Monthly Archives: October 2008

Halloween with the Jersey Devil

If you were here last Halloween, you know Halloween is not my thing.

But I don’t want you coming to my door and going away empty-handed.

I received this note this morning:

So please knock on Mr. Bruce Springsteen’s door and download “A Night With The Jersey Devil” into your trick-or-treat bag.

It’s a blues dirge appropriate for the day.

The tune and its video will be posted there until late Sunday night.

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Comfortably numbed

My friend Jim was selling some more dollar records this weekend. He had the tent out in its usual place in the back yard of his tiny duplex. Turns out he had nine new boxes of records. “Got a bunch from Illinois,” he said.

The weather is turning in our corner of Wisconsin. Our days for outdoor crate digging are growing increasingly few.

Though it was late Saturday morning by the time I got to Jim’s back yard, the temperature hadn’t made it past 50. Under the tent, out of the sunlight, with a brisk wind, it was a bit nippy. Not a problem, really, except that my fingers are increasingly sensitive to cold as I get older. They were getting sore by the eighth and ninth boxes.

But one of those dollar records warmed me right up.

I’d not been aware that Dionne Warwick had done an album of soul, R&B and Beatles covers. But there it was — “Soulful,” on the Scepter Records label. Warwick recorded it in Memphis in 1969, co-producing it with the great Chips Moman.

Now if I’d been paying attention, I’d have remembered “Soulful.”

My friend Larry included a couple of the Beatles covers from this album on his Funky 16 Corners Radio v.54 podcast back in July, and there they are, sitting in my iTunes. Larry described “Soulful” as being “filled with a grip of excellent soul covers.” You are correct, sir!

Enjoy a couple of those covers, but be aware that they come with a few pops and crackles. I find that part of the charm of old records.

“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and “People Got To Be Free,” Dionne Warwick, from “Soulful,” 1969.

The first cut is a passionate cover of the Aretha Franklin tune written by Moman and Dan Penn. The second cut is a cover of the Rascals tune, given a joyous, upbeat, almost gospel-like rendering.

(The album link is to a 2004 CD release with all 12 cuts from “Soulful” plus 11 more.)

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I’ve got Friday in my head

When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, in the ’80s, one of the local rock stations, WMAD, would play the same combination of tunes every Friday afternoon, supposedly marking the official start of the weekend.

I want to say it came about 2 p.m. because I often heard it in the car while heading home from the Y after playing basketball.

To this day, more than 25 years later, I cannot think of one song without the other. They are forever paired in my head. In this order.

And, yes, they do suggest the beginning of the weekend.

“Boogie,” John Hartford, 1967, available on “Me Oh My, How the Time Does Fly: A John Hartford Anthology,” 1982. It’s also on “Aereo-Plain,” a 1971 album which appears to be out of print.

In which the late, great Mr. Hartford — with whom a friend claims to have smoked some dope way back when — suggests, “Hey, babe, you wanna boogie?” It is as rough and full of grunts as Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” is smooth and full of moans.

That said, I don’t know where this short, radio-friendly version comes from. It runs only 1:41. Another version I have, off Hartford’s 1977 album, “All In The Name of Love,” runs about 2:30 and appears to be the same cut as on the anthology.

“Friday On My Mind,” the Easybeats, 1966. Available on “Friday On My Mind: The Very Best of the Easybeats,” 2002.

Oh, yeah, we all have the end of the work week on our minds.

This came from Australia and was written by George Young and Harry Vanda, who in the late ’70s and early ’80s were Flash and the Pan, one of my favorite groups. Young also produced the early work of AC/DC, in which his brothers Angus and Malcolm still play.

Whether these songs are still played in this order on Friday afternoons on WMAD, once a rock station at 92.1 FM and now a country station at 96.3 FM, I cannot say. It would be nice, though.

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Innocence lost

I pushed the wrong button and it was gone forever.

A couple of years ago, our son recorded the message on our answering machine. It started fairly routinely: “Hi, you’ve reached the Ash-Roberts household. We can’t take your call right now, but if you leave your name and number, we’ll get back to you.”

It ended this way, with a bit more urgency and all the authority an 11-year-old’s sing-song voice could muster: “If you’re calling for Evan, please leave a message.”

Evan is 13 now. His voice changed over the summer, dropping to the hard, flat sound typical of a teenager from the upper Midwest. The voice on the answering machine was our only audible link to the way he used to sound.

I wanted to record the recording, to preserve that memory. But I pushed the wrong button, or perhaps the right button at the wrong time. The answering machine erased Evan’s message rather than playing it.

I am as bummed about screwing that up as anything I’ve been bummed about in a long, long time. Of course, I still can hear Evan’s sing-song voice in my head. My only hope is that the memory lingers.

“Always Something There To Remind Me,” R.B. Greaves, from “R.B. Greaves,” 1969.

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I heard it in the car

We’re flattered whenever music publicists want to share something new with us. Especially when those acts are among those we’ve long known. As one publicist put it, “adult-facing artists.”

If we’re lucky enough to get a review copy, it gets put to The Car Test. I put it in the car and play it whenever I’m driving. That way, it gets heard more than once. That way, I get a good sense of the album.

That said, a few words about “Gift of Screws,” the new album from Lindsey Buckingham.

A confession: I don’t know much about Lindsey Buckingham beyond his work in Fleetwood Mac. I have none of his previous solo albums.

However, after giving it a few spins in the car, I’ve enjoyed his new album, “Gift of Screws.” Especially three songs at mid-CD: “Love Runs Deeper,” “Bel Air Rain” and “The Right Place To Fade.”

“Love Runs Deeper” and “The Right Place To Fade” have a classic mid-’70s Fleetwood Mac vibe. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie join Buckingham on the latter. “Bel Air Rain” is more moody, more edgy, infused with an L.A. vibe and some fine guitar work by Buckingham.

“This is probably the most rock ‘n’ roll album I’ve ever made,” Buckingham told John Soeder of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

That could be why I like it so much.

“Love Runs Deeper” and “Bel Air Rain,” Lindsey Buckingham, from “Gift of Screws,” 2008.

(Postscript: If you’re wondering why there are so few details, I was working without liner notes or production notes or a lyric sheet. Most of the details came from other reviews and interviews.)

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Another man behind the theme

First it was Earle Hagen. And now Neal Hefti. Those of us who love pop culture have lost another giant.

Hefti, who composed the themes to two classic TV shows — “The Odd Couple” and “Batman” — passed away Saturday. He was 85.

I’ll leave the details of his long, distinguished jazz career to those more knowledgeable than I am. As the Los Angeles Times reported today, Hefti was first a trumpeter and then one of the top jazz arrangers and composers of the ’40s and ’50s, working with Woody Herman, Count Basie and others.

In the ’60s and ’70s, Hefti did more work in film than TV, but those of us who came along later know him mostly for those TV themes.

Read the Times story, and you’ll learn just how difficult it was for him to come up with the “Batman” theme. It quotes “TV’s Biggest Hits,” Jon Burlingame’s 1996 book on TV theme songs:

“(Hefti’s) musical solution to a combined dramatic and comedic problem was perfect: bass guitar, low brass and percussion to create a driving rhythm, while an eight-voice chorus sings ‘Batman!’ in harmony with the trumpets. It was part serious, part silly: just like the series.”

Although everyone knows the “Batman” theme, “The Odd Couple” is my favorite. It instantly summons a Midwest kid’s image of early-’70s Manhattan, much as Hagen’s underrated theme for “That Girl” does.

I think we’ll go for sophistication over superheroes.

“The Odd Couple,” Neal Hefti, 1970, from “Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II,” 1986. It’s out of print.

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A bit of the South comes north

Smack in the middle of what likely was our last 70-degree weekend of the year, Saturday was one of those days that brought a deep blue sky against which Wisconsin’s fall colors exploded.

With the rest of my family scattered on the annual farm business trip and a long weekend with a friend, I had the day to myself.

So I made the rounds of record stores not often visited, traveling an hour to reach the first, then another hour to reach the second. And wouldn’t you know, on a day when I had lots of time to look and a decent enough budget, there wasn’t much to be found.

I spent $12 on five records. (Two of them were Christmas records. Believe it or not, I’m already preparing for the return of our Three Under the Tree series.)

Before I ramble on too long, here are a couple of cuts from the best record I found Saturday.

“Let’s Go Get Stoned” and “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby,” Bonnie Bramlett, from “Lady’s Choice,” 1976.

Although I heard a bit of Delaney and Bonnie in the early ’70s, I’m late to the party when it comes to really digging her voice. I’m catching up, thanks to this album, a collection of covers drenched in Southern soul.

“Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a hit for Ray Charles in 1966, gets the full Muscle Shoals treatment, complete with some laid-back Hammond organ from Barry Beckett and some big horn touches. (Did you know it was written by Valerie Simpson, Nickolas Ashford and Joshie Jo Armstead?)

“Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby,” the old Jimmy Reed tune, gets the Allman Brothers treatment with Dickey Betts on the slide guitarist and Chuck Leavell pounding the piano. That’s Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie duetting with Bramlett on this one.

Want to hear more? We have Side 2 of “Lady’s Choice” over at our other blog, The Midnight Tracker. Enjoy.

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