Friday Evening Videos

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?


Friday Evening Videos: “Turning Japanese” (Kisten Dunst edition)

I wasn’t going to post a music video this week because… well, what would be the point, you know? It’s been a hell of a week, with the tragic Pulse nightclub shootings followed by the same damn gun-control debate we have every time there’s a mass shooting — and isn’t that a pathetic horror story in itself, that these things are so bloody commonplace the after-argument has become boring? — and that poor little kid getting hauled off by an alligator, and all the political bullshit and the generally toxic atmosphere that prevails on social media these days. I’ve been struggling lately anyhow with that recurring feeling of ennui I get every so often, like I’m running in place, constantly active but never really getting anywhere. I’m tired, in a way that’s difficult to explain. Not just physical fatigue, but something inside… emotional, spiritual, I don’t know. And then you add in all that other stuff… Under those conditions, why bother with my stupid little music-video thing? It’s not like anyone really cares, right?

But then a friend posted something today on my Facebook wall, and it’s so silly and charming and sexy and dorky and just plain weird that I couldn’t help but smile, in spite of all the gunge I’ve been feeling. And I think I really need to pass it along, because maybe it’ll do the same for someone else out there who also needs a little sexy silly weirdness after this long, long week…

Yes, that is the actress Kirsten Dunst in a blue wig flouncing around Tokyo’s famously nerdy Akihabara district while singing a an old chestnut from the Awesome ’80s. If this clip seems familiar to my three Loyal Readers, it’s likely because I’ve posted it before, about six years ago. Here’s what I wrote about it back then:

I’ve found in my online wanderings that Kirsten is something of a binary proposition: people seem to either really like her or they really do not. Her detractors tend to become especially fixated on her uneven teeth, for some reason. Personally, I think she’s adorable, teeth and all. Not conventionally pretty, perhaps, but she’s got something that works for me. I especially like that sultry eyebrow-lifting thing she does sometimes — you can see it in this video at about the 2:37 mark. Is that TMI? Probably… [The video I posted six years ago — which is now dead — must’ve had slightly different timing, because there is no eyebrow thing at 2:37 in this version. Alas.]

Anyhow, as you saw in the opening title card, this video was directed by McG, the guy responsible for [Terminator: Salvation] as well as those two Charlie’s Angels movies a few years ago; the producer, Takashi Murakami, is a Japanese artist who works in a variety of media. My understanding is that the video was played on an endless loop at the entrance to Murakami’s recent “Pop Life” exhibition at the Tate Modern in London. [My understanding was correct. Details about this project and the art exhibition here.]

Now, you may wonder what the heck a mid-list starlet in a blue wig singing a 30-year-old one-hit-wonder has to do with an art exhibition. I’ve read that it supposedly articulates the cliche’d Japan of Western imagination, i.e., Murakami’s notion of Anglo-American stereotypes about his native country’s pop culture. Or some damn thing. The really important point is that it gives us an excuse to see Kirsten Dunst in a blue wig and a really short skirt singing one of the most terminally catchy tunes of the ’80s, The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese.” Which is really not about masturbation, as the old urban legend we all heard in middle school claimed. At least, The Vapors say it’s not about that, and they oughta know, right?

Damn, she’s got long legs… and there’s that eyebrow thing again…

I still think she’s adorable. And I’d like to go to Japan. For whatever those two factoids are worth…




Friday Evening Videos: “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”

I have a love/hate kind of thing with John Mellencamp.

When he was young, and I was too, he struck me as a cocky punk of the particular sort who could always (and honestly, still can) send me into an irrational fury with nothing but an oily smirk. The kind who love to push people’s buttons just to see what happens, and who always seem to get away with things that other people — people like me — inevitably get busted for. Now, maybe all of that was just part of the manufactured “John Cougar” persona that was forced on him by his early managers, the ones who tried to sell him as a pretty-boy rebel in the James Dean/young Brando “what do you got” mold. But maybe it wasn’t. Either way, the guy bugged me.

