Top 40 Smash Taps: “I’m Comin’ Home”

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.

Tommy James spent plenty of time in the Billboard Top 40 when he was backed up by the Shondells. Debuting under the name Tommy James and the Shondells with the 1966 chart-topper “Hanky Panky” (a song they’d released at least twice previously without James’s name as prominent on the label), the group had a string of hit through the rest of the sixties, including one more trip to #1. Despite that success (or, let’s be real, probably because of it) James became one of the burn out casualties of that decade, indulging in heavy drug and alcohol use, which likely contributed to his collapse while on stage in Alabama, in 1970. He spent several weeks in the hospital, eventually deciding to quit performing. The Shondells disbanded. Trying to retire at the age of twenty-three evidently isn’t that easy, and James was itching for a return after about six months on his New York farm. After producing the Brooklyn band Alive N Kickin’ to a Top 10 hit with the track “Tighter, Tighter,” James decided it was time for him to start recording him own music again. One of the results of that was the 1971 solo album Christian of the World, which brought him the biggest song he’d have away from the Shondells, “Draggin’ the Line.” The follow-up single, “I’m Comin’ Home,” didn’t do quite as well, peaking at #40. It would be the last time James crossed that threshold until he pulled one more unlikely hit out of his guitar case, in 1980. James is still out there performing, even joining Joan Jett onstage when she was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.


“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
“I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After
“Friends” and “Married Men” by Bette Midler
“Spice of Life” by the Manhattan Transfer
“You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” by Roger Miller
“Don’t Pity Me” by Dion and the Belmonts
“Ask Me No Questions” by B.B. King
“Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone” by Ciara
“All I Really Want to Do” by the Byrds
“Love Rollercoaster” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Just a Little” by Brenda Lee
“Sweet Maxine” by the Doobie Brothers
“Where You Lead” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel” by Barbra Streisand
“Charity Ball” by Fanny

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My Misspent Youth: Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

As I’ve acknowledged previously, my youthful commitment to Marvel Comics included a zestful excitement about researching the publisher’s comics from before I became a reader, which happened nearly twenty years into their history, giving me a lot to catch up on. I wanted to know the full scope of the continuity of the fictional tales, but I was also fascinated by the bevy of behind the scenes tales. Unlike their distinguished competition, which preferred elevating the characters to the near anonymity of the creators, Marvel cultivated a sense of boisterous community driving the creative process, bestowing upon those who toiled in the company bullpen a level of heroism and celebrity meant to rival that of the costumed do-gooders. I loved the stories about the actual making of the comics. As it turned out, though, I was largely getting the most sterling tales filtered to me. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I became exposed to the messier processes, which were, of course, even more fun.

It was well past my early years as a reader, for example, when I finally heard the fable of Iron Man #39. Published in 1971, it contained a fairly standard tale for Tony Stark and his armored alter ego, back in the days when Iron Man was a B-List hero, at best. Gerry Conway’s art didn’t make it distinctive. It was Herb Trimpe’s art that achieved that. The legend maintained that Trimpe drew the entire book in a roughly twenty-four-hour period, a ludicrously short amount of time for a full comic book story. When asked about it later, Trimpe acknowledged it was a rush job and figured he spent a couple days on it. The precise amount of time isn’t really the point. What resulted is on the page, and it looks spectacularly amateurish, miles from the expected quality level of a book from a major comics publisher.

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Just look at that array of hastily sketched in faces and globby Iron Man armor, the holes in the faceplate reduced to jabbed on lines. Then there’s the villain of the issue, the unfortunate White Dragon.

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Usually one has to seek out the artwork of a toddler reeling from cold medicine to find facial hair so inexpertly rendered. It’s like someone spoke a real whopper into a polygraph machine to be sure it was operational.

Trimpe wasn’t the regular artist on Iron Man. Examining the credits of issues surrounding this one, it appears George Tuska had recently taken over that role from Don Heck. I seem to recall a version of the story that maintained the editors found out very close to the deadline that Tuska wasn’t going to turn in his art for the month and Trimpe was handy, hanging out in the Marvel offices. Rather than resort to the slapdash reprint that was the usual default when a title fell to the dreaded deadline doom, the powers that be asked Trimpe for a rapid rescue. No matter how rough the pages Trimpe delivered, they were evidently deemed preferable to plucking an adventure from an old issue of Tales of Suspense. If Iron Man occasionally resembled an ill-proportioned balloon animal, so be it.

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At times, it almost seems as if the story has been cooked up as an escalating dare to Trimpe. “So you think you can draw a whole issue in a day or two? What if, say, all the Avengers show up?”

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“Now what, buddy?”

