Cat Power

A sonic assault is how I’d describe Cat Power’s powerful indeed show at the Lobero. Singing in the dark, spotlight-free, and with two mics in hand, she scorched her songs, backed by a three-person band that sounded like ten. Touring in support of her “Covers” album, she deconstructed familiar songs by the Rolling Stones, Byrds, Jackson Browne, Frank Sinatra (“New York, New York”) and probably others I didn’t recognize, eliminating any obvious melody but building a tune just above a drone.  Liking something to hum along with, I wondered at first what I was doing there; but the mood took over and the sound reached inside me. I can’t imagine that any of this would sound good on a record, but in person the performance was hypnotic and I enjoyed myself. Maybe not as much as the dedicated fans around me, but it was another good Santa Barbara experience.  (9/9/22)

The Head and the Heart

I was expecting a battle of the bands when one of my favorites, Dawes, opened for The Head and the Heart at the Santa Barbara Bowl on August 18, 2022. Both bands were formed in 2009; Dawes has released eight albums (including Misadventures of Doomscroller last month) and H&H five (including Every Shade of Blue in April). But Dawes’s hits (defined by airplay on the Spectrum channel) came early in their career, while H&H’s successes have been building, which likely accounted for their order on the bill.

In the event, it wasn’t much of a contest: Dawes came across as the kids on the block, while H&H were the real thing. For starters, Dawes’s new songs (including “Ghost in The Machine,” “Someone Else’s Cafe” and “Comes in Waves”) were a letdown. The storytelling was a bit labored and the melodies dragged. They segued into “Time Spent in Los Angeles” for their second number and pleased me with other hits, including “Things Happen,” “When My Time Comes” and”All Your Favorite Bands” (with help from H&H members), but I missed their classic, “A Little Bit of Everything,” that I had heard them perform both in Minneapolis and at the Lobero. Beyond the choice of music, Dawes’s appearance was unimpressive. There was little interaction among the five members, who stood randomly onstage; the bass player looked a stranger to the group, and lead singer Taylor Goldsmith bounced around goofily. And while I don’t expect hip rockers to emulate the uniforms of Rod Stewart, Dawes’s bland T-shirts stood in contrast to the collared shirts sported by all members of H&H.

When The Head and the Heart took the stage, after an inexplicable 50-minute intermission, the level of professionalism soared. The six members lined up in two rows of three and appeared purposefully engaged. An ever bigger difference was the sound. Somehow – was there a synthesizer or other electronic enhancement? – the Bowl was suddenly full of sound, and it never let up. I was worried that the mellow songs of H&H wouldn’t translate to an arena, but the energy and volume easily carried the day, even on my favorite, “Let’s Be Still.” I didn’t realize how much of H&H’s catalogue I knew, but everything they played in their 90-minute set had a familiar feel, and everything sounded good.

Movie Musicals

The emotional high point of our three-week trip to Verona, Venice and Florence came when I (re-)watched Jersey Boys on the airplane flight home. Seeing Christopher Walken do his old-man dance during the credits finale was as good as anticipated, the characters were individually memorable, and each Four Seasons song packed the power of personal nostalgia from its opening downbeat. And the experience inspired me to think, as I have before, what are my favorite movie musicals of all time? Note that I define this list as “favorite,” not “best.” My choices have little in common with the Best Movie Musicals lists you will find with a Google search. It is also impossible to rate them against each other, as they are mostly on my list for different reasons. Also, although I pretend there is a category of “movie musicals,” they represent entirely different genres. Some are film versions of stage musicals; some are documentaries about musicians. In some, songs are presented as songs; in others we have to suspend disbelief and pretend that characters break into song to express their feelings. But all of the following struck a personal chord.

Rocky Horror Picture Show Not just the only musical, but the only movie I have watched a half-dozen times (as well as seeing it on stage in London), its appeal has been long-lasting as well as personal. The actors are delicious (Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Meat Loaf!), the plot outrageous, and the cult around it empowering, but its lasting strength is the music: Richard O’Brien’s score is the only soundtrack, not counting HMS Pinafore, that I keep on my iPod, and there’s not a dud in the mix.

Nashville This has been my favorite film of the ’70s (and maybe more), forget the musicals category. Unlike RHPS, the songs here are all integral to the plot as songs, greatly facilitated by the Nashville setting. Robert Altman was the film director of the ’70s zeitgeist, and this is his masterpiece. That the pale imitation La La Land almost won an Oscar is a reminder of how great was this wholly original ensemble piece.

Wizard of Oz This is the Citizen Kane of musicals, a universally acknowledged treasure that contends as the best movie ever, certainly the one most loved and remembered. The wicked witch, the flying monkeys, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man, the Munchkins, the “wizard” behind the curtain and, of course, Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” are all a part of America’s collective consciousness. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Bohemian Rhapsody I was not a fan of Queen, but this all-out, hard-living story made me appreciate their appeal. Every film cliche was here: misfit kid makes good, boys buck the industry for success on their own terms, success brings drugs and division, hero hits rock bottom, then whoof!, one of the great reunion concerts of all time.

Jersey Boys The movie was just as good as the Broadway show (unlike, say, Mamma Mia!). The fact that the Four Seasons were my favorite ’60s group (forget the Beatles) undoubtedly colored my response. The characters were differentiated and all given meaningful roles and we got to see how the music was made. The story arc was formulaic (see Bohemian Rhapsody), but there’s a reason it’s a formula: it works!

Once A simply charming romance that came from nowhere, with unknown, average-looking actors in a low-budget vehicle and a heartrending song, “Falling Slowly.” Here the normal path was reversed, as the suprise hit movie moved to the stage. I’ve give Once the nod here over the equally compelling Rent, only because the latter started, and was better, onstage.

End of the Century/No One Said It Would Be Easy/I Am Trying to Break Your Heart Documentaries about rock groups are as good as the groups they document, so it’s not fair to single one out as a movie, per se. No One Said introduced me in a big way to Cloud Cult; Break Your Heart memorialized the unconventional Wilco mid-career; Century was more a postmortem of the Ramones. For all three, it was their music that mattered.

This Is Spinal Tap

The Harder They Come I barely understood a word anyone was saying, but this not only introduced me to reggae music, it turned me into a lifelong fan. Its authenticity had a power that was hard to shake, and its songs have remained staples.

My Fair Lady I will let this stand in, also, for Guys and Dolls and Music Man, faithful translations of classic Broadway musicals to film, and not just because MFL is my favorite stage musical. Audrey Hepburn is a wonderful addition to the cast (even if Marni Nixon does her singing), and the ambiguous ending keeps my memory guessing. Rex Harrison, Robert Preston, Marlon Brando are three commanding presences, but Lady‘s songs are a notch above.

The Seventies

I had been reflecting on eulogizing the 1970s as the greatest decade for music in the Rock Era, or perhaps the last century, when I heard the very modern musician who records as St. Vincent tell James Corden that the inspiration for her new album was the period from 1970 to ’75.  Looking more closely at the decade’s discography, I realized that she was more astute than I. 

Until 1968 I collected singles on my Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder. It was the spring of my senior year in college that a record-club offer lured me into purchasing my first three albums: Buffalo Springfield, Bee Gees’ First and The Percy Sledge Way. Then I was off to North Africa with the Peace Corps for two years. When I returned, there had been a revolution, not least in popular music, where FM stations with diverse playlists had superseded AM Top 40. Following Bob Dylan’s breakthrough example, songs could be any length, about any subject, sung by any voice. The music scene was about to explode with creativity, and I was ready to start buying records. Which I did.
When we moved from Minnesota in 2013 I donated my entire record collection, first to my friend Mike Bennes from the museum and the leftovers to the Deephaven Library, but the memory of each album cover lingers fondly. In the essay that follows I will focus on records I once owned, each listed in boldface followed by a favorite cut. Maybe it’s just a reflection of my taste, or that I was going to law school and had the time and need for music; but look at the names that follow and try to tell me that the early ‘70s wasn’t a Golden Age, if not the Golden Age, of rock’n’roll.

I don’t know when I bought The Circle Game (’68) by Tom Rush, whether it was before or after Africa, but it was the perfect transition from the Cambridge coffee-house folk scene of the Sixties to the Singer/Songwriter Era of the Seventies. On it, Rush sang three songs by Joni Mitchell, including the classic title number, two by James Taylor, one by Jackson Browne and two by Rush himself, including the haunting “No Regrets.” Although Rush never reached the same heights as a songwriter, the others soon came to define an era.

In fact, I could end any debate about the significance of the early ‘70s before it begins by simply listing the long-running artists who came to prominence then, notably Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Elton John, Neil Young, David Bowie, Van Morrison, James Taylor. Their styles and songs differed, but they all had in common that they wrote their own songs. The Tin Pan Alley era was over; the songwriting teams of Goffin/King, Holland/Dozier/Holland, Leiber/Stoller were passé. Dylan’s example prevailed: you wrote your own songs and sang them yourself.

Billy Joel’s Piano Man was released in ’73 and remains his masterpiece. In addition to the title track, “Captain Jack” and “Ballad of Billy the Kid” were instant classics. My love of this album caused me to look back and find Joel’s initial album, Cold Spring Harbor (’71 “She’s Got A Way”), which, in its innocence, was almost as good.

Jackson Browne was a precocious songwriter, known first to me as the co-writer, with Glenn Frey, of the Eagles’ first hit, “Take It Easy” (’72). I fell in love with his debut album, Jackson Browne [a/k/a Saturate Before Using](’72, “Doctor, My Eyes”), and have followed his work with pleasure ever since. For Everyman (’73 “These Days”) was a slight letdown, although it provides great concert material, but Late For the Sky (’74 “For A Dancer”) remains one of the all-time great records.

I knew Neil Young, vaguely, as a member of Buffalo Springfield, but his solo singer/songwriter career launched for good with After the Gold Rush (’70 “Southern Man”) and solidified with Harvest (’72 “Heart of Gold”). More than 40 albums later it’s still going.

I admit to not being a James Taylor groupie, but he was of a piece with the sensitive singer/songwriters of the day: Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Jackson Browne, Carole King, David Crosby, et al. I was introduced to Sweet Baby James (’70) in Beirut and did buy One Man Dog (’72) and Walking Man (’74).

Gordon Lightfoot was already a singer/songwriter in the Sixties, but he hit his peak in the Seventies with three lovely albums: Sit Down, Young Stranger (’70 “If You Could Read My Mind”); Don Quixote (’72 “The Patriot’s Dream”) and Sundown (’74 “Carefree Highway”).

Because his career has gone on so long, it’s hard to think of Bruce Springsteen in this cohort. Also, for many fans their appreciation began with Born to Run and the simultaneous Time and Newsweek covers in 1975. I was, however, immediately taken with Greetings from Asbury Park (’73 “Blinded By the Light”), when the rock press, incidentally, was hailing him as “the next Bob Dylan,” presumably because of his jumbling lyrics.

And while Dylan himself made his name in the Sixties, he released seven records from ’70 to ’75, including New Morning (’70 “If Not for You”) and Blood On the Tracks (’75 “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”), which I have often considered my all-time favorite album.

The Brits
From my perch in North Africa I could tune in British radio and, consequently, caught singles by both Elton John (“Border Song”) and David Bowie (“Space Oddity”) probably before either was big in the States. When I got home I snapped up every Elton John album as they came out, more than one per year. Elton John (’70 “Your Song), Madman Across the Water (’71 “Tiny Dancer”) and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (’73 “Candle in the Wind”) were favorites.

David Bowie’s Hunky Dory (’71 “Changes”) so wowed me that I went to Carnegie Hall the next year when he toured Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (’72 “Starman”). Bowie had great songs in years that followed, but never as good an album.

I didn’t connect with early Van Morrison (specifically his critically acclaimed Astral Weeks), but still consider Moondance (’70 “Crazy Love”) one of the five best albums ever made. None of the five albums that followed in the next three years approached that height, but I spent time with His Band and the Street Choir (’71 “Domino”) and St. Dominic’s Preview (’72).

In contrast, I was mesmerized by everything put out by Cat Stevens in these years, and there was a lot. Mona Bone Jakon (’70 “Lady D’Arbanville”) was followed by the great Tea for the Tillerman (’70 “Father and Son”), then Teaser and the Firecat (’71 “Moonshadow”).

Single Disc-ers
While the above artists had multiple discs in my collection, others spoke to me through only one record.

Lou Reed’s Transformer (’72) was his most (only?) accessible album and featured his signature song, “Walk on the Wild Side.” Don McLean’s Tapestry (’70 “Castles in the Air”) was sweet and soulful, preceding “American Pie.” After departing CSN&Y, Graham Nash brought out Songs for Beginners (’71 “Military Madness”). In a different genre, although just as much a singer/songwriter, Stevie Wonder hooked me with Innervisions (’73 “Living for the City”).

A subset of Singer/Songwriters for an obvious, or maybe no obvious, reason:

Joni Mitchell’s Blue (’71 “Carey”) is rightly celebrated as one of the greatest albums of all time. Carole King’s Tapestry (’71 “It’s Too Late”) ranks not far behind. In that same year Carly Simon released Anticipation (’71), a year before her classic “You’re So Vain.” Much later and very different but at the edge of this era, Patti Smith’s Horses (’75) blew me away on record and in person at Lincoln Center.

Progressive Rock
Picking up, perhaps, from Sgt. Pepper’s “A Day in the Life,” British groups explored symphony backing, extended tracks and general studio grandiloquence. The Moody Blues, my favorites, broke through with A Question of Balance (’70) and peaked in Every Good Boy Deserves Favor (’71 “The Story in Your Eyes”). Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (’72) filled both record sides with one continuous piece of music. The Yes Album (’71 “I’ve Seen All Good People”) was made up of songs that could go on forever. John Barleycorn Must Die (’70) by Traffic was a prelude to The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (’71) with its almost 12-minute title cut. The culmination of the genre, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (’73 “Us and Them”), famously and deservedly spent 736 weeks on the Billboard chart.

Rock Groups
While individual artists were putting their stamp on the era, there were still the more traditional ensembles of guitars, drums and keyboard that, while not unique, gave depth to this era of rock.

Let’s start with Who’s Next (’71) by the Who, which featured two of the all-time great rock anthems: “Won’t Be Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley.” The Eagles established country rock with their first two albums: Eagles (’72 “Peaceful Easy Feeling”) and Desperado (’73 “Tequila Sunrise”). In the same genre, New Riders of the Purple Sage recounted The Adventures of Panama Red (’73 “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy”). Fleetwood Mac came on the scene with Bare Trees (’72 “Sentimental Lady). The Kinks charmed me with their idiosyncratic numbers, from Lola Versus the Powerman (‘70 “Strangers”) to Everybody’s In Show-Biz (’72 “Celluloid Heroes”) and Preservation Act I (’73). The Morning After (’71 “Looking For A Love”) introduced me to the J. Geils Band.

What I Missed
Despite buying a lot of records and having pretty broad taste, there were important albums I didn’t collect that should be mentioned in evaluating the greatness of this musical period. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (’71) is the most recent Greatest Album in Rolling Stone’s decennial poll. Led Zeppelin IV (’71) featured “Stairway to Heaven,” arguably the greatest rock song. The same year saw Sly & the Family Stone’s “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” (’71 “Family Affair”). The Rolling Stones put out their highest-rated album, “Exile on Main St.” (’72 “Tumbling Dice”). The title track of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (’71) is one of the greatest songs ever. And who knows what else I missed or am missing.

In Conclusion
It’s not just that so many powerful, lyrical, memorable voices came to public attention in these pivotal years (1970-73, in particular). For the most part, these voices, while they continued putting out records, never reached the same heights. Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Elton John, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and these others seem timeless in retrospect, but in fact their magic all stems from around 1971. Fifty years later, I feel I was there when they arrived, and we’ve been companions ever since.

Top Ten Albums
Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
Moondance, Van Morrison
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Piano Man, Billy Joel
Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne
Blue, Joni Mitchell
Who’s Next, The Who
Horses, Patti Smith
Tea for the Tillerman, Cat Stevens
Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd


John Craigie/Chris Pureka

I took a flyer on two artists I had not heard of, based on the Lobero’s description and my faith in the Lobero’s scheduler. Indeed, John Craigie has a dedicated fan base that filled the auditorium; and although most were likely unfamiliar with the opener, also from Portland, they provided the best music of the evening. If I had to describe their respective styles, I would say Pureka was a direct descendant of Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers character played by Oscar Isaac back in 20013, and Craigie reminded me of Todd Snider, with songs that had just as much bite if a bit less musicality. Craigie’s website is subtitled, “Humorous storytelling, serious folk,” and certainly more minutes were spent doing stand-up generally and talking about the genesis of the next song than it took to actually play it. His manner was engaging and you laughed even when he wasn’t terribly funny or original. It was a good time. He deprecated his music and his guitar-playing, and afterward it was hard to think of anything I wanted to add to my Apple library. He didn’t play my favorite song from his most recent album, “Nomads.”
Pureka had a strong voice, catchy melodies and worked nice harmonies with Andy, their guitar accompanist. We could have been in Laurel Canyon in the mid-70s and fit right in. I tried to place Pukela’s voice, which was sharp but sweet, and seemed a notch or two above tenor but below alto. It wasn’t until Craigie referred to Pureka as “she” that I had any suspicion I hadn’t been watching a man. Wikipedia later informed me that Pureka “identifies as genderqueer,” a new term to me, but it certainly captures the non-gender-identity that they are apparently seeking. Whether man, woman or genderqueer, they played lovely throwback music of the moment.

The “little phrase”

There is a famous “little phrase” in a sonata by the composer/family friend Vinteuil that becomes the anthem of Swann’s love for Odette, and this musical reference pops up at various times in Proust’s chronicle. Reading, one can only imagine the shape of this phrase. Easier to recognize is the phenomenon of a snippet of song that takes on a larger-than-life role in one’s musical library. My library, of course, is made up of rock songs, not sonatas. For me, the equivalent of the little phrase is the passage – maybe six or seven notes – that comes near the end of a song that makes me hold my breath in anticipation. If I am with someone when the song plays on the radio, I will say, in effect, “Quiet, please. Let me just concentrate on this brief bit.” As I think of them, or happen to hear them, I will list the little phrases that continue to thrill me, recognizing that it will be impossible – just as it was for Proust – to convey the sound I am citing.

Five Discs, “I Remember” – a seven-note bass doo-wop following the line, “Tell me baby, where can I be found.” [1:26]
Marshall Tucker Band, “I Heard It In a Love Song” – the phrase, “I was born a wrangler and a rambler and I guess I always will.” [4:12]
Hall & Oates, “She’s Gone” – after fits and starts, fits and starts, a key-changing crescendo builds up to a keening “she’s go-o-o-o-o-o-o-ne, oh why?” [4:35]
Wilco – “Impossible Germany” – almost three minutes into a noodling instrumental coda, an exhilarating three-cord progression resolves the tension. Have I heard this phrase elsewhere, or just from its brief introduction two minutes earlier? [5:17]
Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run” – you know where this is going, right: “1-2-3-4.” [3:03]
John Mellencamp, “The Authority Song” – “Kick it in” brings back the orchestra and energy after a pulsating drum hiatus. [2:44]
Sensations, “Let Me In” – only reason to listen to this oldie is for the five-note progression at the very end, after the last “do-wee-oop-we-ooo.” [2:50?]


Beach Boys 2018

I risked my rock’n’roll cred by attending a concert by Mike Love’s Beach Boys at the Granada Theater last Friday (9/21/18). Although not actually billed as such, the tour seemed at least a commercial endeavor, at worst a vanity project, by the former lead singer, who was the only actual original Beach Boy in the nine-person ensemble. Not that a much larger contingent was possible after the deaths of Carl and Dennis Wilson, the peculiar private journey of Brian Wilson and a history of disputes/litigation involving rights and trademarks among the survivors. Still, it was a bit tacky to watch the intermission video endlessly looping ads for Mike Love’s latest album and recent memoir. His in-concert comments included nice tributes to the deceased, but the only acknowledgements of Brian came when Mike announced he had written songs – “Good Vibrations” and “Be True to Your School” – with Brian. And Al Jardine never factored.

Love’s performing style was singularly inauthentic, incessantly pointing with bogus bonhomie at different members of the audience – the kind of thing you’d never see at the Bowl or the Lobero but seemed consistent, somehow, with the Granada. Not surprisingly, Love doesn’t have much of a voice at 77, but what was surprising was the total lack of charisma among the seven younger backup musicians, including Love’s son, Christian. It was as if Love was careful to pick plain-vanilla performers who wouldn’t upstage him. All the energy had to come from Love in front, which meant there wasn’t that much.

Montecito’s own Bruce Johnston, an almost-original Beach Boy, was stationed up front with Love, but I couldn’t hear his voice until late in the proceedings. He stood behind what looked like a toy keyboard, which he may have been playing, although someone was at a much larger keyboard behind him. He, too, was careful not to get in Love’s way, although a couple times he waved the crowd off their seats, which was welcome, if not spontaneous. All the while video of earlier Beach Boy performances played on a screen stage rear, along with shots of California surfers and some flashes of the Beatles. This was suitably nostalgic, although a bit amateurish, as the same scenes kept reappearing.

What saved the night was the Beach Boys’ incredible catalogue. No matter how sketchy Love’s lead vocals were, the backup harmonies were competent and on the more difficult numbers the other musicians did the singing.  Not counting the token song from Love’s solo album and the encore as we left of Barbara Ann, there was nary a clunker. Surf songs – Surfin’ USA, Surfin’ Safari; hot rod songs – Little Deuce Coupe, 409, Don’t Worry, Baby; ballads – Surfer Girl, God Only Knows; girl’s name songs – Help Me, Rhonda, Wendy; wistful adolescent songs – When I Grow Up to Be A Man, Wouldn’t It Be Nice – they were all there, one after another, almost nonstop.  You can hate the man, but still love the music.


’60s Top Tens

For my college 50th reunion, a four-person panel reviewed songs that had charted during our four years, September ’64 through May ’68, and came up with a list of 30 nominees to be voted on for a Class Top Ten. The songs selected had to 1)be personal favorites of at least two of us; 2)have been a popular hit – preferably charting at #5 or above, even better at #1; and 3)contribute to genre diversity – including no two songs by the same performer. What follows here are four lists: the list of 30, a consensus of our panel; the Class Top Ten, as voted by 100 or so classmates at the reunion; my personal top ten, from the list of 30; and a personal list of fifteen favorite songs that made our initial roster of 130 songs but not the final 30.

Top 30, 64-68, in chronological order:

  • Zombies, She’s Not There
  • Martha & Vandellas, Dancing in the Street
  • Roy Orbison, Oh Pretty Woman
  • Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
  • Petula Clark, Downtown
  • Temptations, My Girl
  • Supremes, Stop! In the Name of Love
  • Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone
  • Wilson Pickett, Midnight Hour
    Rolling Stones, Satisfaction
    Lovin’ Spoonful, Do You Believe in Magic
  • Animals, We Gotta Get Out of This Place
  • Simon & Garfunkel, Sound of Silence 
    Rascals, Good Lovin’
    Percy Sledge, When A Man Loves A Woman 
  • Beach Boys, Wouldn’t It Be Nice
    Left Banke, Walk Away Renee
    Spencer Davis Group, Gimme Some Lovin’
  • Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth
  • Aretha Franklin, Respect
  • Doors, Light My Fire
    Beatles, A Day in the Life
  • Procol Harum, Whiter Shade of Pale
    Van Morrison, Brown-eyed Girl
  • Sam & Dave, Soul Man
    Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze
  • Stone Poneys, Different Drum
    Monkees, Daydream Believer
    Otis Redding, Dock of the Bay
  • Sly & Family Stone, Dance to the Music

Class of ’68 Top Ten

  1. Aretha Franklin, Respect
  2. Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone
  3. Rolling Stones, Satisfaction
  4. Otis Redding, Dock of the Bay
  5. Simon & Garfunkel, Sound of Silence
  6. Temptations, My Girl
  7. Doors, Light My Fire
  8. Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
  9. Percy Sledge, When A Man Loves A Woman
  10. Wilson Pickett, Midnight Hour

Bob’s Top Ten

  1. Temptations, My Girl
  2. Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone
  3. Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth
  4. Procol Harum, Whiter Shade of Pale
  5. Supremes, Stop! In the Name of Love
  6. Left Banke, Walk Away Renee
  7. Lovin’ Spoonful, Do You Believe in Magic
  8. Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’
  9. Petula Clark, Downtown
  10. Otis Redding, Dock of the Bay

Personal Favorites beyond the Top 30

  • Beau Brummels, Just A Little
  • We Five, You Were On My Mind
  • Turtles, You Baby
  • B.J. Thomas, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
  • Tremeloes, Silence Is Golden
  • BeeGees, I Can’t See Nobody
  • Jimmy Ruffin, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
  • Casinos, Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye
  • Buckinghams, Kind of a Drag
  • Miracles, Tracks of My Tears
  • Swinging Medallions, Double Shot
  • Shades of Blue, Oh How Happy
  • Bob Lind, Elusive Butterfly
  • Herman’s Hermits, There’s A Kind of Hush
  • Outsiders, Time Won’t Let Me


Eight ’60s Songs

For one evening’s entertainment at my Harvard 50th Reunion, four of us presented 30 songs to be voted on by our classmates in order to arrive at a Class of ’68 Top Ten (see “’60s Top Tens,” above). Each of us took seven or eight songs to champion. Here are the ones I put into nomination:

Like A Rolling Stone  I’m humbled to be able to talk about the #1 all-time greatest song in rock history, according to Rolling Stone Magazine. (Maybe the name had something to do with it?) Bob Dylan is without question the greatest songwriter of the pre-Bruce Springsteen era, and Like A Rolling Stone is his unquestioned masterpiece. It marks the transition of Dylan from folk singer – at which he was pretty good – to rock star. Just as significant it broke the three-minute barrier for songs on the radio. I remember being in Elsie’s, picking up roast beef sandwiches for the Crimson editors, when this song came on the air. I couldn’t leave, for six minutes. This paved the path for long songs to come, from Light My Fire to MacArthur Park to Stairway to Heaven.

The lyrics also broke ground: far from the usual love song, it’s a vicious revenge song, telling the saga of a princess on a steeple who falls and is on her own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.  Books have been written about just this song, and tomorrow you can get a taste of a Harvard course on Bob Dylan. He turned rock’n’roll into an intellectual art form, and here’s where he did it.

My Girl  Whereas it took Beethoven four notes to write the most famous introduction in classical music – ba-ba-ba, bum – it took the Temptations only three notes to produce the sweetest, most tantalizing, most recognizable introduction in rock: ba, bum-bum. Then the song absolutely soars with a perfect opening line: “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May.” How can you not be happy when you hear this song? The great Smokey Robinson wrote lyrics of unalloyed happiness: “I’ve got all the riches one man can claim.” The Temptations were smoothness personified in their dance steps while they sang – or lip-synched – and the horns played a trumpet fanfare that makes the nerves tingle. My Girl was a #1 hit in the spring of our freshman year, and it captures the innocence of that time.

Do You Believe In Magic  This is simply the happiest, most hopeful song of our era. It hooks you from the opening note and races along without a letup. Perhaps best of all, it’s a paean to rock’n’roll. For some reason, every song that has the words “rock’n’roll” in its lyrics is a good one – the same is true for “rain” and “bells.” Not so much the word “groovy” – that dates this song; but the rest is magical: “the magic’s in the music and the music’s in me, yeah.” John Sebastian and the Spoonful grew out of the Greenwich Village folk scene and went on to have the record for most consecutive top ten hits in the ‘60s, but nothing would top this song that virtually exploded off the radio into your mind, in a feelgood way.

The Sound of Silence  Named the “quintessential folk-rock” song, Sound of Silence has a special connection to the coffee-house scene we discovered when we arrived at Harvard. Released as an acoustic number in 1964 it bombed. Then a late-night DJ at WBZ started playing it and listeners at Harvard and Tufts started calling for it. Sensing its potential, the record producer that helped Dylan go electric added electric guitars and drums – without Simon & Garfunkel’s knowledge – and the new version went to #1 in Boston before sweeping the country. It also helped establish Paul Simon as the second great Rock Poet, after Dylan. “People talking without speaking; People hearing without listening” – hello, t.s.eliot.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice  Everyone loves the Beach Boys, the soundtrack of growing up in the ‘60s. They glamorized surfing, cars, love and California. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, though, was something different from their macho teenage posturing; it was both more mature and more innocent. The trademark harmonies were there, but the composition and instrumentation were more sophisticated, more orchestral, more haunting. The lyrics perfectly captured the fantasies of my parietals-bound sophomore mind: “You know it’s gonna make it that much better/ When we can say goodnight and stay together.”  A year later, when the Rolling Stones sang “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” it sounded more like sexual assault. The Beach Boys instead offered a magical dream of mutual consent: “We could be married/ And then we’d be happy/ Wouldn’t it be nice?”

Walk Away Renee  Teenage heartbreak. What an empty feeling, a pit in the stomach, when you break up with a girlfriend – or worse, when she leaves you. And what comfort a good rock song, plaintive in a minor key, can provide, solace for the afflicted, balm for the broken heart. Walk Away Renee captured this feeling. The strings, the haunting flute, the images: “your name and mine, inside a heart upon a wall.” In My Fair Lady Freddie sings in rapture about The Street Where You Live. Here, the Left Banke sings, “The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.” I cry inside when I hear this song. It captured my feelings perfectly – except I never dated a girl named Renee.

Whiter Shade of Pale  From those opening chords, we’re back in the Summer of Love, 1967, when we were self-important about-to-be seniors. The group’s name sounded Latin, the melody was lifted from Bach, the Miller’s Tale came from Chaucer, and the sonorous organ was more serious than guitar and sax. Here was the start of Progressive Rock – bands like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues that would soon play with symphony orchestras.  The lyrics were sheer poetry: meaningless but endlessly evocative. It was said you had to be stoned for them to make sense. But what images: “the ceiling flew away,” “sixteen vestal virgins,” and best of all: “her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.” Huh?

This April the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inducted the first five singles from performers not in the Hall into its pantheon. There was Louie, Louie; Born to Be Wild; and Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale.

Daydream Believer

By the spring of ’68 the era of top-40 rock as we knew it was coming to an end. There was psychedelia, ProgRock, the advent of FM radio, revolution and Vietnam – teenage love songs just didn’t cut it. The Monkees’ final #1 hit, Daydream Believer, is a melancholy epitaph, a postgraduate look at life. Instead of excitement at getting the girl into bed, the singer is now being woken up by the 6 a.m. alarm and having to shave. The romance is still there – “you once thought of me as a white knight on a steed” – but now it’s relegated to a daydream belief.

Recruited to play a band like the Beatles on a TV show, the four Monkees turned out to have musical chops of their own, and they graced us with an upbeat catalog of pleasant hits our last two years at Harvard.

Hall of Fame?

Although not averse to visiting should I get to Cleveland, I have never considered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to be a meaningful institution. The only “hall of fame” that means much to me is Major League Baseball’s, the oldest and by far the hardest to get into. Although imprecise, there are also established criteria by which candidates are judged: the number of wins for a pitcher, home runs or batting average for a hitter, etc. How do you rate musical performers? Popularity? Originality? Influence? Musical ability? Longevity? Equally mysterious, at least to the layman, is the identity, or qualifications, of the 600 “rock experts” who decide who is inducted. Almost every year someone is inducted who befuddles me, and this year, no exception, it is Joan Baez. She’s a wonderful singer, an admirable political activist and, see my review, a delightful performer. But did she have, as the judges supposedly require, “influence and significance to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll”? Come on!

To begin with, Joan Baez is not a rock’n’roller, which she admitted following yesterday’s announcement. She is a folk singer. Her principal pop music credits are cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan and The Band. So much for her “influence.” Is she the least qualified member of the RAFHOF? I think so, although a glance at the list of Hall members suggests some competition, mainly from Bobby Darin (1990), who, after the very minor pop classic “Splish Splash,” never sang another rock ‘n’ roll song in his life.

Very few performers can or ever will live up to the inaugural Hall class (1986) of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, James Brown and, although we’re already slipping a little, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis. The following year saw the entry of clearly second-tier, but still very influential, performers like Bo Diddley and Bill Haley; but the inclusion of Eddie Cochran established that a singer need not have more than one “hit” to reach the Hall. Sam and Dave had two hits, but they made the grade in 1992. Janis Joplin must have been chosen in ’95 for her persona, as her music, take away “A Little Piece of My Heart,” is hardly memorable and barely listenable (my conclusion after seeing the movie “Blue”). The Young Rascals (1997) were a fine pop group in the late ’60s, but their songs hardly stand out from the work of a dozen other bands. 1999 saw the induction of both Del Shannon and Bruce Springsteen. If I were Bruce I would’ve felt insulted. Bonnie Raitt (2000) is a hard-working industry favorite but not much of a rock ‘n’ roller or commercial success. Ditto for Laura Nyro (2012) and Bill Withers (2015). In fact, those are three singers who routinely prompt me to change the channel. Leonard Cohen (2008) fits in the Joan Baez wing of the Hall, although he at least wrote his own music, and a lot of it. When you examine the output, however, of Ritchie Valens (2001) – “La Bamba” and “Donna,” that’s it – you suspect the voters are weighing diversity as a criterion.

The Sex Pistols (2006) refused to attend their induction ceremony, calling the Hall a “piss stain,” which of course fits their character like Dylan’s snubbing the Nobel proceedings, but I won’t argue. How much the Hall of Fame has now become a commercial product, with a need to have acts justifying the HBO telecast, I don’t know. This year’s other winners – and I’m thinking of Yes, ELO, and Journey, not Pearl Jam – had a signature song and a couple good records each, but it’s hard to distinguish them from, or rate them above, the ones that didn’t make it: the Cars, Zombies, J. Geils Band and Steppenwolf. All of them are a far cry from past inductees who would constitute a meaningful Hall of Fame: the Rolling Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp, the Four Seasons, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Eric Clapton. Then again, it’s possible that this year Tim Raines will get into the real Hall of Fame.