PSYCHOLOGY OF A (COMPLICATED) SONG (Segue of the Day (2): 7/4/17)

Martina McBride released “Independence Day” in 1994. By her standards it was a relatively modest hit. Her previous two singles had gone top ten Country. “Independence Day” stalled at #12. In the years since she has racked up an additional fifteen country top tens, including five #1’s.

There is no question “Independence Day” is her signature song.

I’ve posted the original video before but it’s worth repeating, as one of the strongest videos ever produced and, by my reckoning, the last really great country gothic murder ballad–no less a ballad for being a rocker and no less murder (or gothic) for being justified.

Since then, the song has gone through many permutations, some not so subtle (it was, for a long time and over songwriter Gretchen Peters’ strenuous objections, the theme song of Sean Hannity’s radio show), some subtle indeed (see below) where, weeks after Sept, 11, 2001, the song is turned into a foot-stomping melodrama, from which thousands of waving flags cannot quite remove the sting–or the irony–probably because McBride doesn’t know how to cheat (or at very least doesn’t know how to cheat this song):

…And ,all these years later still, via the miracle of YouTube, you can watch her let the audience snatch it all the way back to something primal enough that the narrator in the original might recognize it again.

Posted as the homemade fireworks boom over my little town’s streets. Happy rest of the year America!

BACK HOME (Segue of the Day: 6/16/17)

I touched back down in Florida this afternoon and, near the end of my six hour, post flight, drive home from the airport, I had run through my personal programming (about which more later if I can find the time and energy…there was a lot of free associating to a soundtrack of Van Morrison involved), I started trying to find my regular radio stations (which invariably get switched around when I drive as long as six hours).

Before I found my usuals, I was stopped by this…

which told me I was listening to a station specializing in country’s back pages…which told me I was back in the South…and which was followed by this, which I had somehow never heard….

…and which, as I listened close, trying to figure out how I missed it, reminded me that the only thing that kept Martina McBride from being both the best and bravest country singer of the last quarter century was the existence of Patty Loveless….who might have sounded perfect if she had come next, but probably not as perfect as what actually did, which was this…

…which brought home very close, and reminded me that North Dakota, from whence I had just returned from two weeks of, among other things, eating in an old-fashioned diner where the owner keeps the Statlers in heavy rotation, probably has stations that play combinations like this.

But I bet they don’t close with this…

….just as the station passes out of range.

Pretty sure that only happens here.

(NOTE: I’ll be answering any outstanding emails or comments in the next day or so, once I catch up on my sleep.)

 

MY FAVORITE SHANGRI-LAS RECORD…NOT BY THE SHANGRI-LAS (Not Quite Random Favorites…In No Particular Order)

Without even going into if-you’re-a-hammer-everything-looks-like-a-nail mode, it’s not difficult to hear the Shangri-La Effect seeping into the subsequent history of rock and roll. Almost anything that smacks of emotional extremism (especially extremism validated) owes them some sort of debt. That’s why large swathes of metal, punk, gangsta rap et al are hard to imagine without them even if few in those genres ever put as much of themselves at stake as Mary Weiss on an actual record…let alone one record after another.

But I’m actually going to ignore most of that–and most of the straight rips, parodies and inevitable posturing as well. I’m going to stick with the records I think actually lived up to the Shangri-Las ethos, those they might have been proud to call their own. And since even that list could get pretty long, I’ll stick to the very top where even a handful of selections amount to a shadow history of the world mostly hidden in plain sight. As ever, most to mostest:

“Love Child” Diana Ross and the Supremes (1968): A little obvious, but it’s worth noting that even Motown–hip to everything–took nearly half a decade to catch up to the implications of pretty much every song recorded by the group which was hurt most by the absence of Motown style management.

“I’m Eighteen” Alice Cooper (1970): This would have been really liberating for Weiss, who often sang as though she didn’t expect to reach eighteen. This would have needed a transfer from the first person (“he’s eighteen” for “i’m eighteen”). No problem. Weiss was all about empathy. And in case you think the Shangs weren’t adept at gender re-writes, you should check their version of Jay and the Americans’ “She Cried” and remember that Jay Traynor (the first “Jay”) was a much better singer than Alice. Well, except for maybe just this once.

“Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd (1975): David Gilmour has acknowledged his Shangs’ influence (well, Shadow Morton’s anyway). This was the one record where the debt ┬áturned from visceral to spiritual. I never heard it, oddly, until Fred Durst sang it at the memorial concert for the victims of 9/11. Since then, I’ve never been able to unhear it, or ever wanted to.

“Because the Night” Patti Smith Group (1978): A song Weiss expressed specific regret about (“God I would have loved to sing that song”) when she finally emerged from exile decades later. She heard her own influence–or felt her own hidden presence–even if nobody else did.

“The Coldest Days of My Life” The Chi-Lites (1972): The Shangri-Las were the basic girl group ethos in extremis. Coming from far left field, reaching for the same space, this is the Shangs’ own ethos in extremis.

“Independence Day” Martina McBride (1994): Just in case you thought country Gothic was a horse of a different color.

“Papa Don’t Preach” Madonna (1986): Certainly the greatest Shangs’ tribute record ever made, even if it was never acknowledged as such.Featuring Madonna’s greatest vocal, it even quotes “Give Us Your Blessings” directly. Apropos from the woman who benefited the most from the space the Shangri-Las opened up. Eventually, she turned that space into her own personal joke on the world, something along the lines of “Fooled ya’!” But for a brief, shining moment there, she stood on the highest mountain.

But it wasn’t quite the greatest Shangri-Las’ record not made by the Shangri-Las.

For that, you need to go back to the beginning, the one moment when the direct competition measured up in the moment.

“I’m Nobody’s Baby Now” Reparata and the Delrons (1966)

…Did I mention that summer was here? The summer of our discontent no less. Should be fun!

NEXT UP: My Favorite Truly Obscure B-Side

PICKING UP PASSENGERS, COAST TO COAST (The Best of the Rest, 2015, R.I.P.)

The Death Train was even busier than I thought, last year. There were some I just didn’t have a chance to write about in a timely fashion and some I didn’t know about. Anyway, I know now and these are the ones I didn’t want to let go by without at least a word:

Little Jimmy Dickens (Country legend: Jan. 3, 94)

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 07: Recording Artists "Little" Jimmy Dickens performs at The Grand Ole Opry on June 7, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

David Cantwell said it better than I ever could.

Cynthia Lennon (Long-suffering Beatle wife: April 1, 75)

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Lulu, and the years, said it better than I ever could.

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Bob Burns (Original drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Florida boy: April 3, 69)

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Lynn Anderson (Country star supreme: July 3, 67)

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Billy Joe Royal (Working class hero, pop and country star, blue-eyed soul singer extraordinaire, and, claiming a space beyond even Lynn Anderson, Linda Ronstadt and Elvis, the only person who ever sang Joe South better than Joe South did: Oct. 6, 73)

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(and, because I’ll probably never have a better excuse to post this lovely, inexplicable thing)….

Cory Wells (Vocalist for Three Dog Night, pop-rocker sui generis: Oct. 20, 74)

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Haskell Wexler (Legendary cinematographer who directed only one film. It was enough: Dec. 27, 93)

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(H. Wexler, on the set of Medium Cool)

Message to the Maker. Take a breather. Please.

TALK ABOUT YOUR REVOLUTION (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #62)

“Independence Day”
Martina McBride (1994)

Blogging is a funny exercise. I wouldn’t say I ever get “Blogger’s Block” in the sense that I run out of things to write about. That never happens.

What does happen is I find myself with several long posts in process (or at least in gestation) and simply don’t have the time and/or energy to do any of them justice. And, at what seems to very often be one and the same time, I find myself with a shortage of topics that can be handled in the time life happens to be allowing.

Invariably, I have a day where five or six things occur at once and, over the ensuing week or so, I manage to write about half of them anyway before they lose whatever hold they had on me that I hope to pass along.

Today was that sort of day. I’ll be posting a few things over the next week that came out of today. In fact, I spent the whole day assuming one of those things that kept coming up would claim the top spot once I was off of work.

Didn’t happen.

What happened instead was I got in the mood to pull up some country songs on YouTube.

Usually that just means a lot of Patty Loveless and a little of whoever else comes to mind, but this time it was different.

I pulled up Montgomery Gentry’s “Roll With Me,” a fine hit from the very tail end of what will likely turn out to be country’s last point of connection to anything like roots.

Then, for some reason, Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” popped into my head.

I’ve never played “Independence Day” on YouTube. I don’t even play it much on CD as I’ve never found it very easy to listen to, but one thing a quick YouTube search confirmed was my sneaking suspicion that lots of other people find it very easy to listen to. Though it wasn’t a huge hit when it was released in the early nineties (#12 on the Country chart, no Pop action), it’s become something of a signature song for McBride, thanks in part to Sean Hannity yanking it out by the roots and using it as a theme song for years on his radio show (apparently he still does, the song’s writer, Gretchen Peters, has tried to have it pulled for years, and donates all the royalties she receives from his airplay to charity), in relation to what he assumed would be a triumphal outcome to our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also won plenty of awards and shows up on various “Greatest Country Song” lists.

However it became such a calling card, McBride has had little choice but to belt it out in dozens of dubious contexts. A Pat Benetar duet; with the Boston Pops on the 4th of July; in every venue where a mainstream country singer with half a dozen platinum albums is expected to perform.

I wouldn’t say she ever does it less than justice either, at least vocally. That is, she never does it less than justice except that there isn’t any context outside of the original recording that really can do it justice.

Or so I thought until I pulled the official video, which I had somehow missed back in the day and never thought to pull up until today.

After which all those other great ideas I had throughout the day vanished.

I just read on Wikipedia that this was later voted the second greatest country music video.

I don’t even want to know what they thought was greater but I bet whoever voted for the other one never watched a man beat up his wife in the cab of a pickup while all the solid citizens shook their heads and turned back to watch the Pony League game. I was fourteen and my parents weren’t there. I still think I should have done something.