Top 40 Smash Taps: “I’d Love to Change the World”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

The U.K. blues-rock band Ten Years After was only together from 1966 to 1974, but they were incredibly prolific in that span, releasing eight studio albums and two live discs, the second of which was, of course, a double album. In 1970 and 1971 alone, the band issued four albums. As with many other hard rock bands of the era, Ten Years After had more success on the album charts than on the Billboard Hot 100. (Led Zeppelin, as one example, had six #1 albums on the U.S. charts, but only one single that was able to crack the Top 10.) Indeed, the song that is clearly considered the biggest hit Ten Years After ever enjoyed peaked at a tepid #40. “I’d Love to Change the World” appeared on the band’s 1971 album, A Space in Time, which was considered a bit of a departure because it incorporated more acoustic guitar parts and a gentler approach to songcraft. The song’s lyrics seemed to take aim at the prevailing protest culture, opening with the lines “Everywhere is freaks and hairies/ Dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity.” I goes on to complain about taxes and reference the tangle of debate around heavy topics, ultimately concluding, “I’d love to change the world/ But I don’t know what to do/ So I’ll leave it up to you.” Some have speculated that songwriter Alvin Lee was being ironic in the lyrics, but his intent isn’t all that clear. What is certain is that Lee grew to hate the song, which was surely an extension of the animosity he had towards any level of success that distracted from him ability to just noodle away on stage because audiences wanted to hear the hits. Lee largely refrained from ever playing the song live. Ten Years After officially broke up in 1974, but there were reunions later on, including a few more studio albums. Lee was initially part of the revived group, but left them for good in 2003. The remaining members persisted under the name Ten Years After, even though Lee was the main creative force. Lee died in early 2013 at the age of sixty-eight.

Previously…
“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Olympics
“The Bounce” by the Olympics
“Your One and Only Love” by Jackie Wilson
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano
“The Last Time I Made Love” by Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
“Limbo Rock” by The Champs
“Crazy Eyes For You” by Bobby Hamilton
“Who Do You Think You’re Foolin'” by Donna Summer
“Violet Hill” and “Lost+” by Coldplay
“Freight Train” by the Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group
“Sweet William” by Little Millie Small
“Live My Life” by Boy George
“Lessons Learned” by Tracy Lawrence
“So Close” by Diana Ross
“Six Feet Deep” by the Geto Boys
“You Thrill Me” by Exile
“What Now” by Gene Chandler
“Put It in a Magazine” by Sonny Charles
“Got a Love for You” by Jomanda
“Stone Cold” by Rainbow
“People in Love” by 10cc
“Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)” by the Four Tops
“Thinkin’ Problem” by David Ball
“You Got Yours and I’ll Get Mine” and “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” by the Delfonics
“The Riddle (You and I)” by Five for Fighting
“I Can’t Wait” by Sleepy Brown
“Nature Boy” by Bobby Darin
“Give It to Me Baby” and “Cold Blooded” by Rick James
“Who’s Sorry Now?” by Marie Osmond
“A Love So Fine” by the Chiffons
“Funky Y-2-C” by the Puppies
“Brand New Girlfriend” by Steve Holy
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by Bonnie Pointer
“Mr. Loverman” by Shabba Ranks
“I’ve Never Found a Girl” by Eddie Floyd
“Plastic Man” and “Happy People” by the Temptations
“Okay” by Nivea
“Go On” by George Strait
“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road
“Birthday Party” by the Pixies Three
“Livin’ in the Life” by the Isley Brothers
“Kissing You” by Keith Washington
“The End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye
“Ticks” and “Letter to Me” by Brad Paisley
“Nobody But You Babe” by Clarence Reid
“Like a Sunday in Salem” by Gene Cotton
“I’m Going to Let My Heart Do the Walking” by the Supremes
“Call Me Lightning” by the Who
“Ain’t It True” by Andy Williams
“Lazy Elsie Molly” and “Let’s Do the Freddie” by Chubby Checker
“Second Fiddle” by Kay Starr
“1999” by Prince
“I’ll Try Anything” by Dusty Springfield
“Oh Happy Day” by Glen Campbell

