• I feel the eyes of Aesop on me*

    I feel exhilarated, nervous, excited, wary, accomplished and hungry (it is past suppertime after all).

    I spent the afternoon laying down rhythm guitar tracks for seven songs. No, not thinking about doing some songs. Not just talking about it. Actually pushing the button on the record machine and playing the guitar into a bona fide microphone. (I did have a moment’s pause when I looked at the digital studio and went, “What is all dem buttons mean?”)

    After ten years of hemming and hawing and refusing to do anything unless it was either an original composition or “perfect,” I got my ass into the home studio and did something thanks to gentle nudges from my ever-patient spouse and with the help of Whiny the Elder, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music production.

    I don’t know that all of these will make the final cut when we start adding the rest of the instrumentation and vocals, but we went through a stack of songs this afternoon, so there are more where they came from. Here’s the list:

    • 500 Miles (A Railroader’s Lament) by Hedy West — the best known version being by Peter, Paul & Mary
    • Babylon by Sarah Hawker, performed by The Lonesome Sisters
    • Catch the Wind by Donovan
    • Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache) by Buck Owens
    • Is Anybody Going To San Antone? by Glenn Martin and Dave Kirby, performed by Charley Pride
    • Slowly (I’m Falling More In Love With You) by Webb Pierce and Tommy Hill — found a cool blues version by Katie Webster, too
    • Wild Mountain Thyme by Francis McPeake, with a bajillion versions–I especially like Ed Sheeran, but I even found one by Dean! (Jensen Ackles, my man crush)

    So, we’ll see what happens with these, but it’s progress, baby, progress.

     

    *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boy_Who_Cried_Wolf

    Saturday, January 30th, 2016 at 19:31
  • A man with priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve such a fine automobile.

    I was listening to Car Talk this morning (we miss you, Tom!), and one of the callers said that he had 103 cars in his lifetime. That got my brain gears whirring, and I thought I would reminisce about the series of vehicles that have graced me with their presence in the last 35 years.

    Mav_RealFirst up, there was a 1969 Ford Maverick (it’s not quite the same without yelling “Maverick!” in a kind of old prospector’s voice). It was worth every penny I paid for it–$300 in 1980.

    Maverick’s defining feature was that someone had converted it from a standard shift on the steering column to an automatic on the floor…but they had done such a poor job of it that you could see the road underneath the shifter. And in a Maine winter that extra chill was nasty. (Not as nasty as the VW Beetle with no heat owned by Ric the Schmuck though.)

    When Maverick died after about six months, I took up the last few payments on my brot1975_Chevrolet_Nova_coupé_001_0112her’s 1975 Chevy Nova.

    This was back when men were men and Novas were…passable as a “muscle” car. It wasn’t really all that muscular, but it was the last car I ever drove with 6-cylinder engine.

    Its most memorable detail was that my dad gave it a new paint job, and to save money he used flat, red house paint. It was…interesting. Definitely not shiny.

    rt7dpxuupgnaetwn6v2xWhen Nova bit the dust, I went out and bought my first car from a used car salesman. It was a 1978 Chevy Chevette. After riding around in the big ole Nova, I felt like I was literally sitting on the ground inside the Chevette.

    Chevette’s main flaw was a wonky starter motor. Every other time you’d try to start it, nothing would happen. Yet, I found that if I touched it with something metal–like a screwdriver–it would ZAP! and spark, then I could start it just fine…most of the time.

    One time it wouldn’t, and I just happened to be on a date with my future spouse. She called her mother to come pick us up, and I finally met Helen Patricia Irwin. She was not amused. I left Chevette dead in a convenience store parking lot one day not long after that.

    The next c151188ar to grace my butt was a Ford Escort. I was sort of bullied into buying this car by my dad. He went to the trouble of finding a used car salesman (who I think was a softball buddy or related to one) and a car that I could afford, but I really didn’t want this car.

