A week in the life

The big news around here this week was that Paul McCartney will be playing a show at Lambeau Field on June 8. That’s a little over 2 miles from our house. Macca himself, practically in our neighborhood. But we’re not going.

We’re seeing him two nights earlier at the Kohl Center in Madison. That show was announced first, at the end of August. We were fortunate enough to get tickets. We’re good with that.

All of this got me to thinking about seeing the Beatles live. Some day, we’ll look back and say we did the best we could, given that we came along too late.

Day One: Friday, Aug. 12, 1966. I was 9 when the Beatles toured America for the last time. We lived a mere 150 miles away when that tour opened at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago that Friday. But, again, I was 9. The Beatles weren’t on my radar except as Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Day Two: Wednesday, Aug. 30, 1972. John Lennon never toured America. I was 15, soon to be a sophomore in high school, when John played his last full-length show at Madison Square Garden in New York. It’s laughable to think it might have been publicized in any way in our corner of Wisconsin. That show might as well have been on the moon.

Day Three: Saturday, Nov. 30, 1974. I was 17, a senior in high school, when George Harrison went on his only tour of America in November and December 1974. Maybe they mentioned on the radio that George and Ravi Shankar were playing two shows at Chicago Stadium. Had I known about the shows, and had I somehow scraped together the money for a ticket, I suppose I could have driven the 280 miles to Chicago that Saturday. But realistically, none of that was a possibility. We probably had a basketball game or a party, or both, that night.

Day Four: Tuesday, July 16, 2013. We saw Paul McCartney at Miller Park in Milwaukee. We had seats in left field, on the field, stage left. It’s not every day you see one of the Beatles up close. Paul did not disappoint. Tremendous, wonderful, almost surreal.

Day Five: Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. We saw Ringo Starr at the BMO Harris Pavilion at the lakefront in Milwaukee. Ringo did not disappoint. Still irreverent, still cracking wise. We heard, and sang along to, “Yellow Submarine.” Peace and love, everyone, peace and love.

Never saw the Beatles. Never saw John. Never saw George. Saw Paul and Ringo. But there’s still some unfinished business.

Day Six: June 6, 2019. We’ll be in the same room with Paul McCartney.

Day Seven: TBD. I hope to walk across the Abbey Road crossing someday.

Maybe that’ll be in 2021, when I’m sixty-four.

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Filed under Sounds, December 2018

Downstairs at Prange’s

Imagine seeing a photo of something you thought existed only in memory. As you try to process it, the whole thing takes your breath away. Then you get catch your breath and settle down to scrutinizing the tiniest details of the photo.

So it is with this photo, posted earlier this month by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center to its Facebook page. It carried this four-word caption: “Record department. H.C. Prange.”

When I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in the ’60s and ’70s, everyone went down by Prange’s. It was the biggest department store in that city of 50,000 along Lake Michigan.

The record department was in the basement. You went down the main escalator and there it was, over to your right as you stepped off, a dazzling world of colorful and thrilling LPs spread out before you. 45s? Sure, but those you could get at the neighborhood dime store. Prange’s was the place where you came to ponder the mighty LP.

This photo is from 1969 or later. In the row going up diagonally from the lower left corner are the Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” the latter released as an import in 1969. I’d love to see this photo at higher resolution so I could try to ID some of the other records.

I never bought a lot of LPs at Prange’s — all I had was paper route money, and not much of it — but what I did buy were among the first albums I ever owned. I still have them all.

— I gave Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory” LP to my friend Mike for his 13th birthday. It came out in July 1970. His birthday was in October. Truth be told, I’d wanted it for myself. Instead, I got Creedence’s “Green River,” which by then was a year old. It all worked out.

Neil Diamond’s “Tap Root Manuscript,” released in November 1970. I also was 13 and had been listening to AM Top 40 radio almost non-stop all that year.

— Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” soundtrack, released in July 1971.

Wings’ “Wild Life,” released in December 1971.

Then there’s this.

When I was 13, I was tempted by, perhaps even obsessed with, Janis Joplin’s “Pearl.” It had been released in January 1971, midway through my eighth-grade year. I liked the music. Mostly, though, I thought her pose on the cover was kind of hot — and, yes, I already had some sense of someone being a hot mess — and I really didn’t want to try to explain that to my parents.

So I never bought “Pearl” at Prange’s. Truth be told, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I finally bought “Pearl.” I’ve since bought three or four copies, always looking for a cover in a bit nicer condition than the one before.

Maybe I’ll even frame it someday. It tells quite a story about a young record digger, even if only he recognizes it.

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Filed under November 2018, Sounds

Have a Harry Halloween, everyone

Saw this earlier today on Twitter.

This is another of those records I’ve had forever.

