Tag Archives: 1991

National anthem performances, ranked

On this Independence Day, a ranking of the top national anthem performances of all time. This is a highly subjective list. Yours likely will be different. That’s what makes America great.

1. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. The national anthem as searing social commentary. A month later, he talked about it with Dick Cavett.

2. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, 1983. It was “groundbreaking,” Grantland wrote. It became “the players’ anthem,” sung by “the archbishop of swagger,” The Undefeated wrote. “You knew it was history, but it was also ‘hood,” said no less than Julius Erving, the mighty Dr. J himself.

3. Jose Feliciano at the World Series, 1968. Controversial at the time, it paved the way for Hendrix and everyone else who dared do the anthem a different way. Feliciano’s version came “before the nation was ready for it.” NPR wrote. It “infuriated America,” Deadspin wrote. Ever since, it has “given voice to immigrant pride,” Smithsonian magazine wrote.

4. Mo Cheeks helping a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics, 2003. A beautiful moment of empathy and grace. “Treat people the right way. That’s all that is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it,” the modest, humble Cheeks told the Oklahoman in 2009.

5. Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, 1991. An epic performance at a time when America desperately wanted to wrap itself in the flag, ESPN wrote. Truth be told, this isn’t one of my favorites because it came at this time and in these circumstances, but it belongs in the top five.

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

The lost summer

Twenty years ago, the life we’d built in one place was ending.

We’d decided, for many reasons, to leave Madison, Wisconsin — widely considered to be the cultural center of the universe — and move back to Green Bay. The lovely Janet had grown up in Green Bay but had been away for 15 years. I’d lived there for a couple of years out of college but had been gone for the better part of a decade.

So we put our house on the market. She stayed behind. I headed north.

I took a new job that really was my old job, the one I’d left eight years before. That was a little strange. As was sleeping on the floor of the guest room at my friends’ duplex. As was trying to find a new place, not knowing when — or whether — the house would sell. It was a blur.

And then my mom died.

It had been barely three weeks since I’d left Madison.

Mom had been in a nursing home, having reached the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Another part of our old life was gone. The handful of days that immediately followed also are a blur, save for the gorgeous summer day on which we buried Mom.

And then life went on. We found a place to live. (I’d come close to wearing out my welcome at my friends’ place.) Our house sold in 17 days. My brothers and I kept a close eye on Dad.

A few weeks later, I was at work, thinking about Dad, and about Mom. It was Aug. 27. It would have been her birthday.

And then the news came across the wire. Stevie Ray Vaughan had died.

It hit home, not so much because of who had died, but because of where and how. Vaughan died early that morning when his helicopter left Alpine Valley, a big outdoor venue southwest of Milwaukee, and crashed into a hillside. If you live in Wisconsin, you know Alpine Valley.

That, and it was a flashback to 1967, when Otis Redding died in a plane crash in Madison, in Lake Monona, not far from where we lived.

They are forever linked for me, my mom and Stevie Ray. Mom’s passing was not a surprise. Stevie Ray’s passing was startling.

“Rememberin’ Stevie,” Buddy Guy, from “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues,” 1991. (The buy link is to an expanded edition released in 2005.)

Buddy Guy had jammed with Stevie Ray Vaughan that last night at Alpine Valley, along with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray’s older brother Jimmie Vaughan. This instrumental is his tribute.

This record was released on Aug. 27, 1991, the first anniversary of Stevie Ray’s death. It again would have been my mom’s birthday.


Filed under August 2010, Sounds

Blues for T

Working in the newspaper business is a bit like riding a rocket right into the ground.

Today was another of those sad, surreal days that are becoming all too commonplace.

We’ve known for some time that another round of layoffs was coming. We’ve known for a while that the news would come down today. So you sit and wait and try not to worry about it because there’s nothing you can do about it … except have Plan B ready.

Thankfully, I will go back to work tomorrow. However, 19 others will not.

One of the 19 is my old friend T, whom I have known for more than 25 years. We long ago played basketball and downed many beers. We’ve seen all of T’s kids grow up. His youngest daughter was one of our babysitters when our son was little.

So here is a song for T.

I wrote about it a couple of years ago, recalling the night it blew us away as we drove home from a basketball game.


“Rememberin’ Stevie,” Buddy Guy, from “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues,” 1991. The CD is out of print but is available digitally.

You might think the title track might be more appropriate for this situation, and you might be right.

However, “Rememberin’ Stevie” — a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan — is a tune that reminds me of the good times with T.


Filed under July 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 9

Right on cue, the first winter storm of the season has arrived in our corner of Wisconsin on the first day of December.


So, for the first our three tunes today, why don’t we just …

“Let it Snow,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, from “Christmas with the Miracles,” 1963. It’s out of print, even though it was reissued on CD in 1991. Many of the tunes on this album also are on “Our Very Best Christmas,” a 1999 CD release.

Much as Janet and I were a little dismayed to find we had Christmas albums by Barbra Streisand and Reba McEntire — and could not explain their presence — it was a delightful surprise to rediscover this vintage Christmas album in our collection. It’s the group’s original lineup, complete with Claudette Robinson singing the lead on this tune.


You know, it’s really starting to look like a …

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. This isn’t a Christmas album, but is one of the late folk singer’s best.

This may be my favorite version of this familiar holiday tune. Goodman is playing live and someone requests it. Only one problem. Goodman isn’t entirely sure of the lyrics. Still, he gives it a go, making some of it up as he goes: “It’s kind of absurd/When you don’t know the words/To sing ‘walkin’ in a winter wonderland.'”


That’s nice, but I’ll have to go out and shovel eventually. I’ll have to put on a hoodie and boots because …

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Tom Jones with Cerys Matthews, from “Reloaded,” 2003. This album — also not a Christmas album — is a mix of TJ’s greatest hits and some interesting duets with more contemporary artists.

This Frank Loesser tune from 1944 usually is done as a duet, and this is the best version I’ve heard. That it’s anchored by Tom Jones, one of our faves, helps a great deal. It apparently is some kind of unspoken requirement that the female vocal be baby-girl/sexy/breathy. TJ’s fellow Welsh singer, Cerys Matthews, faithfully delivers on that score.

Loesser and his wife sang the song at parties until he sold its rights to MGM in 1948. It won an Oscar for best original song in 1949 when Ricardo Montalbon and Esther Williams (and Red Skelton and Betty Garrett) sang it in the film “Neptune’s Daughter.”

Among the many duos to have performed this tune: Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen McRae, Ray Charles and Betty Carter, James Caan and Bette Midler (from the 1991 film “For the Boys”), Brian Setzer and Ann-Margret, Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, and, in a bit of studio magic, Dean Martin and Martina McBride more than a decade after Dino’s death.

Enjoy. More to come. Don’t forget to leave comments and/or requests if so moved.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 7

In addition to all the albums and CDs I dig out at Christmas time, I also dig out one cassette tape.

I can play it in only one place in the house — who has more than one tape deck, if any, anymore? — but I always play it.


I taped it off the radio one night in the late ’80s. It was from a show on a most remarkable radio station in Madison, Wisconsin.

WORT, 89.9 FM, was — and is — listener-sponsored, volunteer-run, free-form Back Porch Radio. They spin a staggeringly diverse mix of local bands, indie rock, R&B, soul, dance, jazz, punk, country and performance art. (You can stream it live if you live outside Madison.)

The DJ called himself Willie Wonder, and he played R&B, soul and jazz late at night one night a week. One December night, he was dropping Christmas tunes into the usual mix.

I probably was listening to the show as I drove home from the paper, started digging it, and popped in a tape when I got home. I say that because the tape picks up in mid-program and Willie Wonder signs off before the 90-minute tape ends.

In the 20 or so years since I taped it, I’ve been collecting the Christmas tracks from the tape. Here are three of them.


“This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway, 1970, from “Soul Christmas,” a 1991 compilation.

Widely covered, this is the smooth original, written by Hathaway and Nadine McKinner. It was recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York in November 1970 and released as Atco single 6799 on Nov. 30, 1970 — 37 years ago tomorrow.


“You’re All I Want for Christmas,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies II,” 1981.

One of my guilty pleasures has long been the Salsoul Orchestra’s “Christmas Jollies” from 1976. I had it first on CD and recently found a vinyl copy. Call it dance, call it disco, it’s certainly of its time, a blend of Philly soul, funk and Latin sounds orchestrated by Vincent Montana Jr.

I’ve long been looking for “Jollies II” and recently tracked it down. It’s out of print and hard to find. But dig a little on the web and you might find it.


“Christmas Blues,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

This cool, laid-back bit of instrumental jazz — just Lewis on piano, Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums — might have been the hardest to track down. I don’t think Willie Wonder name-checked it that night.

But it all fell into place when I came across this cut — still not knowing its name — on a budget Christmas CD found at Fleet Farm three or four years ago.

(Midwest folks will know how odd it is to find it there. Fleet Farm is a big discount farm and home supply place, with everything from guns to fishing tackle to jeans to tires to work boots to tools to light fixtures.)

Then “Sound of Christmas” was re-released on CD in 2004, and I snapped that up. The first side, the first five cuts, has the trio only. The second side, the next five cuts, has the trio backed by a string section for a lusher sound. I prefer Side 1, but you can’t go wrong with either side.

From the original liner notes by Nelson Noble of radio station WILD in Boston:

“While you’re listening to The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s Sounds of Christmas, please keep in mind that all of us wish all of you a very Merry, Swingin’ Christmas.”

I’ll second that. Enjoy. More to come.


Filed under Christmas music, November 2007, Sounds