    First off, I think it had been in a flood, maybe even at the bottom of a lake, because it just smelled swampy. And then there was the bloody hand print stain on the headliner above the passenger seat…

    Friends, never buy a haunted car (or a Ford). We took this one on our honeymoon (a not-supposed-to-be-rough camping trip during which it poured rain from about 10 seconds after I got the tent up until the day we left). On the last day, we decided to drive down to Boston to visit Venita’s grandparents. Haunty McForderson decided that it didn’t really need that cam shaft and left it behind somewhere on I-93 as we were in the left-most lane.

    She called her mother to come pick us up.

    18s14vgngwckpjpgAfter further adventures with getting Escorty McSuckercar repaired (which involved calling Ford HQ in Detroit to step in between feuding dealerships), we grabbed the next used car that we could find on the day we picked up the Ford from its repair pod. It was a Nissan Sentra wagon, and it served us fairly well for a number of years.

    Its defining tick was that the hatchback never latched. So, when you’d hit any kind of bump, it would pop up. Fortunately(?), the hydraulic thingy that kept it open and prevented it from falling on  your head didn’t work either, so it didn’t fly open…it just banged up and down a lot.

    1984-1986_Subaru_Leone_Deluxe_sedan_(2010-12-28)Next came a car so boring that I can barely remember a thing about it except that it was white. I am told that it was a Subaru of some sort.

    We bundled the Subaru together with an old, wood-paneled station wagon that I got as payment for helping a small inventory company out with some PC problems, and they were traded for the first (and, so far, only) new car that I ever bought.

    Saturn-SL2In 1994, we moved to Florida, and since we didn’t have a car that we felt would make the trip, we traded for a Saturn SL1 with 12 miles on it.

    Oh, man, I loved that car.

    And everything that I had heard about Saturn the car company was true. They were super friendly, and they even let me test drive the car, and hearing that I needed to be back at work, they let me take the Saturn to my office and offered to drive both the Subaru and the station wagon (one to my office and the other to my house) and pick up the Saturn later in the day. There was no haggling with a sales dude who needed “approval from his manager” to give me a deal. The price was the price. Buy it or don’t. In fact, the sales guy pointed out that his manager was busy washing my car anyway.

    That Saturn stayed with us for over 200,000 miles, and Emily wound up driving it for a while before we finally donated it to the local NPR station.

    1996-1999_Saturn_SL2_--_03-16-20122007_saturn_ion_4dr_sdn_auto_ion_2_green_tilt_steering_wheel_99409088047300625In between, we became a two-car family, buying another Saturn SL, then leasing an Ion for a couple years before buying one.

    That latter one became Emily’s for a while after we bought our current cars.

    And that brings us up to date with our 2005 Toyota Prius and our 2009 Kia Rio.

     The Prius has given us tons of driving time, including our trip up and through the Blue Ridge Mountains for our 25th anniversary in 2011 and our recent DC adventure. And the Kia…well, it’s a car.

    2005 Toyota Prius.2009-kia-rio-port_richey-fl-9216817574577419196-2

    But it’s 2016, man. Our rides are old. It’s time to swap these junkers for something flashy.  Maybe one of these?

    Sunday, January 17th, 2016 at 09:00
  • It helps me unwind and sometimes it makes me feel mellow

    On my evening walks with Venita, we generally chat about the ebb and flow of the day, the latest pop culture thingy, plans for the future…or, actually, I blather on about stupid shit that comes into my head, and she pretends to listen.

    A cool feature of our walking relationship, though, is that we don’t really have to say anything. We can just get into our own heads and not worry about entertaining our walkmate. For me, this usually leads to some song or another running through my brain. Generally, it’s the Imperial Death March (hey, it keeps me on pace!), but there are some pretty weird things that crop up on Solonor Head Radio.

    Tonight…possibly due to the fact that I cracked open one of the bottles of brew my daughter gave me for Christmas (a Leffe Brown for those keeping score at home)…which was possibly due to the fact that when I opened the barbecue grill this evening, a startled rat gave me a jump (and elicited an unmanly yelp)…I had this song running through my brain cave:

    Thursday, January 14th, 2016 at 22:20
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  • Funny 25 – A New Hope

    A long time ago, on a blog far, far away…I began tracking Doctor Demento’s Funny 25. And, lo, I am still trying to do so…but, wait, there is no try. Do or do not! Therefore, here is me do doing.

    Steve Goodie seems to have taken over this year’s list, as he’s featured on six of the 25 songs. Meanwhile, only two of the songs on the countdown have appeared on previous lists.

    “Fake Adult” by the great Luke Ski (#17) and “Let’s Blow Up The Tow Truck” by Krypton (#16) are the only songs to add points to their totals on the Top 100 (or so) Demented Hits. “Fake Adult” was last year’s #1, giving it enough points to jump up to #72 on the list, and Krypton’s song, which first appeared back in 1987, made its 3rd appearance and gathered enough points to be inserted at the #81 spot. The result of which was to bump a whole bunch of songs that were tied at #100 off the list, including Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic.” From now on, it will no longer be enough just to appear at #1 on the Funny 25 to get a spot on the list.

    This show is available for online listening at drdemento.com
    playlist courtesy of The Dr. Demento Show

    The Dr. Demento Show #15-52 – December 26, 2015

    Special Topic: Funny 25
    #25 Dumbledore – Steve Goodie
    #24 Elderly Man River – Stan Freberg f/ Daws Butler
    #23 Everything Is Awesome – Tegan & Sara f/ The Lonely Island
    #22 I Just Sneezed In My Pie – Steve Goodie
    #21 I Love My Job – Steve Goodie
    #20 Mr. Jaws – Dickie Goodman
    #19 Fire And Rain – James Taylor w/ Stephen Colbert
    #18 A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request – Steve Goodman

    #17 Fake Adult – the great Luke Ski
    #16 Let’s Blow Up The Tow Truck – Krypton
    #15 I Like – Heathen Dan
    #14 Banana Boat (Day-O) – Stan Freberg
    #13 Narwhals – MrWeebl
    #12 Itchy Song #1,543 – Steve Goodie
    #11 Biggest Fan – Dino-Mike f/ Cara Akemi

    #10 Take Me To Brunch – Kirby Krackle
    #9 Robin Williams – CeeLo Green
    #8 In My Driverless Car – Power Salad f/ Arthur’s Prior Band
    #7 Yoda Chant – “Weird Al” Yankovic
    #6 Shia LaBeouf (live) – Rob Cantor
    #5 Dr. Pepper – Carla Ulbrich f/ Steve Goodie
    #4 I Dropped My Phone In The Toilet – Steve Goodie
    #3 I Eat Prunes – Robert Lund
    #2 Unfriend (The Facebook Song) – Throwing Toasters

    #1 Benedict Cumberbatch – Insane Ian

    Wednesday, December 30th, 2015 at 07:57
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  • The 13th Annual “All Weird” Funny 25

    Yep, this is the 13th time I’ve recapped the good Doctor’s annual Funny 25 and updated my TOP 100 (or so) DEMENTED HITS (from Funny 25’s). This year it looks like our old pal, Weird Al, has taken over the show.

    Mr. Yankovic has 20 percent of the songs on the countdown, including the #3 hit. That’s mainly because of the release of his album Mandatory Fun in July. It became the first comedy record to top Billboard’s album chart since 1963 and Allan Sherman’s My Son, The Nut. It finished at #89 on the year-end Top 200 Albums.

    In order to promote the album, Weird Al release a series of eight videos–one per day–through various partner sites, including Funny or Die, CollegeHumor, The Nerdist, Yahoo Screen and The Wall Street Journal. All of them hit YouTube and were massive hits.

    Of the rest of the countdown, there were very few returning songs this year. Outside of two songs from last year and 2011’s #1, all of the songs on the chart are new.

