Category Archives: Sounds

Paul’s new group

50 years ago today, on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 1971, news started breaking ever so slowly across America that Paul McCartney, formerly of the Beatles, had a new, unnamed band.

The five-paragraph item that moved on the Associated Press wire that day likely was headlined “McCartney Forms New Pop Group.” (How do I know? That’s the headline that appeared in a bunch of newspapers. Wire editors who were pressed for time, or just lazy, often copied the AP’s headline right into the paper.)

Newspaper clipping on Paul McCartney's new, unnamed band, Aug. 4, 1971

This one is from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, although I’m trying to decide whether that’s Paul or actor Anthony Zerbe in the photo.

Newspaper clipping about Paul McCartney's new, unnamed band, Aug. 4, 1971

This one is from the News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, which kinda made Macca’s new group sound like a bunch of allies from The Big One, WWII.

Newspaper clipping on Paul McCartney's new, unnamed band, Aug. 4, 1971

This one is from the Springfield (Missouri) Leader and Press, whose headline said all it needed to say and probably hit hard for those who loved the Beatles.

Paul’s new band, of course, was Wings. “His blonde American wife,” Linda Eastman, was in the band — wow, no sexist or provincial attitudes there, eh? — along with guitarist Denny Laine and drummer Denny Seiwell.

Two days earlier, on Monday, Aug. 2, they’d finished recording their first album at Abbey Road Studios in London. No mention of that, though.

Three days earlier, on Sunday, Aug. 1, Paul’s old mates, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had performed together at the Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York. 

I wonder whether the news dump about Paul’s new band was intended to keep him in the public eye in the wake of the Concert for Bangladesh, where he was  conspicuously absent. The AP’s report noted that it was the first time George and Ringo, the former Beatles, had played together on a stage in four years. Paul had declined to take part.

Then again, it had been barely three months since the release of Paul and Linda’s “Ram” album, which reviewers panned but fans loved. So perhaps another reason to stay in the public eye.

The debut album not mentioned 50 years ago today is “Wild Life.” It reached No. 10 on the U.S. album charts and went gold. It produced no singles, save for a British promo release of “Love Is Strange,” a Mickey and Sylvia cover. Neither fans nor reviewers were all that excited about “Wild Life.”

There was, however, a 14-year-old kid in Wisconsin who was curious about “Wild Life” upon its release in early December 1971. Curious enough to take a flyer on Paul McCartney’s new record, probably with Christmas money. Taking a flyer on “Wild Life” was no small thing. I had so few albums — I think I had four after buying this one — that I couldn’t chance getting a bad one.

Almost 50 years later, I still have it.

But I’m sitting here, trying to figure out how I might have heard about Wings and “Wild Life,” given that it produced no singles to be played on the Top 40 radio I listened to. Maybe the DJs mentioned it? There was nothing in the paper. Maybe I was just going through the records at Prange’s, saw Paul McCartney on the record jacket, read the liner notes and popped for it.

Today, not everyone remembers or even knows about “Wild Life.” But given that I had only four albums back then, every cut on it is seared into memory.

“Wild Life” ends with Paul writing about John Lennon, from whom he’d been estranged. It’s the best song on the album.

Album cover of "Wild Life" by Wings from 1971.

“Dear Friend,” Wings, from “Wild Life,” 1971.

Audio taken from the record I’ve had for almost 50 years.

 

 

 

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Filed under August 2021, Sounds

I briefly wanted my MTV

Memory tells me I watched from the beginning as MTV debuted 40 years ago today, on Aug. 1, 1981. A little research proves otherwise.

In Green Bay, my cable system didn’t show MTV that first day. Its programmers said they’d watch MTV off air and then decide whether to carry it. They didn’t add it until the last week of July 1982, almost a year after MTV’s debut. By then, I’d moved to Madison, where it was August 1982 before MTV was added to the local cable system.

Had I been living in the Green Bay suburbs, I’d have seen MTV sooner. The cable system serving the suburbs showed MTV that first day. However, it didn’t have the necessary equipment to air MTV in stereo and dropped MTV from its lineup. MTV returned to the suburban cable system in the spring of 1982.

Perhaps my memory of watching music videos 40 summers ago is that of “Night Flight,” which debuted on the USA Network in the summer of 1981. My cable system carried that.

Why the delays in bringing MTV to Green Bay?

Culturally speaking, MTV might as well have been beamed from another planet to the Green Bay, Wisconsin, of 40 years ago.

