Music

A Song You Like by an Artist No Longer Living

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 25: A Song You Like by an Artist No Longer Living

I heard a lot of Elvis’ music when I was a kid. My mother is a longtime fan and, while she was never one of those extremists who built a shrine in the living room following his death, it seems like there was always one of his records playing on our massive old hi-fi console when I got home from school. Unlike most kids who probably just rolled their eyes at whatever their parents liked to listen to, I actually enjoyed it. Most of it, anyhow.

I’ve gone back and forth over the years about which era of Elvis I prefer. Generally speaking, he was at his most exciting in the early days, the late 1950s, before his stint in the army and that long string of Hollywood movies that seemed to drain away all the mojo that had been so threatening to whitebread America when he first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. However, I also have a real soft spot for his work from the early ’70s, the records that Mom was listening to most often in my memories of that time. “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “Burning Love” are great songs, as iconic in their way as anything he did when he was young.

However, for a plain old crank-it-loud, get-the-heart-pumping rock-and-roll experience, I always dial up “Promised Land.” Originally a Chuck Berry tune from 1965, Elvis recorded it in 1973, and released it as a single in the fall of ’74. It peaked on the charts at number 14 and became the title track of an LP the following year. I was five at the time.

The video I found appears to be fan-made, using footage from the film Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, which documented a string of live appearances at the International Hotel in Las Vegas (now known as the Westgate Las Vegas) in August 1970. Promoted as the “Elvis Summer Festival,” this was essentially the same sort of residency that has now become de rigueur for aging rockstars. People tend to sneer at “Vegas Elvis,” but he was pioneering something we now take for granted, and as cheesy as the jumpsuits and karate moves might now appear to be, I’m sure they were electrifying at the time. There has to be a reason why the man sold out 837 of those Vegas performances.

One final thought: You might remember this one from the first Men In Black movie, when Tommy Lee Jones is driving on the ceiling of the Queens Midtown Tunnel while blasting his favorite eight-track. (“Elvis is not dead, he just went home.”)

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A Song from a Band You Wish Were Still Together

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 24: A Song from a Band You Wish Were Still Together

This was another tough one because most of the bands I like are still together, at least in some form or other. But after wracking my brains and scrolling back and forth through my iTunes library, I finally came up with a candidate: The Go-Go’s! So obvious, right?

Except it turns out that they’re not quite as broken up as I thought they were. It seems they still perform together sporadically, have just in the past two weeks released a new song (it’s not bad!), and are even loosely planning for a tour in 2021, if the COVIDs allow. But considering that their heyday was the early ’80s and their output as a group essentially finished by since the early ’90s, I’m going to stick with them for the purposes of this entry.

The Go-Go’s hold a pretty exalted place in the annals of rock and roll history. They were the first and so far remain the only all-female band that wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and topped the Billboard album charts.They had five top-40 hits between 1981 and 1984, the biggest of which — “We Got the Beat” — is practically a Gen-X anthem. (That’s probably in part because it played over the opening scene of the seminal ’80s film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.) It was also one of the first 45-rpm singles I ever bought. Still have it, too!

As much as I like that song, though, I find myself drawn today toward “Vacation,” the title track of their second album, released in the far-off summer of 1982. It became their second highest-charting single, right behind the aforementioned “We Got the Beat.” I’ve always liked the infectious cheerfulness of this one (in spite of the lonely-heart lyrics), and unlike a lot of other stuff from this era, it never sounds dated to me. It’s just good listening. And the truth is, after five months of working from home and COVID-related paranoia, I’m craving a good vacation myself. Or at least a carefree summer like we had back in ’82.

I don’t know that The Go-Go’s are remembered as an MTV band per se, but they came along about the same time as that phenomenon and I’ve always enjoyed their videos. I think this one is especially cute. The band itself evidently thought videos were a waste of time, and according to guitarist Jane Wiedlin in the oral history I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, they were all very drunk while pretending to waterski. Weirdly, the thought of that makes me smile…

One final thought: When I wax nostalgic for the ’80s, this is the era I’m remembering, not the later years of the decade when the shoulder pads and hair styles seemed to be in an arms-race to see which would collapse under their own weight first. The looks (and ladies) of the early to mid ’80s, though… I miss those.

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A Song You Think Everybody Should Listen To

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 23: A Song You Think Everybody Should Listen To

I’ve often said that the year I spent working as a telephone customer-service representative was the worst 12 months of my professional life. That’s not entirely true — the year I spent struggling with underemployment, as the expression goes, while pretending I knew how to be a freelance writer was objectively far worse, not to mention the times when I’ve been out of work entirely — but yeah, my experience as a “phone drone” was… not good.

It was my first “adult” job after graduating college and leaving behind the safe womb of the movie theater, where I’d pretty much done as I pleased without much supervision or many rules. The phone shop was different. There, I was tied to my desk and phone console, my productivity rigidly monitored, my time micromanaged to the extent that I was warned for taking too long in the restroom. There was always the possibility of someone listening in on my calls without me knowing about it. Opportunities to get to know any of my coworkers were severely limited. It was my first experience of really, truly feeling like a faceless cog in the machine. I hated every second of it.

And I had a commute for the first time, too, a half-hour drive each way instead of the minutes it had taken me to reach the theater, in heavy traffic in one of the busier parts of the valley. I hated that too. But out of that, at least, came something good: I discovered a radio station I’d never heard before, “The Mountain,” KUMT, all the way over the end of the FM dial at 105.7. The format was something called AAA, “adult album alternative,” which in practical terms meant a little bit of everything. On The Mountain, I heard deep cuts from familiar classic rock artists, occasional pop tunes from the ’50s right up to that moment in the early ’90s, stuff I would later learn was called “roots music,” and stuff I had no idea how to classify. You could hear things like Los Lobos followed by Boston followed by Annie Lennox followed by the Grateful Dead. It was “jukebox” programming years before iPod shuffle mode made that a thing, and I liked most of what I heard, which I could no longer say about most of the other stations in town. Naturally, though, something that cool wasn’t destined to last; as I recall, “The Mountain,” at least in that format, was around only about as long as I was a phone drone. In the end, though, it had served its purpose. It kept me sane during my daily drives to and from a place I really didn’t want to be, and it introduced me to a number of artists I hadn’t known before and possibly never would’ve stumbled across any other way. Sonny Landreth, Nanci Griffith, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang. And most especially a cat named Keb’ Mo’.

Keb’ Mo’ — street-talk for Kevin Moore — plays a style of music I describe as “happy blues.” The sounds and rhythms are undeniably classic Delta blues, but the lyrics and overall tone tend to be upbeat, infused with a gentle and frequently self-deprecating sense of humor. His music is simply good, and listening to it makes me feel good. I first heard Keb’ on The Mountain during one of my nerve-wracking commutes to my nerve-wracking job as a phone drone. The hours I spent in that office were soul-crushing, but if I caught a Keb’ Mo’ song on the way home, it was like healing energy coming from the air itself. He quickly became a favorite, and Anne and I have now seen him live four or five times. We were scheduled to see him again this fall, with a personal meet-and-greet before the show, but this stupid plague we’re enduring put a stop to that.

Anyhow, for my “song I think everyone should hear,” I’ve chosen the title track from Keb’s second album, Just Like You. It’s always a showstopper when he performs it live, especially in outdoor settings after the sun has set and a breeze is floating through the crowd. The lighters come out — well, smartphones now — and the mass of people begin to sway as one, and in that moment, that sweet, wistful, yearning moment, you believe that maybe we really can figure all this out and learn to live together.

I’d like to think this song could have that same effect right now, in this Year of the Plague 2020, when people are in the streets crying out for justice and others are telling them, essentially, that they’re not justified in feeling the way they do and that they should shut up and stop raising a ruckus. I know, of course, that it won’t. It’s just a song. Lots of people don’t even pay attention to them. But… I do like to think. I hope you’ll give it a listen and pay attention and maybe walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

And no, your eyes don’t deceive you: that’s Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne in the video, lending a hand…

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A Song That Moves You Forward

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 22: A Song That Moves You Forward

In his Oscar-winning performance in the film Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges plays “Bad” Blake, a one-time country music star who’s been reduced to playing in bowling alleys and dive bars, earning just enough from each gig for a tank of gas and another bottle of rotgut. He’s a man on his way to the bottom, and very likely an early grave. But then a chance meeting with a journalist who’s looking for a story (and who also happens to be a cute single mother) provides the catalyst he needs to straighten himself out, although the movie is wise enough to not end up in quite the place you think it’s headed toward. In the end, Blake is not a conquering hero back on top with his girl at his side… but he’s better off than he was.

I figured I would like this film when I first saw it back in 2010, but I was surprised by how much it affected me, and by how much I identified with Bad Blake. Not that my life in any way resembles his; I am not, after all, an alcoholic has-been musician. But as with any good art, the film resonated with me. I was 40 years old in 2010 and it seemed as if I’d been in a midlife crisis since my twenties. The feelings Bad Blake struggles with were all too familiar: regret, guilt, the crushing sorrow of feeling like you’ve wasted whatever talent and potential you may once have possessed. The fear that maybe you never really had that much potential to begin with. And most especially the self-loathing that comes from knowing that you fucked up your life and there’s nothing you can ever do that will repair the damage or bring back the lost time.

In the film, Blake’s redemption is facilitated by a song he writes to try and express all of that accumulated everything he’s been carrying around. He sells it to another country star played by Colin Farrell, who naturally makes it into a hit, and Blake is on his way back to something resembling a life. In the real world, that song — “The Weary Kind” — was written and performed by Ryan Bingham, a former rodeo bull rider whose voice sounds far too weathered and wise for someone so young. The song earned Bingham multiple awards, including a Grammy and an Oscar. It’s a song for everyone who has ever felt burned out, used up, cast aside, or ruined. It’s as desolate as the southwest. A song that sounds like the last few drops in the bottle, the last dollar on the table when you see that you’ve got a losing hand. It haunts me. And yet…

Seeing Crazy Heart for the first time was deeply cathartic for me, in part because it was so unexpected. I remember walking out of the theater thinking that if Bad Blake can somehow find his way to the other side, maybe I wasn’t quite so lost myself.

That was the first time “The Weary Kind” could be said to have moved me forward. There was another occasion when it granted me that gift, though, and that perhaps was an even larger kindness than shuffling me through something as mundane as a midlife crisis.

A year after I saw Crazy Heart, in 2011, a young woman I worked with was killed in a car accident on a cold, foggy winter morning. I didn’t know her that well, but her death hit me hard. It was so sudden, so unexpected, and so completely unfair. She was a beautiful, smart, vivacious, and above all likable girl. Half the men in our ad agency, including myself, had a crush on her. She was good at her job, she’d won an award, and she was working on her MBA. Everyone knew she had a bright future ahead of her. And then in the blink of an eye, the future was ripped away from her. I remember that I wasn’t simply grieving about her death. I was angry about it. I was pissed at the gods or fate or the Force or whatever had conspired to put her in front of that lead-footed asshole with the frosted-over windshield instead of a minute of even just 30 seconds behind him. My imagination summoned up a horrific vision of her final moments and what the fire that consumed her little car had done to her face and her golden hair. And I couldn’t get that picture out of my mind for days, and I was pissed off about that too.

And then for some reason, I thought of “The Weary Kind.” The lyrics, of course, have nothing to do with a young woman cut down in her prime. But then… they don’t specifically speak of a frustrated wannabe novelist who’d just hit his 40th birthday either. But the tone — run-down and redolent of bone-deep sorrow and exhaustion — well, that certainly matched how I was feeling. And it reminded me of Julie. I thought that wherever she was, maybe she could appreciate the emotion, if not the lyrics.

I listened to “The Weary Kind” a lot the day of Julie’s memorial, which I wasn’t able to attend because of a work project I couldn’t get away from. I listened to it a lot over the next few days, too. And gradually my anger about her death and the nightmarish fantasy I’d conjured for myself faded into the background. I moved forward.

I still play this song when I’m feeling wiped out and lost and I can’t sleep because the regrets won’t leave me alone.

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A Song You Like with a Person’s Name in the Title

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 21: A Song You Like with a Person’s Name in the Title

Steve Winwood first released the song “Valerie” in 1982, in a fairly simple form that he himself would later call “under-produced,” whereupon it failed to attract much attention at all. At the time, Winwood was 34 years old and had been a musician since he was just 14, when he and his older brother had joined The Spencer Davis Group. He’d subsequently been part of Traffic and Blind Faith (the Eric Clapton-led “supergroup” that released only a single, immensely successful album), as well as a session musician through most of the ’70s. He had a big solo hit in 1980 with “While You See a Chance,” but the relative flop of “Valerie” and the album it came from, as well as his reluctance to tour, left him thinking that maybe it was time to find something else to do with the rest of his life. Instead, he got himself a new manager, moved to New York, and found a coproducer (he’d done everything himself on his earlier solo work), resulting in the 1986 album Back in the High Life, five hit singles, three Grammy Awards, and a reinvigorated career.

The following year, he helped compile Chronicles, a greatest-hits collection that included a remix of “Valerie.” The polished, synth-heavy version shot to #9, validating Winwood’s faith in the song and paving the way to his next hit album, Roll With It. Not bad, considering he’d been on the verge of cashing in his chips only a short time before.

I don’t have any particular memories involving “Valerie,” but I do tend to associate it with my freshman year of college (the song was peaking on the charts in December of 1987, right between fall and winter quarters). My good friend Cheryl once remarked that Winwood’s music in general is “so damned optimistic.” So naturally it was a perfect complement for a time of my life when every single day seemed to offer some novel experience, and I thought I had infinite possibilities ahead of me. God, how I miss that feeling…

 

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A Song That Has Many Meanings to You

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 20: A Song That Has Many Meanings to You

I have to be honest, this category was something of a challenge. Whether it reflects the type of music I enjoy or my own lack of sophistication, I simply could not think of a song with multiple meanings. Most everything I like tends to be… unambiguous. What you hear is what you get. I came close to just begging off on this one and moving to the next item… and then something popped into my head:

“Sister Christian” by Night Ranger.

Oh, don’t laugh. This one is as much a landmark of its era as anything by Prince, which is why you’ve heard it in movies and TV shows ranging from Family Guy to Boogie Nights, and on every cheap truckstop “Best of the ’80s” compilation CD you’ve ever seen. And as it happens, I have had a number of conversations with friends who were unsure of just what the heck it was actually about.

To my ear, it’s pretty obviously a coming-of-age tune in which a big brother expresses concern — but also gentle support — for his little sister growing up and becoming sexually active. No one ever disputes that; the debates I’ve had seem to turn on the chorus, specifically the repeated word “motoring,” which seems to throw many listeners.  I translate that as “cruising,” as in the mostly obsolete practice of driving around looking for a, um, friend for the evening, which is evidently what the little sister in the song is doing. (If anyone reading this is too young to have ever done that, check out the films American Graffiti and/or Dazed and Confused. I myself participated in this quintessentially American activity a few times, but never with much success. Good thing I just like to drive.) The word also suggests speed to me, that the sister is moving toward her goal fast… maybe too fast, and that worries the singer. So, there you go: multiple interpretations. However, that little quibble about the chorus is not what prompted me to think of “Sister Christian” as “a song with many meanings.”

For me, this song is also indelibly associated with another rite of passage, high school graduation. But not my own, strangely enough. Way back in the spring of 1986, my junior year of high school, I worked for one class period each day as an aide in the media center — the library. Mostly I hung out in a little room filled with VCRs, TV sets, and overhead projectors, fiddling with a really cool stereo system in between checking out equipment to faculty members. I had a few interesting adventures in that room, which I might get around to talking about some day. And I also occasionally got pulled into jobs involving the stage crew; my “boss” in the media center was their advisor. One of those occasions was when I helped to assemble a slideshow and the accompanying music for the final senior assembly for the outgoing class of ’86, held in the last couple weeks of school before they graduated. The slides were all photos of their class from the past four years — dances, football games, that sort of thing — and the music had been deliberately selected for maximum nostalgic effect. I remember sitting in that assembly alongside the clicking slide projector, hot and bored. Hey, it was late May, the A/C wasn’t up to the job, and we weren’t looking at pictures of my class!  But then the opening notes of “Sister Christian” began, that so-familiar little piano riff. And very soon after, I felt that something had changed in that auditorium. The energy was different. More open somehow…. more vulnerable. And then I started to hear sniffling… here… there… and I realized that quite a few of these big tough seniors, who only moments ago had been cracking jokes, shifting restlessly, cynical and ready to be done with Bingham High and off to whatever adult lives they had planned… were crying. “Sister Christian” had struck a chord within them, and for at least a moment, maybe they too felt like they were growing up too fast and wondering what was the price for achieving their flight. I know I did. I wondered about it all through my own senior year, wondered if my fellow classmates felt it too or would feel it if they heard the right song in our senior assembly. I’ll confess that it took me a long time to really grow up and to move beyond high school. In a lot of ways, I suppose I never have, considering I ended up in charge of my 30-year reunion a couple years ago. And I think my impulse to hang on might have started that day listening to Night Ranger in a stuffy auditorium.

Incidentally, it is purely a coincidence that the official video for “Sister Christian” is themed around a high school graduation. I don’t remember seeing the video until long after I was out of high school, and in any event, I wasn’t the one who selected the song for that slideshow.

Now for the technical stuff: The song comes from Night Ranger’s second album, Midnight Madness, and it became the band’s biggest hit. Released in March 1984, it was on the charts for 24 weeks and would peak at number five in June. Midnight Madness sold over a million copies — one of which found its way into my Walkman — largely on the strength of “Sister Christian” and its follow-up “When You Close Your Eyes,” another exercise in wistful nostalgia. It probably won’t surprise anyone reading this to learn that both songs are favorites of mine.

On that note, why don’t we do some “motoring?” Sing it with me, kids:

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A Song That Makes You Think About Life

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 19: A Song That Makes You Think About Life

Whether it’s because of some quirk in my genetic makeup, an “old soul,” a karmic hangover from a past-life misdeed, or perhaps a long-forgotten childhood trauma, I think it’s safe to say that my default emotional state tends toward the melancholy. Not full-on depressive, although I’ve certainly flirted with the Black Dog a few times. And I do have moments of happiness and sometimes even completely good days from beginning to end. But life for me is almost always tinged with a bittersweet flavor, an undercurrent of something… well, sad. So when I was asked to name a song that “makes you think about life,” naturally I came up with one of the saddest ones I’ve ever heard.

“Taxi” was the first track released from singer-songwriter Harry Chapin’s debut album Head & Tales, way back in 1972. Clocking in at slightly under seven minutes long, it was an unlikely hit in the days when radio stations were hesitant to play anything longer than three or four minutes. But Chapin had two strokes of luck with the song. First, he debuted it on The Tonight Show, where he was able to play it in its entirety to a massive television audience, as well as an appreciative Johnny Carson. (Supposedly the performance was so well-received that he was brought back the following night for an encore, but it’s possible that story is apocryphal. I can’t find any proof that it actually happened.)  The other break was when a popular radio DJ named Jim Connors discovered the song and pushed for it to be aired despite the length. As a result of these twin boosts, the song spent 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #24.

I can’t remember when I first heard “Taxi.” It’s one of those songs that’s just always been there on my personal soundtrack, and it’s always had an effect on me, even when I was a young boy who couldn’t begin to understand what it was about. Now… well, now I know all too well what Chapin was talking about… that empty feeling you get in the wee hours of a rainy night when you realize just how far away from your dreams you’ve really drifted.

Harry Chapin would also explore the theme of middle-aged regret in his two other best-known works: “W.O.L.D.,” about an aging disc jockey who’s sacrificed his personal life for his career — another possibly apocryphal story has it that TV writer Hugh Wilson was inspired by this song to create WKRP in Cincinnati — and of course his timeless #1 hit “Cat’s in the Cradle,” a tune that has been known to reduce grown men to helpless sobbing. For me, though, Chapin’s most poignant expression of that theme was in its first iteration, a story about a cab driver named Harry and a would-be actress called Sue.

The video clip of the song that I’ve found for my Loyal Readers is a curious artifact. It predates MTV by a good decade, and is described on YouTube as an “industrial film.” It ends with a lengthy spoken section by (I believe) Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records, describing how he discovered and signed Chapin to his label. Aside from that little oddity, though, this photographic montage set to music is clearly something we Gen Xers would understand to be a “music video.” So what is it, really? Is it more accurate to call it a “proto-video?” And what were MTV videos if not “industrial films” intended to promote sales, as creative and bizarre as they often were? This has nothing to do with anything, I suppose, I just find it interesting when new information reframes something I’ve long understood in a certain context. And it demonstrates how sometimes phenomena that “come out of nowhere” have actually been around in one form or another for a very long time.

As for Harry Chapin, he met with a sad ending in 1981, killed in a car crash while on his way to a gig. He was only 38. A life cut short. Almost like something from one of his own songs.

 

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A Song From the Year You Were Born

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 18: A Song From the Year You Were Born

I can do one better than just a song from the year I was born. How about an old favorite that was in fact released the very month I was born?

“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival came into the world about the same time I did, in September of 1969, as the B-side to another of the band’s big hits, “Down on the Corner.” On its own, “Fortunate Son” would peak at #14 on the Billboard chart two months later. But then something interesting happened: Billboard changed its methodology for tracking double-sided hit records, i.e., 45-rpm singles that had a hit song on both sides, which wasn’t unusual at the time. (Creedence, in fact, released a number of these “twofer” records over the next couple of years.) That change meant that “Fortunate Son,” now in combination with “Down on the Corner,” continued to climb the charts, the two of them together finally reaching #3 on December 20, 1969. I was three months old.

The song is widely understood to have been a protest against the Vietnam War, as that’s the backdrop it was conceived and released in, and that impression has been reinforced over the decades by its use in Vietnam War-themed movies (Forrest Gump) and video games (Battlefield Vietnam), and even in politics (John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign appropriated the song to try to illuminate the difference between Kerry — who served in ‘Nam — and incumbent George W Bush, who did not). But “Fortunate Son” never actually mentions Vietnam; it’s really more of a primal scream about class and the way the wealthy play by different rules than people who work for a living, which is a far more universal — and sadly unchanging — theme. And that, I believe, explains why you still hear “Fortunate Son” five decades later and why it still feels relevant when you do. I mean… when was the last time you heard the “Fixin’-to-Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish? The Creedence tune, on the other hand, is probably playing on your local classic-rock station right now, or at least it will be in the next 30 minutes or so.

Besides being just a great, catchy rock-n-roller, the song has special resonance for me. My career is far removed from my dad’s life as a diesel mechanic at an open-pit copper mine, but I still tend to identify with my blue-collar roots. And after some of the experiences I’ve had dealing with people who very obviously thought themselves to be my “betters,” I have a somewhat jaundiced view of what wealth does to a person’s character. The song’s refrain of “it ain’t me” could be my own personal motto… and it’s one I find myself wanting to shout from the rooftops more and more often these days.

But that’s beyond the scope of this particular post, so let’s just enjoy the song, shall we? The clip below is the official video released just last year for the song’s 50th anniversary, and as you can see, it’s less a protest against war or an indictment of the 1% than it is a celebration of salt-of-the-earth types of all descriptions. In the end, maybe that’s the strongest protest  of all, just showing the real America — rural, urban, black, white, native, immigrant — all of us just doing the best we can, in spite of the guys at the top…

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A Song You’d Sing a Duet with Someone on Karaoke

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 17: A Song You’d Seen a Duet with Someone on Karaoke

Fun fact: I have never karaoke’d, as a duo or otherwise. And I’m not sure I ever would, at least not without copious amounts of liquid courage. But if it did somehow come down to that, I can think of no better dueting tune than Sonny and Cher’s immortal 1965 hit “I Got You Babe.” (Here’s another fun fact: When Cher first heard it, she reportedly thought it was a dumb song that would never go anywhere. She’s still performing it in concert half a century later.)

Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a cliche and can even induce eye-rolling under the wrong circumstances, especially after the movie Groundhog Day used it to such horrifying effect, but it’s a sweet song that’s in a key just about anyone can manage (let’s be honest, Sonny Bono wasn’t much of a singer), and to my ear, it perfectly captures the innocent optimism of young love. But it’s also somehow weirdly applicable to older love too; I can easily see it as a fond commentary on a couple that’s been down the road and back, and somehow, against the odds, is still together… weatherbeaten but happy with each other. Whether you hear it as an anthem to nineteen-year-olds or a reminder of your own lost youth or as a poignant declaration to your life partner of decades — hell, why not all three? — it’s one of those songs that just makes you happy to hear. At least it makes me happy.

I have no idea where this video clip comes from — obviously a vintage television program — but it’s a pretty poignant thing too. I first got to know Sonny and Cher on their weekly TV show in the early ’70s, which was largely built around the “joke” of Cher being mean to her hopelessly square husband. As I understand it, by that point in their relationship, her antipathy for him wasn’t an act. But here they’re both fresh and cute and visibly enamored of each other, before life and fame and god knows what ground whatever they had together into a pulp.

Anyhow, that’s really all I’ve got to say about this one. Short and sweet this time. Enjoy!

 

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A Song That’s a Classic Favorite

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 16: A Song That’s a Classic Favorite

The wording of this one seemed a little odd to me, so I had to spend some time parsing it to be certain of what it was asking for. I finally decided it should more properly be read as “a classic song that’s a favorite.”

As it happens, I like a lot of so-called classic songs. Of course, the definition of “classic” varies through time; these days, the oldies station is playing stuff that was popular when I was in college. Oy. For me, however, “classic”  is my parents’ music, the early days of rock and roll. It’s mom’s scratchy old 45s played back on a supposedly “portable” record player the size of a large suitcase, the one that needed to have a penny taped to the tone arm to keep it from skipping across the platter. It’s Chuck Berry drifting in and out of the static on a tube-driven AM car radio. It’s the soundtrack to American Graffiti, and the cherry Coke you drank at sunset with a hot summer breeze in your hair, and it’s the music that mom and dad’s DJ friend pumps out across the parking lot at their classic-car cruise night events.

Boiled down to a single tune, “classic” is Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” It’s probably one of the most recognizable songs of the early rock era, and it’s one of my favorites from any era. The song was a tremendous hit for Del in 1961, sitting at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks and coming in at number 5 for the year. It became a hit for him again in 1987, when Del re-recorded it (with somewhat different lyrics) for the producers of the television series Crime Story, which could be described as Miami Vice set in the early ’60s. Every week for two seasons, “Runaway” played over the opening-credits montage of Dennis Farina in a trenchcoat, neon signs, and tail fins. I barely remember the show itself, but those credits still play through my minds-eye from time to time.

However, it’s the earlier, decidedly more innocent version of the song that I’m going to place here. Obviously, it was recorded long before music videos, but I did manage to find a vintage clip from one of those teenage dance shows that were popular in the day. I’m not sure which show, exactly — I don’t think it’s American Bandstand, the sets don’t look right to me — but of course the point is for y’all to hear the song… so, enjoy. And let it take you back to those days when your relationship with your car was at least as important as the one you had with your best girl, and likely it was a more solid one at that…

 

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