Category Archives: On Music

Of spacemen and sidemen: Moonage Daydream (***½) & Immediate Family (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 19, 2022)

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Get out of my head…all of you.

– Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth

When a great artist dies, it is not uncommon to default to the old standby that “(he or she) meant so much, to so many people.” Of David Bowie (who returned to the cosmos in 2016), it may be more accurate to say that “he was so many people, who meant so much.”

Bowie invented the idea of “re-invention”. It’s also possible that he invented a working time machine because he was always ahead of the curve (or leading the herd). He was the poster boy for “postmodern”. Space rock? Meet Major Tom. Glam rock? Meet Ziggy Stardust. Doom rock? Meet the Diamond Dog. Neo soul? Meet the Thin White Duke. Electronica? Ich bin ein Berliner. New Romantic? We all know Major Tom’s a junkie

Of his myriad personas, David Jones remains the most enigmatic; perhaps, as suggested in Brett Morgen’s trippy Moonage Daydream (now on Blu-ray), even to Bowie himself. More On the Road than on the records, Morgen’s kaleidoscopic thesis is framed as a globe-trotting odyssey of an artist in search of himself (think of it as the Koyaanisqatsi of rock docs).

A caveat for fans: this is anything but a traditional, linear biographical portrait. Nearly all the “narration” is by Bowie himself, via strategically assembled archival interview clips (like the Beatles Anthology). Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of original Bowie music and scads of performance clips (the film was officially sanctioned by his estate, so I assume there were no licensing restrictions). The music is ever-present; just don’t expect it to be dissected and/or praised by the usual parade of musicologists and contemporaries.

While ardent fans (guilty) will recognize quite a few clips on loan from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1973 concert film, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: the Motion Picture (as well as other Bowie documentaries) there is some fascinating “new” footage here and there. A performance of “The Jean Genie” with Jeff Beck sitting in with the Spiders caught me by surprise (it was shot for Pennebaker’s 1973 film but had been omitted at Beck’s request). Beck and Mick Ronson are on fire, and it neatly closes the circle with the Yardbirds’ “I’m a Man” …the obvious inspiration for the song’s main riff.

The best way to describe the experience of watching this film is to quote “Thomas Jerome Newton”, the alien played by Bowie in Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 film version of Walter Tevis’ novel The Man to Fell to Earth (screenplay adapted by Paul Mayersberg):

Television. The strange thing about television is that it – doesn’t *tell* you everything. It *shows* you everything about life on Earth, but the true mysteries remain. Perhaps it’s in the nature of television. Just waves in space.

Morgen doesn’t tell you everything about Bowie’s life, he simply shows you. Even if David Jones’ “true mysteries” remain elusive as credits roll, the journey itself is quite absorbing and ultimately moving. And if you want to take the cosmic perspective, you, me and Moonage Daydream are all just waves in space…floating in a most peculiar way.

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There has been a proliferation of documentaries profiling legendary session musicians of the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond who helped create the “soundtrack of our lives” (Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Take Me to the River, Muscle Shoals, 20 Feet From Stardom, Hired Gun, etc.). One of the best of the batch is the 2008/2015 film The Wrecking Crew.

“The Wrecking Crew” was a moniker given to an aggregation of crack L.A. session players who in essence created the distinctive pop “sound” that defined classic Top 40 from the late 50s through the mid-70s. With several notable exceptions (Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack) their names remain obscure to the general public, even if the music they helped forge is forever burned into our collective neurons.

The eponymous film was a labor of love in every sense of the word for first-time director Denny Tedesco, whose late father was the guitarist extraordinaire Tommy Tedesco, a premier member of the team.

Tedesco’s new documentary, Immediate Family can be viewed as a “sequel”, essentially picking up where The Wrecking Crew left off. While many of the musicians profiled in the former film continued to work through the ensuing years, a new crop of hired guns began to make a name for themselves. Tedesco focuses on four players: bassist Leland Sklar, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, guitarist Waddy Wachtel and drummer Russ Kunkel.

The names may not immediately ring a bell, but once you can associate faces with them, you’ll smack your forehead and say to yourself “Oh…that guy!” (especially Wachtel and Sklar, who sport quite distinctive hair and beard styles, respectively). Individually and collectively, the quartet has played in the studio and on the road with the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Don Henley, Keith Richards, and Phil Collins (all of whom are on hand to offer their two cents in the film).

All four players have had fascinating journeys, and when you realize their collective studio sessions number in the thousands, it’s impressive. It’s also inspiring for those of us of a…certain age that they remain so vibrant and productive well into their 70s. Entertaining road stories abound; Wachtel has the best ones, he’s quite the raconteur. His anecdote about a night he and Linda Ronstadt hit a strip club had me rolling.

Other luminaries who show up include Lyle Lovett, Stevie Nicks and Neil Young, as well as producers Peter Asher, Lou Adler and Mike Post. The film does get a tad redundant with the praise, and I think the phrase “It was a magical time” has now officially worn out its welcome-or maybe I’ve seen too many music docs. Still, I had a good time hanging out in the studio with these folks, and I think the film should strike a chord with any true music fan.

Turn off your mind and empty your wallet: ‘Revolver’ Deluxe review (5-CD edition) ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 5, 2022)

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The Beatles were beside themselves with glee. Stoned – which they were most of the time in the studio – the experiments became part prank, part innovation. In that kind of dreamy, altered, impractical state, the possibilities were limitless. Recording became no longer just another way of putting out songs, but a new way of creating them.

 –from Bob Spitz’s 2005 biography The Beatles, regarding the sessions for Revolver 

On August 5, 1966, The Beatles released an LP that not only represents the pinnacle of their oeuvre, but remains one of the best pop albums of all time. Yes, as painful as it may be for some of us of “a certain age” to process, Revolver turned 56 years old this year (!).

It’s even more mind-blowing that Revolver arrived just 8 months after Rubber Soul, an album that in and of itself reflected a quantum leap in musical and lyrical sophistication for the band. And whereas Rubber Soul demonstrated an earnest embrace of eclecticism (incorporating everything from rock, pop, and R&B to country, folk, and chanson), Revolver ups the ante further. As Tim Riley nicely summates in his book, Tell Me Why:

Rubber Soul has a romantic astonishment, the echoing realization that teenage quandaries don’t dissipate with age; they dilate. Starker realities intrude on Revolver: embracing life also means accepting death.

That’s a heavy observation; but lest you begin contemplating opening your veins, keep in mind that while “Tomorrow Never Knows” suggests you surrender to the void, and “She Said, She Said” insists I know what it’s like to be dead…this is the same album that gifted us the loopy singalong of “Yellow Submarine” and upbeat pop of “Good Day Sunshine”.

Yet Revolver works as a whole; 14 cuts of pure pop nirvana, with no filler. As someone once astutely observed, “They were probably the most avant-garde group in Britain [in the 1960s], but also the most commercial.” Therein lies the genius of the Beatles; their ability to transcend that dichotomy with sheer talent and craftsmanship.

It is significant to note that when recording sessions for Revolver began in April of 1966, the Beatles were nearing the end of their touring days. It’s a logical  assumption that the less  time they spent touring, the more time they had to experiment and innovate in the studio. How quickly were they evolving? Consider this, from a 1966 UK newspaper article:

LONDON – They’re calling it the end of an era, the Beatles’ era.  […]  Last Sunday night, about 200 [fans] picketed the London home of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, demanding to see more of their idols. The foursome has not toured Britain this year and there are no plans for personal appearances […]  The obvious conclusion, supported by their words and actions in the past months, is that they are bored with being the Beatles. […]  With their success, they have gained a certain sophistication. Their last album, Revolver, was musically far ahead of their efforts at the height of their popularity and they are well aware of the fact.  “Songs like ‘Eight Days a Week’ and ‘She Loves You’ sound like right drags to me now,” John told an interviewer recently. “I turn the radio off if they’re on.” *

(*Source: Things We Said Today: Conversations with the Beatles, by Geoffrey and Vrnda Giuliano)

It’s very telling that Lennon distances himself from “Eight Days a Week” and relegates it to a bygone era, even though it was released just the year before (in February of 1965). You just don’t see that kind of accelerated artistic growth nowadays.

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At any rate, in celebration of Revolver handily pushing past the half-century mark with very little sign of aging, I thought it would be fun to revisit it, track-by-track, and see why it stands the test of time. In addition to giving a nod to the original UK 14-track sequence, I am prefacing with the double-sided 45 RPM release of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” – as they were recorded during the same sessions and shore up this truly amazing song cycle.

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Paperback Writer – One of the classic riff songs (it may have “inspired” the suspiciously similar hook for the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday”), featuring proto-metal guitar tone from George and a sonic Rickenbacker bass line from Paul (who also contributes  lead guitar). In a Ray Davies-styled turn, Paul assumes the character of a cynical pulp writer, drafting a letter of introduction that he hopes to be his entree to fame and fortune: Please Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? Later in the song, he synopsizes it as a dirty story of a dirty man…and his clinging wife doesn’t understand. He’s flexible: I can make it longer if you like the style. Listen for George and John’s “Frere Jacques” quote in the backing vocals.

Rain – This is a Lennon song all the way; and generally regarded as the birth of psychedelia (the latter by virtue of actual release date, as it was preceded in the sessions by the equally trippy “Tomorrow Never Knows” the week before). The tune’s signature backward tape-looping was a trick accidentally “discovered” by a stoned John, who put the reels on upside down while listening back to a demo at home. The harmony vocals are very “raga-rock”. It’s a great track, with excellent drumming by Ringo (who concurs, stating once in an interview “I think it’s the best out of all the records I’ve ever made.”).

Taxman – Back in the old days, before “shuffle play” (or “mix tapes”) were a thing, Side 1, Cut 1 held import; it really meant something. Sequencing an LP was a science; as that opening cut set the tone for the next 30 minutes of your life (slightly longer in the UK). This funky number, the first of 3 Harrison contributions to Revolver, is a perfect kickoff. It sports a catchy riff (I’m pretty sure Paul Weller had it stuck in his head when he wrote the Jam song “Start”), and a strident burst of lead guitar by Paul. This is the Beatles’ first foray into agitprop, with a stinging lyric that name checks politicians, and advises Inland Revenue to fuck off.

Eleanor Rigby – This is one of “those” songs that anyone who has ever sat down and attempted to compose a piece of music would gladly sell their soul to have written. Paul’s original working version was the sad tale of a “Miss Daisy Hawkins”, but eventually morphed into the sad tale of an “Eleanor” (after actress Eleanor Bron, who co-starred in the Beatles’ 1965 film, Help) “Rigby” (the name of a shop, according to Paul). It was a masterstroke to add the string backing (Paul’s idea, but producer George Martin’s arrangement), which makes this melancholic, yet hauntingly beautiful song even more so.

I’m Only Sleeping Lennon really ran with that backward looping thing during these sessions; the resultant “yawning” guitar effect gives this lovely, hypnotic number an appropriately “drowsy” vibe, lulling the listener into an agreeable alpha state for 3 minutes. My favorite take on the song is from Lennon’s BFF Pete Shotten, who observed that it  “…brilliantly evokes the state of chemically induced lethargy into which John had…drifted.” Ouch. If you want to hear an unapologetic lift, check out the song “Sweet Dreams” by The Knack.

Love You To – While George had already introduced Beatle fans to the exotic eastern twang of the sitar on Rubber Soul, he later insisted the 13-note run that defines  “Norwegian Wood” was “accidental” (he was ever the wry one). There is nothing “accidental” about the Indian influences on this proto-Worldbeat number, which features Anil Bhagwat on tabla, along with “session musicians”. Interestingly, George (sitar and vocals) is the sole Beatle on the track; if I’m not mistaken, the only precedent at that time was “Yesterday” (just Paul, and session players). Akin to “Taxman”, its couplets wax acerbic: There’s people standing round / who’ll screw you in the ground.

Here, There, and Everywhere – Paul has made it no secret that he was really taken by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, so much so that he developed an acute case of Brian Wilson Envy and lobbied his band mates to “go to 11” with Revolver to blow Wilson’s irksome masterpiece out of the water. Brian Wilson later said that Sgt. Pepper’s had a likewise effect on him! At any rate, this achingly beautiful ballad was allegedly Paul’s attempt to one-up “God Only Knows”.   

 Yellow Submarine – It’s a novelty tune. But as far as novelty tunes go, it’s a classic. This was Ringo’s “one song” for this album (OK, occasionally they would let him sing two, but not as a rule). While it has been interpreted by some to be about drugs, or war, Paul and Ringo insist it was designed to be exactly what it sounds like…a kid’s song (sometimes, a yellow submarine is just a yellow submarine). It sounds like they had fun making it, which apparently they did. George Martin says they “all had a giggle”. He even pitched in on the fade-out chorus, which included Patti Harrison and studio staffers.

She Said She Said –Another psychedelic gem by John, which was literally inspired by psychedelics, written in reference to an acid trip he took in 1965, while partying with The Byrds in L.A. (you know those space cowboys had the good shit). At any rate, the story goes that John got freaked out by Peter Fonda, who kept cornering him and whispering in his ear: “I know what it’s like to be dead.” Obviously, this unsettling mantra stuck with Lennon, who modified the final lyric, so that it became “she” said…I know what it’s like to be dead

(End of Side 1. I’ll give you a moment to flip the record over.)

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Good Day Sunshine – The kickoff to Side 2 is Paul in full cockeyed optimist mode. Everything about it is “happy”, from the lyrics (I feel good, in a special way / I’m in love and it’s a sunny day) and the bright harmonies, to George Martin’s jaunty ragtime piano solo. Paul has said that he was inspired by the Lovin’ Spoonful; and indeed the song does have that “Do You Believe in Magic?” / “Rain on the Roof” / “Daydream” kind of vibe to it. So lighten up!  

And Your Bird Can Sing – It’s always fascinating to me how artists view their own work, as opposed to fans’ perceptions. This song is a perfect example. In interviews over the years, John dismissed it as “Another horror.” (Hit Parader, 1972) and “Another of my throwaways.” (Playboy, 1980). But as far as I’m concerned, he was wrong. This easily places in my top 5 Beatles favorites; a perfect 2 minute slab of power pop goodness, replete with chiming open chords for the verses and Lennon’s patented chromatically descending bass lines on the bridge. And for a “throwaway”, its double-tracked harmony guitar parts sound pretty sophisticated to my ears (to this day, I can’t figure out those note runs). 

For No One – Another unmistakably “McCartney-esque” ballad; this one a melancholic lament about a relationship gone sour. It features one of Paul’s most beautiful melodies (this guy tosses them off in his sleep-it’s a genuine gift) and sophisticated lyrics. The narrative is the aural equivalent of a “split-screen” view, observing two ex-lovers as they go about their daily routines; one still pines, the other has moved on. Alan Civil’s transcendent horn solo rips your heart out. Lennon once named this as one of his favorite McCartney tunes.

Dr. Robert – Prince had “Dr. Michael”, Michael Jackson had “Dr. Conrad”, Elvis had “Dr. Nick”, but the (more often than not) dubiously titled “personal physician” is no stranger to show biz (or professional sports…or to the rich and famous in general). Back in the 1960s, NYC-based Dr. Charles Roberts became popular with Andy Warhol and the Factory crowd for his, shall we say, open-mindedness when it came to administering “medicine” (mostly in the form of injections; vitamins, speed and even LSD). This was John’s in-jokey homage.  

I Want to Tell You – This superb cut from George is one of his best tunes, with a memorable riff. A friend of mine who is more versed in music theory than I (I’m largely self-taught) has been kind enough to occasionally enlighten an old dog on some new scales and chord theory and such (it’s never too late to start). Recently, I asked him to deconstruct this particular song for me, because I’ve always wanted someone to explain  why that dissonant piano figure Paul pounds out at the end of each verse “works” so well. Naturally, it went in one ear and out the other, but it made sense to me at the time!

 Got to Get You into My Life –Paul’s Motown homage (and possible nod to the Northern Soul movement that flourished in the U.K. at that time) was also one of his most self-consciously “radio-friendly” compositions to date (witness its belated official release as a “single” in 1976, when it managed to climb up to #7 on the charts…six years after the Beatles disbanded). Of course, Paul’s little in-joke may be embedded in the lyrics, which he later confessed to be an ode to the joys of weed (a predilection that once landed him a night in a Japanese jail). At any rate, it’s a fab song, no matter how you interpret it, with a soul/R&B flavored horn chart (a Beatles first).

Tomorrow Never Knows – Just when you think the Fabs couldn’t possibly top the creative juggernaut of the previous 13 cuts, they save the best for last (sequentially, the first number they had worked on for these sessions, which lends the song cycle a poetic symmetry, especially considering the refrain: So play the game “Existence” to the end / Of the beginning…of the beginning…). In a 1980 Playboy interview, John explained, “That’s me in my ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ period. I took one of Ringo’s malapropisms as the title, to sort of take the edge off the heavy philosophical lyrics.” It’s heavy, all right-and doesn’t sound like anything in Western pop up to that time; truly innovative. It’s basically a drone in “C”, with John’s vocals recorded through a loudspeaker, which George Martin turned to the side of the studio microphone. This gave John the sound of a “Dalai Lama singing on a hilltop” (as he had requested). Backward tape loops add to the mesmerizing vibe, and Ringo lays down a thunderous, primal beat that drives the tune quite powerfully. Which brings us to the end. Of the beginning…

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“All in all, not a bad album” notes Paul McCartney (with possible tongue-in-cheek) in his forward to a 100-page book included with the new 5-CD Revolver Special Edition box set. Revolver is the latest album from the Beatles catalog to get the deluxe treatment (following Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let it Be). 

OK, Boomer…here’s the deal. As with previous Beatles deluxe reissues, there are many editions of Revolver (which can be perplexing, even with a little help from your friend Mr. Google). Don’t fret, Beatle people…I’ve done the research and am here to assist. First, a note on the most important part-the music. All the editions feature new mixes by producer Giles Martin and Sam Okell, and are sourced directly from the original four-track master tapes.

A lot of us are budget-conscious right now, so I will begin with the most affordable option, and we’ll work our way up from there. If you just want Revolver classic, with the original 14-tracks and no frills, there’s the 1-CD Special Edition (includes a truncated booklet). If you prefer to kick it old school, there is the original 14-track vinyl LP Special Edition (picture disc). 

Upgrading slightly: The 29-track Deluxe 2-CD Special Edition features the 14-track album, a 2nd disc of bonus tracks that includes new stereo mixes of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” (in addition to demos and studio outtakes), plus a 40-page booklet.

Moving into 3-digit territory: The Special Edition Super Deluxe 5CD (the one I went with) includes the new stereo and mono mixes of the original album (1-disc each), an EP replica CD of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” (new stereo and mono mixes), 2 additional CDs with bonus tracks (demos, outtakes, alternate mixes, etc.) plus a lovely (hardbound) 100-page book.

If money is no object, there is a limited Special Edition Half-Speed 4 LP + 7″ Vinyl EP box set. And for those who simply must have it all, there is the 63-track Super Deluxe Special Edition, which essentially combines the 5-CD box with the 4 LP/7″ EP set (tossing in digital audio versions in stereo and hi res 96kHz/24-bit stereo + mono + Dolby Atmos for giggles).  

Oh, yeah …almost forgot. How do the new mixes sound? Let me put it this way…”Eleanor Rigby” literally had me in tears. Granted, not a happy song to begin with…but I have easily heard it close to 1,000 times, and I detected a new resonance in the strings, a warmth in McCartney’s vocal, an overall clarity and depth to the mix that is truly mind-blowing (the Beatles catalog is so embedded into my neurons that if there is even the slightest of variance in a song…be it but a brush on a string or an intake of breath, I’ll notice it). Ditto the entire album.  

Bottom line-if you’re a Beatle fan, just go for it, because…tomorrow never knows.

Book of Saturday: A chillaxing mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 15, 2022)

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So I was channel surfing last night, and happened upon an airing of Sidney Lumet’s Network on TCM, just as “the mad prophet of the airwaves”, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) was launching into his “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” tirade, a call to arms (borne from a “cleansing moment of clarity”) for viewers to turn off the tube, break the spell of their collective stupor, literally stick their heads out the window and make their voices heard. It’s an inspired set piece.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’

Back in 1976, this satire made us chuckle with its outrageous conceit-the story of a TV network that hits the ratings g-spot with a nightly newscast turned variety hour, anchored by a self-proclaimed “angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisy of our time”.

46 years on, Network plays like a documentary (denouncing the hypocrisy of our time). The prescience of Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay not only foresees the onslaught of news-as-entertainment (and “reality” TV)-it’s a blueprint for our age.

Not that you need me to tell you things are bad…or that a dollar buys a nickel’s worth:

Almost half of US families surveyed by the Census Bureau found the recent rise in consumer prices “very stressful” — and the vast majority of the others were also worried about inflation.

The Census Bureau included a new question about the impact from soaring prices in its regular household poll. The result shows that nearly everyone was at least a little stressed by inflation, and particularly so in fast-growing cities like Miami, where the cost of living has surged.

The survey also highlights disparities among ethnic groups. More than half of Hispanic and Black respondents found inflation “very stressful,” compared with about 43% for Whites and about 38% for Asian Americans.

Stress can lead to health problems such as elevated blood pressure and heart disease.

The number of respondents who have difficulty paying their bills is increasing amid rising interest rates and economic uncertainty. More than 40% of households report having a hard time covering usual expenses in the latest survey, conducted from Sept. 14 to Sept. 26. That’s up from less than a third two years ago.

Good times.

Then there’s all the other…stuff going on now (just watch a newscast, if you dare). But, dear friends (if I may borrow from the Firesign Theatre) …it’s not my intention to add to your anxiety, or elevate your blood pressure; in fact (pull the curtains, Fred) right now I invite you to kick back and de-stress with this (hopefully) “chillaxing” rerun…

# # #

(The following was originally posted on Hullabaloo on April 4, 2020)

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You’ve heard the old chestnut about cockroaches and Cher surviving the Apocalypse? Here’s one you can add to the list: Maxell UD XL-II 90 cassettes. I was going through some musty boxes the other day and found a stash of mix tapes that I’ve had since the 70s and 80s. I’ll be damned if they didn’t sound just as good as the day I recorded them (My theory is that they are manufactured from the same material they use for “black boxes”).https://i0.wp.com/cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2015/09/22/21/46/cassette-tape-952524_1280.png?resize=474%2C267&ssl=1I was into putting together “theme sets” long before I got into the radio biz. My mix tapes were popular with my friends; I’d make copies on demand. I would name my mix tapes. One of my favorites was “The Oh My God I am So Stoned Tape”. I don’t believe that requires explanation; I mean, it was the 70s and I was a long-haired stoner music geek.

 45 years later, I’m still putting together theme sets. It is my métier. It’s kind of sad, actually (grown man and all). Anyway …turn off the news, turn down the lights, do some deep breathing, and let “The Oh My God I am So Stoned Tape 2020 Redux” wash your pandemic anxiety away. I’ve sequenced the songs in a manner designed to evoke and sustain a particular mood-so for maximum effect, may I suggest that you listen to it in order. Enjoy!*

*Herbal enhancement optional

King Crimson – “Book Of Saturday”

Weekend – “A View From Her Room”

Mark-Almond Band – “The City”

Budgie – “Slip Away”

Robin Trower – “Bluebird”

Robert Fripp (f/Daryl Hall) – North Star

Jimi Hendrix – “May This Be Love”

Be-Bop Deluxe – “Crying To The Sky”

Ambrosia – “Nice, Nice, Very Nice”

Heartsfield – “Magic Mood”

kd Lang – “Outside Myself”

Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman”

Terry & the Lovemen (aka XTC) – “The Good Things”

Buggles – “Astro Boy (And The Proles On Parade)”

Japan – “Taking Islands In Africa”

Aswad – “Back To Africa”

Laura Nyro – “Smile” / “Mars”

Todd Rundgren – “Boat On The Charles”

The Beach Boys – “Surf’s Up”

Kate Bush – “The Morning Fog”

Jade Warrior – “English Morning”

The Who – “Sunrise”

It’s a Beautiful Day – “White Bird”

Circus Maximus – “Wind” 

King Crimson – “Peace: An End”

Wet boots and rain: An autumn mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 24, 2022)

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I raked the leaves on our front lawn
It took all afternoon.
I started at ‘round half-past one
and said, “I’ll be done soon.”

But once I saw how more leaves fell
Each time I made a pile,
I quickly saw this outdoor chore
Was going to take a while.

And so I did what my dad said
A winner does to win:
I studied that great pile of leaves,
And then I jumped right in.

– “Raking Leaves”, children’s poem by Shel Silverstein

Einstein (that smarty pants) was right. Each year passes faster than the previous. You can run (as Pink Floyd observed) to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking; racing around to come up behind you again. To wit…The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older; shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Don’t you hate that?

Anyway, since the Fall Equinox has raced around and come up behind us again, I thought I might rake through my music collection and curate a pile of autumnal tunes for your dining and leaf-blowing pleasure.

Let’s jump right in!

“Autumn Almanac” – The Kinks

Released as a single in the UK in 1967, Ray Davies’ fond sense memory of the Muswell Hill neighborhood of North London where he grew up recalls The Beatles’ “Penny Lane”.

From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar
When the dawn begins to crack
It’s all part of my autumn almanac

Breeze blows leaves of a musty-coloured yellow
So I sweep them in my sack
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac

“Forever Autumn” – Justin Hayward

This lovely tune, featuring a lead vocal by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues was a highlight of Jeff Wayne’s 1978 double LP rock musical adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

“Harvest Moon” – Neil Young

This is the title track from Young’s eponymous 1992 LP (a sort of sequel to 1972’s Harvest), which won a Juno award (Canada’s equivalent to a Grammy) for Album of the Year.

“Indian Summer” -Dream Academy

The Dream Academy’s most wistful and transporting song is best appreciated with a good set of headphones. Drift away…

It was the time of year just after the summer’s gone
When August and September just become memories of songs
To be put away with the summer clothes
And packed up in the attic for another year
We had decided to stay on for a few weeks more
Although the season was over now the days were still warm
And seemed reluctant to five up and hand over to winter for another year

“Inner Garden I” – King Crimson

Contrary to what you may assume, not every track by this venerable prog-rock outfit takes up half an album side; some of their best compositions say all they need to say with surprising brevity.

Autumn has come to rest in her garden
Come to paint the trees with emptiness
And no pardon
So many things have come undone
Like the leaves on the ground
And suddenly she begins to cry
But she doesn’t know why…

“Leaf and Stream” – Wishbone Ash

This compelling, melancholic track is an unexpected palate cleanser sandwiched between a couple of epic numbers on the Ash’s best album, 1972’s Argus (which I wrote about here).

Find myself beside a stream of empty thought,
Like a leaf that’s fallen to the ground,
And carried by the flow of water to my dreams
Woken only by your sound.

“Leaves in the Wind” -Back Street Crawler

Back Street Crawler was a short-lived group formed in 1975 by the late great guitarist Paul Kossoff after he left Free. Sadly, by the time their 2nd album 2nd Street was released in 1976, Kossoff was dead at 25 (lending his mournful guitar fills on this track even more poignancy).

“Moondance”– Van Morrison

The evocative title track from Morrison’s classic 1970 LP remains one of his signature tunes.

Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies

“November” -Tom Waits

This song is a tad unsettling, yet oddly beautiful. Not unlike Waits’ voice. Dig the theremin.

No shadow
No stars
No moon
No care
November
It only believes
In a pile of dead leaves
And a moon
That’s the color of bone

“October”-U2

With just a piano and vocal, this was an uncharacteristically minimalist arrangement for U2 at this stage of their career (from the band’s eponymous 1981 album) with only two verses:

October
And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care?

October
And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on
And on

“Ramble On”-Led Zeppelin

Arguably the One Autumnal Song to Rule Them All, with all its wistfulness and stirrings of wanderlust. Only don’t try to make any sense of the Gollum reference-it’ll make you crazy.

Leaves are falling all around
It’s time I was on my way
Thanks to you I’m much obliged
For such a pleasant stay
But now it’s time for me to go
The autumn moon lights my way
For now I smell the rain
And with it pain
And it’s headed my way…

“September Gurls” – Big Star

Founded in 1971 by singer-guitarist Chris Bell and ex-Box Tops singer/guitarist Alex Chilton, Big Star is one of the seminal power pop bands, and this is one of their most defining songs.

“Summer’s Almost Gone” – The Doors

From the Doors’ 1968 album Waiting For the Sun. Haunting, with Jim Morrison in fine form.

Morning found us calmly unaware
Noon burn gold into our hair
At night, we swim the laughin’ sea
When summer’s gone
Where will we be?

“Time of No Reply” – Nick Drake

Gone much too soon, his sad short life was as enigmatic as the amazing catalog he left behind.

Summer was gone and the heat died down
And Autumn reached for her golden crown
I looked behind as I heard a sigh
But this was the time of no reply

The sun went down and the crowd went home
I was left by the roadside all alone
I turned to speak as they went by
But this was the time of no reply

“Urge for Going”– Joni Mitchell

You thought I forgot this one, didn’t you? Luck of the alphabet. It feels redundant to label any Joni Mitchell song as “genius”, but it’s hard to believe this came from the pen of a 22 year-old.

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And all trees are shivering in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown

I don’t feel tardy: A back-to-school mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 13, 2022)

Pfft. Wow. That was a quick friggin’ summer.

Yes, I am aware that it’s only mid-August…but students are already heading back to the classroom in some parts of the country. And watching the news lately, you would think the kids are in for a Lord of the Flies scenario:

Students across the country are heading back to school. Will there be enough teachers waiting for them? 

ABC’s World News Tonight claimed that there was a “teacher shortage crisis.” The Washington Post described a “catastrophic teacher shortage.” Some local school officials say hiring this summer has been particularly difficult.

But some researchers have been skeptical, saying that the data does not support these claims and that shortages are limited to certain schools and subjects.

So what do we know? Are teachers really leaving in droves? Will more classes begin the year led by substitutes? Did the pandemic exacerbate these issues?

What is this…a pop quiz? I don’t even have my pencil ready. Please…do continue.

Definitive data is limited, and school hasn’t started yet in much of the country. To date, there is little firm evidence to support claims of an unprecedented crisis. When American students return to school, the vast majority will be greeted by a classroom teacher. 

But the ingredients — high levels of teacher stress, more teaching positions to fill, a long-term decline in people training to become teachers, and competition from jobs outside schools — are there for it to be a harder than normal year for recruiting teachers. High-poverty schools in particular will face familiar challenges staffing their classrooms with skilled teachers.  

“Is there a national teacher shortage? I think the reality is more nuanced,” said David Rosenberg, who works with district officials across the country through the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies. “And in some places, heck yeah.”

Anyway. As great poets have said…autumn is over the long leaves that love us, yesterday is dead (but not in my memory), and it’s late September and I really should be back at school.

Well, not literally (I’m a little old for home room)…but my school days of yesteryear are not necessarily dead in my memory. I feel like I have to go to bed early now. Some habits die hard.

So here’s a back-to-school playlist that doesn’t include “The Wall” or “School’s Out” (don’t worry, you’ll get over it). Pencils down, pass your papers forward, and listen up…

“Alma Mater” – Alice Cooper

Hey, remember the time – ‘member the time
We took that snake
And put down little Betsy’s dress?
Now I don’t think Miss Axelrod
Was much impressed

Oh, Alice. You should be on the stage.

“At 17” – Janis Ian

Emo before it had a name:

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

Remember, Happy Days was just a TV show.

“Cinnamon Street” – Roxette

Growing up on Cinnamon Street
Everywhere you look there are lots of people to meet
It’s seven o’clock, the breakfast treat
Now the school bus is here, hurry up and grab a seat

Per Gessele is an underrated songwriter. A lovely sense memory from the Swedish pop-rock duo. Sadly, Marie Fredriksson passed away in 2019.

“ELO Kiddies” – Cheap Trick

So you missed some school?
You know school’s for fools
Today money rules
And everybody steals it

That’s enough out of you, you little truants!

“Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard” – Paul Simon

More troublemakers:

The mama looked down and spit on the ground
Every time my name gets mentioned
The papa said, “Oy, if I get that boy
I’m gonna stick him in the house of detention”

“My Old School” – Steely Dan

Another enigmatic narrative from Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, featuring some of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s finest fretwork.

Well, I did not think the girl
Could be so cruel
And I’m never going back
To my old school

“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” – The Ramones

Halfway through my list, I’m thinking: Did any of these people pay attention in class?

Well, I don’t care about history
Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school
‘Cause that’s not where I wanna be
Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school
I just wanna have some kicks
I just wanna get some chicks
Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school

“School” – Supertramp

One of Roger Hodgson’s finer compositions. Ennio Morricone’s school days.

I can see you in the morning when you go to school
Don’t forget your books, you know you’ve got to learn the golden rule,
Teacher tells you stop your play and get on with your work
And be like Johnnie-too-good, well don’t you know he never shirks
He’s coming along

“School Days” – Chuck Berry

Hail hail to the chief. Pure rock ‘n’ roll poetry.

Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the golden rule
American history and practical math
You studyin’ hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

“Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” – Brownsville Station

I miss Cub Koda.

Sitting in the classroom, thinking it’s a drag
Listening to the teacher rap, just ain’t my bag
The noon bells rings, you know that’s my cue
I’m gonna meet the boys on floor number two!

“Status Back Baby” – Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention

I think Frank needs to go to the councilor’s office for a pep talk. Wah wah wah wah.

The other night we painted posters
We played some records by the coasters
Wah wah wah wah
A bunch of pom-pom girls
Looked down their nose at me
They had painted tons of posters, I had painted three
I hear the secret whispers everywhere I go
My school spirit is at an all time low

“Teacher Teacher” – Rockpile

OK, it’s only analogous to the school experience. But hey…we never stop learning.

Young love, young pet
Cheeks flushing, apple red
Ringing you every day
Begging for a word of praise
I’ve put aside my foolish games
I run and hide and callin’ names
Miles out, the bells are ringin’
Now’s the time to teach me everything

“Thirteen” – Big Star

First crush.

Won’t you let me walk you home from school?
Won’t you let me meet you at the pool?
Maybe Friday I can
Get tickets for the dance
And I’ll take you, ooh-ooh

“To Sir, With Love” – Lulu

Ode to a mentor.

A friend who taught me right from wrong
And weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn
What, what can I give you in return?

“Wind-up” – Jethro Tull

An English schoolboy who (I sense) has a problem with authority figures.

When I was young and they packed me off to school
And taught me how not to play the game
I didn’t mind if they groomed me for success
Or if they said that I was just a fool
So I left there in the morning
With their God tucked underneath my arm
Their half-assed smiles and the book of rules

Angel dust Byrons: A Rock ‘n’ Noir mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 30, 2022)

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Heard about the restaurant on the Moon? Great food…no atmosphere.

Yeah, I know. You rolled out of your crib in hysterics the first time you heard that one. But let’s face it – “atmosphere” is essential; not just for breathing, but for setting a mood.

I’ve curated a noir mixtape that is all about atmosphere; 15 songs evoking dark alleys, rain-slicked streets, low-rent rooms, beautiful losers, and broken dreams. In other words, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco. Besides …everyone knows tough guys don’t dance.

STAN RIDGWAY: Drive, She Said – Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” meets Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour in this cinematic cabby’s tale from the former Wall of Voodoo lead singer.

THE ALLIES: Emma Peel – The Allies were an early 80s power pop band from Seattle who should have gone places. Unrequited love in the sickly glow of a cathode ray.

Emma, I’ll be your Steed
I’ll be all you ever need
If I cry and if I bleed
Will it help me?

ELVIS COSTELLO: Watching the Detectives – Another two-dimensional dream. She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake… Damn, that’s cold.

THE DOORS: Riders on the StormThere’s a killer on the road. Distant thunder, the cascading shimmer of a Fender Rhodes, a desolate tremolo guitar and dangerous rhythms.

JULEE CRUISE: Summer Kisses, Winter TearsAnd nothing can light the dark of the night/Like a falling star. Somehow, that’s less than reassuring. Ms. Cruise’s Elvis cover is nothing, if not atmospheric.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: Then Came the Last Days of MayWasn’t until the car suddenly stopped/In the middle of a cold and barren plain… A tragic tale of a drug deal gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Steely Dan: Don’t Take Me Alive – I’m on the lam, but I ain’t no sheep.

Got a case of dynamite
I could hold out here all night
Yes I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don’t take me alive

WAS (NOT WAS): Somewhere in America (There’s a Street Named After My Dad) – Our luckless protagonist is trapped in an asphalt jungle; dreaming of a pleasant valley Sunday.

At night only crickets
No prowlers, no sirens
No pinky ring hustlers
No angel dust Byrons
No bars on the windows
No saber-toothed neighbors
Just good simple folks
In a rainbow of flavors

MICHAEL FRANKS: Nightmoves – An instrumental version of this moody piece played under the opening credits for Arthur Penn’s eponymous 1975 neo-noir.

I keep you in frame and I whisper your name till the picture fades
The feeling is already gone, I don’t know why I’m going on
Can’t remember the ending

DAVID BAERWALD: A Secret Silken World – I don’t know what war-torn region of the human soul Baerwald went to find the characters for this story, but I don’t ever want to go there, even just to snap a few pictures.

The seats of his car were like a woman’s skin
Made me think about all those places I’ve been
It made me understand murder and the nature of sin
I leaned back and I listened to his music

AL STEWART: Broadway Hotel – According to Al Stewart, “It’s a very strange song. It’s about a woman who checks into a hotel in order to be alone. She’s alone for a little while and she orders room service. The man who comes up and brings the trey begins a lengthy relationship with her. They lock themselves in the room for about a week and then they order room service.” Oh, what does he know about it? I’m still picturing the flickering light of a neon sign stabbing through the blinds of the hotel room window…

You’re seeking a hideaway
Where the light of day
Doesn’t touch your face
And a door sign keeps the world away
Behind the shades
Of your silent day.

MICK RONSON: Slaughter on 10th Avenue – Richard Rogers originally composed this moody piece to accompany the eponymous ballet featured in Rogers and Hart’s 1936 stage musical On Your Toes. The song was revived in Robert Laven’s 1957 film noir, Slaughter on 10th Avenue…which, despite co-opting the title of the ballet from On Your Toes, had a completely different plot line (adapted from William Keating’s autobiography). A long, strange trip from a 30s ballet to a 70s rocker, but the late great guitar god of glam makes it sing.

COCKNEY REBEL: Mirror Freak –Steve Harley’s enigmatic tale of skins, spivs, and other assorted night creatures.

Oh you’re too cute to be a big rock star
But if you’re cool you may not push it too far
Oh just believe in yourself and take a tip from the elf
And sing a boogie to the image fatale

GIL SCOTT-HERON: Pieces of a Man – Everyone has their breaking point. Gil Scott-Heron’s soulful vocal, Brian Jackson’s transcendent piano, the great Ron Carter’s sublime stand-up bass work, and the pure poetry of the lyrics render a heartbreaking tale.

Pieces of that letter
Were tossed about that room
And now I hear the sound of sirens
Come knifing through the gloom

They don’t know what they are doing
They could hardly understand
That they’re only arresting
Pieces of a man

ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Raymond Chandler Evening – And with this selection, our coda, have a pleasant one.

It’s a Raymond Chandler Evening,
And the pavements are all wet,
And I’m lurking in the shadows
‘Cause it hasn’t happened yet.

Bonus Track!

TONY POWERSDon’t Nobody Move (This is a Heist) – This seedy nighttime crawl through the streets of New York leans toward wry comedy, but is noir-adjacent. The 1982 video was a fan favorite on USA’s Night Flight (which is where I first saw it).

They wuz towin’ me away
Cuz I don’t have
Diplomat plates
While this diplomat I know
Is smugglin’ “H”
Into the states
I said “lemmee have
The ticket ‘n the car –
Save me a trip”
So they hauled me in
For giving them
Some unauthorized lip…

15 Big Ones: A Summer Mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 16, 2022)

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No, you’re not imagining things:

Millions of Americans are once again in the grips of dangerous heat. Hot air blanketed Europe [in late June], causing parts of France and Spain to feel the way it usually does in July or August. High temperatures scorched northern and central China even as heavy rains caused flooding in the country’s south. Some places in India began experiencing extraordinary heat in March, though the start of the monsoon rains has brought some relief.

It’s too soon to say whether climate change is directly to blame for causing severe heat waves in these four powerhouse economies — which also happen to be the top emitters of heat-trapping gases — at roughly the same time, just days into summer.

While global warming is making extreme heat more common worldwide, deeper analysis is required to tell scientists whether specific weather events were made more likely or more intense because of human-induced warming. (A team of researchers who studied this spring’s devastating heat in India found that climate change had made it 30 times as likely to occur.)

Even so, concurrent heat waves seem to be hitting certain groups of far-flung places with growing frequency of late, for reasons related to the jet stream and other rivers of air that influence weather systems worldwide.

[via The New York Times – June 24, 2022]

Oy. I picked a bad week to live in an apartment with naught but a box fan and a tray of ice cubes to keep me cool. Hot damn, summer in the city. Speaking of which-here are a few of my fave songs of the season. You’ve heard some a bazillion times; others, not so much.

Enjoy!

First Class – “Beach Baby” – UK studio band First Class was the brainchild of singer-songwriter Tony Burrows, who also sang lead on other one-hit wonders, including “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” (The Edison Lighthouse), “My Baby Loves Lovin’” (White Plains), and “United We Stand” (The Brotherhood of Man). This pop confection was a Top 10 song in the U.S. in 1974.

Jade Warrior– “Bride of Summer” – Here’s a summer tune you’ve never heard on the radio. This hard-to-categorize band has been around since the early 70s; progressive jazz-folk-rock-world beat is the best I can do. Sadly, original guitarist Tony Duhig passed away in 1990. His multi-tracked lead on this song is sublime.

Bananarama– “Cruel Summer” – A more melancholy take on the season from the Ronettes of New Wave. I seem to recall a rather heavy rotation of this video on MTV in the summer of ’84. The video is a great time capsule of 1980s NYC.

The Beatles – “Good Day Sunshine” – The kickoff to Side 2 of Revolver finds Paul McCartney in full cockeyed optimist mode. Everything about his song is “happy”, from the lyrics (I feel good, in a special way / I’m in love and it’s a sunny day) and the bright harmonies, to George Martin’s jaunty ragtime piano solo. Paul has said that he was inspired by the Lovin’ Spoonful.

Pink Floyd – “Granchester Meadows” – This is from one of Pink Floyd’s more obscure albums, Ummagumma. Anyone who has ever sat under a shady tree on a summer’s day strumming a guitar will “get” this song, which is one of David Gilmour’s most beautiful compositions. I love how he incorporates nature sounds. Aaahh…

Joni Mitchell– “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” – The haunting title cut from Joni’s 1975 album, co-written by drummer John Guernin (who also plays Moog). The song also features Victor Feldman on keyboards and James Taylor on guitar.

Sly & the Family Stone– “Hot Fun in the Summertime” – A quintessential summer song and an oldies radio staple. And don’t forget…I “cloud nine” when I want to.

Mungo Jerry– “In the Summertime” – It wouldn’t have worked without the jug.

Marshall Crenshaw– “Starless Summer Sky” – In a just world, this power pop genius would have ruled the airwaves. Here’s one of many perfect examples why.

The Isley Brothers– “Summer Breeze” – Yes, I know Seals & Crofts did the original version, but the Isleys always had a knack for making covers their own.

The Lovin’ Spoonful– “Summer in the City” – All around, people lookin’ half-dead/walkin’ on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head. Written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian and Steve Boone, this 1966 hit is a clever portmanteau of music, lyrics and effects that quite literally sounds like…summer in the city.

XTC– “Summer’s Cauldron/Grass” – A mini-suite of sorts, all about summer romance, lazy days, and the uh, things we did on grass. Produced by Todd Rundgren.

Blue Cheer– “Summertime Blues” – Eddie Cochran wrote and performed it originally, and the Who did a great cover on Live at Leeds, but for sheer attitude, I’ve got to go with this proto-punk (some have argued, proto-metal) classic from 1968.

The Kinks– “Sunny Afternoon” – This poor guy. Taxman’s taken all his dough, girlfriend’s run off with his car…but he’s not going to let that ruin his summer: Now I’m sittin here/ sippin’ at my ice-cooled beer/ lazin’ on a sunny afternoon…

The Beach Boys– “The Warmth of the Sun” – This song (featuring one of Brian Wilson’s most gorgeous melodies), appeared on the 1964 album Shut Down Vol 2. Atypically introspective and melancholy for this era of the band, it had an unusual origin story. Wilson and Mike Love allegedly began work on the tune in the wee hours of the morning JFK was assassinated; news of the event changed the tenor of the lyrics, as well as having an effect on the emotion driving the vocal performance.

Tribeca 2022: Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

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Flying saucer, take me away. In 1971, the year before Bowie brought Ziggy Stardust to Earth, T. Rex landed the glam rock mother ship with their breakthrough album Electric Warrior. Originally formed as the duo Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1967, songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Marc Bolan and percussionist/obvious Tolkien fan Steve Peregrin Took (aka Steve Porter) put out several albums of psychedelia-tinged folk before splitting in 1970. Mickey Finn replaced Took, and Bolan recruited additional personnel and shortened the name to T. Rex in 1970.

Bolan’s coupling of power chord boogie with pan-sexual stage attire turned heads, making him the poster boy for what came to be labeled “glam-rock” (although, to my ears Bolan’s songs are rooted in traditional Chuck Berry riffs and straight-ahead blues-rock…albeit with enigmatic and absurdist lyrics). Tragically, Bolan died in a car accident in 1977 at 29. An amazingly prolific songwriter, he left behind a substantial catalogue and a legion of fans.

Ethan Silverman’s film traces Bolan’s career, weaving in footage from the sessions for the 2020 multi-artist tribute album Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex (Silverman was also involved in the production of the album). In addition to archival Bolan interviews and T. Rex performances (much of the latter taken from Ringo Starr’s 1973 Born to Boogie doc), tribute album participants like U2, Nick Cave Joan Jett, and Rolan Bolan weigh in. There are also comments (some archival) from Gloria Jones, Elton John, David Bowie, Billy Idol, Tony Visconti, Ringo and Cameron Crowe.  While it may not be a definitive portrait, it’s a heartfelt nod to a rock icon whose lasting influence cannot be overstated.

Tribeca 2022: Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

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Several years ago, I saw Tom Jones at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Naturally, he did his cavalcade of singalong hits, but an unexpected moment occurred mid-set, when he launched into Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”. Jones’ performance felt so intimate, confessional and emotionally resonant that you’d think Cohen had tailored it just for him. When Jones sang, I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice, I “got” it. Why shouldn’t Tom Jones cover a Cohen song? I later learned “Tower of Song” has also been covered by the likes of U2, Nick Cave, and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

A truly great song tends to transcend its composer, taking on a life of its own. The reasons why can be as enigmatic as the act of creation itself. In an archival clip in Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s beautifully constructed documentary, the late Cohen muses, “If I knew where songs came from, I’d go there more often.” Using the backstory of his beloved composition “Hallelujah” as a catalyst, the filmmakers take us “there”, rendering a moving, spiritual portrait of a poet, a singer-songwriter, and a seeker.

Soldier’s things: a Memorial Day mix tape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 28, 2022)

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Memorial Day, like war itself, stirs up conflicting emotions. First and foremost, grief…for those who have been taken away (and for loved ones left behind). But there’s also anger…raging at the stupidity of a species that has been hell-bent on self destruction since Day 1.

And so the songs I’ve curated for this playlist run that gamut; from honoring the fallen and offering comfort to the grieving, to questioning those in power who start wars and ship off the sons and daughters of others to finish them, to righteous railing at the utter fucking madness of it all, and sentiments falling somewhere in between.

The Doors- “The Unknown Soldier” – A eulogy; then…a wish.

Pete Seeger- “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” An excellent question. You may not like the answer. When will we ever learn?

Tom Waits- “Soldier’s Things” – The reductive power of a simple inventory. Kleenex on standby.

Bob Marley- “War”– Lyrics by Haile Selassie I. But you knew that.

The Isley Brothers- “Harvest for the World”Dress me up for battle, when all I want is peace/Those of us who pay the price, come home with the least.

Buffy Sainte Marie- “Universal Soldier”– Sacrifice has no borders.

Bob Dylan- “With God On Our Side” – Amen, and pass the ammunition.

John Prine- “Sam Stone” – An ode to the walking wounded.

Joshua James- “Crash This Train” – Just make it stop. Please.

Kate Bush- “Army Dreamers”– For loved ones left behind…

Posts with related themes:

Bringing the war back home: A Top 10 list

All This and WW III: A Mixtape

The Kill Team

The Messenger

Tangerines

The Monuments Men

Inglourious Basterds

Five Graves to Cairo

King of Hearts

The Wind Rises & Generation War

City of Life and Death

Le Grande Illusion

Paths of Glory

Apocalypse Now