Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rolling Stones at their most radical?

I'm reading "THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE ROLLING STONES" this week and listening to the band's albums in order.
Yesterday, I reached "BEGGARS BANQUET," the 1968 album I now consider to be the Rolling Stones' most radical work -- when compared to its predecessors.
Songs such as "No Expectations," "Jig-Saw Puzzle," "Prodigal Son" and "Salt of the Earth" sound like they come from a completely different band than the group that create such albums as "Aftermath," "Between the Buttons" and "Their Satanic Majesties Request."
Is that because co-founder and multi-instrumentalist BRIAN JONES had largely faded from the scene, mere months before his sacking and death? Was KEITH RICHARDS exerting more control over the band as a result?
No matter the reason, "Beggars Banquet" marks a complete departure from the band's previous musical trajectory.
One of the great fallacies among some Stones aficionados is that "Beggars Banquet" represents a return to the band's country-blues roots. What country-blues roots? The songs from the first clutch of albums in the band's catalog are covers of Chess Records-style R&B -- much more B.B. King than Robert Johnson.
If The Rolling Stones had country-blues roots, they kept them to themselves and didn't record them.
While "Beggars Banquet" marks such a clean break, it also represents a template that the band would loyally adhere to, even to this day. Styles like funk, disco and even reggae were later incorporated into a swaggering, bluesy sound that got its start on "Beggars Banquet" -- an album that's radical and trend-setting.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I must be doing something right -- she loves Bowie

I must be doing something right as a parent: My 16-year-old daughter KERSTIN posted the lyrics to the DAVID BOWIE classic "LIFE ON MARS" while praising it on FACEBOOK last night.
Although it has played in the background for ages, the song came into focus for her one recent night while the two of us drove home from a school debate tournament in DES MOINES.
Kerstin took control of the iPod, and we delved into the music of the 1970s, then the 80s.
We alternated playing each others favorite songs by artists including Queen, Roxy Music, Bowie, Culture Club, Propaganda and Terence Trent D'Arby.
Enveloped by darkness and with an empty road ahead of us, we could intently listen to the songs' various elements -- their lyrical touches and musical arrangements.
I explained that while I can never make sense of "Life on Mars" -- "see the mice in their million hordes from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads" -- Bowie sings it with such conviction and emotional intensity that it has become one of my anthems.
Maybe I'll figure out what he's singing about in the future, but I love the song so much it doesn't really matter.
The few minutes of listening must have made an impression on Kerstin. Vacationing this week with our younger daughter ANNIKA with grandparents in RENO, Kerstin posted lyrics to some of her favorite songs last night.
"Life on Mars" was included, so I must be doing something right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'Got, Not Got' is great for triggering memories

During the pre-Internet, pre-satellite TV days of my childhood, I connected with the game I love via academically intoned results on a shortwave radio, a handful of player cards and magazines imported from BRITAIN.
In short, the types of items celebrated by a book I received for CHRISTMAS.
"GOT, NOT GOT: THE A-Z OF LOST FOOTBALL CULTURE, TREASURES & PLEASURES" presents exactly what is listed in the title.
The book celebrates memories of games, cards, magazines, figurines and other memorabilia of soccer's less-commercialised and pre-globalised past.
The book's authors, Derek Hammond and Gary Silke, note:
"Football used to be better in the past. It's a fact - scientifically proven by this giant collection of memories, characters, anecdotes, Mirror Football archive... pics and the very stuff of all our footy-mad childhoods in the 'Golden Age' of the 1960s, 70s and 80s."
The artifacts have triggered number of my own childhood memories, as I routinely poke my nose in this wonderful book.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Introducing the ambition of Terence Trent D'Arby

Driving home from DES MOINES in the might-as-well-be-winter darkness, I introduced 80s music aficionado KERSTIN (age 16) to a clutch of songs that mesmerized 80s music aficionado me in 1987 (then age 21 -- yeah, I know).
"INTRODUCING THE HARDLINE ACCORDING TO TERENCE TRENT D'ARBY," an album ROLLING STONE describes as "dripping with look-ladies-no-hands ambition."
"If You Let Me Stay," "Wishing Well," "Dance Little Sister" and the magnificent "Sign Your Name" are among the highlights of a fabulous debut album.
In hindsight, D'Arby never lived up to the expectations he set for himself.
"He was the great post-everything soul hope, a black American living in England with a Napoleonic sense of pop destiny," Rolling Stone writes.
His followup albums couldn't match the virtuosic glory of the debut, though.
So he didn't change music. So what? I defy you to listen to "Wishing Well" today and not want to dance.
It recently happened to me, driving home in the darkness from Des Moines.

