Friday Evening Videos

Friday Evening Videos: “Rhinestone Cowboy”

When Glen Campbell died earlier this week, I wrote on Facebook that there was a lot more to his career than just “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and indeed that’s true. He wore a lot of hats during the course of his 50-year career in the entertainment industry: He was a session musician on a mind-boggling number of recordings during the ’60s; he filled in for Brian Wilson on tour when the leader of the Beach Boys had a nervous breakdown; as a solo artist, he recorded and released some 67 albums; he hosted four seasons of a television variety show that bore his name; and he even tried his hand at acting, appearing alongside no less a star than John Wayne in the original True Grit. In spite of all those achievements, though, the vast majority of the obituaries and retrospectives I saw this week somehow managed to reference “Rhinestone” in their headlines. But you know what? As legacies go, that song is a pretty damn good one.

Released in 1975 as a standalone single (as opposed to a track from an album), Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a cover of a song written and recorded a year earlier by a guy named Larry Weiss. Weiss’ recording didn’t make much of an splash, but Campbell’s certainly did, rising to the number-one spot on both the country and pop charts, and ending the year as Billboard‘s number-two single of ’75. It also scored highly on a number of international charts and, with its laid-back-but-not-too-twangy sound, it helped usher in a new sub-genre of country/pop crossover music that would peak in the early ’80s with hitmakers like Alabama, Juice Newton, Eddie Rabbitt, and Kenny Rogers. “Rhinestone” is also one of a handful of songs — including Mac Davis’ “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” and Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain” — that are capable of instantly catapulting me back to my early childhood… back to a time when my hometown was more hay fields than housing developments, and just about the best thing in the whole wide world was riding with my mom in her ’56 Ford pickup, watching the sundogs pivot off the curve of the truck’s enormous windshield as we carried a midday snack of Fanta red-cream soda and raspberry Zingers to my dad…

Although I tend to think of music videos not really existing prior to the advent of MTV in 1981, there is a ’70s-vintage video for “Rhinestone Cowboy.” It’s pretty simplistic compared to what the rock artists would be doing less than a decade later, but its visuals evoke the feeling of my childhood memories as strongly as the notes of the song itself do. That road that Glen is walking alongside could easily have been one of the ones my mom and I drove down in her ’56, and the way he’s dressed reminds me of my dad and my Uncle Louie when they were young and strong.

After all the crazy headlines of this past week, I really like the idea of going back to 1975, if only for three minutes and ten seconds. As for Glen Campbell’s passing, well… he’s free now to walk any street and sing his song forever. I’m glad he’s at peace after his long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.



Friday Evening Videos: “Tiny Dancer”

The following opinion might not sit well with some of my readers, but I’ve got to be honest: I don’t really care for Elton John.

I know, I know, he’s part of the classic-rock pantheon and all, but his music has never quite clicked with me. And a couple of his biggest hits are weapons-grade irritants as far as I’m concerned. “Crocodile Rock” is enough to make me want to murder a busload of nuns.

Ah, but then there’s”Tiny Dancer.” That track belongs to an entirely different category. Its sound is deceptively simple, and yet the song contains rich imagery and a multitude of emotions, some of which are paradoxically contradictory. “Tiny Dancer” is by turns wistful, nostalgic, joyous, sad, celebratory. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the song is a reflection of life itself, all the ups and downs, all the beauties and disappointments, all encapsulated in six sublime minutes.

That amazing flexibility of tone is evident when you consider its two best-known uses in television and film: at the conclusion of the WKRP in Cincinnati episode “The Americanization of Ivan,” and in the marvelous scene aboard a rock band’s tour bus in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece Almost Famous. Both scenes are bittersweet and heartbreaking in entirely different ways, and if you have any kind of soul at all, both are unforgettable.

Strangely, given how ubiquitous and well-known it is today, “Tiny Dancer” was not a hit when it was first released. Its long runtime and lack of a traditional pop hook both worked against it succeeding as a single; it reached only 41 on the U.S. charts, and it wasn’t released in the U.K. at all. But over the years, it’s become a staple of adult contemporary and classic rock radio, and it has a timeless quality that never seems to go out of style. You’d never guess it’s four-and-a-half decades old.

There had been some experiments with filmed promotional clips prior to the song’s release in 1972, but MTV was still a decade in the future, so no video as we understand the term was ever made for “Tiny Dancer.” Until now.

Just last month, a director named Max Welland won Elton John: The Cut, a video competition held in honor of Sir Elton’s 50-year writing partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin, with his brilliant visual interpretation of “Tiny Dancer.” Filmed in Los Angeles, the video doesn’t have a plot per se, but comprises dreamy images of LA skies, traffic, and landscapes, and vignettes of interesting-looking people that invite us to imagine the stories behind the moments we’re sharing with them. Like the song itself, these vignettes encompass a number of emotions and, taken together, form nothing less than a celebration of life itself.

There are a lot of music videos I like. There aren’t many that move me. This is magnificent:

Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes, that is shock-rocker Marilyn Manson petting the snake. I have no idea what he’s doing in there, but… it fits.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


Friday Evening Videos: “I’m No Angel”

When I was a young man, I went through a phase that I imagine a lot of young men experience, a time when I was desperately trying to be a bad boy. You know the type, the misunderstood outlaw with a sensitive side, just like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or, to reference something a bit more relevant to my generation, Bender in The Breakfast Club.

Of course, I wasn’t really bad at all (which, come to think of it, is probably true of most of the young men people believe to be bad boys). In fact, I was pretty goody-goody if I’m being honest about it. I never broke any laws, aside from occasionally speeding in my big old Ford Galaxie. I didn’t get into fights or vandalize things. I didn’t do drugs, and I never touched alcohol until my 21st birthday, if you can believe that. I went to my classes every day and I pulled mostly A grades, high school and college both. But growing up in strait-laced Utah, at least when I did it back in the ’80s, it wasn’t too hard to gain a reputation. Don’t go to church, listen to the wrong kinds of music, have a naughty sense of humor and an earthy vocabulary, wear your hair a little long in the back and cultivate some facial hair… oh, and of course, drive a big old Ford Galaxie. They had roomy back seats, you know. I was very well aware that fathers cringed when I arrived to pick up their daughters, and I loved that. In my mind’s eye, I was a heartbreaker, a dashing highwayman, a love-em-and-leave-em renegade with an irresistible smile and a mission to claim another sweet young thing before the night was over, a real scoundrel. I know at least one of the girls I dated saw right through all that nonsense — probably they all did — but their fathers didn’t, and more importantly… I didn’t. For a time, I really believed that’s who I was. And I liked that guy. I miss him sometimes, now that I’m old and settled.

Around that general time period, Gregg Allman, who was a notorious bad boy himself, released an album called I’m No Angel. Allman was legendary for his work with the Allman Brothers Band, a seminal Southern rock band of the 1970s, but his solo career had been far less successful, so it was a bit of a surprise when this new album’s title track — originally recorded by Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers five years earlier — hit number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in the third week of March 1987. I was a senior in high school then, cruising the last couple months toward graduation day with all the credits I needed, and a lot more interest in immediate pleasures than trying to figure out my future. The bluesy-country sound of “I’m No Angel,” and lyrics that spoke of a man both dangerous and endearing, clicked perfectly with the image I was trying to cultivate, and I adopted the tune as my personal theme song for that long spring and the summer that followed. I remember singing it to that girl I mentioned, the one who saw through me, one hot and sunny afternoon in the roomy back seat of my Galaxie…

I don’t remember ever seeing the video for “I’m No Angel” back then. It’s pretty silly stuff, typical of late-80s MTV after the initial surge of excitement for the new medium had worn thin. I think Allman looks a bit embarrassed to be in it, and it’s telling that his official YouTube channel doesn’t include it (although there is a nifty live version of the song from 2015 that’s worth checking out). Nevertheless, I present it here as a memento of a time in my life that I still think about more often than I probably ought to at my age:

If you haven’t heard, Gregg Allman died a week ago at the age of 69. A friend of mine commented on Facebook that she’d once worked with him briefly. She didn’t get to know him well, but her impression was that he was “a really gentle soul interested in primarily two things: music and women.” Sounds a lot like that young highwayman I used to know. Rest in peace, Gregg.


Friday Evening Videos: “If Anyone Falls”

The first time somebody told me that rock-n-roll goddess Stevie Nicks once lived in Salt Lake City, I didn’t believe it.

It sounded too much like the far-fetched tales my Mormon friends used to tell about all the celebrities who were secretly members of the LDS church. Now, to be fair, there are a number of famous people who also happen to be LDS — Gladys Knight comes immediately to mind — but there was a time when I heard so many variations of “Did you know that so-and-so is a member?” that if even half those stories were true, there would be more Mormons in Hollywood than plastic surgeons. (This was pre-Internet, you understand, when it was a lot more difficult to verify such things.) I’ve long wondered where those stories came from and why they were such a tenacious aspect of Utah folklore for so long. My working theory is that they probably arose from a deep cultural insecurity that manifested as two sides of the same coin: a longing for a hometown hero who catches the national spotlight, as well as an ironclad certainty that nobody cool has ever come from Utah.

Except Stevie Nicks, apparently. That particular urban legend turns out to be 100% true, as corroborated by the lady herself just over a month ago when she brought her 24 Karat Gold tour to Salt Lake on February 25. I’d seen Stevie live a couple times before, but always as part of Fleetwood Mac, not in a show focused on her solo work, so this concert had a very different feel to it. It was more personal for her, I think, and that carried over into the audience’s emotional response; it felt personal to me as well, as if somehow a 19,000-seat arena was magically shrunk into the neighborhood club, and Stevie and her band were just playing and goofing around for a small group of friends. Stevie herself looked and sounded fantastic, far more youthful than her actual age and far healthier than the previous times I’d seen her. She was chatty and a little bit scatterbrained and very funny, like the cool aunt who’s been everywhere and met everyone and has a million stories to tell. I found her utterly charming. Yes, I’m like every other male rock-and-roll fan (and not a few female ones!) of a particular age in that I’ve had a crush on her since my early teens, but I really fell a little bit in love with her on February 25. By the time she performed her signature tune “Landslide” in the finale, the emotions were running high. I may or may not have shed a tear when my 60-something rock goddess sang the line “And I’m gettin’ older too… ”

But long before that moment, she opened the concert with one of my favorite songs of hers, “If Anyone Falls,” which was the second single released from her 1983 album The Wild Heart. “If Anyone Falls” wasn’t as big as the album’s first single, “Stand Back,” rising to only 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Stand Back” hit number 5, thanks I would guess to a propulsive synthesizer track played by none other than the late, great Prince — but I always liked this one just a hair more, for reasons I can’t really articulate. The lushly romantic tone, perhaps, so nicely illustrated in the official MTV video by images of Stevie watching old movies by herself in an empty theater. I’ve done that a few times myself… usually late at night, like it is now… the time of day when I find I most enjoy listening to Stevie Nicks…

Incidentally, in case you’re still wondering about when, exactly, Stevie lived in boring old Salt Lake, it was while she was in eighth and ninth grade, which by my calculations would’ve been the mid-1960s. Her best friend from those days still lives here, and she was at the concert the other night. Stevie called out to her several times. I love the idea that a rock star of her magnitude could still be friends with someone she knew in the eighth grade, so very long ago…



Friday Evening Videos: “Heat of the Moment”

The year is 1983, or somewhere around there.

I’m thirteen years old, in the eighth grade and soon to be finished with middle school, and I’m going through a broody phase. No doubt the onslaught of puberty has something to do with this, but as far as I’m concerned, I simply have a lot on my mind. Big, important things like, What will high school be like? Will I ever have a girlfriend? Will she be willing to “put out,” and what exactly does that mean, anyhow? Will I live long enough to find out what it means, or will there be a nuclear war? That’s a real possibility, you know, what with Ronnie Ray-Gun’s finger on the big red button and all. What would I do if I got the word the missiles were in the air? And most importantly… how will Han Solo get rescued from the living hell of carbon-freeze in the upcoming third Star Wars movie?!

Just lately, I’ve taken to spending much of my leisure time on the rope swing that hangs from my old treehouse in the backyard, caroming off the cinderblock wall of Dad’s shop with each pendulum-like motion. I’ve been spending so much on that thing that wear spots are developing on the front of my jeans, where the nylon rope is abrading the denim. (I’ll learn later on in life that Dad was worried about me during this phase, finding it weird that I would be out there for hours on end, just… swinging. Swinging and thinking.)

I like to listen to music as I swing and think, on my trusty Sony Walkman II cassette player. And among the music I’m most likely listening to around this moment in time is the band Asia.

Asia was what used to be called a supergroup, a band comprising musicians who are already known for being members of other successful bands. In the case of Asia’s original line-up, bassist and lead vocalist John Wetton came from King Crimson; guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Geoff Downes were both from Yes; and Carl Palmer, the drummer, was one-third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, all of which were important prog-rock groups. Not that I knew about any of that when I was thirteen; I just liked Asia’s sound.

My favorite Asia album was the band’s second release, Alpha — which really should’ve been called called Beta, when you think about it — but as it happens, their first and biggest charting single came from their debut record, the self-titled Asia. Co-written by Wetton and Downes, “Heat of the Moment” was a huge and inescapable hit that climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as spending six nonconsecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart throughout the spring and summer of 1982. Its opening guitar riff remains one of the most recognizable of the early ’80s, one of those things that insist you crank up the volume whenever you hear them.

John Wetton died a couple weeks ago at the age of 67, so tonight, in his honor, I thought I’d share “Heat of the Moment” and think about 1983 (or thereabouts), my old rope swing, and those teenage ambitions I remember so well…


Friday Evening Videos: “Patience”

I’ve used “Patience” as a Friday Evening Video before, but given how this week has gone on pretty much all fronts, it seems not inappropriate to post it again. As I wrote the last time, “maybe it can help some of the people reading this, too, the ones with the problems and the ones who are afraid and unhappy, and the ones who, like me, are just plain tired. It is truly a song — and a sentiment — for our moment.”

If you care, here’s a little background I didn’t include the last time I posted this one: “Patience” is the only single released from Guns N’ Roses’ 1988 album G N’ R Lies, which was half live recordings from a previously released EP and half new acoustic songs. It reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April of ’89, three positions higher than the band’s breakthrough hit “Welcome to the Jungle,” and surpassed only by “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (number 1 the previous year) and “November Rain, which hit number 3 in 1992.

And with that, I intend to spend the rest of my Friday unplugged from social media, drinking whisky, petting my cat, and watching 1970s car-chase movies. Hope you all have something similar in mind…


Friday Evening Videos (New Year’s Eve Edition): “Don’t Stop Believin'”

Oh stop. I can feel your eyes rolling from all the way over here.

I’m very well aware that this song has as many detractors as fans, and that it and Journey in general are routinely derided as “soulless corporate rock” (whatever the hell that means). I don’t care, and I’m not interested in debating it. Not now, not on the final night of this year, above all others. From the deaths of Bowie, Prince, and Princess frickin’ Leia to that god-awful endless election (I think everyone, no matter which side you were on, can agree that the election was a shit-show of historic proportions), 2016 has left me most definitely not in the mood for a debate. About anything. Here, at the end of this annus horribilis, more than ever, I’m missing my youth and the boundless possibility it seemed to contain, the certainty I used to have that everything would just somehow turn out all right. I’m exhausted, and I’m testy.

If you don’t like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” well… that’s your concern, I guess, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about that. Personally, it’s always been one of my favorites, going back to the days when I listened to it from a cheap K-Tel collection on a beat-up portable cassette player while I read comic books in our haystack. Even before I had any real understanding of what the lyrics were about, I responded to the sound of the song in that ineffable, near-mystical way that you simply do with some pieces of music. I loved the piano opening and that dramatic rising guitar thing following the first verse, and the soaring vocals that are both easy to sing along with and entirely beyond the range of most normal humans. Now that I’m older, I love the goofy optimism at the core of the song’s lyrics.

I’ve read some counter-intuitive arguments that this is actually a depressing song, that the story told by the lyrics is one of people consoling themselves while on a tawdry and unsatisfying quest for love. Or at least for sex. I guess that’s one way to read it. It’s not mine. I see this song as an ode to the indomitable human tendency to keep trying, to keep reaching, to keep hoping, in spite of disappointment and even though time and the culture around us and the world itself just keeps moving indifferently forward. As we crawl from the smoking crater of 2016 into the uncertain landscape of 2017, that’s a message I need to hear.  Maybe you do too.

I’m not going to bother with the usual historical background on this one, other than noting that this performance is from 1981, the year the song itself was released.

Happy New Year, everyone.


Friday Evening Videos (Bonus Edition): “Father Christmas”

It’s a little after midnight as I write this, and outside the rain that’s been falling all day has finally turned to snow and the world  is growing quiet and indistinct. Anne went to bed several hours ago, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Even though I’ve been relatively cheerful this holiday season — a nice change! — I find that I’m very tired tonight, emotionally worn out. I think we all agree that 2016 has been a real drag, and I think we’re all eager to see it finished. Also, I’m worried tonight… about Carrie Fisher, my beloved space princess who had a heart attack on an airplane yesterday even as I was watching the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One… and about my cat Evinrude, who’s not been feeling well today but can’t tell me what’s wrong. Fitting, then, that the song I’ve had running through my head for much of the day is Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas.”

You may have heard that Lake died a couple weeks ago, on December 6, following a battle with cancer. I was rather pleased that many of the online remembrances of him used this song, rather than something he did with the prog-rock band he co-founded, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. “Father Christmas” is often remembered as one of ELP’s, but in reality, Greg wrote and recorded it as a solo project. It was released in 1975 and reached number two on the UK charts. I don’t know if it charted here, but I remember hearing it on my classic-rock radio station in high school, and thinking it was lovely. It’s got a melancholy, world-weary tone, but it ultimately ends on a hopeful note, which for me is a perfect holiday song.

The version of it I’m going to present tonight isn’t a video per se; it’s a recording of a live performance at St. Bride’s Church in the City of London, back in 2011. Lake and his fellow musicians are accompanied by the church choir; the guy playing flute is none other than Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull.

“I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
I wish you a brave new year…
All anguish, pain, and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear.”

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Friday Evening Videos: “Ride ‘Em On Down”

So, just last week, the oldest bad boys in rock, The Rolling Stones, released their 25th American studio album, a collection of cover songs called Blue & Lonesome. My understanding is that the tracks — all old blues standards of the sort that originally inspired the band when they first formed some 50 years ago — were recorded in just three days with no overdubs and no production trickery. What you hear on the record is what they played in the studio. I’m only a casual Stones fan, myself, but I think it’s a great set, raw and vital, and dripping with — if you’ll forgive the cliche — authenticity.

Along with the album comes a fun music video, which wisely does not feature the leathery faces of the septuagenarian rockers but instead focuses on the primary elements of what rock and roll is traditionally all about: sex and freedom, with an undercurrent of danger. (Also, in this case, some weird, possibly post-apocalyptic thing. You’ll see what I mean.)

Like a lot of classic blues tunes, “Ride ‘Em On Down” has been interpreted many times by many artists. The best-known version was by Eddie Taylor in 1955, but the earliest one dates to 1937, when the Delta blues guitarist Bukka White recorded it under the title “Shake ‘Em On Down.” According to Wikipedia, at least eight other versions have followed over the years, including one by the Black Crowes, and Led Zeppelin recorded two songs that had similar lyrics. And now of course, the Stones have put their spin on it.

As for the video, the girl behind the wheel is the actress Kristen Stewart from the Twilight movies, and the car is a really slick ’68 Mustang. I have no idea why the streets of LA are deserted, or why there’s some scruffy Walking Dead refugee driving a cop car in search of gas, or why there’s a random zebra roaming around… but hey, when did music videos ever make any sense?

In any event, check out Blue & Lonesome. it’s well worth a listen if you like either the Stones or the blues, or if you’re just looking for some real music…


Friday Evening Videos: “Dancin’ in the Ruins”

Blue Oyster Cult is best-known, of course, for the 1976 masterpiece “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” which became the band’s highest-charting single. With one of the most recognizable opening riffs in rock-and-roll history, “Reaper” remains a staple of classic-rock radio, frequently turns up on movie and TV soundtracks, and was the basis for the revered Saturday Night Live sketch “More Cowbell.” In 2004, Rolling Stone named it one of the top 500 songs of all time.

Ten years after “Reaper,” BOC was still around, but like a lot of other bands that peaked artistically and commercially in the ’70s, they were struggling to figure out how to adapt to changing tastes in the synth-heavy MTV era. They finally scored a minor hit in 1986 with a song called “Dancin’ in the Ruins,” their biggest success since “Burnin’ for You” five years earlier. I don’t have any particular memories of “Dancin’,” but I do recall liking it quite a bit back in the day. And then I more or less forgot about it for a few decades.

Well, I’ve been thinking about it again ever since early Wednesday morning. The song’s generally upbeat sound overlaying its fatalistic lyrics seems to match my post-election emotions, which have been a weird rollercoaster between existential dread, weary resignation, and fuck-it-all euphoria.

And that’s really about all I’ve got to say right now. So just crank the volume and enjoy as we head into the weekend. Everything crumbles to dust in time, so we may as well have a party, right?