do. Over the clang 'n' clatter of hardware and machinery, the waifish voice trilling I got a brand new pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key reached Mom's ears like Trotsky's icepick. Mom thought it was the worst approximation of music she'd ever heard. Experiencing the song again at a later time--outside the factory, away from the industrial thrum and bang of assembly work--did not improve Mom's initial impression, nor did any subsequent spin improve Mom's view of the song. Noise. This is pop music?

I was eleven years old at the time. And while I may have enjoyed teasing Mom about this song she disliked so much, I didn't have any particular love of it, either. 


Although "Brand New Key"'s hit reign in '71 was the first time I recall hearing Melanie's name in connection with a song, it was not the first Melanie song I knew. In September of 1970, when I was entering sixth grade, one of my favorite radio records was "Look What They've Done To My Song Ma," which was written by Melanie and a hit for The New Seekers. Listening now to both The New Seekers' single and Melanie's own recording of that song, I'd swear it was actually Melanie that I heard on the radio as middle school beckoned. That doesn't likely; it was almost certainly The New Seekers getting airplay on AM Top 40 in Syracuse, my stubborn contrary memory notwithstanding.

But I betcha I also heard Melanie's first Top 10 hit, "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)," earlier that same year, when I was still safely ensconced in elementary school. What a terrific, uplifting song, with the sanctified might of The Edwin Hawkins Singers lifting Melanie up to soar as high as the angels above. I'd had no real use for the straight black Gospel sound of The Edwin Hawkins Singers' huge 1969 hit "Oh Happy Day" when I was nine, but "Lay Down" effortlessly mingled their celestial sound with Melanie's folk-singer vibe, and it all wound up as pop music. Irresistible pop music. Forget the damned roller skates. "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)" is the key, right here.

Oh, almost forgot: when "Brand New Key" was still a recent radio memory, I saw some photographs of Melanie for the first time, and the notion of laying down with her seemed very appealing to this eleven-year-old. I don't think Mom would have approved.

THE MONKEES: Sunny Girlfriend [acoustic remix of master vocal]

It still strikes me as a little bit odd that many of us routinely buy multi-disc deluxe reissues of what were originally single LPs. Odd or not, we're fans, and we want this stuff. I think the expanded Pet Sounds was my first such willful overkill, and when I heard the announcement for Rhino Handmade's three-disc version of The Monkees' 1967 album Headquarters, I was in. That set's unique acoustic remix of Michael Nesmith's "Sunny Girlfriend" became my preferred version of the song. Here's what I wrote about it in a previous post about my 25 favorite Monkees tracks:

Nesmith's "Sunny Girlfriend" is one of the many highlights on Headquarters, a rollickin' country-rock romp with a freewheeling ambiance that gives sound and form to the feeling of liberation and possibility The Monkees must have felt as they sought to establish themselves outside of Kirshner's assembly line. The joy is infectious, and even more so in this acoustic remix found on the 3-CD Headquarters Sessions set. She owns and operates her own sunshine factory. If ultimately a put-down of a girl who "doesn't really care," it is neither hapless nor vindictive, and maintains its joy from start to finish.

THE OHMS: Chain Letter

There are two separate caches of pop music circa late '70s and early '80s that top my list of lost classics of the era. One is the cavalcade of shoulda-been-hits by Fools Face, a Springfield, Missouri combo whose second album Tell America was one of my favorite LPs of the '80s, but whose fabulous treasure trove of ace material remains obscure and difficult to get; none of it has ever been reissued, and my copies of their second and third albums are the only copies I've ever even seen. It's a fabulous catalog worthy of wider acclaim, but few will ever have the opportunity to hear it.

The Ohms are perhaps even more obscure than Fools Face. The group played the same late '70s Syracuse club scene that produced my favorite power pop group The Flashcubes. Both the 'Cubes and The Ohms broke up well before receiving their proper due, leaving only a handful of singles behind (two Flashcubes 45s, and just one lone Ohms disc, "Chain Letter"/"Teenage Alcoholic"). But The Flashcubes' legacy lingered, their demos were eventually released, and they regrouped to record more stellar material. The Ohms were forgotten outside of the 315 area code.

They deserved better. A rockin' pop power trio--guitarist and singin' songwriter Zenny Caucasian, bassist Rick Suburban, and drummer Ducky Carlisle--I think The Ohms first split right around the time that "Chain Letter" was released in 1979. As the single drew positive notice in Trouser Press magazine, Zenny and Ducky re-Ohmed, with new bassist Keith Korvair. They cut some terrific, terrific home recordings (including essential tracks like "You're So Surreal," "Boppin' At The USO," and my pick hit, "License To Kill") before powering down for good. Lost classics, for sure.

POP CO-OP: Yellow Pills

Covering a well-known song can be a daunting task. It's one thing if you're throwing in a raucous rendition of a Badfinger or Hollies gem to goose a live audience into an active frenzy; it's quite another to attempt your own recording of it. If your version strays too far from the recognized blueprint, it may border on heresy. If it sticks too closely to what we already know, well then, what was the point?

So here comes Pop Co-Op, taking on one of power pop's all-time Big Kahunas, 20/20's "Yellow Pills." And damned if they don't mess with it, slap it around a bit, fiddle under the hood, apply a fresh coat of blush, rearrange the chairs on the deck, mix a few metaphors, a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants. The result is initially off-putting--I confess I was puzzled at first spin--but each successive spin reveals its potential brilliance. It changes the rhythm. It changes the feel. It retains the heart. Open your eyes, give it a try, and feel free. From Futureman Records' new 20/20 tribute album Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned.

THE TEMPTATIONS: I Can't Get Next To You

Well, New Year's Resolutions are all about setting goals and trying to achieve them. "I can't get next to you?" That kind of attitude guarantees failure, my friend. Repeat after me: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can....

I think this sucks, I think this sucks, I think this sucks....


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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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