(ROUTE 1 will be on a brief hiatus during the festive period, but check Twitter and Facebook for updated information on our return before the end of the year. And thanks for reading!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hot weather Xmas tunes

A hot wind off the desert sways the palm trees but does little to cool the air, which has been baking all day.
Conjures up images of SANTA CLAUS and reindeer, right?
Well, it did for somebody.
GENE AUTRY'S "HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS" was written on a hot July night in 1947, with the songwriters gathered around a swimming pool in the Hollywood Hills.
It's just one of several examples of CHRISTMAS songs that were penned during hot weather.
I'm intrigued by the concept, because these are the songs we associate with snow and cold and holidays. Not palm trees.
Here are two other examples:
* "SLEIGH RIDE" by LEROY ANDERSON was written by the Boston Pops composer and arranger in the middle of a heatwave in July 1946.
* IRVING BERLIN reportedly wrote "WHITE CHRISTMAS" during a sweltering night in Banning, Calif., in 1940.
Can you think of any other examples of hot-weather Christmas songs?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quirky enough for now, Niners, but what about later?

SAN FRANCISCO is quirky.
I know, because I have spent many days in the city by the bay. I was born and mostly raised in the area, and I make it a habit to return as often as possible. I love the place.
The quirky nature of the place is why I wasn't surprised when last night's twin POWER OUTAGES that delayed the 49ERS' 20-3 MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL victory over the STEELERS.
Power outages are quirky, just like how earthquakes are quirky (as long as they don't cause too much damage or kill too many people) and baseball relief pitchers with chest-length beards are quirky and foggy days in July that are colder than some days in January are quirky.
Besides being quirky, the power outages at 51-year-old CANDLESTICK PARK reminded the nation why the 49ers cannot wait to move to a state-of-the-art stadium in SANTA CLARA.
That's what made me pause last night. I'm just afraid the South Bay isn't quirky enough for my Niners.
"Will they still be called the San Francisco 49ers when they move?" one of my daughters asked during the telecast.
I honestly don't know. I am afraid the team owners might concoct some name-by-marketing-committee, like the dreadful "LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM."
That's just a dumb name. It's not quirky.
I hope when the 49ers do move, they retain some of their identity. You know, that quirky nature that leads to power outages and victory parades with cornerbacks striding atop phony cable cars. Now that's quirky.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Remembering Spurs' Argentina swoop

The first big English football news I can remember as a kid was TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR'S audacious transfer coup of signing OSSIE ARDILES and RICKY VILLA from ARGENTINA.
I reflected on the move last night, while I read old soccer magazines after returning home from work.
Ardiles became such a fixture on the British football scene -- 10 seasons with Spurs, managing numerous clubs, serving as a television pundit -- and foreign players have become so ubiquitous -- Premier League clubs on occasion have fielded teams without any English players -- that it's easy to forget how shocking the Ardiles/Villa double signing seemed at the time.
Ardiles and Villa had contributed to Argentina's 1978 World Cup win, and many people thought they would go to Europe to play in Spain or Italy. North London? They were probably more likely to play on the moon.
It was more difficult for an American kid to follow English football back then -- in the pre-Internet and pre-digital cable days.
Still, I remember the shock and awe of Spurs' Argentine adventure, and I laugh today and the quaintness of it all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yuletide music that makes us scream "uncle!"

Since we have been hearing CHRISTMAS MUSIC since mid-October, we at ROUTE 1 have had plenty of opportunities to monitor the various JINGLE/SILENT/HOLY/SANTA/BELLS songs on offer.
Readers have been listening as well, and provide a guide to the overused Yuletide audio by answering the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What Christmas tune has overstayed its welcome?"
JEFF T. -- "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock" are definitely tired... Maybe from all that rockin!
KERI M. -- "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby and David Bowie.
JIM S. -- "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." It was funny for about 15 years. Not anymore.
BRIAN M. -- I've managed to stay away from most Christmas music, particularly radio stations that have replaced their programming with all-Christmas music during the season, but there are the commercials that have fashioned their own lyrics out of the traditional songs. The one done to, I think it's "Sleigh Ride," for some department store, done in "Glee" style, has overstayed its welcome.
KERSTIN H. -- I'm starting to get tired of the classics like "Jingle Bells," "Silent
Night" and "Deck the Halls." I wish some one who will not be named (my mom) would play other Christmas songs.
RICK T. -- "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Enough of that song.
SANDYE V. -- "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."
JOHN S. -- "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."
MIKE D. -- Almost thirty years after Bob and Doug McKenzie's great spoof of "The 12 Days of Christmas," I'm growing tired of hearing parodies of that song. And Nissan has spoiled "It's the Most Wonderful Time (Sale) of the Year" by including it in its ever-present TV commercials.
ERIK H. -- When Justin Bieber's inevitable Christmas album included a version of "Silent Night," I finally threw up my hands and said, "Enough is enough!" Is there a musical artist who has not felt compelled to rework this song? It has been translated into more than 40 languages and after musical artist No. 300 covered the song, people quit counting. Yet still they come, your Mariah Careys, your Christina Aguileras, your Brad Paisleys -- everybody who sings, it appears, must belt out their version of this 152-year-old song. How different can their interpretations possibly be? Not different enough, I am afraid.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

ALERT: Christmas musical Grinch in holiday mood

BREAKING NEWS: Erik Hogstrom selects Christmas album to play in car today.
Hogstrom, who resists his family's urgings to begin playing Yuletide classics starting in mid-October, picked the Gene Autry album after hearing "Here Comes Santa Claus" on BBC Radio 2 this morning.
"It's time," he said. "With 10 days to go, it's finally time."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Crocodiles" still sounds brilliant, three decades on

I listened to "CROCODILES" by ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN while driving ANNIKA to dance class last night.
I was surprised that it continues to sound brilliant, even after all of these years (it was released 31 years ago).
I'm not the only one who sees the disc's radiance continue undimmed as the decades stretch. Looking back at the album in 1997, INTERNATIONAL MUSIC PUBLICATIONS declared:
"Still, to this day, one of the most classic debut LPs of our time."
The writers at STYLUS magazine declared in 1999 that:
"Crocodiles was a gorgeous post-punk blast of star-flung angst which was as perfect for its time as 'Sergeant Peppers' or 'Nevermind.'"
Crocodiles stands as a timeless album set amongst the pantheon of other great moments in rock. That's their words, but it might as well be mine.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Drinking themselves into oblivion

I am slightly behind the times. The November issue of the thought-provoking magazine THE ATLANTIC arrived in the mail yesterday.
I am not complaining -- the substance of the magazine always compels me to keep reading.
There's a short article in the November magazine dealing with an issue I have not seen widely reported, even though its implications seem potentially severe.
RUSSIA has lost 5 million residents during the past two decades and a man's average life expectancy is a mere 59.8 years. In effect, heavy abuse of alcohol is depopulating the nation.
The author of the Atlantic piece takes a look at the wider problem of deadly binge drinking within the scope of his MOSCOW apartment building. (You can read the Atlantic's story, here.)
As I read, I couldn't help wonder how low birthrates and rising death rates will impact the country in successive decades. Also, with our obesity problems, will the UNITED STATES be far behind?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ali G and our relationship with the media

I spent some time this weekend watching a few episodes of SACHA BARON COHEN'S "DA ALI G SHOW" on DVD.
The show presents the interactions of three Cohen characters -- dimwit gangsta-wannabe Ali G, outrageous Austrian fashion reporter Bruno and Kazakhstan correspondent Borat -- with unsuspecting celebrities and members of the public.
Jacob Smith described the show in the book, "VOCAL TRACKS: PERFORMANCE AND SOUND MEDIA:"
"The televised encounters between Cohen and his interviewees rapidly become ridiculous... watching the show, one marvels at the absurd situations and offensive lines of questioning that people will endure when sitting before a camera crew."

