I Write Stuff

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The Selection of the Month will be sent automatically…

Back in the day, we used to see ads like these every Sunday tucked into the newspaper along with the Parade magazine and the TV listings. You’d also see them in the backs of comic books and damn near any print publication.

chrc

Wow! 13 albums for a dollar!

The bane of many parents, including mine. The Columbia House Record Club was the Hotel California of mail order services. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…”

The genius behind it was, once you joined and got your 13 albums for 1$, you had to

FULFILL YOUR COMMITMENT!

Odysseus had an easier time with The Scylla and Charybdis than I had extracting myself from the iron grip of the CHRC. I joined several times. The lure of 11 records for $1! was soooo enticing.

I always had that dollar.

It was all the additional dollars it took to FULFILL YOUR COMMITMENT that I had trouble with.

The dark side of the CHRC was the notorious Selection of the Month. The SotM was sent automatically whether you wanted it or not. You had 10 days to send it back or be charged for it at “Special Club Pricing”. If you moved too slow, it was yours forever. Many of us ended up with copies of records we never wanted as a result of the SotM. I never wanted the Rocky Motion Picture Soundtrack, but it was mine by default.

The brighter side was that once in a while, they sent something good. By virtue of the SotM I discovered music I might not have otherwise latched on to.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would become a fan of bands whose music I had never heard, by virtue of reading about them in music mags. An article about an unusual hard rock band from of all places, Canada, had really stuck with me. The writer painted a vivid and complex picture of a hard rocking, cerebral power trio that was something like Led Zeppelin crossed with Hawkwind. Hmmm…. my mind raced with the possibilities.

A month or so later, the mailman brought me my Selection of the Month.

It was this album:

fbn

A little light went on. Hey! it’s those guys from Canada!

I tore that sucker open, snapped it into my little boom box, and was rendered mute. Gobsmacked. Transported. I wanted to throw myself out a window because I was sure this was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard and everything after would be a let down. My father described his brief exposure to RUSH as “a knife though my skull” . That was all the endorsement I needed. Thus began a bromance with a band that persists to this day. Anyone who knows me, knows my love and devotion for this band, through almost 40 years of highs and lows. For most of my life, when asked about my favorite band, these guys were the answer. Its likely that I would have discovered them by some other means, but I still think of the old CHRC every time I hear this record.

 

Back on the day, this song was my first ever taste of their music.

 

 

1975

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In 1975 I was 13. My musical tastes were in flux. I started reading Rolling Stone, Circus  and Creem. I became a fan of bands I had not actually heard, only heard of. One of these bands will be discussed in my next entry. This first act, was sort of shoved into my face.

I read an article about this guy. Two in fact. This scruffy dude appeared on the cover of the nations two biggest news magazine in the same week. The music magazines I devoured raved about this guy as the next big thing. By nature I’m skeptical of anything touted as “the next big thing.”  As it turns out, he was, and even that label was a gross understatement. His music helped foster the roots music revival that’s stronger today than ever.

Over the next few years Mr. Springsteen and his band would entrench themselves into my musical soul and remodel it. As a rabid reader and would-be writer, his  gift for language and metaphor would surpass even the beauty and power of his music for me.


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1974

Speaking of the Pompatus of love…..

In 1974 I was 12. I liked growing up in the Bay Area, because we had a  musical identity.  It was cool feeling like these bands were your people, your neighbors and members of your community, as distant as they were. Granted, a lot of them immediately migrated to L.A. when success came their way. We still like to think of them as ours. 

One of these was Steve Miller, a transplant from the Midwest who seemed to slide effortlessly into the SF music scene. As effortlessly as he  moved from one genre to another, effortlessly melding disparate of American roots rock into  a string of radio hits.  Here is a recent performance of his ’74  hit “The Joker”.  40 years  down the road and the guy still sounds amazing.

 


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1973

In 1973 I was 11.   It was also an amazing year for music. So may great albums that year it was a hard task picking a few, much less one piece of music to represent it.

This album, this band changed the game in a big way. A Bay Area band led by a journeyman guitar player who worked with greats such as Van Morrison and Edgar Winter, Montrose’ self titled debut was pure gold.  Everyone owned this record. It was mandatory listening. Eight tracks of pure power with no fluff. The influence of this one album is undeniable. The songs, and Ronnie Montrose’ style resonate through the classic rock world and are still influencing players today. Somewhere out there today some bored kid pulled this out of his parents stack, played it and went “Woah!”. Members of Montrose  became a Who’s-Who of classic rock, joining  up with the likes of Heart, Van Halen and Night Ranger among others. Here is the original quartet , playing their signature tune “Bad Motor Scooter”.


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Recapping 1967-1972

In 1967 I was 5. The nation took notice of an unusual quartet playing a psychedelic stew of rock, jazz and blues, and fronted by an brooding, enigmatic poet. “Light My Fire” went to #6, and caught the attention of Ed Sullivan, who invited The Doors to perform live on his show. Sensitive to any “drug references” , the shows producer insisted they drop the line “Girl we couldn’t get much higher”. The band agreed, and played a revised version in rehearsals. The night of the show, singer Jim Morrison sang the original lyric, in the first of a long line of controversies that would follow in Morrison’s wake. From The Ed Sullivan show, September 17, 1967, prepare to be scandalized!
In 1968 I was 6, and even a 6 year old can tell you there was no choice required for this years song. This is my favorite song, ever by any artist.
 
 
I was 7 in 1969. It was a good year for music. Abbey Road was released that year. Credence Clearwater Revival had two new albums that would both become landmarks of classic rock. King Crimson released “Court of the Crimson King”, a seminal work of what we would eventually call “progressive rock”. Bob Dylan went all country on us with Nashville Skyline. An odd little English band named Yes released their first album, as did today’s pick, a phoenix that rose from the ashes of the defunct Yardbirds, and pretty much dominated popular music for the next decade.
 
I’m still stuck in 1969, for a very good reason. I almost overlooked one of my all time favorites from that year. In ’69, a band known primarily for destroying a lot of guitars and hotel rooms released an album that would help change the idea of what a rock album could be. Tommy, A full length, double album rock opera with messianic overtones would propel The Who to worldwide fame.
 
 
In 1970 I was 8. I got a red Schwinn Stingray for my bday, joined cub scout troop 722, and I got my hands on a radio. A cast off old clock radio with a missing volume knob that you had to adjust with pliers. It was my window into a new world, as I discovered the wonder of FM radio. At night, I would turn on the legendary KSAN and listen to things that would never be played on the AM stations. I don’t know what year, exactly, but I remember clearly laying in the dark and hearing a haunting, ethereal song that stuck with me, as did the mercurial artist who preformed it. It had no beat, lyrics I couldn’t possibly comprehend at the time, but I knew it was special nonetheless. Mr Young entrenched himself into my musical psyche and never left.
 
Continuing on 1970, I would be criminally remiss if I failed to recognize the very important birth. After years of labor pains, Black Sabbath delivered into this world kicking and screaming, the anathema of parents and people of refined taste around the world, Heavy Metal. There is much argument about the evolution of metal, but there no disputing where and when the various influences came together and gelled. Listing to this would dramatically alter the course of my personal musical journey.
 
In 1971 I was 9, and Marvin Gaye released a powerful and passionate statement about the state of the human race. Reflecting on the disillusionment felt by many Americans, lamenting the state of racial unrest, poverty and war. Unquestionably the finest album of a very long career that was sadly cut short.
 
 
In 1972 I was 10, and there were so many great albums released, it gets difficult to choose. One album in particular would impact me greatly. Among my circle of friends it would become mandatory listening, and to this day I still play it often. Deep Purple’s album Machine Head was a tour de force of hard rock, and became a template for generations of musicians to come.
 
 
1972- On a different end of the spectrum, I will unashamedly reveal a little known guilty pleasure. I love The Carpenters. I love Karen’s amazing voice, and I love Richards awesome arrangements. Richard in fact, is an unappreciated innovator in the art of recording, developing unique production techniques designed to maximize Karen’s powerful voice.


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Recapping 1962-1966

As I noted previously, I started this on Facebook. Before I continue, I wanted to recap the first 10 years of my journey here. These are the original posts from my FB page.

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I have a birthday coming up, so I’m picking a song from each year of my life and posting one a day until I finish or get bored. (Obviously I crapped out on the whole “one a day” thing). The year I was born, the Beatles released their first single. (There is no correlation between these events despite what you might have heard.) I felt this was both appropriate, since they were my first real taste of rock and roll as a child, and it marks the beginning of the career of arguably the most important artists of any generation.

In 1963, I was celebrated my first birthday, and Surf Music was sweeping the West Coast, spearheaded by artists like Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, The Ventures, and The Beach Boys. Surf music helped usher in the widespread use of guitar effects like distortion and reverb, and its sound has been credited as the seeds of heavy metal. In April 1963, “Pipeline” by The Chantays reached #4 on the Billboard 100. This is the original recording, which is unique in that The Chantays had a keyboard player. Most cover versions feature the iconic piano parts on guitar.

In 1964 I was 2, and the Beatles held the top two songs of the year on the Billboard 100, followed closely by Louie Armstrong and Dean Martin. Quite an eclectic mix. The British Invasion was in full swing, and this catchy song by  Manfred Mann with a unforgettable sing-along chorus hit # 15 on the charts.

In 1965 I was 3, and Motown records was bombarding the charts with hit after hit from their stellar family of artists. One of the most successful bands on the label was also the first band signed when legendary producer Berry Gordy founded Motown. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles charted 26 top 10 hits, including this gem, one of my favorites of the era.
Hi folks, Now that I’m on the other side of the super-flu, time to get back in the saddle. In 1966 I was 4, and its was a very good year for music. So good in fact that I picked two songs. My first selection is dark, brooding song wrapped in a facade of West Coast pop. I’ve always found it quite haunting and beautiful. The Mamas & the Papas vocal harmonies were always amazing, and this song showcases them perfectly.

Another entry for 1966, going from From West Coast Folk to East Coast Folk. My second selection is another example of the folk-pop movement that was exploding on both coasts, our theme today I guess. This one needs no introduction, but I will say this video is quite a gem, a rare live performance with excellent sound quality.


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Wrote a song for everyone…

That’s the title of CCR Song, it goes like this;

Met myself a comin’ out the county welfare line
I was feelin’ strung out, Hung out on the line
Saw myself a goin’, down to war in June
All I want, All I want is to write myself a tune
Wrote A Song For Ev’ryone,
Wrote a song for truth.
Wrote A Song For Ev’ryone
And I couldn’t even talk to you

Kind of depressing, the inability to communicate. One of the things music does for us, is provide a common language. We express ourselves through song lyrics that resonate with us in some manner. We write a song if we can, if we can’t we burn a mixtape, email a musical meme, or whatever, when words don’t seem sufficient.

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Radio Shack “Flavoradios” c.1972

I never wrote a song. But I listened, oh did I listen to them. From the time I could turn that knob on the radio, there was music all around me. I carried a $5 Radio Shack “Flavoradio” in my back pocket. I don’t know how many times it was taken away in grammar school. I taped selfsame radio to the handlebars of my bike. I rode all around Castro Valley with it blasting (sort of) KFRC and KYA, the Bay Area’s two AM pop stations. Later I carried a little cassette player, squeezed into the pocket of my old army coat. And a bundle of homemade tapes, portable copies of any albums I could beg or borrow.

I bought 45s at Woolworths and Sears and played them on the humongous console stereo on which my parents played Motovani (and his cascading stings!) and Henry Mancini records. Later I got LPs. First, the Jackson 5 and those “K-Tel Hits!” albums, later the Beatles, Kiss, Chicago and anything I could get from our surprising hip public library. Yes indeed,  I owe a debt of gratitude to the Alameda County library system for stocking The Doors, Yes, Rollings Stones, The Who and Alice Cooper.

I was an odd mixture of ADHD fueled mania and severe insecurity. People made me nervous, but when I took out my little tape machine and played something, people connected with me. Music became a bridge over troubled waters for me.

Music didn’t follow me, I drug it around with me wherever I went. I finagled cash for records by washing the car. We conned our parents to a) buy us concert tickets, and b) drive us to selfsame concerts. I’d like to publicly thank my mom, Mr Ward and Mrs Turner, for carting us to innumerable concerts, and dropping us off for Days on the Green concerts at 6 AM with our systems full of adrenaline and our pockets full of doobies, fields of musical Elysium awaiting on the grass beyond the chain link fence.

I drive myself to shows now. I play my music digitally on a phone that’s 1/4 the size of that old transistor radio. I traded in my boxes full of LPs for a hard drive full of MP3s.  I went from being a music lover to a music writer, expressing my thoughts on music and the people who make it for over a decade.

Recently I had semi-retired from writing (he says as he writes), but I never lost the love of sharing music or discussing it. I came across an article about the Beatles, celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first single, “Love Me Do”. I remember that song from my childhood. I also noted that they were celebrating the anniversary of the US release in 1964. In the UK it was released in 1962, which makes both that song and I the same age.

So, I started posting a song from each year of my life. Not the top charting songs, I didn’t use any criteria related to popularity. My picks were simply songs that were important to me. In many cases these songs dramatically altered or expanded my musical world. Sometimes I pick one for historical significance, but ultimately it just has to be a great song that I love. That’s the final criteria. I started my little exercise on Facebook which has proven to be a royal pain, so here we are, and away we go…

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