Poor skeleton steps out, dressed up in bad blood

twins

The Skeleton Twins begins with the siblings of the title a continent apart, but both at the same dismal low point. It turns out that Milo (Bill Hader) is a step ahead of his sister, Maggie (Kristen Wiig). As she’s about to down a handful of pills, the phone rings informing her of her brother’s unsuccessful suicide attempt. Though they haven’t seen or spoken to one another in ten years, this seems a cause for reunion, and Maggie is soon on her way to retrieve Milo, bringing him back to their New York state hometown. What follows can safely be termed as the stuff of countless other indie flicks. The filtering of depression through gallows humor is a true staple of art house cinema, and the damaged sibling dynamic has a clear antecedent in the far wiser, wittier You Can Count on Me. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily invalidate a film, though. Smart, sound presentation can overcome a lack of originality. For much of its running time, The Skeleton Twins is worth the effort.

Much of the film’s appeal comes from the presence of Hader and Wiig. Both have given hints of greater range than the modern comedy landscape often allows, especially as more and more films adopt the Judd Apatow model of undisciplined shagginess in favor of packing in the gags. Narrative and character inconsistency is happily sacrificed on the altar of improvised lunacy. Both Hader and Wiig have noted the difference in working with a director who was prepared to keep their comic instincts in check. Director Craig Johnson deserves a lot of credit for that worthy approach. He’s rewarded with affecting, agreeable performances, especially from Hader. Johnson also clearly knows when to let the easy rapport between the two, built during years together on Saturday Night Live, carry scenes. That affectionate familiarity lends added authority and dark poignancy to the counterpoint moments when the characters’ deep, familial knowledge gives them the ammunition to verbally strike at the weakest points.

The film has only one significant misstep, but it’s a brutally damaging one. In what is essentially the closing scene, a dire situation is resolved in a manner that may be dramatically satisfying but that makes no sense within the context of the story. It requires such contortions of logic to believe in the moment that it threatens to sour everything that’s come before. The plot detail does something that the rest of the screenplay (co-credited to Johnson and Mark Heyman) largely avoids: it cheats. The Skelton Twins definitely isn’t perfect up until that point, but it had the integrity to avoid that most lamentable of pitfalls. If only Johnson had held himself and his screenplay to the same level of discipline he expected of his leading actors.

College Countdown: Rockpool’s Top 20 College Radio Albums, November 1988, 14

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14. They Might Be Giants, Lincoln

When I arrived at the campus radio station in the fall of 1988, I was a relative neophyte when it came to college rock. I certainly put on airs that I knew more than I did, the cool kid culture of college radio necessitating a reasonable amount of knowledge to earn respect (or so I thought). And I was an eager, fast learner. Still, I had only the barest exposure to many of the bands that were staples on our airwaves, so anytime I encountered an album from a band I felt I knew a little better, I was extremely grateful. Therefore, I felt very lucky that my arrival coincided with that of Lincoln, the sophomore release from They Might Be Giants.

Now, it’s not as if I knew the band comprised of the Two Johns (Linnell and Flansburgh), but their very first single, “Don’t Let’s Start” (off of their self-titled debut), became an unlikely MTV staple, thanks to an attention-getting, oddball music video. That coincided with just enough laudatory press to raise their stature in my limited view. I caught other songs from them here and there (their follow-up music video, stray favorites that got played in the strange corners of one of the local radio station’s programming schedule), meaning I roughly knew what to expect with Lincoln. Namely, the songs would be catchy, quirky, and demonstrate a giddy freedom to bound across genres, adopting a reshaping everything they touched to their own smart aleck sensibilities. Even the trade publication ads touting the album took a cheeky tone, proclaiming Lincoln as the proud successor to other much-loved items that shared its name, from a president to a town to delightfully fun logs.

I’m not sure if I can term Lincoln as the first album from that autumn semester that I fell totally, irretrievably in love with (that honor is probably reserved for the album up for discussion when the countdown reaches the number five slot), but it is certainly the record that made me appreciate the value in music that was clearly shaped by a distinctive, singular voice and yet was incredibly diverse. I could return to Lincoln week after week and always feel like I was playing songs that kept my playlist fluidly different. I could incorporate the jerky honky tonk of “Cowtown,” the bizarro jazz of “Lie Still, Little Bottle,” or the art piece aggression of “You’ll Miss Me.” When the holiday season rolled around, my general aversion to Christmas songs fell before the thumping charms of “Santa’s Beard.” That’s a big batch of songs that I was happy to drop the needle on, and I haven’t yet covered the real pinnacles of the album.

