Category Archives: Sounds

Pondering post-pandemic playlists

Saturday morning has become a time to haul myself out of bed by 9 a.m. and listen to WXPN radio out of Philadelphia.

My friend Bruce Warren always puts together a fine show — it’s one of the few places I hear new music these days — but yesterday’s show was especially good.

(I came to know Bruce some years back when he wrote and published Some Velvet Blog; he now writes and publishes 10 Bands, a Substack newsletter. Check it out.)

As Bruce played “Pump Up The Volume” — the 1987 smash from M|A|R|R|S — near the end of the third hour yesterday, I couldn’t help but think there’s going to be a huge resurgence in fun, upbeat grooves old and new — dance, funk, R&B, soul, rock, disco, country, what have you — as we exit the pandemic.

People are going to want to let it SNAP.

This also occurred to me a couple of weeks ago as I played some records for my Women’s History Month listening project. As you know, we go four records at a time for that kind of thing.

As I listened to this batch from the late ’70s and early ’80s — Cuchi-Cuchi” by Charo and the Salsoul Orchestra, “You Broke My Heart In 17 Places” by Tracey Ullman, “Mad Love” by Linda Ronstadt and “Success” by The Weather Girls — I wondered: Where have all the fun records gone?

Once we get past the pandemic, I think we’re going to be blasting these grooves and having some fun.

But back to that third hour on XPN. Bruce started it with this one.

I blasted it. Summer’s coming. Told you we’re going to let it SNAP.

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Filed under March 2021, Sounds

Four records at a time

It took a pandemic for me to listen to a bunch of my records. Not sure what that says about me, but there you go.

Staying home and socially distancing wasn’t too bad until the weather turned cold up here in Wisconsin and really kept us inside. So I just kept dropping record after record onto the turntable. No ripping to digital. Just let it go, man.

Four records make for a nice night of listening while surfing or writing.

Some records take me right back to where I found them, a nice memory.

Some records have startling moments. Those, I’ll circle back on and rip a little something from. Eddie Floyd’s “Down To Earth” LP was the first eye-opener. Then the scorching “Involved” by Edwin Starr. Then “Dreams/Answers,” Rare Earth’s rarely-seen debut LP. Then a couple of alternate Beatles takes from the 2017 re-release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” 

There you have it, four records.

Four records also make for a nice visual presentation when you post to Facebook or Twitter. If you follow me either place, you’ve seen a lot of them, especially this month for Black History Month. Today will make it 23 such posts — 92 records, all by Black artists — over 28 days and nights.

From the Black History Month social posts, some records that’ll get more spins:

— “Young, Gifted and Black” is by far the best Aretha Franklin record in my crates. That was a $1 record. Looked rough, played fine.

— Didn’t know about Johnny Adams, but, man, could he sing.

— Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” has lost none of its punch.

— The instrumentals on “James Brown Plays New Breed (The Boo-Ga-Loo)” really cook.

— Ike and Tina Turner’s early live records are astonishing.

— Definitely going back for seconds on the “Cleopatra Jones” soundtrack featuring Joe Simon and Millie Jackson. That was a $3 record found in a box on the floor at a record show in Indianapolis.

— Timmy Thomas got a lot of mileage out of that syncopated beat on “Why Can’t We Live Together,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Found that at a record store that no longer exists.

There you have it. Eight records, two nights’ worth of listening.

When I spent a couple of nights listening to blaxploitation soundtracks last week, I circled back to the first record I ever wrote about here. I’m talking ’bout “Shaft.”

I was 14 when I bought this record in 1971.

With that, we quietly mark 14 years here at AM, Then FM. Can you dig it?

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Filed under February 2021, Sounds

Fixing a hole in my knowledge

Time for a confession.

Because I came to know Beatles songs first as singles on the radio and then via the red and blue greatest-hits comps from 1973, I must confess that I’m still not all that familiar with some Beatles songs in the context of their studio records. That is to say, Beatles songs as the Beatles intended for them to be heard.

