OKAY, I’LL PLAY…

I don’t want to make a habit of this. I prefer to generate my own ideas/content. But the more I thought about this, the more the challenge/absurdity made me smile….So, again from one of those memes that’s going around…(tried to link live versions where available.)

The 30 Day Song Challenge…(I think the idea is to name the first song you love that comes to mind. Anyway that’s the spirit I’m taking.)

UPDATE….

Sorry for the somewhat meager posting this week. It might continue for a few days. I had a fender bender (actually a “wheel rim bender”) a couple of weeks ago and what at first appeared to be a minor and straightforward repair has morphed into Claims Adjustment Hell. Each day brings new adventures. It’s been difficult to get my mind around anything complicated whilst gnashing my teeth. Anyway, for a nice little break, here’s a fun, if brief, look at Joel Whitburn, invaluable assembler of Billboard (and, lately, Cashbox) statistics. Wish I knew what his hundred point system was. Maybe in the next day or two I’ll reveal my own thirty point system (twenty-five, you’re in!). It’ll happen if I can make it easy enough!

Meanwhile, Speakeasy’s “Villains” Blogathon is a little past the halfway point, so there’s lot’s of good reading over there which I encourage all my readers to partake in.

Just oh-by-the-way, I’m on track for a record shattering month, so I once again issue my periodic heartfelt thanks to all who visit, read, comment and/or spread the word. Your satisfaction is my only reward and it’s what makes everything here worthwhile. Here’s to you….then…

and then…

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (The Bangles Up)

“Set You Free”
The Bangles (1989)
Foreign market single version
Recommended Source:The Bangles’ Greatest Hits

banglessetyoufree1

The last great harmony vocal by the last great harmony vocal group, “I’ll Set You Free” was originally featured on the Bangles’ last album released before their initial breakup (1988’s Everything). The version featured here (and available on the album linked above) is a remix (by Bernard Edwards no less) featuring a new lead vocal by Susanna Hoffs, which was later variously released as a single in overseas markets as either a farewell to their fans or a not unreasonable attempt by the record company to milk a final hit from the group, depending on who’s telling the tale. In any case it was never released in the U.S. and didn’t take off anywhere else, barely scraping the  charts in Australia and the U.K.

There’s a tale in that. The Bangles were almost single-handedly responsible for keeping Everly/Beatles’ style vocal harmony alive as something more than seasoning for synth-sounds throughout the eighties. When they were gone from the charts, so was the harmony ethos that the Everlys had so literally and improbably brought down from the mountain in rock’s early dawn.

Modernity preferring histrionics (which harmonies tend to harness), monotonously rigid rhythm structures (which harmonies tend to undermine) and supreme self-involvement (which harmonies tend to disperse), this record marked the end of an era. Like most of the endings we fail to observe at our peril, i.e., those that mark the loss of something vital within ourselves, it passed unnoticed at the time.

Except maybe by the people who sang it.

 

THE MYSTERY THAT WAS PRINCE (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #76)

Never better explained than by these fine ladies, up close and personal, from 2007 (those interested can find the whole, career-spanning interview here):

And, lest we forget…

Also, for those who link to the fifteen minute version of the interview, I swear I had never seen it (or anything similar) when I wrote about them here. (Main point: Before I said they never needed the seventies, they said they never needed the seventies. Turned out, I wasn’t saying anything new, just channeling. They also imply, without being supercilious about it, that being “retro” in early eighties L.A. took more vision, courage and inspiration than a lot of people were willing to admit after it put them on the top of the charts and the cover of Rolling Stone.)

NOTES FROM AN ACTUAL BOYHOOD….

[NOTE: A little while back Neal Umphred posted an essay on bullying which I highly recommend reading. (If you search “bully” on his site, he has some other interesting pieces on that and related subjects as well).  The following is in part a sequel (in the sense that I probably wouldn’t have thought of visiting this memory without reading Neal’s post), in part a prequel (to a long memory piece I’ve been developing for a while and which is nearing completion) and in part a response to my continuing push-back against Boyhood, which is a well-acted, supposedly hyper-realistic movie about a good-liberal-fantasy construct who, unlike any kid I ever met in real life, is interested in exactly nothing, and which I wrote about here, though I would now add that director Richard Linklater may well have simply inserted a fantasy of what he wished he himself had been. Anyway….]

To be honest, I was never actually bullied.

The line got pretty thin at times.

I wore glasses and read books and had what you might call a generally quiet nature so of course I got called the usual names now and again: Four-eyes, Faggot, Sissy, Pansy, Pussy, etc.

None of it stuck, though. None of it got under my skin and, more importantly, none of it acquired the degree of repetition or intensity that made it any sort of problem I had to ever seriously think about or otherwise deal with.

There were reasons.

For one thing I was a big kid who was reasonably good at sports (more about that in a minute).

For another, though I was often mistaken for being not merely quiet, but shy (not caring to speak and not being able to speak being generally considered the same thing by people who like to talk and, especially, by those who are looking for targets to pick on), anybody who leaned in close generally found themselves dealing with a mind that moved faster than their own and, in any case, never moved slower.

These two qualities combined to create a certain hesitancy in potential bullies.

What really sealed the deal, though, was something I intuited and which I found out much later had served Tom Wolfe well when he was a straight-laced, ice-cream-suited, conservative reporter, dealing with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.* That is, I wasn’t a fake.

If some kid wanted to make fun of my glasses, I smiled. If he wanted to try them on, I let him. If he said something like, “How can you see through these things,” I said something like “I’m blind and you’re not,” and I tended to say it in such a way that you could just about see him asking himself if he wanted to find out the answer to the next question.

Usually, he did not. He wasn’t yet forced to admit he had made himself look pretty stupid. But who knew where it would go if he kept it up?

It was a strategy I lucked into. I wasn’t exactly trying to be a psych major. But I had the sense to figure out what worked and to stick with it.

For instance, If a kid called me one of those other names, I usually just laughed. This wasn’t a strategy either. I just laughed because I thought it was funny–the same way I just said what I thought when somebody asked me stupid questions about my glasses because that was how I thought and I knew it wasn’t a time for keeping my thoughts to myself.

And laughing–genuinely laughing–always drew a puzzled look.

Something along the lines of Who is this kid anyway?

And again, it helped that I was usually bigger and was known to be able to hit a baseball, etc.

But the main thing was, I didn’t fake it.

Which was good, because I also noticed that a lot of kids who did get picked on would try to fake something or other (maybe just their ability to win a fight), and never once did it fail to make their situation worse.

So the upshot was that a lot of kids called me a lot of names once or twice but they didn’t keep it up.

And they didn’t try to pick a fight with me.

Except for this one kid. In the eighth grade.

