Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Doughboys -- "Tuesday Afternoon" (2010)

The trees are drawing me near 
I've got to find out why 
Those gentle voices I hear 
Explain it all with a sigh 
I had initially planned to feature the original Moody Blues version of "Tuesday Afternoon" in today's post.  But that was before I heard the Doughboys' cover of that song.

I always found it a little embarrassing to admit that I liked "Tuesday Afternoon" or just about any Moody Blues song.  I hope I'm never asked under oath what my true feelings about the Moody Blues are.  I wouldn't want to have to admit that I found some of their songs impossible to resist, despite the fact that their music is pretentious and pseudo-intellectual.  (Let the hate mail begin.)

"Tuesday Afternoon" is from the 1967 album, Days of Future Passed, which was one of those albums that I heard playing almost every day when I was in college.  It was a favorite of my sophomore-year roommate.

My friends told me that agreeing to room with him was a mistake, and they were right.  His predilection for Days of Future Passed should have been enough to warn me off, but I ignored that clear warning sign just like I ignored my friends.

The Doughboys were a New Jersey cover band in the mid-1960s when they won a "battle of the bands" contest and were given a recording contract.  They released two singles that failed to chart.

But the group -- which had begun to perform in World War I "doughboy" uniforms they had purchased at a vintage clothing store in the East Village -- had a devoted local following, and opened the New York City shows of a number of well-known bands.

The Doughboys
   One time they opened for the Beach Boys and the Buckinghams.  According to Wikipedia, that didn't work out so well:

The Doughboys had developed a grand finale for their shows that consisted of a rousing rendition of "Bo Diddley" where [drummer Richard] Heyman and [singer Myke] Scavone would set up floor toms at the front of the stage and play them ferociously using maracas instead of drumsticks. As the song reached it's climax, the two Doughboys would each pick up their floor tom and throw them together in mid-air for a dramatic end to the show.  

The day of the Beach Boys/Buckinghams show, the group realized that they had neglected to bring one of their floor toms along with them. After asking the Buckinghams to borrow a floor tom and being turned down, the group asked the Beach Boys, who agreed. 

During the Doughboys' finale, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson happened to spot his floor tom being ridden like a horse by Myke Scavone. Furious, Wilson rushed the stage, tackled Scavone, and the set ended with Scavone and Wilson trading punches in front of a shocked audience. Wilson later apologized, and admitted that he was upset because his brother, Carl, was about to be arrested for draft evasion.

(Apparently riding a floor tom like a horse WAS FROWNED ON IN THAT ESTABLISHMENT!)

The Doughboys broke up in 1968.  But in 2000, drummer Richard Heyman's wife organized a surprise Doughboys reunion for his birthday.  

The reunion went so well that four of the five original members decided to start playing shows again.  In 2007, they released a CD with a mix of covers and original songs.  In 2010, they released a second CD -- Act Your Rage -- which included their version of "Tuesday Afternoon."

The Doughboys today
I find the Doughboys saga to be very encouraging.  After all, they broke up in 1968 -- about the same time that the Rogues called it quits.  If they could get back together and be a success 30-odd years later, why can't we?

The Doughboys' cover of "Tuesday Afternoon" beats the hell out of the original.  It's not perfect -- I don't particularly like the reggae-ish bridges, and I think we could have done without the harmonica solo.  But overall it's a very strong cover version.

This brings "29 Posts in 29 Days" to a close -- I hope you enjoyed all 29.  And yes, I know it's only February 28, not February 29.  But in case you've forgotten, I did two posts on February 5 -- so this one is number 29 for the month.

God rested on the last day of the week, and 2 or 3 lines is going to rest on the last day of February.  We're back on our three-songs-a-week schedule until February 2013, when "28 Posts in 28 Days" returns -- and I already have the theme picked out for next year's version.   

