174: Don’t Fear the Reaper

This is an episode I wrote in the Southern Studio, so I may  have been in a better mood than usual to write it than I ordinarily am, given  the subject matter.

When Blue √Ėyster Cult first got together, they were a college band from Stony Brook, New York. That’s not far from where I grew up. Oddly, none of the band’s original members are from Long Island. Two of them grew up in New¬† York City, one in upstate NY and the last was born in Alabama but moved to the Island as a child. Go figure.

They took on the name Soft White Underbelly first and used that from 1967-1969. Then they caught a bad review for a show and decided to change their name. After a few permutations they landed on Blue √Ėyster Cult, which they didn’t really like. But the fact is, they didn’t care enough at that point to come up with anything else.

I touched on this briefly in the episode itself, but it’s pretty clear that the band members were still pretty fond of “Soft White Underbelly”. Oftentimes when they played smaller clubs around the NY Metro area, that’s the name they’d use in those clubs. So when fans of BOC saw an ad in the local newspapers touting that band in the 1970s and 80s, they knew they were actually in for a Blue √Ėyster Cult show.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” is notable for several different reasons. It was a new recording studio and they experimented with their sound in different ways. That would include having Buck Dharma sing the lead. (Dharma is the lead singer on “Godzilla” and “Burnin’ For You”, so they may have hit on something there.) You’ll hear about some of the bells and whistles they use.

And yes, you’ll hear a little bit about Saturday Night Live and how they feel about it.

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173: Wichita Lineman

By 1968, Glen Campbell had moved from session musician to a star in his own right. His single “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” written by Jimmy Webb, was a huge hit for him. So when Campbell decided he needed another song, he turned back to Webb and asked him for another song.

For whatever reason, he asked Webb to make it a song about a specific location. Webb, at that time, was in the business of writing as many songs as possible about his ex, a woman named Susan Horton. (Coincidentally, Jim Holvay was also spending a lot of time writing songs about a woman named Susan, go figure.) Susan Horton was at the heart of “Phoenix” and “MacArthur Park, which had just been released when Campbell came calling again. So he cranked out yet another song ostensibly about Susan. That song was “Wichita Lineman.”

Now, Webb wasn’t as obvious about Susan as Holvay was, but in all of these songs you can hear some sense of loss and longing, so it’s pretty clear that he had it bad for her. And between Webb’s nearly-finished work and the production values that Campbell and producer/arranger Al De Lory, before long they had a genuine masterpiece on their hands. And honest to god, why haven’t I covered this song back when the show was still in single digits?

What else haven’t I covered that really needs some attention? Drop me an email¬† at howgoodpodcast@gmail.com!

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172: A World War Two Christmas

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

Today we’re looking at three Christmas songs that are born from the anxieties of World War Two. Two of the songs aren’t direct references to the war itself, but it clearly informed the subject. Themes of separation and loneliness emerge, and a sense of nostalgia is present throughout.

Interestingly, one of the songs was so dark that the lyricist was asked to change the words…twice. For the other two songs, there’s a verse that usually goes unsung, though once in awhile we get to hear it. And one song was popular enough with the public that it still holds the Guinness record for most copies of a song sold‚ÄĒand it’s not even the original recording!

And, as promised: here are the original lyrics to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
It may be your last.
Next year we may all be living in the past.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Pop that champagne cork.
Next year we may all be living in New York.
No good times like the olden days.
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who were dear to us.
Will be near to us no more.
But at least we all will be together.
If the Lord allows.
From now on, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Happy holidays to ye!

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Sorry, no transcript this time.

171: Save the Last Dance For Me

…before we were so rudely interrupted…

This is a song that I’m long-overdue in covering, if only because of the backstory it has. It’s simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking. It’s a love letter from lyricist Doc Pomus to his wife. That’s not unusual, of course. Many songwriters compose songs dedicated to a loved one. But this one has an extra special twist to it. I shan’t spoil it here, though: you’ll have to actually listen to the show.

So in this episode we’ll learn about the genius of Doc Pomus, the genius of Dick Clark, and a little bit about children’s television.

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170: I Fought the Law

How many times now have I gone into the backstory with a song and learned that the person who wrote it says something akin to, “Yeah, I knocked that one off in about fifteen minutes.”

Oftentimes they also think that the song isn’t going to amount to very much, which I find kind of funny. But it also supports a working theory I have that it’s not always the song itself, but the way it’s presented. The Crickets (sans Buddy Holly) and a few others approached it one way, but Bobby Fuller and The Clash looked at it differently, and it paid off for them.

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Video Newsletter

Hi, Cousins!

For those of you not in the know, this show has a Patreon page, which can be found here.

Patrons of the show get a weekly newsletter about 48 times a year, typically on Sunday. And once in awhile I’ll throw a special episode their way, which eventually becomes available to you as well, several months later.

In addition, I will occasionally do the newsletter in video form, but frankly it’s rather time-consuming, largely because I usually want it to look a certain way so I get weird about making things just so. So that only happens every few months.

In recent months, I’ve been writing entries about a new cereal developed by Snoop Dogg. It was originally called Snoop Loopz, and it promised “more marshmallows.” More marshmallows than what, I’m not sure. But I looked in several stores and couldn’t find the stuff.

This went on for months, me looking for Snoop Loopz and being unable to find it. Even in stores that carried other foods by Broadus Foods (that’s his company name), it was no dice.

According to the website, Broadus partnered with Post Consumer Brands (the folks behind Grape-Nuts and Honey Bunches of Oats, etc.) to produce the cereals. They moved away from the Snoop Loopz name‚ÄĒprobably to avoid trademark issues‚ÄĒand are all sold under the Snoop Cereal umbrella, with each cereal having its own Snoop-like name.

Finally, I got a note from Cousin Mike about his discovery that the cereal had changed names, and could be found on Amazon. I’m all in, I say, and ordered one box each of the three varieties.

And to thank the Patrons for their patience and support, my wife and I sampled the three cereals and recorded the experience just for their benefit. Just for the giggles I did a regular video newsletter and tagged in the taste test as well.

So if you’re as curious about Snoop Cereal as I was, and you’re looking to support the show, hop on over to Patreon and drop a fiver.

169: Tiny Dancer

I don’t often play favorites on this show; in fact there have been a couple of songs I genuinely disliked, but I covered them anyway because the story behind them was kind of interesting. And I think you’d be hard-pressed to identify those songs, because I do try to be even-handed.


I am going to take the time to gush about “Tiny Dancer” just a little bit, because it’s one of my favorite songs by Elton John, and it may even be somewhere in my all-time Top Ten, if I took the time to compose such a list. Actually, I’ve already taken that time, and here’s the episode.

Before you listen, however, I will note that my wife doesn’t really like this song, and I can’t convince her to sing along with me on the chorus. Ever. Spoilsport.

And, as promised, here’s the “Tiny Dancer” clip from the 2000 film Almost Famous:

Kate Hudson shoulda been a bigger star.

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168: Windy

The Association was a band that just kind of floundered for awhile. First in was in their early years when they were known as simply The Men, then, in 1966 after their first album did well, the second one did…not so much.

Bones Howe
Bones Howe

Part of the problem, it seemed, is that the band members playing their own instruments was mostly not a good idea. So for their third album, Warner Brothers (which had purchased The Association’s label and therefore their contract) brought in a new producer. That producer, Bones Howe, in turn brought in a bunch of session musicians who later became known as The Wrecking Crew.

Insight Out
The Insight Out front sleeve.

The members themselves also made some changes with regard to their overall sound and the materials that they recorded, and they managed to break away from their Sunshine Pop sound and into a more eclectic feel. Some tracks were psychedelic, some were Baroque, some were folky, and there was even a touch of the Garage Band sound. That third album, titled Insight Out, performed about as well as the first one did and yielded two of their biggest hits.  And in this episode we learn a little about one of those songs.

Click here for a transcript of the episode. (The Blubrry player is supposed to provide one now; if you try it let me know how that works for you.)

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167: Without You

One  of my favorite titles for an album comes from The Animals. They did a bunch of albums up to 1969, then for a year or two there were a couple of compilation albums after they broke up.  But in 1977 the Animals reunited and released a new album, titled Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted.

I don’t know what made me think of that. Anyway. (heh.)

This was one of those episodes where, the more I found, the more there was TO find. And so what I thought would be a relatively short episode clocks in at close to twenty minutes. What a bonus for ye!

“Without You” has humble beginnings and a huge, happy ending, except for the composers, Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Although it was a huge hit for Harry Nilsson and later Mariah Carey, neither composer saw much money for it. They, themselves, didn’t see much potential in the song, so they buried it in the dead center of the album, at the end of Side 1. Then in 1975, after years of mismanagement and legal squabbles, Ham committed suicide shortly after learning that all of his money had disappeared. Then, in 1983, following a dispute over royalties from the song, which had been in escrow going back to the Apple Records era, Evans also committed suicide.

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166: Daydream Believer

I think that by now the Monkees have overcome their epithet of “Prefab Four,” which I suppose was clever but not especially accurate. At least three of the Monkees were musicians who could act. I’d argue that Micky Dolenz was an actor who could play music. (More on that below.) Having said that, however, he’s got one of the best voices of the rock and roll era, so my label comes from the fact that he came from acting rather than from music, as the others did.

Song Premiere: The Monkees, 'Me & Magdalena' : All Songs Considered : NPR

That they didn’t write most of their own music is really of no consequence, given that the pressure for artists to write their own material wasn’t really there yet. Similarly, the Monkees were under a tight contract, which made that difficult. Every move they made toward autonomy was met with resistance. In Michael Nesmith’s case, it meant some acrimony between him and the label.

At any rate, as I mention early in the show, “Daydream Believer” was the Monkees’ last Number One hit, but it was only¬† their second-to-last Top Ten in the United States.¬† (Their last was 1968’s “Valleri,” which peaked at #3.) After that, it was the bottom half of the Hot 100 for the band until a brief comeback in 1986.

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. - WikipediaWhile the¬† band members had achieved the autonomy they sought, they were also drifting apart as a group. Dolenz had lost interest in drumming, preferring instead to let session musicians take over. Producer Chip Douglas also noted that Dolenz was the weak link musically. He said that Dolenz’ work on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. was cobbled together from several takes of the same song. The cancellation of the show and the poor reception of the film Head didn’t help either. Finally Peter Tork quit the group by¬† buying out his contract at the end of 1968. By the time their television special 33‚Öď Revolutions per Monkee aired in April 1969, Tork was long gone.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Click here to become a Patron of the show. As a Patron, you get access to a weekly newsletter that publishes at least 48 times per year (stuff happens once in awhile, ya know?). You also get occasional goodies like:

      • Giveaways
      • Special videos
      • Bonus Episodes
      • A Sense of Pride for Having Helped Foster an Independent Creator