Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Fabulous Rock and R&B Fashions of The Midnight Special, 1972 - 1978

The 70s! A special time for rockin'. If you don't believe me, you haven't seen "The Midnight Special." The pilot aired on August 19, 1972, which I missed because I was eight years old and my bedtime was at eight as well. But in subsequent years, I managed to stay up late, nabbing television-watching real estate in one of our suburban-home watching stations after the parents had gone to bed.

Here was a world of live music, onstage, decked in man-made finery the likes the world had never witnessed before. I'm talking about shiny plastic-like fabrics combined with crocheted granny-squares (with acrylic yarn, of course), as if pioneers on the Oregon Trail had ingested some seriously psychedelic mushrooms en route to the promised land. People dressed like pioneers in the 70s, complete with sun bonnets and hand-woven fabrics made from petroleum-derived chemicals. It was a serious mish-mash.

And it shows. Just look at these images I borrowed from "The Midnight Special" DVD documentary-extra, "Star-Studded Stage Fashion." I appreciate that my local library carries several of these DVDs, particularly disc 1, featuring Argent, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez and Hall& Oates (don't give me that look—they all rule in their own way, okay?). It is 70s-studded to the extreme. I'm going to title everything I do "________-Studded" from now on.

Have a happy-face-studded day.

As a child, I was open and accepting of all stage fashion. I didn't have a frame-of-reference for such things, so this all seemed completely normal to me. You play in a band or sing? Oh, then you wear these kinds of clothes during performance. No judgment. That was the best way to be during the 70s and accounts for my survival. It's a theory anyway. 

We begin with Helen Reddy, singing "I Am Woman" in a pink crocheted halter top. There are interviews with many of the former performers of "Midnight Special" and they're good sports to look back at their younger selves and comment. Reddy seems somewhat baffled about her fashion choices, which she implies were "one of several options" to choose from (paraphrasing). So I imagine there was some wardrobe person on hand with a trunk full of garments and the performers reached in there and perhaps stoned, drunk or sleep-deprived, this was the result...?

Oh, Helen...

Hot Chocolate! I love these guys. I just heard "Every 1's a Winner" yesterday while shopping at Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, and indeed I felt like a winner while finding good deals on granola bars.

RIP, Errol Brown—great front man with great style

Kool & the Gang! Yes, this is stylish. I miss the masterful R&B horn sections of yore. Playing tightly composed dance tunes while wearing a three-piece suit is not for the faint of heart. It gets hot under those stage lights. Kudos, Kool & the Gang.

Check out Aerosmith's pants. That's gotta affect your ability to stay on pitch.

Tiiiiiiiiiiight (pants)

Looks like hugely successful Fleetwood Mac stopped by.

Note: this floaty witchy look only worked on Stevie Nicks

I can't believe Lindsey Buckingham could play with these ginormous sleeves flapping about, but he is a master

Who the hell is this anyway? Those pants are even tighter than Aerosmith. Jesus, ouch with these trousers.

The Emotions, suited up in white and silver menswear. I love a lady in menswear. I just love menswear—it's comfortable and wears well.

White suits were a thing.

And what was once called leisurewear, although ABBA is taking it too far, as usual.

There was nothing leisurely about the late Barry White. He meant business. He was large and in charge, with the 40-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra to back him up. FORTY-PIECE ORCHESTRA—the 70s were kind of amazing.

Freddy Mercury. We were so dense, we didn't understand that he was out by naming his band Queen. Jumpsuits were big and hard to deal with in public restrooms.

Helen Reddy again, in modestly flamboyant attire.

LaBelle! "Lady Marmalade" was a radio hit that taught us kids how to speak French while singing along to a song about a business man who has mind-blowing sex with a New Orleans prostitute.

I remember these outfits—how could I ever forget?

Patti Labelle is not messing around

The O'Jays - unified elegance. Top-40 radio of the 70s was like a blender full of musical genres—a genre smoothie if you will. It made for an interesting time for early 80s bands that were made up of kids who had grown up listening to a lot of different musical styles.