Here's a video of the Doughboys cover of "Tuesday Afternoon":

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Mamas and the Papas -- "Monday, Monday" (1966)

Monday, Monday 
Can't trust that day
Monday, Monday
Sometimes it just turns out that way
Oh Monday morning
You gave me no warning
Of what was to be

"Monday, Monday" is the quintessential Mamas & Papas song.  (It was their only #1 single, and also won a Grammy Award for "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.")  It features the beautiful vocal harmonies that characterized their music.  But the four members' personal lives were about as unharmonious as it was possible to be.

Old Mamas, Old Papas
As you may know, the Mamas & the Papas consisted of John Phillips, Michelle Phillips (John's second wife), Cass Elliot, and Denny Doherty.  Shortly after "Monday, Monday" was released, it was discovered that Michelle and Denny were having an affair.  

Although they were in the middle of recording their second album, the group booted out Michelle in early June 1966 and replaced her with their producer's girlfriend.  (It's interesting that Denny was allowed to remain in the group.  Think those recording sessions might have been just a bit uncomfortable?)    

Michelle was invited back in August and re-recorded all the tracks that the producer's girlfriend had done.  (Michelle later said that she has no idea who is singing on some of the songs on that album.)  The first single from that album -- "I Saw Her Again" (which was co-written by John and Denny) -- was about the affair.

The group recorded its third album that fall.  Denny was drinking heavily then, trying to get over Michelle.  

The next fall, John insulted Cass at a party thrown by their record company, and she tried to quit the group.  (John was against Cass joining the group in the first place -- Cass was obese, and John thought that would prevent the group from being a popular success.  So you can guess what the insult was about.)  But Cass and the others were contractually obligated to record one more album.  After that album was released in 1968, the Mamas & the Papas went their separate ways.

At least they thought they had gone their separate ways until their record label threatened to sue them, claiming that it was owed one more album.  So the group reunited long enough to record one additional album, which was a commercial flop.  (Big surprise, given that everyone hated not only the record company by that point, but also each other.)  The quartet broke up for good then.

Cass Elliott had a relatively successful career as a solo artist before dying of a heart attack in 1974.  After the group had broken up, she asked Denny to marry her, but he declined.

Michelle Phillips released an album in 1977, which didn't sell at all.  (It was titled Victim of Romance, which may be evidence of a certain lack of self-awareness on her part.)  She had some success as a movie and TV actress.

John and Denny actually got back together in 1979, forming a group called The New Mamas and The Papas.  (Perhaps "The New Mamas and the Old and Really F*cked-Up Papas" would have been a more fitting name.)  The two new "Mamas" were Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane -- who had been the lead singer of Spanky and Our Gang -- and John's daughter from his first marriage, Mackenzie Phillips.

New Mamas, Old Papas
Denny eventually became fed up with John's drug addiction, and left the group in 1986.  He was replaced by Scott McKenzie, who is best known for his 1967 hit, "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)."

John got a liver transplant in 1992, but was photographed drinking in a bar in Palm Springs a few months later.  (He later told Howard Stern that he was just breaking in the new liver.)  He had to leave the group after the transplant, and was replaced by -- guess who?  Denny Doherty, of course!  (I don't know about you, but I'm getting sort of dizzy.)  John died of heart failure in 2001.

Mackenzie Phillips also struggled with drug addiction and left the group in 1991.  In 2009, she told Oprah that her father did drugs with her when she was a teenager, and had sex with her the night before her first wedding -- she was 19 at the time.  The sexual relationship continued for years, according to Mackenzie.

Mackenzie and John
John was married at that time to his third wife, who denied Mackenzie's allegations.  Mackenzie had two half-sisters, Chynna and Bijou Phillips (who were themselves half-sisters) -- Chynna believed Mackenzie's story, but Bijou didn't.  Denny Doherty's daughter said that Denny (who had died in 2007) knew about John and Mackenzie's incestuous affair.

(I suddenly feel the need to take a shower -- maybe two showers.)

So how do you reconcile all this sordid personal history with the gorgeous music that the Mamas & the Papas produced?  Hey, go ask Sigmund Freud.  2 or 3 lines is just a simple (although wildly popular) music blog -- what do I know?

