Friday, November 30, 2012

Moby Grape -- "Omaha" (1967)

Listen, my love
Get under the covers
Squeeze me real tight
All of your lovin'!

Oh behave, Moby Grape!  (Yeah, baby!)

You remember the old grade school joke that asked "What's big and purple and lives in the ocean?"  The punchline was "Moby Grape."  And that's how this band got its name.

Jeff Tamarkin has been a pop music journalist for some 25 years.  In his book, Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane, he wrote this about Moby Grape:

The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco.  Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less.  

In other words, if it wasn't for bad luck, Moby Grape wouldn't have had no luck at all (to quote "Born Under a Bad Sign").  

For example, the band appeared at the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, but their appearance was not included in the famous documentary movie about the festival because of legal squabbles.  (The Moby Grape footage filmed for the Monterey Pop movie was finally shown publicly in 2007.)

You may wonder why Tamarkin was commenting on Moby Grape in a book about the Jefferson Airplane.  For one thing, one of Moby Grape's guitarists was Skip Spence, who played drums on the Jefferson Airplane's first album. 

Spence formed Moby Grape at the behest of Matthew Katz, who had been the Airplane's first manager.  The members of that group had a falling out with Katz, and it's hard to explain why Spence decided that he should be Moby Grape's manager.

Matthew Katz in 1967
Katz paid Moby Grape's rent and living expenses when they were trying to the group off the ground.  In exchange, he added a provision to his management contract giving him ownership of the band's name.  This turned out not to be such a good idea -- the group's members litigated with Katz off and on until 2006, when a California appeals court brought the unhappy saga to an end by uphelding a lower court's decision holding that the band owned the Moby Grape name and its songs and recordings.  (One of the band members told Jeff Tamarkin that he "wouldn't piss in [Katz's] face if his eyebrows were on fire.")

That court decision came far too late for Skip Spence, who died 1999 but who had checked out decades earlier.

Spence, a charismatic and energetic performer who has been described as "one of psychedelic rock's brightest lights," wrote "Omaha" for Moby Grape's eponymous debut album.  "Omaha" is two and a half minutes of country-folk-psychedelic pop perfection.  

Rolling Stone summed the song up as follows:

Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence compete in a three-way guitar battle for two and a quarter red-hot minutes, each of them charging at Spence's song from different angles, no one yielding to anyone else.

"Omaha" was the one of five singles that Columbia Records released simultaneously when the Moby Grape album was issued.  It was the only one to chart, but only made it to the #88 spot on the Billboard "Hot 100."

Moby Grape concert poster
Why did Columbia release five singles from the same album simultaneously?  Moby Grape's debut album was hyped like crazy, and maybe some brainiac at that record company decided that releasing five singles all at once would get lots of attention and capitalize on that hype.  In reality, the release of five singles at the same time guaranteed that none of the five would get the kind of attention a pop record needs to thrive.  Moby Grape wasn't the Beatles, after all.

When the group went to New York to record its second album, Skip Spence fell in with a bad crowd.  (My mother always warned me about that, and I bet Skip's mother did the same.)

Under the influence of LSD, he took a fire axe to the hotel-room door of Don Stevenson, who was one of his bandmates -- he apparently thought he needed to kill Stevenson to save him.

Skip and Don Stevenson
before the axe attack
Spence ended up in the notorious Manhattan jail, the Tombs.  From there, he was transferred to Bellevue, New York City's famous public psychiatric hospital, where he was diagnosed as having schizophrenia. 

While he was in Bellevue, Spence wrote a bunch of songs.  When he was released in 1969, he headed to Nashville and recorded a solo album titled Oar.  

When I call Oar a "solo" album, I mean that literally -- Spence did everything on the record himself.  (Apparently he thought he was doing a demo record, but the producer decided to release it as is.) 

One critic described Oar as "[c]ombining the ramblings of a man on the brink of mental collapse with some real moments of flippancy and laughter . . . a genuinely strange record."

Another critic had this to say about the album: "The majority of the sounds on this long-player remain teetering near the precipice of sanity.

According to one source, Oar was the lowest-selling album in Columbia Records history when it was deleted from the company's catalogue a year later. 

Spence moved back to California, where he lived for another 30 years, but there was no there there for most of that time.

The other band members helped support him after his breakdown.  Spence consumed mass quantities of heroin and cocaine, and was once involuntarily committed to a California mental hospital.  Another one of the Grape's guitarists, Peter Lewis, later described what was Spence was like during those years:

Skippy was just hanging around. He hadn't been all there for years, because he'd been into heroin all that time.  In fact, he actually OD'ed once and they had him in the morgue in San Jose with a tag on his toe.  All of a sudden he got up and asked for a glass of water.  

Now he was snortin' big clumps of coke, and nothing would happen to him.  We couldn't have him around because he'd be pacing the room, describing axe murders.  So we got him a little place of his own.  He had a little white rat named Oswald that would snort coke, too.  

He'd never washed his dishes, and he'd try to get these little grammar school girls to go into the house with him.  He was real bad.  One of the parents finally called the cops, and they took him to the County Mental Health Hospital in Santa Cruz.  Where they immediately lost him, and he turned up days later in the women's ward.

Skip Spence -- nearing the end
Much of Spence's later life was spent in institutions or transient accommodations or simply homeless.  Spence's fate is even sadder than that of Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators, whose drug use led to his being institutionalized and given electroshock treatment.  

Erickson eventually found doctors who could help him, and he is now performing and recording again.  But Spence never turned things around.  He didn't make a record in the 30 years that he lived following the release of Oar -- he died of lung cancer in 1999, just two days before his 53rd birthday.

Here's "Omaha":

Moby Grape once appeared on The Mike Douglas Show -- Douglas introduced them as the "Moby Grapes":

Neither "Omaha" nor the Moby Grape album are available from Amazon's MP3 store.  Click here if you'd like to buy the recording of the group playing "Omaha" at the '67 Monterey Pop Festival:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vapors -- "Turning Japanese" (1980)

I asked the doctor to take your picture
So I can look at you from inside as well

"Turning Japanese" was another one of the songs on a mixtape that my friend Scott made for me 30 years ago.  Click here to read more about this mixtape and Scott's life and death.  

What exactly do the lyrics to "Turning Japanese" mean?  

When the Vapors toured the United States, the rumor started that "turning Japanese" was a British euphemism for spanking the monkey.  The phrase supposedly refer to the look you get at the moment that you deliver the coup de grâce to yourself: you scrunch up your face and squint, which makes you look Japanese.

The Vapors' New Clear Days album cover
The Vapors' songwriter and frontman, David Fenton, denied that the song had anything to do with self-abuse.  He said that the song "is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn't expect to."  Fenton also said that the song could just as easily been titled "Turning Lebanese" or "Turning Portuguese."  (Fenton is now a lawyer who represents clients who are in the music industry . . . not that being a lawyer calls your honesty and sincerity into question.)

I remember "Turning Japanese" primarily because Rick Moranis, portraying a fictional middle-of-the-road pop singer, did a brilliant pseudo-music video of the song on the much-lamented SCTV ("Second City Television") show -- a show that was greatly superior to "Saturday Night Live" but much less well-known.

The first few seasons of SCTV were produced in Canada, and aired in the U.S. only on a syndicated basis.  The cast included not only Moranis but also John Candy (who had great success in the movies but was never as funny as he was on SCTV), Eugene Levy (the father in the American Pie movies), Catherine O'Hara (the mom in the Home Alone movies), and Dave Thomas (who paired with Moranis to portray the memorable Canadian-redneck McKenzie brothers).

Moranis not only portrayed the singer of "Turning Japanese" but also the "video jockey," or "VJ" -- the music video equivalent of a disc jockey -- who was playing the video.  (Note his pronunciation of the song title: not "Japa-neeze," but "Japa-neese."

Rick Moranis as fictional VJ Gerry Todd
Here's the Vapors' music video for "Turning Japanese":

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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mystikal -- "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)" (2001)

I tell you the truth so don't lie to me
Get back Satan -- don't bother me
And that's the way it's gotta be

Go west, young "Hip Hop 101" student!  

We've been shining the 2 or 3 lines spotlight on Atlanta rappers recently, and it's time to move on to  another Southern city that has produced more than its share of good rap music.

I'm talking about New Orleans, of course -- home of one of the true giants of hip-hop, Lil Wayne.

Mystikal (who was born Michael Lawrence Tyler in 1970) is a New Orleans-based rapper who feuded with Lil Wayne and the rest of the Cash Money Records crew back in the 1990s.  But Mystikal made peace with Weezy and signed with Cash Money in 2011, and Lil Wayne made a guest appearance on Mystikal's first single for that label.

Mystikal and Lil Wayne
New Orleans is like no other place in the United States, and its music is equally unique.  "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)" features a horn section that's reminiscent of the brass bands who play for tips from tourists in the French Quarter -- not to mention the guys who do that a couple of nights each week just a hop, skip, and jump from my law firm's Washington, DC office.

Our building is across the street from the Verizon Center, the home of Washington's NBA and NHL teams and the site of most big-ticket concerts in the city.  (Justin Bieber visited the Verizon Center recently.)  So there's a fair amount of pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood in the evening, especially when there's a basketball or hockey game.

There's an aggregation of about half a dozen young New Orleans-style music makers who set up on the corner and blast away with trumpets, trombones, and drums a couple of evenings each week.  They're pretty good, although they only know a few songs -- which they play over and over and over.

Their dynamic range is quite limited.  They know fortissimo and fortissimo2 and not much more.  They start playing around 5 PM and continue for an hour or two, depending on how the crowds and the tips are.  

I'm seven floors up and across the street from these street musicians, but their music is very distracting and loud enough to prevent me making calls using a speakerphone.  My colleagues whose offices are near mine are just as unhappy as I am.  We've complained to our landlord, but they say they've been unable to get local officials anything done to remedy the situation.  

I find this incredible.  Our firm (which has over 500 lawyers) is very well connected with the DC government.  But all our pleas to city officials have fallen on deaf ears.  In other words, a bunch of high-powered lawyers and lobbyists has been bested by a few itinerant street musicians playing plastic trombones.  What is the world coming to?

One of the female lawyers on our floor suggested a different strategy.  Why not collect a few bucks from each person and offer it to the musicians each time they show up if they agree to go play somewhere that's far enough away so they don't disturb us?

That is just the kind of goody-two-shoes idea a woman would come up with.  That approach is so unsatisfactory -- if we did that, those guys would be laughing at us.  We want to get medieval on their asses . . . serve them with a restraining order and get the police to drag them off to the poke if they ignore it.

If we can't figure out how to deal with the guys who play on the corner, we wouldn't get very far with Mystikal.  He's a bad dude -- so he wouldn't scare easy.  The music video for "Bouncin' Back" shows Mystikal in a mental hospital, behind bars and strapped into a straight-jacket, and I'm not sure that role was much of a stretch for him.

According to "Bouncin' Back," Mystikal has had to deal with some pretty crazy stuff, and he's lived the tell the tale.  He's a survivor, boys and girls.

It's not unheard of for a rapper to have legal issues, but Mystikal has had enough problems with John Law to make up for a dozen or so rappers whose legal records are squeaky clean.

Shortly after "Bouncin' Back" and the album it appeared on (Tarantula) were nominated for 2003 Grammy Awards, Mystikal was arrested and charged with sexual battery and extortion.  (He allegedly forced his hairstylist to perform sex acts after accusing her of stealing $80,000.)  

Mystikal had initially insisted that the sex was consensual.  But a videotape of the incident was found at his home shortly after the charges were initially made.  After the videotape was discovered, Mystikal agreed to a plea bargain offered by the prosecution, so he avoided the mandatory life sentence for sexual battery provided for in Louisiana law.  

The rapper expected to receive probation.   But the judge viewed the videotape at the sentencing hearing and sentenced him to six years in the poke -- starting immediately.  (That must have been one hell of a videotape.)  Quelle surprise, Monsieur Mystikal!

Mystikal reacts to his sentencing
In 2005, Mystikal was found guilty of failing to file federal tax returns for 1998 and 1999.  Fortunately for him, he was allowed to serve the one-year federal sentence concurrently with his six-year state sentence.  He was released in early 2010.

But just two years later, Mystikal was in hot water for domestic abuse battery.  He was eventually given a three-month jail sentence for violating the terms of his probation.  Mystikal was released in August 2012.

What does the future hold for Mystikal?  Either rap -- or porn.  Here's a very recent item from TMZ:

Rapper Mystikal's porn career is off to a promising start -- TMZ has learned, Mystikal's #1 porn star crush has AGREED to have sex with him on film . . . but he better not plan to get paid for it.

XXX-star Pinky . . . tells TMZ [she will] will gladly film a sex tape with him for her website.

But Pinky says she refuses to pay him -- because Mystikal is currently an "amateur" and Pinky doesn't pay amateurs . . ."no matter how good he is in bed."

As we first reported, Mystikal says he's taking one last stab at the music biz before he gives up and seriously turns to porn.

As for his six-year prison stint for sexual battery, Pinky says it doesn't bother her one iota -- telling us, "I think he came out looking better than when he went in."

When TMZ asked Mystikal if he has "the requisite hardware" to be a porn star, Mystikal said, "I'm definitely the man, the myth, and the legend."

Yep -- looks like Mystikal has learned his lesson and has cleaned up his act . . . he's going to be sticking to the straight and narrow from here on out . . . maintain a low profile.

By the way, if you're not familiar with Pinky's porn oeuvre -- I was not -- she is what is known as a "thick" woman.  In other words, she has a booty that makes Kim Kardashian look like a boy:

(Trust me -- this picture could have been much worse.)

Here's "Bouncin' Back," which was one of the songs they used to play during warmups when my daughters played high-school basketball at the Academy of the Holy Cross.  (Those nuns were sooooo clueless.)

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Beatles -- "Run For Your Life" (1965)

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead 

Today's 2 or 3 lines post was inspired by a news item I stumbled across several days after the 2012 election.

From Reuters:

An Arizona woman, in despair at the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama, ran down her husband with the family car in suburban Phoenix on Saturday because he failed to vote in the election, police said on Monday.

Holly Solomon, 28, was arrested after running over husband Daniel Solomon following a wild chase that left him pinned underneath the vehicle.

Holly Solomon
Daniel Solomon, 36, was in critical condition at a local hospital, but is expected to survive, Gilbert [AZ] police spokesman Sergeant Jesse Sanger said.

Police said Daniel Solomon told them his wife became angry over his "lack of voter participation" in last Tuesday's presidential election and believed her family would face hardship as a result of Obama winning another term.

Witnesses reported the argument broke out on Saturday morning in a parking lot and escalated. Mrs. Solomon then chased her husband around the lot with the car, yelling at him as he tried to hide behind a light pole, police said. He was struck after attempting to flee to a nearby street.

I have to believe that this marriage had problems long before November 6, but who knows?

I also recently stumbled across a very interesting article in the Washington Post about a murder prosecution.  The victim and the alleged murderer (who was not convicted) was identical twin brothers, and the article noted that murders of one twin by the other are exceptionally rare.

There were 12,996 homicides in the U.S. in 2010.  About 14% were committed by a family member.

Sisters were murdered by a sibling in 19 cases, while brothers were murdered 88 times.  Mothers were murdered by one of their children 107 times, while 135 fathers were murdered by their children.  Daughters were murdered by a parent 197 times, while sons were killed by a parent 256 times.  Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins were murdered by family members 287 times.

Here's where it gets interesting.  Husbands killed 603 wives.  But wives killed only 110 husbands!  (That's consistent with the fact that 492 boyfriends killed their girlfriends, but only 131 girlfriends killed their boyfriends.)

Do those numbers surprise you?  Probably not if you're a wife.  And certainly not if you're a husband. (If you're unmarried, maybe.)

I recently had an interesting conversation on this topic with the woman who lives with me and and has the same last name:

Me:  There's an article in the paper today about how many wives kill their husbands and vice versa.

Her:  I've thought about doing that, but I'm sure I'd get caught.

Me: (Brief silence.)  Well, I'm smarter than you.  I bet I could figure out a way to to not get caught.

(Have you ever had that conversation?  I didn't think you had.)

I should point out one thing that could make the husband-wife murder ration misleading.  Of those 12,996 U.S. murders in 2010, 5724 of them -- or 44% -- were committed by persons unknown.

For all we know, a lot of those unknown murderers are wives who didn't get caught.  So maybe wives do commit more murders than husbands -- they're just more clever.

"Run For Your Life" is the last track on the Beatles' 1965 album, Rubber SoulRubber Soul is an extraordinary album -- perhaps the best Beatles album ever.

The songs on Rubber Soul seem to be very simple -- they prove that the famous Ludwig Mies van der Rohe statement, "Less is more," applies to music as well as to modern architecture -- and are extremely easy to sing along with.  (It's impossible not to sing along with this album.)  

Only one song on the entire album is longer than three minutes -- the whole album is less than 30 minutes long.  

The only album that I think does it one better is the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, which was Brian Wilson's "answer" to Rubber Soul.  It's silly to argue which album is better -- both are as nearly perfect as any album of that era.  (Rolling Stone magazine ranked both of them in the top five in its "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list, and I certainly agree with that judgment.)

Here's "Run For Your Life":

You can use the link below to order the Rubber Soul album from Amazon:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Harve Presnell -- "They Call the Wind Maria" (1969)

Away out here they've got a name 
For rain and wind and fire
The rain is Tess, the fire's Joe 
They call the wind Maria

That's not "Ma-REE-uh," by the way -- it's "Ma-RYE-uh."  As in "Mariah Carey" (who was named after this song).

In George Rippey Stewart's 1941 novel Storm, he gives the storm which is the protagonist of his story the name "Maria."  Stewart later had this to say about the pronunciation of "Maria": "The soft Spanish pronunciation is fine for some heroines, but our Maria here is too big for any man to embrace and much too boisterous." He went on to say, "So put the accent on the second syllable, and pronounce it 'rye'."

Sheet music for "Maria"
Stewart's novel inspired Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Lowe to write a song about a storm named "Maria" for their 1951 Broadway musical about the California gold rush, Paint Your Wagon.  They used Stewart's pronunciation of "Maria."

Stewart's novel also inspired military meteorologists to start giving women's names to storms in the Pacific during World War II.  In 1953, a similar system of using women's names was adopted for North Atlantic storms.  This continued until 1979, when men's names also began to be used.  

Sandy can be either a male or female name, but the recent Hurricane Sandy was a lady, not a dude.  (They alternate male and female names, and Sandy was preceded and succeeded by storms with male names.)

Sandy had a devastating effect on large parts of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.  Here's a shot of what Sandy did to the Seaside Heights, NJ, roller-coaster:

Sandy also may have been the determining factor in the 2012 Presidential election.

CBS and Fox reported that exit polls indicated that Hurricane Sandy and President Obama's response to the storm's devastation may have turned what was perceived as a neck-and-neck race in Obama's favor.

Over 40% of the voters surveyed on November 6 said Obama's response to the hurricane was an important factor in how they had decided to vote that day.

And 15% of voters said Obama's response to the "superstorm" was the most important factor in how they voted.  Given that the President's response was almost universally praised by the news media, it is reasonable to assume that virtually all of those people voted for him.