I once read a music piece that cited “Ana Ng” as one of the greatest love songs ever recorded, an assertion I original found ludicrous. Then I thought more about it. Lincoln‘s spectacular lead single is ostensibly about a doomed romance between the song’s protagonist and the Vietnamese woman of the title, with the lament “Ana Ng and I are getting old/ And we still haven’t walked in the glow/ Of each other’s majestic presence” serving as a poignant, pointed explication of the enduring misery of unrequited love. The song is filled with lyrics of great affect, including, “When I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge:/ ‘I don’t want the world, I just want your half,'” as well as the vivid imagery of the opening: “Make a hole with a gun perpendicular/ To the name of this town in a desktop globe/ Exit wound in a foreign nation/ Showing the home of the one this was written for.” (The latter was reportedly inspired by an old Pogo comic strip.) The whole track is stealthily ravishing.

At the time, I was maybe even more taken with the direct heartache of follow-up single “They’ll Need a Crane” (“Love sees love’s happiness/ But happiness can’t see that love is sad”). But then I found a new potential favorite with nearly every shift: “The World’s Address,” “Purple Toupee,” “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go.” Lincoln had a total of eighteen tracks, and I think it’s likely I played every last one of them — some of them multiple times — before it completed its journey through the station’s rotation. Of course I did. Lincoln represented a safe zone for me, a band I had some amount of command over, a knowledge level that wasn’t all that dissimilar from anyone else in the station. Besides, they were funny, lively, and a little bratty, although harmlessly so in the case of the latter quality. I suppose I could relate.

Previously…
An Introduction
–20: Substance
–19: End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues
–18: Rank
–17: Lovely
–16: Ghost Stories
–15: 2 Steps from the Middle Ages

From the Archive: Ghost Rider and The Wicker Man

It makes me a little sad that it’s now been well over two years since the last time I had cause to offer a Bad Movie Night post. This used to be one of our proudest household traditions. Well, wait. “Proudest” isn’t right. This used to be one of our most beloved household experiences. There, that’s better. During the heyday of our gatherings to watch and mock some of Hollywood’s most woeful features, there were few things we organized that inspired such joy. And then significantly less joyful hangovers. But until you and your favorite wise-ass friends have experienced Charlie Sheen as Bobby Bishop in Shadow Conspiracy together, you simply haven’t bonded properly. How I wish I had entries that dated all the way back to then. Instead, I’ll need to settle for this: the very first time it occurred to me that I should be writing about a Bad Movie Night experience as its own unique review. A few of the hyperlinks have been updated, but only because it was important to do so.

wicker ghost

Clearly, we’ve been spending a fair amount of our recent time in this household catching up on movies, especially focused on getting in as many of the 2007 releases as possible so we can join the parade of year-end top ten lists with as much knowledge as possible. After a fairly miserable two-hours-and-twenty-minutes with a hammy performance that will almost certainly factor in the Oscar race, we decided that something completely different was needed for Saturday night.

We surveyed our freshly replenished supply of growlers and decided it was time to revive a venerable tradition that many perusers of this spot on the web will well-remember (well, fond, foggy memories, anyway): Bad Movie Night.

While there are some Bad Movie Night favorites that clearly stand alone, we’ve always been partial to the symmetry of double features. It just so happened we had a perfect pairing nestled on our DVR. So it become the Nicolas Cage edition of Bad Movie Night.

We started with Ghost Rider (Mark Steven Johnson, 2007), filmed proof that the Marvel Age of Moviemaking is fast approaching its nadir. The film introduces unsuspecting moviegoers to one of most whacked-out creations from the 1970’s, an era in which the company had no shortage of whackedout creations. It’s a dumb character to begin with and the film is written and directed by the same guy who perpetrated a previous Marvel superhero film that was downright unwatchable. But could the freakshow actor who took on the lead role actually bring something weirdly creative to it? After all, he’s enough of a comic freak to take his stage name from another one of those 1970’s whacked-out creations and give his son a Kryptonian name. The answer, emphatically, is no.