Here's "Monday, Monday":

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

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spanky and Our Gang -- "Sunday Will Never Be The Same" (1967)

Now I wake up Sunday morning
Walk across the way to find
Nobody waiting for me
Sunday's just another day

Terry Cashman is best known for his phenomenally popular baseball song, "Talkin' Baseball" -- which pays homage to 1950s baseball in general and to "Willie, Mickey, and the Duke" in particular (meaning Mays, Mantle, and Snider, respectively).

Terry Cashman
But Cashman was a successful singer-songwriter and record producer before he wrote "Talkin' Baseball."  He was a member of a folk-pop group called Cashman & West that recorded six albums, and he co-produced Jim Croce's records.

In 2009, Carl Wiser of Songfacts interviewed Cashman, who gave him this account of the genesis of the song that became Spanky and Our Gang's biggest hit:

One day [songwriter Gene Pistilli] came into the office, and he had this chord progression he came up with.  Most simple rock and roll chord progressions in the key of G would be G to E minor to A minor to D.  And Gene came in with a change which was instead of going from G to E minor, he went to E major, and instead of going to an A minor -- the typical rock and roll kind of thing -- he went to an A major, so it made it sound different.  And when he played it for me, I started singing this melody to it.  
And you know, it made me think of a girlfriend that I had a few years before.  We used to walk in the park on Sundays, and that whole story became the idea for the song because she left him, and the love affair was over, that Sunday, that special day would never be the same.  We wrote the song very quickly . . . and we did a really, really good demo of the song.
I was the head of the publishing company, so my job was to take the songs that we had made around to the various producers.  I sent it to Lou Adler at Dunhill Records, which was associated with ABC for the Mamas and Papas.  He said, "Hey, this is a great song.  But John Philips, is doing mostly his own songs right now."  So, okay, fine.  The Left Banke sounded to me also like a group that could do this song, but they passed on it.

Spanky and Our Gang
  And then with nobody in mind I went to a producer named Jerry Ross, who was a very hot producer.  He had produced "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie" for Jay and the Techniques, and "98.6" with an artist called Keith.  So I played him the demo, and after about 16 bars he took the needle off the vinyl, and he said, "Has anybody else heard this song?"  And I said, "Well, Lou Adler turned it down for Mamas and Papas, and Left Banke turned it down."  And he said, "Well, don't play it for anybody else. I have this great group."  
And he played me a demo of a record that Spanky and Our Gang had done, and they had all these vocal harmonies.  A couple of months later he cut the song, and it was a smash hit. It was something that really put me on the map in terms of the music industry.

Spanky and Our Gang took its name from the "Our Gang" comedies, a series of short films produced by Hal Roach in the 1920s and 1930s.  In the 1950s, 80 of the shorts were syndicated for television under the title "The Little Rascals."  My friends and I grew up largely on a diet of "The Little Rascals" and "The Three Stooges," with some Roy Rogers and Gene Autry thrown in.  (And let's not forget Captain Kangaroo.) 

 The lead singer of Spanky and Our Gang was Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane.  She got the nickname from another band member who thought she looked like "Little Rascals" star George "Spanky" McFarland.  That's not exactly a compliment.

The lyrics of "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" are relatively generic -- no better and no worse than dozens of other AM radio hits from the 1960s.  What makes this song so memorable is the vocal harmony, which I think is the equal of the Mamas and the Papas or any other male-female singing group.  There are few songs that are more satisfying to sing along with -- so turn up the volume and enjoy yourself.

Here's "Sunday Will Never Be the Same":

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Dukes of Stratosphear -- "25 O'Clock" (1985)

25 o'clock!
That's when you're going to be mine 
25 o'clock!
We'll be together 'til the end of time 

Think about it.  Isn't 25 o'clock a bit of overkill?  After all, there's not really even a 24 o'clock, is there?  There's 23:59 (using military time) but there's no 24:00 -- you go back to 00:00 and start all over again.  So 25 o'clock is way out there.

