Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sonic Youth – "Superstar" (1994)

Come back to me again
And play your sad guitar

In 1994, a group of alternative bands -- Sonic Youth, Redd Kross, Shonen Knife, 4 Non Blondes, and the Cranberries, among others -- released a tribute album of Carpenters covers titled If I Were a Carpenter.

From Rolling Stone’s review of that album:

The Carpenters’ masterpiece – and the tribute's standout track – is “Superstar,” the haunting portrayal of a fan's unrequited love for a pop star.  “Your guitar/It sounds so sweet and clear/But you're not really here/It's just the radio,” Karen sings with a longing that makes this media-filtered romance sound that much more disaffected.  On their eerie rendition, Sonic Youth take the estrangement a step further with distorted feedback, synth effects and disembodied vocals that sound like a radio transmission from a distant alien world trying desperately to make contact.

Karen’s extraordinary contralto, which could communicate wrenching emotional nakedness with impeccable clarity and purity, is probably the main source of the Carpenters’ mystique.  And the conspicuous absence of her voice on the tribute album's songs eloquently expresses the tragedy of her loss.  But while her voice is missed, many cuts on the tribute owe so much to the originals that they vindicate Richard’s undervalued arranging skills.

Heres Sonic Youths cover of “Superstar,” which isn't sung by Kim Gordon but by her then-husband, Thurston Moore.  Giving the lead vocal to a male rather than female singer transforms it from a tale of a female fan's unrequited love for a male rock star to something that feels more like a song about a celebrity stalker:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Carpenters – "Superstar" (1971)

Loneliness is a such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again

Back in the seventies, my friends and I thought that the music of the Carpenters was about as square as music could be.  (Using the word “square” probably makes me about as square as a blogger can be.)

It’s been decades since I listened to an entire Carpenters record on the radio.  I usually change stations immediately when I hear the opening notes of “Close to You” or ‘We’ve Only Just Begun” or “Rainy Days and Mondays.”

Richard Carpenter with his little sister, Karen
But for some reason, I didn’t do that when “Superstar” came on the Sirius XM ’70s on 7 channel about a week ago.

*     *     *     *     *

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”  

Or maybe it was longtime Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver who said that.  (Or maybe it was President Harry Truman.)

Whoever said it first, it’s true.  I thought I knew that all the Carpenters’ hits were too sappy and sentimental to bear.  But I learned some things the night I listened to “Superstar”:

First, Karen Carpenter is a great singer.

Second, Richard Carpenter is a great arranger.

And third, the Carpenters’ “Superstar” is a perfect pop record.

I’ve listened to it about a hundred times in the last week, and I’m not even beginning to tire of it.

*     *     *     *     *

“Superstar” is about a groupie who has had an affair – perhaps just a one-night stand – with a touring rock guitarist.  Every time she hears his song on the radio, she remembers the night they met and wonders why he never came back to see her.  But he’s moved on for good – you have to wonder if he even remembers her.

It’s a nice little song, but I don’t think either the music or the lyrics are anything special.  Apparently Karen Carpenter felt the same way in 1971 when her brother Richard told her about hearing Bette Midler perform “Superstar” on the Tonight Show – or perhaps the song’s lyrics were too explicitly sexual for Karen’s tastes.

Richard changed “I can hardly wait to SLEEP with you again” to “I can hardly wait to BE with you again,” and Karen agreed to give “Superstar” a try.  

She recorded a “scratch” vocal track – which is a recording of the lead vocal that’s intended to serve as a reference point for studio musicians to follow when their accompanying instrumental tracks are recorded.  

The Carpenters
After the instrumental tracks are recorded, the singer usually returns to the studio to record a final lead vocal track.  But Richard thought that Karen’s first take was so perfect that he decided to keep it rather than having her do it over.

He then backed Karen’s flawless vocal track with a inspired instrumental arrangement – which should come as no surprise given Richard’s talents as an arranger.  (Music professionals certainly recognized his talent as an arranger: Carpenter was nominated for the “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals” Grammy no fewer than five times between 1970 and 1977.)

Music professor Kevin J. Holm-Hudson published a detailed analysis of the Carpenters’ recording of  “Superstar” in 2002 in the journal of the Society for Music Theory.  You can click here to read that journal article.

One of Holm-Hudson’s many insightful comments on Richard Carpenter’s “Superstar” arrangement is how the verses and choruses differ.  The minor-key verses feature “classical” instruments – a harp, an oboe, French horns, and strings – that are often associated with melancholy or grief.  

The major-key choruses, which are louder and more rhythmically assertive, use instrumentation that is more typical popular music genres – the drums are more prominent, and tambourines and Tijuana Brass-style trumpets are added to the mix.

You can click here to read an analysis of Richard’s arrangement of “Superstar” by Daniel Levitin, a cognitive neuroscientist who also has engineered and produced records.

Levitin appreciates just how important the arrangement of a song can be:

No one could think more of Karen than I do, but you can have the best singer on the planet and the best song, but if you don't have the right arrangement for that song and singer, the singer's going nowhere and neither is the song.  The arrangement is everything that makes a hit record.

He’s right.  “Superstar” proves that.

*     *     *     *     *

Here’s the Carpenters’ recording of “Superstar,” which was released in 1971 on the Carpenters album:

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a purer and more unaffected lead vocal from a female artist.  Karen’s singing on “Superstar” is truly extraordinary.

At the very end of the song – after Karen sings her last note – Richard has one final surprise for us.  The strings play one more chord, and then another.  The last chord in particular is so soft that you may have never noticed it before, but it is as unexpected and sublime a final chord as I have ever heard.  

You can click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bette Midler – "Superstar" (1972)

Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here, it's just the radio

It will probably come as no great surprise to you that when Bette Midler was a Honolulu high school student, she was voted “Most Talkative” her sophomore year and “Most Dramatic” her senior year.  

Midler moved to New York City when she was 20, appeared in some Broadway and off-Broadway plays, then began to sing regularly at a gay bathhouse.  Her accompanist was Barry Manilow, who produced her very successful first album – The Divine Miss M – in 1972.  

Bette was still a relative unknown when she sang “Superstar” during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson the year before her album was released.  Richard Carpenter was inspired by her performance to start work on an arrangement of the song for the Carpenters.  

Karen Carpenter wasn’t a fan of “Superstar,” but Richard eventually persuaded her to record it.  The result was a single that went all the way to #2 on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  (Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” kept “Superstar” from reaching #1.)

*     *     *     *     *

Bette Midler told jokes that belittled Karen Carpenter in her live act in the early seventies.  Years later, she apologized publicly for her mean-spirited gags.  

The Carpenters and Midler in 1974
From a 1990 article in the Syracuse Herald Journal:

Bette Midler says she doesn’t know why she was so mean to Karen Carpenter in her old stage revue.  “I regret making all those Karen Carpenter anorexia jokes,” says Midler, whose stage act used to brim with put-downs and nasty one-liners.  “I cannot tell you how much I apologize. From the bottom of my soul, I apologize to her and her family.  Harry (her husband) and I have a house in Orange County, and every time we drive by the area where Karen lived, I think about her.  She had tremendous talent, and I was a jerk for saying those things.  I was young and stupid and crazy and thought I was doing profound and enduring stuff. But I wasn’t – I was adding to the ugliness in the world.”

Bette’s apology was a little late: Karen died in 1983 (she was 32) from heart failure, which was  triggered by her severe anorexia nervosa.  But better late than never, I suppose.

*     *     *     *     *

I couldn’t find a recording of Midler’s Tonight Show performance of “Superstar” on YouTube or elsewhere.  I’m guessing that it was similar to the recording of the song she released on The Divine Miss M a year later – which is infinitely inferior to the cover of the song by the Carpenters: 

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Rita Coolidge – "Superstar" (1970)

Long ago, and, oh, so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show

Any groupie would have been thrilled if she had hooked up with as many famous musicians as Rita Coolidge did back in the sixties and seventies.

Of course, Coolidge wasn’t a groupie.  She was as accomplished a performer as the many musicians with whom she was romantically involved, and it appears she was the chasee more often than she was the chaser.   

Leon Russell was smitten enough by Coolidge to write “Delta Lady” about her.

Onetime boyfriend Jim Gordon – he was the drummer on the Derek and the Dominos album (among others) – once hit her hard enough to knock her out.  To add insult to injury, he stole the tune for the “Layla” piano coda from her.  (Gordon stabbed his mother to death in 1983, and is still confined in a California psychiatric prison.)

Rita Coolidge
Some believe Rita's decision to dump Stephen Stills and hook up with Graham Nash was the main reason Crosby Stills Nash & Young broke up in 1970.

Later that year, Coolidge met Kris Kristofferson while waiting to board a flight out of LAX.  She was flying to Memphis, while Kristofferson was going on to Nashville – but he decided to debark when she did rather than say goodbye.  They eventually got married.

One of the best things about the 1973 Sam Peckinpah movie, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, was a bedroom scene featuring the newlyweds.

*      *     *     *     *

Rita Coolidge got her start as a recording artist when she was discovered singing in Memphis by Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett.  She moved to Los Angeles, and sang backing vocals on several of their albums.  

She also sang on records by Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, and many others before going on to have a successful solo career.

Coolidge has claimed that she came up with the idea for “Superstar (Groupie)” after seeing the adulation that Eric Clapton’s fans had for him when he toured as part of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends.

*     *     *     *     *

Joe Cocker and Leon Russell
When Leon Russell was tasked with putting together a band to accompany Joe Cocker on his famous “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour in 1970, he called on a number of his pals from Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, including Carl Radle (bass), Bobby Keys (sax), Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner (drums), and Rita Coolidge.

The set list for that tour included “Superstar,” which Coolidge sang.  Her performance of the song on the live Mad Dogs and Englishmen album is fine, but I don’t think it’s any better than Bonnie Bramlett’s original studio version.

The most notable aspect of the Mad Dogs version of “Superstar” is Leon Russell’s piano accompaniment.  But while Leon tickles the ivories as only Leon could do, his playing is way too show-offy for such a quiet and intimate song.  (He plays as if he thinks he’s the soloist, not the accompanist.)

Here’s Rita Coolidge’s cover of “Superstar” from the Mad Dogs and Englishmen album:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – "Superstar (Groupie)" (1969)

And I can hardly wait
To sleep with you again

A few nights ago, I heard the Carpenters’ 1971 hit, “Superstar,” on the Sirius XM ’60s on 6 channel.

I usually change channels quicker than you can say “Jack Robinson” when a Carpenters song – any Carpenters song – comes on the radio.  (“Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begin,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Top of the World” . . . it’s hard to say which one I dislike the most.)

For some reason, I listened to “Superstar” all the way through that night.  It turns out that it is a GREAT record.  The song itself isn’t anything special, but Karen Carpenter’s singing and her brother Richard’s arrangement are quite extraordinary.  

I ended up writing five posts about five different recordings of the song.

That’s just how it works sometimes.  I like to think I’m in control of 2 or 3 lines, but but my wildly popular little blog has a mind of its own.  Stuff happens, and when it does, all you can do is try to hold on and enjoy the ride.

*     *     *     *     *

In 1969, Rolling Stone bought a full page ad in the New York Times to promote an upcoming special issue on “groupies.”  (The story goes that publisher Jann Wenner had to empty the magazine’s bank account to pay the $7000 that the ad cost.)

The term “groupies” was originally used to describe the screaming teenage girls who innocently worshipped the Beatles and other pop groups of that era.  But by the time the Rolling Stone issue came out, the word had taken on a sexual implication.

Groupies were no longer the innocent female fans who got picked up and driven home by mom or dad after a concert.  Instead, they were the adventurous women who went backstage after the show and usually ended up spending the night at the band’s hotel (or on the tour bus).

Rolling Stone's “groupies” issue
Frank Zappa, one of the musicians who were interviewed by Rolling Stone, had this to say about groupies:

New York groupies are basically New York chicks. They're snobbish and uptight -- they think they're big. San Francisco groupies are okay, but they think there's nothing happening outside San Francisco. L.A. groupies are without doubt the best -- the most aggressive and the best f*cks, and the only drawback is the incredibly high rate of venereal disease.

(That’s a little harsh, but it’s the kind of provocative thing that Frank Zappa was always saying.)

Later that year, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends released a song titled “Superstar (Groupie).”  It told the story of a gullible groupie who believed that a touring musician she had slept with would someday come back to be with her.

The chances of that happening, of course, are slim and none – and Slim just left town, along with the musician and his band.  But every time the groupie hears the musician’s record on the radio, she thinks about him and wishes for his return.

Eric Clapton with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett
“Superstar (Groupie)” was written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett – or that’s what the record label says.  After the Bramletts divorced, Delaney claimed that he assigned the ownership of a number of songs he had written or co-written to Bonnie in order to avoid the provisions of an onerous publishing contract he had signed.

Rita Coolidge later said that she came up with the idea for “Superstar (Groupie),” and the next 2 or 3 lines will feature her cover of the song.

*     *     *     *     *

Here’s the original Delaney & Bonnie and Friends recording of “Superstar (Groupie),” which was released as the B-side of the group’s “Comin’ Home” single in 1969.  (Both songs were released on Delaney and Bonnie’s sixth and final studio album, D&B Together, in 1972.  The couple divorced a year later.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – "Comin' Home" (1969)

I'm comin’ home
To your love

Delaney Bramlett moved from Pontotoc County, Mississippi, to Los Angeles in 1959 and became a session musician.  He eventually was hired to play in the Shindogs, which was the house band for the ABC-TV series, Shindig!  Other Shindogs included Glen Campbell, Billy Preston, and Leon Russell.  

In 1967, Delaney married Bonnie Lynn O’Farrell, a talented young singer from Illinois who had once been a backup singer for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.  She was the first white Ikette, but disguised her race with the help of a black wig and “Man Tan” skin darkener.

The couple then formed Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, which included Russell and other session veterans like Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Jim Keltner and Rita Coolidge.  (Take a look at the credits on the Derek and the Dominoes album, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St., and All Things Must Pass, and The Concert for Bangladesh, and other classic rock albums from that era, and you’ll see those names over and over.)

Delaney and Bonnie got their big break when Eric Clapton invited them to be the opening act for the one and only Blind Faith tour.  Clapton seemed to enjoy playing with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends more than he did with Blind Faith, and recorded a live album with them that was very successful.

That album – titled On Tour with Eric Clapton – featured not only Clapton but also George Harrison and Dave Mason.

L to R: Clapton, Bonnie, Delaney, Harrison
Delaney & Bonnie and Friends sort of ran out of steam after that.  The group released its last studio album in 1972, and the couple got divorced the next year.

*     *     *     *     *

I think Delaney & Bonnie’s best song was “Comin’ Home.”  

A studio version of that song was released as a single in 1969, but pooped out at the #84 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  There’s a live version of “Comin’ Home” on the On Tour with Eric Clapton album.  Both versions are great.  

I think redneck soul reached its epitome with “Comin’ Home,” although you can make a case for Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady.”

(Does the term “redneck soul” bother you?  Excuse me all to pieces.) 

*     *     *     *     *

I don’t need an excuse to feature “Comin’ Home,” but I’ve got one.  

The B-side of the “Comin’ Home” single was a song called “Groupie (Superstar),” which was later covered by a number of other well-known female singers. 

The next several 2 or 3 lines posts will feature the original recording and several of the covers – including one that was a big hit for an artist who sounded nothing like Bonnie Bramlett.

*     *     *     *     *

Here’s the studio version of “Comin’ Home”:

And here’s a video of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – including George Harrison and Eric Clapton – performing the song live:

You can click below to buy the studio version from Amazon:

Or you can click below to buy the live On Tour with Eric Clapton version:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Golden Earring – "Radar Love" (1973)

The radio is playing some forgotten song
Brenda Lee's “Coming on Strong”

Golden Earring is a Dutch band that was formed in 1961 by 13-year-old George Kooymans and his 15-year-old neighbor, Rinus Gerritsen.

They’ve released 25 studio albums – the first in 1965, the most recent in 2012 – and have had 30 singles make the Dutch top ten.  (Five of those singles made it to #1.)  In other words, THEY WERE A BIG DEAL IN THE NETHERLANDS!

Golden Earring (circa 1973)
But in the U.S.?  Not so much. 

I always thought they were a one-hit wonder.  But they had a second U.S. hit with “Twilight Zone,” which peaked at #10 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in 1982 – almost a decade after “Radar Love” made it to #13.

*     *     *     *     *

The band’s frontman, Barry Hay, explains on the Golden Earring website how he got the idea for the “Radar Love”:

One evening I had a few friends over, one of whom was American, and I was brainstorming with them about the form and contents of the story.  It had to be something very simple, to which every average person could relate, such as someone in the bathtub.

(“Someone in the bathtub”?)

Everyone started to put in ideas, and when it got too chaotic, I kicked them out of the house and sent them to some nightclub so that I could work in peace.  The idea of an ordinary guy in his car became to take shape, and when my American house guest got home in the early hours and read the lyrics, he went wild: “This is it; brilliant!  The ultimate American car song!”

I’ve heard Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” about a thousand times on the radio, but I never realized that it includes a shout-out to Brenda Lee’s 1966 hit single, “Coming on Strong,” until this week.

Why is there a reference to that song in “Radar Love”?  According to entertainment writer Deanna Darr,

Golden Earring lead singer and lyricist, Barry Hay, was a fan of “Little Miss Dynamite,” as Lee was known.  During the writing of “Radar Love,” Hay recalled hearing a song by Lee on the juke box in the bar where his mother worked.  The song reportedly was “I’m Sorry,” but Hay decided that the title did not fit and chose instead to reference Lee’s song, “Coming on Strong.”

(“I’m Sorry” was a #1 hit single for Lee in 1960.  It’s a much more familiar song.)

*     *     *     *     *

“Radar Love” is one of the 35 songs that’s in the soundtrack of the brand-new action movie, Baby Driver.  Since Baby Driver is full of spectacular car chases, “Radar Love” was an inspired choice for the movie – and for the trailer:

“Radar Love” is also the perfect song to come on the radio when it’s late at night, and you’ve had wayyyyy too much 3.2% beer to drink, and you’re driving like a bat out of hell.

Here’s “Radar Love”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Simon & Garfunkel – "Baby Driver" (1970)

I was born one dark gray morn
With music coming in my ears
They call me Baby Driver

The new movie Baby Driver currently scores 97% on Rotten Tomatoes – 202 of 209 critics who have reviewed the movie to date have liked it.  

Even the snooty New York Times gave it a positive review:

“Baby Driver” [is] a pop pastiche par excellence, crammed with cubistic action; glowering and golly-gee types . . . and an encyclopedia of cinematic allusions, all basted in wall-to-wall tuneage.  At times, the whole thing spins like a tribute album, a collection of covers of varying quality: diner yaks à la Quentin Tarantino, Godardian splashes of color.  When it works, the allusions give you a contact high, like when a friend turns you on to a favorite movie. 

Tout le monde is talking about the fabulous car chase sequences in Baby Driver – which are real stunts, not CGI fakery.  

But the best thing about the movie is its eclectic soundtrack, which consists of some 30 songs that represent just about every pop music genre of the last fifty years.

The New Yorker wasn’t crazy about Baby Driver, but tipped its critical hat to director Edgar Wright’s  use of music:

[A]lthough “Baby Driver” is not much of a movie, it is an excellent music video—a club sandwich for the senses, lavishly layered with more than thirty songs.  These include the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, T. Rex, Queen, Golden Earring, Barry White, the Damned, the Commodores, and, for funk’s sake, the Incredible Bongo Band.  Sometimes, as on an album, one track simply fades out and makes way for the next, with events onscreen bustling to keep up; most telling of all is the sequence in which Baby, listening intently to a tune of his choice, advises his comrades, poised to jump out of the car and to start robbing, to wait until the beat kicks in.  There are nights when that kind of rush is all you require from a film . . . .

Trust me, Baby Driver delivers just such a rush, as this video demonstrates:

*     *     *     *     *

“Baby Driver” was released in 1970 on Bridge Over Troubled Water, which was Simon & Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album.  It’s not one of the stronger songs on that album.  

And it’s not of one the stronger songs on the Baby Driver soundtrack.  But given the title and the driving references in the song’s lyrics, how could the director of that movie not include it?

Here’s “Baby Driver”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

deadmau5 (ft. Greta Svabo Bech) – "Raise Your Weapon" (2011)

Rippin' my heart was so easy
So easy

Today was a red-letter day for 2 or 3 lines . . . and for its loyal readers.

(Yes, I am talking about little ol' you!)

This morning, I showed my commitment to making my wildly popular little blog the best it can be by investing in a brand new iMac, which represents a major technological upgrade over my old (circa 2011) iMac.

The new 21.5" iMac
Before I can start cranking out posts on my new computer, I will have to migrate all my documents, photos, and music (23,240 songs at last count) from the old iMac to it.

But my hipster “specialist” (which is what Apple calls the salespeople at its stores) assured me that the migration process would be a piece of cake.  We’ll see about that.

To celebrate, I went to see the new action film, Baby Driver.  We’ll be featuring songs from its soundtrack in the next few 2 or 3 lines posts.

Here's the Baby Driver trailer:

*     *     *     *     *

The oxymoron, “Damn with faint praise,” first appeared in Alexander Pope’s 1734 poem, “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot.”

Greta Svabo Bech
Is it damning with faint praise to say that Greta Svabo Bech is one of the best singers to ever come out of the Faroe Islands?

After all, the population of the Faroe Islands – an archipelago located in the North Atlantic between Norway, Iceland, and Scotland – is only about 50,000.

The Faroe Islands
Bech is the singer on today’s featured song, which is not included on the Baby Driver soundtrack.  It’s the featured song because it popped up on my iPod while I was walking around a lake near the movie theatre where I saw Baby Driver.  (Baby, the hero of the movie, owns a number of old-school iPods.  I think he and I may be the only two people left who use iPods rather than smartphones to listen to our music.)    

“Raise Your Weapon,” which was released in 2011, was the first deadmau5 single to crack the Billboard “Hot 100.”  It was nominated for the “Best Dance Recording” Grammy the next year, but lost out to Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.”

Here’s “Raise Your Weapon,” which is kind of breathtaking:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Starland Vocal Band – "Afternoon Delight" (1976)

And the thought of lovin' you
Is getting so exciting
Sky rockets in flight

[NOTE: All the photos below were taken at the 4th of July celebration at my neighborhood pool and tennis club, which featured a parade of decorated bicycles and tricycles, a goldfish “hunt” in the kiddie pool, and many other events that were fun for the entire family.]

*     *     *     *     *

Let’s say I challenge you to name three better left-handed hitters than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds.

You answer, “Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, David Ortiz and Hank Aaron.”

First of all, Hank Aaron was a righty, not a lefty.  So he doesn't belong.

Next, you’ve given me a list of seven hitters, not three.  

The crowd at my neighborhood pool
Also, two of the seven were on my list, and you can’t be a better hitter than yourself.  

Finally, there’s NO F*CKING WAY David Ortiz belongs on that list – he’s not even close.

But other than that, it was a great answer! 

*     *     *     *     *

You’re probably wondering why I'm talking about left-handed hitters.  Let me explain.

In a recent 2 or 3 lines, I noted that the same songwriter was responsible for “Honey,” “Little Green Apples,” and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”

I then challenged my loyal fans to name three worse #1 hits from the sixties and seventies.

Decorated bikes
(Yes, I know that “Little Green Apples” only made it to #2 in 1968.  The #1 song that kept “Little Green Apples” out of the top spot was “Hey Jude,” for cryin’ out loud – pretty serious competition – so stop busting my b*lls.)

One of said loyal fans responded with the following list:

Having My Baby
Little Green Apples
MacArthur Park
Take a Letter Maria
Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon

Only three of those songs made it to the #1 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  Three others peaked at #2.  But I included a #2 song in my original list, so I’m not going to complain that she failed to follow directions by doing that.

But she did fail to follow instructions by including a song that never got higher than #10 on the U.S. pop charts — Neil Diamond’s “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”  (#10 is a long was from #1.) 

The next problem with her list is that it includes not three, but SEVEN songs.

A decorated poodle
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on that one, too, because she might have been making the point that she could come up with more than three songs that were worse than the three I listed.

Another problem with her list is that she included two of the songs that were on my list.

But the biggest problem is that one of the songs she listed is not only not one of the worst #1 songs of all time, it’s one of the BEST #1 songs of all times.

*     *     *     *     *

Let’s go down her list, song by song.

“Having My Baby” is awful.  It doesn’t bother me as much as “Honey” or “Little Green Apples,” but that’s a matter of taste – I’m willing to admit that one can reasonably argue that it is just as bad a song as those two.

How about “Brandy”?  Yes, it’s bad – cheap sentiment up the ying-yang.  But if you can ignore the lyrics, the music’s not half bad.

I’d never really thought much about “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”  Neil Diamond’s songs are all pretty brown-eyed, and this one is more brown-eyed than most.  But once again, the music isn’t bad – it you don’t pay attention to the overwrought lyrics, it’s not unpleasant to listen to.

Goldfish hunters wait for their prey to be released
“Take a Letter Maria” doesn’t really bother me.  

That leaves “MacArthur Park” – which not only isn’t one of the worst songs of the sixties and seventies, it’s one of the best songs of all time.

I’m not sure Richard Harris was the best choice for the “MacArthur Park” lead vocal, but everything else about that record is perfect.

Want to hear it right now?  OF COURSE you do!

Like the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” “MacArthur Park” is a masterpiece despite the fact that it is a mélange of musical bits and pieces that are sewn together so that the seams are very obvious.  

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What could explain my fan’s including “MacArthur Park” on her list of songs that are worse than “Honey” and “Little Green Apples”?  

The answer may be sheer perversity on my fan’s part.  But I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was thinking of Donna Summer’s disco version of “MacArthur Park,” which was a #1 hit in 1978.  (Setting “MacArthur Park” to a disco beat is a very odd thing to do – almost as odd as doing a disco version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”)

The crowd at the kiddie pool
Summer’s cover doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should.  That may be because I’ve only heard it a few times.  

Bad songs that aren’t hits aren’t that bothersome – for a song to have a chance at landing on a “worst #1 songs” list, it has to be a song that was so ubiquitous when it was released that it makes you want to scream every time you hear it.

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Today’s featured song is one that many people would say belongs on the “worst #1 songs” list.  But I don’t think it’s as bad as “Honey” or “Little Green Apples.”

Those songs are nothing to write home about when it comes to music, but the worst thing about each are the words.

The lyrics to “Little Green Apples” are mawkish and sentimental – and while I don’t necessarily object to sentimental, the sentiment here comes entirely from the songwriter’s head, not his heart.  It’s as phony as a three-dollar bill.

My daughter and grandson celebrate the 4th
While “Honey” matches “Little Green Apples” when it comes to insincerity, it blows that song away when it comes to being maudlin.  Only a songwriter with absolutely no sense of shame would write a treacly song about a lovely, young, innocent woman, and then kill her off.  

The only way to top that would be to write a song about a child who dies of a lingering, incurable disease. 

It wouldn’t hurt to throw in something about a puppy as well.  (As the saying goes, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”)

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“Afternoon Delight” was a #1 hit for Washington, DC’s Starland Vocal Band in 1976.  It was so popular that CBS gave them a variety show to host in the summer of 1977.  (David Letterman was one of the show’s writers.)  None of the group’s subsequent singles came closer to breaking into the top 40.

The Starland Vocal Band
The Starland Vocal Band consisted of two married couples, both of whom ended up getting divorced.  (I guess afternoon delight got old for at least one member of each couple after a few years.)

Here’s a live performance of “Afternoon Delight” on the old Midnight Special TV show.  It was a mistake not to allow the group to lip synch to the record – this performance is excruciatingly bad:

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