So O'Jays segueing into Peter Frampton was not weird for us. We adjusted our inner-ear tune-forks accordingly. Out of all the interviewees for this segment, Frampton appears to be the most embarrassed by his bare-chest look, excusing himself slightly by mentioning that Robert Plant pioneered the style and who was he to question it? It's okay, you're still a total cutie, Peter.

Redbone! They were the awesomest. I remember seeing this performance and thinking, these guys look like people in my family. Redbone and Santana—we were glad to see and hear them in our household.

I'm including Kevin Cronin from 1980-era REO Speedwagon only because I had a blazer just like this. It was oversized and evoked a weird blend of dressy combined with circus-clown that made up much of early 80s style.

Sly and the Family Stone. They had it all. They rule the Earth. Forever and ever. Peace and love, Sly.

Check out Tina Turner and the Ikettes. They're still cooler than anyone else to this day.

I don't know what was going on with Todd Rundgren and I'm sure he doesn't either. And that's okay. No judgment.

The great Wolfman Jack pushing the great Little Richard on a swing. Look at Wolfman's ecstatic face. You know he's thinking, "I'm getting paid to push Little Richard on a swing!"

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Women Cover the Fine Tunes

I don't call out gender in music too often lately but once in awhile I'm compelled to ponder the reality that while growing up, there were very few women in rock until the late 70s. Before that there were plenty of supreme singers and performers, and a few rock iconoclasts (Janice, Tina, Grace, Genya Ravan, the group Fanny—who am I forgetting—help me out Internet, it's late and this week has been full of horrific gun violence that has scrambled my synapses). But thank god for the late 70s and early 80s were a goldmine of women began rocking out. I mean, rocking. Out.

It was thrilling to discover more and more of these women on college radio, in magazines and books (books!) and from people you just happened to meet at a friend's house, at a party, or at school, who pushed an album into your hands and said, "You have to listen to this! She's my favorite! You can borrow it if you want." (Bless you for that, generous friends with your adventuresome album collections.)

Let's listen to some of these fine musicians cover the songs of other fine musicians.

Kristin Hersh - "Like a Hurricane"
You might not realize that Hersh has been songwriting and rocking on the guitar since she was 14 years old in 1983. Back then I had an early Throwing Muses EP with its stop/start tempo-changing artfulness, but lost track of her and her groups over the years. Then a couple years ago my friend and bandmate Joy called me up and told me Throwing Muses had reformed and we should go see them.

I was like, "I'm 50 years old. I don't need any dissonant chord changes in my life right now, but thanks." But Joy insisted and  we both realize that when one of us insists on something cultural, especially musically cultural, the other should comply—or suffer the consequences of a barren existence. So I bought my ticket and went to the JCC in some nondescript San Francisco neighborhood.


Kristin Hersh is the real deal. She did things on the guitar that blew my mind several times over. Her confidence and poise onstage is astounding. She is my Bob Dylan. The moral is, if Kristin Hersh comes to town, GO SEE HER. Wait for her guitar to truly kick in here. She can wail in more ways than one.

Here's Neil Young doing his great "Like a Hurricane." I've seen Young play live with Crazy Horse several times, and it's just like this, with the plaid shirt and the wind in his hair and everything. Neil Young is a national treasure. Here you can see his huge influence on the grunge scene to come. Without meaning to, he influenced an entire generation of disaffected northwestern youth, who were all tuning into his wavelength around the same time, having heard him on the radio growing up. That was cool how that happened sort of accidentally, through the force of his musical vision, prolonging his career well into the 90s.

Barbara Manning - "Rickity Tickity Tin"
This is Barbara's take on a Tom Lehrer folk parody (see below). Who is Tom Lehrer? Oh, he's great. Check him out. So is Barbara Manning. She writes, she plays, she sings like an angel. She makes the song her own for her psychologically dark rock-opera album 1212, even changing the title of Lehrer's song. And it works.

Tom Lehrer - "The Irish Ballad"
My son is a big Lehrer fan. Lehrer retired long ago from songwriting and performing and taught math at UC Santa Cruz where he still lives, perhaps among the redwoods, which I wish he'd write a song about.

