Saturday, July 30, 2011

10cc -- "Silly Love" (1974)

He's been up all night
Breakin' his head in two to write
A little sonnet for his chickadee
But between you and me
I think its 
I bought four 10cc albums when I was in law school.  Think about that -- four 10cc albums!

Obviously, I was not in my right mind -- the pressure, the boredom, the horrible food and living conditions and climate, the assholes that surrounded me . . . it was a miracle that the craziest thing I did was buy four 10cc albums.

My law school dormitory
In trying to decide what 10cc song to feature in this "Records I Listened To in Law School" post, I sampled nearly all the songs on those albums.  OMG, what a bunch of crap!  (My apologies to the law students who lived on the first floor of good ol' Shaw Hall with me -- I think I played those albums a lot.)

To be fair, not all of it is crap -- there were a few reasonably good songs on each LP.  But even the good songs were often very uneven, consisting of two or three different song fragments unnaturally combined into a single song that was usually less than the sum of it parts.

As I've noted, I had (have?) a weakness for silly, tongue-in-cheek rock songs full of puns and odd rhymes and pseudo-intellectual nonsense.  Think Sparks . . . or City Boy . . . most of all, think 10cc.  (It's surprising that I wasn't a big Queen fan, too, but I did have some standards.)  Let's face it -- part of the band's appeal to me was probably the story behind their name.

Occasionally, 10cc played it straight instead of camping it up.  When they did, they produced sappy, girly love songs that made Chicago sound a little scary and rough around the edges.  

By far the worst songs on the albums I own -- "I'm Not in Love" and "The Things We Do for Love" -- fit in that category.  Of course, they were the band's two biggest singles in the U.S. because most people are stupid and have no taste!  I thought they were awful songs then, and they haven't gotten one bit better over the past 35 years.

(I'm sorry if you've always just adored those songs, and I've hurt your feelings.  But give me a break . . . those songs blow . . . I refuse to provide a spoonful of sugar to make that medicine go down more easily.)

Before I chose "Silly Love" to feature in this post, I thought about using "The Worst Band in the World."  I also considered "The Second Sitting for the Last Supper," and "Life Is a Minestrone" and "Une Nuit á Paris" and "Art for Art's Sake" and "Honeymoon With B Troop" and "I Bought a Flat Guitar Tutor."

(Look it up, folks -- those are all real 10cc songs.  Some of them are good, but most of them are just a waste of time.)

"Silly Love" was originally released in 1974 on the band's second album, Sheet Music.  I never owned that album -- I have it on a compilation album titled 100cc: The Greatest Hits of 10cc, which features 10 songs chosen from the band's first two albums.  (I'm sure you can do the math.)

I was inspired to buy that compilation album because I was absolutely besotted with 10cc's third studio album, The Original Soundtrack.  The cover to that album features a detailed black-and-white drawing of a "Moviola" film editing machine, and most of the songs on the album are movie-related.  I plan to post about a couple of those songs in the future, so I won't get into the lyrics now.

"Silly Love" is a pretty silly song, but it does feature some kick-ass guitar playing.  Shoot me, but I think the words -- which poke fun at traditional love-song lyrics and include some outrageous puns and other wordplay -- are pretty clever. 

Here's the first verse:

You put the life into living
You brought a sigh into sight
You make my legs turn to water
You bring the stars out at night
But they ain't half so bright 
As your eyes! 

The romantic clichés get a little bass-ackwards in the next verse:

You take the beauty out of beautiful
You play the strings of my heart
You take the wonder out of wonderful
Oh my, oh my, oh my, if you were mine
The rain would turn to sweet sweet wine 

After the chorus, which is quoted above, we get this:

You got a smile like a Rembrandt
You got the style of a queen
You are the petal of a rosebud
Next to you all the others could be weeds
You're the only one my garden needs 

Next comes a bridge verse of sorts -- or a trio, if you're a traditionalist.

Oooooh, you know the art of conversation
Must be dying
Ooh, when a romance depends on
Clichés and toupées and "threepés"
(That last word is meant to rhyme with "toupées," of course.) 

Finally, another chorus, which alludes to the rhymes of "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" ("To my honey I'll croon love's tune/Honey moon, keep a-shinin' in June"):

We're up to here with moonin' and June-in'
If you want to sound sincere
Don't rely on Crosby's croonin'
Take a little time
Make up your own rhyme
Don't rely on mine
'Cause it's 

Here's "Silly Love"

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros -- "Home" (2009)

Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my ma and pa,
Not the way that I do love you.
Holy Moly, me oh my,
You're the apple of my eye,
Girl, I've never loved one like you

I'm posting about this song because it has whistling.  (Go to the embedded music video at the end of the post and listen to it -- it's OK, I 'll wait.  Hear that whistling right at the beginning?)

You may not appreciate this, but I don't just write these posts off the top of my head.  I do a lot of research first.   

When I was researching my J. Geils Band's "Centerfold" post a few months ago, I came across the All Whistling Songs blog.

As the title suggests, All Whistling Songs is all about songs that feature whistling.  It debuted in July 2009, and has posts about some 270 different songs, including 113 from the US, 41 from the UK, 25 from Brazil (which is where the creator of the blog resides), and one each from Finland, Moldova, Nepal, and Norway (among others).

The man behind All Whistling Songs is Gustavo de Souza, a 24-year-old government worker from São Paulo.

Gustavo provided me with this brief bio:

I'm not married, I live alone.  I'm not a musician, nor play any instruments.
I only have this blog.  If I make another in the future, it won't be about music.
I drink a lot.

That's it! 
I wanted to know more, and I bet you do, too.  

São Paulo
So I e-mailed Gustavo some questions, and got these responses, which I am posting pretty much verbatim.  (And before you laugh at Gustavo's occasionally shaky command of English, let me ask you a question:  how good is your Portuguese?)
Q:  Why did you decide to write about only songs with whistling?

A:  I started to write about songs with whistling because I realized that in the whole internet (!) there wasn't anything like that.  There are only top 10 lists or one page in this or that forum that has numerous replies with names of a few of these songs (which are one of my main sources, by the way).  My thoughts were that it would exist a “compendium” about songs with whistling — one place where everyone could go to look for them (that disco song from 80's that someone cannot remember the name, that fresh new indie one that was played in some commercial on TV) and find out any sort of information about the song (for instance, its meaning, when it was released, why and even who whistles).  Later, I discovered that there was one website that did the job I do now, “The Online Guide to Whistling Records,” but it is offline since 2008.

Q:  What kind of comments do you get from your readers?  Have you ever been contacted by any of the performers you write about?

A:  Well, because it's not a blog about personal views or even about music criticism, the few people who comment usually give me tips of songs that haven't yet been posted or solely thank me for doing it.  But there is the other hand: I have been contacted by two musicians.  The first time occurred when I was going to post about “Tea Break” by the obscure duo called Omo.  The thing was that I couldn't find its lyrics, so I decided to send them an email.  Hours later they answered . . . it amazed me!  The latest (because of the same lack) was the Brazilian folk singer Nelo Johann, whose whistling song had appeared in an national independent film.

Q:  Are you a good whistler yourself?

A:  No!  I'm not a good whistler!  In fact, I envy the good whistlers!  HAHAHA.  Because I'm a huge fan of whistling!  Only for you to sense it, there is a passage in “The Catcher in the Rye” where Holden Caulfield says that he envies his roommate because he could whistle charmingly and confidently.  I have the exact feeling!  Some of my friends have fun with the idea that I only maintain the whistling blog because I can't whistle very well.  I'm still struggling with this idea.

Q:  Is there anything you can say about the types of songs or types of performers that include whistling?  For example, it is most common among American or non-American songs?  Old songs or new songs?  Certain types of songs?

A:  I think pop bands/performers are the ones who most “abuse” of whistlings.  And when I say “pop,” I mean pop rock, pop indie, techno pop, etc.  But it can only be because pop music is more embracing and notorious than others less known styles.  And I go with the pop wave: I prefer to post about “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars than about some unknown old jazz group from Eastern Europe (much more people will want to know about the first example of whistling song).  In fact, there are so many bands and artists with at least one song with whistling in their discography that we can figure out that making use of this device is a commonplace in music.  Do you know that Elvis Presley whistled in one song of his first album? Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, The Clash, Björk, Helloween and even the Simpsons also recorded sometime some whistling song!  One interesting thing is that hip hop performers predominantly use to do wolf whistles.

Q:  What are the most well-known songs to feature whistling?  What are your favorite songs that feature whistling?

A:  Hmmm . . . so it's my turn to do my top 10 list?  LOL.  Okay, there is goes:

"Jealous Guy,"  John Lennon
"MX Missiles," Andrew Bird
"After It All,"  Cat Power
"One in a Million," Guns 'n' Roses
"Punky's Dilemma," Simon & Garfunkel
"Home," Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
"Chicken Pox," I'm From Barcelona
"Esotérico," Gilberto Gil
"Dream River," The Mavericks
"Mellow Doubt," Teenage Fanclub 
The most well-known songs to feature whistling are these ones which are already established in our culture, I think:

"Patience," Guns 'n' Roses
"Wind of Change," Scorpions
"Don't Worry, Be Happy," Bob McFerrin
"Me and Julio Down By Schoolyard," Paul Simon
"Dream a Little Dream of Me," Mamas and the Papas
"The Stranger," Billy Joel
"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," Otis Redding
And from movies:

"Twisted Nerve," Bernard Herrmann
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," Ennio Morricone
"Always Look On The Bright Side of Life," Monty Python (from "Life of Brian")

Bravo, Gustavo!  Well done, my 24-year-old, single, alcoholic Brazilian friend!

I want all of you to click on this link and visit All Whistling Songs at least once.  You might discover a whistling song you really, really like.  More importantly, if enough of you do this, it will prove to Gustavo (who will no doubt tell all his Brazilian friends) that 2 or 3 lines is a force to be reckoned with in the online world!

The oldest whistling song that is featured on Gustavo's blog is from 1905 and is titled "The Whistler and His Dog."  If you are as old as me, you might remember it because Buckwheat lipsynched (whistle-synched?) to it on "The Little Rascals."

Speaking of "The Little Rascals," I wish I had a watermelon.  And I wish Cotton was a monkey.
The Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros song featured in this post, which was released on the "Up From Below" album in 2009, is one of the newer songs featured on All Whistling Songs.  

Before Gustavo's e-mail, I have never heard of this band or this song.  It's an appealing little ditty, and I'm a sucker for oddball songs that mention Arkansas, like "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles:  

Tell your mama
Tell your pa
I'm gonna send you back to Arkansas

"Up From Below"
Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Alex Ebert, the main creative force behind Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.  (You can't make this stuff up, folks.)
After years of the Los Angeles party lifestyle and subsequent drug addiction, Ebert wanted to make a change.  He broke up with his then-girlfriend, moved out of his house, and did a couple of stints in rehab.  He spent a year sleeping on a blow-up mattress in a tiny apartment, disconnected from the world.  This time alone left him to contemplate Edward Sharpe, his alter ego.  
“I don’t want to put too much weight on it, because in some ways it’s just a name that I came up with.  But I guess if I look deeper, I do feel like I had lost my identity in general.  I really didn’t know what was going on or who I was anymore.  Adopting another name helped me open up an avenue to get back.”  Ebert developed Sharpe into a messianic figure, saying "He was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind, but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love."

jade castrinos alex Pictures, Images and Photos
Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos
One such girl was the singer Jade Castrinos, whom he saw sitting on an outdoor bench and immediately knew he needed to have a relationship with her. Their resultant affair formed the seeds of what would become Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.  They started writing music together, and became a part of the art and music collective The Masses, which was partially started by some seed money from the late Heath Ledger.  While their relationship did not last, the group took off in a big way, and their group soon swelled to more than 10 members, some of whom had been Alex's friends since he was young. By the summer of 2009, they were touring the country.

Here's the official music video for "Home":

Click here to buy this song from Amazon:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse -- "Stronger Than Me" (2003)

You should be stronger than me
You been here seven years longer than me . . .
Why'd you always put me in control? 

Amy Winehouse joined "The 27 Club" yesterday.  

Amy Winehouse
"The 27 Club" (or "Club 27") is the name that has been given to the group of rock/pop musicians who died at age 27.  The most famous members of "Club 27" are Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones (drowned in a swimming pool), Jimi Hendrix (asphyxiated on his own vomit after consuming sleeping pills with wine), Janis Joplin (heroin overdose), Jim Morrison ("heart failure"), and Kurt Cobain (suicide with a shotgun).  

There have been numerous stories in the last couple of years about Winehouse showing up impaired and incoherent for concerts.

In June of this year, she kicked off a European tour in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.  It was widely reported that she was so loaded when she took the stage that forget the lyrics to the songs she attempted to sing, the name of the city she was in ("Hello, Athens" was her greeting to the audience), and the names of her band members.  A few days later, the remainder of the tour was cancelled. 

Click here to view a "Good Morning, America" piece on the Belgrade disaster.

Until I heard the news about Winehouse's death, I don't think I had ever heard one of her songs.  She was just a cliche to me -- a pop star who was a major hot mess, covered with tattoos, and a veteran of rehab clinics who was still seemingly addicted to multiple dangerous substances who was always in the news.

But she was also an enormously talented and popular performer.  Here's how James Montgomery described Winehouse on
There was a darkness to Winehouse, a quality that went beyond the tabloid pages or her low-cut dresses or her frequent binges on drugs and alcohol.  It was most apparent in her voice, smoky and smoldering and, at times, savage, but always imperceptibly pained too, just like Billie Holiday or Janis Joplin or even Kurt Cobain.  It's no wonder then that like those talents, she found solace — and, ultimately, escape — in controlled substances.  Anything to numb the pain.
With Tony Bennett
Winehouse recently recorded a duet with the legendary Tony Bennett for a forthcoming album of his, and Bennett described her as "a lovely and intelligent person" who gave a "soulful and extraordinary performance."  He went on to praise her "rare intuition as a vocalist."

"Stronger Than Me" came from Winehouse's first album, Frank, which was released in 2003.  In the music video, Winehouse's boyfriend has gotten hopelessly drunk at a club.  She plays the responsible one in the relationship, shaking her head at his stupidity and lack of self-control.  In other words, the video is an example of art not imitating life.

Winehouse's only other album, Back to Black, was released in 2006.  It was a hugely successful record internationally, and was the best-selling album of 2007 in the UK.

The first single from that album, "Rehab," which was a top-10 hit in the US and UK, begins this way:

They tried to make me go to rehab 
But I said no, no, no 

And even when she said "yes" to rehab, it didn't stick -- as this photo demonstrates:

One of the first things I thought about when I learned of her death was how her father must feel.  (I have a son who was born the same week as Amy Winehouse, and her father and I are about the same age.)  

Mitch Winehouse was an aspiring singer who became a London cab driver to support his family.  He sang Frank Sinatra songs to Amy when she was a child, and encouraged her musical pursuits.

Winehouse was able to revive his musical career after his daughter's success.  He released a jazz-crooner-type album earlier this year.  In fact, he was scheduled to perform at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City this coming Monday before canceling his appearance and returning to London.

Here's Mitch singing "April in Paris":

Press accounts generally portray Mitch sympathetically -- as a father who did his best to help his daughter deal with her addictions.  "That's what parents are for," he said in one interview.  "Things have been difficult for her, she's not been well and when she needed her family most, we were there."

I wonder if Mitch Winehouse is wishing he never sang to his daughter, never encouraged her musical career.   As proud as he must have been of her great talent and her popular success, he probably feels that it would have been better if she had never become a star.

Amy and her father
Before the tattoos, and the beehive hairdo, and the addictions, and the marriage to an equally out-of-control addict, Amy Winehouse was Mitch Winehouse's little girl.  No matter the circumstances of her death, I'm sure he is blaming himself for what happened and wishing he could turn the clock back and give her an entirely different life. 

I've never known anyone who was as troubled and out of control as Winehouse was -- I thank God that none of my children have ever shown the slightest signs of having the demons that inhabited her.  (Knock on wood.)
Here's the music video for "Stronger Than Me": 

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Public Enemy -- "Fight the Power" (1990)

Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps . . .
What we got to say
Power to the people with no delay
Make everybody see
We got to fight the powers that be
Fight the power!

Public Enemy was a groundbreaking hip-hop group.  Their music is relentless and dense -- they usually cram a lot of samples into their tracks -- and always politically charged.  (It's more Louis Farrakhan than Martin Luther King, Jr.)  Listening to a Public Enemy album is not a relaxing experience.    

Chuck D
The genesis of Public Enemy goes back to the meeting of Carlton Ridenhour and William Drayton, Jr., two Long Island boys, at Adelphi University.  Ridenhour had a hip-hop show on the campus radio station, and the two developed their own rap act while working for Ridenhour's father's furniture delivery service.

In 1984, Ridenhour -- who called himself Chuck D -- released a single called "Public Enemy #1" with the help of Drayton -- who called himself Flavor Flav.  Hip-hop pioneer Rick Rubin liked Chuck D's tape and offered him a recording deal with the Def Jam label.

Flavor Flav
In addition to Flavor Flav, Chuck D recruited a DJ named Terminator X, the members of the "Bomb Squad" (a collection of several hip-hop producers and performers that Chuck D had worked with previously) and an ex-MC named Professor Griff (who took on the roles of road manager and "Minister of Information" for the act).  Voilá -- Public Enemy was born.

Flavor Flav -- whose trademark was the large plastic clock he wore around his neck --was one of the first famous rap "hype men."  A hype man is usually a secondary MC who struts across the stage at live performances waving his arms and doing call-and-response chants that demand audience participation.

In 2004, Flavor Flav ended up as a regular on the third season of The Surreal Life, a VH1 reality show.  The other washed-up celebrities on the show included Charo, Full House's Dave Coulier (the man who was the subject of Alanis Morissette's screed, "You Oughta Know"), and the Amazonish Danish actress (and ex-wife of Sylvester Stallone) Brigette Nielsen.

While they were on the show, Flavor Flav and Nielsen got busy.  Their romantic relationship spawned a spin-off reality show called Strange Love.  (That's a fact, Jack!)

Chuck D was a pretty serious dude, and I don't know why he insisted on having a clown like Flavor Flav as part of Public Enemy.  Maybe it goes back to their personal relationship, or maybe Chuck D was just as interested in showmanship as in politics. 

Public Enemy's 1987 debut album was titled Yo! Bum Rush the Show.  Next came It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.  "Fight the Power" comes from Public Enemy's third and most successful album, Fear of a Black Planet.

"Fight the Power" was prominently featured in Spike Lee's 1989 movie, Do the Right Thing.  One of the movie's characters, a young man who is called "Radio Raheem," walks around playing "Fight the Power" constantly on his boombox.  

Radio Raheem
One night, the Italian owner of the pizzeria in the black New York City neighborhood where the movie takes place can't stand the loud music any more and goes after the boombox with a baseball bat.  A fight breaks out, a riot ensues, and the pizzeria is destroyed.

Here's "Fight the Power":

You can use this link to buy "Fight the Power" from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sean Paul -- "Get Busy" (2002)

Woman, get busy, 
Just shake that booty nonstop
When the beat drops
Just keep swinging it
Get jiggy
Get crunked up, percolate 
Anything you wanna to call it
Oscillate your hip 
And don’t take pity

Sean Paul is a Jamaican dancehall "toaster" (click here for an explanation).  He's had a number of international hits, but this song -- which was a #1 hit in the United States in 2003 -- was probably his biggest. 

Sean Paul
"Get Busy" was one of several hits that featured the "Diwali riddim."  A "riddim" (which is the Jamaican patois pronunciation of "rhythm") refers to the instrumental accompaniment to a Jamaican dancehall or reggae song.  A particular riddim may be used as the basis for dozens of different songs, and the songs you hear in a Jamaican dancehall at any given time may all utilize only two or three riddims.

Greensleeves Records & Publishing, a London label that owns the copyrights to 20,000 dancehall and reggae songs, issues albums that are built around a single riddim.  The Greensleeves Rhythm Album #27: Diwali, which was issued in 2002, featured 20 Diwali riddim songs.  ("Get Busy" was not on the original album, but was  one of two songs added to the "Gold Edition" version that was released in 2010.)

The Diwali riddim is a syncopated handclapping rhythm based on Indian dance music.  Diwali (which can be spelled "Devali") is a contraction of "Deepavali," which an important Hindu festival.

During Diwali, celebrants light small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil, wear new clothes, and share sweets with family members and friends.  Diwali is an official holiday in India and a number of other countries.   

Here's "Get Busy":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Grass Roots -- "Feelings" (1968)

I have known you all my life
Girl, it seems to me
That you will always be
Very close to me -- close to me

Rob Grill, the lead singer of the Grass Roots, sustained a serious head injury last month when he fell after suffering a stroke.  He was in a coma for several weeks before he died earlier this week.  Grill was 67.

You don't hear much about the Grass Roots these days, but they were one of the most successful top 40 groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Rob Grill
The Grass Roots set a record that is likely to never be broken.  There was a Grass Roots single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 307 consecutive weeks -- beginning with "Let's Live for Today" (which was released in 1967 and made it to #8) and ending in 1972.  (That statistic is from the Grass Roots' official website.  I can't quite make the math work, but it's not nice to nitpick rock 'n' roll legends.)  In between came great AM radio hits like "Midnight Confessions" and "The River Is Wide" and "I'd Wait A Million Years" and "Temptation Eyes."

The story of the Grass Roots begins in 1965, when P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri recorded a demo of their song "Where Were You When I Needed You?" as the Grass Roots.  (Sloan and Barri recorded some of their own songs, but are better remembered for the songs they wrote for other performers -- including "Eve of Destruction" and "Secret Agent Man.") 

The demo made a somewhat favorable impression so Sloan and Barri found a San Francisco band called the Bedouins and had them re-record the song under the Grass Roots moniker.  It reached #28 on the Billboard chart.  But the partnership between the Sloan/Barri duo and the Bedouins didn't last long -- they had "artistic differences."

Sloan and Barri recruited a Los Angeles band called the 13th Floor (not to be confused with the great Texas psychedelic band, the 13th Floor Elevators) to be the new Grass Roots.

One of the members of the 13th Floor was Creed Bratton, who is one of the regular cast members of the NBC television series, "The Office."

The 13th Floor's original lead singer got drafted, which is how Rob Grill (a graduate of Hollywood High whose back-in-the-day musician friends included Cory Wells of Three Dog Night and John Kay of Steppenwolf) became a member of the Grass Roots.  

Grill and the new Grass Roots hit it big right out of the starting gate with "Let's Live for Today," and the rest is history.  

The Grass Roots didn't get a lot of respect despite their popularity.  I suppose you could compare them to the Monkees -- they were a singles band (not an album band), and they didn't write their biggest hits themselves.  

But at the beginning, they were an honest-to-God San Francisco "Summer of Love" band.  Their first big hit, "Let's Live for Today," was very different from some of their later and more lightweight hits -- it's lyrics struck a chord with the Vietnam generation. 

The Grass Roots appeared at the "Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival" in Marin County, California, on June 11, 1967 -- at the height of the popularity of "Let's Live for Today."  That festival was arguably the first great outdoor rock festival.  It preceded the "Monterey International Pop Festival' by one week -- but no one made a movie about it.

Here's a partial list of the performers who also appeared at the Marin County festival:  the Doors, Canned Heat, Spanky and Our Gang, Every Mother's Son (don't sleep on "Come On Down To My Boat, Baby"!), Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, Captain Beefheart, the Seeds, Tim Buckley, Steve Miller, Country Joe and the Fish, and the 5th Dimension.  That's a quality lineup, boys and girls.  

Part of the charm of 2 or 3 lines is its unpredictability.  So to pay tribute to Rob Grill, we are featuring a 1968 Grass Roots single that didn't break into the top 100 -- even though it is probably the best Grass Roots song of all time!  ("Midnight Confessions," a serious contender for that title, was the next Grass Roots single to be released, and made it all the way to #5 -- no Grass Roots song ever did better.)

I don't remember ever hearing "Feelings" until a couple of months ago, when I was listening to the music from the great "Mystic Eyes" radio show I had recorded in 1980.  (I recently found someone who transferred all that music from the ancient audiocassettes on which I recorded it to CDs.)  I had no idea it was a Grass Roots song until I googled the lyrics.  

"Feelings" features a marimba riff, and will likely remind you of "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones.  It is a pastiche of all sorts of rock/pop bits and pieces, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

If you don't like it, you are banned from 2 or 3 lines FOR LIFE!

Here's "Feelings" -- featuring the late Rob Grill.

And here's a snippet of the band lip-synching the song in Doris Day's last movie, "With Six You Get Eggroll":

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

EPMD -- "Strictly Business" (1988)

So when I say jump, you reply, "How high?"
Because I'm takin' no prisoners, so don't play hero and die
'Cause you're a soldier -- and I'm a Green Beret
I do not think twice about the MCs I slay

MCs Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith -- who, like Eric B. and Rakim, were Long Island boys -- formed EPMD and released their first album (Strictly Business) in 1988, when Erick was barely 20 and Parrish was 19.  

EPMD was an acronym for "Erick and Parrish Making Dollars."  The duo released 7 albums together, each of which had the word "business" in the title.  Each of those albums also has a song with "Jane" in the title.

Erick and Parrish split up in 1993.  According to Smith, armed burglars invaded his house in late 1991.  When the culprits were apprehended, one of them allegedly implicated Sermon, who was brought in for questioning but never charged with a crime.  Sermon later accused Smith of financial shenanigans.  The two went their separate ways for several years, but they reunited in 1997 and are still performing and recording together.

"Strictly Business" -- the first track on their eponymous (haven't used that word in a long time!) debut album -- is built around a sample of Eric Clapton's "I Shot the Sheriff."  

The lyrics of this song and others on the album are quite innocent compared to the gangsta raps that came later -- when Parrish asks Erick if he sniffs blow, Erick's answer would warm the heart of any parent with a teenager:

Hell no!
I got my whole life ahead of me
No time to be sniffin'
And if my parents find out, 
Then they start riffin'

There's a lot of talk in this and other EPMD raps about guns and killing, but the only weapon EPMD uses is a microphone.  Their battles are strictly verbal, and the rival MCs they "slay" may be embarrassed when their inferior rhymes are exposed, but only their pride is hurt.

Erick B. and Rakim and EPMD represent something new but also are somewhat old-fashioned.  Their rhymes are innovative and subtle, but the subject matter goes back to the days of live, head-to-head rapping competitions, when cleverly dissing your opponent was essential to winning over the audience.

And the production style is refreshingly low-tech -- no Auto-Tune for EPMD.  (Erick mumbles his lines to the point where you wonder why his parents didn't send him to a speech therapist, but there's no attempt to electronically clean things up.) 

So if contemporary hip-hop's misogyny and all the talk about Benzes, bling, guns and drugs isn't your cup of tea, return now with 2 or 3 lines to the days of yesteryear and enjoy some "Golden Age" rap courtesy of the E and the PMD.  

If you're around my age (God help you if you are, you poor bastard), you'll especially enjoy the references to old TV shows like Star Trek and Twilight Zone, and to the obscure Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Muttley (and his inimitable laugh).

Here's a charmingly primitive and dated music video for "Strictly Business":

And here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys (ft. Derek Jeter) -- "Empire State of Mind" (2009)

I'm the new Sinatra, 
And since I made it here
I can make it anywhere, 
Yeah, they love me everywhere

When the Yankees win at Yankee Stadium, they play Sinatra's "New York, New York" over the public-address system.

Jay-Z, Beyoncé
Everyone knows the lines from that song that Jay-Z is referring to above:  "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere."  And while Jay-Z has made it big in New York -- sitting courtside at Knicks' games with Spike Lee, cruising the Manhattan streets in his off-white Lexus with his hot superstar wife, Beyoncé Knowles -- there's at least one guy who's a bigger star.

That's Derek Jeter, of course -- the Yankee captain -- the man who once said, "In a perfect world, we'd all be Yankees."    

They play "Empire State of Mind" every time Jeter comes to bat at Yankee Stadium.  They played it five times yesterday, and every they played it, Derek Jeter got a hit.

Derek Jeter got his first major-league hit on May 30, 1995 -- my birthday.  He got his 3000th hit yesterday -- also his 2999th, 3001st, 3002nd, and 3003rd hits.

That's right, he went 5-for-5 yesterday -- for only the second time in the 2361 regular-season games and 147 postseason games he's played for the New York Yankees.  Only one of the other 27 players who has 3000 hits got his 3000th in a 5-for-5 game.

Jeter's 3000th hit was a 420-foot home run.  Only one of the other 27 players who has 3000 hits got his 3000th hit on a home run.

Jeter watches number 3000 leave Yankee Stadium
Of course, no other player has ever done both.  But nothing is less surprising than Derek Jeter doing something on a baseball field that has never been done before.

17 seasons
It was fitting that the first two Yankee players who greeted Jeter at the plate after his historic home run were Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.  This is the 17th season that the trio -- each of whom will end up in the Hall of Fame -- has played together as Yankee teammates.  That has never happened in any other major-league sport.

The Yankees have overpaid the three to keep them together and to ensure that they will never play a game in any other uniform, which is one more reason that everyone should love the Yankees -- they understand that tradition and loyalty can be just as important to fans as hits and wins.

And did I mention that Jeter's last hit yesterday drove in the game-winning run in the 8th inning?  (Actually, that was Jeter's 3188th hit if you count postseason games.  Derek Jeter has more postseason hits than any other player in history.)

After the game, Jeter said that he was grateful that the team had won the game because "it would have been really, really awkward to be out there giving interviews and waving to the crowd after the game if we had lost."

That's a very characteristic comment.  Jeter will probably be remembered by the casual fan as a player who came through in a lot of clutch situations.  But he should be remembered first and foremost as the ultimate team player -- the guy who was never happy with his season unless his team won it all.  

It's interesting that Jeter's father's first comment when he was interviewed after the game was "First of all, we needed a victory."  Jeter's father -- who's a substance-abuse counselor -- played shortstop in college, and Jeter once said he always wanted to be a shortstop because "when you're a kid, you want to be just like your dad."

Derek Jeter with his mother, sister, and father

If you had asked me about Derek Jeter ten years ago, I would have said that he was a very good player, but probably a bit overrated.  When you went to Yankees games ten years ago, you would see a lot of guys wearing Yankees jerseys or T-shirts -- many bearing the numbers of iconic Yankee old-timers (Mantle, Berra, DiMaggio, Don Mattingly), while others wore the numbers of contemporary players (Riviera, O'Neill, Bernie Williams).

Virtually all the women who came in Yankee shirts wore #2 -- Derek Jeter's number.

I was something of a purist -- I knew a lot about Yankee history, and I considered myself to know a lot about baseball statistics.  Jeter's stats were good, but didn't match up to the all-time Yankee greats.  So I refused to allow myself to get caught up in the virtual beatification of the Yankee shortstop for several years.

Eventually, I saw the light.  Derek Jeter transcends his numbers (although his numbers are very, very good).  His charisma, his performance in pressure situations -- most of all, his character and his decency -- are unsurpassed. 

I was wrong about Derek Jeter -- he's not overrated.  It's IMPOSSIBLE to overrate Derek Jeter.

In the famous 1978 one-game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox, Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski popped out to Yankee 3B Graig Nettles for the game's final out.  Nettles was a very accomplished player -- he played major-league baseball for 22 seasons, was chosen for the All-Star Game six times, and played in five World Series.  

Yet how did he answer when a reporter asked him what he was thinking just before Yastrzemski hit that game-ending pop-up to him?  

"I was praying, 'Please don't let him hit it to me,'" Nettles answered -- an answer whose honesty endeared him to all the ex-Little Leaguers like me who spent most of their time on the field saying the same thing to themselves.

