Monthly Archives: May 2020

A Song From Your Preteen Years

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 12: A Song From Your Preteen Years

As much as it pains some of my friends to admit this, country music is woven deeply into the DNA of rock and roll — when rock first emerged as a distinct genre in the early 1950s, it was essentially a fusion of rhythm and blues with country, along with a sprinkling of gospel — and that country gene has often expressed itself in the body of rock over the years. One such moment was the so-called “crossover” phenomenon of the early ’80s, when a number of country artists were regularly posting hits on the pop charts. The late Kenny Rogers was the king of the crossover period, but you can make a good case that Juice Newton (real name Judy) was the queen, at least for the brief two-year moment from 1981-82, during which she scored seven top-40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The video for the first of these hits, her cover of a 1968 tune called “Angel of the Morning,” was the first country-music clip to be played on MTV, on the very first day that the music network launched. (Juice herself was the third female solo artist to be played on MTV behind Pat Benatar and Carly Simon.)

Her next pop hit — and her biggest — was “Queen of Hearts,” released in June of 1981. I was eleven years old that summer. I’d be twelve by the time “Queen of Hearts” reached Billboard’s number-two spot in September, and I loved this song almost as much as “Jessie’s Girl,” which was out around the same time. Hearing it these days instantly conjures memories of riding my red Schwinn with the banana seat on a hot summer afternoon, the sky impossibly high overhead and shining like polished aluminum, and a little black AM/FM transistor radio dangling from the handlebars, expanding my universe one awesome tune at a time as I pedaled my way past the tired old brick buildings and hay fields that were my home town. All of those things, from the Schwinn to the fields, are gone now. But “Queen of Hearts” is still a cool song.

Kind of a silly video, though.

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A Song You Never Get Tired Of

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 11: A Song You Never Get Tired Of

Let’s see if I can recapture the thread on this little exercise, shall we? A song I never get tired of… let’s see…

I’ll bet you thought I was going to post something by Rick Springfield, didn’t you? Well, believe it or not, even I need the occasional break from “Jessie’s Girl.” But there is a tune I don’t ever grow weary of. It’s from the infancy of rock and roll and it radiates such a youthful exuberance that it always lifts me up when I hear it. It’s just so… joyful… from the irresistible drum beat to the cool guitar breakdown in the middle to the goofy, playful way the lyrics are enunciated. I’m speaking, of course, of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” which was a number-three hit on the Billboard Hot 100 way back in 1957. It was Buddy’s second hit after “That’ll Be the Day,” and unlike so much else from the early rock era, I think it sounds as timeless today as it did when it was released. My mom has a scratchy 45 of it that I discovered when I first started to take an interest in music around the age of 12 or so; I put a few hundred more spins on that old platter before I acquired my first Buddy cassette. It’s also one of a small handful of songs I know of that got a sequel, “Peggy Sue Got Married,” a demo Buddy recorded two months before his untimely death in February 1959. It was released posthumously.

Obviously, this all took place long before the era of music videos, so I had intended to simply post the song. But as I was poking around, I came across this clip, which I believe comes from Buddy’s appearance with his band The Crickets on The Ed Sullivan Show in December of 1957. The audio might not be the original; it’s been heavily processed if it is. But take a look and enjoy the sound. Buddy is one of my favorites, and one of my favorite “What ifs?” I truly think that if his life hadn’t been cut so short, he would be revered today as one of the true innovators, right up there with the Beatles.

Incidentally, the real-life Peggy Sue was not Buddy’s girlfriend, as is commonly believed. Peggy Sue Gerron was in fact the girlfriend (and later wife) of Jerry Allison, the drummer for the Crickets and cowriter of this song.

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My Friend Jaren

I didn’t make many friends in college.

It wasn’t because I was antisocial or anything like that. The issue was that I was a commuter student. As soon as I was done with my classes for the day, I was in my little VW Rabbit with the sun roof open, blasting for home 25 miles away. That made it difficult to participate much in campus life or get to know anyone outside of class. Looking back, it’s a huge regret, one of about a hundred things I’d do differently if I had the chance.

Even with that self-imposed obstacle, though, there were a couple people I became close with during my five years at the University of Utah. A guy named Jaren Rencher, for one. He was probably the first friend I made beyond high school. We met our freshman year, way back in the fall of 1987, in a course titled “Intellectual Traditions of the West.” ITW, for short. It was kind of an introduction to philosophy, a survey of all the important thinking — the intellectual traditions, if you will — that have underpinned western civilization over the past 3000 years, everything from Plato to Henry David Thoreau to Sartre and Camus. I loved it, if for no other reason than it felt to me like what college was supposed to be like.