Because, you know, every rule has an exception.

*   *    *   *

The way it started was the first six weeks of eighth grade Phys Ed we played volleyball.

Volleyball happened to be a sport I had never played before. I didn’t even know the rules and explaining them was not part of the class. So, for a week or two, I struggled.

That was Part One of the equation.

Part Two was that there was a kid on my volleyball team, named James, who had obviously played volleyball before and was pretty good at it.

Part Three was that one of the other two teams–who we, of course, played every other match against–consisted almost entirety of James’ buddies, otherwise known as the Cool Kids.

Part Four was that the cool kids, like cool kids everywhere, never missed a chance to mock anybody, but especially never missed a chance to mock one of their own.

Part Five was that James was a hothead who had an especially thin skin. (Part 5A was that his buddies knew it.)

Part Six was that James decided, in that first week or two, that I was the logical source of his infernal suffering because I was the reason we were losing to his buddies every single day.

Part Seven was that this already dubious narrative was not dislodged from James’ brain by my rapid and vast improvement or the fact that we kept losing because three or four other kids on our team did not, shall we say, improve, rapidly, vastly, or otherwise. In a way, by improving, I made myself a bigger target. Eventually, as his mind roamed far beyond logic (it happens a lot with natural bullies), I became somehow responsible even for James’ own mistakes.

So, for the rest of the school year, in Phys Ed or elsewhere, a certain part of the world narrative at our junior high was all down to me and him.

Or it would have been, except for Part Eight of the equation.

Part Eight was I didn’t want to play.

I used the same tactics on James I used on everyone else.

Smile and ignore him.

Don’t fake it.

Move on.

Somewhere along the way, he evidently got the idea that the unthinkable had happened.

That I was–however quietly, however improbably–mocking him.

I say that not because I ever really understood his thinking, but because it was pretty obvious he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box (whatever his insider status with the cool kids depended on, it wasn’t brains, and I should add that about half of them were sons of NASA engineers, i.e., rocket scientists, so it wasn’t one of those cases where brains weren’t respected), and I have to assume that, like a lot of not-so-bright people, he had an active imagination when it came to spotting slights and enemies.

Too bad.

Because I wasn’t mocking him.

I just didn’t think he was worth engaging.

Even in eighth grade, life is sometimes too short.

Anyway, his anger and resentment grew. I could tell he was on a slow boil and that he was waiting for an excuse to put me in his sights.

And, since we weren’t put on any more Phys Ed teams together and we didn’t have any other classes together and we didn’t exactly hang out in the same social circles, the excuse never came.

Until finally, in the spring, a month or so before school let out, it sprang from nowhere.

His big opportunity.

Just his bad luck that it was on the basketball court

 *   *   *   *

It set up this way.

We had a “free day” in P.E. Once in a while, the coaches would roll out some balls and everybody split up and played with and against whoever they could make a game with.

That particular day, the balls they rolled out were basketballs. Outdoor courts. Half-court. Make it, take it. Take the ball back past the foul line if a miss hit the rim. Lay it in if it didn’t. Play by twos. First team to twenty. Have to win by four.

Here’s the funny thing.

His team won: 20-16.

But he still got humiliated.

Sometimes, in an actual boyhood, that’s how things work out.

 *   *   *   *

Six of us went down to the far court, furthest from the coaches.

These things aren’t entirely worked out by accident.

My friend David and I were a natural pairing. James and his friend, Tommy, were a natural pairing. Tommy and David were friendly enough to make the two natural pairings another natural pairing. James and Tommy’s friend, Monty, tagged along. So did this other kid, Kevin, who was sort of part of their circle but, by virtue of being our Junior High’s resident drug dealer (by 1974, every junior high around there had one), he was mostly his own circle. His best friends were the shoplifters, but one of those happened to be James’ brother, Jerry (they were in the same grade so I assume they were nonidentical twins). That was probably why he gravitated to us as the sixth needed for a game of three-on-three.

The only problem then was that we had a natural pair against a natural four, so somebody had to switch sides.

You can guess who got the drug dealer.

There were negotiations to be sure. Pretty fierce actually.

It happened that Tommy and James were on the basketball team. But David and I took Monty aside and David assured him it would be a fair fight if he came over with us. “Trust me,” David said. “John’s really good.”

Monty had never seen me play but he seemed to take it into consideration for a bit. Then he finally looked back at James and Tommy and said, “Yeah, but there’s two of them.”

It’s amazing, sometimes, what matters in a schoolyard.

Monty opted for James and Tommy.

I should mention here that Monty had been in a serious dirt-bike accident a month or so earlier and could barely walk. He was literally dragging his right foot on the concrete because he was wearing a heavy brace and couldn’t lift it off the ground.

That’s how badly we didn’t want Kevin the drug dealer.

Not that we had never seen Kevin the drug dealer play basketball. But he had a couple of qualities common among eighth grade drug dealers. He was sort of crazy. And he didn’t exactly play well with others.

Once he threw up his first shot–from about twenty-five feet in a gusting wind, he only missed by about eight–we had our other suspicion confirmed. He sucked at basketball, he was determined not to go quietly, and we were essentially playing two against four after all.

But, before that, another interesting thing happened.

Tommy took the ball in hand and chucked it out to me for first possession and then turned to James and said, nice and casual, “Hey James, you check Ross.”

And I have to say this surprised me a little because Tommy was a much better basketball player than James was. I had assumed that he would check me for this reason and this reason alone. Meaning I had assumed the fact that I had spent the first half of the seventh grade smoking him on the indoor courts in little games of two-on-two (or the same year of Little League hitting line drives off his pitching), would not affect his decision.

I assumed wrongly. Whatever his reasons, he insisted that James check me.

James, all unawares, clearly relished what he thought was not going to be much of a challenge.

Finally, he had his chance to humiliate me. He was on the basketball team, by God. I had stepped into his wheelhouse at last.

I should mention here, as an aside, that I took no particular pleasure in smoking him, especially when the drug dealer was busy throwing up air balls which allowed the other team to convert uncontested lay-ups for about fourteen of their twenty points. That I would win my personal battle with James wasn’t really a question in my mind. He was on the basketball team, after all. All that meant was I had seen him play.

I’m not saying I took no satisfaction, but it was tempered by losing–no matter that the outcome had been decided by Monty siding with his buddies and sticking us with the drug dealer, who David and I ended up playing concrete football against, trying to wrest the ball from his hands before he could shoot again–and by one other factor.

I was raised in church. I don’t mean I merely went to church, or even that I practiced Christian ritual, though that was true enough. I mean that I embraced–and still embrace–not only the faith, but its core messages, among which none is more resonant than, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

So the only real satisfaction I allowed myself–that I believed I was permitted to allow myself, though even that may have been a stretch–was not that I had bested the boy who had been itching for a chance to ream, humiliate, gloat over me since way back in the fall, but that I had not allowed him to best me.

His team won the game. Nobody walked off thinking his being on the basketball team made him anywhere near as good a basketball player as I was.

Oh, he went right ahead and carried it to the locker room where, hilariously, he tried the “he’s a hot dog” angle on Monty, specifically referencing a couple of behind-the-back passes that set David up for lay-ups (in those days, before age and diabetes set in, my four eyes had 270 degrees of peripheral vision). Monty, son of one of those practical-minded rocket scientists who regarded hot-dogging as the worst sin known to man, just shrugged and said, “It looked to me like everything he did worked.”

I just smiled.

And, right then, not before, I truly thought it was over.

God knew he was never going to like me, and, faith or no, I was never going to like him (I was trying to be a Christian, I never aimed for sainthood). But I figured he would let it go. That there wouldn’t be any more half-sneers when we met in the hallway. No more furtive snickers when there were at least two of him and no more than one of me. I mean, what was the point?

The only thing that could take it any further now was a fight.

I didn’t think he was any way that stupid.

*   *   *   *

I still don’t quite know whether he was or not.

Only that it did seem to cross his mind.

I can only guess, in retrospect, that I had upended his brain’s natural order. That he couldn’t quite get past the idea that he was supposed to be able to bully me. I still wore glasses. I still read books. I was still his idea of a four-eyed-sissy-faggot-queer-hot-dog.

Or something. God knows what he would have thought if he had grokked that I was a Christer (which, to tell the truth, made me more of a target than all the rest combined, working class females being especially hard on anybody who thinks he’s better than everybody else, which was a working assumption with a lot of them that I was usually able to dispel if given the chance, though I frequently wasn’t.)

Just how he intended to work all this out in his own mind I don’t know.

I only know what happened next, meaning what happened last.

What happened next and last was a classic junior high lunch-room confrontation, like you never quite see in the movies–maybe because the versions you see of him are always exaggerated to villainy (instead of being portrayed as one very real side of “boyhood”) and you don’t see any version of me (though, as I hope I’ll make clear in my next piece on this subject, I was far from being a loner).

Too bad about that, because it would make a great scene for somebody:

It’s a couple of weeks after the basketball game. Haven’t seen much of James. One day I’m late to lunch (I don’t remember why) and the lunchroom is nearly empty. The mini-aisles are blocked by chairs pulled back as kids left and didn’t push them back under the table. Negotiation to your table to be managed by main-aisle circuits only.

I get my lunch. I pay for it. I leave the serving counter and start looking for a table. I move along the wall next to the counter and turn the corner to the main part of the lunch room, prepared to move down the aisle next to the wall that runs at a right angle to the counter’s wall.

And when I turn the corner, scanning the room, I see a couple of my friends sitting at the far end, on the far side, and begin to head towards them, straight down the right angle wall.

I’ve been vaguely aware that there’s a kid standing in front of me, blocking the aisle, and that he’s talking to someone seated at the end of the nearest table.

It’s only after I take two full steps down the aisle that I become aware that the kid is James. And that he’s standing there talking to his smoking hot girlfriend Celeste (who doesn’t know me from Adam).

I look down the aisles between the tables.

Chairs pulled out everywhere.

Not an option.

I consider how it will look if I back up, walk practically to the other end of the lunch room, cross over the center aisle, then walk all the way back down to where my friends are sitting.

Not an option.

It’s not a matter of inconvenience.

It’s that if I do that, he’ll think I’m a coward. Not something I would normally mind, actually. But there’s too much undecided between us. I know this because I can see, in an instant, that he has no intention of moving out of my way, and that Celeste, not knowing me from Adam, has no idea what is going on and will not be in any position to influence him towards reason, even if she could (doubtful) and would (probable but likely futile).

And because this silliness has been lingering between us for so long, I know in an instant that if he gets the mistaken impression I’m a coward, this no-longer-quite-so-silly thing will go on…and on….and on.

That was another thing I had learned.

Don’t let a natural bully smell weakness. Not even the weakness of hesitation.

So I walk on, without breaking stride.

I come within a couple of steps of where he’s standing.

I say “You mind?”

He gives me the exact same sneer he’s been giving me for six months. Backed by a little snigger, not quite all the way under his breath.

He doesn’t say a word.

I get within a step.

He tenses. He’s not even looking at me. Except for the sneer and the snigger he’s acting like I’m not even there.

He’s not talking to his girlfriend, who is looking sort of puzzled.

He doesn’t move either, though, which means he has left a foot or so of space between his butt and the wall.

I lift my lunch tray over my head.

I turn sideways.

I swivel-hip, quick-step past him and go on my way.

I don’t look back.

I don’t have to. I have 270 degrees of peripheral vision.

That means I can turn my four-eyed head a couple of inches and have a clear view of what’s going on behind me–like Bob Cousy on a basketball court.

Which also means I can see that he has turned to follow me.

One step. Two steps.

I don’t turn around.

His right foot goes back.

I don’t turn around. I keep walking.

His right foot swings forward.

I don’t turn around. I keep walking.

Neither faster nor slower.

I let him take his chance to kick me in the rear end.

I know if he connects I’ll have to turn and fight him. Right here, right now. The only decision is what I’ll need to do with my lunch tray first.

I’m thinking I’ll throw it at him. High. Towards his face. Distract him while I wade in and take the only advice my father ever gave me about fighting, which is try to end it with one punch. The temple, the nose, the solar plexus. Whatever avails itself first. Forget everything else.

I’m not going to worry about my glasses. Or a looming suspension for fighting. Or explaining it to my parents.

Every once in a while, for just a minute or two, those things can’t matter so much.

So I’m walking on, neither faster nor slower, balancing the lunch tray.

Good hard puke-green nineteen-seventies’ junior high Space Coast plastic.

Neither slower nor faster. My head turned just an inch or two.

Just enough to know his foot is taking the full swing, ending well above his waist.

Just enough to know he doesn’t miss by more than an inch or two.

But he does miss.

And I haven’t turned my head.

That makes all the difference.

By the time he makes up his mind about whether to give it another try, I’m long gone.

By not turning back, I missed the aftermath, like, for instance, how his girlfriend reacted, which might have had a lot to do with how the next time went–how much it might have meant to him–if there had been a next time.

At this distance, I’m sorry, in a way.

To this day, I don’t know whether he missed on purpose. Whether some piece of him decided at the last minute that he didn’t really want it to come to a head after all.

I’m sure I would have found out, if fate hadn’t intervened. If school hadn’t let out a week or so later, before anymore sudden, unexpected confrontations could occur. If my father hadn’t decided to become a full-time minister that following summer and moved us to another part of the state in the fall so he could attend a bible college.

I’m sure if we had stayed, I would have found out something when we got to high school, away from even the modicum of supervision–the kind that had miniature drug dealers running around the boys’ locker room, openly assuring you that the first batch was free and if you didn’t like it you wouldn’t owe a thing!–that existed even in junior high back then.

What that something would have been–Honest miss? Slight miscalculation? Attempt to impress his girlfriend (and was she or wasn’t she)? Loss of impulse control, followed by the rapid reassertion of ruling self-interest that so often marks the bully, but also the bully wannabe?–I’ll never know.

So it was, in the fall of ‘73 and the spring of ‘74. So it remains. A little incident frozen in the time and space of an actual boyhood.

It’s the little things that make us.

And one other little thing I’ll never know is whether James, too, moved away.

I never checked. Life’s too short.

But I like to think he did.

I like to think he moved to Los Angeles and went to high school with Vicki Peterson.

I like to think that, eventually, she wrote a song about him….Not for me, so much, or even for her, as for all the poor misguided Celestes running around loose in the world, so many of whom never learn better until it leaves a scar….

But surely that’s too much to ask. Even if he was made for it.

(* I saw an interview with Wolfe many years later in which he mentioned that those who weren’t really invested in the Pranksters’ lifestyle, but tried to “fit in” by faking it, were mercilessly mocked and ridiculed, while he was basically left alone. The upshot was that they may not have liked him but they respected him because he wasn’t trying to put them on. I’ll have to take Wolfe’s word for it because I wasn’t there, but it jibes with my own experience. Every “in” group hates a fake worst of all.)

MY FAVORITE HARMONY GROUP SINGER: ROCK AND ROLL DIVISION (Not Quite Random Favorites…In No Particular Order)

First I better offer up my definition of a “harmony group,” which is any group that tends to privilege harmony over lead-and-support. That’s tricky. In rock and roll, lead and support groups almost always had formidable harmonies, even if they just amounted to Keith leaning into Mick’s mike. And, in fact, one of my two favorite rock and roll vocal arrangements (I’m leaving black and white gospel and bluegrass out of this) is Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” which is just about the definition of a lead and support group finishing each others’ breaths. My other favorite is the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which is so purely harmonic it sounds like it couldn’t possibly have been “arranged” any more than breathing is.

With those for logical extremes, there’s a lot of room in between. I’d place the midpoint somewhere in the neighborhood of the Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” which weaves a lot of fantastic  and surprising harmonies into a classic lead and support structure. Start asking which sub-category the Rascals, or that record, fall in and we could be here all day.

So, to keep it simple, I’ll just list all the rock and roll aggregations I think of as being true harmony groups of the first order (no matter how many great leads they may have featured):

The Everly Brothers (from whom all else flows); the Fleetwoods; the Beach Boys; the Beatles; the Hollies; the Byrds; Simon and Garfunkel; the Mamas & the Papas; the 5th Dimension (at least until somebody figured out they could sell a lot more records by putting Marilyn McCoo out front); Spinners (a close call but I put them just this side of the divide); the Persuasions; ABBA; The Bangles.

That’s a nice baker’s dozen. I’m leaving out a lot. I’m counting Peter, Paul and Mary as folk. Doo wop is very confusing in this respect as is reggae. Groups as diverse as the Four Seasons, the Shangri-Las, the Jackson 5 or the Staple Singers (just to name a very few) had consistently fantastic harmonies, but were finally dominated by their principal lead singers. And a group like the Searchers made plenty of fine records without quite sustaining the heights of those I mentioned.

Still, even whittling the definition down to the bone, I’m left with Phil and Don, Gary Troxel, Brian and Carl; Paul and John; Allan Clarke; Gene Clark (with a nod to Roger McGuinn, who shared Sly Stone’s uncanny ability to be the dominant force in a group where he was far from the best singer); Paul and Artie; Denny and Cass; Marilyn and Billy; Bobby Smith and Philippe Wynne; Jerry Lawson; Agnetha and Frida; Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters. (Update: Of course, I was bound to overlook a few. A day later, I already see the Impressions and the Turtles are inexcusably missing. Make ti a baker’s dozen plus two, then and my sincere apologies to Curtis and Howard and whoever else it will turn out I forgot. But it doesn’t change the final answer! 2nd Update: Also forgot the Bee Gees. Oh, yeah, them! Sorry Barry. Sorry Robin.)

If I had to pick a “greatest” I wouldn’t.Not even with a gun to my head. I’m a little thick but I’m not stupid.

As for a favorite?

Well, sometimes it’s easier than you think it will be.

You just have to think of a little test.

Like, who, of all those great singers, could make me listen to this tripe all the way through, every single time it ever came on the radio, just to hear a four line chorus which featured maybe your fiftieth best vocal?

You, Carl. Only you.

I’ve said it before, but there’s a piece of me that will never accept him being gone.

[Next Up…yet another fool’s game: My Favorite Dylan Cover]

 

MY MORE OR LESS FAVORITE ALBUMS BY ARTISTS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME (Volume Four: The Eighties)

Ross MacDonald once had Lew Archer say that as a man gets older, the women he’s interested in should get older too. For what it’s worth, the women in this little survey–the women of my own generation or the one right before it–have remained the women I’m interested in. Purely spiritually of course.

The early eighties, especially, were a breakout period for women in rock and roll that was unlike anything seen since the early-mid sixties. I’m sure the fact that music has been steadily shoved back to the sidelines in the generations since, assuring that such things happen no more, is purely coincidental.

I mention all this because it turned out well over half the records in this last installment were made by the women I’ve grown older with. Beyond that, I’ll let any obvious themes emerge on their own. This was fun.

Blue Angel (1980)

FAVALBUMSBLUEANGEL2

The lead singer was a superstar in waiting. As one of rock’s last visionaries, she was ready here, her vocal style fully formed. The world would catch up a few years later. Through some combination of experience and nature Cyndi Lauper was already able to sing, “I’ll take it like a man,” and make the mighty Gene Pitney sound like a four-year-old, which, believe me, he wasn’t.

Pick to Click: “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (Television performance. Later on, she recorded another version for her first greatest hits package which actually got past this…but she’s the only one who could have.)

Warren Zevon Stand In the Fire (1980)

FAVALBUMSWARRENZEVON

Zevon rarely caught the reckless abandon of his lyrics in the studio. He captured it in spades here and sustained it for an album-long assault. He sounded like nothing so much as man who was raging against the dying of the light, like he already knew the ripped-and-torn seventies would be the last decade anyone ever missed.

Well, anyone who wasn’t part of the conspiracy anyway.

Pick to Click: “Jeannie Needs a Shooter” (alternate live take)

REO Speedwagon Hi Infidelity (1980)

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Everything anyone would ever need to know about the eighties in a sleazy album cover, a catchy title and a single genius line. The rest sounds real good to me, but, really, who cares what the rest sounds like?

Pick to Click: “Take It On the Run” (For those who may have forgotten, that’s the one that begins “Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from another you’ve been messin’ around.” Welcome to Hell.)

Robin Lane & the Chartbusters (1980) and Imitation Life (1981)

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At the time, pretty much everything written about Lane (L.A. born show-biz kid who became the leader of a Boston based punk band which ended up sounding fashionably New Wave on their albums) mentioned that she was an Evangelical or “born again” Christian. I only mention it here because nobody seemed to ever draw the logical conclusion about the black hole in her voice. Weird how the illuminati tend to forget (or is it ignore?) that a belief in God contains an inherent belief in the Devil.

Strictly on the formal side, there is an awful lot of what the Go-Go’s and, especially, the Bangles, got up to directly after.

If you want to know how good they had to be to make it, you could start by considering how good she had to be to not quite make it.

Picks to Click: “When Things Go Wrong” (Robin Lane…live) and “Send Me an Angel” (Imitation Life, sorry, couldn’t find “Pretty Mala”)

Rachel Sweet …And Then He Kissed Me (1981)

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Her major label debut and there’s some gloss on the basic concept, but she cut through it effortlessly. The commercial push was behind a duet with Rex Smith on the indestructible “Everlasting Love” which scraped the Top 40 and generated one of the great Devil’s Island videos.

But some idiot or other failed to see the potential in her greatest vocal and it was left for Pat Benetar to scoop and score with a just-fine version that wasn’t half as good. Two years later Sweet was out of the music business, yet another might-have-been. This was the best of her.

Pick to Click: “Shadows of the Night”

The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat (1981)

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On their way to cracking the code that had kept every female band from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm to the Runaways safely on the fringes, they made the rest of the New Wave bands sound like they weren’t trying. That was no particular shame on the New Wave, because the dirty little secret was that they made pretty much every pre-New Wave band sound like they weren’t trying either.

This took nine months to climb to number one on the Billboard Album Chart, at which point the general word was that we could expect a wave of highly successful all female bands.

Still waiting for that.

Pick to Click: “Can’t Stop the World”

Cyndi Lauper She’s So Unusual (1983)

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Hence the flood. One of a wave of mega-million sellers that made up rock and roll’s last gasp as a force that defined something more than itself. All of the others (Thriller, Born In the U.S.A., Purple Rain, Eliminator, Scarecrow, 1984, et al) were by well established acts who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame long since.

Every one of them sure sounded like the present in 1984 and that’s exactly what they sound like now.

1984.

Despite a production style that’s as dated as any, Lauper still sounds like she’s singing about a future in which she would be the only one left standing. The future that is now.

It’s 2015 and there are individual cuts here and there on those other albums that sound great. This is the only one I still listen to at all…and I listen to it obsessively.

Pick to Click: “Money Changes Everything” (The album’s fifth hit single and probably the most radical recording to ever hit the Top 40 even before you take into consideration when it was released.)

The Bangles All Over the Place (1984)

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Honestly, I thought they sounded a little cold around the heart at the time. I was wrong. They were just coolly taking the world’s measure. As perfect a folk rock record as anyone’s ever made, up to and including Dylan and the Byrds.

Now, if only folk rock had still been a thing…

Pick to Click: “Silent Treatment”

Los Lobos How Will the Wolf Survive (1984)

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I mean, the rest of their career, at least as much as I’ve been able to keep up, suggests they’re archivists on some level, but this sounded like a deep well from the gut to me in its day and I’ve never stopped drinking from it. I forget it for a while, sure. But every time I pick it back up it sounds new again. I don’t need all my fingers and toes to count the albums I can say the same for. The album Donald Trump’s Republican rivals would be playing at every campaign stop if they had any brains (and, no, I have no idea if we should be glad that they don’t…I’m a pox on all their houses sort from way back).

Pick to Click: “Our Last Night” (live from 1987)

Minutemen Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)

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Revolt that had no chance whatsoever of coming into style. I bought it nearly thirty years ago and listened to it once, transfixed. I swear I’ll listen to it again some day. When I’m old enough to fully accept that it either is or isn’t what I hope it is.

Pick to Click? Er, no.

The Go-Go’s Talk Show (1984)

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Revolt going out of style. Those ugly, blocked lines separating them were more real than symbolic. They saved my life and then broke up. Can’t forgive, can’t forget. May write about it some day. Stay tuned.

Pick to Click: “Beneath the Blue Sky”

Todd Rundgren A Cappella (1985)

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A weird and compelling amalgamation of Brian Wilson’s brain, circa 1966, transmuted through Thom Bell’s melodic sensibility, circa 1973, and Daryl Hall’s larynx, circa 1977. Or something like that. This album could be an appropriate soundtrack for a teleconference on euthanasia, a street revolution, or a CIA sponsored convention on “Torture in the Third World, Effective or No?” Honestly, I don’t listen to it very often. But when I do, my mind ranges very far afield and I invariably end up with a slow, dreamy smile on my face which I’m convinced enhances my enigmatic appeal immensely.

Pick to Click: “Mighty Love” (unfathomable)

Katrina and the Waves (1985)

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I think it’s pretty obvious by now I like Power Pop a little more than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does. This isn’t one of those acts who are worthy of Hall consideration, of course, but it just goes to show how thin the line is, because it’s easy to imagine this perfect little album being a springboard to a lot more than one hit single. It’s also easy to imagine it never being even that. Mysteries of life I guess.

Pick to Click: “Going Down to LIverpool”

Cyndi Lauper True Colors (1986)

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Backlash was inevitable. She was too…something. The nasty comments about her audacity in covering the by-then sainted and martyred Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” obscured what she did with it, which was explode it from the inside, cast it into the future (This future, did I mention? The one where the wars never actually end? The one only the visionaries could see?) and segue it into “Iko, Iko.” That’s supposed to be what albums are for, especially if it sells seven million worldwide and all. Instead she got endless grief and a broken career which is now often deemed that of a mild underachiever because she only sold fifty million records.

Pick to Click: “Change of Heart”

Terence Trent D’Arby Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (1987)

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Sweep and scope like nobody’s business. Star in the making. Took a few years off. Made another album. Walked away. Never walked back. Maybe said all he had to say. Sure sign things were falling apart. Guy like this having no more to say.

Pick to Click: “If You Let Me Stay”

House of Schock (1988)

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Oh, I guess what I said here (with links worth pursuing).

Other Pick to Click: “Love In Return”

Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi (1988)

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There was a moment there when it seemed impossible that she wouldn’t be a major star. It didn’t happen, but this was a hip hop apotheosis and Madonna supposedly spent a whole lot of time obsessively breaking down a certain single…May as well close the eighties, and the series, with that particular mystery dance.

Pick to Click: “Buffalo Stance”

BANGLING (Memory Lane: The Bangles In the Eighties)

Back in the mid-eighties, some curmudgeonly grad-student who reviewed music for my local college newspaper (now long-defunct…I don’t know about these days, or even if they still have college newspapers anymore, but in those days curmudgeonly grad-students were pretty much standard issue for the music gig at a college paper), mentioned that the newly popular Bangles had left their best days behind them (as pretty much all bands do, of course, when they sell too many records to be a secret curmudgeons can keep to themselves anymore), and those of us not in the know should really hear their first LP, the one that hadn’t sold, or better yet, their one-and-only EP (which featured the standard “departed member”) or even better still, the truly obscure cover they had done of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

I either already had, or soon acquired, that first LP which really is their best and also really is one of the greatest albums ever made.

Soon after that, I found their EP, which was pretty fine, too.

Then I spent the ensuing thirty years buying whatever else they made and keeping a permanently frustrated eye out for that elusive Dylan song.

Since I couldn’t find it–or even a reference to it–anywhere, even in the age of YouTube and the internet, I finally decided that the curmudgeon must have made a mistake and meant to refer to their non-LP version of the Grassroots’ Dylanesque knockoff “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which had showed up on the band’s various best ofs over the years.

In other words I thought I was done with it.

Then this week arrives and I’m idly searching for something or other that leads me to a Greil Marcus column which is posted at his website (and which I would have seen a few years ago if The Believer, God love ’em, had let out another entry or two from behind the firewall) and, lo and behold, I find I’m not done with it at all.

Turns out the Bangles (or maybe just Susanna Hoffs), had done a Dylan song in 1984. Only it wasn’t “I Shall Be Released,” but “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” meaning I either misread, misremembered, or relied a bit too foolishly on the reading or remembering skills of a curmudgeonly grad student way back when).

And because we live in an age when YouTube is pretty much the only step forward mankind has made since at least 1980, I was even able to follow the link and hear the actual song, which, at least when you listen to the video version Marcus recommends, is everything he says it is and everything I might have wanted it to be after thirty years of waiting. (And in case you don’t care to follow the link, you can see and hear it in it’s all-everything-ness right here and now…)

Then you can go back, pre-fame, pre- anything but the naked ambition to forget the seventies ever happened and pick up the thread everybody else had let go and see where it could take them….

..or you can go forward, to five minutes before the standard-issue acrimonious breakup, when they were everything they ever wanted to be, including quite possibly the best rock and roll band in the world….I mean, laugh if you want, but do you really think anybody else could have come this close to proving it by way of Simon and Garfunkel?

Yeah, me neither….

 

THE BRITISH INVASION (Great Vocal Events In Rock and Roll History, Volume 1)

Okay, back to the mission here with a new category.

Yes, this past week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles arriving in America, but it also, of course, marks the same anniversary of the beginning of what came, almost instantly, to be called the “second British Invasion” and then came (in the instant after that) to be called the British Invasion.

For shorthand historical purposes, this latter phrase has ever since referred to the tide of British acts who followed immediately in the Beatles path to success in America. Like pretty much every other rock and roll moment/movement between the early fifties and the early nineties, this “British Invasion” was, first and foremost, carried along by singers. It might seem self-evident that this is so, but most of what’s ever been written about the great changes the Beatles (and the Invasion in general) wrought have tended to focus on anything but singing, focusing instead on the rise of self-contained bands, the genius of the best bands being defined as those who wrote the best songs, the veneration of guitar gods, how witty and engaging some of the lads were in press conferences, whether the Beatles really were bigger than Jesus and so forth.

But the British Invasion finally rose and fell on great singing, just like nearly every other significant development in rock history before and after. So I thought I’d round up a list of some of the key vocal performances from 1964–66 that set the standards–and the limits–of just how far this thing proved it could go as commerce and/or art.

I think I included every really formidable singer from the Invasion proper who had any success at all on this side of the pond, though, of course, most of these made many other great records, so bear in mind this is only a representative sample. (I listed lead singers for groups and harmony singers where I thought they added something significant to the record. Also, where possible, I tried to find some interesting live version of the song in question for a link. But if you only want to close your eyes and listen to one, I’d recommend “It’s My Life” which is played off the original 45 and sounds superior to any CD mix I’ve heard.)

[Final note: This list is very roughly chronological but it’s really more about the gradual opening up of psychic space, as opposed to dates on a calendar….If you want to believe that’s code for “I’m way too lazy to look up every single one of these recording dates!” well, I won’t exactly give you an argument.]

“I Want To Hold Your Hand”–The Beatles (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, lead vocals): The kick-starter and a true update of the Everlys, with John and Paul as indistinguishable from each other’s heartbeats as they would ever be on record. They were never able to repeat the magic of this one live because (at least in every performance I’ve seen) they always stood at separate mikes and rather far apart. Fortunately for us, them and the world, the space they clearly needed on stage disappeared in the recording studio.

“She Loves You”–The Beatles (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, lead vocals, George Harrison, harmony vocal): Sheer rhetorical brilliance. Here were the Beatles, on their second big American single, claiming a special kinship (reinforced by the passion and intimacy of the harmonies) with the sort of staunch young female who made them a cultural phenomenon to begin with. It was a kinship they (John in particular, though Paul’s oft-expressed “well-it-would-be-nice-if-they-only-screamed-at-musically-appropriate-times” attitude speaks volumes as well) frequently made a point of disowning the moment it was commercially safe to do so. But the record itself was somehow both thunderous and sublimely intimate in its moment and has remained so in every moment since.

“I Only Want To Be With You”–Dusty Springfield: Dusty hit the charts the week after the Beatles with a record that very likely would have been an American hit in any case, providing, as it did, an instant bridge between the then reigning girl group sound and the blue-eyed soul waiting just around the corner. A solo vocal that sounds like a wave crashing on the beach. Only you, Dusty, only you.

“House of the Rising Sun”–The Animals (lead vocal, Eric Burdon): Maybe it was the JFK assassination or the Beatles on Sullivan. Maybe it was the Stones on The T.A.M.I. Show. Maybe it was something else. But you could stake a fair claim on “the Sixties” really being born here. When a working class English kid could step up to the mike and deliver a blues vocal on a par with Muddy or the Wolf then all bets were off and confusion was bound to continue its reign long after the exhilaration faded.

“Do Wah Diddy Diddy”–Manfred Mann (Paul Jones, lead vocal): Okay, an epic vocal on “House of the Rising Sun” is one thing, but this couldn’t possibly have been what Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich had in mind when they wrote this.

“You Really Got Me”–The Kinks (Ray Davies, lead vocal): Dave Davies’ ripped-and-ready guitar chords get most of the love, but, great as all that is, it’s also mostly a fine variant on things Link Wray and Paul Burlison and Lonnie Mack had already gotten up to (in some cases, years before). But Ray’s vocal really was something new and astonishing, a maelstrom of self-pity turned on its head so that the anger always underlying such emotions comes boiling to the top in what was ostensibly a lyric designed to express the same aching sentiments as, for instance, Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” Here, the “sentiment” is basically along the lines of “if you don’t love me as much as I love you, I’ll punch you in the face.” There was one occasion later, on “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” where Ray even topped himself–there, he sounded both more plaintive and more dangerous at the same time. But this was the breakthrough.

“I’m Into Something Good”–Herman’s Hermits (lead vocal, Peter Noone): This swept aside Earl Jean’s version on its way up the charts. One of the uglier aspects of the British Invasion was that it temporarily brought back the practice of “cover” versions–i.e., a white version very specifically designed to sublimate the air play of a black original–which the original rock and rollers had laid to waste. Just to complicate things a bit further, though, some fair amount of the time the record by the highly marketable English lads was just as good (see the Moody Blues’ version of “Go Now,” co-opted from Bessie Banks, or Manfred Mann’s “Sha-la-la,” co-opted from the Shirelles, for other convincing examples; see the Stones’ “Time Is On My Side” co-opted from Irma Thomas, for one among many not-so-convincing examples). Case in point is that, at least on this record, Peter Noone actually sounded like a male version of a girl group singer. For a solid year after–and despite Noone’s more usual penchant for sounding closer to an especially adenoidal Music Hall escapee (“No Milk Today” and “Must To Avoid” very much excepted)–the Hermits battled the Dave Clark Five for second place among British acts on the American charts. Evidently, young women were not entirely immune to hearing a cute boy sing themselves back to themselves.

“Needles and Pins”–The Searchers (lead vocal, Mike Pender, harmony vocal Chris Curtis): A rare great harmony record by a Liverpool band other than the Beatles themselves (more about that below), and perhaps more noted now for its influence on American folk rock via twin six-string guitars that presaged the twelve-string jangle of the Byrds’ early hits. But the vocal shouldn’t be sold short, marking as it did a kind of link between the American folk movement and the folk rock that would explode a year later.

“Is It True?”–Brenda Lee: A bit of a cheat but only a bit. Obviously Brenda’s not British. But this was recorded in London with Mickie Most (likely England’s greatest record producer)** at the console and Jimmy Page (yes, that Jimmy Page) on guitar. No way any of that was happening without the Invasion and, based on the evidence, the LP Lee reportedly planned to make in England that never materialized is a great loss indeed. Beyond its own considerable value, notable for providing proof that British vocalists would not have to rely on American studio expertise when it was time to make great records on the assembly line. If the locals could hang with Brenda Lee, they could hang with anybody.

“Glad All Over”–Dave Clark Five (Mike Smith, lead vocal): The seeds of Power Pop and Glam. Also, about as subtle as a sledgehammer–an approach well-noted by many after it started making a whole lotta money. And lots of other people did make money going down this same path–though relatively few made similar magic.

“Downtown”–Petula Clark: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Suddenly, Brits other than Dusty Springfield (i.e., Brits who weren’t geniuses) could do Bacharach-style Orchestral Pop. Now things were getting serious! It turned out that–other than Dusty Springfield–really only Petula Clark could do it and that even she could only do it so transcendently this once. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it made a lot of American session pros a great deal more nervous than “I Want To Hold Your Hand” ever did. (And just how Pop was it? Well, I first heard it in a shopping mall when I was five, with Christmas decorations festooned all around…and I promise you it changed my life.)

“My Generation”–The Who (Roger Daltrey, lead vocal): Not a big hit in America initially but an anthem an awful lot of people took to heart precisely because of its stuttering vocal. A sixties’ version of the semi-articulate angst-ridden ethos James Dean had spoken to (and for) in a much more artificial context a decade earlier. (For an even more exhilarating version of the same basic world view, see “The Kids Are Alright.” For an even nastier one, see “The Good’s Gone.”)

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”–The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, lead vocal): The Stones had made some good records before this. Mick Jagger had even waxed a few really fine vocals. But, for the most part, the fuss they kicked up in the first year and a half of the Invasion is–musically speaking–a little hard to hear these days. The band smoked from the beginning, but early Jagger generally sang as though American English (especially black American English) was a foreign language he had learned phonetically. This is where he sold his soul to the Devil so he could complete with his idols, perhaps even surpass them. Compete he did. Surpass them he even perhaps occasionally did. Beginning in about 1973, the Devil got payback–he always does, whatever you decide to call him–but it was beyond belief while it lasted and it really did begin here.

“He’s Sure the Boy I Love”–Lulu: This was a remake–not simply a cover (as it was not designed to compete with the original on the charts and was not even released as a single)–of a Crystals’ hit on which Darlene Love had sung lead. Make that, the mighty Darlene Love. No way was Lulu supposed to dig in her heels and blow past Darlene Love (even if she was greatly assisted by a superior arrangement). But it happened. On a bit of album filler no less–and it is out of such miracles that cults are born and raised. Proof, if anybody needed it, that the Brits had a pretty deep bench.

“Look Through Any Window”–The Hollies (Alan Clarke, lead vocals, Graham Nash and Tony Hicks, harmony vocals): One interesting, little-noted fact about the Invasion was that, having been made possible by a great harmony vocal group, it produced relatively little great harmony singing aside from the Beatles themselves. While the Fab Four’s own vocal impact in America was enormous (with implications that stretched from the Byrds in ‘65 to Buckingham/Nicks’ era Fleetwood Mac in the seventies to the Bangles in the eighties, and that’s just scraping the surface), only one of the British harmony groups who arrived in their wake were remotely in their league. This was their best early record and if they–or anyone–bettered it later on, it wasn’t by much.

“Gloria”–Them (Van Morrison, lead vocals): Displaced Irishman on his way to becoming the Invasion’s greatest singer howls at the moon and gives every garage band in the history of the world from that moment forward a reason to exist–not to mention hope. (Not to mention a break from playing “Louie, Louie”!)

“It’s My Life”–The Animals (Eric Burdon, lead vocal): “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” was just as great and certainly more iconic–it’s still the go-to record for anyone who wants to short-hand Viet Nam-as-nightmare. But I’m going with this one because it’s possibly the angriest vocal ever recorded. By the end of it, Burdon actually sounds like somebody who might stab you in the throat–but only if you get in his way.

“Gimme Some Lovin'”–The Spencer Davis Group (Stevie Winwood, lead vocal): The first instance of a popular record that involved speaking in tongues. Can’t say the idea caught on, but it’s still out there, waiting….

“Help” (John Lennon, lead vocal, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, harmony vocals) and “I’m Down” (Paul McCartney, lead vocal, John Lennon and George Harrison, harmony vocals)–The Beatles: Two sides of a 1965 forty-five. Side A featured John the acerbic rocker at his most vulnerable (he said in later interviews that he should have done it as a ballad). Side B featured Paul the romantic doing his crazed Little Richard imitation (and matching the original). All of which helps explain just how they were able to stay on top of this incredible wave for its duration.

“Friday On My Mind”–The Easybeats (Stevie Wright, lead vocal): Although an American studio confection who called themselves the Strangeloves made some classic, self-consciously primitive records while pretending to be Aussies (to exploit the Invasion, naturally), the first real Australian hit (albeit one recorded in England) was this garage-style classic from sixty-six. The only thing stranger than the combination of passion and opacity suggested by too much contemplation of a line like “Even my old man looks…good” is hearing Wright actually sing it. I might be delusional but, at this distance, I swear at least a hint of everything that bubbled up from down under afterwards is contained in this record: the Bee-Gees, Olivia Newton-John, AC/DC….whatever. I tilt my head this way and that and I hear it. Every bit of it. No really.

“Season of the Witch”–Donovan: A droogy, starry-eyed Scottish lad–who never did anything else even remotely similar–defines the future and names the era we’re still living in. Let’s just say that the psychological distance between this record and what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call “the present,” is considerably less than the distance between this record and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” which had been recorded two years earlier. (Note: I reserve the right to pick this one again when I do my inevitable “Greatest Folk Rock Vocals” post!)

**(Most produced five of the records on this list and his range went from the Animals to Herman’s Hermits. Later on, his range went from “To Sir With Love” to “You Sexy Thing.” He really should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

CNN SENDS ME OFF TO A DARK AND DREARY PLACE WHERE I THEN HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO CHEER MYSELF UP….AND ME AND THE BANGLES AND SUSAN COWSILL SOMEHOW MANAGE…WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THE REAL ELVIS (Found In the Connection: Rattling Loose End #22)

CNN kicked off its series on “The Sixties” tonight with an hour on the British Invasion. Despite the presence of some fine music clips (which apparently couldn’t be helped) and a single, spirited, un-sourced moment from the period that had Graham Nash and Peter Noone debating whether pop music had the power to prevent World War Three (Nash in favor of the motion, Noone opposing) it was dreadful.

Maybe at some point I’ll acquire it and re-visit it long enough to dwell on all the reasons why. Depends on how firmly it stays stuck in my craw. The best I can say for it right now is that they didn’t actually come up with any new falsehoods–though they sure did string the existing, fossilized notions together fast and furiously, after the manner of warding off evil spirits.

For now, suffice it to say they did not attribute the Beatles’ smashing success to their combination of real musical genius and their special position of being–unlike virtually every other major pop star reigning over the American charts at their moment of arrival–neither black nor hillbilly nor urban immigrant nor (gasp) female. Or that the curious hold they have had on the intelligentsia from their moment of arrival (a hold completely unacknowledged in the special, which portrays them as “outsiders” facing the same kind of across-the-establishment-board opprobrium as the first generation rockers who inspired them) is surely as much due to this fact as to their undoubted musical genius.

Not that I was holding my breath or anything, but it would have been nice to have at least one countervailing, or merely skeptical, voice!

Anyway, the one sort of compelling bit for me was a handful of brief interview snippets with Susanna Hoffs, lead singer of the Bangles.

Like everyone else, she lacked for anything very interesting to say…But I realized it was the first time I had ever really heard her speak at length and I was struck by how disconnected her speaking voice is from her singing voice.

This isn’t at all common. Most really good singers, like most really good actors, carry the essence of their performing style in their every day voice and, much as I love Hoffs’ music, I might not have pursued it any further or thought of it as anything but a quirky anomaly…except…

Except that ever since I had my Cowsills’ kick a few months back, I’ve been working on a tantalizing theory (okay, tantalizing for me if not for anyone else) that, in the early eighties, when Vicki Peterson went looking for a lead voice for the Bangles, she might have, at least subconsciously, been looking for a replacement for her best friend at the time…

Who happened to be (and still is) Susan Cowsill.

Who also happened to be in all likelihood unavailable herself because she was then Dwight Twilley’s significant other and a member of his road band…Unlikely to quit her day job in other words.

There’s probably never going to be a way to prove my little theory, but I do know that the first time I pulled up this–Susan’s first solo single, recorded when she was seventeen and released in 1977 (or thereabouts)–I was immediately struck by how much she sounded like a slightly more laid-back, seventies-era version of Susanna Hoffs.

Or, to be more accurate, I was struck by how much a slightly revved-up, eighties-era version of Susanna Hoffs, adjusting for the full weight of the Bangles’ hair-raising harmonies behind her, sounded like Susan Cowsill.

This time, after I played Susan’s song a few times, I started searching around for some of Hoffs’ vocals (just to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself) and found the expected evidence (proof enough to my ear anyway, not that I really needed it…I’ve had enough Bangles’ kicks in my life to know I wasn’t imagining things).

And that led me to this, a slightly altered, knockout arrangement of “Eternal Flame” which I’m posting not so much because it proves a little part of my theory (there are plenty of examples that do it better) as because I like it so much…and because I now really wish they had used this stripped down arrangement on the record (which I love anyway…but from now on I’ll always hear what might have been):

And, lovely as all that is, I still might not have posted anything….

Except that chasing Bangles’ videos led me to a lengthy interview with Hoffs, which is worth hearing in any case, but which I’m linking especially for my Elvis fans…because the way she lights up when she briefly talks about Graceland between the 6:30 and 7:30 marks says as much about why the flame won’t die as any thousand scholarly essays ever will (you can fast forward to that segment if you don’t want to listen to the rest…Hope you’ll get as big a kick out of it as I did).

I’ll definitely write more about the Cowsills in the future…at very least a review of the documentary about them which came out a couple of years ago. I’m a sucker for “might have been” stories and few people have a better one. And, as I’ve said before, Susan Cowsill has led an epic American life, in which little asides like possibly inspiring the revolution’s last really great vocal group are basically par for the course.

Maybe this will get me fired up for that little project again.

Then at least I’ll have something to thank CNN for…Well, besides leading me to all this.