Trivia Answer of the Day: Dave Grusin, “Night-Lines”

This coming weekend, I’ll participate in The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM. As per tradition, this week is filled with idle reminiscing about memorable answers in past years. Or rather, in past year. Every one of these answers figured in the 2016 edition of the contest.

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The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM officially gets underway on Friday night at 6:00p.m., when “Born to Be Wild” is played, the rules are read, and the first question (inevitably with the answer “Robert Redford”) kicks off fifty-four straight hours. Realistically, though, things begin in earnest when teams register earlier in the week and get their hands on the New Trivia Times, a rulebook that includes a least two dozen pictures of indeterminate origin. Team don’t know what specifically will be asked. They just need to figure out as much as they can about the black-and-white images scattered across the publication’s pages.

Invariably, there are a few we can’t figure out, but there’s always the hope of a clue showing up in the eventual question. When we’re holding an answer that we believe no one else knows, the added identifiers in the question can be heartbreaking. Sometimes, we’re counting on the bolstering details to come across the speakers.

Last year, we spent the whole week agonizing over a a strange image, clearly cropped from a larger landscape that would provide more telling information. It was a hand holding a strange glowing object, roughly shaped like a cylinder. There were spikes of some sort coming in from one side.

Once the question rolled around in the contest, there was indeed some supplemental material in the phrasing, letting us know that it was from an album cover. Better yet — and somewhat atypically — the question added that the album was from a fusion jazz artist.

Our Trivia contest is more of a research challenge than anything else, and my sizable team — knowing there was only six to eight minutes available to call in an answer — charged to it. As someone who has done his time as the Jazz Music Director at the campus radio station loudly listed fusion jazz artists, directing us like a football coach, everyone frantically searched, scouring discographies presented through album covers. Late in our allotted time, the correct answer was found: Dave Grusin’s Night-Lines. With seconds left, we successfully called in the answer. It wound up earning us more points than we managed any other single question during the contest.

Best of all, the experience of hunting for that answer recalled the days of the contest before the internet put everything at our racing fingertips, when knowledge and brainstorming could yield major victories. It may seem silly to those well outside of the experience, but it was a potent example of the sheer pleasure in being part of an utterly fantastic team.

 

More info about 90FM’s Trivia can be found at its official website or at the radio station’s online home. There’s also a feature documentary about the contest, but it’s fairly hard to come by these days. To see how my team is faring over the weekend, Twitter is probably the best bet.

 

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Posted in Music

Trivia Answer of the Day: Zeke and Luther

This coming weekend, I’ll participate in The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM. As per tradition, this week is filled with idle reminiscing about memorable answers in past years. Or rather, in past year. Every one of these answers figured in the 2016 edition of the contest.

zeke

While The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM is dominated by the kind of topics that would be immediately recognizable and comfortable to anyone who has spent time conjuring up answers at the quiz night at their favorite purveyor of adult beverages, there are a few peculiarities. For instance, I’m not sure how many other major trivia battles devote quite so much time to the vagaries of print advertising. But the commerce come-ons that make magazines fiscally viable — if just barely — are invoked a lot in our endeavor.

We’ve tried different methods of gathering relevant print ad Trivia fodder over the years, including, for a time, heading to the local Barnes & Noble to raid their magazine shelves and feverish take notes on the material is as many titles as we could, trying to stay at least one step ahead of irritated staff members asking us, “Are you going to buy any of those?”

We write things down so we don’t have to remember things. That’s how our contest works. So when a question came across the speakers last year, urging players to call up and identify the television show once promoted in print advertising with the phrase “Skate. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.,” I immediately assumed it would require skillful web-hunting to retrieve the answer. Instead, someone around our assembled tables announced we had it.

There it was, in six-year-old notes: Zeke and Luther. Like yesterday’s “Trivia Answer of the Day,” the question wasn’t worth a dazzling amount of points. But having long-gone effort paying off in an answer held its own satisfaction.

 

More info about 90FM’s Trivia can be found at its official website or at the radio station’s online home. There’s also a feature documentary about the contest, but it’s fairly hard to come by these days. To see how my team is faring over the weekend, Twitter is probably the best bet.

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Posted in television

Trivia Answer of the Day: Debra Winger

This coming weekend, I’ll participate in The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM. As per tradition, this week is filled with idle reminiscing about memorable answers in past years. Or rather, in past year. Every one of these answers figured in the 2016 edition of the contest.

winger

Those with long memories know just how dramatically The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM changed about twenty years ago. Once the internet made its seismic shift from a tool exclusively for the tech-savvy to the depository for seemingly every last bit of information ever, it became far trickier for the writers of our beloved annual trivia tangle to come up with questions that could be happily answered by individuals with unique globs of information in their brain, at least more quickly than someone who knows how to use Google can pull of the same quasi-obscure details. Since the point values for the contest are determined by the number of teams that provide the correct answer, decreasing in value as more get an individual question right, it is rare that a top-of-the-head answer yields a bushel of points.

Last year, a question arrived with some deliberately vague wording (generally speaking, the more specific the details in a question, the easier it is to spin up the answer with mildly artful use of a search engine). It asked teams to identify the name of the actress who made her television debut playing the younger sister of a superhero, appearing in the show with the narrative charge of returning that towering titan home. Around the table, plenty of my teammates immediately knew the question referred to Debra Winger, who played Wonder Girl in three episode of the nineteen-seventies series Wonder Woman. Sure, some of us were mostly aware of this because of a memorable appearance on Late Show with David Letterman, but we still knew.

Identifying Debra Winger didn’t get us a huge amount of points, but it pushed a little higher than we expected given the relative ease with which we arrived at the answer. If it was far from our biggest answer, I remember it as one of the more satisfying from the earlier portion of last year’s contest. It was an nifty reminder of the days when knowing was as important as — more important than, really — having some sharp research skills.

 

More info about 90FM’s Trivia can be found at its official website or at the radio station’s online home. There’s also a feature documentary about the contest, but it’s fairly hard to come by these days. To see how my team is faring over the weekend, Twitter is probably the best bet.

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Posted in television

College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 55 – 53

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55. Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”

“I had so many people come up to me and say that they felt it was their song,” Tracy Chapman said about “Fast Car,” the lead single from her 1988 self-titled debut. “And someone told me at one point that they thought I’ve been reading their mail. They were saying, ‘You seem to know my story,’ and people would come up and tell me about a car relationship and some detail that they felt was in the song that represented something that happened in their lives.” The singer-songwriter whose high school classmates joked would someday “marry her guitar and live happily ever after” had a true meteoric rise upon the release of her first album, in 1988. Just a couple years earlier, Chapman was making some extra scratch by busking on the streets of Boston, when she caught the ear of the son of a major publishing company executive. That eventually got her into the offices of Elektra Records, and a music career followed. Though “Fast Car” hardly sounded like the other music making major chart headway in 1988, a chord was clearly struck by the heart-rending tale of lovers on the edge of desperation with only memories of the freedom felt while racing in the streets to provide them solace. “Fast Car” made it into the Billboard Top 10 and immediately cemented Chapman as a soft-spoken sensation. “It’s as I planned it,” Chapman dryly joked to Rolling Stone at the time. “Club dates to stadiums.”

 

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54. Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, “If You Were a Priest”

Years after the release of the 1986 album Element of Light, Robyn Hitchcock would cover the Psychedelic Furs, convincingly making one of the bands most famous songs his own. Back then, though, he merely aspired to appropriating some of their sonic tricks, acknowledging that their greater commercial success was on his mind. “They came out after The Soft Boys, but they overtook us — which wasn’t hard — very quickly, and toward the end we actually opened for them,” Hitchcock said. “They were the only band in Britain I really knew, and they’d kind of done it right. They’d got a deal with CBS, had real fans and groupies, and had proper tour support. They had it like it was supposed to be, and then they went off to the States and took off …. I’d become a convert to the Furs, and I think that sort of sound, the way the voice goes over the chord change and the voice hits one note, it’s a Furs-y kind of thing. That’s what I was headed toward on that one.” Hitchcock may have been borrowing slightly from others, but an artist as singular as him is unlikely to ever sound derivative. Only Hitchcock could find tuneful sweetness in lyrics like, “If you were a nun/ I would surely run/ Way down to the hospital and/ Cover all your charts/ With decorated hearts.”

 

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53. Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again”

According to Dave Stewart, “Here Comes the Rain Again” began with a squabble. Still awash in the global success of their breakthrough single, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Stewart and his bandmate Annie Lennox were staying in New York City’s Mayflower Hotel, in a room that overlooked Central Park. Stewart was playing around with a new keyboard he’d purchased and Lennox wanted her own turn with it. Disinclined to share, Stewart kept tinkering while Lennox was left to sullenly look out on the park, surveying the weather. “I was playing these little melancholy A minor-ish chords with a B note in it,” Stewart later wrote. “I kept on playing this riff while Annie looked out the window at the slate gray sky above the New York skyline, and sang spontaneously, ‘Here comes the rain again.’ And that was all we needed.” They recorded the song for the 1983 album Touch, bringing an orchestra into an old church that hadn’t quite completed a planned renovation into a studio, forcing the string players to improvise their playing spaces, uses hallways and restrooms. Released as a single in early 1984, “Here Comes the Rain Again” became the second major hit for Eurythmics, making it into the Top 10 in both the U.K. and the U.S.

 

As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown.

The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.

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Posted in Music

Programming Note

vision

As must happen from time to time, I am going to take a brief break from daily updates in this space — only for this week, though. New material will return this Sunday, April 16, as the College Countdown continues. And then I’ve got a longtime tradition to fulfill the following week, so I’ll definitely be back with that.

Posted in Uncategorized

College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 58 – 56

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58. XTC, “Dear God”

Although it is one of XTC’s best known songs, “Dear God” was initially relegated to also-ran status. The story of that decision changes depending on who is telling it. Todd Rundgren, who produced the song, maintains that Andy Partridge and his bandmates chose to omit the song from the 1986 album Skylarking because they were warned the song’s dim view of religion would stir up controversy, calling the decision cowardly. While Partridge acknowledges that the label was concerned about how the song would play in the U.S. market, he says his own high standards stood as the chief motivation behind excising the song from the track list when the album proved to be a little too long. ““I didn’t want it on because I didn’t thing I’d done it well enough,” Partridge said. “I thought it had failed tremendously and I asked to have it nipped-off the album.” Ultimately, Partridge felt that the topic of religion was too complicated to squeeze into a pop song. “It is such a big subject and I’ve been wrestling with it for years, but how can you cover it in three-and-half minutes?” he said. “Dear God” was plunked onto the flip of “Grass,” the lead single from Skylarking. College radio kids knew a good chunk of tuneful blasphemous rebellion when they heard it and played the B-side with such frequency that the label scrambled their plans and quickly reissued Skylarking with “Dear God” now included, cutting “Mermaid Smiled” to make room. The track was also released as a single, becoming one of the band’s biggest hits to that point.

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57. Suzanne Vega, “Luka”

Suzanne Vega really knew a boy named Luka. “A few years ago, I used to see this group of children playing in front of my building, and there was one of them, whose name was Luka, who seemed a little bit distinctive from the other children,” Vega said. “I always remembered his name, and I always remembered his face, and I didn’t know much about him, but he just seemed set apart from these other children that I would see playing. And I guess his character is what I based the song ‘Luka’ on. In the song, the boy Luka is an abused child — in real life I don’t think he was. I think he was just different.” The title came first, and Vega eventually came around to the topic of child abuse for the song, in part because it was just starting to emerge as a more widely acknowledged social ill. It may have been a timely issue, but Vega found it was challenging to fit the nuances of the problem into the inherently limiting framework of a song.  That puzzle pushed Vega to get creative with her fundamental approach to the song’s storytelling. “Because I was aiming at such a complex subject, I was aiming for the simplest line to get there,” Vega explained. “Simple melodies, happy chords. I felt I had to make it accessible because it was such a dark subject. So I went all out. But I also tried to write in the language of a child. So that’s probably why it worked, because it is so accessible.” Released as the lead single to Solitude Standing, Vega’s 1987 album, the song became an unlikely hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard chart. It even earned Vega an especially famous fan. She got a hand-written note from Prince, who called “Luka” “the most compelling piece of music I’ve heard in a long time.”

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56. Echo & the Bunnymen, “Bring on the Dancing Horses”

The path to one of the most famous songs from Echo & the Bunnymen truly began with the Stranglers single “Skin Deep.” After a bit of creative downtime, Echo & the Bunnymen were shopping around for a producer who could help them record a couple new songs, mostly to help fill out a planned singles compilation album. They liked the clean, chiming sound producer Laurie Latham brought to the Stranglers track, and they brought him aboard for sessions in Brussels. One of the songs the band toted in had the working title “Jimmy Brown.” Eventually, it evolved into “Bring on the Dancing Horses.” Rumored to be eager for a hit, Echo & the Bunnymen lead singer Ian McCulloch boasted of the song as an important evolutionary step for the band. “It’s not as raw as New Order, but it’s got that danceability to it,” he said at the time. “Smooth? I don’t think it is. I think as soon as I sing on something, it stops being smooth. But we did want to try something different and get tongues wagging.” Released as a single in 1985, the song was only a modest chart success, but it slipped into a lot of extra record collections when it was included on the soundtrack to Pretty in Pink in the following year.

As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown.

The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.

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Posted in Music

From the Archive: Untamed Heart

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Untamed Heart came out in theaters in mid-February of 1993, so roughly six weeks before Marisa Tomei officially became an Oscar-winning actress. This was just another minor release hoping to scratch up a few more dollars as forced date movie in conjunction with a Hallmark holiday. Clearly I committed to the Valentine’s Day angle in writing this review, including an incredibly labored metaphor at the close.

The movie Untamed Heart seems perfectly suited for a release around Valentine’s Day. It stars two appealing, attractive young performers going through the rigors of romance in style designed to jerk tears. There’s a lovely woman who’s had to endure countless bad relationships and had difficulty following through on anything that might be beneficial to her. She falls for a handsome but woefully misunderstood coworker who is dealing with a serious illness. The movie is sweet, tender, and sad, but for much of the time it is also overly restrained and lifeless.

Marisa Tomei of My Cousin Vinny is the young woman still rebounding from her most recent crash on the dating scene, and Christian Slater is her tough, silent, and deeply thoughtful new love. She has known him for a long time, at the diner where they both work, but has never realized how deeply her cares for her.He even makes a point of following her when she walks home at night, staying far enough away to keep her from noticing, but close enough to help if trouble arises. After he steps in to end a rape attempt from a pair of cruel customers, Tomei begins to examine the layers of this sad, childlike man, quickly falling head over heels in love with him.

She finds a certain magic in Slater; the way he listens to old, battered records to end rainstorms, and the fable-like tale of how his ailing ticker was replaced with the heart of a baboon king as a child. Despite some overly simplistic elements, the film romance is usually believable and compassionate, helped greatly by fine performances by the two principals.

The problem is that it’s not particularly compelling. It’s nice to see Tomei’s character wind up with someone who cares so deeply for her that she’s constantly in his thoughts, viewing his own birthday as the chance to give her a loving gift. Yet the movie never really draws the viewer in or makes the relationship seems vital. This new romance is supposedly deeply important to both characters, but the audience is never let in on the true depth of the affection. Their gradual discovery of one another is nicely portrayed by director Tony Bill, but much of the time spent together as lovers is strangely absent. Their life together is largely compressed to a quick montage that seems more like a stroll past a greeting card aisle than an intimate glance into a caring partnership.

The film moves along with methodical determination, fulfilling all of the expectations of the mind, but forgoing any connection to the heart. As a Valentine’s Day gift, Untamed Heart is a beautiful, lush, red, heart-shaped box that seems wonderful at first glance, but is terribly skimpy with the most satisfying treats when you open it up and look closer.

2 stars, out of 4.

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Posted in Film

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