Saturday, September 17, 2016

Simon and Garfunkel and the jam session in the driver's ed room

(Today's Trivia Question: What do these five songs have in common? Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer," from 1968, Tom and Jerry's "Hey School Girl," from 1957, Tico and the Triumphs' "Motorcycle" from 1961, Edie Brickell's "Good Times" from 1994, and "We Are the World" from 1985. The answer and videos for each song are below the post.)

The last week of classes at East Newton High School usually did not see much education taking place, at least not in the early 1970s when I was a student there.

It was senior week back in those days and unless a senior had work to complete before graduation, he or she could take the week off.

That made it particularly fun during the last week of the 1972-73 school year when I was a junior at East Newton and was mostly taking classes that were filled with seniors.

Several of the students, mostly juniors, had concocted a plan to avoid not only work, but class. We devised a series of excuses to use on the teachers, with some of us telling a teacher that another teacher wanted us to help with some project in her class and others telling that teacher they were needed in his class.

Then we all met up in the small driver's education room in the corner of the library. That was where some of our more musically inclined students had stashed their guitars planning on having a jam session every hour they could get away with it. Since it was the last week of the school year, not much was going on in the library, so no one was paying any attention and you could barely hear what was going on in the driver's ed room.

My second hour class was sociology taught by Mr. Russell Wilkie. Mr. Wilkie was a nice man, but was always deadly serious and often seemed ill at ease in front of a class. Once a year, he let his "wild side" show, doing a brief, unexpected imitation of Elvis. The time for that imitation had apssed a few weeks earlier, so Mr. Wilkie was back to being all business.

Since there were only three people left in the class that day, including me and Richard Taylor, the young man who later became the leader of our group Natural Disaster, Mr. Wilkie decided it was an excellent time to do some paperwork, make copies,and take care of grades in a front office and when Richard and I asked if we could help another teacher, he gladly gave us permission, and the other person in the room, and after 43 years I can't remember who it was, tagged along with us as we made a beeline toward the driver's ed room.

I didn't play guitar, so I listened as Richard, Bill Lemaster, Raymond Lambert, and others who did played whatever songs came to mind.

After four decades, I can't remember which songs were played that day, except for one. Richard and Raymond were singing Simon and Garfunkel's 1968 song, "The Boxer," and were doing a great job on it, when the door to the driver's ed room flew open and Mr. Wilkie entered.

The music stopped. Mr. Wilkie stood there and we were all envisioning a trip to Principal Don Johnston's office. "Boys," he said, then he paused for what seemed to be minutes, then added, "That sounded pretty good." He clapped his hand, made a dancing motion, and walked out of the room.

We spent most of that day going in and out of the driver's ed room, depending on which teachers we could fool into letting us roam the halls. Looking back, I am almost certain we didn't put anything over on any of them.

The wonderful thing about songs is that they make up the soundtrack of our lives. We always associate certain songs with certain memories. Every time I hear "The Boxer," I remember Mr. Wilkie and that driver's ed room jam session.

(Answer to today's trivia question. Each song is connected in some way to Paul Simon. Simon and Garfunkel hit the charts for the first time in 1957 as Tom and Jerry with the Everly Brothers imitation, "Hey School Girl," reaching number 49.  Paul made it back to the charts in 1961, writing "Motorcycle," which barely cracked the Billboard Hot 100 at 99. Edie Brickell, who sings "Good Times" is Mrs. Paul Simon, while Paul is one of the classic collection of musical giants who combined to make the fundraising hit "We Are the World" in 1985.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

About the Monkees, Linda Ronstadt and liquid paper

(Today's trivia question: What do these three songs, "What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round" by the Monkees, "Joanne," by the First National Band, and Different Drum by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys have in common with liquid paper?)

For anyone who had a television or a radio in the late 1960, it was hard to overlook the Monkees.

The group was formed in a transparent attempt to copy the magic of the Beatles and their movies in a half hour television show. A Hard Day's Night and Help, even including Britsh actor Davy Jones, who had the Beatles moptop look and was the first to be signed for the program.

The names of those who auditioned unsuccessfully for the Monkees are legendary- Steven Stills of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Danny Hutton, later of Three Dog Night, Harry Nilsson, who famously put the lime in the coconut, and singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who wrote the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun."

When the auditioning had been completed, the Monkees consisted of two youngsters who were primarily actors- Jones and former child star Mickey Dolenz, and two with a musical background- Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith.

It didn't take long to figure out how each of the Monkees was pigenholed- Mickey was the goofy one, Peter was the stupid one, Davy was the cute one and Mike, well, Mike was the oddball of the group and often seemed to fade into the background.

He was the one in the stocking cap.

In real life, he was the most interesting of the four.

As a songwriter, in addition to the songs he wrote for the Monkees and for himself, Nesmith wrote the first hit of Linda Ronstadt's long career, "Different Drum," which she did with the Stone Poneys in 1967. He also wrote "Some of Shelly's Blues," which has been a staple of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concerts for years.

After he became the first to leave the Monkees in 1970, his group Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, released three albums that are widely considered to be pioneer entries in the country-rock field, though they were only marginally successful on the charts.

Nesmith turned his talents to making videos in the late 1970s, winning the first ever Grammy for a long form video in 1980 and helping pave the way for MTV (when it was actually playing music videos).

And now for the answer to today's trivia question.

By 1970, Nesmith had been chafing so much at the restrictions that had been placed on him as a member of the Monkees that he bought out the last three years of his contract for $450,000, which left him almost broke.

For the next decade, he struggled, but in the end, it was not his talents in music or in video that improved Nesmith's financial condition, but his inheritance. His mother had the patent on the invention that became known by the brand name of Liquid Paper, something that seems antiquated in today's computer age, but was a lifesaver for secretaries since it kept them from having to completely retype papers or make messy erasures when they made mistakes.

So what do the three songs and Liquid Paper have in common? Mike Nesmith. He wrote Different Drum, sang lead on What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round" , wrote and sang lead on "Joanne," and made millions off Liquid Paper.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Remembering WHB, the 40 Star Survey, Johnny Dolan, and Phil Jay

(Today's Trivia Question- What do these three records have in common- "Let It Be Me' by Jerry Butler and Betty Everett," from 1964, "The Air That I Breathe" by the Hollies from 1974, and "When Will I Be Loved" by Linda Ronstadt from 1975? The answer and those videos, as well as five others are featured below the post.)

One of the joys of growing up in the '60s was the music we heard on the radio and for most of us the station to listen to was WHB, 71 on your AM dial (there was little FM at that time) in Kansas City.

We grew up with Johnny Dolan (rollin' with Dolan) and Phil Jay, Rock Robbins, Gene Woody, Richard Ward Fatherly and the rest of the crew. It provided the background music for our lives during the daytime when the signal was clear and even during the nighttime hours when it faded in and out.

The station even had a local connection. Phil Jay, who last I heard is still running a disc jockey service and doing dances in the Kansas City area, began his career at KQYX 1560 in Joplin.

On Friday afternoons after school, my older sister Vicki and I listened to the 40 Star Survey each week waiting to see which song was number one.

Unlike today, where young people's listening is usually restricted to one type of music, we were exposed to everything. In 1964, for instance, I loved the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the rest of the British invasion, but I also listened to the Motown sounds of the Supremes, the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles with "Smack Dab in the Middle," Elvis and Chuck Berry were still rocking it from the '50s, and a new country supertar named Roger Miller caught everyone off guard with "Dang Me" and "Do Wacka Do."

One of the biggest hits of 1964 was the comeback hit that became the biggest hit of crooner Dean Martin's career, "Everybody Loves Somebody," and another of my favorites was the Detroit doo-wop group the Reflections with their hit, "Just Like Romeo and Juliet."

I came to appreciate all types of music and as today's radio has become more segmented, I miss what we had in the '60s.

WHB was a historic station, being the first to introduce the Top 40 format that kept so many of us listening to our radios. The play list was primarily the top 40 songs of the week, as well an oldie from time to time and introductions to new records.

As the years passed, WHB finally dropped the top 40 format as did most radio stations across the country and eventually became an all-oldies station. In the 90s, it dropped the oldies despite an outcry. The people loved WHB and loved the music, but it had been a long time since they had actually listened to it. The Arbitron ratings were miniscule.

The format changed and eventually WHB even changed its spot on the dial. Instead of 71derful WHB, it swapped places with KCMO and moved to 81 with a sports talk format.

Time moves on. But I can still hear the voices of Johnny Dolan, Phil Jay, and God help me, even Chicken Man (he's everywhere, he's everywhere) in my mind.

And there's not a trace of static.

(The answer to today's trivia question= Each of the songs had been recorded earlier by one or both of the Everly Brothers. Don and Phil released Let it Be Me in 1959 and When Will I Be Loved in 1960 while Phil performed The Air That I Breathe on a solo album in 1973. The man who wrote The Air That I Breathe and who released it first on a 1972 album was Albert Hammond, a singer-songwriter best known for his hit "It Never Rains in California." Videos for those six songs are featured below, as well as my favorite Everly Brothers song, "All I Have to Do Is Dream" from 1958 and a performance of that song by our band Natural Disaster at a benefit at South Middle School in 2008.)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The serious side of Ray Stevens

I always worry when I see that the name of one of the artists I grew up listening to is trending on Facebook or Twitter.

That generally means the artist has just died unless it's Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones, in which case it either means a new tour has been announced or a new album has been released.

So I was concerned a few moments ago when I saw Ray Stevens' name pop up as trending on Facebook.

Stevens made his mark in the 1960s and 1970s with a series of novelty hits including the politically incorrect "Ahab the Arab," "Gitarzan," and a song that unbelievably hit number one on the Billboard charts, "The Streak."

Stevens also had his serious side, however, and that also took him to the top of the charts with his 1970 hit "Everything is Beautiful," which I have to admit I never particularly liked, and with his country arrangement of the old standard "Misty" from 1975.

It is the serious side of the 77-year-old singer/songwriter that has Ray Stevens trending. His newest song, the patriotic "Dear America," a patriotic ode released just before the 15th anniversary of 9-11, is spreading like wildfire.

It is a worthy successor to songs like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."

So  today's videos include Stevens' new release plus my favorite Stevens song, another serious song. "Unwind" failed to reach the top 40 in 1968, climbing to number 52, but those who were listening to Top 40 radio in those days will probably remember it, because the disc jockeys loved it.

I heard the song a few months back on Pflash Phelps's show on Sirius radio's 60s on 6 station. It had been years since I heard it and I had never realized that it was a Ray Stevens song.

Today's trivia question. What do Ray Stevens, Lulu, and Mama Cass Elliott of the Mamas and the Papas have in common? You can find the answer after today's videos.

Trivia answer- Ray Stevens was the host of a weekly variety series, The Ray Stevens Show, in the summer of 1970. Both Lulu and Cass Elliott performed on the show every week. Now that was a collection of musical talent.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Some thoughts about the Righteous Brothers

The Righteous Brothers were one of those stories that are commonplace in the music business- musicians who work for years to become overnight sensations.

They became known as "blue-eyed soul" performers during the '60s because of the call and response type singing on their records, a style that was perfected in African American churches.

No song provides a better example of that than their first big hit, "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" from 1964. I had never heard anything like it when I first heard it played on WHB (World's Happiest Broadcasters). From Bill Medley's baritone at the opening of the song to the plaintive wails he and Bobby Hatfield hurled at each other in the latter portions of the song, it was a record I simply had to have.

Fortunately, my sister Vicki was in one of those record clubs at the time and one of the early albums she ordered featured that song, as well as a follow up song, which I thought was just as good, and maybe even better, "For Once In My Life."

Of course, for the romantics out there, it was their third big hit, a remake of an Al Hibbler hit from the 1950s, "Unchained Melody," that stands out. That song earned even more fans when it was included the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore movie Ghost. "Unchained Melody' was actually mislabeled as a Righteous Brothers song since Hatfield sang the song and Medley had nothing to do with it.

The person who had something to do with all three of those hits and who helped Medley and Hatfield develop their distinctive style was legendary producer Phil Spector (now in prison for murder). Spector put his unique Wall of Sound, which had primarily been used with girl groups to back the Righteous Brothers and helped put them on the map.

Medley paid careful attention to what Spector was doing and thought that he could provide the same sort of magic to another song that came out shortly after the first three. He remembered a song that Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil had been working on and thought it would be perfect.

When he contacted them, he found that they had not shared his faith in the song and had stopped working on it. He convinced them to finish it and the result, "Soul and Inspiration," was one of the Righteous Brothers' biggest hit.

Coincidentally, Hatfield was not the only Righteous Brother to receive a career boost from a Patrick Swayze movie, Medley teamed with Jennifer Warnes in 1988 to perform the duet, "I've Had the Time of My Life," which was one of the highlights of Dirty Dancing.

I remember that song playing on the jukebox at the Pizza Hut in Lamar one night after I had covered a basketball game. A group of teenage girls was sitting a couple of booths away from me and I heard one say, "That guy was one of the Righteous Brothers."

I smiled. People still appreciated good music. Unfortunately, one of her friends ruined that good thought by responding, "The Righteous Brothers? My mom listens to them."

She said it with such disgust that I knew that girl was not a fan of "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling."

Today's trivia question- What do these three songs, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," by the Righteous Brothers," "Needles and Pins," by the British invasion group the Searchers, and "I've Got You Babe," by Sonny and Cher have in common?

You can find the answer below the videos.

All of the songs are connected to either Sonny, Cher, or both of them.

The connection with "I Got You Babe," is obvious. Sonny wrote the lyrics for "Needles and Pins," while one of the backup singers on "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" was an 18-year-old Cher before she and Sonny struck music gold.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

What do Foul Owl on the Prowl, Thriller, and It's My Party have in common?

One of my favorite movies, the movie that won the Best Picture Oscar for 1967, was In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

The movie not only was a solid mystery, but also told a powerful story about race relations in the Deep South in the '60s. Though the setting of the film is Sparta, Mississippi, Poitier wanted nothing to do with Mississippi, so filming took place in Sparta, Illinois. The name of the city in the original script was changed to Sparta to make it easier.

In the Heat of the Night was the one movie I showed to my students during every year I taught.  Over the years, many excellent papers were produced detailing the changes that took place in the way Poitier's character, Virgil Tibbs, and Steiger's character, Bill Gillespie, evolved in the views about race and about each other from the beginning of the movie to the conclusion.

Each year, I told the students after watching the first day of the movie, that the next day they would hear the worst song they had ever heard ... and that you will not be able to stop signing it for days to come.

The song was on the jukebox at a cafe with an odd fellow working at the counter. At a time when no one is in the joint, he takes a knife, pries open the jukebox so he can play a song for free and that song was "Foul Owl," also known as "Foul Owl on the Prowl."

The song was written especially for the movie and it has something in common with two other songs that are featured below- Michael Jackson's Thriller and Lesley Gore's 1963 debut hit "It's My Party." See if you can guess what it is. The answer is below the videos.

What do the three songs have in common?

One man- Quincy Jones.

Jones was the musical director for In the Heat of the Night. The original plan had been to license Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs hit "Little Red Riding Hood," but he was unable to license the song, so he wrote another song that sounded similar, "Fowl on the Prowl," and asked the members of the Lewis and Clarke Expedition to do the song, which they did, but under the name of Travis and Boomer. Travis went on to achieve fame as a country singer under his real name Michael Martin Murphy.

Quincy Jones was also the producer on both "It's My Party," in 1963 and 18 years later on Michael Jackson's Thriller album.

Welcome to Jukebox Oldies

I keep trying new things with this blog, which was originally Room 210 Discussion and was set up at the urging of some of my former students who wanted to continue discussions about the kinds of topics they had written papers on when they were in my class.

For a time, it was used as part of a class called Encore at East Middle School, and had articles and practice essay tests over those articles to help students prepare for the annual MAP tests.

The last time it was used for any classroom purpose was 2010. After that, I used the blog, plus other blogs I had started and seldom updated, to promote my books and signings.

Unfortunately, I failed to remove the message at the top of the page that said the site was for East Middle School students. As far as I know, none of them even knew it existed by 2013 when my promotion of my book No Child Left Alive gave Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff the pretext to fire me saying I was promoting and assigning obscene material to my students.

Since then I briefly tried turning the blog into Inside Viral News and Inside Politics, but I wasn't really much into viral news and most of my writing on politics stayed on the Turner Report.

At the same time, I wanted to keep this blog alive because of the connection it has to my personal history.

So I am ready to try something new. As some of you are aware, from the beginning of 2002 through December 2012, I was a member of the band Natural Disaster, which played oldies, primarily those from the late 1950s through the 1970s.

I have always loved the music from that era, rock and country, and in the new blog I plan to write about that music, telling personal stories, plus sharing videos, trivia and occasionally, news about the musicians and songs of that era.

I hope you enjoy it.,

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kasich: Obama's on-the-job training marched us down a trail of failure

(From Ohio Gov. John Kasich)

In response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, tonight Ohio Gov. John Kasich issued the following statement:

"Eight years from now I look forward to giving a State of the Union that describes a stronger, safer and more united America. We’re going to cut taxes, balance the budget and get government out of the way so every American can rise. We’re also going to strengthen our military and renew our alliances to proclaim the values of the civilized world and stand up to extremists and bullies. On-the-job training in this presidency has marched us down a trail of failure and left America weaker, divided and adrift. That’s going to end and by working together we’re going to fight, win and succeed."

Complete transcript provided for final Obama State of the Union Address

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Tonight marks the eighth year I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union. And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it shorter. I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.

I also understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we’ll achieve this year are low. Still, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families. So I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse. We just might surprise the cynics again.

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients. And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing. Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done.

Watch the State of the Union Address live at 8 p.m.