    “After Ever After” by Jon Cozart now shows up in the Top 100 at #75. The 50th Anniversary Doctor Who themed song, Amanda Cohen’s “Know Your Doctors,” is now tied for #86. And “Snoopy the Dogg,” the great Luke Ski hit from 2011, moves up from what was a tie at #98 to the #94 spot. With everything below those songs moving down a notch, this may be the last year that having 25 points for being the #1 song in the Funny 25 will get you onto the Top 100, and the 18-way tie at #100 may go away next year.

    playlist courtesy of The Dr. Demento Show

    The Dr. Demento Show #14-52 – December 27, 2014

    Special Topic: Funny 25

    #25 Snoopy The Doggthe great Luke Ski

    #24 Please Mr. Kennedy – Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac & Adam Driver
    #23 Outside The BoxSteve Goodie
    #22 Foil“Weird Al” Yankovic
    #21 The Guy Who Yelled FreebirdThe Doubleclicks

    #20 Emmy Medley 2014“Weird Al” Yankovic
    #19 Bein’ Green – Kermit The Frog (Jim Henson)
    #18 After Ever AfterJon Cozart
    #17 Steve Ruins A Lovely Jason Mraz SongSteve Goodie
    #16 Last Day At WorkMikey Mason

    #15 Write Like The WindPaul & Storm
    #14 Tacky“Weird Al” Yankovic
    #13 Handy“Weird Al” Yankovic
    #12 Godzilla – Insane Ian f/ Victor Acord & Bonecage
    #11 Internet Famous – Insane Ian f/ Chris Ballew (of The Presidents Of The United States Of America)

    #10 Who Is The Doctor?Devo Spice
    #9 Know Your Doctors – Amanda Cohen
    #8 Governor Chris Christie’s Fort Lee New Jersey Traffic Jam – Jimmy Fallon & Bruce Springsteen
    #7 Fueled By AngstWorm Quartet
    #6 (They Don’t Make) Airships (Like They Used To Anymore)Confabulation Of Gentry f/ Capt. John Sprocket (The Cog Is Dead)
    #5 Almost Parent Time – Carrie Dahlby f/ Wyngarde
    #4 After Ever After 2 – Jon Cozart
    #3 Word Crimes“Weird Al” Yankovic
    #2 The Silly Walks SongMonty Python

    #1 Fake Adultthe great Luke Ski

    Monday, December 29th, 2014 at 08:00
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  • 90 Years of “Top 40” Music: All That Jazz (1926-1929)

    The way radio worked changed rapidly in the 1920’s. Two things served to organize the landscape of radio and to broaden its reach as a unified force across the country.

    In 1926, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was formed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse Electric to become the first major radio network. NBC set up several different networks around the country, the main ones being NBC Red and NBC Blue.

    It was followed in January 1927 by a network of 47 affiliates known as United Independent Broadcasters, which struggled until it was bought by Columbia Records in April and was renamed the Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System.

    However, Columbia wanted out by 1928, and they sold the network to the owners of a Philadelphia radio station who installed William S. Paley as president. He quickly renamed it the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and set about building a powerful network to challenge NBC.

    The second change came in the form of government regulation. Until 1927, the radio waves were up for grabs, as stations competed with one another for time and listeners. Listeners of one program were frequently interrupted by overlapping programs. With the passage of the Radio Act of 1927, the new Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was given the power to license stations and to assign frequencies and power levels. Many low-power stations were denied licenses, and the power output of bigger stations was limited to prevent the wild frequency battles between stations.

    Popular music continued along the same lines as it had been going since the beginnings of the jazz era. Tin Pan Alley still cranked out popular sing-a-long songs, like “Ain’t She Sweet?” and “Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider,” Irving Berlin standards, like Always and sentimental tunes, like Helen Morgan’s Bill, or novelty songs, like I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream. And the big, popular bands, like those led by Paul Whiteman and  Nat Shilkret, were just as big and popular, cranking out a mix of Dixieland jazz and more sophisticated music.

    However, there were three things that stood out from the crowd. Two of them were huge. One looms large only in retrospect.

    First, this era belonged to the first music pop star:  Asa Yoelson, otherwise known as Al Jolson. He started out as a singer in a circus, moved on to Broadway, and by age 35 was a huge recording star with his own theater. He starred in many movies, including what is considered the film that ended the silent picture era and ushered in “talkies”–The Jazz Singer.