The Go-Go's - "Our Lips are Sealed"
I've never known what the genesis of this song was until Wikipedia set me straight (hopefully—you know how it goes on Wikipedia sometimes). I always thought this was a cover of a Fun Boy Three song, but they were released in the U.S. and the UK around the same time in the early 80s, so how was I to know conclusively?

It turns out it was co-written by Jane Wiedlin and Specials/Fun Boy Three singer Terry Hall (with drumming and backup vocals provided by The Mo-dettes'  June Miles-Kingston on his version), and while the Go-Go's version did well in the States, the Fun Boy Three arrangement was the one that rose to the top of the charts in the UK. Go figure. Anyway, according to Wiki, Wiedlin and Hall were having a "thing" while their bands were touring together and he had a girlfriend at the time, and you how that goes...

It goes like this:

Fun Boy Three - "Our Lips are Sealed"
I think we can all agree, Belinda Carlisle is the cutest lead singer (of all time perhaps), but the Fun Boy Three arrangement definitely has its haunting charms.

The Pretenders - "Stop Your Sobbing"
It's a Ray Davies/Kinks song. He wrote so many great ones. Later he and Chrissie Hynde would be married, for a time. Hynde deserves many props for her iconoclastic tough-girl with the smooth voice persona back in the late 70s when she was writing music journalism in the UK (having fled Ohio for a more interesting life) before starting her band.

The Pretenders were a great group, absorbing the dynamic musical convergence that were going on in the UK at the time—spurring each other on to heights of musical experimentation within the pop-punk genre. I don't think Hynde ever got over the tragic early deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist and "Brass in Pocket" muse Pete Farndon. Her edges softened once she moved back to the States and I just don't find her as interesting now. But that voice. That voice.

That voice.

The Kinks - "Stop Your Sobbing"

BONUS: The Pretenders - "I Go To Sleep"
Another Davies song, only released as a demo by The Kinks.

The Kinks - demo of "I Go To Sleep"

Monday, July 04, 2016

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Barack Obama Holds a Koala Bear

This 2016 Election is anything but comforting, but take some comfort with this rendition of President Obama expertly providing a supportive arm to this adorable snuggle-worthy koala. This artwork is based on the G-20 summit meeting in Australia way back in 2014 and as you can see, diplomatic relations with the marsupials went as well as can be expected. Although I could not vote for our President again this week (this isn't some FDR situation, unfortunately), I felt secure, knowing my vote furthers the foundations of the Republic. Let us venture forth into the political vortex that will be the Primaries. I love you, Prez.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Campaign Songs for Candidates of Distinction in 2016

Every national election cycle, pop-stars are forced to emerge from their fancy recording studios to scream, "STOP PLAYING MY SONG AT YOUR HITLER RALLIES, ASSHOLE!" at some dumbass candidate who didn't ask permission to blast their songs at his Hitler rally. Or something to that effect.

In a big election, it's a given that Neil Young will have to drop whatever genius project he's beavering away at to keep Rockin' in the Free World out of the hands of some would-be despot. And  Pearl Jam often joins in, offering their two cents. And you don't want to make Pearl Jam mad. They're like a gang. A really nice gang, but unified. Ask permission, candidates or feel their wrath!

I'd like to offer to today's candidates my latent DJ'ing skills with this theoretical rally playlist. You're making grand entrances at this point, people (and narcissists). The right song is crucial. Especially you, Donald Trump, or I should say the Villainous Donald Trump. Every villain needs his proper entrance song as he swoops to the podium to make his (or her—let's be fair) bid as leader of the free world.

For Trump, that song is Denis Lear's Asshole (Uncensored Version). A no-brainer. Uncensored because La Donald is always uncensored and encourages his trolls to be the same, either by insults or fisticuffs.

And something for Trump's trolls to head-bang to while not pondering the dull process of public policy — cranked-out Ozzy Osbourne performing Crazy Train from within a giant football helmet at the Patriots' 2005 opener while Trump supporter Tom Brady struts about, making sure his balls are adequately deflated.

What's truly inherent in Trump's message? Yes, there's stupidity, evil and bigotry, but if I had to describe his personal essence in musical form, I'd bypass hyperbolic "we're not gonna take it" lunacy and boil it down to this—1980s muzak—representing the soulless and condoned greed at the heart of Trump's TV-personality. From Kmart, 1989, muzak to shop to and vote for.

Bernie Sanders is an old-school radical and I like the cut of his jib. This is another no-brainer —Woody Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land.

Modified to reflect aging hipsters and their ilk:

But there's a dark side to Bernie's followers, the Bernie Bros—what an embarrassing moniker. Get it together, Bernie Bros. You don't want to look back at your youth and have to admit, "Yup, I was a Bernie Bro. I attacked Clinton-ites like a crocodile going after a cute baby goat." That's no kind of legacy. We all want the United States to be cool, so be cool! Here's your song: Timmy Thomas' Why Can't We Live Together.

Now is the time to rock the vote and feel the Bern, so here's Creedence Clearwater Revival's Fortunate Son. Everyone dance around like the baby boomers of yore, pale hands raised in the air like you just don't care. The Sanders campaign message in musical form.

Clinton time! Hell, yeah, I'm going to go there: I Am Woman by Helen Reddy for Hillary Clinton—duh. I don't care if you think it's old or cheesy, this is a great anthem. Reddy had to market it herself (alongside her publicist husband) because radio stations wouldn't play it. As soon as she performed it on the day-time talk-show circuit, lady viewers called their local radio stations, requesting it en masse. Stuck-in-the-dinosaur-age music directors were forced to answer the call(s) and a huge hit was born. By a woman. Imagine that.

Clinton's alignment with big-money donors has tarnished her in the eyes of many Democrats. She works hard because she has to, but she could use some soul in her message. For Clinton supporters, I prescribe Bettye LaVette's cover of Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy.

I gotta believe that what fuels Hillary Clinton isn't merely political amplitude but pure bottomless yet very controlled anger. Anger at the man—all the assholes she's dealt with. Anger at the system, anger at her role within the system to get where she is today. Anger driving her on to the very top—right through the glass ceiling and beyond! For that secret fiery heart of Clinton, here's Joan Jett's Bad Reputation. So everyone  on the campaign trail can pogo and get their aggression out in a heart-healthy manner.

And what would the theme song for Election Year 2016 be if such a thing existed? Mudhoney's Here Comes Sickness will do nicely.

You better vote because I'm sick of our political sickness.

Update: Fabulously funny John Oliver and his clever team of writers weigh in. Last Week Tonight forever!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

No, no, no, not Prince - GIFs

Prince is gone. How can death be so cruel? Rest, sweet Prince. We will miss your jams, your style, your uncanny ability to appreciate and distill those that came before you and influenced your singular sound. Such heartbreak over our lost musical geniuses in 2016.

Prince wasn't your typical once-in-a-lifetime musical genius, but a control freak extraordinaire. It was part of his aesthetic. Over the years, I would enjoy finding Prince videos on the Internet just to see how long it would take for his long lace-ruffled arm to reach out and yank them off for violating copyright. He was all-powerful—a nattily styled wizard of sound. Those videos would usually be gone from the Internet anywhere from between 40 minutes to one day after discovery.

What control he had. And he kept releasing the tunes, chug, chug, chug, like Prince's musical factory of sound, all streaming from his head 24/7. No wonder he felt competitive with the Internet. He was so musically astute, he was like a human Internet. You could hear bits of everyone from the history of R&B, pop and rock in the Prince catalog, filtered through his lively mind. He was giving it out on his terms his entire career.

Thank you, Prince. We will miss you terribly.




Prince primps

Prince has left

I give this video two to three days to exist here. I just have to believe he can still yank it away at will.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Songs With the Word "Trousers"

You can never have enough! Songs about trousers, that is.

Andy Stewart - Donald Where's Your Troosers? (with great Scottish Elvis impersonation - listen for it)

Madness - Baggy Trousers - Madness just wanted to have fun and it showed.

Nick Drake - Chime of the City Clock - Yes, trousers get a mention.

Depeche Mode - Never Let Me Down Again - a dark theme that nonetheless uses the word "trousers" very effectively.

Why trousers? Comedian Jay Foreman answers the question here: