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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!