Ghost Rider, predictably, is another watered-down adventure aiming to please the least discerning moviegoers and toning down it’s macabre elements just enough to earn that treasured PG-13 rating. From a Bad Movie Night standpoint, however, there are ample mock-able pleasures, including:

–The wide array of horrible hairpieces.
–Speaking of hair, Sam Elliot’s facial hair seems to extend all the way up his cheek. Almost to his lower eyelid. It’s freakier than a motorcycle rider with a flaming skull.
–The lead characters goofball predilections for cocktail glasses full of Jelly Bellys and TV show featuring monkey karate. I have no doubt these were Cage contributions.
–The ever-wooden Wes Bentley, splendidly atrocious as the villainous Blackheart.

But this, dear friends, was only the first feature. Next came the amazingly wrongheaded remake of The Wicker Man (Neil LaBute, 2007). With a director like Mark Steven Johnson, Ghost Rider was doomed from the moment it was greenlit. Wicker has its origins in a somewhat revered 1973 original and was adapted and directed by someone who’s an acclaimed playwright and has at least one exemplary film to his credit. The film he’s crafted is a rollicking, marauding disaster. The plot involving a police officer’s investigation of a secretive island society strains credibility plenty, but Cage does the project no favors with a bug-eyed, frantic performance. There a precious few moments for the Academy Award winning actor that can’t be described as laughable, but the pinnacle is probably the moment he launches into action while wearing a bear costume. But then, as at least one intrepid YouTube contributor has figured out, there are so many great moments to choose from.

There are times when Wicker Man seems so very close to tipping over into a level of nonstop lunacy similar to that of another Bad Movie Night favorite, but it never builds up enough off-kilter energy to do that. Instead, everything just seems off. The actors seem to be trying so hard to make sense of the lines they’re delivering as they’re delivering them. Trying to find meaning and grounded emotion in this misbegotten material is the collected thespians’ second mistake (the first is, of course, signing on to the project in the first place). You can’t make sense of stuff like this. The best you can hope to do is get a few laughs out of it.

One for Friday: East of Eden, “Mystic Love”

east

There are so many albums out there, meaning countless efforts that once stirred interest, even in a small pocket of listenership, get entirely left behind. My recollection is that when the self-titled, debut release from Boston’s East of Eden arrived at our radio station, sometime in 1989, it got a respectable amount of airplay, especially for the single “Mystic Love.” It was preceded by some modest hype, helped along significantly by the release’s major label status. It didn’t become some major hit for us, as evidenced by its absence from the year-end chart, but it landed on the station turntables with some frequency.

As far as I can tell, this was the band’s only release, so there was no reminder to the on-air staff of their previous record’s existence upon the follow-up. Instead, the album that was added to playlists when it was in our rotation was all but forgotten when it moved into the general stacks. Certainly the slicked up pop sound (Trouser Press compared East of Eden to Simple Minds as a means to dismiss them) was already starting to fall out of favor as the eighties were giving way to the nineties. The buzzy insistence of the Pixies was fast replacing the grandiosity of Tears for Fears on the left end of the dial. A band like East of Eden never had a chance.

This isn’t a woeful lament for a band that should have been huge. I’ve listened to East of Eden fairly recently, and it’s not a lost classic. It’s fine, solid enough, and there’s definitely an appeal to lead singer Cinde Lager’s vocals. Like a lot of releases from the time, it’s tempting to imagine it with at least one less layer of studio shellac on it. But I also need to admit that this kind of sound — professional, controlled, produced — stirs a very different nostalgia for me, and an appreciation for the time when labels and bands felt they needed to put some real effort into courting the college radio crowd. By the time I returned to the noncommercial trenches some ten years later, there was such a defiant adherence to sometimes painful lo-fi sensibilities that a band that tried for audio gussying up would have never made it off of music directors’ desks. Hell, no one would likely send it to the college stations in the first place. It was a turn of events that could make college radio feel like an afterthought. Songs like “Mystic Love” make me pine for the brief stretch of time when labels really wanted the attention and affection of student programmers.

Listen or download –> East of Eden, “Mystic Love”

(Disclaimer: It is quite difficult to find information on the band East of Eden. There are simply too many other, far more popular options that spring up in online searches, including a whole other band of that name. Still, I’m more confident than usual, just by the way the band and its sole release feel like they’ve been erased from the collective memory, that East of Eden is out of print, at least as a physical object that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a way that fiscally benefits both the proprietor of said store and the artist. That is the context I carry as I share this song on my humble little corner of the internet. I mean no harm. That typed, I will gladly remove this track if asked to do so by any entity or individual with due authority to make such a request.)

Beer I Have Known: Pisgah Pale Ale

This series of posts is dedicated to the many, many six packs, pony kegs and pints that have sauntered into my life at one point or another.

In a bit of fortuitous timing, we took up residence in our little mountain town just as the craft brew culture was truly ramping up. Down the road a stretch from the handsome college that kindly issues me a monthly paycheck there was a little brewery just getting underway. When I first visited, there was no bottles or cans to take away, no fancy tasting room. Patrons walked into the squat industrial building where they’d set up shop and headed straight for the brew room. There amidst the vats, emptied kegs, and piles of other excess material sat a group of intrepid beer connoisseurs sipping off pints that were filled from a spigot on the wall next to the walk-in cooler. Since the licensure for serving a little uncertain there was no price for the beer, but — ahem — donations were accepted. It was there and then I had my first Pisgah Pale Ale. Now, years later, Pisgah has a wide array of brews, in cans and bottles, and there’s barely a venue in the greater Asheville area that has tap lines that doesn’t list at least one of their products on the menu. I get spoiled by the abundance in our town, and I find myself chasing specialty beers or becoming enamored with whatever’s newest. I don’t drift back to Pisgah Pale often enough, but every time I do I’m dazzled anew by the first swig, usually verbalizing some variation on “Man, I love this beer — I need to get it more often.” If I need to give someone one beer to demonstrate why we value our local beer community, it’s this one, if only because it’s simultaneously excellent and the area baseline. I credit this as the beer that helped elevate the local scene: all the other breweries needed to make sure their flagship was on par with this. And anything intended to be special needed to be even better. As someone who appreciates a quality pint, I’m grateful for the level of competition Pisgah Pale Ale established.

Previously…
Point Special
21st Amendment Bitter American
Abita Restoration Pale Ale
Rolling Rock
Skull Splitter
Foster’s
Highland Thunderstruck Coffee Porter
Red Stripe
Rhinelander Bock
Samuel Adams Boston Lager
New Glarus Brewing Company Wisconsin Belgian Red
ABA Hoppy Saison
Hamm’s
Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager
Three Floyds Apocalypse Cow
French Broad Brewing Gateway Kolsch
Big Boss Brewing “High Monkey”
Stevens Point Brewery Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale
The Native Brewing Company The Eleven Brown Ale
Labatt Blue
Smuttynose Winter Ale
Point Beyond the Pale IPA
Guinness
Capital Brewery Supper Club
Highland Brewing 20th Anniversary Scotch Ale
Mickey’s
Central Waters Brewing Company Sixteen
Blatz

Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Fourteen

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#14 — The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
There’s so much about The Seventh Seal that amazes me, all of it timeless and yet compounded by placing the film in the context of its era. I love the film’s experimentalism, which paradoxically manages to be both understated and bold. For me, watching it is like receiving an injection of understanding in the primacy of mood and idea in cinema. There is a narrative, but it lags in importance behind practically every other recognizable component of filmmaking. It’s not abdicated entirely in the style of other experimental films, but Bergman shows precisely what it’s like when the pyramid of importance is inverted. It’s almost luxuriant in its cinematic elegance. The cinematography of Gunnar Fischer, Bergman’s regular collaborator on his pivotal early films, nearly insures this effect on his own. Finally, as much as The Seventh Seal is held up as the prototypical realization of Bergman’s gloominess — Death himself is a character, after all — I’m struck by how funny it is. Now it’s hardly a laugh riot, and the humor is dark, to be sure, but it’s also there in abundance, poking at all the absurdities that speckle the film.