    The recordings he made for Brunswick Records in the late 20’s are among his (or anyone’s) biggest hits: I’m Sitting On Top of the World, When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along, Sonny Boy, There’s A Rainbow Round My Shoulder, Little Pal, and I’m In Seventh Heaven

    Listening to Jolson in 2014 is a little rough, because his style is so broad and melodramatic that it has made for easy parodying through the years. In fact, most people my age would sooner have heard Michigan J. Frog and his Jolson-like stylings or, more recently, a Jolson hit from the electrified Eric Cartman on South Park than the original. His singing was born of the need to fill a room without amplification and to be seen at the back of the theater.

    There’s also the matter of that unfortunate carryover from his vaudeville days: blackface.

    These days, Jolson’s performance of Mammy in the Jazz Singer is cringe-worthy. It doesn’t matter that he was a leading force for promoting African-American artists, or that he was instrumental in opening doors for the first Broadway production with an all-black cast at a time when black people were banned. Jolson also insisted on the hiring and fair treatment of black people at a time when membership in the KKK was at an all-time high. But his adherence to the minstrel show stereotypes turned him into a symbol of old-school racism.

    The second stand-out was the dawn of country music. I wrote about Vernon Dalhart and Ernest V. Stoneman in the 1925 entry, but the big, earth-shattering event occurred in Bristol, Tennessee, between July 25 and August 5, 1927. That’s when Ralph Peer took recording out of the New York City studios and went out to record some “hillbilly” acts for Victor Records. In the same session, he managed to record both the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

    The Carters were huge throughout the 20’s and 30’s with hits like Keep On the Sunny Side, Wabash Cannonball, Worried Man Blues and Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By). Their biggest made the top 40 in 1928. Wildwood Flower perfectly displays the guitar picking style of Maybelle Carter that combined rhythm and melody. Known as the “Carter scratch,” it turned the guitar into a lead instrument.

    Jimmie Rodgers was among the first performers to write his own songs. He developed a yodeling style that combined folk and 12-bar blues that he turned into a series of 13 Blue Yodels. His first, Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas), was such a massive hit that he became an overnight sensation. He wound up in movies and recorded Blue Yodel No. 9 (Standin’ On the Corner) with Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano. Sadly, Rodgers was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1924, and he died in 1933 at age 35.

    The last thing of note isn’t very obvious from listening to the records of the 1920’s, but it’s another beginning to something big. In 1928, the biggest recording artist in the history of ever had his first hit as a singer for Paul Whiteman’s band. Bing Crosby hit #1 with a jazzy version of Ol’ Man River.

     

     

     

    Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 at 17:49
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  • 90 Years of “Top 40” Music: It Begins (1925)

    On Christmas Eve 1906, wireless radio operators on board ships from the North Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico heard something startling through their headphones. Normally, the radio men would listen through the static for the dots and dashes of Morse code, but on that night a century ago, they heard something different. They heard music.

    American RadioWorks: Hearing America – A Century of Music on the Radio

    If you were a rich, white, young American in 1925, it must have seemed like the 20th Century was finally arriving. Hi-tech inventions like cars, airplanes, records, movies and radio were all over the place, and engineers were coming out with new amazing things all the time. There was even talk of being able to send moving pictures over the radio someday! Even President Coolidge was sworn in, live, on the radio.

    Europe was a wreck after World War I, but that just meant American industry was the only game in town. The Stock Market was soaring. After surviving the Great War and the Spanish Flu Pandemic, it was time to party.

    Sure, it was illegal to buy alcohol, but you could get around that if you wanted. For the first time, it wasn’t just the super rich who could afford some luxury. A lot of young people had the means to spend money on entertainment. You could catch a movie and see an epic like Ben-Hur or the great comic, Charlie Chaplin, in The Gold Rush. You could bring your favorite artists, like the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and Eddie Cantor into your living room and play their music any time you liked, thanks to the Big Three record companies: Edison, Victor and Columbia.

    By comparison, radio was still a baby. In 1925, despite being around for 20 years and with stations popping up everywhere, the general public was just starting to buy receivers. They were big, ugly things, but the prices were coming down to the point where you could get a surplus production leftover AR-812 from RCA for $10 (about the same as $135 today).

    So, what would I have heard on one of them newfangled boxes?

    Well, assuming I could find a station that wasn’t simply news or classical music, there was both a ton of variety and a ton of repetition. Tin Pan Alley was in its prime, so there were plenty of the catchy tunes in the Top 40, like Irving Berlin’s tearjerker, All Alone, and Maceo Pinkard’s hot jazz tune, Sweet Georgia Brown. Many songs, like the aforementioned “All Alone,” were so popular that multiple versions were hits. There are versions of that song by Al Jolson, Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra, and John McCormack all in the year’s top hits.

    However, there were no radio networks, yet, and no one to tell stations what “format” they should follow. So, among the perfectly enunciated phrases and rolling “R’s” of the classically trained singers, I heard Bessie Smith belt out St. Louis Blues with Louis Armstrong on cornet and Vernon Dalhart’s twangy folk songs, like Wreck of the Old ’97 and The Prisoner’s Song, and Ernest V. Stoneman’s Sinking of the Titanic and the amazing George Gershwin with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra and Rhapsody in Blue. There seemed to be lots of ukulele, too, as in the year’s #1 hit by Gene Austin, Yes, Sir That’s My Baby or Cliff ‘Ukulele Ike’ Edwards in Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home (which also contains some pretty wacky scat singing).

    I was also surprised at the number of songs that I knew from childhood like “Sweet Georgia Brown” (the Harlem Globetrotters theme), Tea For Two, and If You Knew Susie Like I Know Susie, The song Collegiate was adapted by Chico Marx in the movie Horse Feathers in 1932.

    Overall, we’re off to a pretty good start. There’s variety and memorable tunes. The recording technology wasn’t the greatest, but spending a day listening to 1925’s top 40 songs isn’t the same kind of aural agony I seem to remember living through in 1974.

    Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 at 23:03
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  • 90 Years of “Top 40” Music: Intro.

    I have known for a long time about the seemingly seismic shift in music that happened the first time someone dropped the needle on a record of Chuck Berry’s Maybellene in 1955. In my head, people had spent hundreds of years listening to boring, bland pop songs when, suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, that blast of overdriven guitar came out of nowhere and shattered the windows. Sometimes it was Bill Haley and Rock Around the Clock, instead. Sometimes it was Elvis and That’s All Right or Mystery Train. Sometimes it was Ike Turner and Rocket 88…or a half dozen other songs. (Side note: The most perfect rock-and-roll song ever is Big Joe Turner’s Shake, Rattle & Roll. Don’t bother arguing.)

    It doesn’t matter which was the first. At some point, the smooth, “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window” snoozefest was replaced by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, then the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Sex Pistols, Clash and Lady Gaga. I’ve seen the documentaries and read the books.

    But what did it actually feel like?

    I mean, after spending years listening to “old people” music, how awesome it must have been to hear something come out of the radio that wasn’t Guy Lombardo. Right? (Sadly, my TARDIS has been back-ordered for so long, I don’t think I’m going to be making any trips to the past very soon.)

    Yet, growing up in a house where nothing was played but country music, I was able to have a few, small musical epiphanies. While I didn’t feel like I was drowning in the steady stream of Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and George Jones that was my usual soundtrack, I wasn’t as appreciative of its awesomeness as I am now. So, when I got to listen to my mother’s 45’s from when she was a teenager–Clyde McPhatter, Jimmie Rodgers, Buddy Knox, Sam Cooke–or hear the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” at a cousin’s house, or, eventually, be in places where the radio was tuned to a pop station, it was an ear-opening experience.

    Around the time I was beginning to carve out my own tastes in music, I began reading a lot of rock histories (Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll sticks out in my memory) and back issues of Rolling Stone magazine. Being a huge Beatle fan, the fact that John Lennon in his garb from the film How I Won the War was on its first cover was a big factor there. I got heavy into the progression of music from blues and country to rock-n-roll to rock and the explosion of genres that followed. And I always tried to imagine what it was like to go from listening to Bing Crosby to Elvis to the Beatles to whatever and to pick out the roots of earlier music hidden inside current songs.