(To say that a voter was favorably impressed by Obama's response to the hurricane really means that he or she was favorably impressed by the favorable news coverage of that response, of course.  It's one thing for a President to appear concerned and empathetic on the evening news programs, and quite another for his administration to do a good job managing the myriad of nitty-gritty tasks that need to be performed to restore life in the affected area to normal.  It's too early to give the government response a final grade -- maybe it will get an A+, maybe it will get a C- . . . only time will tell. )

Many of those voters would certainly have voted for Obama even if there had never been a Hurricane Sandy.  But it seems likely that quite a few of them had not made up their mind when Sandy struck, and that the favorable perception of the President in the aftermath of the storm was the tipping point for them.

So Sandy almost certainly did one of two things.  It turned what would have been a narrow Romney victory into an Obama victory.  Or it turned what would have been a narrow Obama win into a much more comfortable Obama win.

Taxicab lot in Hoboken, NJ, after Sandy
Reasonable people can differ over which of those two things Sandy did -- but I don't think anyone is arguing that Sandy helped the Republican candidate.

MSNBC commentator and Obama supporter Chris Matthews agreed with this view.  On election night, he said "I'm so glad we had that storm last week."  (A few days later, Matthews confused carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide when talking about greenhouse gases.  I'd say it's time to put Mr. Matthews out to pasture, but whoever replaces him would probably be just as dumb.)

This is the last 2 or 3 lines that will discuss the 2012 election.  I chose to feature "They Call the Wind Maria" not only because the mighty wind we called Hurricane Sandy may have had a decisive effect on the election's outcome, but also in recognition of all the windiness that the self-proclaimed political experts have loosed upon Washington, DC, and the rest of the United States in the two weeks since the voters spoke.

Was Hurricane Sandy his fault?
You should discount all the talk about the GOP being caught in a demographic vise, or claims that Romney lost because of a gender gap, or blah, blah, blah.

You can also safely dismiss those pundits who say that Republicans will never win the White House again unless they dramatically change their platform.

Let's look at recent history.  President Obama, a Democrat, will serve eight years.  Before him, a Republican was President for eight years.  Before him, a Democrat was President for eight years.  Before him, a Republican was President for 12 years.  (OK, OK, technically it was two Republicans -- Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush.  But Bush was Reagan's Vice-President, and won largely thanks to Reagan's popularity.)

Do you see a pattern here?  Our last three Presidents all won re-election over uninspiring opponents.  Clinton and Bush had lots of problems in their second terms, which sealed the fate of the men their parties nominated to succeed them.  Second-term Presidents often push things too far -- after all, they've got nothing to lose -- and the voting public often becomes fatigued with a party after eight years.  So they vote for the other guys.

The 1984 Presidential election map
In my lifetime -- which spans 16 Presidential elections -- only one party has managed a three-term winning streak: the Republicans in 1980, 1984, and 1988.  Will the Democrats equal that by winning in 2016?

Anything is possible.  But I'm going to bet that the Dems' winning streak will end at two.  After all, that's been the predominant pattern for 60 years.

One final historical note.  Only once in those 60 years has the White House changed hands in two consecutive elections -- that was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated the Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter (who had won the 1976 election thanks in large part to the GOP's Watergate hangover).  

As noted above, the only time one party won three straight elections was when Reagan's VP was running.  Other sitting veeps who have been nominated -- Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and Al Gore -- have failed.  (I'd bet dollars to donuts that Joseph R. Biden, Jr., won't succeed where those three have failed.)

Based on that, it's hard to argue that anyone other than Ronald Reagan is the most successful American politician of the last 60 years.  He's clearly the greatest President of my lifetime to date, and I doubt that anyone better than him will come along before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Governor Christie and President 
Obama: the new "Odd Couple"?
One final non-historical note.  Assuming that a Republican is elected in 2016, it won't be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  (Trust me on that one.)

As I said above, this will be the last 2 or 3 lines to mention the 2012 election.  I feel happy about some of the results of that election, and unhappy about other results.  But I mostly feel glad that the damn thing is over.  I'm looking forward to a few years without campaign ads on TV and annoying Facebook posts that I feel compelled to make snarky comments about.

Unfortunately, I'm not going to get those few years.  A week after the 2012 election, a friend of mine who lives in Virginia got this in the mail:

The next campaign season has already begun!
You see, Virginia will elect its governor and certain other state officials in 2013.  And Maryland -- where I live -- will elect its governor and all its state legislators in 2014.  

Sigh.  There's no rest for the weary, boys and girls.

Harve Presnell as Wade Gustafson in Fargo
Here's "They Call the Wind Maria" from the 1969 movie version of Paint Your Wagon.  The singer is Harve Presnell, whom I remember fondly for his Wade Gustafson role in the brilliant 1996 comedy, Fargo.

Click below to buy the Paint Your Wagon soundtrack from Amazon:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ludacris -- "Rollout (My Business)" (2001)

Now tell me who's your housekeeper,
And what you keep in yo' house?

"Rollout (My Business)" touches on many of rap's favorite things -- diamond jewelry, Mercedes Benzes with 20-inch rims, weed, hoes, etc., etc.  But the real point of the song is what a royal pain in the tuchus fans can be when you're a big star like Ludacris.

Pop songs are usually monologues, not dialogues.  But "Rollout" takes the form of a Platonic dialogue (hip-hop style) between Ludacris and an imaginary fan -- a sort of "Everyman" who is intrigued by Ludacris's flashy lifestyle and very curious about various details of his life.

The fan wants to know about Ludacris's car:  "Man, that car don't come out until next year, where in the f*ck did you get it? That's eighty thousand bucks gone!"  He wants to know where Ludacris procures his drugs:  "Tell me who's your weed-man, how do you smoke so good?"  Naturally, he has questions about Ludacris's female companion:  "Is that your wife, your girlfriend, or just your main b*tch?"

Some of the fan's questions are a bit barbed: "You's a superstar, boy, why you still up in the 'hood?"  (In other words, if you're such a big deal, why are you still living in yo mama's house?)

The old Ludacris
Other questions demonstrate the fan's gullibility -- he seems to swallow certain exaggerated rumors hook, line, and sinker:  "Now who's that buck-naked cook fixin' three-course meals?  Getting goosebumps when her body tap the six-inch heels!"  

Obviously, Ludacris doesn't really have a statuesque personal chef preparing gourmet meals for him while clothed in nothing but a pair of very high-heeled shoes.  Gotta be a crazy tabloid-inspired rumor . . . right?

The new Ludacris
By the way, one woman who reviewed "Rollout" on Amazon -- she identified herself as "Ladybug" --  admitted that she particularly enjoyed those lines:

I specifically like the part where he says "Whose [sic] that bucket [sic] naked cook fixing three course meals? Getting goosebumps when her body taps those six inch heels."  For some reason I always picture myself frying chicken in nothing but high heel shoes.  Oh well.

(Ladybug, if you are reading this, please contact me immediately at -- I'd like to discuss your comments on "Rollout" in more detail.  And I'll buy the chicken.)

The fan's nosiness eventually oversteps the bounds of propriety.  First, he asks  "What in the world is in that bag, what you got in that bag?"  When Ludacris fails to tell him, he keeps pushing it:  "What in the world is in that case, what you got in that case?"

"What you got in that $850
MCM backpack, Ludacris?"
Ludacris finally loses it and let's him have it:

Get out of my business, my biznass,
Stay the f*ck up out my biznass!

Well said, Mr. L.

"Rollout (My Business)" was the first single from Ludacris's 2001 album, Word of Mouf.  It was nominated for the Grammy for "Best Male Solo Rap Performance," but lost out to a song that will be featured on 2 or 3 lines in the very near future.

Be sure to watch the video of "Rollout (My Business)" -- Ludacris is a very funny man:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Beatles -- "Golden Slumbers" (1969)

Golden slumbers fill your eyes 
Smiles await you when you rise 
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

There’s no denying it -- Sir Paul McCartney stole the lyrics to this song from Elizabethan dramatist, Thomas Dekker.

Here’s an excerpt from Dekker’s poem, “Cradle Song,” from the 1603 comedy, Patient Grissel, which Dekker co-wrote:  

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, 
Smiles awake you when you rise; 
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry, 
And I will sing a lullaby

I like “pretty wantons” ever so much more than “pretty darling.”  “Wanton” originally meant “undisciplined.”  For the Elizabethans, wanton usually had a sexual implication – “lascivious” is a good synonym.  Here, the speaker clearly is charmed by the “wantons” he is singing to sleep – he uses the word affectionately, I think – but he knows they are bad girls nonetheless.

" . . . and wantons ran berserk!"
Dekker and his co-authors stole the idea for their play from the Canterbury Tales, so they wouldn’t exactly be coming into equity with clean hands if they somehow rose from the dead and sued the Beatles.  (Sorry for the obscure legal reference, but occasionally stuff I learned my first year of law school just comes bubbling up, like the oil on Jed Clampett’s farm.)

The two previous 2 or 3 lines posts have featured two other Paul McCartney songs from the medley that closes the last album the Beatles ever recorded together, Abbey Road.  

If you’ve read them, you know all about how I smuggled a cassette recorder and a tape of Abbey Road on a trip to visit the University of Missouri my senior year of high school.  You also know that I visited the university bookstore and attended the Missouri-Oklahoma football game that weekend.

Redford and Newman
Another highlight of that trip was seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – a movie I’ve seen many times since, and for which I still have a soft spot.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released at about the same time as The Wild Bunch.  Both are westerns, and both end with the title characters making their last stand against a horde of south-of-the-border soldiers.  The long, bloody closing sequences of both movies were so masterfully choreographed that they were almost too intense to sit through.  

But Wild Bunch (like Bonnie and Clyde) ends with the protagonists absorbing dozens (if not hundreds) of bullets and dying in agonizing slow motion, while Butch and Sundance ends in a merciful freeze-frame – we know the fate of our heroes, but we are spared the gory details.

Fade to black (actually sepia)
Butch and Sundance is a very odd movie, and not really a very good movie – despite the on-screen chemistry of Paul Newman and Robert Redford and its many other charms.  

(By the way, the studio originally wanted Newman to pair with Steve McQueen, but there was a dispute on how the superstars would be billed.  The "Sundance" role was next offered to Jack Lemmon, of all people.  Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando were also considered for the role eventually given to Redford, who became a major star as a result.)

The movie was hugely successful at the box office (its gross was $102 million but it cost only $6 million to make) and it won Oscars for best original screenplay, best musical score, and best song.

Newman with co-star Katharine Ross
But the movie is “afflicted with cinematic schizophrenia,” to quote the Time magazine review.  At times, it is a shticky buddy picture.  At other times, it is a movie about doomed young lovers – somewhat reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde.  A lot of people are killed in the movie, but a lot of wisecracks are exchanged.

And while the Burt Bacharach-Hal David musical score is wonderful, it doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the movie.  

Here’s my favorite piece of music from the movie, an absolutely wonderful little number called “South American Getaway,” which accompanies an otherwise silent five-minute sequence of Butch and Sundance robbing banks in Bolivia and being pursued by the hapless local police:

“South American Getaway” is performed by the Ron Hicklin Singers, a group of Los Angeles studio singers who recorded many TV theme songs (including Batman, Flipper, That Girl, Love American Style, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley) and TV commercials (one of the group’s members was the voice of “Tony the Tiger” in Frosted Flakes commercials) and were the backup singers on many top-40 hits (including songs recorded by Cher, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Monkees, the Partridge Family, and Gary Lewis & the Playboys).

Here’s a demo reel for the Ron Hicklin Singers, which will give you a better idea of just how ubiquitous they were:

Here’s “Golden Slumbers”:

Here’s a link you can use to order "South American Getaway" from Amazon:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Beatles -- "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" (1969)

Sunday's on the phone to Monday
Tuesday's on the phone to me

I don't know what the lyrics to "She Came in the Bathroom Window" mean, and I don't really care.  The song is really one non sequitur after another.

In November 1969 – my senior year of high school – several of my friends and I were invited to visit the University of Missouri.  The previous 2 or 3 lines tells the story of how I recorded the newly-released Abbey Road on a portable cassette player and took it with me on that trip.

Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium,
home of the U. of Missouri Tigers
The University had planned a wonderful weekend for us.  They even hooked us with free tickets to the Missouri-Oklahoma football game.

This was no ordinary game.  I was a loyal Mizzou fan, and loathed Oklahoma.  (I guess I would root for Oklahoma if they were playing Arkansas, and I would probably root for the Sooners against Texas A&M.  Otherwise, I’m cheering for Oklahoma to lose by a hundred.)

Oklahoma, which had won the Big Eight title in each of the previous two seasons, was a formidable opponent.  Three of their players – including Steve Owens, a running back who won the Heisman Trophy that year – were snatched up in the first round of the NFL draft after the ’69 season.  

Oklahoma running back Steve Owens
But the 6-1 Tigers were actually ranked ahead of Oklahoma in the college football polls.  (You can probably count on one hand the number of times that a Mizzou team was favored over the Sooners.)

Missouri had opened the season with a narrow victory over a good but not great Air Force eleven, but then pounded Illinois and embarrassed 13th-ranked Michigan on its home field.  

After wins over #20 Nebraska and Oklahoma State, Mizzou climbed to #5 in the AP rankings.  But a 31-24 loss in the rain to Colorado spoiled their chances to go undefeated.

Missouri bounced back against #12 Kansas State, winning a 41-38 shootout the week before the Sooners came to town.

Mizzou star Jon Staggers
later played for Green Bay
There were over 60,000 fans present at Memorial Stadium in Columbia that day, and the game was televised on ABC.  Oklahoma took some of the wind out of Missouri’s sails early by taking a quick 10-0 lead.  

But the Tigers came roaring back, scoring 44 unanswered points to send the Sooners back to Oklahoma with their tails between their legs.

Here's a short highlight film about the Mizzou-OU game, narrated by Harry Caray:

After the Oklahoma victory – their fourth of the season over a top-20 opponent -- the Tigers closed with blowout wins over Iowa State (40-13) and Kansas (69-21), cinching the Big Eight championship.  Their reward was an invitation to Miami to play undefeated and second-ranked Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

And here's a movie of the '69 season highlights -- narrated by the legendary Jack Buck:

It was odd that the 10-0 Nittany Lions had chosen the Orange Bowl over the Cotton Bowl and a shot at the #1 ranking.  

Texas and Arkansas were the consensus #1 and #2 teams when they met in their last regular season game of the season.  Texas won a nailbiter after trailing most of the game to hold on to the top spot in the polls, and if Penn State had chosen to go to Dallas and had prevailed over the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl, they no doubt would have ascended to the #1 ranking.

President Nixon congratulates
Texas after win over Arkansas
But I had no fear when I sat down on New Year’s Day 1970 to watch the Tigers take the field against Penn State and their legendary coach, Joe Paterno.  

Missouri was actually a three-point favorite – amazing given that Penn State had won 22 games in a row.  

But Missouri’s average victory margin that year was an impressive 16 points per game, despite playing a daunting schedule.  In fact, according to one rating algorithm that factored in both strength of schedule and average victory margin, Missouri ranked #1 among all 122 major-college football teams that year.

The game was a nightmare from start to finish for Mizzou.  The Tigers drove 67 yards on their first possession, but missed a field goal.  Penn State responded with a successful three-pointer, and then recovered a Missouri fumble on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, cashing in immediately with a TD pass.  

The 1970 Orange Bowl
It had only taken the Nittany Lions 21 seconds to score 10 points, but the Missouri defense stiffened and held their opponents scoreless the remainder of the game.

Surely Missouri’s high-powered offense, which had averaged more than 33 points a game that season, was up to the task of overcoming Penn State’s 10-point lead.  After all, they had easily overcome Oklahoma’s early 10-0 lead in the game I had attended thanks to their explosive offense.  They had running back Joe Moore (he rushed for 1312 yards that year), wide receiver Mel Gray (who averaged an astonishing 27.1 yards per catch), and all-purpose back Jon Staggers (1664 combined yards as a running back, receiver, and kick returner), all of whom played in the NFL after leaving Mizzou.

Mel Gray's 1972 Topps football card
But the Tigers committed four more turnovers in the first half (all four coming when Missouri was deep in Penn State territory) while managing to put only three points on the scoreboard.  The second half was more of the same, as the team turned the ball over four more times.  

Incredibly, the Mizzou quarterbacks completed only six passes to their own teammates but seven passes to the Penn State defenders.  The seventh and last interception took place on the Penn State 2-yard-line with only 15 seconds remaining in the game.

Missouri’s starting QB, Terry McMillan – who had thrown five of the seven picks – gave an inspirational talk at our high school the following spring.  I’m sure he spoke about overcoming adversity and learning from one’s mistakes and all that, but all I remember is a really bad joke he told.  At least I think it was a joke.

McMillan said he had worked hard in his zoology class, and felt well-prepared going into the final exam.  The professor brought out a bird in a cage, covered with a cloth so that only its feet were visible.  He told the students that a bird’s feet provided a great deal of information about the bird, and that he wanted them to tell him everything they could about this bird just by examining its feet – what kind of food it ate, where it nested, etc.  

Mizzou QB Terry McMillan -- then and now
McMillan was outraged.  He protested that the exam was unfair.  The professor became angry and demanded to know McMillan’s name.  

McMillan thought for a moment, then pulled up the legs of his bell-bottomed jeans and lifted his foot so the teacher had a good look at his shoe.  “You tell me what my name is!” he said, and then stormed out of the classroom.

What inspired Paul McCartney to write “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”?

Moody Blues keyboard player Mike Pinder says that a groupie crawled through the bathroom window of the house he shared with fellow band member Ray Thomas.  According to Pinder, he and Thomas told Sir Paul the story the next day, and McCartney immediately began strumming a tune on the guitar and singing, “She came in through the bathroom window.”

Some of the "Apple Scruffs"
But a member of the “Apple Scruffs,” a hardcore Beatle fan group, claims that she and a couple of her friends inspired the song by breaking into McCartney’s house through an upstairs bathroom window.  (The Scruffs took turns trying on a pair of Paul’s trousers and stole a framed photograph, which they later returned.)

There’s a more bizarre explanation on the Songfacts website.  A woman named Landis Kearnon says that she and a friend were paid to break into David Crosby’s house while the Byrds were playing a gig and steal a reel-to-reel tape containing the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” which had not yet been released.  

David Crosby
The guys who paid them to get the tape were a couple of guys with a management company who made a copy of the tape and gave it to a Los Angeles top-40 station to air in exchange for the station’s promise to play a record by a new group the two guys managed.  The ladies then returned the original tape to Crosby’s house.

I haven’t found much backup for this account.  (Supposedly all hell broke loose when the radio station played the song about a month before Sgt. Pepper was released.)  But Landis Kearnon is on Facebook, and I’ve sent her a friend request.  I’ll let you know if I’m able to get any more details from her.

It is clear that David Crosby was present at the recording of “A Day in the Life” at Abbey Road studios.  He later told an interviewer that he was as high as a kite that day – “so high I was hunting geese with a rake.”

Joe Cocker released his cover version of the song in 1969, shortly after he appeared at Woodstock.  Here’s a clip of Cocker (and Leon Russell) performing “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” from the 1971 movie, Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Here’s “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”:

Here’s a link you can use to buy Abbey Road from Amazon: