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156: Good Lovin’

For the last few weeks I’ve been having some weird troubles with the websites for both this podcast and the other one (wordsandmovies.com, in case you didn’t know), especially with the other one. Pages would load slowly on my end, or not at all, which made it very difficult for me to post anything. And in the case of this site, it rendered releasing new episodes nearly (but not completely) impossible. So, after many hours on the phone with my webhost provider—most of them on hold—I finally gave up on them and moved the sites to a new location.

A few bumps in the road were expected, and sure enough I got those. But for the most part everything has been going well over the last couple of days, so I took the time to record and post a new episode for you. (And apologies to the Patron crowd; that’s the time I usually spend writing the newsletter.) There are still a few glitches here and there, and I’ll be ironing those out as best I can. But I think in general we’re all back on track.

All that said, we’re looking at a rather faithful cover of a song that, in turn, was a cover of another recording. However, that first cover was rather different from the original. To find out how different, you’ll have to listen to the episode itself. But then, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it.

Despite being born in Westchester County, NY, Felix Cavaliere is closely associated with Long Island, enough so that he inducted Vanilla Fudge into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Most of Vanilla Fudge is from New Jersey, so there’s that. I have to think that it’s because both Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals earned a lot of their performing chops in Long Island clubs. At any rate, it was the “live” feel and energy of their performing “Good Lovin'” that the record’s producers were hoping to capture when the track was cut, and it’s pretty clear that they succeeded, even if Cavaliere and company didn’t really like their performance on the record. In fact, they didn’t think it would sell very well at all.

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155: Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)

If you want to get technical about it, Looking Glass was NOT a one-hit wonder.

“Brandy” was, to be sure, their biggest hit and the song that most people identify with the band. But “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” the opening track from their second album, spent only one week less on the Billboard Hot 100 chart than “Brandy” did. Okay, it peaked at #33 while “Brandy” spent most of its chart life at or near the top, but still.

“Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” was actually a departure from their usual sound, which was a little more Jersey Shore Rock and Roll. This wound up creating a little trouble for audiences who came to see them expecting to hear an entire evening of “Brandy”-grade music, and it probably contributed to the demise of the band.

Founding member Elliot Lurie left the band in 1974 for a solo career, and by the end of the next year the band changed names twice and moved into a power pop/metal sound. That band, called Starz, did have a couple of hits and they do still play from time to time. Lurie, meanwhile, moved into the production and music supervision side of things for awhile, and occasionally returns to live performances.

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154: Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Wang Chung was a band that wasn’t getting a lot of traction when they had a more traditionally Chinese name. I remember that early self-titled album Huang Chung and I have to admit I was a little put off by it, because it frankly wasn’t especially cool-looking, so I didn’t give it much of a chance.

By the time their fourth album, Mosaic, came out, they’d switched labels a couple of times and had enlisted the help of people like David Geffen and Peter Wolf to get them on track. In fact, Wolf listened to the demo for “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and made a suggestion that changed the tenor of the song, and turned it into the hit we all know and love (or hate, I don’t know you).

So after all that, what does it mean to “Wang Chung tonight”? Well, I think Nick Feldman explained it best. He said, “Wang Chung is the feeling, not the word. It represents an abstract, an escape from pragmatic, complex ideas. Wang Chung means whatever you want it to mean. Have fun with it. That’s the whole idea of the line ‘Everybody Wang Chung Tonight.’ It can mean a tribal dance, a Viennese waltz, a party in New York, or whatever.”

And now you know.

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153: I Can Help

OK, I know it’s not midweek, as I’d promised. But I am back after an unscheduled hiatus, and with any luck I’ll be posting more regularly. Patrons, I’ll be updating you regularly in the Newsletter (which I swear won’t be so much about me, but you’re on the journey too and I do appreciate your support).

“I Can Help” is one of those songs that managed to come together very quickly for Billy Swan, and it turned into his biggest hit as a songwriter, and his only hit as a performer. One of the things I like about it is the way that it feels like a generic offer of assistance, not unlike Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me,” and yet at the same time there’s a little undercurrent of a guy who’s desperate to get out of the Friend Zone (“If your child needs a daddy, I can help.”—really?). But on the casual listen you don’t really care, because of the way that Farfisa organ just carries you along, like you’re in a skating rink and just along for the ride.

One of the cool things about Billy Swan, though, is that he really wasn’t cut out to be a rock star. He greatly preferred being the sideman. And as soon as all the excitement over “I Can Help” died down, he went beck to playing in Kris Kristofferson’s tour band. Part of that, he thinks, is because he was never comfortable having to talk in between the songs. If all he had to do was sing, he’d probably be okay.

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152: Sundown (with guest Mike Messner)

This episode is a special one, boys and berries. Mike Messner, from the podcast Carefree Highway Revisited, joined me a few weeks ago to talk about the Gordon Lightfoot hit “Sundown.”

“Sundown” was Lightfoot’s only song to reach Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. During our conversation we each took our own approach to the song. So what you’re getting is a pretty well-rounded view of it.

In addition, we make a couple of fun diversions to another Lightfoot song and my own personal heartaches. It’s a fun ride, and I invite you to join us.

If you’re interested in listening to Mike’s show, you can click on the link in the first paragraph, or just do a quick search in your favorite podcatcher.

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Click here for a (partial) transcript of this episode.