    So, that’s what this is. Sorta.

    It’s partly a trip across 90 years of radio music, starting with 1925, when radio was just hitting its stride as something to which everyone had access. I thought it would be fun to follow radio music across the years to see how it has changed.

    It’s partly a way to experience the sudden shift in tone from 1940’s big bands and jazz to 1950’s rock-n-roll. By immersing myself in listening to nothing but the music of the 20’s, then 30’s, then 40’s, etc., would I experience that same rush of excitement when hearing something new?

    It’s partly to deconstruct the songs of one era by really listening to what came before. If you’ve heard enough of its predecessors, then maybe you can more readily hear things like Bob Wills’ “Ida Red” in Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene.”

    So, here’s how we do it.

    I went to Spotify and created a playlist for each year from 1925 onward. In order to pick the songs, I found a place called Bullfrogs Pond that has a spreadsheet of every song that has ever hit the Billboard Hot 100 (or something else for the really old stuff). (NOTE: It is a massive spreadsheet, and I don’t recommend that you download it unless you plan on spending a ton of time just trying to open the thing. I wound up cutting it down by extracting it as a comma-separated file and uploading certain columns to a SQL database.). From the spreadsheet, I determined that I would use the Top 40 songs of each year.

    While the concept of “Top 40” radio wasn’t really invented until the 1950’s, if your time-travel machine landed in a certain year, it’s likely that you’d hear those songs. Granted, Top 40 leaves out huge swaths of non-pop genres–blues, country, jazz, metal, punk–but it does represent what most mainstream Americans would have been listening to on the radio…at least until the recent demise of radio as a primary means of listening to music.

    Another small problem came from using Spotify. While you can find practically any song there, certain artists have not allowed their music on it. The biggest issue was the Beatles. It’s kinda hard to have a Top 40 list from 1964 to 1969 without them. So, I opted to do two lists for those years–one without Beatles and one with “fake” Beatles. There really weren’t any big songs I had to leave off besides those until I got to the Taylor Swift era. Fortunately, she’s only had one or two Top 40 hits before 2014 (hard to believe), and when the list for this year is published in May 2015, perhaps she’ll be on Spotify, too. In any case, you still get the flavor of a year’s music without these one or two skipped songs.

    Please, subscribe to the playlists on Spotify and follow along. I will be writing about the years in small bites…sometimes four or five years at a time…sometimes focusing on a single year…and highlighting notable songs, genres, and styles. I think you will at least hear a lot of music, and that’s rarely a bad thing.

     

    Saturday, December 13th, 2014 at 07:30
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  • Wait…why is that funny?

    A couple of weeks ago, Whiny the Elder and I were flipping around the TV dial when we stumbled upon an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show–one of the best of the early 60’s sitcoms (if not of all time). I found out later that it was episode 4 of the third season, entitled “Very Old Shoes, Very Old Rice.”

    It was an enjoyable enough episode, but then something happened at a little after the 16-minute mark. Everyone laughed at a reference joke, and we looked at each other in utter bewilderment. (Watch it and see for yourself. Background for the joke is at the end of this post.)

    Now, reference jokes are nothing new, and not getting the reference being made in a 50-year-old sitcom isn’t exactly surprising, either. But it made us wonder about the nature of reference jokes and how something so full of them, like Saturday Night Live or South Park or Family Guy would be perceived in 50 years.

    Even more than that, we wondered if we had discovered something that was indeed rare. It was a joke that included a reference without any context, thus making it completely unfunny to those who didn’t get the reference–but a reference that (at the time) was not so obscure that most people wouldn’t have been expected to understand it. People laughed, not because the joke was funny without the reference or the simple mention of the reference, but because it was a funny joke that included a reference that everyone knew.

