Thursday, May 31, 2012

Records -- "Teenarama" (1979)

Blind date!
School gate!
You wait!
He's late!
Daddy's car!
Coffee bar!
First bra!
Too far!

The Records released their power-pop classic, "Teenarama," on this date in 1979.  

This song pulls out just about every musical trick in the book.  And if the guitar hooks and vocal harmonies don't grab you, the Lolita-ish lyrics will.  Think of "Teenarama"  as a musical amuse-bouche -- albeit a slightly creepy amuse-bouche.

Here's the cover for the "Teenarama" single:

You've heard of May-December romances?  They usually involve a young female and an older male -- Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore were an exception to that rule, of course.

If you want to think of a human lifespan of 80 years in terms of a single year, each month represents between six and seven years.  Run the numbers and you'll see that Miss May is roughly 27 to 33 years of age, while Mr. December is 73 to 80.

May-December couple:
Hefner (86) and Harris (25)
Here, the male wants a "younger girl," a "juvenile" who drinks only Coca-Cola.  He picks her up after school and takes her to a coffee shop on their first date -- presumably because she is too young to go to a bar.

The guy isn't that old.  He is out of school and old enough to drink -- in the UK, the minimum legal drinking age is 18 -- but young enough that he is driving daddy's car.

I think we have a March-April romance here.  That may not sound too bad compared to a May-December couple, but do the math:  we're talking about a 13- or 14-year-old girl and a 19- or 20-year-old guy.  

I doubt that any of you with 13- or 14-year-old  daughters would be happy about them being picked up at school by a 19- or 20-year-old male. 

The Records were a British band that released their first album in 1979.  It did reasonably well -- "Teenarama" and another single from the album, "Starry Eyes," got a fair amount of radio play in the UK and the U.S. of A. -- but the band's two subsequent albums didn't sell well, and the band broke up in 1982.

The Records have been compared to bands like Big Star, Badfinger, and the Raspberries -- each a power-pop giant.  As Chris Woodstra of has written, the group's three albums are full of "should-have-been-hits pop classics," but the band was "criminally unrewarded" by the public.  (This sounds like what the critics said about Fools Face, doesn't it?)    

I vaguely remember hearing "Teenarama" on the radio a few times when it was new.  I have the LP that it's on, which may have been a cutout, although it looks more like it was a used record.  It still has a $1.49 price sticker on it.  

I don't think I ever played the entire album.  I may not have ever played anything other than "Teenarama."  (For $1.49, I might have bought this LP just to get that one song.)

Here's "Teenarama."  After you hear it, I think you'll agree that it's amazing that the song was never featured in an 80's movie soundtrack -- maybe Fast Times at Ridgemont High or National Lampoon's Vacation

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Warren Zevon -- "Lawyers, Guns and Money" (1978)

I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns, and money
The sh*t has hit the fan

Lawyers, guns, and money can take care of pretty much any bad situation in which a desperate man finds himself.  But if you could choose only one of the three, which one would you choose?  

I'd probably start with guns -- use the guns to get money, and use the money to hire lawyers.  But it doesn't really matter where you begin.  This game isn't like "rock, paper, scissors," which only works in one direction.  Guns can get you money -- but money can get you guns, too.

My son Nick recently graduated from law school, but I doubt that he will ever have to deal with guys who need guns to get out of trouble.  I think lawyers and money will be enough to take care of his clients' problems.  

Here's a picture of the Duke Law School class of 2012.  I don't know about you, but I look at this photo and think to myself, "Just what this country needs -- a couple of hundred more lawyers."  

Nick's graduation was held in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium -- most famous as the home of the Duke Blue Devils basketball team:

Mike Krzyzewski has coached the Duke men since 1980, and he has more wins than any men's Division I basketball coach in history.  John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach, won ten national championships in a 12-year period, but no other men's coach has won more titles than "Coach K."  Here are Duke's national championship banners:

Here's Nick all decked out in his graduation finery.  The standard law degree in the United States is the J.D., or juris doctor ("Doctor of Law") degree.  Doctoral gowns are typically black with velvet facing and three velvet bands on the sleeves.  For doctors of law, the velvet is purple.

Note also Nick's snazzy hat.  Instead of the standard mortarboard cap, recipients of doctoral degrees can wear velvet tams.

I'm a lawyer myself, but I had nothing to do with my first-born's decision to go to law school -- at least not in the sense that I encouraged him to follow in my footsteps.  

But first-borns are said to be conscientious and parent-oriented.  There's little doubt that he strongly resembles me in a number of fundamental characteristics, so maybe it shouldn't surprise me that he chose law as his career.  I think he'll be happier and more successful as a lawyer than I've been.  (He certainly was a more successful law student than I was -- primarily because he's every bit as smart as I am but worked much harder than I did.)

Warren Zevon released a dozen studio albums over a 34-year career.  "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" is on his third album, Excitable Boy, which was released in 1978.  That was his most successful album, thanks in large part to the popularity of "Werewolves of London," his biggest hit single.

Zevon's second biggest-selling album was his last one, The Wind.  It was released in 2003, about a year after he had been diagnosed with inoperable peritoneal mesothelioma (a type of cancer usually blamed on asbestos exposure).  Zevon died less than two weeks after The Wind was released.  He was 56.  

Zevon's last public appearance was on "The Late Show With David Letterman."  As he walked onstage, the Letterman band played a song Zevon had written in 1976 -- "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead."  He told Letterman that "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years," and advised the audience to "enjoy every sandwich."

Here's "Lawyers, Guns, and Money":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gary Lewis and the Playboys -- "She's Just My Style" (1965)

Don't you know that she's just my style 
Everything about her drives me wild 

When's the last time you thought about Gary Lewis and the Playboys?  

Have you forgotten just how big they were -- especially in 1965?  According to Billboard, the Playboys had three of the top 100 singles that year.  So did the Beatles.  The Beach Boys, Supremes, and Rolling Stones had two each.

The Playboys released five singles in 1965.  "This Diamond Ring" went to #1.  "Count Me In" and "Save Your Heart for Me" went to #2.  "She's Just My Style" made it to #3.  And "Everybody Loves a Clown" hit #4.  That's the pop-music equivalent of a grand slam, a couple of solo home runs, a triple, and a double in one game.

Carl Wiser of the indispensable Songfacts website recently interviewed Gary Lewis, and kindly offered to write about "She's Just My Style" for you lucky readers of 2 or 3 lines.  (Carl knows that Leon Russell is a favorite of 2 or 3 lines, and it turns out that Leon had a major role in the Playboys' success -- as did Al Kooper, another favorite of mine.)  

Carl, you have the floor:
Gary Lewis and the Playboys had seven top-10 hits, which was remarkable considering that their competition included the Beatles.
Their first and biggest hit, was "This Diamond Ring," which was written in part by a young Al Kooper.  Those next six hits don't have the same shine, but they still hold up, especially the Beach Boys-flavored "She's Just My Style."
Gary Lewis is, of course, the son of Jerry Lewis. He inherited some of his dad's showmanship and got some other perks -- like drum lessons from family friend Buddy Rich.
[Editor's note: Buddy Rich was a virtuoso jazz drummer with  a mercurial temperament who often appeared as a guest on The Tonight ShowClick here to see Buddy Rich and Jerry Lewis drumming on a 1965 television special.]
But Gary was determined to succeed without any help from his famous father.  Here's how he explained it to me:
"I don't want to get any jobs because I'm his son.  I won't do it.  I just will absolutely not do it.  Because if you don't have talent, the door's going to slam in your face, anyway."

Gary Lewis with his father, Jerry
Gary didn't hit it big because of his dad, he hit it big because of Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell.  Garrett is the record producer who found him playing at Disneyland, put him in a studio, and had him record "This Diamond Ring." He's also the one who pulled in the famous Los Angeles session musicians like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Tommy Tedesco to play on the records. (Gary points out that the Playboys played on everything, but these session pros did overdubs and solos. These were the same musicians who played on many of the Beach Boys records, which came in handy on this song.)  Leon Russell, very early in his career, did the arrangements.
Gary co-wrote two of his hits, first "Everybody Loves a Clown" and then "She's Just My Style." He worked with Garrett and Russell on both of them, and for "Style," they had a particular sound in mind.  Said Lewis:
"Leon and Snuffy said, 'All right, let's write a song about the California coast and the beach and the surf and the sun.'  I said, 'Oh, so you want to do like a Beach Boys thing?'  And they said, 'Yeah, yeah.  With voices and a lot of harmonies and stuff like that.'  I said, 'Well, great.  I like the Beach Boys.'  They recorded in the same studio that we recorded in, too.  So I was always visiting them or they were coming and visiting me on my sessions.  So that's what we were going for, a Beach Boys-type sound."
They nailed the sound, and "She's Just My Style" went to #3 in 1965.  It helped that Garrett had mastered the art of timing Playboys singles around Beatles releases so they wouldn't have to battle a "Ticket To Ride" or "Yesterday" for attention.
On December 29, 1966, Gary entered the army.  He didn't try to dodge the draft, since it worked out for Elvis, and getting out of it wasn't a good option.  He explained it like this:
"If I fought to get out of it, look at all the bad press.  Look at how people would look at me.  I'm glad I had the insight to see that at such an early age.  I didn't think it was the right thing to try to get out of it at all."
While Gary was in the army (he didn't see combat, but did go to Saigon -- they didn't want to get him killed, and neither did he), the musical landscape flipped and his brand of pop was not in favor when he returned.  Gary owned a record store from 1972 to 1984, and he has been touring ever since.  
He released a new song in 2011 called "You Can't Go Back," which is well worth the 99 cents it costs on iTunes or Amazon.

