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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.

151: More Obscure Christmas

Oh, I do enjoy breaking format once in awhile to do special episodes like this one.

For this year’s Christmas episode, I return to the songs that you don’t seem to hear on the radio when the stations are playing All Christmas All The Time. You’d think that with the huge catalog of recordings to choose from (even if the list of songs is relatively limited), radio stations could go on for literally days without ever repeating a recording. But no, we’re going to get Mariah Carey and Trans Siberian Orchestra over and over and over again.

There was one station that managed to have a pretty deep catalog one year. It was out in Colorado and I think I went four hours before I heard a repeat. So that was pretty good. I don’t think they’re still doing that, though, more’s the pity.

I took a little more time to script this show than I did last year, so for those of you who are interested, there is a transcript this time. Last year, I was working off of notes, and it clearly shows. Hey, you live and you learn. Or you don’t live long. (h/t to Lazarus Long)

Here’s the playlist for this year’s episode:

  • Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (1979 version)—Elmo and Patsy
  • Christmas Kisses—Ray Anthony and the Bookends
  • Christmas on the Block—Alan Mann Band
  • Crabs for Christmas—David DeBoy
  • Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)—The Darkness
  • How to Make Gravy—Paul Kelly
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town—Joseph Spence

And finally, let me note that Jenna Getty has come through again with a Christmassy version of the theme music, funded by the Patrons of the show. I haven’t mentioned this enough: Patrons of the show got a special hour-long episode a couple of weeks ago as an extra “Thank You” for their support. Plus they get the Newsletter with my lame blatherings every single week, whether a show drops or not. And if you become a Patron of the show, you’ll have access to all of that. If that sounds interesting to you, please click the link below.

Have a great and safe holiday!

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Click here for a transcript of this episode.

150: Rock Lobster

When the B-52s first hit the music scene, even their own reaction to the sound of their first album was “this is SO bleak!” because it was relatively unproduced. There was no reverb, no echo, no studio tricks filling out the gaps in the recording. And then they decided they liked it that way.

Their first single, “Rock Lobster,” was originally much faster. Then it was slowed down a little and made longer. Then it was cut down for the 45. Then it was cut down again for the radio. It didn’t matter; people liked it and they began to fill the clubs with their mashup of Surf Guitar and Punk with a splash of New Wave thrown in. The song never really tore up the Billboard charts but it’s still the B-52s’ signature song and we can’t imagine a performance without it.

That’s some stupid artwork, isn’t it. They can’t all be gems. I should note that the lobster photograph was taken by David Clode for Unsplash. Any adulterations to it are mine.

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149: Musical Hookers

This image is a composite of photos taken by Mike Palmowski (streetscape, via Unsplash) and Sofia Alejandra (woman leaning on bed, via Pexels).

This whole episode came about because of a request by someone who wanted to hear the story behind a song. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot to it, but it got me thinking about other songs with similar subject matter. And now that I’m typing this, I realize that all the songs I discuss came from roughly the same period of time. What the hell was going on in the late 70s, anyway?

Ah, well. With this episode I feel as though I’ve bookended a series that I started all the way back in Episode 80. Here’s a couple of panels from a Sunday Doonesbury strip from 1979. Nerd that I was (OK, am), I remember when this first appeared:

For what it’s worth, “Songs about prostitutes” is a well I could come back to repeatedly. I’m not sure I have the mental stamina to do so, frankly.

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148: Another Chat With John Hall

John Hall, you may remember from a couple of episodes ago, is the founder of the band Orleans. He recently released a solo album, his seventh (if you count the John Hall Band material). After spending some time in local and national politics, he returned to Orleans and they’re still making music. In fact, at the time of the previous interview they were putting the finishing touches on Orleans’ first Christmas album.

That album is now finished and is available for your purchasing and listening pleasure. It’s called New Star Shining, and it’s a great piece of work. There’s a lot of original material, a traditional Christmas carol and a single song from more recent holiday music canon. For lack of a better term, it’s a kind of Yacht Rock Christmas album. I think the rowdiest track on it is their version of “Winter Wonderland.”

John and I met in the atrium of a Nashville hotel (more details during the show itself), and I do hope you’ll forgive a little ambient noise. Plus, there was a little bit of both of us fidgeting with our handheld microphones. For all that, once again John comes through as a very thoughtful fellow. By that I mean he’s not spouting out canned answers to the questions I asked (although some of them were inadvertentely rehearsed–my recorder failed and we had to start over again). And even with that technical glitch, he was both gracious and forgiving, and managed to make me feel not as stupid as I originally felt when I looked at the recorder in horror and realized what happened.

Also, I’m a complete idiot because I didn’t ask for an autograph, or a selfie of the two of us, or anything. So this recording is the only evidence that we were in the same space together.

As an aside, the next day I was in the Podcast Movement conference and chatting with the people from ElectroVoice Microphones. I was using some new EV microphones for the interview. I told them about my interview “right over there in the atrium,” and some of the issues I had with the fidgeting noises and such. While we chatted, one of the EV reps walked away and then came back. He handed me a box and said, “Here, try this one.” It was a different model microphone, which he said would probably solve that problem. Boom! Free microphone! I used it to record some other material you’ll hear in an upcoming episode and I think you’ll notice the difference! This is why I worship at the Church of ElectroVoice. I did get the opportunity to thank them again a couple of days later.

So here is my follow-up interview with John, which we did during the first week of August this past summer. Enjoy!

Sorry, no transcript available for this episode. Enjoy this instead.

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147: 99 Luftballons

I gotta tell you, I’ve been trying like a maniac to record this episode for several days.

I typically take a break in August when I go to the Podcast Movement confab (every other year, it seems), and I come back with a bunch of actionable ideas and a few new contacts, and I kind of have to let it percolate in my head before I’m ready to come back.

In the meantime, I was working on a David Bowie episode, and I frankly got writer’s block. I was going in a hundred directions at once, and the story wasn’t jelling right for me, so finally I abandoned it in favor of this one.

And then, both of the computers that I use to produce this show died on me within a day of one another. I knew they were probably fixable, so I took them to my local shop, a guy I’ve used for years and would trust with my search history at this point. My problem is that he’s really, really good and other people have figured it out, so now instead of a few days, the repairs are more like two weeks.

I decided to persevere–after all, I don’t use the desktops when I’m in the Southern Studio, right? But for whatever reason, the laptop wasn’t cooperating with recording. I sounded bad. I mean, really bad. After three fixes and three re-tries, it still sounded terrible. But fortunately, I got the word that the computers were ready for pickup this morning. So I spent a chunk of the evening re-assembling my studio (with the able help of my daughter), and then re-re-re-recorded the show. By this point I nearly had the thing memorized and I barely glanced at the script.

Anyway, it’s been a frustrating few weeks and I thank you for hanging in there with me. I do have some cool stuff coming up over the next few episodes, some of it related to my trip to Nashville. I also have something that I’ve never done before: I’m working on a special Patron Exclusive episode which should be ready to go pretty soon. I had a pretty cool idea but it cost me a few bucks to get the source material, so I figured that the people whose donations made it possible for me to make that purchase should get first crack at it. And, incidentally, during this hiatus they got a newsletter every week except one, when I made the inexplicable mistake a couple of weeks ago of writing a newsletter and then not sending it out.

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Bonus Video: my Nashville record store finds

Last week I was ensconced at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, for the Podcast Movement conference. I also decided to stick around for a couple of extra days to soak up some Nashville culture and poke around through some used record stores. Here’s a little bit of my exploits.

Believe it or not, that’s the least crummy thumbnail that YouTube made available.

146: A Chat With John Hall

Episode 146 cover, a portrait of John Hall

John Hall has been around the block a few times, and he’s not finished traveling.

In fact, when he and I chatted via Skype a short time ago, he was in the middle of a move from New York to Tennessee, and making that move in between gigs for both his solo shows and with the band that cemented his position in the Rock and Roll firmament, Orleans.

In this episode we talk about the early days of his career, including how a couple of Orleans’ first few hits came to be. We also get into his time away from the band, working on solo projects and how that turned into dedicating himself to environmental causes. And how that, in turn, provided the impetus for him to embark on a political career for several years. He managed to sponsor some legislation that not only received vocal bipartisan support, it actually passed with a bipartisan vote. It was a pretty significant piece of law, and he’ll tell you about it during the show.

After a health scare, John returned to playing music, both with Orleans and with his solo projects. He chronicled his journey in a book called Still the One: A Rock and Roll Journey to Congress and Back a couple of years ago, and this past year he released a solo album called Reclaiming My Time. (These are Amazon links but I don’t get affiliate money for them.) And during the interview he also talks about a special project that Orleans is working on, which will be coming out in the fall.

During the interview, I made mention of Orleans performing “Dancing in the Moonlight” and mistakenly said I thought the clip was from the late 70s, when they first covered it as the title track for an album. In fact, that performance was from 2006 and I present it here:

Sorry, no transcript for this episode.

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145: I Honestly Love You

Original cover photo by  awatif abdulaziz  on  Scopio

Olivia Newton-John was already a pretty big star by the time 1974 rolled around, but she still hadn’t scored a Number One hit.

Then along came Peter Allen, who was coincidentally also from Australia. Allen was putting together an album of his own, and he enlisted Jeff Barry to help him with the songwriting. Together they put together “I Honestly Love You” and cut a demo. The intent of the demo was to have something to work from when they recorded it for the album.

Instead the demo wound up in the hands of Olivia Newton-John’s producer, who played it for the singer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Except, not quite. There were a couple of other things that needed to happen. But if I told you here, why would you bother listening to the episode? I ask you!

Because this episode is running a few days late, you’re getting a treat: Episode 146, which will be an interview with John Hall, founder of the band Orleans, will drop either Monday or Tuesday, depending on how quickly I finish my post-production. Hall was a terrific interview and I hope to do a follow-up with him in the near future.

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