    Most of the time, a reference can be interpreted as funny (or at least understood) from its context. For example, you might not remember actress Sally Struthers and her commercials asking for help for starving children…

    But you can still watch South Park’s Sally Struthers hides food and understand the absurd notion that this is a woman hoarding food while there are starving Ethiopians outside her door. Whether you just assume that the name “Sally Struthers” was pulled out of a hat by the writers, or you remember her and get the joke that this is the polar opposite of something that was on TV 30 years ago, it’s still comprehensible (if not funny, depending on your taste).

    On the other hand, there are tons of examples where a reference isn’t even a joke. The laughter comes from the shared experience of the thing that’s been mentioned. It seems like every time I see Big Bang Theory the joke is simply “hey, I know that nerd reference! ah-ha-ha-ha!” There’s no joke. Just the reference. Or, again, going to South Park…a parody of Family Guy where the reference is to their constant use of non-sequitur references…

    I guess the reference we saw in Dick Van Dyke was pretty close to the latter. There was no context that gave the slightest clue what was funny about a man being called “Judge Crater.” It’s just weird to find a reference that was so well-known in 1963 that the writers of a nationally televised show, including Carl Reiner, John Whedon (Josh Whedon’s grandfather), and Garry Marshall, felt like it was safe to get a laugh without a setup…yet, no one I know of today would have the slightest clue about it. (Although, I did find a Judge Crater reference in Archer, “Skytanic”. When Malory and Lana complain about the absent bartender, Malory says, “Guy sees an empty glass and all of the sudden he’s Judge Crater.”)

    It makes me wonder how many references from old Warner Brothers cartoons I missed, because I didn’t get the reference, and they didn’t bother setting up the joke because “everyone will know who that is!”

    So, now, I guess you’re wondering: Who was Judge Crater?

    Monday, November 24th, 2014 at 15:01
    Comments Off on Wait…why is that funny?
  • Robin Williams, RIP

    I’ve been kind of stunned since learning of the death of Robin Williams. I’m older now, and have seen real people I know pass from my life. So, I’m not quite as shocked and upset as, say, the night John Lennon died and my 18-year-old self was crushed. However, not many human beings have dug such deep grooves into my brain. Every time I turn a corner in my mind over the last couple of days, there he is. Robin Williams took up so many roles that have had a lasting impression on me that I keep stumbling into one that I forgot about.

    Sure, he was “Mork from Ork” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the genie from Aladdin. But then I remember he was Garp and, along with Glenn Close and John Lithgow, he brought to life the most quirky of books in the most quirky of fashions.

    He was the Frog Prince on the first Faerie Tale Theater, Shelly Duvall’s lovely, quietly twisted series of children’s stories. That Eric Idle wrote, directed, and narrated the episode only added to its awesomenity.

    He was Vladimir Ivanoff in Moscow On the Hudson. At a time when I was still having nuclear nightmares, he reminded us that Russians were human, too. It’s hard to fathom these days (though Putin isn’t helping), but that wasn’t always easy in Reagan’s ‘murrica. Yet, I will always remember the 4th of July scene in the diner where immigrants of varying stripes recite the Declaration of Independence.

    Then came Comic Relief and his legendary riffing with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, and as Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam, he improvised his way into an Oscar nomination. He got another one as John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society.

    He was the King of the Moon. He was John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.

    As the severely damaged Parry in The Fisher King (one of my favorite Terry Gilliam movies, if one can play favorites with such things), his fear of the Red Knight, and what that turned out to be, is still one of the most affecting plot twists I’ve ever seen.

    He was Peter Pan and a demented anti-war toy maker. He was a weird hermit stuck in a board game. Then another left turn and he was breaking down barriers to understanding “others” all over again in The Birdcage.

    I turn another corner, and there he is in Good Will Hunting. Then, he’s back to making kids laugh as Teddy Roosevelt.

    But I think I liked him best when he was just let loose in things like Whose Line is it Anyway? and on interview shows like Inside the Actor’s Studio.

    Here are two of my favorite lunatics just making me laugh (that there’s a TARDIS with a haggis inside is just bonus).

    Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 at 10:53
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