“Nilsson Schmilsson,” its 1971 predecessor, was one of the first few LPs I ever bought. Thinking back, I probably bought it with Christmas money. I know it from front to back. Loved it then, love it now.

So of course when “Son of Schmilsson” came out in the summer of 1972, I bought it right away. Thinking back, I probably bought it with birthday money.

“Son of Schmilsson” fell right into a 15-year-old’s wheelhouse. I was a sophomore-to-be, and this record was sophomoric if nothing else. It’s full of irreverent and rude humor, lapsing into vaguely bad taste well before that notorious belch between songs on Side 2. Oh, yeah, I know this record from front to back, too. We had a lot of fun listening to “Son of Schmilsson” back then.

Listening to it now, though, and knowing how Harry Nilsson’s life unfolded — and of course, unraveled — it’s a little sad.

“It’s a deeply strange record, one which seems to be almost willful self-sabotage in places,” Mr. Andrew Hickey wrote this summer in a fine, must-read breakdown of “Son of Schmilsson” at his blog, Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

That pretty much nails it.

So please enjoy the most elegant cut on “Son of Schmilsson,” a song that went unappreciated by a certain 15-year-old in 1972. All those years later, its poignant message hits home.

Long ago, far away / Life was clear / Close your eyes / Remember …

“Remember (Christmas),” Nilsson, from “Son of Schmilsson,” 1972.

Bonus cover!

“Remember,” Randy Newman, from “For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson,” 1995.

The proceeds from this tribute record, which was released after Nilsson’s death in 1994, went to The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Nilsson became passionate about the cause after the shooting death of his friend John Lennon in 1980.

 

 

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Filed under October 2018, Sounds

All records $2, except the $1 ones

When a Gordon Lightfoot record you thought no one would ever want is the first record you sell, that’s a sign that it’s going to be a special day.

That was Saturday at the Green Bay Record Convention.

The picture above was taken just as the show opened. As it turns out, the picture was taken from the corner where I spent most of the day.

In baseball lingo, I’m the pinch hitter in our lineup. If the show sells out, I sit at the back door and work as a gofer. If the show doesn’t sell out, I’m comped a table so we’re full. On Saturday, one vendor didn’t show. After giving the missing vendor an extra hour, I opened for business at 11.

“This is really a cheap crowd,” the older guy at the next table said to me late in the day. He was new to the Green Bay show and its record diggers. His crates were a hodgepodge of genres, all seemingly priced by a guide. This gent didn’t have many bargains in his crates. It didn’t seem that he sold a lot of records.

Everything in my crates was marked down to $2, save for the stuff that was already marked down to $1. And, yes, I know full well that I should have charged more for some of my records. But that turned out to be the sweet spot. Our crowds tend to be bargain hunters. I’ve never sold so many records.

I no longer have any records by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, nor any by the Blasters, Jerry Reed, Johnny Rivers or Cameo. Know them well. Just didn’t listen to them anymore.

My collection is down to three Elvis records, and two of them are still in my sale crates, having gone unsold on Saturday. Perhaps another day.

“I Don’t Need You No More,” the J. Geils Band, from “The Morning After,” 1971.

Once upon a time, I had all 14 of the J. Geils Band’s live and studio records. Now there are seven left. Kinda wish a couple of them hadn’t sold Saturday, but it’s time for someone else to enjoy them.

Which is where we’re headed. After Saturday, there are fewer than 1,000 records in my collection for the first time in a long time.

Downsizing is the plan going forward. Been thinking for some time now about getting my collection down to a more manageable, more enjoyable number. Let’s say 100 records. But that’s another post for another day.

For the record, so to speak: When last we gathered, I polled the crowd on whether I should go see an arena show with Bad Company and Cheap Trick or a theater show with Herman’s Hermits after the record show on Saturday. Thank you for your votes. But as it turns out, I did neither. We went to see our niece play hockey instead.

 

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Filed under October 2018, Sounds

After Ringo, what’s next?

So anyway, we saw Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band in Milwaukee last month.

Ringo is surprisingly elfin and nimble for a gent of 78. That’s him in the striped pants in front of the drum kit with the star on it. He bounced from center stage up a few steps to his drum kit and then back down and back up and back down with ease. Peace and love, everyone, peace and love.

The show was exactly as billed. A greatest-hits show by Ringo and his bandmates — Colin Hay from Men At Work (only Ringo got bigger cheers), Graham Gouldman from 10cc (a polite reception for his elegant songs), Steve Lukather from Toto (with a nod to those Weezer covers) and Gregg Rolie from Santana and Journey (“Oye Como Va” is still damn near a showstopper).

Of course, everyone was there to see and hear one of the Beatles. Ringo did not disappoint. Still irreverent, still cracking wise. Your favorite uncle sang his Beatles songs. Peace and love, everyone, peace and love.

Ringo opened with “Matchbox,” “It Don’t Come Easy” and “What Goes On,” noting that the latter was the only Beatles song credited to Lennon, McCartney and Starkey. “The credits should be reversed!” Ringo insisted, smiling. After one song each by his bandmates, Ringo did “Boys” and “Don’t Pass Me By.”

Then Ringo played “Yellow Submarine,” the 10th song of the show. After singing along like everyone else, I turned to Janet, smiled and said “OK, we can go now.”

But Ringo wasn’t done. There was “You’re Sixteen” (even the Ringo faithful at the show agreed it’s inappropriate now as then, and they’d prefer “No-No Song” to that) and “Anthem” (a polite reception for that one, too). “I Wanna Be Your Man” was dropped into the middle of a long set of songs by his bandmates.

The show wrapped with “Photograph,” “Act Naturally” and a wonderful sing-along medley of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Give Peace A Chance.” Peace and love, everyone, peace and love.

Which leads us to the question posed above. After Ringo, what’s next?

Our local record show, the Green Bay Record Convention, is coming up on the last Saturday of October. That night, there are two shows I’d like to see, each a distinctly different genre in a distinctly different venue. What say you?

Update: Thank you for your votes. But as it turns out, I did neither of these things after the record show. We went to see our niece play hockey instead.

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Filed under October 2018, Sounds

That you, Siouxsie?

First time I heard Paul McCartney’s “Come On To Me,” maybe last week, it sure sounded familiar. Just couldn’t place it.

Heard it again this afternoon and finally put my finger on it. Sounded like a song from 30 years ago. Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Peek-a-Boo.”

Not the first to think this …

… but I did some Google and Twitter searches to check, and I might be the second.

That is all.

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Filed under October 2018, Sounds

A Flock has landed again

It was there on Facebook for a flash, then gone as quickly in the scroll of the moment. When I thought to circle back and look for it, I couldn’t remember which of my follows had mentioned it, and the FB algorithms seemed to have rendered it invisible.

So I turned to Google and entered a most unlikely trio of search terms: “Flock of Seagulls” and “I Ran” and “orchestra.”

The combination of rock and symphonic sounds has always fascinated me, ever since spending three years playing standup bass in the grade school orchestra.

(A little story about that: As a 9-year-old fourth-grader in 1966, I chose the bass because I figured I wouldn’t have to practice because there was no way I could lug it home five blocks from school. I never imagined my parents could or would rent one to keep at the house. They did.)

Of course, we never played anything remotely close to rock. But once I heard the orchestration on the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” well, it was wonderful that such a thing was possible. Among my favorites when I got a little older: Pretty much anything by Electric Light Orchestra and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, with a little “Sabre Dance” by Dave Edmunds and Love Sculpture thrown in for good measure. I even went through a Rick Wakeman phase.

Fast forward to today, when I learned A Flock of Seagulls and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra have teamed up to record new versions of some of the Flock’s most popular songs.

“Ascension” was released in July, but that was news to me.

A Flock of Seagulls was one of my favorite groups in the early days of MTV. I gained more respect for them after seeing them live in the summer of 2006.

That summer, A Flock of Seagulls was the headline act in an ’80s nostalgia tour that played in Green Bay. The opening acts were When In Rome, Gene Loves Jezebel, Animotion and Tommy Tutone. Five acts playing a show that had to end at a specific time. Casino rules. The early acts ran long. One of the middle acts got pissy about it, complaining on stage about having to play a shortened set.

When it came time for A Flock of Seagulls, they were up against the clock, robbed of some of their stage time. Their crew set up as quickly as possible. The Flock played as many of the crowd’s favorites as they could in the time that remained. They never complained. Total pros.

Mike Score, the Flock’s lead singer, remembers that tour.

“Twelve or so years ago we did a bit of a reunion, and that didn’t work out well for me,” he told Billboard magazine in May. He dabbled with a solo career in the wake of that tour but has always fronted A Flock of Seagulls, which has had 15 different lineups if its Wiki page is accurate.

Until “Ascension,” the four original members of A Flock of Seagulls — Mike Score, Ali Score, Frank Maudsley and Paul Reynolds — hadn’t recorded together since 1984. They really weren’t together for this one, either, save for a day spent shooting a promo video in Liverpool. They reworked their songs by email, sharing audio clips and then sending them to an orchestral arranger to assemble.

“What I heard sounded great. I would call it neo-retro-classical,” Mike Score told Billboard, laughing.

I agree. It sounds wonderful.

“I Ran,” A Flock of Seagulls with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, from “Ascension,” 2018.

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Filed under September 2018, Sounds