If I’d have encountered this comic book when I was a kid, I surely would have viewed it with pure disdain, my snobbery over reading only mature, erudite, exemplary material (or so I thought it to be) at a peak when I was scuffling through my high school years. An issue like this, which was clearly a mess, would have stirred up the shame in me, the embarrassment over reading trashy kids’ stuff. Now I love it more than any number of those supposed pop art masterworks I was prepared to tediously expound upon back then. I don’t think Iron Man #39 is good, but I am overjoyed with the specific ways in which it is bad.

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Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg

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Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twenty-Three

23 miracle

#23 — The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges, 1944)

My general inclination is to look askance at films that overtly rely on cultural daring to make their impact. This isn’t always true, as the use of variants of “audacious” in any number of rave reviews will testify. Further, that policy softens significantly the earlier a film’s copyright date. There are instances where I can’t help but marvel at the material that was slipped past Hollywood’s strict codes. I’d like to think that my critical acumen remains heightened enough that I can see through the older films that are as hollow as the empty provocation of the most dire examples from my own era, but I do sometimes worry that I call fall prey to grading on a curve. All that preamble is meant to make clear that the most striking element of The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek may very well be the risque bend of the storyline, but the enduring brilliance of writer-director Preston Sturges elevates is well past being merely a cheeky taunt at a smothering studio culture trying to protect itself from aghast protest at nearly all costs. As I type that out, though, that sounds pretty satisfying, too.

Similar to Sturges’s Hail the Conquering Hero — filmed well after but released the same year, thanks to a studio decision to keep the earlier film on the shelf for a while — The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek exploits the ongoing war effort for a twisty comic premise. Betty Hutton plays Trudy Kockenlocker (that character name alone might have made Paramount skittish about releasing the movie), a young woman who spends a raucous night helping some soldiers celebrating their last night before heading off to the front. When she wakes up the next day, things are a little foggy, but she does remember spontaneously marrying one of the war-bound men. His name escapes her, though. She’s pretty sure it’s got a Z in it. feeling abandoned and beset, Trudy is ripe for rescue, and it comes in the unlikely form of Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), a fella who’s always pined after her. He offers to be her man and help raise the baby, an act of romantic altruism that leads to escalating dismay.

Those travails faced by Norval are the key to the film, a pointed expression of the Sturges outlook. Especially during this era, other filmmakers might default to a sentimental kindness toward the character, lending him obvious sympathy even as his troubles mount. That’s not really Sturges’s approach, and the film benefits greatly because of it. He never relents on the conviction that Norval is a patsy, daftly unaware of the ways he’s blundered into a tumble down fortune’s stairwell, all because good deeds are duly punished in a devilish universe, especially when they’re stirred into being by the dimwit palpitations of a delusional heart. And yet Sturges manages to keep this all from being too emotionally cutting, in part by his penchant for boisterous slapstick that cuts the bathtub gin burn like fizzy soda water. On some level, Sturges understood the boldness needed some balance, a blithe, loopy energy that makes the cynicism a little softer, a little safer. That’s why The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is more than its considerable daring. Sturges knew a film’s inherent value increased if it was more than a cranky treatise.

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Beers I Have Known: Corona

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.


Technically, the name of the beer is Corona Extra, but who ever calls it that? Back in my college days and immediately thereafter, when any beer from outside the borders of the United States automatically registered with me and mine as an exotic indulgence, Corona was one of the prime brews for those of us looking to treat ourselves to a slightly posher experience. Adding to the misplaced sense of fancy was the wedge of lime wedged into the mouth off the bottle upon serving, practically a requirement to prevent the inherent skunkiness of the beer from overwhelming the palate. It gave the beer the guise of an elaborate, upscale cocktail, the sliver of green fruit serving as a stand-in for a miniature umbrella bobbing on the icy surface. The most skilled of my kindred could plunge the lime into the beer with their thumb, keep said digit wedged into the upper neck of the bottle, flip the bottle completely upside down until the lime sauntered upward to the base of the bottle, and invert their beverage once again, nary a drop spilled and the necessary citrus infusion presumably spread more evenly throughout the fluid than any other means could muster. Whenever I tried this trick, I got a frothy, carbonated spray right in my mush. There are worse punishments a beer can dole out.

Point Special
21st Amendment Bitter American
Abita Restoration Pale Ale
Rolling Rock
Skull Splitter
Highland Thunderstruck Coffee Porter
Red Stripe
Rhinelander Bock
Samuel Adams Boston Lager
New Glarus Brewing Company Wisconsin Belgian Red
ABA Hoppy Saison
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
Capital Brewery Supper Club
Highland Brewing 20th Anniversary Scotch Ale
Central Waters Brewing Company Sixteen
Pisgah Pale Ale
New Glarus Brewing Company Pumpkin Pie Lust
Asheville Brewing Company Rocket Girl
Sierra Nevada Blindfold Black IPA
21st Amendment Brewery Down to Earth
Point Bock
3 Sheeps Hello, My Name is Joe

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College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1995, 18 and 17

18 ball

18. Mike Watt, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?

If on the last day of 1995 you had asked me to name the best album of the year, without hesitation I would have answered Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, the debut solo release of  Mike Watt. I’m not entirely convinced I’d stand by the pinnacle placement now (besides being inclined toward the member of the legendary Minutemen and the shoulda-been-legendary Firehose, I was certainly committing to some bratty contrarianism as the record wasn’t championed in the music press nearly as much as I felt was merited), but I completely understand while it appealed to me. In the midst of an onslaught of sonically redundant music pitched desperately at the suddenly lucrative alternative rock market, Watt’s album stood out for its indifference to unity even within its own metaphoric grooves.  It reached that achievement of the very best rock albums: while unmistakably the work of a single artist, it sounded gratifyingly different from track to track, always upending expectations.

Ball-Hog or Tugboat? often tracks as if it’s a cockamamie concept album, or at least an invitation to ride the unpredictable whitewater rapids of Watt’s thought process. The anti-nostalgia rant “Against the 70’s” (with Eddie Vedder on lead vocals) gives way to “Drove Up from Pedro,” which opens with the lyrics “Now this Pedro dude had the attitude/ But the 70’s had him spaced.” Then that song’s music career origin story, which hinges its chorus on car trips from Watt’s hometown, naturally leads to a triumphant ode to the utility of a spare container in a truck cab to help avoid rest stops on a long drive (“Piss-Bottle Man”). The album doesn’t always proceed as if Watt is providing an answer to his every musical thought, but it does maintain a exuberantly questing flow, as if every moment is a manifestation of a well-why-not-this? spirit that was too often lacking on other albums at the time.

Certainly some of the inspiration came from the rough contemporaries and awestruck followers Watt surrounded himself with on the record. Rather than cobble together a backing back or simply employ tried-and-true studio musician to help him fill out the album, Watt recruited a gaggle of heavy hitters from some of the major bands of the time, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Meat Puppets, the Beasties Boys, the surviving members of Nirvana, and seemingly just about anyone else who’d been the beneficiary of laudatory words in college radio trade journals within the prior year or two. The album art and promotional materials presented this lineup of collaborators in the style of old wrestling posters, and I remember participants attesting that he would greet them at the studio with variations on “So, are you ready to step into the ring with Watt?” Like pro wrestling, the whole endeavor is infused with a spirit of unabashed entertainment, giving the audience a wild, unpredictable ride for their money.

Over and over, Watt’s album unfurls a new grand, goofy wonder. “Tuff Gnarl,” a cover of a Sonic Youth song guest starring Sonic Youth (naturally), gets so wildly agitated by the end that it sounds like the indie-punk answer to “Flight of the Bumblebee” (the original track is too densely aggressive to have this quality). “Max and Wells,” with lead vocals by Mark Lanegan, sounds like like Bizarro World Lou Reed gem (“Confused, they used the fuse that blew the right to choose/ And then fell broken, smokin’, chokin’ in token acts of contrition”). I’m fond of the way the slippery, free jazz-inflected “Forever…One Reporter’s Opinion” (a riff on a classic Minutemen song) leads into “Song for Igor” which sounds like he’s being backed up by a half-drunk version of Fishbone. But there’s absolutely nothing on the packed album that makes me as overjoyed as “Heartbeat,” thanks to inclusion of a pointed diatribe by Kathleen Hanna, disguised as an answering machine message declining an invitation to participate in the record. Hanna is cutting in her sardonic commentary and entirely on point, especially in her assessment of the state of alternative rock at the time as an endless succession of “I’m a straight white middle class male rock star guy but i’m so fuckin’ oppressed i’m a loser baby why don’t you kill me” songs. Indeed, as I consider a dismaying number of the titles on this wholly representative countdown of the alternative hits of 1995, I’m often tempted to defer to the review Hanna settles on: “Yawn. Like super fucking yawn.”

As I’ve surely already made clear, that assessment doesn’t apply to Watt’s Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, no matter how many of those moany dudes he’s assembled to back him up (and Hanna’s right: the lineup is overstocked with men). Is it the best of 1995? These days I need to go with a wavering “maybe.” If not, though, it’s damn close.

17 rainbow17. Stone Bogart, Rainbow Radio

Stone Bogart hailed from Wisconsin, which was probably already enough to get 90FM deejays to play their EP Rainbow Radio (the title track was a song that appeared on a previous full-length release). There was another, slightly tenuous local connection that might have helped it further. Though the band members were strewn about the state (one in Madison, one in Neenah, and two in Oshkosh), the sister of lead singer Sean Anders was attending college right there at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, which could be chalked up to mere coincidence except for the fact that there was a decent amount of cross-pollination between the station and the theatre department, where Andrea Anders had a fairly prominent place (a few years later, she had second-billing in the ill-fated Friends spinoff Joey). Even without the boost, Stone Bogart was exactly the sort of straight-ahead rock band with an undercurrent of playful joy that always did well at 90FM. I would have gone to see them at Witz End. Like his sister, Sean Anders wound up in Hollywood, writing and directing movies that I want no part of.


An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread

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From the Archive: City Slickers


In picking old reviews that feel appropriate for unearthing in the warmer months, I’ve pulled twice previously from the edition of The Reel Thing, our bygone radio program, that looked back on the top-grossing films of summer 1991. So why not go ahead and complete the excavation of my portion of that particular show. City Slickers finished in the third position on the particular chart. It is with renewed amazement that I look at the numbers noted here, specifically that there were only three movies to cross the $100 million threshold that summer. Now if we have a summer in which only three films open to that amount, panic buttons are struck all over Hollywood. In keeping with some recent reminiscing over days as a movie theater employee that has cropped in my social media feeds, I should report that I can’t think of this movie without hearing my old coworker Tracy gush, “Norman!” in my head.

In at number three for the summer of 1991 is the story of three middle-aged men who hit the trail and find themselves. CITY SLICKERS opened to modest expectations and exceeded them all, becoming one of only three summer films to pull in over 100-million dollars at the box office. Though Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby all had their names above the title, the real stars of this hilarious comedy are the two men who wrote the script: Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. The men who wrote the 1988 hit PARENTHOOD made this story about three men facing mid-life crisis into the funniest film since, well, PARENTHOOD. And like PARENTHOOD, CITY SLICKERS doesn’t just settle for laughs. The film creates a believable and enviable relationship between the three me. Their meaningful friendship makes the jokes funnier and the sentimental moments more special. With a total take of 112.7 million dollars, CITY SLICKERS is the summer’s most well-deserved hit.

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One for Friday: Lyle Lovett, “The Girl in the Corner”

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Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts had been divorced for over a year by the time his sixth album, The Road to Ensenada, was released. As a devoted fan of great breakup albums (and someone who has occasionally needed them like a salve on a burn), I was primed to hear this masterful songwriter uncork his misery. After all, what is country music but the official anthem of tear-dappled beer? The genre is at his best when a partner has gone an done another wrong. Heartbreak certainly takes up residence on the album, although no more so than on any of Lovett’s other releases (once again, these are country music records we’re discussing here). That might be attributable to the the fact that the uncoupling was reportedly as gentle and amicable as they come. I think it’s probably more pertinent to note that at the point this record was released it had been a long time since Lovett had generated an album of all-new material. In the span between those records, he met, courted, married, and divorced a woman who went toe-to-toe with Tom Cruise for the designation of biggest movie star in the world. To the degree than an album is the autobiography of a songwriter, The Road to Ensenada tells that whole story.

I’m convinced Roberts is all over this record. It surely can’t be a coincidence that her unique middle name provides the title for the song “Fiona,” which tells of a woman with a crazy brother who “just might bite you.” I was invested enough in the gossipy side of the album’s release that cracking the code to discover precisely when Lovett’s was drawing on his own experience was one of the pleasures of listening. And no song felt more like a wistful, appreciative memoir than the hidden track at the end of the CD (the mid-nineties was the heyday of hidden tracks). “The Girl in the Corner” follows a man as he moves around a party, always trying to connect with the enthralling woman of the title. I’m so sure that the song is inspired by Lovett’s first encounter with Roberts that I feel like I can also identify some of the other partygoers name-checked in the song, such as tall Tim and smart Susan and Frances who “looked like a fine work of art.” Coming at the end of the album, tucked in there ever so discreetly, if this can be interpreted as Lovett’s last word on the relationship, it’s a surprisingly sweet and affectionate one. It may be the opposite of what I was expecting and even hoping for, but that makes it no less satisfying.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about all this. Maybe every song is pure fiction, the names all selected roughly at random or at least with no more consideration than how they fit into the melody and rhyming structure of the respective songs. It doesn’t matter. I can throw the extra baggage onto the car as it romps by or listen to the songs without a care for more intricate meaning. They’re great either way.

Listen or download –> Lyle Lovett, “The Girl in the Corner”

(Disclaimer: As I reported last time I shared a Lovett song in this space, I’m shocked at how little of the sterling artist’s back catalog seems to still be in print, at least as physical objects that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the fella from Texas and the proprietor of said shop. This song is shared here with the belief that doing so impedes no fair commerce and might even drive folks to check out more of Lovett’s material. It’s all first-rate. Fair as I may think it is to share this song in the space and in this manner, I will gladly and promptly remove it if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

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August 2015
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