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Any Major Freaks & Geeks

November 16th, 2017 8 comments

Every two or three years I make a pilgrimage to my set of 18 episodes of the short-lived TV series Freaks And Geeks. It is not only the greatest series ever to be cancelled after only one season, but one of the greatest TV series of all time. Almost every scene is a marvel.

To me, it completes the great American Schools Trilogy: The Wonder Years, Dazed And Confused; Freaks And Geeks. The first outlived its magnificence by about two or three seasons; the Linklater film absolutely needed no sequel; but Freaks And Geeks was put to death prematurely.

All three narratives about schooling succeeded because, though set in US schools with the culture that comes with it, the characters are almost universally recognisable. We’ve all met them, or some of them. Maybe we were them.

I went to school in Germany, where there no high school sports teams, and the sub-cultures were different. We had punks, poppers (New Romantic conservatives), rockers, Neo-Nazi skinheads… and mostly unaffiliated people. Not being much of a joiner I was among the unaffiliated. In Freaks And Geeks terms, I’d have been a “Freak” — though, like the Geeks, I loved Bill Murray and the movie Stripes (I even agree with Neal that the second half of that movie is best forgotten).

But whatever differences in the sub-cultures, I have known Wayne Arnold (who might as well have been modeled on my school nemesis, Marvin) and Paul Phyffer in The Wonder Years, Mitch Kramer and his two pals, Mike Newhouse and Tony Olson, Randall “Pink” Floyd, Fred O’Bannion and Don Dawson (another nemesis) in Dazed And Confused, and Sam Weir, Neal Schweiber, Bill Haverchuck (they were all my friends at some point), Alan White (bullies are all the same), Nick Andopolis and Ken Miller in Freaks And Geeks.

I’m on less safe ground identifying with girls, because if you’re a boy, your school domain is largely male. Still, I know Kim Kelly — the great Busy Philips in Freaks And Geeks —very well.

To me, Freaks And Geeks resonates in particular because in 1980/81, when the show is set, I was 14, the same age as the junior trio of Sam, Bill and Neal. While the cultural markers are different, these characters are my peers.

And so, if we can recognise the characters, or identify with them, then their experiences need not mirror ours exactly for us to be part of the story.

As in The Wonder Years and Dazed And Confused, the music is an important character in Freaks And Geeks (indeed, I did a mix of songs from The Wonder Years a few years ago; the mix has been re-upped). Here I cannot draw from the well of nostalgia. That American 1980/81 is not my 1980/81. And still, of the songs on this mix, which all featured on Freaks And Geeks, I owned six at the time (since you ask: Bowie, Seger, Billy Joel, Deep Purple, Supertramp, Jethro Tull).

As a bonus track I add “Lady L.”, the hackneyed love song Nick (Jason Segel) writes for Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), which has attained something of a cult status. The music-related scene that sticks with me, however, is the one where the Weir parents listen to The Who’s Squeeze Box to determine whether the British band’s concert is suitable for their teenage daughter.

The CD-R length rule required me to omit some worthy contenders; indeed, I expect to be hated for choosing Supertramp ahead of XTC (but I really don’t like No Language In Our Lungs) or Rush (whom I don’t really like, full stop). Maybe there’ll be a follow-up…

As ever, CD-R length, homeworked covers, PW in comments.

1. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Bad Reputation (1981)
2. Joe Jackson – I’m The Man (1979)
3. Warren Zevon – Poor, Poor Pitiful Me (1976)
4. Bob Seger – You’ll Accompany Me (1980)
5. Little River Band – Reminiscing (1978)
6. Billy Joel – Rosalinda’s Eyes (1978)
7. Kansas – Dust In The Wind (1978)
8. Jethro Tull – Aqualung (1971)
9. George Baker Selection – Little Green Bag (1969)
10. The Who – Squeeze Box (1975)
11. Deep Purple – Hush (1968)
12. Van Halen – Little Dreamer (1978)
13. Journey – Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ (1979)
14. Styx – Renegade (1978)
15. David Bowie – Fashion (1980)
16. Supertramp – Take The Long Way (1979)
17. Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down To Georgia (1979)
18. Pure Prairie League – Amie (1972)
19. Grateful Dead – Ripple (1970)
20. Jason Segal – Lady L. (2000)

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Any Major Year

November 9th, 2017 11 comments

I was startled a little while ago while listening to Billy Joel’s Songs In The Attic album that its opening track about a post-apocalyptic USA is set in 2017. Things might be bad in real 2017, and the apocalypse might be a greater possibility now than it was just a couple of years ago, but the bridges of New York City are still standing.

Billy Joel first released the song in 1976 — featured here is the vastly superior  live version released five years later — when 2017 was 41 years away. Recently I read an article that we might have a post-apocalypse by 2050, i.e. only around 30 years from now. The future isn’t as far off a place as we may think.

Some other songs here anticipate the future. Boz Scaggs, singing in 1977, is having a bad trip. “It’s like 1993 and it’s weird as hell to me…This spoof reality is just like outer space to me.” Boz, lad, 1993 is cool. You should see 2017 and the Evil Keystone Kops running the show now!

Maybe Prince knew something. He didn’t expect the world to last much beyond the new millennium, hence is invitation to party now like it is 1999.

The Temptations in 1971 are looking at 1990 without mentioning 1990. It starts off like they’re in 1970, 1990 and 2017 at the same time. “Well, we got trouble in the White House, poverty in the ghetto…Thousand of jobless people walking the streets, with no food or place to sleep. What will become of them, America?” And so on in that righteous vein — until they go all Fox News on us with a sickly barrage of patriotic stuff about “America! I ain’t ashamed to say that I love ya. There ain’t another place on Earth I’d rather be.” Not even a place where there are no crooks in government and there are no poor and no ghettos?

A whole lot of songs in this mix look back into the past, including a couple of songs about World War I, most hauntingly the Motörhead track — and John Cale’s song about what I suppose is sexual frustration loosely set during the Versailles treaty negotiations.

Al Stewart’s The Last Day Of June 1934, from an album of historical vignettes, takes as its centrepiece the Night of the Long Knives, during which Hitler wiped out internal Nazi opposition (weep not for the victims here). Stewart frames that event around French lovers unconcerned about such things and British intellectuals discussing war.

Randy Newman in 1974 sang about the risible political response to the Louisiana flood in 1927; he would need to change only a few words to turn it into Louisiana 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, or 2017 with Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.

Other songs take a very personal glance at the past. Randy Travis would like to fix a mistake he made in 1982 (four years earlier from the time of singing); Josh Rouse imagines the vibe in 1972, the year he was born.

And then there are a couple of songs that require little time travel. Swedish singer Hello Saferide welcomes the year 2006 with great scepticism — “January 1st and it’s already clear: It’s gonna be another shitty year” — and a hope that she’ll land that partner she seeks: “And on the top of the list there’s you. I’m going to be with you. I haven’t told you yet but I’m going to be with you.” I hope she got you.

Finally, The Barracudas in 1980 were nostalgically yearning for 1965. In today’s money that’s nostalgia for the year 2002. Suddenly I’m feeling so very fucking old…

As always, CD-R length, home-timepassaged covers, PW in comments.

1. Billy Joel – Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) (1981)
2. Prince – 1999 (1983)
3. The Four Seasons – December ’63 (Oh What A Night) (1976)
4. Boz Scaggs – 1993 (1977)
5. New Order – 1963 (1987)
6. The Barracudas – (I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again (1980)
7. The Smashing Pumpkins – 1979 (1995)
8. Hello Saferide – 2006 (2006)
9. Josh Rouse – 1972 (2003)
10. Al Stewart – The Last Day of June 1934 (1973)
11. Ralph McTell – England 1914 (1969)
12. Motörhead – 1916 (1991)
13. John Cale – Paris 1919 (1973)
14. Harry Nilsson – 1941 (1967)
15. Randy Newman – Louisiana 1927 (1974)
16. Loudon Wainwright – 1994 (1995)
17. Randy Travis – 1982 (1986)
18. The Statler Brothers – The Class of 57 (1975)
19. Gil Scott-Heron – The Summer of ’42 (1975)
20. The Temptations – 1990 (1973)
21. Paul McCartney & Wings – Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five (1973)

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In Memoriam – October 2017

November 2nd, 2017 6 comments

Regular readers may know about my side project Bravo Posters wherein I run daily posters or cover pages of Germany’s Bravo magazine from the era up to the mid-1980s . On October 22 the featured item was the cover of Bravo of 20 October 1977, with a run-down of that edition’s stories in headline style. One of these was ‘John Paul Young: the singer from whom the Bay City Rollers “stole” a hit.’ That hit was “Yesterday’s Hero”, which was co-written by George Young. Who died the very same day Bravo Posters ran that frontpage.

George Young, the older brother of AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm and no relation to the singer who gave two popes his name, was a prolific writer and producer, usually in partnership with Harry Vanda. On Australia’s music scene he was a giant. He and Vanda produced AC/DC’s early albums, and wrote John Paul Young’s breakthrough hits Standing In The Rain and Love Is In The Air (and, of course, Yesterday’s Hero, “stolen” by the Bay City Rollers). In the 1980s they wrote another international hit with Flash In The Pan’s Waiting For A Train. But Young and Vanda’s greatest legacy is one of the finest 1960s pop songs featuring minor keys. As members of The Easybeats, they wrote and played on Friday On My Mind.

With Fats Domino we have lost one of the nice guys on rock ‘n’ roll — a family man whose worst vice was a bit of gambling, a guy who never trash-talked his colleagues and was generous with his genius. Although his star faded somewhat in the 1960s, his legacy as a rock & roll pioneer was already secure, much as he insisted that he was a R&B musician. Domino influenced those who would become influential themselves. John Lennon named Domino’s Ain’t That A Shame as the first song he could ever play in full. Later The Beatles wrote Lady Madonna as a Domino tribute; Fats then covered it, bringing together a circle of genius. And Fats Domino (whose surname actually was Domino; he received his nickname after Fats Waller) might be the only #1 musician who inspired the stagename of another #1 musician: Chubby Checker.

I fear I shocked some of my US friends when I confessed to not knowing very much about the music of Tom Petty. He was one of those curious cases of musicians who are huge in the US but also-rans in the rest of the world. In the UK, Petty had one Top 30 entry — I Won’t Back Down reached #28 in 1989. In most of the world he was probably more famous as Muddy/Charlie T. Wilbury.  I became aware of Petty in 1977 when I saw him on a poster in Bravo magazine. I liked his face but didn’t know his music. In fact, I didn’t hear his voice, at least knowingly, until some time in the 1980s. And, I must confess, I never became a great fan, though I did like quite a few of his songs.

One of my favourite baritone voices has gone silent with the death of soul singer Grady Tate. Alas, he never became a huge star, despite a couple of very good albums and a clutch of great singles, plus those magnificently seductive vocals on Grover Washington Jr’s superb Be Mine (Tonight). Tate had greater recognition as a jazz drummer for the likes of Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Lalo Schifrin, Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, Gabor Szabo, Hubert Laws, Roy Ayers, Jimmy McGriff, Freddie Hubbard, Houston Person, Lionel Hampton, George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Hackett and Mary Lou Williams. He also backed vocalists such as Louis Armstrong (on What A Wonderful World), Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Marlena Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Paul Simon, Bette Midler, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Phoebe Snow, Lou Rawls, Peggy Lee and Kate & Anna McGarrigle.  He drummed for six years in the houseband of Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, and he hit the skins at Simon & Garfunkel’s famous Concert in Central Park.Sometimes research for this series can be very frustrating. In some obituaries for Dixie Hummingbirds guitarist Howard Carroll, who has died at 92, he is referred to as an original member of the band — which was formed in 1928, when he was three, an age still too young even as founder James B. Davis was only 12. Carroll seems to have joined the gospel group only in 1952. He stayed with it for the rest of his life, and was the longest-serving active member at the time of his death.

Producer Jerry Ross, who has died at 84, was the first man to give the young Kenny Gamble — the future Philly soul kingpin — his break. Together they wrote I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, which was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, then by Madeline Bell before it became a huge hit for Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptation. Ross was also a successful producer — among the biggest hits he produced were Bobby Hebb’s Sunny; Jay And The Techniques’ Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie; and Shocking Blue’s Venus — as well as a record label founder and A&R man.

And talking of Philly soul, a man who was in the thick of that story has passed on. Bunny Sigler made a mark as a singer. He recorded a few records for Cameo-Parkway in the ’60s before joining his friend Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records as a songwriter (for acts such as The O’Jays) and producer for the likes of The Whispers, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls, Jimmy Ruffin, Archie Bell & The Drells, The O’Jays, Loleatta Holloway, Patti LaBelle, Stephanie Mills and Curtis Mayfield. One of the biggest hits he produced was Instant Funk’s I Got My Mind Made Up, which featured in the In Memoriam – April 2017. He also had a few hits in his own right.It’s not a good year for people associated with the P-Funk collective; every few months somebody from Parliament/Funkadelic dies. This month it was backing singer Debbie Wright, who was giving her voice to the P-Funk from 1975 onwards. In between, he was one of the P-Funk all-female off-shoot Parlet, but left the trio after one album. In January the Reaper took Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison, in February it was Leon Ware who wrote songs for Parliament, in March singer Robert ‘P-Nut’ Johnson, in April drummer Barry “Frosty” Smith, who once toured with Funkadelic.

With the death of Skip Haynes, all three members of early ’70s rock trio Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah are now dead. Keyboardist John Jeremiah died in 2011, drummer John Aliotta in 2015. And now guitarist Haynes. The band’s biggest hit was Lake Shore Drive, which was about a Chicago highway. This being 1971, it was widely assumed that there was a hidden meaning in the song communicated through the initials of the song’s title — which, to be fair, the trio also enunciate in the lyrics and included in the title in parentheses.

For Canadian rock fans of a certain age, The Tragically Hip are a very important band. I hadn’t heard of them until mid-2016 when I read about the brain cancer of lead singer Gord Downie, who has now died of his illness. After Downie’s death, even Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an emotional tribute. There is a reason I hadn’t heard of the band, nor, I suspect, most of those who are reading this. Unlike virtually every Canadian act that breaks big, The Hip, as their fans call them, never moved to the US. The rest of the world barely registers that Neil Young or Joni Mitchell or Bryan Adams or Justin Bieber are Canadians; in the general consciousness they become Americanised. The Tragically Hip, however, remained proudly Canadian, earning them cult status in their country.

Nick Newall, 77, saxophonist, flautist, keyboardist, on Oct. 1
Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band – Florence Of Arabia (1966, as member)
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Looking Back (1969, on tenor saxophone)

Kenny Beard, country songwriter and producer, on Oct. 1
Trace Adkins – The Rest Of Mine (1997, as writer)

Tom Petty, 66, rock musician, on Oct. 2
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Listen To Her Heart (1978)
Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (1982, as vocalist, producer, writer)
The Traveling Wilburys – Last Night (1988, co-lead vocals)
Tom Petty – Free Fallin (1989)

Skip Haynes, 71, guitarist and songwriter, on Oct. 2
Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah – Lake Shore Drive (1973)

Jerry Ross, 84, producer, songwriter, label owner on Oct. 4
The Sapphires – Who Do You Love (1964, as writer)
Bobby Hebb – Sunny (1966, as producer)
Supremes & Temptations – I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (1968, as co-writer)
Jay & The Techniques – Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie (1968, as producer)

Alvin DeGuzman, guitarist of hardcore band The Icarus Line, on Oct. 5

Bunny Sigler, 76, soul singer, songwriter, producer, on Oct. 6
Bunny Sigler – Let The Good Times Roll (1968)
The O’Jays – Sunshine (1973, as writer and producer)
Bunny Sigler – That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You (1976)
Bunny Sigler – Let Me Party With You (Party, Party, Party) (1978)

Lou Gare, 78, English free jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 6

Jimmy Beaumont, 76, lead singer of doo wop group The Skyliners, on Oct. 7
The Skyliners – Since I Don’t Have You (1959)
Jimmy Beaumont – Tell Me (1965)

Grady Tate, 85, jazz drummer and singer, on Oct. 8
Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World (1968, on drums)
Grady Tate – All Around The World (1968)
Grady Tate – Sack Full Of Dreams (1974)
Grover Washington Jr. – Be Mine (Tonight) (1981, on lead vocals)

Andy McGhee, 89, jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 12

Iain Shedden, 60, Scottish drummer (The Saints) and journalist, on Oct. 16
The Saints – Music Goes Round My Head (1988)

Gord Downie, 53, bassist of Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, on Oct. 17
The Tragically Hip – Blow At High Dough (1989)
The Tragically Hip – In View (2005)

Debbie Wright, 67, singer with Parliament/Funkadelic and Parlet, on Oct. 17
George Clinton & Parliament – Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) (1975)
Parlet – Cookie Jar (1978)

Howard Carroll, 92, guitarist of The Dixie Hummingbirds, on Oct. 17
The Dixie Hummingbirds – The Final Edition (1959)
The Dixie Hummingbirds – Loves Me Like A Rock (1973)

Phil Miller, 68, English rock/jazz guitarist, on Oct. 18

Eamonn Campbell, 70, guitarist and singer with Irish folk-group The Dubliners, on Oct. 18
The Dubliners & The Pogues – The Irish Rover (1987)

Boris Lindqvist, 76, Swedish rock & roll pioneer, announced Oct. 19

Martin Eric Ain, 50, bassist of Swiss heavy metal band Celtic Frost, on Oct. 21

George Young, 70, Australian musician, songwriter and producer, on Oct. 22
The Easybeats – Good Times (1968, as co-writers and members)
John Paul Young – Yesterday’s Hero (1976, as co-writer & co-producer)
AC/DC – Whole Lotta Rosie (1977, as co-producer)
Flash and the Pan – Waiting For A Train (1983, as co-writer & co-producer)

Scott ‘Daisy Berkowitz’ Putesky, 49, co-founder, guitarist of Marilyn Manson (1989-96), announced Oct. 22
Marilyn Manson – Lunchbox (1994)

Al Hurricane, 81, singer and songwriter, on Oct. 22

Larry Ray, 63, guitarist of power-pop band Outrageous Cherry, on Oct. 24
Outrageous Cherry – Stay Right Here For A Little While (2002)

Fats Domino, 89, legendary R&B singer-songwriter, on Oct. 24
Fats Domino – The Fat Man (1949)
Fats Domino – Ain’t That A Shame (1955)
Fats Domino – I’m Walking To New Orleans (1960)
Fats Domino – Lady Madonna (1968)

Robert Guillaume, 89, actor and occasional singer, on Oct. 24
Bob ‘Benson’ Guillaume – The Streets Are Filled With Dancing (1978)

Juliette, 91, Canadian jazz singer and TV presenter, on Oct. 26

Shea Norman, 45, gospel singer, on Oct. 26

Dick Noel, 90, crooner and advertising jingles singer, on Oct. 27
Ray Anthony and his Orchestra – Count Every Star (1950, on vocals)

Mike Hudson, 61, singer and guitarist of US punk band The Pagans, on Oct. 27
The Pagans – Dead End America (1979)

Keith Wilder, 65, US-born singer of UK funk group Heatwave, on Oct. 29
Heatwave – Always And Forever (1977)
Heatwave – Turn Around (1980)

Daniel Viglietti, 78, Uruguayan folk singer-songwriter and political activist, on Oct. 30

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