I’m working on that. Today, I dropped “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” onto the turntable.

Three years ago, one of my birthday gifts was the 50th anniversary edition of “Sgt. Pepper.” It’s a two-record set. The first record is the “Sgt. Pepper” everyone knows, but with a crisp new stereo mix produced by Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin. The second record is from the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions, presenting alternate takes or instrumental versions of all the songs in order, along with studio chatter here and there. It’s a fun thing to have. Here are a couple of cuts from the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions.

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (Take 1),” from Side 3. Recorded March 1, 1967.

From the liner notes: “Take seven of the instrumental backing from this session was used as the basis for various overdubs. This is the first proper run-through.” John’s lead vocal is here, but the choruses are missing. In their place, dig Paul on the Lowrey organ and George Martin on piano.

“Within You Without You (Take 1 with Indian instruments),” from Side 4. Recorded March 15, 1967. An instrumental version.

From the liner notes: “The song’s recording began with a performance by musicians from the Asian Music Circle based in London. The featured instruments are: tabla (a drum first featured on a Beatles record in “Love To You”), swaramandala (which made the harp-like glissando on “Strawberry Fields Forever”), tamboura (a stringed instrument plucked to create an atmospheric drone for “Love To You” and “Getting Better”) and a bowed instrument called a dilruba.”

Both from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” 2-LP edition, 2017 re-release of the 1967 original.

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Filed under January 2021, Sounds

The quietest New Year’s Eve

What are we doing New Year’s Eve? Oh, not much. Just sticking close to home, staying socially distanced.

“When the bells all ring and the horns all blow
“And the couples that we know are fondly kissing
“Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?”

We’re all among this missing this year, making this classic all the more poignant as 2020 finally ends. Maybe next New Year’s Eve.

Written by Frank Loesser in 1947, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” has been described as the only notable jazz standard with a New Year’s Eve theme. This sophisticated tune tempers an unrequited love with some hope. We all could use some hope these days.

It’s great no matter who does it. Let’s go.

It’s the ’60s. You’re in a roadhouse, the one hard by the tracks. You hear this.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” King Curtis, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (Recorded on Oct. 23, 1968, at Atlantic Studios in New York. That’s Duane Allman on guitar.)

Then you head uptown to a nightclub. You hear this …

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio,” from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

… and this …

steveeydieholidayfeelinglp

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Eydie Gorme, from “That Holiday Feeling!” Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, 1964. (Steve sits this one out.)

… and this.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967.

Four decades later, you wander into a hotel ballroom …

setzerdigcrazyxmascd

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” Brian Setzer and Julie Reiten, from “Dig That Crazy Christmas,” the Brian Setzer Orchestra, 2005.

This blog post originally appeared here in different form … 10 years ago. Man. Where does the time go?

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Filed under December 2020, Sounds

Our 3 Christmas wishes

The first wish

Christmas bells, those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967.

In 1965, Charles Schulz started drawing Snoopy as a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron. But “it reached a point where war just didn’t seem funny,” he told biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Even so, Snoopy and the Red Baron inspired this novelty Christmas song with explosions, with gunfire and with a solid message of hope that came as the Vietnam War escalated.

The second wish

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

"Someday at Christmas" LP by Stevie Wonder, 1967.

“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder, from “Someday at Christmas,” 1967.

My friend Derek reminded me of this one on Christmas Eve morning last year. Thanks, man. When Stevie sings of “men” throughout this one, songwriter Ron Miller clearly means everyone, of any age.

I have this cut on “A Motown Christmas” from 1973, a record we’ve had since we had only a few Christmas records. The others from way back when? “The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album” from 1968 — here’s some of that — and “A Festival Of Carols In Brass” by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble from 1967.

The third wish

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. I’d always had it on “Shaved Fish,” the 1975 compilation LP from Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, until I found the single.

War is over, if you want it

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2020, Sounds