The class was held in a musty brick building on President’s Circle, the oldest part of the university campus, where the trees are all one hundred years old if they’re a day. It looks like Hollywood’s idealized vision of a college campus, a place where Indiana Jones would’ve taught in between expeditions. Our professor for ITW was an eccentric gentleman who favored a 1970s denim leisure suit and wraparound Terminator shades. He showed up on the first day of each academic quarter with his thick white hair closely cropped… and then as far as I could tell, he never cut or combed it again until after finals. Our fellow students were nearly as eccentric as the prof. There were a couple people I’d known in high school. There was the smarmy pale kid who’d already read all the texts and couldn’t wait to demonstrate how much smarter he was than everyone else. There was the brilliant but fragile girl from the small Idaho town who had gray eyes and wore moccasin boots year ’round. I liked her. I liked her a lot.

And there was Jaren.

I can’t remember how he and I became acquainted. The class was a nontraditional affair loosely modeled on the Socratic method; we all sat in a circle and discussed the reading for the week, rather than the prof lecturing and giving quizzes, and it’s possible one of those conversations just carried on outside the classroom. It’s equally likely I spotted him doodling the Starship Enterprise in his notebook margin and thought, “He’s like me!”

Jaren was my first true nerd friend, you see, and I say that with the utmost affection and an admission that I, too, am a colossal nerd. Oh, I’d had plenty of friends before who liked Star Wars and Star Trek and Monty Python and Buckaroo Banzai. But Jaren was different…. he was what we would now call a fanboy, in the best, nontoxic sense of that term, and he allowed me to express my own fanboy tendencies in a way that my earlier crew had not. With Jaren, I could talk about the minutiae of starship design or Klingon culture or whatnot and not worry that he wouldn’t know what I was talking about, or that he was going to think I wasn’t cool. Jaren had read Asimov and Heinlein and Burroughs; he laughed at Larry Niven’s “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” and he had seen — and liked! — Forbidden Planet. He was the sort who didn’t just play D&D but designed his own dungeons and painted his own miniatures. And yet… he wasn’t that kind of nerd, the unjustifiably arrogant, socially inept Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons type. Indeed, I remember the two of us rolling our eyes at another mutual acquaintance of the nerdish variety who just took it all too damn seriously. There’s a fine line, and unless you’ve ever encountered a CBG type, it’s difficult to explain just where that line is. But he and I were in the same place just this side of it, and the other kid was way the hell over on the other side.

Jaren went with me to my very first Star Trek convention, a one-day affair held at the airport Hilton back when these things were small and simple and most of all inexpensive. I have a photo from that day, the two of us looking impossibly young, both of us baby-faced, both of us clean-shaven — well, aside from the mustache I’d been hopefully encouraging since I was about 13 — and both of us also impossibly happy, giddy even, alongside Nichelle Nichols, the lovely actress who portrayed Uhura on the original series, my first celebrity encounter. I also remember, somewhat incongruously, that Jaren bought a small die-cast version of the Enterprise-D that day, the latest incarnation of the legendary starship as seen on the then-new Star Trek: The Next Generation. I wasn’t too sure about TNG in those days, and I remember mocking him a bit for his treason against the one, true Star Trek.

But you know how these things go. Jaren took a couple years off to go on a mission for the LDS Church, as young Mormon men do, and when he came back to school, we were in different places with our lives. Then I graduated and fell into a midlife crisis while he went on to law school. I lost touch with him. A couple decades slipped away.

Then came Facebook, which for all of its downsides and corrosive, disruptive effects is also in a very real way a small miracle. One idle afternoon as I scrolled through its endless vortex, I happened to think of Jaren and wonder what had become of him. I searched for his name. I found him and sent him a friend request, wondering if he even remembered me, and if so, how did he remember me, as a dick or a good guy or somewhere in between? The usual insecurities brought on by technological reunion. He did remember, and evidently the memory was a good one. We reconnected easily, picking up our old banter and nerdy stream-of-consciousness conversation as if it had never stopped.

We reunited in the flesh at the 2014 iteration of FanX, aka (in those pre-lawsuit days) Salt Lake Comic Con, and I have a photo from that day as well. We’re older and a lot more bedraggled than in the first photo, but no less giddy. I met his wife and family that day, and discovered that he’d managed to inculcate in his kids a love of all the cheesy old stuff that had brought the two of us together years before; I nearly cried when I heard his teenage daughter proclaim that she loved the ’78 Battlestar Galactica and the Peter Davison era of Doctor Who.

Sadly, though, the intervening years between ITW and FanX had also brought Jaren a lot of troubles: financial, career, and most ominously, with his health. I soon discovered that we had diabetes and high blood pressure in common as well as classic sci-fi shows, but in his case, the ‘betes had been a much crueler mistress than to myself. A little over a month ago, he lost his foot and part of a leg to the damn stuff.

I messaged him the night before the surgery, trying to bolster his spirits a little with bad jokes and companionable talk. I promised that, later in the summer, after he had healed and this damn coronavirus pandemic had settled, I’d come get him in my old Galaxie and take him for a ride, just the two of us like it’d been when we were 18 and immortal. I followed that with an animated GIF of the Millennium Falcon launching out of Mos Eisley. He replied with a snippet of dialog: “Chewie… we’re home.” My vision grew watery, and I imagine that somewhere, miles away in a hospital room, his did too.

His surgery went well, as did his rehab. He came home two weeks ago, just in time to welcome his Battlestar-loving daughter home from her LDS mission. All seemed well, and I was looking forward to taking him on that ride, maybe in another month or so.

And then last Saturday, my old college friend, my nerdish comrade-in-arms, a smart, funny, kind-hearted guy who had published a few short stories and never stopped encouraging me to pick up my own pen again… died. At home, surrounded by his family, completely unexpectedly. A phaser-blast out of the blue. He was just shy of 50 years old.

I can only speculate on the cause, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. I’ve spent the last week thinking about him. About the old days in ITW, how we both crushed on the girl in the moccasin boots and on Nichelle Nichols. About the long years we were out of touch, and how many times we talked about getting together since we reconnected, but somehow hadn’t gotten around to it. How I’d hoped to recreate that old photo with him and Nichelle when she appeared at FanX a couple years ago, but again, didn’t manage to make it happen. How I’d promised to take him for that ride. And also, rather incongruously, about that little die-cast Enterprise-D I used to give him hell about. I found myself wondering if he still had it. Is it sitting on his desk or in a bookcase right now? I’ve never been inside his home. And I wonder.

I am grateful that we were able to reconnect at all. But I will forever regret the twenty-five years we lost and my failure to make good on spending real face-to-face time with him once we were in touch again. You all know that story as well, because we all do it and we all regret it when something like this happens. I knew that story, learned that lesson, years ago. Life is short, time is precious, we shouldn’t let those opportunities get away from us. And yet…

And yet.

Just for the sake of posterity, here’s what I wrote on Facebook about an hour after I got the news… my first unfiltered, unedited thoughts:

Jaren K. Rencher, from Intellectual Traditions of the West our freshman year to meeting Nichelle together… from nerdy conversations about Trek and Red Dwarf and Monty Python to middle-aged grumbling about the cards we were dealt… lost for years until the wonder of Facebook and Salt Lake Comic Con put us back in touch… now lost again to the undiscovered country. Save me a place at the tavern, dungeonmaster.

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A Song That Makes You Sad

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 10: A Song That Makes You Sad

“The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” has quite a pedigree: It was written by Shel Silverstein, the poet known for the children’s books The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends, and first recorded in 1974 by Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, who also cut popular songs like “The Cover of the ‘Rolling Stone'” and “Sexy Eyes.” But it’s the 1979 version by Marianne Faithfull — an icon of the 1960s British Invasion and a former girlfriend of Mick Jagger — that people are most likely to have heard.

I first encountered the song in the movie Thelma and Louise, where it’s used to score one of the most haunting scenes in the film. Deep into their fugitive run, the titular heroines are driving through Utah’s Monument Valley at night, with giant rock formations (unnaturally flood-lighted, but they look cool, so who cares) gliding silently past their open convertible. Thelma dozes off, leaving Louise alone with her thoughts and a bottle of Wild Turkey. The eerie throbbing keyboards and melancholy lyrics underscore the poignancy of their predicament and the growing possibility that they’re not going to come out of it alive.

I loved the song in the context of the movie. I’ve had night-time drives like that myself, and the scene is very visceral for me. Watching it, I can feel the crisp breeze flowing through the car and tugging at hair and sleeves, smell the exhaust — if Louise’s old T-Bird is anything like my Galaxie, it burns oil — and I can see the millions of stars glowing in the black velvet sky above. It’s one of those cinematic moments that really speaks to me… in no small part because the director chose that particular song.

I loved the song more when I bought the soundtrack album and finally heard it all the way through. I remember thinking it was a magnificent piece of storytelling, which, as a wannabe storyteller myself, was hugely important to me at the time. And those synths and Marianne Faithfull’s unusual voice just sounded cool.

But as the years have passed and I’ve crept into middle age myself, it’s become more and more difficult for me to listen to “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.” The story of a woman facing the reality that her youthful dreams are never going to be fulfilled and all she has to fill her days are mundane chores…. well, it comes a little too close to the bone for me.

Don’t misunderstand, I still think it’s a great song. It’s just one that depresses the shit out of me.

Incidentally, Marianne Faithfull is a genuine rock-and-roll survivor who struggled with heroin addiction in the ’60s — the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is said to have been inspired by her — and homelessness and anorexia in the ’70s. And just in the past couple of months, she survived being hospitalized for COVID-19. Helluva lady.

[Edit: I learned earlier today that an old college friend died this morning. I’ll be writing more about that. But for now… I’d like to dedicate this to Jaren. He never got to ride through Paris in a sports car either. ]

 

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A Song That Makes You Happy

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 9: A Song That Makes You Happy

The big booming bass drum at the start followed by an infectious rhythm, Susanna Hoffs’ little-girl growl, and mildly suggestive lyrics that recall the dizzying early days of a new romance… “In Your Room” by the Bangles is sexy, and sexy makes me happy.

The song comes from their album Everything; released in the fall of 1988, it was a top-5 hit in the US. It would be eclipsed somewhat by a later (and bigger) hit from the same album, “Eternal Flame,” but this is the one that puts a smile on face.

Yeah… I dig the Bangles.

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A Song About Drugs or Alcohol

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 8: A Song About Drugs or Alcohol

The English band Chumbawumba first formed in 1982, but didn’t achieve mainstream recognition until the 1997 release of “Tubthumping,” which would become their biggest hit. Here in the US, it spent a total of 31 weeks in the Billboard Top 100, two of which were spent at slot number 6, the song’s highest point of success. All through the fall of that year, it was well-nigh inescapable.

Even so, it’s admittedly kind of a stupid song. There’s only a single verse and the chorus, repeated over and over. You can’t say it’s making any deep observations about the human condition. But it is weirdly evocative in its stripped-down simplicity. It so wonderfully captures a time and a place: a sweaty crowded pub, or in my case, since I didn’t get out to pubs all that often, house parties filled with horny twentysomethings trying to relax and to connect, the hormonal imperative to meet somebody and be with somebody just strong enough to overcome the insecurity, perhaps with a little help from the Jello shots. I hear this song and I think of candles flickering down deep into canyons of melted wax as the clock spins on into the wee hours and the living room grows quieter and the conversation gets weirder, the ashtrays overflowing and all the sticky-sweet mixer is gone so you’re just drinking the straight stuff now, and your free hand is around the shoulder of someone you want to take home, and someone is expounding on a book they read in college, so long ago, and someone else is staring sadly at the ember glowing at the end of their cigarette. I was 28 in the fall of 1997. Emotionally, I was probably closer to 20 than to 30, but I thought myself such a sophisticate, or at least I told myself I was. I fancied myself a Byronic hero, beaten up by the world, and yet somehow standing upright in the gale. “Tubthumping” evokes that, too… it’s not only a drinking song, it’s optimistic and encouraging, with its assertion that you’re going to get up again no matter what life throws at you.

And it’s catchy as hell.

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A Song To Drive To

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 7: A Song to Drive to

A good driving song doesn’t have to be a high-energy hard rocker — for example, I have a very fond memory of the first time I heard Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” as it filtered through the static of a low-band radio station like a pensive ghost while I scooted around the eastern rim of the Salt Lake Valley in my old VW Rabbit. But there’s something about combining a ferocious guitar attack and the sensation of acceleration, of feeling your foot on the gas pedal and your hands on the wheel, the car like an extension of your body, and the rock-and-roll a primal release of everything you carry around inside: the frustrations of that day job, the joy of a sunny day with the top rolled down, the lust for living something more than a mundane workaday existence. Especially the lust.

It helps if traffic is light so you feel like you can go anywhere. And it helps if the lyrics are vaguely naughty… as they are in Van Halen’s “Panama,” a song that might be about a car, or it might be about a girl. Or it could be about… well, who the hell knows? David Lee Roth wrote the lyrics, after all.

“Panama” was the third single from the band’s smash album 1984, the last VH album that featured Diamond Dave on vocals. It was also the first VH album to feature keyboards. Both of those factoids pointed the way toward Van Halen’s future with Sammy Hagar, which purists still argue isn’t “true” Van Halen at all. But this isn’t the place to get into that. Although “Jump” was the big hit from 1984, “Panama” came in at a respectable peak of 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video below did pretty well also, and its three minutes and 42 seconds capture everything that was grand, grandiose, spectacular and ridiculous about the first incarnation of the band.

And now I want to go for a drive…

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A Song That Makes You Want to Dance

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 6: A Song That Makes You Want to Dance

Yeah, today’s choice is another Journey song but this one comes with a story.

About a year and a half ago, Anne and I were in New Orleans, walking down Royal Street in the French Quarter one fine morning. The day was bright but a bit chilly, and even though it wasn’t particularly early, there weren’t many people around. It was a Sunday, you see, and I like to imagine that most folks were nursing hangovers or in church, or maybe both. The street was slowly beginning to come to life as we strolled: shop owners were opening the shutters over their windows, a man in an apron was spraying the sidewalk with a hose (I probably don’t want to know what he was hosing away), and a hulking garbage truck was creeping slowly down the narrow 18th-century cross streets.

At one particular corner, we encountered a street musician, a pretty Asian woman playing the violin with skill and passion. (I’ve since learned that her name is Tanya Huang, and she’s a regular fixture on that corner.) We stopped to listen and after a moment, I realized that I knew the song. It wasn’t a classical piece or jazz… it was Journey. And well, cheesy as it sounds, I was moved by the moment and the location and the music, moved to take Anne’s hand and spin her around, then close in for some cheek-to-cheek. I even sang a bit to her, one of the lines I was certain I knew:

“Lovin’ a music man ain’t always what it’s supposed to be

Oh, girl, you stand by me…

I’m forever yours, faithfully… “

I gave her a little dip, then suddenly felt sheepish because I realized we had an audience. Tanya was smiling at us as she played, and looking around, I saw a black man leaning against a door frame. When I caught his eye, he flashed me a huge grin and a nod. I nodded back at him, and for just a moment, I felt like I really got New Orleans, and maybe I even belonged there. Like I caught the fleeting, flashing, silvery spirit of the place in my hand long enough to feel its heat before it flew away.

That’s the sort of memory I’m always hoping to make when I travel, the kind that comes to define a place for you. I’ll be honest, our NOLA trip was a little bumpy for various reasons. But when I think of the place, my mind always goes to the moment I danced with my Anne in the middle of Royal Street to the melody of “Faithfully.”

“Faithfully” was released in the spring of 1983, just as I was finishing eighth grade. At the time, I thought it was pretty boring, just a sappy ballad; I much preferred the angry rocking sounds of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” the single that had preceded “Faithfully” by a couple of months. But the song made it to number 12 on the Billboard charts in spite of my disdain, and I gradually came around on it. It’s become one of the band’s signature tunes and always leads to a sing-along and a lot of affectionate cuddling and swaying when they perform it live.

The video is something of a classic as well, the first documentary-style “life on the road” clip, which was later imitated by bands ranging from Bon Jovi to Richard Marx. It’s become something a cliche now — oh, another band singing about how tough it is to be out touring — but this song and this video still work. It worked in New Orleans, anyhow…

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Salt Lake’s Best Rock

Oh my hell…  in the previous entry, I mentioned remembering a TV ad for a Salt Lake radio station that used the opening drums from Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” right? So guess what I just just ran across on YouTube? The stuff you can find out there on the interwebz never fails to amaze me…

Incidentally, if you’re interested, I also found this brief history of the station as I was wandering cyberspace trying to confirm my fading memory, written by a dude named Paul Wilson in 2005:

CITADEL – KBEE-FM

In 1947, Salt Lake City had only two commercial FM stations…at 100.3 (Bonneville’s KSL-FM) and 98.7 (what is now KBEE-FM).  In the early 1970s, KCPX-FM (at 98.7) was known as “Stereo X” and was the home of a wide-ranging free-form album rock format…but under the direction of KCPX Program Director Gary Waldron, by the end of the 70’s the station had evolved into “Real Rock 99 FM”.  The playlist was short (only a couple hundred songs) and it quickly became the market’s top-rated station, combining the laid-back presentation of album rock with tight top 40 rotations a decade before Pirate Radio spawned the term “Rock 40”.  As the 80’s began, the station hired a full staff of announcers and “99FM” continued to dominate the market.  I was fortunate enough to hold the 7-midnight shift for nearly four years, until the musical pendulum swung back toward pop music and the station evolved again.  By 1984 there was a new crew of jocks, the format was CHR and “Hitradio 99” again dominated the market.  Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures had owned the KCPX stations (AM, FM and TV) for a number of years but sold the TV station in the mid 70s.  In the mid 80s they sold the radio stations to John Price, a Salt Lake based contractor best known for building massive shopping malls.  Under Price, the station evolved into “Power 99” and finally to AC as KVRY (Variety 98.7).  The historic KCPX letters were parked on a small AM station in Centerville for about twenty years (more on that later).  Price eventually sold the stations to Citadel; the format remained AC but the call letters were changed to KBEE (B98.7), which is how the station is known today.

Incidentally, it’s been 15 years since that was written, but KBEE B98.7 is still around, now owned by Cumulus Media and playing an adult contemporary format, i.e., mainstream soft rock. I rarely listen to it.

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A Song That Needs to Be Played Loud

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 5: A Song That Needs to Be Played Loud

“Rock and Roll.” Led Zeppelin. ‘Nuff said.

Oh, okay, fine, you know me better than that. I’ve almost always got more to say…

“Rock and Roll” comes from Zeppelin’s fourth studio album, commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV or ZoSo (owing to one of the arcane symbols on the record’s label; it’s a long story), although the LP was technically untitled. That’s the album with “Stairway to Heaven,” the one most likely to be owned by people who kinda-sorta like Zeppelin but haven’t gone into full-blown fandom. The song is a tribute to the early days of the rock genre: It opens with a speeded-up version of the drumline from the Little Richard oldie “Keep A-Knockin'” (fans of the movie Christine ought to know that one!) followed by a guitar riff that was supposedly an homage to Chuck Berry, and then nostalgic lyrics that speak of (among other things) “The Stroll,” a 1958 dance tune, and “Book of Love,” a hit record for The Monotones, also from 1958. While it was never formally released as a single for consumer sales, the song was distributed in the US as a promotional single, meaning it was was sent to radio stations for airplay, and it quickly became a staple in that venue. (I remember a local Salt Lake station, Rock 99, used the opening of the song for its television commercials; I was familiar with that ferocious drumbeat long before I ever heard the complete tune, or for that matter, had even heard of the band!)

The song was also a favorite during live performances starting from around the time of IV‘s release in 1971 until the band’s breakup in 1980. Having become one of Zeppelin’s signature tunes, it was naturally part of their brief reunion set at Live Aid in 1985 and again at the reunion shows at London’s O2 Arena in 2007. The video clip I’m posting here is from their performance at Madison Square Garden in 1973, when the band was at the peak of its powers. (It appears in the concert film The Song Remains the Same.)

Personally, I tend to run hot and cold on Zeppelin. I really love some of their stuff, and I’m really put off (and sometimes even bored) by other things. But from my early teens, this has been a song I truly love. Its energy is undeniable — I can’t resist shaking my head to it even nowadays when serious headbanging gives me a headache — and I love its reverence toward the genre’s childhood, even as it twists and warps the sound into something Little Richard probably never could have imagined. Come to think of it, though, that was Zeppelin’s whole thing, really… they were essentially playing the blues, just really loud and distorted blues.

One final thought before the video: The song has been covered many times by artists ranging from Heart (their version is intense… Ann Wilson is possibly the only woman in rock whose voice matches the soaring power of Zeppelin’s Robert Plant) to Great White, Van Halen, John Waite, Stevie Nicks, the Foo Fighters, and, most improbably, Alvin and the Chipmunks. I’m really trying to wrap my head around that one.

And now… turn it to 11, kids!

 

 

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