The central character is a glum knight, played wonderfully by Max von Sydow in his first big-screen collaboration with the director (in the same year, a TV movie and another cinematic effort, Wild Strawberries, were also released). In the conceit from the film that practically everyone knows, even those who have barely seen a frame of Bergman’s oeuvre, the knight is confronted by the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot) and schemes to delay the grim reaper from claiming him by challenging the spooky figure to a game of chess. Swirling around that is the knight’s trek across Sweden, which has been ravaged by the plague while he was away fighting in the Crusades. As with most such stories, it’s somewhat episodic in nature, revealing a culture and a people through fragments of lives. There’s no reason to believe that Bergman was interested in verisimilitude, that he was making some sort of period piece. It is allegory rather than history, and the possibilities built into the film are the stuff of endless film aficionado debates.

The Seventh Seal is one of those incredible rarities, a film that unlocks all the varied potential inherent in the form. Bergman deemed it “an uneven film.” If that’s accurate (it’s certainly a debatable assessment), then the imbalance is only a product of the surplus of ideas. Scales are going to get wobbly when a truckload of stuff is piled upon them. One of the most fascinating things about The Seventh Seal is the creative assurance that is always at play. Even as Bergman adds idea after idea, there’s never disarray. There is a prevailing sense that he is in total command, a signal to the way he’d be able to wrestle even bigger, wilder concepts into riveting art in the years ahead. Bergman had already been signing his name to movies, prolifically, for nearly fifteen years when The Seventh Seal was released, but there’s little mystery as to why this is the work that announced him a great filmmaker.

Top 40 Smash Taps: “Oh Happy Day”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

By my count, Glen Campbell had a total of twenty-one Top 40 singles. In 1970, he hadn’t yet notched his two massive charttoppers, but he had already proven his ability to cross over from the country charts. In fact, he enjoyed eight straight Top 40 singles in 1969 and 1970, including a couple of duets with Bobbie Gentry. He was coming off of one of that pair, a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream,” when he released “Oh Happy Day,” the single that represented the end of his streak. Originally an 18th century hymn, the song became an unlikely hit in 1969, when it was recorded by the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Odd as it seems that a gospel-influenced arrangement of an old hymn could become a winner on the pop charts — making it all the was to #4 — in the basic sound and tone, it wasn’t that far off of the gushy spirituality of the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which spent six weeks at the chart’s pinnacle, to the surprise of no one tuned in to the still prevalent hippie culture. Sure, “Oh Happy Day” spends a lot of time directly referencing Jesus, but there’s a decent chance that most listeners were a little too hazy to notice. One year after the Edwin Hawkins Singers enjoyed their chart success, Campbell offered his own version of the song, presumably because the country audience was always a little more primed to hear a little bit of church music come through their radios. It was also the title cut of a studio album, one of an amazing five full-length Campbell releases issued by Capitol Records that year (including a “best of” collection).

Previously…
“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Olympics
“The Bounce” by the Olympics
“Your One and Only Love” by Jackie Wilson
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano
“The Last Time I Made Love” by Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
“Limbo Rock” by The Champs
“Crazy Eyes For You” by Bobby Hamilton
“Who Do You Think You’re Foolin'” by Donna Summer
“Violet Hill” and “Lost+” by Coldplay
“Freight Train” by the Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group
“Sweet William” by Little Millie Small
“Live My Life” by Boy George
“Lessons Learned” by Tracy Lawrence
“So Close” by Diana Ross
“Six Feet Deep” by the Geto Boys
“You Thrill Me” by Exile
“What Now” by Gene Chandler
“Put It in a Magazine” by Sonny Charles
“Got a Love for You” by Jomanda
“Stone Cold” by Rainbow
“People in Love” by 10cc
“Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)” by the Four Tops
“Thinkin’ Problem” by David Ball
“You Got Yours and I’ll Get Mine” and “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” by the Delfonics
“The Riddle (You and I)” by Five for Fighting
“I Can’t Wait” by Sleepy Brown
“Nature Boy” by Bobby Darin
“Give It to Me Baby” and “Cold Blooded” by Rick James
“Who’s Sorry Now?” by Marie Osmond
“A Love So Fine” by the Chiffons
“Funky Y-2-C” by the Puppies
“Brand New Girlfriend” by Steve Holy
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by Bonnie Pointer
“Mr. Loverman” by Shabba Ranks
“I’ve Never Found a Girl” by Eddie Floyd
“Plastic Man” and “Happy People” by the Temptations
“Okay” by Nivea
“Go On” by George Strait
“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road
“Birthday Party” by the Pixies Three
“Livin’ in the Life” by the Isley Brothers
“Kissing You” by Keith Washington
“The End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye
“Ticks” and “Letter to Me” by Brad Paisley
“Nobody But You Babe” by Clarence Reid
“Like a Sunday in Salem” by Gene Cotton
“I’m Going to Let My Heart Do the Walking” by the Supremes
“Call Me Lightning” by the Who
“Ain’t It True” by Andy Williams
“Lazy Elsie Molly” and “Let’s Do the Freddie” by Chubby Checker
“Second Fiddle” by Kay Starr
“1999” by Prince
“I’ll Try Anything” by Dusty Springfield

Arzner, Byrkit, Hitchcock, Pakula, Tartakovsky

Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943). Though he would sometimes demure at the question, this was typically the title Hitchcock offered up as his default answer when asked about his personal favorite among his hefty, dazzling oeuvre. I can’t really back him up on that, even though I can completely understand how this one would loom large for the Master. He’d made great films before this (The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, and Suspicion among them), but there’s something about this one that feels like the Hitchcock cinematic voice locked in for good. The film follows Charlie Newton (Joseph Cotten), a fellow who oozes menace simply lying in a tenement apartment bed. He tried to elude some unwelcome attention by venturing out to small town California to stay with his sister’s family, including his adoring niece (Teresa Wright) who’s named after him. The niece’s persistent interest in enlivening her humdrum, middle class life leads her to suspect that her uncle is guilty of some pronounced malfeasance, an instinct that is sound, which Hitchcock makes evident from the beginning. It’s a prime example of the director developing a film’s scariness not through jolts, but instead by making the danger abundantly clear and leaving the audience to twist with worry as to when the metaphorical bomb is going to go off. The film is greatly enhanced by the authorial touch of Thornton Wilder, whose Our Town Pulitzer still has some shine on it. He invests the characters with delicate, homespun touches, allowing for just a bit of devilish weirdness around the edges, such as the mundane neighbors (one of whom is played by Hume Cronyn in his feature debut) whose shared penchant for crime stories leads them to openly speculate about the methodology they’d use to off the other.

Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner, 1940). This showbiz drama betrays a lurking protofeminist heart as it unfolds its tale of competing showgirls, one of whom sashays her way to lucrative fame, bringing the other along to be humiliated on stage every night as a central part of the act. Lucille Ball plays the star who uses her sex appeal callously in pursuit of the limelight. It doesn’t necessarily stand with her best film performances, but it is another fascinating entry showing the contrast between the big screen persona she worked with and the daffy, wailing role that later made her a television legend. Maureen O’Hara is the “good girl,” and she’s fairly wooden until the moment when she unloads on a jeering audience with a shaming diatribe demanding respect, an especially jolting development given the era in which the film was made. Arzner, by some reckoning the only woman employed as a director by the Hollywood studios at the time, is more perfunctory than stylish in her filmmaking, but surely some of the film’s sharp, progressive undercurrent can be attributed directly to her.

Klute (Alan J. Pakula, 1971). There are a lot of familiar beats in Pakula’s thriller about a cop-playing-detective (the title character, played by Donald Sutherland) who befriends and romances a call girl (Jane Fonda) during his investigation into the disappearance of a friend. It clings tight to the trappings of detective fiction without having the audacity to unsettle its structure in the manner of other offerings from the era, such as The Long Goodbye and Chinatown. Years later, that can make it seem a little soft, a film being pushed forward and out of the way by a grand cinematic transformation rather than one leading the charge. Two aspects of the film distinguish it as vital. One is the remarkable cinematography by Gordon Willis, which includes shots of exquisite framing and striking images, proving that vivid beauty can be captured in garment factories and rundown apartments just as assuredly as on the open plain or some other vast landscape. The other is Jane Fonda’s justly-awarded performance as the call girl, combining wells of shrouded vulnerability with a brittle authority that consistently fascinates.

Coherence (James Ward Byrkit, 2014). It’s not exactly the sort of film that Rod Serling might write if he were around today, but I’d like to think he’d be leading the standing ovation at its premiere. Byrkit’s feature debut centers on a dinner party. The relationships between the different attendees are laid out simply and clearly, especially those dented by troubled histories. There’s some idle talk about a passing comet in the night sky that’s brought out the metaphysical theorists. Then the lights go out. Sharing anything specific that happens beyond that point is borderline criminal. I will note that what follows is crafty, wise, playful, and often grimly funny. The film spurred from me the sort of giggles that only rise when I’m watching something I find to be brilliantly audacious. I’m convinced this is on of the best movies of the year.

Hotel Transylvania (Genndy Tartakovsky, 2012). The feature film debut of Tartakovsky, whose fingerprints spot some widely-adored cartoon television series (his involvement in “Just Another Manic Mojo” is enough cause to venerate him, as far as I’m concerned), is enjoyable enough, even if it winds up locked into the same predictable rut that has practically made “computer animated feature” a genre instead of means of storytelling. The conceit is at least clever, with Dracula responding to the threat of persistent angry villagers by retreating to construct a castle hotel where he can raise his daughter in isolated peace while also provided a safe haven for fellow monsters. The voice cast is populated by Adam Sandler and his usually band of marginally funny cronies (including Kevin James and David Spade), which does provide the pleasure of Steve Buscemi as a rhombus-shaped werewolf. Truthfully, I must concede this may be the best Sandler has ever been (and, yes, that includes his stabs at respectability in the likes of Punch Drunk Love and Funny People). He plays the character with conviction and consistency. Clearly, he should be locked alone in a recording studio more often.

College Countdown: Rockpool’s Top 20 College Radio Albums, November 1988, 15

game15

15. Game Theory, Two Steps from the Middle Ages

Like most of their contemporaries, the band Game Theory was headed towards the practically inevitable reunion. There were plans afoot to record a new album (the working title was Supercalifragile), which would have been the first release of new material by the band since 1988’s 2 Steps from the Middle Ages. The plan was demolished for the most tragic of reasons. Band leader Scott Miller died unexpectedly in the spring of 2013, at the age of 53.

Miller was one of those songwriters who never seemed to get the attention he deserved, either with Game Theory or with his later band, the Loud Family. He was the kind of creator that inspired fervent devotion from those who found intricate, intellectual magic in his songwriting, but was probably too complex to every find anything other than a cult audience. 2 Steps from the Middle Ages was something of a last stab at commercial success. As with their previous releases, the band worked with producer Mitch Easter, who had a gift for making college rock records that simultaneously handsomely polished and roughly hewn. It had been years since Easter had worked with R.E.M., but the crossover success the little ol’ band from Athens, Georgia was enjoying in the late-eighties heightened interest in their foundational efforts with Easter behind the boards. There were few other producers at the time who could generate positive attention with college rock fans just by signing his name to a project. On the sticker affixed to the front of the album, Easter’s name was prominently featured: “WEST MEETS EASTER (MITCH) FOR A TANTALIZING TASTE OF PROVOCATIVE POP.”

Miller was convinced he was making quality, enduring music, and 2 Steps from the Middle Ages is littered with songs that prove his belief. “Room for One More, Honey,” “Wyoming,” and “Throwing the Election” stand as prime examples. They were extending the brilliant, beautiful power pop once practiced by Big Star, roughing it up a little bit, just like the Replacements did, but building in a thrilling chewiness that demonstrated a beloved belief in the strength of fine songwriting. If Paul Westerberg always seemed reticent to put his heart and soul into the grooves without just enough of a disreputable indifference so he could plausibly call it all bullshit if things got too real, then Miller was his opposite in temperament. The Game Theory albums were urgent, unapologetic testimonies. 2 Steps from the Middle Ages has an even more pronounced version of this quality. It’s a dive off a cliff.

Unfortunately, it was a cliff dive into the shallowest of pools. There was no big splash for Game Theory, and the band effectively crumbled. Miller tried to replace his departing bandmates. There was some touring with the new line-up and enough time in the recording studio to provide some material to help fill out the collection Tinker to Evers to Chance. That was it for Game Theory. That was about to change. I’m not a excited proponent of reunions, but listening back to this material I must admit I land on a sad conclusion: it’s a shame that the silence was forced to endure.

Previously…
An Introduction
–20: Substance
–19: End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues
–18: Rank
–17: Lovely
–16: Ghost Stories