In this respect, Cohen's comedy is as much about our strange relationship with the media as it is about his three memorably awkward characters. Do we find the media so compelling and powerful that we are in thrall to it even as it strangles us with our own stupidity? Ali G seems to present our inability to break out of the media's mesmerizing stranglehold.
The show also provides some much-needed escapism after a busy week.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Engvick's song of Oakland and remembrance

The 1965 FRANK SINATRA masterpiece album, "SEPTEMBER OF MY YEARS," appears to be dominated by Ervin Drake's "IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR."
That's the song most casual listeners remember from the album packed with songs featuring the theme of aging.
My favorite song on the album appears three tracks later.
"That year in Oakland High, when I was 17; the grass from there to San Jose was high and cool and green," Sinatra sings on "I SEE IT NOW."
ALEC WILDER and WILLIAM ENGVICK'S song details a feeling of reminiscence and nostalgia -- a lamented taking for granted of a youthful time and place -- that is set in my native BAY AREA and strikes a resonant chord in me.
Wilder wrote the music and came from upstate New York.
Lyricist Engvick, however, is a true-blue Bay Area kid -- a graduate of both the Oakland High School referenced in the song and the UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY.
Engvick still lives in the Lake Merritt area of OAKLAND -- my birthplace -- and his song always reminds me of the part of the country I'll always consider "home."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bourbon, ice, Sinatra

The week included travel to and from ATLANTA, lengthy sessions studying and touring at the CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION and two days of work at the newspaper thrown in for good measure.
I needed to relax last night, and that's where FRANK SINATRA entered the frame. Armed with BOURBON ON THE ROCKS, "THE ROUGH GUIDE TO FRANK SINATRA" and a 177-song Sinatra playlist, I delved into the world of "The Voice."
I skipped around the Sinatra catalog, snapping fingers to "RING-A-DING-DING," then backtracking to a few CAPITOL-era tunes, then luxuriating in some of the lush arrangements of the mid-COLUMBIA period in the singer's career.
Being able to lose myself in the swelling strings, massed brass sections and that distinctive singing style helped me shed a week's worth of stress -- more than a week's worth, actually, because all of the travel made this week seem more like a fortnight.
Just before bed, I dialed up "SEPTEMBER OF MY YEARS" and listened to the first eight songs, finishing with Ervin Drake's masterpiece, "IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR." It was a very good way to wind down from a very busy week.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Faces finally in the Hall of Fame

Amidst all the clamor about GUNS N' ROSES and BEASTIE BOYS making the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME, I'd like to direct your attention to the combined honor for the SMALL FACES/FACES.
Fronted by ROD STEWART and powered by RON WOOD'S guitar, the Faces have long seemed one of the most underrated of rock's great groups.
This honor, then, seems wholly appropriate.
I celebrated the news yesterday, by listening to the Faces while driving home from the airport in MOLINE, ILL. I was completing the final leg of a journey that began yesterday morning in ATLANTA.
Stewart possesses one of rock's great voices (shame he has used it so often for other musical purposes). Paired with the rhythm section of the Small Faces -- including the late and oh-so-great bassist/vocalist RONNIE LANE -- Stewart and Wood blazed a hard-rocking trail through an often more-style-than-substance rock world of the early 1970s.
I was thrilled to hear of the Faces' induction into the Hall of Fame, and you should be thrilled, too.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Heading south

ROUTE 1 will return later this week, following a work-related sojourn to ATLANTA.
Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Enjoying a film that has everything

Every once in a while I have to watch ORSON WELLES' "TOUCH OF EVIL" -- the version restored as closely as possible to the director's original vision -- to remind myself what a great film can achieve.
I can watch "Touch of Evil" for the plot, which follows the uncovering of a corrupt law official in a border town, or I can watch it for the cast, which includes a wide-eyed and frenzied DENNIS WEAVER in a small but significant role.
CHARLTON HESTON, JANET LEIGH and Welles himself are superb, too.
I can also watch the film for its mastery, including a three-minute-20-second opening tracking shot that set a standard for great, long takes.
Last night, I watched it just for the pure enjoyment of all its parts meshing together, and I marveled that the studio could even consider messing with it.