2 or 3 lines introduced you to the Dukes of Stratosphear -- XTC's alter egos -- in December.    Like Spinal Tap and the Rutles, the Dukes of Stratosphear are inspired parodists.  But they are also much more than that.

While the other two groups wrote some very good songs, their brilliance is primarily comedic.  By contrast, XTC were exceptionally gifted songwriters and performers.  When they decided to pull our legs a bit and donned the disguise of the Dukes of Stratosphear, they couldn't help turning what started off as a funny idea into a work of pop-culture art.  

It's as if Mozart had decided to write a piece in the style of Bach.  Not only would you have a great parody, but you'd have a great piece of music.

It's not hard to imagine the Dukes of Stratosphear as a genuine 1960s psychedelic supergroup -- they could have been the band that inspired the Beatles, Hollies, Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, and many others.  

It's fun to listen to each Dukes of Stratosphear song and try to figure out which real groups and songs inspired it.  As we discussed, "Pale and Precious" is an absolutely perfect Beach Boys song -- probably the best Beach Boys song ever recorded (which is high praise indeed).  It's modeled primarily on "Good Vibrations," but has bits and pieces of many other Beach Boys songs.

Here's a link to an online forum with a series of posts nominating different psychedelic-era records as the inspiration for each Dukes of Stratosphear song.    My thinking is that the song that "25 O'Clock" most resembles is "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night," by the Electric Prunes.  The people who posted to this forum agreed with that, but also nominated a few other songs (some of which I've never heard of).

Here's "25 O'Clock," which was originally released on an EP with the same title on April Fool's Day, 1985.  (Wink, wink.)  Thank goodness this song exists, because I've already posted about Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4," and I can't think of any other songs with 25 in the title.

Unfortunately, some *sshole record company lawyer has forced Youtube to take the original version of this song down (while leaving up a couple of dozen other Dukes of Stratosphear songs) -- so I had to embed a cover of the song by They Might Be Giants.  It's not as good as the original, but it's not bad.   

Click below if you'd like to order the song from Amazon:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gene Pitney -- "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa" (1963)

As we were dancing closely
All of a sudden I lost control
As I held her charms

I know exactly what the singer is talking about here.  A woman with really nice charms will cause you to lose control -- especially if she lets you hold them when you're dancing closely. 

Burt Bacharach wrote the music and Hal David wrote the words for dozens of hit songs -- including "The Look of Love," "Raindrop Keep Fallin' On My Head," "What's New, Pussycat?," and many, many others.  Dionne Warwick was the biggest beneficiary of the Bacharach-David  partnership.  She charted 38 of their songs, nine of which reached the top 10.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Gene Pitney owed Bacharach and David a lot as well.  Pitney reached the top five twice in 1962 with Bacharach-David songs -- "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" and "Only Love Can Break A Heart" -- and "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" (which was released in 1963) was his biggest UK hit ever.

"Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" tells the story of a man who is driving back to his home town -- Tulsa -- to see the woman he loves.  He is only "one day from [her] arms" when he stops for the night at a small motel.  While he is checking in, he meets a woman who gives him directions to a cafe where he can get a bite to eat.

He invites her to join him for dinner.  The next thing he knows, the jukebox is playing, he and the woman are dancing, and he has his hands all over her firm,  voluptuous charms.  I'm guessing one of the other diners at the cafe probably said "For cryin' out loud, folks, get a room!"  

He already has a room, of course, which is convenient.  Before the night is over, Tulsa could be on Neptune for all he cares.  

Here's how he breaks the news to the old girlfriend:

I hate to do this to you
But I love somebody new
What can I do?

"What can I do?"  Well, he could start by not picking up women in the parking lots of out-of-the-way motels, inviting them to dinner, and feeling up their magnificent, thrusting charms while dancing.  

Where exactly do you think this whirlwind romance takes place?  According to MapQuest, it takes 24 hours or less to drive from Tulsa from just about anywhere in the continental United States.  For example, San Diego and Miami are less than 24 hours from Tulsa.  

Seattle and Boston are more than 24 hours from Tulsa, but you can get to Tulsa from Boise and Hartford to Tulsa than 24 hours.  So this guy can be just about anywhere other than the Pacific Northwest and northern New England.

Which means that his Tulsa gal's father (who has loaded his shotgun and is looking for his bull castrator) is going to find it a real challenge to track him down and make him very, very sorry for breaking his little girl's heart -- not to mention putting a bun in her oven.  Although if the guy called the girl from a pay phone at the motel, the father can hit *69, get the number the call came from, and figure out where the dude is.

Personally, I think the guy has been scammed.  Wasn't all this just a little too easy?  What kind of woman hangs around cheap motels and lets perfect strangers manhandle her ample, jutting charms in public?  I think he is going to wake up all alone the next morning with a lump on his noggin, bad hangover, an empty wallet, and no car.

What will he do then?  He'll probably call the Tulsa chick, tell it was all just a misunderstanding, and beg her to go to Western Union and send him enough money for a bus ticket home.  

Let's hope she's smart enough to just hang up on the bozo if he does.

Here's "Twenty-Four Hours To Tulsa":

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Brothers Johnson -- "Strawberry Letter 23" (1977)

Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue
Playgrounds will laugh
If you try to ask, 
"Is it cool? Is it cool?"
Yes, it's cool -- very cool, in fact -- but what the hell does it mean?

"Strawberry Letter 23" was written in 1972 by Shuggie Otis.  He had a girlfriend who wrote letters to him on strawberry-scented paper.  So the title sort of makes sense.  The rest of the song doesn't make sense on any level whatsoever.

The Brothers Johnson had a hit with the song in 1977.  The producer was the legendary Quincy Jones, who produced a cover version of the song featuring Akon in 2010.  Like the covers by Digital Underground and Tevin Campbell, it can't hold a candle to the Brothers Johnson version.  

Here are two other interesting facts about the song:

1.  The song's lyrics never mention the number 23, but do mention the number 22.

2.  The song was featured on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's wonderful 1997 movie, Jackie Brown.  Here's a scene from that movie that featured Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, and "Strawberry Letter 23":  

Here's "Strawberry Letter 23":

Click here if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jay-Z -- "22 Two's" (1996)

Too much West Coast d*ck-licking
And too many niggas on a mission
Doin' your best Jay-Z rendition
Too many rough m*therf*ckers
I got my suspicions
That you're just a fish in a pool of sharks, nigga
Too many bitches wanna be ladies
So if you a ho, I'm gonna call you a ho
Too many bitches are shady
Too many ladies give these niggas 
Too many chances
Too many brothers wannabe lovers 
Don't know what romance is
Too many bitches stuck up from 
Too many sexual advances
No question! Jay-Z got too many answers
I been around this block too many times
Rocked too many rhymes
Cocked too many nines, too
To all my brothers
It ain't too late to come together
Cause too much black 
And too much love equal forever
I don't follow any guidelines 
'Cause too many niggas ride mine
So I change styles every two rhymes, ha!
That's 22 two's for y'all m*therf*ckers out there

From his debut album, Reasonable Doubt.  (Some people believe he never did a better album.)

If you count "together," he actually used too/to/two 23 times in that verse.

Here's "22 Two's":

Click here to buy it from Amazon:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

King Crimson -- "21st Century Schizoid Man" (1969)

Blood rack, barbed wire 
Politician's funeral pyre 
Innocents raped with napalm fire 
21st century schizoid man 

Sounds like someone took too many hallucinogens last night and had a bad dream.

"21st Century Schizoid Man" is the first track on King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, an album that everyone -- by which I mean everyone who was male -- owned when I was in college.  

You must remember what was perhaps the most distinctive and eye-catching album cover of all time:

Although Roxy Music's Country Life cover wasn't bad:

I know, I know -- that was totally gratuitous.