Yankees celebrate Nettles' pennant-clinching catch
What makes Derek Jeter different from even most good major-league players is that he's never thought "Please don't let him hit it to me."  As one of his former teammates said about him, "The thing that says Derek apart is that he's not afraid to fail."

Baseball is a game where even the best hitters fail most of the time -- as the old cliche goes, a .300 hitter makes out 70% of the time.  But there's a difference between understanding that you will fail 70% of the times you bat over the course of a season, and being afraid of failing in your next at-bat.   

Jeter once said this about his former manager, Joe Torre:

The last thing you need when you're not going well is to look over and see panic on your manager's face.  With Joe, he always looks like he's in control. . . . [P]anic, that's something you'll never see from him.

The Yankee captain could have been speaking about himself.   

And speaking of Joe Torre, he was at the game yesterday.  "Derek Jeter shows up to work," he said later.  "His ability is only a portion of what he brings to the game and his teammates on an everyday basis."  

Torre's the manager who decided the 21-year-old Jeter was ready to be the Yankees' everyday shortstop -- he saw something special in the young player, and he was right.  Jeter homered and made a couple of outstanding defensive on Opening Day of his rookie season, and the team went on to win the World Series that year, upsetting the heavily favored Atlanta Braves.  Jeter was named Rookie of the Year:

One thing that has to strike you about Jeter's accomplishment yesterday is how his opponents reacted.  The Tampa Bay first baseman, Casey Kotchman, tipped his cap to Jeter as he rounded first after hitting his home run.  The Rays' brilliant young pitcher, David Price, left the mound and sat in the dugout during the post-3000th celebration -- he wasn't mad or upset, he just didn't want to intrude on Jeter's moment.  

A tip of the cap
Terry Francona, manager of the Boston Red Sox -- don't get me started -- said that Jeter was still the same person he was as a 19-year-old playing in the minors when Francona first met him.  "Always plays the game right, he always treats people right, and he tries to beat your brains out."

Francona went on to say how disappointed he was that he didn't get to manage Jeter in the 2005 All-Star Game.  (Jeter was on the team in 2004 and has been on the team every year after 2005, but somehow missed that game.)  "I told him, 'I've been wanting to do this for a long time, and the fact that you're not on the team is upsetting to me,'" Francona said.  "He respects the game.  He plays the game right.  He makes me proud for the way he goes about his business."

Click here to see what some of the Yankee players, former teammate Johnny Damon, Jeter's father and Jay-Z himself had to say about The Captain's performance.

The tributes from sportswriters are rolling in, of course -- and they transcend the fact that he has 3000 hits.  Here's what Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports had to say just before Jeter reached that milestone, when the haters were saying Jeter had lost it -- was showing his age -- that the end of his career might be within sight:

There remains some mystery about Jeter, in part because he hasn’t stumbled in a manner that exposed personal flaws.  He isn’t Tiger Woods.  He isn’t Brett Favre.  He isn’t Kobe Bryant.  He is an anomaly.  Such is the state of our society that the more you mess up — see Charlie Sheen — the more interesting you become.  Compared with those who blur the line between fame and infamy, Jeter is kind of boring.  But his reward for solid citizenship has been steady speculation about his impending professional demise, because he’s left us with no other avenue for criticism.

Derek Jeter has always made it look easy.  But he admitted in his post-game press conference that the pressure to get number 3000 in front of Yankee Stadium fans this weekend had begun to wear on him.  "I've been lying to you guys for a couple of weeks" about not feeling any pressure, he told reporters.

Jeter at his postgame press conference yesterday
Jeter's 3000th hit was caught by a 23-year-old fan whose girlfriend had bought him a ticket to the game.  (Every guy should be so lucky as to have a girlfriend like that.)  I can only imagine how much money that ball would have brought at auction, but the fan didn't ask for anything -- he just wanted to be able to present it to Jeter in person.  Click here to see what this fan had to say about his experience.

Mel Brooks (playing King Louis XVI) said, "It's good to be the king."  Well, it's good to be The Captain, too.

I'll close with a little quiz for you baseball trivia fans: what does Derek Jeter have in common with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, and Pedro Martinez?

Here's perhaps the most mind-blogging play in baseball history -- it saved a crucial 1-0 victory in the playoffs:

Click here to view the live performance of "Empire State of Mind" before game 2 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium, which the Yankees won, beating the Philadelphia Phillies (and their starting pitcher, the truly despicable Pedro Martinez).
Here's the official music video for "Empire State of Mind."  It's a great song, and a great video -- even if you're not a fan of New York City.  And Jay-Z is a great rapper.  But to claim, "I made the Yankee hat more famous that a Yankee can"?  Spare me, Jay-Z.