CLOSING THE CIRCLE (Scotty Moore, R.I.P.)

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It’s never really about a place, not even if the place is Memphis. It’s always about the people:

Bill Black: b. 1926 Memphis, TN d. 1965, Memphis, TN

Dewey Phillips: b. 1926, Crump, TN d. 1968, Memphis, TN

Elvis Presley: b. 1935, Tupelo, MS d. 1977, Memphis, TN

Marion Keisker: b. 1917, Memphis, TN d. 1989, Memphis, TN

Sam Phillips: b. 1923, Florence, AL d. 2003, Memphis, TN

Scotty Moore: b. 1931, Gadsden, TN d. 2016, Nashville, TN

As of now, they’ve said all they have to say. The rest of us will just have to make of it what we will. And get along the best we can without them.

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 4: Elvis Presley and Scotty Moore rehearse for their appearance on the Milton Berle Show at the NBC Burbank studios on June 4 1956 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

 

COACH (PAT HEAD SUMMITT, R.I.P.)

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One of the few modern developments worth applauding has been the mainstreaming of women’s sports. After Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, no one was more important to that process than Pat Head Summitt, who just passed away, at 64, from complications of early onset Alzheimer’s.

She was hired as the University of Tennessee’s basketball coach in the fall of 1974. She was 22, fresh off an All-American senior season at UT-Martin. In the early years, she drove the team van, sometimes to places where they slept on the floor of the opponent’s gym because they couldn’t afford a motel.

These days, no major college women’s team sleeps on anybody’s floor. Thank her for that.

She won in her first season and, thirty-eight years later, she won in her last. In between she won in every single other season. There were eight national championships, an Olympic Gold Medal (back when American dominance of international women’s basketball was far from assured–thank her for making that an ongoing reality, too) and a record number of wins overall. Along the way she graduated one hundred percent of her players.

And all of that paled next to the endless, incalculable inspiration, typified by Kate Fagan’s fine tribute at ESPN’s website, which I recommend in the strongest terms.

patsummitt2Near the end of her career, cut short a few years ago by the diagnosis of the disease that took her today, The Sporting News ranked the top fifty coaches across the history of all sports. Exactly one woman made the list, at #11. If you followed sports even a little in the last half-century, and somebody told you there was only one, you would not have needed to be told who.

Like I always say: When there’s only one of something, there are reasons. In this case, chalk it up to the fire within. Not just the ability to coach a sport, however considerable that was, or even the most extraordinary capacity to lead, but to imagine that every single person who plays for you really and truly matters. You do that, and there will be a reason why every single person who played for you across four decades cries when you die, something that probably could not be said of any of the other forty-nine coaches on that list because, frankly, coaching at that level isn’t really supposed to be like that.

Thank her for proving that idea wrong, too.

Sounds like dedication time, so here’s from the Maryville in me to the Clarksville in her:

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CONSEQUENCES (Memory Lane: 2008 and 1989)

The radio soundtrack of the weeks after my dad died in 2008 turned up something rare for those days: a song I liked.

The song was being played on the country stations, which I was just on the verge of quitting. The death of the old “I ain’t the one lost am I?” spirit that lay at the back of “don’t tread on me” had been coming for a while. By 2008, country, as it had existed since it came down from the mountains to Knoxville and Bristol in the late twenties,  was lying down, wheezing itself to a noisy death, to be reborn as a pale imitation of modern pop, which is itself a pale imitation of Tin Pan Alley that operates as though rock and roll and soul (and, for that matter, country) never existed..

I’m speaking vocally, of course, but it seems to have affected the songwriting and production styles as well. Vocals always do. In the absence of distinctive voices, which are just conduits for distinctive spirits, everything else dies too. That’s why the overlords are always pathologically invested in reigning voices in, if and when they can’t shut them down. (Sending Elvis off to the army was the most notorious example of this, but hardly the only one.)

So it was odd that the song I liked, at that personally and existentially depressing moment–my dad dead, the economy in free-fall, the war in Iraq being sold as a “victory”–was by Montgomery Gentry.

Montgomery Gentry were two guys who had been enormously successful representing, maybe defining, the “dude-bro” division of Nashville’s modernity. They were a duo: good singers pumping up average song-mill material with the usual fake passion that such material deserved. They got it just right exactly once, with that year’s “Roll With Me.”

Did it help (or even matter) that their names were writ large on a huge billboard just south of Dothan, Alabama, that I used to pass once a week during the several months when I was riding around to various hospitals and doctor’s offices, trying to straighten out the tangle of bureaucratic mendacity at the back of my dad’s stack of medical bills?

Maybe.

Big sign or not, string of gold records or not, I barely knew who Montgomery Gentry were at the time and I barely know who they are now. Without their one moment, I’d have no reason to recall them at all. One way you know a form is dying is when it can produce big stars who leave no trace and country, like every other form, had plenty of those from about the mid-nineties onward (after having few, if any, such in the decades prior–you might not care for Jim Reeves or Eddy Arnold, might not think them “country” enough, but you couldn’t dismiss them).

Which all just means there is no way of fully explaining “Roll With Me.”

But a partial explanation lay in its second verse, which summed up the contemporary fakery so skillfully it laid it wide open. There were a few pedestrian lines about a mother losing her son, the singer attending the funeral, him realizing “we all just have our time.” Perfectly cliched.

Except, in the fall of 2008, with a “change” election looming (which would, of course, change nothing), it was impossible to hear the careful avoidance of specificity–and the uncharacteristically subdued passion in the vocal–as anything but a pure damnation of sending soldiers to die for fake victories, decade after decade, that dovetailed with the singer’s world-weary acceptance of losing his ability to care about anything but his own specific future with the woman he wants to roll with.

We all just have our time, indeed.

One of the things that happened in my father’s time was we took a driving trip from Florida to upstate New York (a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame). On the way we made several stops coming and going. My brother’s place in North Carolina, Washington, D.C. ,Gettysburg, Times Square (a long story for another time–my dad could produce ’em), Chattanooga.

Nice memories. Dad had just retired from mission work (my mother had passed two years earlier), so it was a period of what the shrinks call “closure.” I don’t know if my dad found it for himself. I don’t even know if he was looking. But he may have delivered it to someone else.

I had seen the Viet Nam Memorial, in D.C., in the summer of ’87, but dad hadn’t and he wanted to. That was the main reason we stopped.  We went down the wall, the way people do. We stood around and contemplated the tragedy of it all, the way people do. We couldn’t think of much to say, the way people can’t.

At some point, we were standing at the back of the crowds, the small groups coming and going before the wall itself. After a time, I wandered off a bit, lost in my own thoughts, staring at nothing.

Dad stayed where he was, his hands characteristically folded in front of him, a pleasant, habitually unreadable half-smile on his face. When I started back towards him, I saw a man who looked to be in his early-thirties walking alone, straight through the crowd towards my father. When he reached him he simply collapsed into dad’s arms. I walked up just in time to hear dad say “Your brother?” The man couldn’t speak. After a while, he nodded.

This is where we like to say “the Lord works in mysterious ways.” I’ve known hundreds of “better” Christians than my dad. Not one of them would a roughneck good old boy from Georgia have walked to, straight through a crowd, seeking comfort from a stranger no less total than anyone else by that wall. (“Atlanta” he said when my father asked where he was from. “Tallahassee,” I said, as my father, who was really from Tennessee, nodded. All of it, down to the nod, was code for Southern born, which is code for “born to be the shock troops.” In this case, as we didn’t have to say, “like your brother,” who I also didn’t have to say “could have been mine.” It’s the same code, whether you were a conscientious objector, like dad in WWII, or a skeptic like me, or lost a brother in Nam like some and it doesn’t even matter if we’re not the only ones. We all know how it’s “supposed” to work. And even if we’re not the only ones who know, we’re the first Americans who also know what it’s like to lose and, worse, what it’s like to lose in the name of history’s near-sorriest cause. Never kid yourself it doesn’t make a difference.)

There was nothing really to say after that. We didn’t have any long conversation. A few words of condolence. A good-bye. A southern-style see-you-down-the-road by which we mean in heaven because we know it doesn’t have a chance in hell of ever happening here. My dad didn’t say he was a minister. He didn’t have to. Some things those who were born to be the shock troops just know.

We waited until he was long gone. Then dad said it was time for us to go, too.

That was 1989. Closure. Maybe.

By 2008, we all knew there weren’t going to be any more walls to commemorate the dead. A lot of us knew that the present war would be never-ending. Some of us even knew it was planned that way, because, well, how else?

And these days, I can pull up the video for “Roll With Me” on YouTube (missed it entirely the first time around, country video never was my thing), and see that Montgomery Gentry didn’t leave the obvious interpretation entirely to chance. What was merely implied in the song–that the mother was gold star, the son a fatality of a war that was, is, and always will be, fought for no purpose except to punish whoever is willing to sacrifice)–is made explicit in the video.

Specific or not, though, every bit of that was in my air–and ninety percent of it was in everybody’s–when “Roll With Me” came on the radio a few weeks after my dad died, nearly twenty years after he comforted a boy who lost his brother in the last useless war. And, of course, nothing has changed since. Except for the rate of decline–now stalling, now accelerating–nothing will.The only question left is whether we’ll leave enough to provide a guide-map for the mullers and the seekers the next time round.

Now that I think about it (and why today, I have no idea), hearing “Roll With Me” may have been the first time a certain phrase entered my once cautiously optimistic mind. Yeah, I think that’s right. I think they might have formed the first time I heard that blues lick and didn’t even care what was coming. My pre-conscious mind at work, saying “Goodbye us.”

Hope for better next time around.

SCRIBE (Michael Herr, R.I.P.)

Sunshine, blue skies and 2016, please go away…

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Happens I just read (and mini-reviewed) his masterpiece, Dispatches, here mere days ago. I don’t have much to add, except to note that two of the best filmmakers of his, or any, era, Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket), tried to capture what he had written on film. He even contributed to the scripts. It didn’t help. They didn’t come close. He wrote one of those books where any given word might be worth a thousand pictures. I hope he found a little peace here. It would have been little enough reward for doing the best job of anyone describing why we’ve never walked away from ’68 and never will.

For his memory, then…

 

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SOME BEAUTIFUL DAY (Ralph Stanley, R.I.P.)

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(Ralph Stanley (left), with his brother Carter)

Back in the days when Nashville was close enough to the mountains for a little of the hardest music made there to slip on to the radio now and again Bill Monroe reached the country charts all of nine times. The Louvin Brothers made it twelve times (after which Charlie had a substantial career of his own), Flatt and Scruggs fifteen.

The Stanley Brothers, Carter and Ralph, made it once, in 1960. All the way to #17 with “How Far to Little Rock,” a “talking” record with corny jokes and banjo.

That was their version of selling out.

Most of the rest of the time–and by most, I mean about ninety-nine percent–they played music so pure Ralph, the survivor (Carter was killed in a car accident in 1966), didn’t even consider it bluegrass.

Which, despite his calling it “old time mountain music” and such, maybe just meant he considered his own sound its own category or simply beyond category, as nameless as any ghost.

The Stanleys kicked up some dust in the mid-sixties revival that discovered all kinds of old-timey music. Carter was barely 40 and Ralph two years younger when they toured Europe in 1966. But Carter’s death soon after ended any chance they would ever really resonate outside their region, which stretched roughly from their Virginia birth place (McClure, a range or two over from my father’s birth place in East Tennessee) to Live Oak, Florida (where they had a radio show the year I was born, a couple of hours away), to somewhere in the Ozarks.

Ralph stayed a trouper. He carried the torch for decades after his brother’s death. His band providing a launching pad for future stars like Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley and he played the Opry and the road constantly, finding a final stretch of fame as the Grand Old Man of the ‘grass revival kicked up by the success of O, Brother Where Art Thou at the turn of the millennium.

But as important as all that was, it paled next to what the Stanley Brothers got up to in their heyday, between the late forties and early sixties. Starting out as inspired imitators of Monroe (they were good enough to make him mad at first), they soon developed a style so stark and spare it left them in a pocket all their own–a pocket no hit novelty could ever lift them out of. If any song became a signature, recognizable to a literati beyond their core fan base, it was “Rank Stranger,” an Alfred Brumley tune they transformed into the kind of record that is bound to defy whatever you think can follow it. Ralph sang one line and a little harmony. It’s the line that made Carter’s lead, the loneliest sound otherwise imaginable to human ken, sound like Mel Torme.

Ralph Stanley was an inspired picker, a strong songwriter, a great ambassador, a non-pareil harmony singer. He left hundreds of fine records and live performances in dozens of settings (check his duet with Patty Loveless on “Pretty Polly” at the Opry some time).

But his entire spirit, everything he really was, was in that single line.

“Everybody I met, seemed to be a rank stranger.”

How do I know?

How does anybody know.

I listened.

No strangers tonight, I reckon.

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DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Manfred Mann Up)

“Each and Every Day”
Manfred Mann (1966)
U.S. B-Side of “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James” (neither side made the U.S. Pop Charts)
Recommended source: Chapter Two: The Best of the Fontana Years

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Manfred Mann was a keyboard playing English jazzbo bandleader who had a knack for finding fabulous singers to front his various aggregations. His first singer was Paul Jones, the raspy R&B fueled belter who lent anything from Brill Building ready-mades like “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and “Sha La La” to Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” an air of what might be called vulnerable aggression.

Remarkably, when Jones left in early 1966, Mann hired Mike D’abo, a completely different kind of singer–pop-oriented, all vulnerability, a hint of mystery–who delivered similarly spectacular results. Although only “The Mighty Quinn” (another remarkable Dylan cover…at one point Dylan reportedly said Manfred Mann was his best interpreter) broke out in the U.S., the band continued on with a steady string of big hits in the U.K.

“Each and Every Day” was not one of them. According to the band’s then guitarist, Tom McGuiness, “We originally wanted to issue it as an A-side in England but we never had much confidence in our own material (it was written by then member Mike Hugg). We always thought our own songs were too quirky to be hits.”

Mann’s confidence in covers was not exactly unfounded. He’d keep that faith right on through the mid-seventies, when the fourth major incarnation of his band topped charts all over the world with their version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By the Light.” Mann’s particular gift ended up being an ability to hear anthems in other folks “personal” statements.

Somehow, he missed the anthemic quality in Mike Hugg’s own personal statement. Too close to home maybe.

“Each and Every Day” wouldn’t have changed the world, or even the shape of Manfred Mann’s own career.

But, sometimes, you just wish something had been a hit so you could encounter it at random now and then: On the radio, in a commercial, over the intercom at the mall or the grocery store. Hey, I’ve had epiphanies in all those places when something or other was in the mix just because it was a hit. And none were more perfect than this.

For the English working class, then. With the fire that is about to be trained on them from all sides, they’ll need every smile they can find.

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT…MAYBE (Memory Lane: 1982, 1984 and Yesterday)

Just for starters, this memory was triggered by “We Got the Beat” playing on the radio between here and the grocery store last night. It made me smile, of course, but it also made me realize something I had not quite gleaned from the other thousand times I’ve heard it, which was that it was the last great hit surf instrumentalt, not recognized as such because it was disguised by the presence of a few strung-together words and the fact that the band was the wrong gender. Then as now, everybody recognized how affirmative the Go-Go’s were. Then as now, very few understood how disrupting they were. Or how unlikely.

The word back then was “well, there will surely be a lot of big girl bands now.”

My word was: “Not if they have to play like that, there won’t be.”

More on how that all worked out later.

And now for 1982…and a little bit of 1984.

1982 was the year I literally didn’t walk across the street to see the Go-Go’s.

They played the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center in September. I still lived in the tiny, roach-infested apartment that had been home to my FSU years. I would move to a bigger, less crummy, apartment a few weeks later. But in the meantime I was literally a stone’s throw from the TLCCC. The only space separating its front door from mine was the back yard of the FSU Law School.

And the only post-70s band that ever had or would matter to me the way so many sixties and seventies bands had or would was playing in support of the first album by a self-contained all-female band to hit #1 in Billboard.

I already loved them so I kind of wanted to go. Three things held me back.

I was broke.

I would have had to go alone.

I thought there’d be more time.

It was probably the third reason that kept me from going. I was (and am) used to being broke. I was (and am) used to doing things alone.

And, back then, I was used to thinking there would be more time.

I wasn’t used to thinking this last part all the time. Part of the time I was used to thinking my time would end very shortly. This made doing certain things difficult. Among those certain things was arranging to attend a concert you didn’t strictly have the money for and would have to attend alone, even if it was right across the street and even if the band playing was the Go-Go’s.

It would have been doable. But I would have needed to achieve and sustain a certain mood.

I didn’t achieve or sustain the mood, so I didn’t go. At the back of it all, “There will be more time” was double-edged for me.

I was sure there would be more time for them, that they would last many years, make many albums. I wasn’t so sure about me.

So-o-o-o-o….

On the night that they played Tallahassee I ventured from my apartment to the grocery store. Kind of like last night.

Only that night, unlike last night, the concert was just letting out and there was a little more traffic than usual. Not killer traffic, not like a football game, but enough to have me waiting at a light in front of a long line of cars when the door of the car behind me opened and what I soon discerned was a Top Five girl got out and started running towards my car.

(In case you’re wondering, a Top Five girl is one of the handful you never forget. Sometimes there are more than five, sometimes less, but five’s a good average. Nobody has many more than that. And nobody who manages to survive–as, improbably, I did–has many less.)

Anyway, Top Five girl was drop dead gorgeous and she ran up to my window–it was a ’71 Maverick, no AC, so, it being September in Florida, I didn’t need to roll the window down–and started talking a mile-a-minute about the concert and how great it was and whether I had gone?

“No,” I said. “No money.”

“It’s too bad,” she said. “They were so-o-o-o great.”

After that, we chatted amiably for a bit. Then the light changed and she said “Well, bye!” and sprinted back to the car full of kids which she had no doubt left on one of those dares that get offered to certain personality types just because they are those types and get answered by them for the same reason.

I’m sure she didn’t mean to depress me. It didn’t come across as an “I’m gorgeous and having fun and riding in a cool car and you’re so-o-o-o-o not” kind of moment. She seemed to be mostly interested in making a memorable night a little more memorable. And, to tell the truth, if she hadn’t done just that, I probably wouldn’t remember the circumstances of the night I didn’t walk across the street to see the Go-Go’s very vividly at all.

Instead, it became seared in the memory, an indelible part of my “Go-Go’s Experience,” which I’m still considering writing about at length one of these days.

What happened last night, though, after “We Got the Beat” on the radio opened this particular seam, was I went searching for videos on YouTube and the comments’ sections of several of those videos led me to a search that led, in turn, to this bit of news.

The Go-Go’s are saying farewell.

Well, the Go-Go’s, like many bands, have said “farewell” before. They said farewell for the first time in 1984, barely two years after I didn’t walk across the street to see them the only time they would ever play my neck of the woods, and barely two months after they delivered the bit of rock and roll (about which, maybe more some day) that allowed me to survive myself (I wasn’t threatened by anything or anyone else, unless you count the Devil, which, honestly, I didn’t).

So maybe this isn’t really farewell. Heck, the Who are doing a farewell tour this year, too, and I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve said farewell.

In any case, I won’t be going to see them. I won’t, even though their opener, in Clearwater, is within reach. I won’t even consider it because they said farewell to Kathy Valentine a couple of years ago and, with the Go-Go’s as with so few others, if it’s not all of them, it’s not them.

I knew that back in 1982. I certainly knew it in 1984.

I haven’t forgot, because I haven’t forgot who they were, even if maybe, sadly, they have. They were the first all-writing, all-singing, all-playing all-female band to put an album at the top of the Billboard chart. Yes, they were that. And thirty-four years later, they are still the last.

Like I said then: “Not if they have to play like that.”

And like I’ve said before: When there is only one of something, there is usually a reason.

The Go-Go’s were first and last for a very simple reason, a reason that came to mind yet again when they came on the radio last night.

They were perfect. Right down to the last track on what, if they really are saying farewell, will be their last album….

THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO…

And what I heard this time (just for fun…and because I feel a round of lists coming on)…

10) Time Life Ultimate Seventies: 1976 (1989)

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Driving around music. I could have done better by 1976 myself (it was the year I started listening to the radio). But even an collection of middling taste beats any hour you could spend listening to anything on the radio in my market these days. Best segue: “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (closely linked to me being nearly thrown out of my one and only true rock concert experience which naturally took place in a Jai Alai fronton) into “Sara Smile” (closely linked to my dad’s car being stolen at an amusement park and the FBI giving him the heebie jeebies later that summer at self-same Jai Alai fronton, which was all way-y-y-y more interesting than it sounds). Pick to click: Spinners’ “Rubberband Man,” which I barely heard that year and is one of the most mind-blowing records ever made.

9) Gino Washington Out of This World (1962–68) (1999)

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Essential to any collection. Gino was a rock and roll Martian. There were a few of them hanging round back then. He started as a Frank Guida knockoff maybe, who didn’t happen to record for Frank Guida (like Gary U.S. Bonds and Jimmy Soul) and therefore didn’t make as much noise on the charts as he should have. But “Gino Is a Coward” gave the concept a whole new way of being, and nothing, certainly not the soul sixties, could lay even a touch of slick on him. Listening this time did what it always does. Made me smile a lot.

8) The Corin Tucker Band 1,000 Years (2010)

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I keep circling Tucker’s principal band, Sleater-Kinney, without quite being able to land. I’m really not sure why. I doubt it’s anything rational. It could be that her strong similarity to Belinda Carlisle’s timbre and phrasing (though she puts them to quite different and original use) just causes my natural “they’re-the-Go-Go’s-and-you’re-not” response to kick in with extra-super strength.

That said, I’m also not quite sure why my response to this, which I just started listening to a few weeks ago, is so strong. It might be because it temporarily solves punk’s (for me) existential problem, which is my lack of conviction that angst-ridden, collegiate white people need their own version of the blues. But this does sound like a unique, modern version of the blues–not in form but in feeling. It’s haunting and immediate, odd but free of quirkiness-for-it’s-own-sake. Whether I’ll like it even more or a little less once I figure out the words, I have no idea. There’s no one pick to click. It’s of a piece. But “It’s Always Summer” does as well as any for an introduction.

The Mamas & the Papas A Gathering of Flowers (1966-68) (2013–originally released, 1970)

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I wrote about this a little when I first acquired it. Nothing’s changed. The Real Gone re-release is the best sounding collection of their work to date and there is no act where getting the sound right is more important. In recent years, I’ve probably listened to them more than any sixties’ group except possibly the Stones. The distance between those poles isn’t nearly as profound as I (and many others) once assumed. Yes, there’s a piece in the works. Pray for me kids.

Granted, I’d still rather listen to whole albums or box sets, where their roiling ethos is on fullest display. But, every once in a while, I just have to throw this on and smile the smiled of the contented. No pick to click. Too many to choose from. But, as of now, there’s no better place to appreciate a “minor” track like “Did You Ever Want to Cry” (even if you can only really appreciate it on a proper player, with headphones).

The Rolling Stones Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (2002 CD release)

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And when I listen to the Stones it’s rarely this standard set, which has been derided by plenty who think it too obvious, too square, too perfectly representative of what people latch on to when they aren’t real deep-dyed Stones’ fans and only want to stay on the surface.

Okay, I confess that I can’t play most of my Stones’ CDs from this period right now because, for some reason, the ancient player I have hooked up to my main receiver won’t accept the versions I own. It won’t take my Kinks’ CDs either. I need a new player!

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great collection. About half of this never-quit set is from truly great albums, but, by my lights, about half of it isn’t. And “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women” aren’t on anything but comps–this being the best. Besides, what’s better than having the hits, the hits, and nothing but the hits (or at least signature tunes), roll over you, one right after the other? Never understood the “if you don’t like the Stones, this might serve as a sampler” mindset (Christgau, but he spoke for plenty of others). No one pick to click, of course, but for fun facts, you can’t beat the “Honky Tonk Women” being Doris Troy and Reparata and the Delrons (watch those “Diamonds in the Shade” updates folks!).

Patty Loveless Sleepless Nights (2008)

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This was one of those instances where it took me a while to catch up. It’s a “covers” album from what now looks like it will be the tail end of Loveless’s career. I took it for a good solid effort when it came out. As usual, there was more there than met the ear (I first began to suspect when I heard one of the “lesser” cuts in the middle of some fifties’ era honky tonk on an oldies country station we used to have around here…it fit so perfectly it took me half the song to even place it). Back then it was just another good Patty Loveless album. Now that it looks like there aren’t going to be any more, it cuts deeper. Bone deep sometimes. Pick to click: a complete re-imagining of the Davis Sisters’ “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors (1977)

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Skynyrd and Patty are such natural traveling companions (I never take a long driving trip without them) I end up listening to them in tandem at home quite a bit. No better way to appreciate how much country was in Ronnie Van Zandt’s singing. You could miss it otherwise when “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell” roll over you straight out of the gate. All of the original band’s albums are great and I’m not sure they were actually getting better just before the crash. But there was no sign they were wearing out, the way even bands as great as War or Led Zeppelin were at similar points in their careers. We’ll never know what all we missed when that plane went down, but they were still searching for something. Try “I Never Dreamed” for something beyond the obvious.

Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons Jersey Beat (1962-1992) (2007: Box set)

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This was finally assembled after the smash success of Jersey Boys on Broadway. Before that improbable event, it had become all too easy to forget how big they were, how deep the catalog was, how logical they seemed without being the least bit repeatable. (“I protested the war in Viet Nam,” Jersey Boys script-writer Marshall Brickman told Bob Gaudio when they were brainstorming. “When you’re  writing this,” Gaudio said, “Just remember my audience were the ones fighting it.” There was a reason waitresses and beat cops and other middle-age working class types paid Broadway prices to see the resulting show twenty and thirty times over. That reason is here.)

Everybody knows the big hits. After Jersey Boys, most people even started to remember just how numerous they were. Now that the world is preparing to forget again, I’m extra glad this exists. I can’t say I listen to all four CDs all the way through very often. But when I do, I’m always reminded this is the best insurance against all future memory holes. Except for a couple of late so-so sides at the end of the fourth disc, this doesn’t even come close to quitting. Among several dozen obscure and semi-obscure gems, I especially recommend “Girl Come Running,” which might be the most perfect song ever written and arranged for Valli’s multiplicity of voices.

Natalie Merchant The House Carpenter’s Daughter (2003)

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In which she finally reveals herself as Sandy Denny’s long lost daughter, all grown up.

I’ve only had this a little while and, to tell the truth, I have to be in a particular doomy-but-not-too-doomy mood to throw it on. When I do, it weaves a spell. In some world that offered unlimited time and space, I could imagine obsessing on it. As it stands: a mood piece for a very particular mood.

For a pick to click, try “Diver Boy” But I warn you, that’s her fast one. Dead Girl Poetry and the Bo Diddley Beat, they do not mix!

Dion King of the New York Streets (1958-1999) (1999: Box set)

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A wanderer on a journey. This set covers forty years of that journey so it’s bound to be a little disjointed. At three discs, It’s too broad to deliver the deep focus several different phases of his career deserve, and not broad enough to keep the transitions from jarring. Plus, no “Sonny Boy” and no “I Knew the Bride” so it can’t be definitive in my book. Plus, there’s now a whole post-millennial phase which I understand has brought him back to the blues obsession he first started exploring in the mid-sixties (and is hinted at by a few cuts at the end of the disc one here).

It’s still the best overview out there,especially if you want to find out whether the post doo-wop career is worth your time (which is certainly is). Pick to click for the coming summer is 1971’s “Sanctuary” which is not currently available on YouTube. Somebody must know something. Just for fun, then, close it with this, which could maybe be dedicated to Corin Tucker if you’re brave enough.

THE LAST GOOD CHEATING SONG (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #79)

Well, the last to make the charts and actually hurt anyway.

Jennifer Nettles has been reliably good for a little over a decade on country radio (first as the voice of Sugarland, lately solo). She’s crossed over into transcendence once, on 2007’s “Stay.” It’s a cheating song with a twist and you wouldn’t think that would be any big deal on a country record, even in this super-polished new century of ours.

By itself, it’s not. There are still plenty of cheating songs on country radio. But there are two elements that made “Stay” a grabber on the radio and indelible in the memory. One is the lyric twist, which is the best on the theme since the Shangri-Las’ “Never Again” (which didn’t even get released as a B-side). That’s the one where Mary Weiss starts out pleading with her boyfriend to “stop playing games” which include his threat to “walk out that door,” then spends the song talking herself into ignoring his latest empty promise and walking out the door herself.

Well nothing could top that, but “Stay” at least gets in the ball park. Nettles plays what sounds at first like a cheated-on wife, begging her husband to stay with her instead of running off to his mistress. Soon enough it becomes clear that she’s actually the mistress, begging the cheater not to run back to his wife. That part’s clever, even moving. But the twist sinks in when it ends up being an updated version of “Never Again.” The woman proceeds to talk herself, and the man she’s about to let go of, into a new proposition.

You know: Next time you’re in her bed and thinking about coming over…”Why don’t you stay.”

If you’ve got a voice like Jennifer Nettles, you can put a chill on that. It may be that she needs a lyric that complex to give the voice its full expression, because she’s never been anywhere near that space that exists way out past “reliable” on any other record.

Where she has been near, and even in, that space now and again is in her live performances. Big arenas match the size of her voice, too, so there is plenty of evidence on YouTube that she’d go from good to great if she could manage to achieve the intimacy she routinely creates in front of twenty thousand people with any regularity in a recording studio.

But, until yesterday, I never believed a version of “Stay” (and I’d heard several) could soar past the record like this one does.

That’s probably because one thing I never imagined, for “Stay” any more than for “Never Again,” was that it might benefit from audience participation….

IT WAS (UH, OH) THE EIGHTIES. AND THEN (UH, OH) IT WAS THE NINETIES. AND THEN? UH, OH. (Segue of the Day: 6/17/16)

The eighties were the first decade/generation/historical epoch/whatever when America started eating its young. It’s easy to forget now that the decade’s defining pop star (even without necessarily being it’s most successful–that was Michael Jackson) made her best records about the search for identity. Me, I remembered it just today, when this, from 1984, came on the nostalgia station.

It was the last moment when you could get away with that. Now, nobody has an identity. What we each have instead–especially the young–is our “space.” That’s what all those tattoos and body piercings are for. They’re what happens when there’s nothing left to reach for, no identity to dream of that might be connected to anything larger than your own physical dimension. We’ve arrived at an ending that was determined by the matrix of public and private decisions being made when “Borderline” was first on the radio. We went from “there but for the grace of God go I” to “I’ve got mine and if you don’t have yours you must be a sucker” in an eye blink. This isn’t one of those cases where I had to read about it. I was the right age to notice and the right age to remember what I saw.

How it happened–like whether Madonna, the “material girl,” was part of the problem or just offering herself up as a public warning–is a question I’ll have to wrestle with some other time, (like maybe when I list my “ten most important people in the history of rock and roll”).

Today, though, the nostalgia radio followed on with this, from 1993, an assurance that the damage was, by then, already done. Like “Borderline” it now works as both a memory-aid (how fresh our Road to Fail felt back then) and a discomfortingly cold eye cast on the present (how lived-in and blah it feels now). Like “Borderline,” it still cuts if you listen close. Like “Borderline” it cuts inside a much smaller space, the space where I mostly can’t hear you and you mostly can’t hear me. As always, I insist that we can’t say we weren’t warned.

After that, a commercial came on and I switched to another station in time to catch “Summer of ’69” and “Walk of Life,” big nostalgia-driven hits for Bryan Adams and Dire Straits in 1985, already insisting the past I had just missed was better than the present I was living. They weren’t exactly wrong, either. It wasn’t that the past was so great, of course. It’s just that it promised the possibility of something better than any present that arrived, in 1985 or now.

I do want to be clear, though. I had lots of fun singing along in my little personal space, where I also just read that biker gangs are now offering security for Trump events!

Gee, can’t wait til summer comes.

[Note: I let YouTube play after I linked Soul Asylum and it went straight to Bob Dylan’s son singing “One Headlight” and Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.” Hah! A fresh segue. Lucky for me I have a rule about not doing more than one a day! Recommended listening though.]