Tag Archives: 1999

Two for the blues

That was the name of a show I used to listen to on WORT, the fine indie radio station in Madison, Wisconsin, back in the ’80s. (It’s still on the air, by the way, at 8 p.m. Saturdays. Listen live here.)

If I have the blues today, it’s because summer is hurtling past, and there’s nothing I can do to slow its pace. Too much work, though it beats the alternative. Too much softball and not enough skating, but only I am to blame for that. Too little time to listen to tunes, or to rip them, and then to write the blog, so I’ll try to make amends.

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One for the rockin’ blues: George Thorogood and the Destroyers will be out with a new record later this month. “The Dirty Dozen” is set up a bit like a vinyl LP. The first six cuts are new tunes. The next six are covers, including three from earlier Thorogood albums that have gone out of print.

Thorogood has been rocking the car for the better part of the last week. His new stuff sounds just like his old stuff, and that’s OK with us. We count on George for crunchy, wink-and-a-nod rock, rhythm and blues, and that’s what we get with “The Dirty Dozen.”

“Twenty Dollar Gig,” George Thorogood and the Destroyers, from “The Dirty Dozen,” out July 28 on Capitol/EMI.

The first couple of times I heard this, I thought it was the worst cut on the record. Then I realized its genius was in its locomotive groove, its simple lyrics and Buddy Leach’s sizzling sax. It’s a garage band classic.

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Two for the real gone blues: Anyone for some Albert King, playing live in the studio with Stevie Ray Vaughan? I thought you might dig it. “In Session” was recorded in Canada on Dec. 6, 1983, given a modest release in 1999 and reissued last month by Stax.

“Ask Me No Questions,” Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, from “In Session,” 1999.

There’s plenty here for you blues guitar fans, including an epic-length “Blues at Sunrise,” two other Albert King originals and a cover of Stevie Ray’s “Pride and Joy.” That said, I like my blues cut with keyboards. Like this B.B. King cover featuring Tony Ll0rens on piano.

This is believed to be the only time King and Vaughan played together on a record. Vaughan died in 1990, King in 1992.

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Filed under July 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 24

Today under the tree, something a little different. One modern Christmas classic, three contemporary singers, which means … Diva Throwdown!

Truth be told, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a protest song. It’s a call for peace written in October 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. The music was written by Gloria Shayne. The lyrics were written by Noel Regney. The Harry Simeone Chorale had the first big hit with it that year. Bing Crosby had an even bigger hit with it in 1963.

It’s been widely covered since, and one of the more familiar versions is up first on Diva Throwdown! Because sometimes Christmas isn’t Christmas unless someone sings the bejeezus (the be-baby-jeezus?) out of a tune.

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“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Whitney Houston, from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1987.

There’s a nice slow groove underneath this one. Then add a little bit of gospel. Once Houston gets revved up, she soars right over the top of those gospel singers. This cover makes it clear that Houston did indeed get her start in the junior gospel choir at her church in Newark, New Jersey.

Next up …

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“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Martina McBride, from “White Christmas,’ 1999. (The link is to the 2007 reissue with extra tracks and new cover art.)

This is a fairly laid-back cover, the most straightforward of the three, showcasing McBride’s lovely voice. She’s as much a pop singer as a country singer. After seeing McBride duetting with Pat Benatar on CMT’s “Crossroads” show — that was five years ago already? — she rocks, too.

Next up …

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“Do You Hear What I Hear?/The Little Drummer Boy,” Vanessa Williams, from “Star Bright,” 1996. It’s out of print, but is available digitally.

We’ve saved the best for last … and no pun intended.

Williams’ voice isn’t as powerful as Houston’s or McBride’s, but she has a terrific arrangement behind her. There’s a little R&B, there’s a little Afrobeat, there’s a gospel choir. The curious thing about this tune it its title. As far as I can tell, there’s no “Little Drummer Boy” in it.

I picked up several used CDs as I prepared for Diva Throwdown! These so-called divas’ records aren’t really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed Williams’ record. McBride’s record is Midwest nice, and we’ll keep that one, too. But I bought some others — no need to name names — that were disappointing and still others that were almost unlistenable.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Walleye Weekend washout

This weekend was Walleye Weekend in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, about an hour south of where we live. I’d hoped to go down Saturday night to hear a most unlikely double bill of the Grass Roots followed by War.

However, that trip never materialized. My brother needed help moving, so I found myself in another part of the state for most of the day. That, and it rained for most of the day.

It’s the second time I’ve missed the Grass Roots this year. They played a gig at an auditorium in a small town about an hour away in April … on NFL draft weekend. When you work for the web site at the newspaper in Green Bay, no one asks off on NFL draft weekend.

So I can’t tell you what the Grass Roots sound like these days.

They’ve gone through lots of lineup changes since they started in San Francisco in 1965, when a bunch of studio musicians backed up P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, a couple of songwriters who came up with “Where Were You When I Needed You.” These days, the only link to the glory days is lead singer Rob Grill, who is 64 and has been with the group since 1967.

Likewise, I can’t tell you what War sounds like these days.

This group also has seen lots of lineup changes since its start in southern California in 1969. That’s when, after several years of gigging in the L.A. area, first as the Creators and then as Nightshift (backing Deacon Jones, the Los Angeles Rams football star moonlighting as a singer!), it became War, the backing band for British rocker Eric Burdon. He was gone by 1971, and the rest — the multiracial, multiethnic War’s potent mix of rock, funk, soul, jazz and Latin music — is history.

These days, War tours with only one of its original members. Keyboard player and singer Lonnie Jordan is 59 and has been with the band since before it was War. (The four other original, surviving members tour as the Lowrider Band, having lost a lawsuit to Jordan and original producer Jerry Goldstein over use of the name “War.”)

A couple of tunes I would have liked to have heard this weekend …

“Baby Hold On,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. Out of print. Also available on “The Grass Roots’ All-Time Greatest Hits,” an import CD released in 1996.

“The World Is A Ghetto,” War, 1973, from “War Greatest Hits,” 1976. Out of print. Also available on “Grooves and Messages: The Greatest Hits of War,” a 1999 CD compilation that includes eight remixed tracks on a second disc.

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Filed under June 2008, Sounds

20/20/20 vision, Part II

We’re back with another installment of 20 Songs from 20 Albums for $20.

If you missed us last time out, these tunes are part of the haul from a recent morning of crate digging in the back yard of one of our local used record dealers.

Nothing too heavy here. Just enjoy the tunes, presented at random, much the way I came across them in the tents in Jim’s back yard.

“Let’s Hang On,” the Bob Crewe Generation, from “Music To Watch Girls By,” 1967. (The link is to a 2006 best-of CD.)

Until JB wrote about them over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ a couple of weeks ago, I’d never heard of the Bob Crewe Generation. But I had heard the old Diet Pepsi commercial that inspired the title track to the album, which JB graciously shared. The smooth instrumental oozed cool and sophistication, especially when you were just 10, as I was at the time.

As I was digging in the tents, I came across not one, but two copies of the original LP … along with another album JB mentioned in the same post. I passed on the T-Bones, but grabbed this one.

As for “Let’s Hang On,” Crewe helped write it for Frankie Valli, who performed for a sold-out house of 2,000-plus here in Green Bay last week. Our paper had this great story, recalling when fans mobbed a local record store when Valli and the original Four Seasons visited in 1962. That’s Valli doing a live radio show with a local DJ at upper right.

“Heart’s Desire,” Joe South, from “Games People Play,” 1969. The link is to a 2006 CD release with two Joe South albums, this one and “Joe South,” from 1971.

A sunny, upbeat slice of Southern soul-flavored pop. Great horn charts, great bass line, great backing vocals. The whole package.

“A Million Miles Away,” Joe South, from “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home?” 1969. The link is to a 2003 Australian CD import with two Joe South albums, this one and “Introspect,” his debut album from 1968.

Swamp rock meets psychedelia. Definitely not the song done by the Plimsouls.

“Summer,” War, from “War Greatest Hits,” 1976. Out of print, but this tune and all but one of the cuts on this album are available on “Grooves & Messages: The Greatest Hits of War,” a 1999 CD release.

Because you know you need it, want it for your summer mixtape or playlist.

More to come! (As soon as I rip them.)

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Filed under May 2008, Sounds

A teenager has moved in

I’d hoped to have a guest post for you tonight, but the writer declined.

“Dad, my kind of music isn’t for old guys,” Evan said.

Consider yourself dissed. By a 13-year-old.

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Our son, Evan, turned 13 today. Our last stop this evening was at Grandpa’s apartment (Ray’s Corner for you regular readers).

There, Evan started rifling through Grandpa’s CDs. First we listened to “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin. Then we listened to “Who’s On First?” by Abbott and Costello. Then we had to bring both home so he could put them on his iPod.

The latter cut, a classic bit of comedy that dates to the 1930s, was on a compilation CD of baseball songs. Evan was reading the booklet and checking some of the other compilations put out on Flashback Records, which is Rhino Records’ budget label.

One of the CDs mentioned had excerpts from the National Lampoon Radio Hour. Evan asked what the National Lampoon was, and the best answer I could come up with was “like The Onion.”

“You have records by them at home, right? I’m gonna have to look at those.”

So when we got home, Evan walked into the office and started rifling through vinyl that’s 10 to 20 years older than he is. He pulled out six albums for closer inspection:

National Lampoon’s “Lemmings,” Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a compilation album of James Bond themes, two compilation albums of TV themes and “The Packers’ Glory Years,” a compilation of old radio broadcasts. He didn’t play them — it was bedtime — but he found them pretty good reading.

Evan first loved the Ramones, then moved on to Green Day and has since moved on to any number of bands that are middle school faves — among them Relient K, My Chemical Romance and the All-American Rejects.

Yet one of his favorite CDs was and is a Cartoon Network-branded compilation of cartoon theme songs. We got it from the library so often we finally just loaded it into the iTunes.

So to celebrate Evan’s birthday (and to fulfill a request) …

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“The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest,” 1996 theme, from “Cartoon Network Cartoon Medley,” a 1999 compilation that’s out of print.

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Filed under January 2008, 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.

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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.

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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.'”

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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.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds

Spinning wheels, spinning records

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Come 7 a.m. Saturday, I’ll be in Two Harbors, Minnesota, trying to stay warm — the overnight low is expected to be 31 — and waiting to start the NorthShore Inline Marathon.

We skate 26.2 miles from the outskirts of Two Harbors into Duluth, most of it along Lake Superior on old Scenic Highway 61. When we get into Duluth, we skate the last 3 miles on the southbound lanes of Interstate 35, which is closed to its usual traffic just for our event.

This will be my 12th marathon, and my 10th in Duluth. I’m not an elite skater. Far from it. The elite skaters usually cross the finish line when I’m only halfway, still 13.1 miles out. I train all summer, and still I go slow.

(The photo above is from the start of the 1998 NorthShore Inline Marathon, my first one. I’m the guy in the bright gold Packers shorts at lower right.)

Some of my fellow skaters have their iPods on their belt and their earbuds under their helmet. Not me, and solely for safety reasons.

Much as I would love to have tunes while skating, it’s more important that I hear someone coming from behind, or from the side. Especially while skating on a two-lane road with 3,200 people.

If I did burn a mix that would get me through more than 2 hours of skating, it would be heavy on TV and movie themes. You know, the dramatic, often upbeat music that pulled you into the show. Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when TV intros ran at least a minute each and the outros weren’t banished to a tiny portion of the screen.

Whether for the music or the show or both, hope these bring back some memories. All the albums and CDs mentioned below are out of print.

“Theme from S.W.A.T.,” Rhythm Heritage, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1975 to 1976. I found this cut a while back over at Palms Out Sounds.

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The next three cuts are from “Television’s Greatest Hits,” a 1985 double-LP compilation of 65 TV themes from the ’50s and ’60s.

“The Mod Squad,” Earle Hagen, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1968 to 1973.

“Mannix,” Lalo Schifrin, the TV edit from the CBS-TV show that ran from 1967 to 1975.

“The Jetsons,” Hanna-Barbera, with Bud Brisbois on that wild trumpet, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1962 to 1963, then forever in reruns. Perhaps the best cartoon theme ever. This version might be the intro and the outro edited together.

The next two cuts are from “Crime Stoppers: TV’s Greatest P.I. Themes,” a TV Land compilation, 2000.

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“Mannix,” Lalo Schifrin, a more complete version of the song.

“Harry O,” the John Gregory Orchestra, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1974 to 1976.

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“The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest,” Hanna-Barbera, from the Cartoon Network show that ran in 1996. It was a bad revival of the cartoon that originally ran on ABC in 1964 and 1965, but it had a great new theme. This cut is from “Cartoon Network Cartoon Medley,” a 1999 compilation of 38 cartoon themes from the ’40s to the ’90s.

The last two cuts are from a Mojo magazine compilation, “Mojo 2002-06: The Score.”

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“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” David Shire, from the 1974 film of the same name. The soundtrack was issued on CD in 1996.

And, finally, one of our favorites (or guilty pleasures):

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“Truck Turner,” Isaac Hayes, from the 1974 film of the same name. The soundtrack was issued on CD in 2002.

Roll credits: The title of today’s post is adapted from an original idea by Evan Ash.

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Filed under September 2007, Sounds