About Nondisposable Johnny

John Ross blogs from Havana, Florida. He works for a living so please don't take it personally if he doesn't get back to you right away.

WORKING MAN (Kenny O’Dell, R.I.P.)

Kenny O’Dell started in Duane Eddy’s band and had some modest success as a recording artist. But he made his lasting mark as a Hall of Fame country songwriter who had a knack for scoring signature hits for era-defining country acts.

His best known song, “Behind Closed Doors,” made Charlie Rich a huge crossover star after Sam Phillips and a string of Nashville’s crack producers had been trying to put him over since the fifties. Released in 1973, the record probably did more than any other to open Nashville up to modern crossover and while that might have been a mixed blessing for those who liked to keep their country pure (it was only a year or two later that Rich himself, after reading John Denver’s name off a card that read Entertainer of the Year, proceeded to pull out his cigarette lighter and set the card on fire), it established an art and business model the town adhered to for the rest of the decade.

The New Nashville that emerged in the eighties was defined by the Judds if it was defined by anyone and O’Dell wrote their breakout hit “Mama He’s Crazy” as well.

Before, during and after all that he wrote a few dozen other hits and the several hundred other songs that won him every accolade a Nashville songwriter could hope for, from the Grammy on down.

One of those did something that meant as much to me personally as any record could. It was the first single Tanya Tucker released after she left Billy Sherrill (one of the aforementioned crack producers who had, incidentally, helmed “Behind Closed Doors”), Columbia Records and (for the time) Nashville.

Those were considered three very big mistakes at the time. Tucker was still a teenager and was supposed to know her place. The experience was not, in the end, entirely a happy one for her, either personally or professionally.

But the first single she released on her new label went #1 country, #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart and became her only single to reach Billboard’s Top 40. It laid to rest any question of whether she needed Billy Sherrill or Columbia or Nashville.

I missed all that. But a few years later the record was in constant rotation on the same weird little station that played the only Pop or Oldies format in my North Florida county and introduced me to Lulu’s “Oh Me, Oh My,” Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak”er” and “Black Dog,” Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugartown” and more than a few timeless others.

Nothing ever opened my ears more than waiting for that one song to come back around.

And out of all that, Tanya Tucker ended up being the only singer besides Elvis and Patty Loveless who ever kept me up all night.

Kenny O’dell passed away last week at 73. He outlived the wife he married long enough ago to leave five great grandchildren behind by less than a year.

God speed brother. I ain’t forgot.

ALMOST WILD (Valerie Carter, R.I.P.)

Sometimes, one gets by me–I missed Valerie Carter’s passing a year ago. Having just learned of it (as usual while I was looking for something else) I wanted to say a word.

Valerie Carter had the misfortune to be born with lead singer talent, leading lady looks and the soul of a woman who preferred remaining in the shadows. Absent the first two qualities, she would have been left alone…and probably lived a much happier and longer life. Since she had those qualities in abundance, she was pushed to the front early and often–it must have taken an iron will to get back to the obscurity she preferred and stay there.

There was no more startling experience in late-seventies record buying than coming across either of Carter’s first two solo albums in a stack of vinyl somewhere. The eyes looked straight through whatever camera had taken her picture and, staring off the album covers, straight through you.

One of the few things that equaled that experience was getting the records home and finding out that the voice on the black wax inside was a match for those eyes.

Just a Stone’s Throw Away, in particular, spent a lot of time on my turntable in the eighties, which is when I discovered Carter (she recorded these albums in the late seventies–I saw them in the bins several years before I bought them on Dave Marsh’s recommendation–for irony, see bellow). I used to think of her as a great lost talent–but I realized, from bits and pieces I picked up over the years, that she was one of those who maybe just wanted to stay lost. Her friend Linda Ronstadt was one who, a decade earlier, had been in the same boat. Ronstadt went through the whole process–the soul-killing compromises, the slings and arrows of jealous competition and even more jealous rock-crits (Marsh took it the furthest in Stranded, where he professed he would rather have the records he was taking with him than Ronstadt herself–now that’s bitterness–but he had plenty of company)–and made it to superstardom. I sometimes wondered if Linda ever put a word in Valerie’s ear suggesting it wasn’t really worth it.

Whatever happened, it was the world’s loss.

The lady could sing…

…a fact recognized by Ronstadt, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and the legion of others who kept her on speed-dial whenever they needed a backup singer for the next few decades.

And she was a pretty good muse too…

She died last year at 63, of complications that were doubtless rooted in years of the self-abuse so often endemic to those whose souls seek the shadows even if their talent begs for the spotlight.

From reading about her life, it doesn’t seem like she found much of the peace she brought to others while she was here.

I pray it’s hers by now.

DEFINING THE AGE…

By all means read the whole thing here, but I really want to call your attention to this one phrase:

Until the rise of high-tech companies in the 1980s, there were, for better or worse, certain understood rules that governed the behavior of large corporations.

It’s remarkable how often I encounter some version of this straight across the political spectrum (here, moderate right).

“Until the 1980s” is routinely followed by some language that translates, across a sentence or a page, as: And then there was unmitigated disaster, the consequences of which are with us still.

Yep. Until the 1980s.

And then?

And then-n-n–n?

SAY IT AIN’T SO JOE….(Memory Lane…1979, 1964, 1972, 1976)

Well ain’t this a kick. I’m on a little bit of a Joe Jackson binge and I decide to look up one of my favorite singles from the black hole that was engulfing the Pop Charts from 1977–1980 or so, which was this one…from 1979:

Which, even at the time, I knew had nicked something or other from this (let me know if you miss the connection and I’ll be happy to point it out)…

Now, I never thought too much about this. Quoting/covering Shangs records was de rigueur for punk/new wave types (among others). I doubt any pre-punk act contributed more language, attitude or zeitgeist to every form of alternative music from the late sixties to yesterday morning.

And mostly that’s been acknowledged. Not by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or anything, but by the influenced acts themselves (The Dolls, Ramones, Blondie, Pink Floyd, Any Winehouse to name only the more obvious).

All these years I just assumed Joe had done the same.

Then I read this (from Songfacts):

Now, that is just one of those songs that started with the title. I heard that phrase somewhere and I thought that could be a kind of funny song about gorgeous girls going out with monsters. 

Hmmmm. He heard that phrase…somewhere. And couldn’t quite pin down where it might have come from.

Surely not from growing up in England.

You know. The country where the song that starts “Is she really going out with him?” hit #11 in 1964.

When Joe was ten.

And didn’t go higher because it was banned.

And hit #3 in 1972.

When Joe was 18….wonder if he was listening to the radio by then?

And hit #7 in 1976.

When Joe was 22…by then, maybe?

Come on, Joe.

Nothing could make me love “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” less…but you’re better than that.

Aren’t you?

I mean, dude. I still got the 45…

…and it’s one of those they’ll have to pry from my cold, dead fingers.

Because it’s one more little sliver of proof that, unlike me and probably you, the Shangri-Las will never die!

TRACK-BY-TRACK: KICKS! 1963-1972

Kicks! 1963-72
Paul Revere & the Raiders (2005)

Paul Revere & the Raiders have been lucky with comps in the CD era. For those who just want the garage band essence, The Essential Ride is unbeatable. The Collector’s Choice set of their complete singles easily sustains three long discs.

But for the best overview of everything they meant in their decade of prominence–a decade that made them the one true garage band (in the narrow sense of the term–there’s a case to be made that all rock and roll bands are garage bands of some sort) to transcend the genre (which, like most rock and roll genres, was retroactively named).

I loved them at every phase. And at every phase, they may have wandered in this direction or that for a record or two–a little folk rock, a little psychedelia, a little pop–but they always came back to the same place.

Stomp.

Track….by….track:

“Louie Louie”–Not as chaotic as the rival Kingsmen’s monster hit and, oddly, not as focused either. But it does have its own unique thrill. Right at the top. “Grab your woman, it’s Louie Louie time!” Now that’s a band announcing itself.

“Steppin’ Out”–They made plenty of other gut-bucket sides, chasing a way to put the jet-fuel energy of their live shows on wax. This segue takes you past all that and straight into their greatest period. Meaning they managed the trick. The narrator’s been in the military. Just got home. Found out his girl’s been running around. He’s not happy. He wants answers. Released in 1965 and only a modest hit at the time, it was enough to get their career started. Within a few years, it was as much an autobiography of a generation as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” or “Run Through the Jungle” and the true birth of what came to be called Heartland Rock. I don’t think much has changed.

“Just Like Me”–And then they go bigger. Mark Lindsay was already one of the period’s great vocalists, able to purr on one beat and roar on the next without sounding like he had played a trick….or contradicted a thing.

“Kicks”–A specific anti-drug song, courtesy of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. As un-hip as anything could be in 1966 and one of the few records that saw around the corner as clearly as it embodied the times.

“Action’–This one I could do without. As TV show themes go, it wasn’t “Come On Get Happy” let alone “Theme from the Monkees.” Placed here, it just breaks the momentum of one the great singles’ runs in the history of singles.

“Hungry”–Back on track. Mann and Weil again. It’s worth remembering they wrote “We Gotta Get Out of this Place,” too. They had a knack for expressing blue collar anger. As did Mark Lindsay.

“I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone”–Suddenly they’re in competition with the Monkees, which probably didn’t do anything for their cred, especially since “Steppin’ Stone” was one of Mickey Dolenz’s best vocals. I’m not even sure this is as good. But it still scorches. No let up.

“Louie, Go Home”–An obvious throwback, just before they moved to the next phase. One of the great Louie updates, though, and a harbinger of where they would always go in a pinch. For a taste of what they had done with this sort of material three years earlier, you can watch this…

“Ballad of a Useless Man”Not a ballad. A talking blues. “I was gonna be a king…Now the end is drawing near.” That kind of talking blues.

“The Great Airplane Strike–One of the great protest records because it’s one of the few that insists on acknowledging that, in the Land of Milk and Honey, it’s the small ways the Man has us by the balls–his endless capacity for packaging every last detail of our existence–that matter.

“Good Thing”–If White Boy Stomp was all there was, and this was the only example, would we know what we were missing? (And I’m not sure whether the video I linked is the apotheosis of the White Boy Stomp Ethos or the reason it had to die. Both maybe?)

“Why, Why, Why? (Is It So Hard)”–Fang sings…Why, why, why?

“Louise”–And what would an anthology of the greatest garage band be without a weird blend of wistful thinking and hostility towards a mysterious femme?

“Him or Me-What’s It Gonna Be?”–Back to business (i.e. Return to Stomp). “I can still recall when you told me I was all….everything you looked for in a man.” Bet you can guess how the title question gets answered! Love the “what’s” instead of “who.” Love the stinging guitar lick in the intro. Love the whole thing actually.

“Mo’reen”–Bit of a placeholder. Except for the part where I can’t figure out whether Mo’reen looks green or clean. In any case, she’s neither. Just jailbait. Else the little sister of the girl from “Poison Ivy” carrying on a family tradition. Or…both?

“Gone-Movin’ On”–A thumper with one of those stereo-typical break fades that meant the times were a changin’. Before that, weird, discordant echoes of the Nashville Sound and the Everly Brothers….There’s a reason they lasted folks.

“Tighter”–Okay now we’re dipping into the pop psychedelia bag (the one where the records were made by people who didn’t take drugs…or else didn’t pay any attention to the effects). If you ask me how I know, I’ll just say I know my fellow abstainers when I hear them. That said, not the worst of it’s type.**

“I Had a Dream”–They still hadn’t taken any drugs…but this one did have an addictive melody. There was a reason they lasted folks…when so many others fell away.***

“Ups and Downs”–Back to stomp (with a lovely teaser intro just to keep everybody a little off-balance….). And yes, the girl’s still got him on a string (their great theme). And he’s still not sure how he feels about it.

“Peace of Mind”–Be sure to attend the strangled scream of “Well I’m talkin’ about peace” just before the long fade.

“Too Much Talk”–One of those period records that sounds like it starts in the middle and features a touch or two of fuzz-tone guitar. Unlike a lot of others, this one works–mostly thanks to an epic bass line that works like a lead guitar.

“Cinderella Sunshine”–”Windy’s” younger, tougher sister?

“Don’t Take It So Hard”–Okay, this time he’s definitely leaving her….by trying to appeal directly to the teeny-boppers who were ready to abandon the Monkees?

“Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon”–This is my fave of their late 60’s “pop” direction…shoulda been bigger!

“Let Me!”–Angry lust…as Stomp. Whatever assurances had been offered by the previous few singles was withdrawn. “I know that, my love is going somewhere….But, I’m sure, that it ain’t being got by you.” Indeed. Let me do what now?

“Just Seventeen”–Just in case you missed the point of about half the entries so far. Never mind that this time she’s hunting him!

“Indian Reservation “–(The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)”–The apotheosis of Pop Protest–statement records that sounded like (and were) natural Pure Pop #1’s. (See Cher’s great “Half Breed,” Three Dog Night’s “Black and White” among others). Plus one of the greatest arrangements ever on a hit record. And don’t think Pop Protest Mark Lindsay had forgotten his garage band roots when it came to digging in on the chorus.

“Birds of a Feather”–One of Joe South’s lilting melodies and a fine pop-rock vocal. Imminently pleasurable, especially the bridge. A bit lightweight next to their greatest, but you could live a step down from that height and still be pretty fine.

“Country Wine”–One last diversion…into some blend of Aesthetic Pop and Countrified pop. Could have been a modest hit as a folk rock record in 1966. All of which meant….

“Power Blue Mercedes Queen”–It was time to Stomp. And time for an age to end. Though if this had been the big hit it deserved to be, who knows how much longer the fun might have lasted? A mid-chart disco record perhaps? A singer-songwriter knockoff? Who knows. One thing you can bet. Wherever they ended it….it would been set to Stomp.

**NOTE–Ace commenter Neal Umphred–who, believe me, has forgotten more about the sixties than I’ll ever know–ran this by a friend whose an expert on the Raiders and has been assured that various members of the band were experimenting with drugs at the time. I covered myself a bit on this (that’s what the “or else didn’t pay any attention to the effects” was for)–but I should have been clearer. If they weren’t taking drugs, then they pulled off a masterpiece, because they made a record that sounds exactly like squares pretending. I also shouldn’t have further muddled it by suggesting they were abstainers, which is a whole other thing and something I really couldn’t know. What I should have said is “Poor lads. They were trying to do things that were hardly worth doing when they were already better at what they did best than practically anybody else.” In any case mea culpa!

***On the followup, “I Had a Dream,” Neal’s friend says it was mostly session men backing Mark Lindsay. Who knows what those weirdos were into!

 

“CHARACTER IS DESTINY” (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #133)

Cyndi Lauper has probably come at “I’m Gonna Be Strong” from as many angles–always different, always the same–as “Money Changes Everything.” I was surprised, though, to find that she had created enough buzz with her first version (recorded with her pre-stardom band Blue Angel) to notch up several 1980 appearances on Euro-TV.

The vocals seem to all be synched, but I like this one most because, when it starts, you can cast your memories away and easily imagine the singer having a whole different career in front of her, creating–or adhering to–an entirely different set of expectations.

Then, about half-way through, she sheds the pose….and turns into Cyndi Lauper.

It’s like Heraclitus might have had her specifically in mind. There was no keeping this one down, no way anyone else would be the one to shout loudest and truest into the rapidly descending Frozen Silence, an era where each passing year can be judged by how badly she’s needed…and how many lollies have found the limits of their own character trying to take her place.

QUIET MIRACLE, DEEP MIRACLE (Pete Moore, R.I.P.)

Sometimes one gets by me. Pete Moore (second from the left), passed away last November on his 78th birthday.

With his childhood friends, Ronnie White and Smokey Robinson, he formed one of the greatest vocal groups of the twentieth century (Bobby Rogers and his cousin, Claudette (soon to be Mrs.) Robinson rounded out the group).

Moore was a fabulous bass singer, the foundation of all deep harmony groups, especially in the soul tradition.

But he was more than that. Smokey Robinson, one of popular music’s greatest arrangers, was also the hardest working man at Motown in the sixties. In addition to leading, writing for and producing his own group, plus the usual heavy touring and television load, he was competing with Holland-Dozier-Holland to see who would cut hits with the remaining cream of the label’s crop.

Meanwhile he entrusted Moore with the background arrangements on their own group’s records–and the results were both unique in form (when Smokey developed his signature technique of dropping off the end of a key line, which gave many of his greatest records an extra layer of quiet desperation and allowed him to fray his near-falsetto range for startling emotional effects without having to make awkward swoops back to the melody before drawing a breath…it was Moore’s arrangements that filled the empty space, and, more often than not, heightened the drama) and among the supreme achievements of group harmony.

Later on, when Smokey left, Moore–who had co-written plenty of the classic-era hits (including the one above)–also co-wrote a number of the tracks that kept the group relevant for most of the seventies, including “Love Machine.”

Not that he forgot how to sing bass…

I have it on my usual good authority that Miracles never die. They just move on.

Four months?

Bet he’s got a helluva group together by now….

MASTER CLASS (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #132)

Paul McCartney famously said that he woke up one morning with the complete melody of “Yesterday” in his head. He immediately wrote down some words to hook the melody in his mind, at which point the song was called “Scrambled Eggs.” (“Scrambled eggs…Oh where are my scrambled eggs…”). Then he spent a couple of days wracking his brain, trying to figure out where his brain had nicked the melody.

Eventually, of course, he satisfied himself that the melody was both original and worthy of a new set of words. The final result became one of the most played records and most covered songs of the twentieth century, a record I liked very much in my folk-oriented youth, a little less as the years went by, and always thought sounded just abstract enough to have been about anything, including scrambled eggs.

It took Smokey Robinson, on a DVD set of the Ed Sullivan Show which I acquired decades later, to make it hurt.

And, though it has evidently been on YouTube for several years, it took me until today to find it.

Oh, what a world we might have had….

I ALMOST HATE TO KEEP DOING THIS…

But I wouldn’t want my readers to be among those surprised when former FBI director and current Trump-huntin’ Man of the People Special Counsel Robert Mueller comes to a bad end and/or just lets the side down

The FBI is a bunch of overpublicized characters, Hoover himself being a first rate publicity hound. All secret police forces come to the same end. I’ll bet the s.o.b. has a dossier on everybody who could do him damage. The FBI throws up such a smoke screen that they make the public forget all the tough ones they never broke. Sometimes I wonder if they ever did break a really tough one.

(Raymond Chandler, Letter to James Fox, Jan. 18, 1954, from Raymond Chandler: A Biography, Tom Hiney, Grove Press, 1997, p 181)

Cue Gene….

Cue Eddie…