Later, when we both grew up, he expunged the “Cougar” part of his identity and rebranded himself as a midwestern Springsteen and defender of the struggling small-farm owner. And I found I still didn’t like him much, because now he came across as a humorless and sanctimonious scold. (See also Henley, Don.) And that’s more or less where my opinion of him has remained for something like 25 years.

Ah, but that’s Mellencamp the person.

Mellencamp’s music, on the other hand… I’ve dearly loved and related to a lot of his music over the years. The four albums that comprised the peak of his popularity in the 1980s — American Fool, Uh-Huh, Scarecrow, and The Lonesome Jubilee — still enjoy frequent play on my iPod, while familiar singles like “Pink Houses,” “Small Town,” and “Cherry Bomb” have only grown more meaningful to me as I’ve gotten older. Even “Jack and Diane,” Mellencamp’s lone number-one hit to date and a song that I got very sick of hearing back in the day, has gained a somewhat unexpected poignancy since I hit middle age. (The line about “hold onto sixteen as long as you can” speaks volumes to me personally, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed by life and ancient as the proverbial hills; as always, your mileage may vary.)

This week’s video selection isn’t as bittersweet as those other songs, but like much of Mellencamp’s oeuvre, it delineates and celebrates something that’s distinctly American, nothing less than rock and roll itself… specifically the rock and roll of the 1960s, which Mellencamp and I both grew up on, even though our childhoods were separated by a good 20 years. It’s a song that sounds like summer to me, that makes me want to drop the top (and the hammer) on my car and crank the volume on the radio, a song I always sing along with and just makes me feel good. The dramatic urgency of the bridge (“Voices from nowhere, voices from the larger towns…”) fires me up like few other recordings; that is rock and roll in my book:

“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” was the third single from Mellencamp’s eighth album, Scarecrow, and it almost didn’t make it onto the album because Mellencamp thought it was too upbeat compared to the rest of the tracks on that fairly dour collection. Fortunately, though, John’s manager talked him into including it. It appears as the final track on the original LP — remember, this came out in the ’80s, kids! — and I’ve always viewed it as a sort of necessary palate cleanser in that context. (On the cassette and CD versions, it was followed by another upbeat tune, “The Kind of Fella I Am.”) Released in February 1986, “R.O.C.K.” became one of John Mellencamp’s biggest hits, finally peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, bested by Falco’s “Rock Me, Amadeus” (a song whose popularity I’ve never understood, frankly)

I remember doing a lip synch of this tune in my senior-year drama class and having a lot of fun with it. I’ll bet I was the only one in the room (besides my teacher) who knew who the artists mentioned in the bridge section actually were. If you want to educate yourself on the classics, “R.O.C.K.” provides you with a pretty decent beginning syllabus…


Friday Evening Videos: “Rockin’ at Midnight”

Last weekend found me and my friend Geoff indulging in an activity I haven’t done for a very long time: browsing the used CD section at FYE. (Yes, I still buy most of my music on physical media. Did you really expect otherwise, given my motto over there in the sidebar?) I managed to find several items from my wishlist, but my real score that night was a copy of an old favorite I had on cassette back in the Awesome ’80s, but haven’t heard in 20 years or more: The Honeydrippers, Volume One.

I’ll forgive you if that name doesn’t ring a bell, although my fellow Gen-Xers will probably at least remember the album’s big single, “Sea of Love.”

The Honeydrippers was a project created by singer Robert Plant in the aftermath of Led Zeppelin’s breakup in 1980. Plant had long been an admirer of early American R&B music, the stuff that hadn’t quite evolved into rock and roll yet, but definitely prefigured the genre, and working with Zeppelin hadn’t given him much opportunity to explore that sound. So in 1981, while the remains of the mighty Zep still smoldered, Plant pulled together his bandmate Jimmy Page, along with Jeff Beck — who was Page’s old bandmate from the Yardbirds, the group that also launched Eric Clapton — and various session musicians to have a little fun. Soon, though, he began working on original material that would lead to his first solo albums in ’82 and ’83, and the Honeydrippers got shelved

Enter Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary co-founder of Atlantic Records who’d signed Led Zeppelin to Atlantic way back in 1968, effectively giving them their big break. Ertegun wanted to record some of his favorite songs from the early rock era, and he remembered what Plant had been doing with The Honeydrippers a couple years before. A few phone calls later, and a reformed Honeydrippers — now including Nile Rodgers of the disco band Chic, and Paul Shaffer, best known as David Letterman’s sidekick but actually an accomplished keyboardist — were in the studio laying down the tracks that became The Honeydrippers, Volume One. Released in 1984, Volume One was a five-song EP that sounded like it had tumbled through a wormhole from three decades earlier. I loved it, myself… but then, I’d  cut my musical teeth listening to my mom’s scratchy old Elvis Presley 45s, so this was like comfort food to me.

“Sea of Love” became the highest-charting cut from the album, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 — one notch higher than Zeppelin’s biggest seller, by the way — but oddly enough, that song hadn’t originally been intended as a single at all. It was the B-side to tonight’s video selection, “Rockin’ at Midnight.” In one of those weird quirks that used to happen when there were real-live DJs spinning actual records on the air, “Sea of Love” started getting more radio play than “Rockin’,” and the single was eventually reissued with the two songs flipped. My understanding is that Robert Plant wasn’t too happy about that; he feared the success of the crooning ballad “Sea” might derail his persona as a rocker, and that evidently was a big part of why there was never a Honeydrippers, Volume Two. A real shame, in my book, as I played the hell out of Volume One when I was a teen, and I certainly have enjoyed revisiting it this week. There’s just something about the roots of rock, an authenticity and a joyful swing that slowly bled out of the genre over time… see if you don’t agree:

The original “Rockin’ at Midnight” was a 1949 “jump blues” tune by a man named Roy Brown. It was a so-called “answer record” — a sequel, to use the more familiar terminology of cinema — to an earlier Brown song called “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” which was later recorded by — guess who? — Elvis Presley during his early days on the Sun label.  And I’m pretty certain that version was among those old 45s of my mother’s that The Honeydrippers always reminded me of. Wheels within wheels, man.

Also, I have to say it’s been a little weird to assemble the chronology of these events in my mind, really for the first time. I started finding my own music (as opposed to whatever Mom was listening to) in 1981, more or less. Led Zeppelin had broken up only one year before, but they’d already taken on the mystique of timeless legend. This was a time when it seemed like you couldn’t go 10 minutes without hearing “Black Dog” or “Rock and Roll” on the radio, and every fifth kid at Oquirrh Hills Middle School was wearing a “Swan Song” t-shirt. And yet the band itself was no more, and in fact its heyday had been a good decade earlier. It was almost as if their music had always existed, simultaneously old and current, while the band itself never had. So looking at the actual dates, figuring out that I barely missed Zeppelin’s period as an active band, and that their breakup and The Honeydrippers, Volume One happened within a scant four years of each other — really, it was only four years — has been kind of surreal for me. The Zeppelin era and Plant’s solo era always seemed geological ages apart to me, but it was merely the span of time I spent in middle school. More or less.

One final thought: At the time he recorded “Rockin’ at Midnight,” Robert Plant seemed very old to me. Not ready-for-a-rest-home-and-walker old, just very… adult. It turns out he was 36 in 1984. Ten years younger than I am now.

Makes you think about what the hell you’ve done with your life, doesn’t it?


Friday Evening Videos: “Feel Like Makin’ Love”

I’m a bit late posting this, and the selection I’ve got for you this week isn’t exactly a music video, but I’ve been mildly obsessed with it since I stumbled across it a few days ago and I want to share.

I’ve posted videos before from The Bangles, the all-girl group that had several big hits back in the Awesome ’80s, including “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and “Eternal Flame,” their number-one smash from 1989 and their last charting single. I liked them a lot back in the day. I still like them. As a band, they were a near-perfect combination of tight musical skills, killer pop sensibilities, and — hey, I’m not gonna lie — physical good looks, which made them pretty much irresistible to a red-blooded, music-loving teenage male like myself.

Well, the video clip I unearthed this week is a live performance by lead singer Susanna Hoffs from 1991, a couple years after The Bangles went their separate ways. Her entire set from this concert is good, but this particular song — a cover of Bad Company’s 1975 hit “Feel Like Makin’ Love” — really stands out. Everything about it, from her shy and halting introductory banter to the guitar work to the way she sways her hips and tosses her hair, is sheer calculated sex appeal. And let’s not forget her distinctive, unforgettable voice, which shifts from a little-girl whisper to a wanton growl in the space of a heartbeat.

Yeah, in case you couldn’t guess, this performance really presses my buttons. It’s the perfect thing for a balmy springtime night like this, when your thoughts drift so easily and naturally to those nights when you were young and the rhythm of a certain song, the tone of a girl’s voice, a glint in her eye, could set off electrical discharges in nerve endings you didn’t realize were even there. So open your windows, take a deep breath of that blooming lilac and a sip of that smoky whiskey, and then turn up the speakers and just let it happen. Rock and roll in its purest form is all about sex, and baby, this one rocks.

(Technical note: the video quality isn’t so hot, but it’s not terrible; the sound at least is good. Enjoy!)


Friday Evening Videos: “Kyrie”

I had been thinking I’d do something related to Prince for this week’s Friday video — since his untimely death, a lot of interesting clips have been surfacing of him performing with other artists, or in unexpected venues — but this morning I had an inspiration to go with something a little different.

I was driving to the train station, headed directly toward the Wasatch Mountains that brace up the east side of the Salt Lake Valley like a fortress wall. The tattered remnants of last night’s rain clouds were snagged on the jagged peaks and flowing through the canyons and contours of the mountains like a thick, steel-gray liquid, and as I grew nearer to this ominous, beautiful sight, a song lyric leaped into my mind: “Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel…”

Don’t look so surprised. For a time in the mid ’80s, there was a middle space between the electric-guitar-based rock that I loved and the synth-based New Wave stuff that I loathed, and the pop band Mr. Mister fell squarely into that sweet spot. “Kyrie” was the second of two number-one hits that emerged from the band’s sophomore album, Welcome to the Real World (the first being the more ballad-like “Broken Wings”). While the refrain was a mystery to me for years — I eventually learned that Kyrie eleison is Greek for “Lord, have mercy,” a phrase found in many Christian liturgies — I always liked the throbbing synthesizer rhythm that underpins the song (yes, there are synth songs I like!) and the overall uplifting tone of the lyrics, which manage to be wistful and optimistic at the same time. And even though I’ve never been a religious person, who hasn’t hoped for a bit of grace as we travel roads both metaphorical and literal?

“Kyrie” was released late in the year 1985 and eventually peaked in March 1986, occupying the Billboard Hot 100‘s top spot for two weeks. That was my junior year of high school. I had my driver’s license by then, and was starting to venture out on my own, usually in a brown 1970 Thunderbird that was probably three times the size of the car I drive today. I remember more than once putting my window down and singing along to this song with the wind in my hair.

The video isn’t especially memorable, I’m afraid, falling squarely into the cliche’d “shots of the band performing in a vast, darkened space juxtaposed with candid backstage shenanigans” category. But the song is good — interestingly, for a synth-based pop song from that era, it doesn’t sound especially dated to me — and the band was reasonably nice to look at. I still trend to dress more or less in the same style as the lead singer, Richard Page, for whatever that’s worth:

Sadly, Mr. Mister didn’t find much success after “Kyrie.” Their third album, Go On…, crashed and burned, despite generally good reviews, and the band broke up in 1990. A fourth album, which had been mostly completed at the time of the breakup, disappeared into the studio vaults for 20 years and was finally released in 2010.

And on that note, have a fine weekend everyone!


Friday Evening Videos: “If We Make It Through December”

[Ed. note: I should have had this one up last Friday, for reasons that ought to be obvious, but it was one of those days — all of my Fridays have been those days recently, which really bums me out. Because Friday is a day to think about music videos, not 25-page white papers that leave you too mentally drained to bang out even a brief blog entry. Anyhow… ]

We’re mostly into rock music around this place — you may have noticed — but I confess to having a soft spot for a certain flavor of country music, too, primarily the stuff that was popular when I was a kid in the 1970s and early ’80s. That’s not as incongruous as it might sound, though. There was a lot of cross-pollination between the genres back then, and the line between country, pop, and rock was often pretty blurry, especially to an unsophisticated child who grew up listening to whatever Mom was playing in her pickup while she drove me around town as she ran her errands.

You’ve no doubt heard that one of the giants of that era, Merle Haggard, died a week ago Wednesday, on his 79th birthday. Haggard was practically the Aristotelian ideal of what we think a country musician is supposed to be: a populist poet who drew on his own difficult history — child of Dust Bowl refugees, incarcerated in San Quentin, married five times, the obligatory struggles with substance abuse — to evoke the lives and losses of hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types. In a career that spanned half a century, he scored a mind-boggling 38 number-one hits and continued to record and tour up until mere weeks before his death. (He played one of the Nevada/Utah border casinos only a couple months ago; I wish now I’d made the drive out there to see him.)

His signature hit “Okie from Muskogee,” from 1969, is either an ode to or a spoof of a particular set of redneck attitudes, and I frankly despise that one no matter which he intended it to be. More often, though, I found relatable authenticity in his lyrics and his natural vocal stylings, which were so different from the phony twang that nearly everybody in the genre uses these days. Unlike all the modern-day Garth Brooks wanna-bes, Haggard didn’t need to demonstrate his country bona fides with any affectations; he just told stories of quietly brave people who’ve drawn bad hands but keep on striving. Case in point, this week’s video selection and my favorite Merle Haggard song, “If We Make It Through December.”

Initially released in October 1973, the song is frequently classified as a Christmas tune because of its references to the holiday season, and the fact that it came from a Christmas album. But in fact, it’s more a song about economic hardship and loneliness, and also about resilience and hope for a better future, as expressed in the lines about summertime and California. The song spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, from December ’73 through January 1974, and it also crossed over to reach number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. Whenever I hear it, I think of the farm town I knew as a boy, and the blue-collar men and women I saw every day, the ones who raised alfalfa and worked at the nearby Bingham Canyon copper mine, and who lingered over coffee and cigarettes at Orton’s Cafe and went boating or horseback-riding on the weekends. This song sounds like home to me, a form of home I haven’t known in decades.

The video clip I found is a 1976 performance on The Donny & Marie Show, which is a whole other gift basket of nostalgia:



Friday Evening Videos: “Call to the Heart”

Isn’t it funny how things occasionally bubble up out of the collective unconscious? I haven’t thought about the band Giuffria or its lone top-20 hit in years, but quite inexplicably, I’ve run across three references to both in the past week. So now, naturally, I have the song running on an infinite loop in my head, and I thought I’d do my part to boost the signal.

I don’t have any specific memories of “Call to the Heart,” aside from the fact that I always liked it. Curiously, I tend to associate the song and its corresponding video with my freshman year of college, 1987-88, when I spent much of my free time between classes in the student union watching MTV on the giant rear-projection television screen that used to dominate the dining area. However, a quick check of wikipedia reveals that the song was released several years earlier, in 1984, and that the band had in fact broken up by the time I would’ve been hanging around the union. So why then does my mind insist on placing it three years later in the timestream? No idea. Perhaps the video was back in the MTV rotation at that point, or maybe it just reminds me of similar-sounding pop-metal ballads that were on the charts around that time. Or it could be that I’m just getting old and all my memories are compressing into each other as the hard drive fills up. I prefer to think it’s one of the former options, but I have a good hunch of which one it really is.

As I mentioned, Giuffria — named for its founder and keyboard player, Gregg Giuffria — had a brief lifespan comprising a mere four years during which they produced two albums. Their self-titled first album did fairly well and spawned “Call to the Heart,” which peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band’s second album, however, crashed and burned, and the group broke up not long after. In 2015, three of the original members got back together to play a few live shows, but Gregg himself wasn’t with them, which frankly baffles me. How the hell can a band named for a specific person go on without the person for whom the band is named? That’s a real paradox there.

I’ll concede this video isn’t anything remarkable. If nothing else, these weekly rambles down memory lane have taught me that most music videos were pretty lame, once the initial burst of creativity that accompanied the break-out of MTV had passed. But as John Scalzi pointed out in his usual tongue-in-cheek fashion, the video for “Call to the Heart” is an excellent time capsule of a particular moment in time, preserving forever the hair and clothes that defined the middle 1980s. Some of that stuff still looks pretty good to me — I tend to dress a lot like the lead singer’s first outfit, the white trainers, snug jeans, and leather jacket — but some of it… well, some of it does not. (Zebra and leopard prints, and spandex. Oy.)

Regardless of the look, though, I still like the sound. That moody opening and closing synth riff evokes neon-soaked alleyways on muggy summer nights, and the kind of angst that you couldn’t wait to outgrow but which nevertheless made you feel completely alive…


Friday Evening Videos: “Lucky Man”

The Moody Blues notwithstanding, I’ve never especially liked so-called “prog rock.” The self-conscious effort to make rock-and-roll more “artistic” has always struck me as misguided and inspired by a weird snobbish shame about the genre’s humble roots, and the music itself is, to my ear, pretentious, the songs overly long and frequently just plain weird. Pink Floyd, Yes, early Genesis before Phil Collins dragged that band in a more popular direction, much of Jethro Tull and The Alan Parsons Project… that stuff just leaves me cold. Or bored. To me, none of it has that swing, to borrow from another genre entirely. It doesn’t, well, rock.

Even so, most of those bands produced an occasional single that managed to get through to me. And in the case of Emerson, Lake and Palmer — more familiarly known as ELP and widely recognized as one of the pioneers of progressive rock — that song is “Lucky Man.”

The elegiac tale of a warrior-king who falls in battle, the song appealed to my college-age romanticism and budding senses of fatalism and tragedy. It was written by Greg Lake (the “Lake” in “Emerson, Lake and Palmer,” if you didn’t make the connection) when he was only 12 years old and made it onto the band’s self-titled debut album basically because they needed one more song to fill out the track list and didn’t have anything else. Released as a single in 1970, “Lucky Man” reached number 48 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, and a bit higher in Canada and Europe. It was re-released in 1973, performing slightly worse in the US (51 on the Hot 100) and considerably worse on the Canadian charts, but it’s since become a staple of classic-rock radio programming. It’s now acknowledged as one of the first rock songs to feature a solo played on a synthesizer, and is even credited by some with being the song that popularized the instrument’s use in that genre. Ironically for such a landmark bit of playing, Keith Emerson, who performed the solo, was apparently embarrassed by it. He thought he’d just been “jamming around” on his new toy, and didn’t think the take would be used on the finished recording.

Emerson died today at the age of 71. Some sources are reporting that the cause was a gunshot wound to the head, and that his death is being investigated as a suicide. If true, it’s an unspeakably sad ending for such a talented and successful man. I hope he’s found peace.

And now, by way of tribute, my favorite ELP tune, a song that’s perfect for the late hour and the only one of theirs I particularly like… “Lucky Man.”

A quick note on this video: obviously it’s an unofficial piece created by a fan. “Lucky Man” was recorded long before the music video became a common form, and the live recordings I found were all just Greg Lake performing the song alone on an acoustic guitar. I wanted the album version that featured Emerson’s playing, and this was the best version of that I could find. I have no idea who created it, but I thought it was pretty well done…