Practically speaking, both cable systems serving Green Bay at that time had only a 35-channel capacity. They had to make sure each channel was a sure thing.

At the beginning, MTV wasn’t a sure thing. Nor were many other cable networks back then. It seems almost unbelievable now, but even a year after MTV debuted, cable TV had made few inroads against local TV.

But MTV survived, especially after advertisers realized and tapped into the huge spending power of MTV’s young demographic.

I was part of that young demographic until I wasn’t, and that pretty much describes the arc of my passion for MTV.

I was 25 when I started watching MTV. Writing this, it turns out 1982 to 1985 were my peak MTV-watching years, a shorter time than I’d thought.

What I didn’t see, David Bowie saw. During an interview with VJ Mark Goodman in 1983, he called out MTV for not playing Black artists. That made news. It was a wake-up call for me. After that, I spent more time listening to the local indie radio station, which had a far more diverse and adventurous playlist.

Slowly, my passion for MTV waned. Regular programming started replacing music videos. That wasn’t my cup of tea. By the late ’80s, I’d grown up, gotten older, moved on. MTV had moved on, too, leaving behind a guy in his 30s.

Even so, MTV introduced me to many great artists not heard on the radio until they broke on MTV. If I had to pick three who I watched and then bought their records: Eurythmics, Bananarama and, yeah, Billy Idol. Also, I must confess I never quite got Talking Heads until I saw their videos. Then I got it.

My most memorable videos are the same as for lots of people: “Take on Me” by a-Ha and, of course, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. But it was wonderful seeing videos by Dave Edmunds, one of my faves from long before there were videos.

Plus all those big global movements seen on MTV — Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984 and then Live Aid, Farm Aid (I vividly remember Sammy Hagar, having just joined Van Halen, dropping F-bombs during the live broadcast), U.S.A. for Africa’s “We Are The World” and the best and fiercest of them all, Artists United Against Apartheid’s “Sun City,” all in 1985.

 

 

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Filed under August 2021, Sounds

Farewell, Satchmo

Louis Armstrong file photo, Associated Press

50 years ago today, on Tuesday, July 6, 1971, the great jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong died. He was 69.

The last thing he ever recorded was a charming spoken-word rendition of “The Night Before Christmas.” He did so on Friday, Feb. 26, 1971, in the den of his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

It’s one of our favorites. We share it here on Christmas Eve every year.

Louis Armstrong The Night Before Christmas 45 sleeve

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,

‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

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Filed under July 2021, Sounds

A different kind of digging

February was Black History Month, a time to listen to a bunch of my records by Black artists.

March was Women’s History Month, a time to listen a bunch of my records by women artists.

Since then, though, I’ve been seeing someone else.

I have a new diversion as the pandemic drags on. (Get your COVID-19 vaccine shots, please.) I’m back to baseball cards.

Earlier this month, I went to a sports card show. It was pleasant enough, but I think I’ll stick to record shows. Kids rarely go to record shows, so you don’t see dealers condescending to them as they sometimes do at sports card shows. Some record dealers can be hustlers, but not to the degree that sports card dealers can be. Sports cards have become white hot during the pandemic. Some dealers seem like sketchy investment brokers.

My original baseball card collection, gathered from 1968 to the mid-’70s, has thousands of cards in it. All those cards are considered vintage cards these days, just as most of my records are considered vintage records. Some are valuable. They’re not for sale. At least not today.

There are 28 cards in my new collection. I’m not sure there will be a lot more.

Twelve are art cards created by Andrew Woolley, the Michigan artist behind Millburg Trading Cards. It’s fun to have cards that few others have, and good to have cards that support Alzheimer’s and autism awareness.

Ten are what’s known as group cards, with two or more players and headlines that have gone from corny to vintage cool over the decades: “Buc Belters,” “Power Plus,” “Bird Belters,” “Friendly Foes,” “Bird Hill Aces.”

Four feature Dick Allen, one of the all-time baseball badasses and one of my favorite players, including his 1964 rookie card. (Dick Allen belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, by the way.)

The other two also are all-time baseball badasses, George Scott of the Brewers and Dave Parker of the Pirates. (Dave Parker’s new book, “Cobra,” written with Dave Jordan, is excellent. Parker also belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

Late last year, my friend Charlie over at the fine Bloggerhythms blog wrote about Dick Allen’s brief music career. He was the lead singer in Rich Allen and The Ebonistics, a Philadelphia doo-wop group. Here’s their single “Echo’s of November” on Groovey Grooves Records, a Philly label, from 1968.

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Filed under April 2021, 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