And so is this!

If I had a nickel for every time during those four years that I heard In the Court of the Crimson King blasting from a dorm room, I'd be a rich man today -- assuming I had invested all those nickels in Berkshire Hathaway stock, of course.  Unfortunately, I don't and I didn't.  So my long-term financial well-being depends on your clicking on my ads.  Tres ironique!

King Crimson's music was half progressive rock, half jazz fusion, and half heavy metal.  (Yes, I know that a whole consists of two halves, not three.  That is the point, don't you see?)

King Crimson
"21st Century Schizoid Man" is over seven minutes long, but doesn't have much in the way of lyrics.  The second of the song's three short verses is quoted above.  Each verse takes lead singer Greg Lake (who later moved on to Emerson, Lake & Palmer) only about 12 seconds to sing.

Spiro Agnew
There are some Vietnam references here -- "Innocents raped with napalm fire" in particular.  (Maybe 1% of the songs from this era were about Vietnam.  The other 99% were about drugs.)  King Crimson's guitarist, the prolific Robert Fripp, later said that the song was inspired by "an American political personality whom we all know and love dearly. His name is Spiro Agnew."

There are some very interesting (by which I mean weird) cover versions of this song.  For example, Ozzy Osbourne covered it in 2005 -- no great surprise there.  

Other bands who have covered the song include Flower Travellin' Band (they were Japanese), Premiata Forneria Marconi (Italian), Entombed (Swedish), Edge of Spirit (Japanese),  Von Hertzen Brothers (Finnish), Let 3 (Croatia), and Noir D├ęsir (French).  I got all that from Wikipedia, and for all I know all these bands don't exist, but are part of an elaborate hoax perpetrated by some computer geek with way too much time on his hands.

But let's assume all these groups are real, and that all of them did record cover versions of this King Crimson classic.  It's tempting to devote next February's "29 Songs in 28 Days" to cover versions of "21st Century Schizoid Man" and see how many readers (by which I mean how few readers) I would have by March 1.

Here's the most unusual cover version of the song I've found:

South Africa's Suck recorded a cover of this song on their 1971 album, Time to Suck.  That album includes covers of "War Pigs," "Season of the Witch," and a couple of songs from Grand Funk Railroad's Closer to Home album.  The originals of all those songs have been featured on 2 or 3 lines -- we may need to take a closer look at Suck.

On second thought . . . maybe we don't.

Kanye West's 2010 hit single "Power" samples "21st Century Schizoid Man."  I would never second-guess Kanye's decisions, but it seems like a very odd choice.

Here's the original "21st Century Schizoid Man":

I don't think you can buy an mp3 of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man."  Click below if you'd like to order the In the Court of the Crimson King album from Amazon:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Boomtown Rats -- "I Don't Like Mondays" (1979)

And daddy doesn’t understand it
He always said she was good as gold
And he can see no reasons
'Cause there are no reasons

Before Bob Geldof organized "Band Aid" and "Live Aid" and raised 150 million pounds for famine relief in Ethiopia . . . before he was granted a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II . . . before he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize . . . Geldof was the lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, an Irish punk band.

Geldof in 2009
Geldof was inspired to write "I Don't like Mondays" after reading a wire service report about a shooting spree at an elementary school while he was hanging out at an Atlanta radio station, waiting to be interviewed.

On January 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer got out a .22 rifle her father had given her the previous Christmas, positioned herself in front of a window at her home in San Diego, and started shooting at the elementary school across the street.  She killed the school's principal and a school custodian, and wounded eight children and a police officer.

Ms. Spencer surrendered to police seven hours later.  When asked why she opened fire on the elementary school, she said, "I just did it for the fun of it.  I don't like Mondays."  She also observed that "It was just like shooting ducks in a pond" and that "[The children] looked like a herd of cows standing around; it was really easy pickings."