Here's Gary Lewis today:

To say that Gary Lewis and the Playboys nailed the sound of the Beach Boys on this song is an understatement.  Leon Russell played on "Help Me, Rhonda," "California Girls," and other Beach Boys recordings, and he was obviously paying close attention.

Thanks once again to Carl, who never disappoints.  Click here to read Carl's entire Gary Lewis interview.

Here's Gary Lewis and the Playboys lip-synching "She's Just My Style" on the Los Angeles-based music variety show, Shivaree, which ran insyndication in 1965 and 1966.  I'm pretty sure that the middle go-go dancer is Teri Garr:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kinks -- "Victoria" (1969)

Canada to India
Australia to Cornwall
Singapore to Hong Kong
From the west to the east
From the rich to the poor
Victoria loved them all
You regular readers of 2 or 3 lines are no doubt surprised to see a post on Thursday instead of the usual Friday.  

There's a good reason for this change of schedule.  Today is the 193rd birthday of the longest-reigning female monarch in the history of the world -- Her Imperial Majesty Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India (not to mention Princess of Hanover and Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), who reigned over the British Empire for 63 years, 7 months, and 2 days.

The young Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, are popularly viewed as having been major prudes.  In Victorian England, the better sort used the word "limb" in mixed company -- "leg" was deemed a bit racy.  The first two lines of "Victoria" allude to Victorian morality:

Long ago life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene

But Victoria and Albert had nine children, despite Victoria's aversion to being pregnant and her disgust with breast-feeding.  As this excerpt from her diary entry about her wedding night indicates, Victoria couldn't resist Albert's manly charms: 

I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!!  MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert . . . his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before!  He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! 

In other words, Albert shagged her rotten!  (Oh behave, Vicky!)

Prince Albert in 1842
If there were such a thing as a Mount Rushmore for "British Invasion" bands, the Kinks (along with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Who) would be on it.  The Kinks were the most English of those groups -- Pete Townshend described them as "quintessentially English" -- and you can learn a lot about British history and culture from their music.  

"Victoria" is the first track on Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), a 1969 concept album that was created to be the soundtrack to a never-produced television play.

The title character of the album, Arthur Morgan, is a middle-aged working-class Englishman who lost one son in the Korean War, and whose other son is taking his family to Australia in hopes of having a better life.

The album is nostalgic in tone, and songs about the glory days of 19th-century England ("Victoria"), the terrible slaughter of World War I ("Some Mother's Son"), the resolve of the British people during World War II ("Mr Churchill Says"), and the fear and anxiety about the future that was felt by superficially comfortable suburbanite homeowners in the difficult years that followed that war ("Shangri-La," the greatest rock song ever written about the concerns of middle-aged adults).

The lines quoted above list some of the better-known appendages of the British Empire during Victoria's reign.  The British also ruled the Bahamas, British Guiana, British Honduras, Burma, Ceylon, Cyprus, Fiji, Gambia, Gibraltar, the Gold Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Nigeria, Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and many, many other places.

Victoria's Empire
Today the British Empire includes only the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and the 14 British Overseas Territories.  Those territories encompass a land area of some 667,000 square miles -- about the same as the area covered by France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

That may sound pretty impressive, but all but 7000 of those 667,000 square miles consists of the British Antarctic Territory (which has a summer population of some 400 souls, and a winter population of 50).  The other 13 territories include Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands . . . well, you get the picture.  There are some nice places on that list to be sure, but it ain't much of an empire.)

Here's "Victoria":

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Roxy Music -- "Whirlwind" (1975)

Wildfire and driving rain
Wheels spin
Bowl me over hurricane
Ford Madox Ford's novel, The Good Soldier, famously begins with this line: "This is the saddest story I have ever heard."

Exactly one year ago today, an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado cut a mile-wide swath of destruction directly through the heart of Joplin, Missouri.  The tornado's official death toll is 160, and the death of each of those 160 victims is no doubt the saddest story that his or her family and friends have ever heard.

I know only a few of those stories, but one stands out for me -- the story of Will Norton and his father, Mark.  

President Obama went to Joplin yesterday to speak at the graduation of the Joplin High School class of 2012.  Graduation ceremonies for the class of 2011 had just been completed when the tornado struck last May 22.  One of the new graduates, Will Norton, was driving home shortly after getting his diploma when the storm's irresistible power snapped his seat belt and pulled him through the sunroof of his car.

Will Norton
His father, Mark, was severely injured.  He sustained 17 broken bones, a collapsed lung, and a dislocated shoulder.  The last injury resulted from Mark's desperate efforts to hold on to Will.  

But as strong as Mark's love for his son was -- and as powerful as his determination to protect him was -- the tornado was far stronger and even more determined.

The Norton family at a memorial service for Will
Paramedics used the "Jaws of Life" to free Mark from the mangled SUV, applied a tourniquet to his badly bleeding arm, and rushed him to a hospital.  He had no idea what happened to Will -- he just knew that his son had disappeared.

As Mark Norton lay broken in a crowded, chaotic operating room, Dr. Rex Peterson leaned in close to tell him the morphine supply was depleted and he was going to experience more pain than he’d ever known as the surgeon prepared to re-set the bones protruding from his left leg.
But it hardly compared to the even more exquisite pain a week later when Pastor Aaron Brown had to lean in again at Mark’s hospital bedside in the pre-dawn hours to tell him his son Will’s body had been positively identified after a frantic week of friends, family, strangers and search teams looking for the popular Joplin teenager who vanished into the twister.
If you're a father, what Mark Turner experienced a year ago today simply doesn't bear thinking about.

Against all odds, many Joplin fathers were spared the loss of a child that day.  Lydia McAllister, a member of the class of 2012 who graduated yesterday, lost her home but all her family members survived.

The McAllister family
Lydia learned something about her father last May 22 and in the year that followed: 

I’ll never forget how my dad has been our rock, patient and flexible while getting our lives back on track.  I can’t even put into words how much I admire him and how proud I am to have him as my dad.  

Any time I would wake up from a “tornado-mare,” as I like to call them, I think about the moments right after the storm hit, when we walked to the basement stairs only to see the mangled gray sky instead of our house.  My dad pulled us all in and promised us we’d be OK -- that he would make sure we’d be OK -- and instantly, my fear dissipates.

For a father, such words are "more desirable than gold, even the finest gold.  They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb."  (Psalm 19:10.)

Do you doubt for a moment that Will Norton would have said similar words to his father if he had somehow been able to summon the superhuman strength that would have been required to save Will from the tornado?    

Here's "Whirlwind," from Roxy Music's 1975 album, Siren:

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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Big & Rich -- "Slow Motion" (2005)

Oh-h-h, I'm breaking in slow motion
Oh-h-h, how did it hit me so fast?
It hurts so bad, it hurts so bad

I don't think National Indulge in Self-Pity Month has an official song.  So I'm nominating Big & Rich's "Slow Motion."  (Country is definitely the most self-pitying popular music genre, and "Slow Motion" is an excellent example of a self-pitying country song.)

Gotcha!  Silly rabbit, there's no such thing as National Indulge in Self-Pity Month! But there is National Indulge in Self-Pity Week, and we are right in the middle of it.

Gotcha again!  Actually, there's no such thing as National Indulge in Self-Pity Week either.  But if there were, 2 or 3 lines would be an excellent choice as its official blog.  

This post is explicitly about self-pity.  But it's certainly not the only 2 or 3 lines post to be saturated with self-pity.  Self-pity is one of the things that 2 or 3 lines does best -- don't you agree?  That's no surprise.  After all, being self-absorbed is another one of the other things 2 or 3 lines does best, and it's only one small step from self-absorption to self-pity.

This song popped up on the ol' sentient iPod this morning when I was taking a walk along San Diego Bay.  I was already in a self-pitying state of mind, and this song was like getting an injection of self-pity epinephrine after self-pity-induced cardiac arrest.

I hit the "repeat" button a half-dozen times or so before I got back to my hotel.  I don't know the exact number because I was too consumed with you-know-what to keep track.  (Self-pity demands your full attention -- you can't count and completely give yourself over to self-pity at the same time.) 

"Slow Motion" is from Big & Rich's second album, Comin' to Your City, which was released in 2005.  It wouldn't be a bad official song for National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week.  This verse in particular captures the mental paralysis that is characteristic of depression:

Feels like I'm frozen in a dream
I can't run, can't even scream
I'm trying to fight but I can't get my fist up
How does somebody get so messed up?

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
But National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week was May 6-12 this year, and I didn't want to wait almost a whole year for it to roll around again.  So I made up National Indulge in Self-Pity Week as an excuse to write about "Slow Motion."

I understand that not all of you allow yourselves to wallow in self-pity.  In fact, you may find displays of self-pity pathetic and disgusting.  If so, you will enjoy Jo Dee Messina's song, "My Give a Damn's Busted."  It's an excellent choice the next time a friend or acquaintance tries to suck you into his or her self-pity party:

You can say you've got issues
You can say you're a victim . . .
Maybe somebody else's got time to listen
My give a damn's busted
Here's "Slow Motion":

Click here to buy "Slow Motion" from Amazon:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dave Mason -- "Feelin' Alright" (1968)

Don't get too lost in all I say
Though at the time I really felt that way
But that was then -- now it's today

Dave Mason took the words right out of my mouth.  Actually, he didn't -- but those lines sound like they could have been written about 2 or 3 lines.  

You should keep them in mind every time your read a post that is more than a day or two old.  At the time I wrote that post, I really felt that way.  But that was then -- and now, of course, it's today.

Dave Mason in 1974
I wish I knew what Dave Mason had in mind when he wrote this song 40-plus years ago.  I guess I could have stood up in the middle of his recent show in Washington, DC, raised my hand, and asked him.

Or maybe I'll just ask my new friend Tony Patler -- he's Mason's keyboard player -- to ask ol' Dave what the lyrics mean.  Tony's the guy who comped me two free tickets to that Mason show.

I asked the hot (age-adjusted) French girlfriend to go with me, but she disappointed me.  Comme c'est ├ža.  (The French have no clue when it comes to good music, of course, so it's just as well she didn't come with me -- it would have been pearls before pourceaux.)

"Feelin' Alright" appeared on Traffic's eponymous second album, which was released in 1968.  Mason co-founded Traffic, but ended up becoming the odd man out.  

Dave Mason today
Traffic's first album, Mr. Fantasy, was somewhat schizophrenic.  It featured three songs written solely by Mason -- he was the lead vocalist on all three -- and half a dozen songs co-written by the band's other members (Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and -- most of the time -- Chris Wood).  Mason left the band after that album had been recorded.

He rejoined them in time to be part of Traffic's second album, The songwriting credits on that album were split almost evenly between Mason (who handled lead vocals on all of his songs) and Winwood-Capaldi -- Winwood handled lead vocals on all those songs.  (Mason and Capaldi did team up to co-write one song.)  By the time that album hit the stores, Mason had left the group once more.

"Feelin' Alright" is my favorite among the Mason songs on those two albums, and it has been covered a lot.  It was the first track on Three Dog Night's 1969 Suitable for Framing album, which I owned before I ever heard Traffic -- so Three Dog Night's version is the one I first became familiar with.  (I played that album to death in high school.)

The 5th Dimension, Grand Funk Railroad, Lou Rawls, Rare Earth, the Ohio Players, and many others covered the song.  There's a live version of "Feelin' Alright" on the soundtrack of the Jackson 5's TV special, Goin' Back to Indiana.

But the cover version that everyone remembers is Joe Cocker's.  Here's Cocker's performance of the song from the movie Mad Dogs and Englishman.  He and Leon Russell make quite a pair.

Mason closed his live show with "Feelin' Alright."  He made it clear that it was his song, not Joe Cocker's, although his band's arrangement of the song owed more to Cocker than to the original Traffic version.  (According to Mason, he wrote the song on the small Greek island of Hydra, where he lived on feta cheese and retsina for about ten days while visiting singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.)

The rest of the evening's performance was equally tight and satisfying.  Mason, Patler, et al., are old pros, and they know what they are doing when they take the stage.

Here's the original "Feelin' Alright":

Click here to buy a copy from Amazon: 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Puff Daddy -- "Can't Nobody Hold Us Down" (1997)

And when you need a hit, who you gonna get?
Bet against us?  Not a good bet
We make hits that'll rearrange your whole set
And I got a Benz that I ain't even drove yet

This song's rhythm track samples Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's early rap hit, "The Message."  (That track was the subject of a first-semester "Hip Hop 101" lecture, as you more attentive students will no doubt recall.)  And it includes a couple of lines ("Don't push us 'cause we're close to the edge/We're trying not to lose our heads") that were taken almost word-for-word from "The Message" ("Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head").

"Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" also borrows from a pop song that has about as much hip-hop DNA as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" -- Matthew Wilder's 1983 pop hit, "Break My Stride."

The chorus of the Wilder song (which you'll first hear at 0:36 of this video) features these lyrics:

Ain't nothin' gonna break my stride
Nobody's gonna slow me down
I got to keep on moving

The Puff Daddy song features these lyrics and a very similar musical backing at 2:03 and 3:15:

Can't nobody take my pride
Can't nobody hold me down
I got to keep on moving

Many believe that Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs goes a little overboard when it comes to his use of samples.  Of course, sampling is generally accepted in the world of rap music.  

Some critics look askance at this practice.  For example, writer Erik Campbell has observed (with snarky disapproval) that "in the hip-hop world, plagiarism is referred to as sampling, and is somehow confused with creativity."  

On the other hand, Campbell admits that it is virtually impossible for a modern author to be truly original.  "As a writer of poetry and the occasional essay," he admits, "I am constantly trying to come up with, if not an original idea, then at least an original rendering of one."  But that's difficult to do because the literary journals and magazines that publish poetry and essays are read by only a few people, and the universe of readers of those publications largely overlaps with the universe of their authors.  "Thus, not only are we readers and writers oftentimes taking out one another’s laundry," Campbell concludes, "but also . . . wearing one another’s pants."  (Click here to read Campbell's article.)

If you find the image of Sean Combs, Grandmaster Flash, and Matthew Wilder sharing the same pair of pants too disturbing, perhaps you'll like this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche better: "Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory is too good."  

It would appear that Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs has a very, very good memory for music.  Is it fair to criticize the man for that?

Sean Combs with his oldest son, Justin
Perhaps not.  But it seems quite fair to me to criticize him for giving a $360,000 Maybach (complete with chauffeur) to his eldest son on the occasion of his 16th birthday.  (For those of you aren't familiar with the Maybach, it is a luxury car manufactured by Mercedes-Benz -- sort of the German equivalent of a Rolls-Royce or Bentley.)  

I also have some doubts about the wisdom of naming one's twin daughters D'Lila Star Combs and Jessie James Combs -- but maybe that was the mother's idea.

Back to our featured song and the lyrics quoted above.

If you needed a hit in 1997, it was a very bad idea to bet against Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and his Bad Boy Records label.

"Can't Nobody Hold Me Down," the first single from Combs' debut album, No Way Out, spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100."  That album -- which reached #1 the week it was released, and eventually sold over seven million copies -- included four other hit singles and won the Grammy for best rap album.

The most successful of those singles was "I'll Be Missing You," which paid tribute to the Notorious B.I.G., Combs' close friend and Bad Boy recording artist, who had been shot to death earlier tha year.  "I'll Be Missing You" was the first rap song to debut at #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100," and it stayed in the top spot for eleven straight weeks.

Two Notorious B.I.G. singles were also #1 hits in 1997, as was Biggie's posthumously-released Life After Death double album, a Bad Boys Records release whose executive producer was Combs.

No Way Out was Puff Daddy's most successful album, although it is a far too commercial product to please rap purists -- or literary critics who don't like rappers with very good memories.

Here's the "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" video:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lefty Frizzell -- "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" (1950)

If you got the money
I've got the time
We'll go honky-tonkin'
And we'll have a time . . .
But if you run short of money
I'll run short of time
'Cause you with no more money, honey
I've no more time

The last 2 or 3 lines featured the first part of my friend Kerri Griffin's guest post on David Frizzell's country hit, "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino."  If you missed it, click here.

Let's let Kerri pick up where she left off, and not only learn some more about David Frizzell but also about his older brother, country music superstar Lefty Frizzell.  Kerri, you have the floor:

The performer of "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino" is David Frizzell (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, like “gazelle” -- not like “sizzle” or “fo’ shizzle”), who is the younger brother of country music legend William “Lefty” Frizzell.  
Many entertainers in the upper echelons of country music history have pointed to Lefty Frizzell as their inspiration:  Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison and George Jones were just of few of the larger-than-life talents who were influenced by Lefty’s easy-going, yet soulful style.
Lefty Frizzell
The elder Frizzell’s career took off in the early 1950s, when he was in his early twenties.  His ascent included touring for a short time with another legend, Hank Williams, Sr.  At one point in 1951, Lefty had four songs in the country top ten at the same time.  It would be more than a decade before that accomplishment was matched -- the Beatles had five hits at the same time on the pop charts in 1964.  

Lefty Frizzell’s career flourished throughout the ‘50s and well into the ‘60s.  As with so many other great musicians, Frizzell was a heavy drinker and made poor decisions when it came to the opposite sex.  
Before he became a star, he had served time for statutory rape; ten years later he was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor (an underage girl) when his wife was pregnant with their second child.  His alcohol abuse eventually hurt his career, as missed studio sessions and erratic mood swings poisoned his relationship with his recording company, ABC Records.  
Alcoholism and hard living finally caught up with Lefty, and he died of a massive stroke on July 19, 1975, at the age of 47.  Several artists later memorialized Lefty Frizzell through musical tributes; in 1977, for example, Willie Nelson released an album of Lefty covers titled To Lefty From Willie.  Frizzell was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

David Frizzell owes his start in music to his older brother; at the age of 12 he began touring with Lefty, who was 13 years his senior.  When Lefty’s voice gave out when he was supposed to record a demo of a song he had written, he sent his younger brother to sing in his place.  When the record company guy heard David sing, he was so excited he offered him a contract.  
As a solo artist, David did not have the success of his big brother.  His first and only solo #1 hit was "Wino," which topped the country charts in August 1982.  It was also nominated for Best Country and Western Song in the 1982 Grammy Awards, losing to Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind."  (That "Wino" would be his biggest solo success seems especially poignant since David Frizzell’s niece lost her life to a drunk driver on her 32nd birthday in 1998.  David is now an avid supporter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.)
However, the following year he hooked up (musically, that is) with Shelly West, the daughter of country music legend Dottie West, and the wife of David’s younger brother, Allen Frizzell.

In 1981, the pair recorded "You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma," which was featured on the soundtrack for the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can.  

[Editor's note: I don't know this song, so I don't know how Frizzell explains God's seemingly inexplicable decision to make Oklahoma.  All I know is that (in the words of William Cowper's famous hymn) "God moves in a mysterious way/His wonders to perform."]

The duet was so popular that it was released as a single; it soared to the top of the charts and stayed in the top 40 for eleven weeks.  David and Shelly stayed together for four very successful years until their split in 1985.  (Coincidentally, or not, she and Allen Frizzell divorced about the same time.)

David has worked hard to remind people of Lefty's talent and influence on country music, even writing a biography of his brother titled I Love You a Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story, which was published in 2011.  Though he clearly idolized his brother, David didn't ignore Lefty’s darker side in his book -- not just the drinking, but also his famous bad temper, which led to physical altercations with his wife, Alice.  (She once pulled a gun on him.)

[Click below to buy Frizzell's book:]

Now that I’ve learned so much about the Frizzell brothers and their careers, I thought I should take another look at "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino."  (Can you hear the ol' Random Thought Generator starting to hum?)
It seemed odd that a man with a brother notorious for his heavy drinking and spousal abuse would perform a song that appears to make light of marital discord resulting from uncontrolled binge drinking.  But as I think about it, perhaps it makes a weird kind of sense.  For one thing, many of the lyrics actually have a relatively somber tone to them, suggesting that the song is not just an extended joke, but has a more serious meaning as well.  
Here are the first two lines of the song's chorus:
I’m gonna hire a wino to decorate our home
So you’ll feel more at ease here, and you won’t need to roam  
Perhaps alcoholics like Lefty Frizzell are never "at ease" unless they are drinking.  As for his "need to roam," we may have a chicken-and-egg situation here: did Lefty roam simply because that's what a successful musician did back then, or did he choose to become a musician so he could constantly be on the road (and away from home, where the wife might have kept a close eye on him and cramped his style)?

Another line seems to hint at a parallel between the couple in the song and Lefty and his wife:  “Instead of family quarrels, we’ll have a barroom brawl.”  For both couples (and any couple in this kind of relationship, for that matter), “brawl” might be a more honest description of episodes of marital discontent than “quarrel.”  
And surely you can’t gloss over this verse, from which the lines at the top of part one this post are taken:

She said: "You'll get friendly service, and for added atmosphere
I'll slip on something sexy, and I'll cut it clear to here
Then you can slap my bottom, every time you tell a joke
Just as long as you keep tipping, well, I'll laugh until you're broke."

She’s so fed up with sharing her husband (not to mention his paycheck) with the barflies and tarts at his usual drinking places that she’s willing to debase herself to keep track of him and the money that pays the family's bills.  (I'm betting that the money is probably the primary consideration at this point of their marriage.)
I know what you’re thinking -- "Thanks a lot, Kerri.  Way to ruin a fun song!”  
Actually, I may be reading too much into this song.  After all, David Frizzell didn’t write the song; it was written by Dewayne Blackwell, who probably intended it as nothing more than a bawdy knee-slapper that would appeal to the public.  
[Editor's note: Blackwell has written a lot of hit songs.  For example, he co-wrote the Garth Brooks hit, "Friends in Low Places."]
David Frizzell may have chosen to record the song simply in hopes of having a hit, or because his record company pushed him to do so.  But listening to the song today, I can't help but believe that he was thinking about his brother's unhappy personal life when he recorded it.
Here's a live performance of "I’m Gonna Hire a Wino":

I can’t let you go without giving you a final little nugget of trivia.  One of the lines in the song is “When the Hamm's bear says it's closing time, you won't have far to crawl.”  For those of you who weren’t of drinking age when this song came out, the “Hamm’s Bear” refers to the mascot of Hamm’s Beer.  The bear was created in 1952 and was enormously popular, appearing in Hamm's TV advertising and on clocks, lamps, and other such items that the brewery made for bars and taverns.

Kerri's mention of the line in the song that mentions Hamm's beer takes me back almost 40 years.  Hamm's was a popular brand during my college years, when my drinking buddies and I spent many summer nights at the long-departed Nina's Green Parrot bar in Galena, Kansas.  One of my friends and I became very friendly with two cousins (one male, one female -- their names escape me right now) who were the bartenders at Nina's, and even went to their house on occasion after the bar closed for the night.  

Nina's sold a lot of beer, so the local beer distributors showered the place with more free neon signs and lamps and clocks and other advertising knick-knacks than it could hold.  Our bartender friends gave us a fair amount of this swag, and one item I was especially proud of was a lovely Hamm's lamp.  It had a place of honor in my college apartments for a couple of years, but mysteriously disappeared after I brought it back home.  (Thanks for nothing, Mom.)

One final note.  The lyrics of "Wino" feature these lines: 

And when you run out of money, you'll have me to thank
You can sleep it off next morning, when I'm putting it in the bank

The "when you run out of money" phrase echoes the lines from the Lefty Frizzell song quoted above.  I doubt that was mere happenstance.  

"If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" is an all-time country classic.  It was a #1 hit for Frizzell in 1950, and also a #1 hit for Willie Nelson in 1976.  Hank Williams covered it, as did many others -- I'm sure it is performed every night of the week in bars and roadhouses all across the U. S. of A.  There's no way that Dewayne Blackwell, the guy who wrote the lyrics for "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino," wasn't familiar with that song.

The two songs fit rather neatly together.  Lefty Frizzell may have recorded "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time," but the song makes more sense if the singer is a woman.  The same is true of "Wino" -- a male singer recorded it, but the narrator of the song is clearly a woman.  In Lefty's song, the woman is telling the clueless cheating husband that she'll drop him like a hot potato as soon as he runs out of money.  In David's song, the wife is telling that same guy that he will no longer be running out of money anywhere except home -- killing two birds with one stone.

My sincere thanks to Kerri for contributing a great guest post -- not to mention one that had sufficient meat on its bones to be two posts, not just one.  If you're a football fan and a fan of good eatin' -- and who isn't? -- click here to check out her blog, Naptime Huddle.

Here's Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time":

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