We all know instantly when a radio station chain or a disk jockey is playing a bogus re-recording of a seismic Rock'n'Roll oldie (everyone except the DJ, that is). But how about some of those grey area classics, where you excitedly recognize the tune and start tapping your foot, only to discover that your rhythm is fading fast?
I'm talking about bad edits and poor mixes, which are probably even more prevalent than an all-out screw up, because they're deceptive: It feels so right...but then it's just seconds of pleasure. Here's a short list of '60s (and one from 1971) singles you want to get right if you're bringing music to a party, making a mix CD, or putting the stuff on the airwaves:
Marvin Gaye--What's Going On: The version that starts with chatter from Marvin's football pals from the Detroit Lions, Mel Farr and Lem Barney, is obviously the coolest mix of a track that often starts with saxophone and no vocals or talk when it's on the radio.
Paul Revere & the Raiders--Steppin' Out: Stinging blues guitar riffs (from the late Drake Levin?) don't matter a bit if your version is significantly shorter than 2:30. You need the full 30 seconds of Mark Lindsay's rap at the end, where he seems to pave the way for what the J. Geils Band's Peter Wolf would do later. Even Rhino's otherwise fabulous expanded Nuggets box didn't get this one right.
The Dave Clark Five--Catch Us If You Can: There's one with a good scream right before the harmonica solo, and there's one with a wimpy scream (the latter may not even be by the late Mike Smith, because he could do some shoutin'). The perfect take is on Hollywood Records' The History of the Dave Clark Five.
Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels--Devil With a Blue Dress On & Good Golly Miss Molly: If your version doesn't run about 3:10, you've got a crappy edit. Nothing's gonna take away from the Wheels' manic energy, but if your edit skips the last "fee fee fi fi fo fo fum" and goes right to "wearin' pearls and diamond rings," you should get a refund.
Martha & the Vandellas--Heat Wave: I'm unsure when this happened; perhaps it was at the dawn of the CD age. But there's a version swimming in echo that is heard far too frequently rather than the mono mix, which highlights drummer Benny Benjamin's incredible Motown syncopation. That's the one that jumps.
Archie Bell & the Drells--Tighten Up: It's your choice which version you go for...could be the track with the groovy bass guitar intro, or the single, where the drums just smack you in the face. Either way, you get some of the finest boasting in all of Rock'n'Soul: "We not only sing, but we dance just as good as we want!"
And when you're bringing some Grass Roots...NO! You never bring the Grass Roots to a
It's an absolute joy to encounter people committed to traditional radio, music, or both, as my tenure at KAOS radio reminds me again and again. Likewise, I'm aware of DJs who are no longer crazy about music, but they find some nostalgia in their old favorites and push through.
If you love '50s and '60s Rock'n'Roll oldies but need to know if you can withstand torture, try a weekly show in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on CJMK-FM. It's the "Sunday Morning Sock Hop," hosted by Vic Dubois, from 9am to 1pm Central Canadian time (you can hear it on your computer at www.magic983.fm).
Wish I could recommend the program, but I cannot. It isn't simply that the host loves the music of Pat Boone, the Four Aces, the Chordettes--artists plowed over by the relevance of Elvis Presley, Little Richard and so many more. It's that there's no sense of history (beyond some background info on the artists), no fire in the presentation.
Nor is it accurate.
The Everly Brothers are often represented by re-recordings, not their original hits. Sam Cooke is referred to as having "a nice voice" rather than being the innovator he was, for the "Sunday Morning Sock Hop" rarely clues you in to the explosive aspect of the 1950s. This was an era where R&B and Rockabilly were crossing over to Pop and vice versa, and there was plenty of resistance. In spite of this, according to the Billboard charts, Carl Perkins had a #1 Country hit with "Blue Suede Shoes" that also reached
#2 R&B and #2 Pop, a remarkable achievement in those segregated times.
Yet we don't hear the "Sunday Morning Sock Hop" spin much Carl Perkins, or Little Willie John, or Wanda Jackson. I've visited Windsor, Toronto and Vancouver, but I couldn't tell you how what was once called "Hillbilly" and "Race" music affected Canada. I do know that the role both types played in transforming Pop music as a whole was immeasurable. The world was changing by leaps and bounds, but you'd never know it from this radio program. Instead, what you're hearing is empty nostalgia.
The "Sunday Morning Sock Hop," gets even less authentic as the 1960s loom. This week (1/3/10), the version of Bob Lind's "Elusive Butterfly" played was--how did you know?--a re-recording. While a corny song, the jangly guitar and orchestral mix of Lind's original is fantastic--great '60s Pop. Listeners got a lame version in its place.
I can name other records subjected to the same mistreatment. But the point is, somebody connected to the show should have said, "That's not how I remember that song; we should get the original."
So I'm terminating listening to it--can I try waterboarding instead?
Let me mention that I have emailed Mr. Dubois more than once, in a friendly way, in reference to these awful re-recordings. I've never received an answer.
Have you ever felt like you have two sets of friends? You know, music obsessives and then everybody else.
From the (Bob) Lefsetz Newsletter (I've done a little editing): "It all comes down to the MUSIC! You're either a player or a supporter--there's a clear divide. That's the difference between music and the movie business. Even a five year old can tell you what's wrong with filmed entertainment: The acting was bad, or the sets were phony. But ask a 50 year old about a record and he'll shrug his shoulders and say he liked it or he didn't. That's about as far as it goes."
Once in awhile, just when I think we should just support the artists and forget about "the industry," I'm in a record/CD shop and having a great time chatting with the people who work there. It's still much more fun to actually look at items and not be sitting on your butt browsing through that impersonal online store, gazing at a computer screen.
Where it's all heading may not exactly be the most hopeful thing, because the economy is still in the dumpster and may never again be as we once knew it. But I've got hope and enthusiasm--got it from a lot of inspirational people, in and out of the music scene--and I'm not shutting it off.
You can subscribe to the Lefsetz Newsletter by going to this website:
http://www.lefsetz.com/lists/?p=subscribe&id=1. The newsletter is way over my head in terms of what goes on in the industry: agents, promotion, image building, technology, record sales, etc. But it's passionate about the music we love and keeps that other stuff in check, and that's the kind of club I want to be in.
Are we really in a new decade, or would that start next year? And what do we call the most recent decades?
Two thousand years ago, when Christians (I'm assuming) decided to break up how humankind measured time by using B.C. and A.D. designations, did Year One consist of the first twelve months? Or was there a Year Zero?
Okay, you got me. I'm really too lazy to dig into the wonderful world of the internet for some info. But I'm stumped. Just like radio.
Getting radio to come up with a term for our previous decade was like being a kid waiting for your parents to tell you about sex; you waited and waited some more, and found out a lot about it from your friends instead.
Just a couple of days ago, I was flipping through the car radio channels and a station bumper (one of those pre-recorded transition pieces) goes, "The best music from the '80s, '90s and the last decade." There, they've said it again--make that, not said it again. Our trusted friend Radio has become as slippery as a media publicist. No one is telling me jack.
Radio broadcasters have avoided using any kind of term for the 2000s for the last ten years. I never heard anyone but a few people call it "The Aughts," and you'd think that maybe they were National Rifle Association members by using "Aughts" (or "Oughts"), but no (I did some snooping).
Based on the credibility of some of our politicians, society could well have labeled the last decade "The Zeros," but that might be more negative than "The Aughts."
Maybe I'll never find out a name for the 2000s, because I'm dealing with this "new" decade--or skirting the issue once again in trying to figure out what to call it. Is it "The Tens"? Or "The Teens"? The latter doesn't make much sense, as we won't get to a "teen" number for another three years.
The J2 Blog will return to music discussion next time. I'm going to go take an aspirin.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or merely a day of consuming junk food, I hope your 2009 holidays were swell.
Just one Christmas music wrapup and then I won't touch the stuff for months--unless you want to talk Darlene Love, of course.
If you missed Comcast's ridiculous "Twenty Greatest Christmas Songs" on their homepage, consider yourself lucky. Not many spiritual songs made their Top 20 (I noted Aretha Franklin's high-powered "Joy to the World," from the mid-'90s), and Comcast went out of their way to belittle anything socio-political by leaving it out: A zilch ranking for Stevie Wonder's "Someday at Christmas," John & Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and certainly no mention of Lou Rawls' flabbergasting "Christmas Will Really Be Christmas," which you need to hear if you're unfamiliar with it.
There was no place to leave comments at the end of the piece; Comcast doesn't want
your two cents.
Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" and Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" are usually ranked at the top of most opinion polls; the order continues to flip-flop over the decades. I prefer Crosby's "Do You Hear What I Hear" to "White Christmas," but I've got no quibble with what so many consider to be the apex of holiday music.
Get this, though: Comcast had Crosby at #1 and Cole at #3.
What was #2, then? Why, Mariah Carey's insipid "All I Want For Christmas Is You," which recalls the speed freak camp of 1970s Bette Midler. Since King Cole and Der Bingle share a certain era (and a stylistic grandeur), sandwiching Carey's frantic romp between them is a dumb choice, so...uh, Com-bastic. What criteria was used to determine the song rankings? That explanation was left out completely.
If you need to pick a track to represent the '90s, there are holiday songs that are among Mariah Carey's most skillful work. Like the heartbreaking "Miss You Most (At Christmastime)" or her inspired pairing of the "Joy to the World" hymn with Three Dog Night's hit of the same title--now those are worthy of a Top 20 rating.
A holiday FYI: CD mastering wiz Bob Ludwig worked his magic on the 2009 reissue of
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, (Sony/EMI Publishing), which includes no less than four stellar Darlene Love performances and deserves a place in your holiday music stack. Hmmm, no new Phil Spector interview or anything in the packaging.
Guess he was busy.
Seems like a good time to start my first blog. Welcome and Happy 2010.
Hip people I know say we're supposed to call it "Twenty Ten," not "Two Thousand and Ten." Although I'm hopelessly unhip, Twenty Ten feels right. As my doctor's receptionist commented, "Sure it's Twenty Ten. We used to say Nineteen Eighty Five,
The J2 Blog will mainly be about music...and radio...and journalism. My wife Gina gave me the idea of doing a blog over coffee on New Year's Eve morning, and I think I shocked her by being so receptive to it so quickly. It'll be exciting for me to be able to document what I've been listening to (current or classic) or reminisce in this space.
I may rave about an album (Tom Waits' new Glitter and Doom Live [Anti- Records] makes me chuckle--no doom for me). Or rage against something--Who the hell taught you English? Don't you know the difference between "You're" and "Your"?--but I'll try to be concise.
Check out my Saturday "Retroactive" radio show this week. It will start with the late Vic Chesnutt's work: Dark, beautiful, even majestic. I'm so lucky to be at a station like KAOS, where Chesnutt's music has always received its due.
If you hadn't heard, Vic Chesnutt apparently took his own life last week, long after he was paralyzed in a 1983 car accident, leaving him limited use of his hands. That kind of extended suffering is something beyond my imagination--nor can I grasp how his situation was attended to by the horrific U.S. health care system.