Spencer in 1979
The 16-year-old, who was tried as an adult, pled guilty to two counts of murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.  She is currently incarcerated at the women's prison in Chino, California. 

Brenda Ann Spencer's four previous applications for parole have been denied.  She will next be eligible for parole in 2019. 

"I Don't Like Mondays" was a #1 hit in the UK and other countries, but reached only #73 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States -- partly because many American radio stations chose not to play it.

Here's "I Don't like Mondays":

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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rolling Stones -- "19th Nervous Breakdown" (1966)

On our first trip 
I tried so hard to rearrange your mind 
But after awhile I realized 
You were disarranging mine

I think "disarranging" works very well here.  That Mick Jagger had a way with words. 

Are there any normal, well-adjusted chicks in Rolling Stones songs?  I can't think of any.  But the woman who is the subject of "19th Nervous Breakdown" may take the cake.  Looking for trouble?  Then look no further -- you've found it.

Jagger, Richards et al. were no doubt meeting a lot of difficult women at this point in their career -- socialites, models, actresses, and the like.  No matter how hot a chick is, it sort of spoils it if she's the kind of person who was "spoiled with a thousand toys" but still cries all night, and now talks "much too loud" at dull parties and "turn[s] her back" when it comes to treating people kind.

She might as well be wearing a name tag that says "HI! MY NAME IS HIGH-MAINTENANCE -- WHAT'S YOURS?"

"19th Nervous Breakdown" was a #2 hit in the United States, and made it all the way to #1 in the UK.  You've heard it a thousand times, and what you hear is what you get -- so I'm keeping this post short.  Suffice it to say that it's the best song ever written with the number "19" in the title.  (Yes, I'm familiar with "Hey Nineteen" by Steely Dan.)

Here's "19th Nervous Breakdown":

Click here if you want to buy the song from Amazon:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alice Cooper -- "I'm Eighteen" (1970)

I'm in the middle without any plans 
I'm a boy and I'm a man
I'm eighteen
And I don't know what I want 
Did you know that Alice Cooper's real name was Vincent Damon Furnier?

"I'm Eighteen" (or simply "Eighteen") was released in 1970, when I and most of my friends were 18.  Looking back, I'd say that I was more boy than man when I was 18.  But I probably felt differently at the time.

When I was growing up, you became an adult when you turned 21.  That was when you could vote, and that was when you could drink.  (I think the general rule was that you could get married when you were 18 -- even younger if you had parental consent.  Getting married is much more significant than voting or drinking, but we didn't see it that way.)

When the Vietnam War began to escalate and 19-year-olds were being drafted, things began to change.  "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote" became the rallying cry.  I think most of us were more interested in drinking than voting, but "Old enough to fight, old enough to get drunk" didn't have quite the same principled ring to it.

The 1969 draft lottery
The Voting Rights Act of 1970 lowered the minimum voting age to 18.  But the Supreme Court ruled that while Congress could allow 18-year-olds to vote in federal elections, it had no business setting standards for voters in state and local elections -- that was up to the states to decide.

In March 1971, the Senate voted 94-0 in favor of a Constitutional amendment lowering the voting age for all elections to 18.  (Can you imagine the Senate approving anything unanimously today?)  The House of Representatives voted 401-19 in favor of the proposed amendment only days later.  Within four months, the 26th Amendment had been ratified by three-fourths of the states, and so became law.

So much for the minimum voting age.  Let's move on to more important stuff -- the minimum drinking age.

Before 1970, most states prohibited the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.  (There were exceptions, most notably Kansas's wise decision to allow the sale of "non-intoxicating" 3.2% beer to me and my friends when we were 18.)

Between 1970 and 1975, 29 states lowered the minimum legal drinking age -- most often to 18, but sometimes to 19 or 20.  In 1973, Texas -- where I attended college -- lowered its minimum drinking age from 21 to 18.  Since I turned 21 in 1973, this didn't help me a bit.  Thanks for nothing, Texas.

Within a few years, studies indicated that lowering the drinking age had led to more traffic accidents involving teenagers.  (Did we really need studies to see that one coming?)  The states began to reverse course -- between 1976 and 1983, 16 states increased their minimum legal drinking age.

The federal government took care of the issue in 1984 by enacting the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which provided that any state that didn't ban the sale of alcohol to anyone under 21 would lose its share of federal highway funding.  

However, in most states, it is not illegal for minors to consume alcohol in private settings -- such as the home.  And as any 18-year-old knows, it's more fun to get drunk with good ol' Mom and Dad than just about anyone.

Here's a live performance of "I'm Eighteen" from 1971:

Click here if you want to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ladytron -- "Seventeen" (2002)

They only want you when you're seventeen
When you're twenty-one
You're no fun
They take a Polaroid and let you go
Say they'll let you know
So come on
Ladytron is a British electropop band that was formed in Liverpool in 1999.  They took their name from the 1972 Roxy Music song, "Ladytron."

The lines quoted above are the lyrics of "Seventeen" in their entirety -- they are repeated seven times in the song. 

Mira Aroyo
Here's the most interesting thing I know about Ladytron: band member Mira Aroyo -- who was born in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria -- writes and sings in Bulgarian as well as English.  (Besides being a musician, Mira was a postgraduate research geneticist at Oxford University.  She published an article in Molecular Microbiology in 2003.  She is a pescetarian, which means she eats fish but not meat.)

Here's the official music video for "Ladytron."  (Don't worry -- I don't know what the hell is going on in the video either.)

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tennessee Ernie Ford -- "Sixteen Tons" (1955)

You load sixteen tons
What do you get?
Another day older 
And deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 
'Cause I can't go
I owe my soul 
To the company store

For some of you, this song will seem absolutely prehistoric -- for others, it will be a vivid childhood memory.

"Sixteen Tons" was written by Merle Travis, a country singer who grew up in a Kentucky coal-mining county.  Travis recorded the song in 1946 and released it the next year on an album titled Folk Songs of the Hills.

Tennessee Ernie Ford was born in 1919 in Bristol, Tennessee -- the Tennessee-Virginia state line cuts the town in half -- and was a B-29 bombadier in World War II.  After the war, he became a popular disc jockey in Southern California and a moderately successful country-western recording artist.  He became a household after appearing in three episodes of I Love Lucy as "Cousin Ernie," a country bumpkin who came to visit Lucy and Ricky and then wouldn't leave.

His cover of "Sixteen Tons" -- which featured a clarinet, and didn't really sound like a country-western song -- became a huge crossover hit in 1955.  It was #1 on the country charts for 10 weeks and #1 on the pop charts for eight weeks.  "Sixteen Tons" was so popular that NBC gave Ford a prime-time variety show, which aired from 1956 until 1961.

Ford always closed his show with a sacred song:

The lines quoted at the beginning of the post constitute the chorus of "Sixteen Tons," and refer to the peculair economic system that prevailed in many coal-mining towns back when the song was written.  The miners weren't paid in cash, but in "scrip."  Scrip was not legal tender, but could only be spent by the miners and their families at company stores -- the coal companies operated the general stores in mining towns -- or to pay the rent for the company-owned housing where they lived.  

Miners were essentially unable to save any money under this system -- the goods sold at company stores were not bargains, and scrip couldn't be spent anywhere else.  So this system made miners very dependent on the mining companies.

Coal miners at company store (1938)
Illness or injury often resulted in the miners falling into debt.  The singer of "Sixteen Tons" is so deeply in debt to the company store that he can't even afford to die. 

The life of a coal miner and his family in the 1940s is impossible to fathom.  This song's music will send a shiver down your spine, but the story behind the song is even more soul-chilling. 

Here's "Sixteen Tons":

Here's Ford's "go-go" version of the song -- as my mother says when she's is trying to be polite about something she doesn't really like, "It's different."

Here's a link you can use to order "Sixteen Tons" from Amazon: