Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dog Days: If Dogs Run Free

Back in 1972, I got the cassette of Bob Dylan’s “New Morning” cassette at F.W. Woolworths. One of my favorite cuts on this album is the jazz influenced, beat poetry named “If Dogs Run Free” that closed out side one. I was anxiously looking for some more songs for dog days and found this classic by Dylan.

Although released in 1970, Dylan neglected to perform “If Dogs Run Free” in concert until thirty years later in 2000. The jazzy piano was supplied by Al Kooper and the female scat singing is courtesy of Maeretha Stewart. Ed Ward’s review in Rolling Stone mused, “‘If Dogs Run Free’ puts me in mind of a beatnik poetry reading at the Fat Black Pussy Cat Theatre in Greenwich Village.” Great stuff – “If dogs run free, why not we across the swooping plain?”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dog Days: Atomic Dog

When we think of dog songs, the granddaddy of them all is from one of the strangest, most innovative, and funkiest artist to allow a needle to drop on his recordings: George Clinton. The song was his R&B classic “Atomic Dog.” Before embarking on his solo career in 1982, Clinton was the mastermind and leader of the twin funk bands: Parliament and Funkadelic, both of whom had evolved from the doo-wop group The Parliaments.

If you hadn’t heard of George Clinton prior to 1982, “Atomic Dog” was your introduction. This synth and harmonizer laced funk classic, from his first solo LP “Computer Games,” brought Mr. Clinton to the forefront. Supported by a creative video, this song had an interesting chart presence for a tune that was so well known.

While it was a #1 hit Urban Contemporary hit, its performance in the clubs was lackluster with the 12 inch single only charting at #38. Contemporary Hit Radio, aware of the songs influence, was late to add the record. It only made it to #101 on Billboard’s pop charts. I know the station where I worked didn’t play it; but in our defense, Capitol Records never asked us to play it either. Looking back, I think this was a colossal mistake on theirs and my part for missing this one.

Bow-wow-wow-yippy-oh-yippy-a. Bow-wow-yippy-oh-yippy-a.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Carin' About B.E. Taylor

We interrupt our Second Week Special Week because B.E. Taylor passed away on Sunday, August 8, 2016. The 65-year old leader of the B.E. Taylor Group died from an inoperable brain tumor. Born in Aliquippa, PA as William Edward Taylor, the moniker B.E. came from his mother's nickname for the singer, Billy Eddie.

The B.E. Taylor Group was a Pittsburgh regional act that had minimal national success in the 1980s. Although not a national household name, he was well known in Western Pennsylvania, the Upper Ohio Valley, and North East Ohio. In their attempt at national stardom, The B.E. Taylor Group was signed to two major labels: MCA and Epic. Their most popular recording “Vitamin L” peaked at #66 on the Hot 100 and received considerable play on MTV in 1983 and 1984. Their first national release on MCA in 1982, “Never Hold Back,” charted at #54 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

For today’s tribute, I’ve selected their third best known recording, “Karen.” Following their stint with MCA, they recorded “Karen” on the small and independent Breaker Records in 1984. When picked up by Epic Records, the band recorded the tune in 1986. “Karen” peaked at #94 on the Hot 100.

Over the years, he had worked for Nickelodeon and Nick at Night and had recorded commercials for Old Navy. In recent years, B.E. became known for his numerous charity concerts and annual Christmas shows. Rest in Peace B.E.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dog Days: Atlanta Rhythm Section

We are in the midst of the dog days of summer, and to celebrate (or at least) realize this time of year, our Second Week Special reminds us of this part of the season. The term “dog days” has nothing to do with Fido, Rover, or Lassie – the name came from the time of year when the constellation Canis Major begins to rise in the night sky with Sirius, the Dog Star, becoming visible. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky (sans the sun) and the ancients attributed all kinds of issues with the Dog Star.

For our first song, we feature Atlanta Rhythm Section’s song “Dog Days.” When I began thinking of this topic about three weeks ago, this was the first song to come to mind. The title cut from ARS’ 1975 album of the same name, the single was not released until 1977. Being the album’s only single, it is beyond me why Polydor waited two years to issue it as a single or even at all. In fact, two singles from the next album “Red Tape” were released prior to “Dog Days.”

Atlanta Rhythm Section states that the song “Dog Days” was “[a] classic. Dean Daughtry's keyboard leads [Ronnie] Hammond's vocals through a melody that rises and falls, with lyrics that capture images of life in the South during the heat of summer. At the end of the second chorus, the song suddenly and dramatically changes tempo, and guitarist Barry Bailey takes over, leading the band into a driving musical interlude before returning to a closing keyboard coda.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Written by producer Buddy Buie, drummer Robert Nix, and keyboardist Dean Daugherty, “Dog Days” wasn’t a Top 40 hit. It peaked at #64. The band considers the album “Dog Days,” their fourth, as their “first masterpiece and an album that still stands with their best.” The album was my first from ARS – a band that evolved from the Classics IV and Mylon LeFevre’s Holy Smoke.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Mason Proffit: Were You There?

A few months ago, a friend of mine who I’ve known for 40 years said to me, “you play a lot of groups I’ve never ever heard of before.” I just smiled and agreed – the smile was genuine, as I had been successful in exposing folks to recordings they had never had the opportunity to experience. Today is no exception. Typically, I reserve Saturdays for the lesser known of the lesser known. Looking back on my notes, I found a song I had flagged four years ago to feature – the lyrical content makes it appropriate for 2016.

Based in Chicago, Mason Proffit was not a household name, but would you believe at one time they were playing 300 dates a year and some lesser known groups at the time were their opening acts. Perhaps, you’ve heard of some of these artists who supported Mason Proffit: John Denver, the Doobie Brothers, and Steely Dan to name a few. After Mason Proffit disbanded in 1973, the two primary members, Terry and John Michael Talbot, fulfilled the band’s contract with Warner Brothers by recording their first album as The Talbot Brothers.

“Were You There?” speaks to the injustices and atrocities that have been committed upon others because they were from a different ethnic background. “Were You There?” comes from the band’s fourth album, “Rockfish Crossing.” This 1972 release was their first album for a major label: Warner Brothers. Unfortunately, their WB albums failed to chart as high as their previous two albums on Happy Tiger Records and Ampex Records respectively.

This is a great song all the way around; however, the harmonica by Bruce Kurnow makes “Were You There?” really shine. I love this cut.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Beach Boys: Don't Worry Baby

Today’s Friday Flipside selection is the “B” Side to The Beach Boy’s 1964 hit “I Get Around.” “Don’t Worry Baby” took its original inspiration from The Ronettes” “Be My Baby.” Originally conceived as an answer to the former hit, this idea was scrapped as Brian Wilson and Roger Christian worked on the song’s lyrics. The arrangement and production, however, has similarities to that of “Be My Baby” – a song that Brian Wilson had listened to over 100 times.

The protagonist of “Don’t Worry Baby” had bragged about his car and committed to racing it; however, he was having second thoughts about the outcome. His girlfriend provides encouragement by telling him “Don’t worry baby, everything will turn out alright.”

While many of the early Beach Boys’ hits featured the Wrecking Crew on instrumentation, “Don’t Worry Baby” features only the band. While all five members provided back-up vocals, Brian sang lead and also played bass and piano. Carl Wilson and Al Jardine played rhythm guitar and Dennis Wilson was on drums.

Since The Beach Boys had been gaining in popularity since 1962, it was not unusual for disc jockeys to flip singles and play the “B” side. While “I Get Around” topped the charts, “Don’t Worry Baby” peaked at #24. Truly it was a double-sided hit and gained The Beach Boys’ their first gold single for a million copies sold.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Byrds: My Back Pages

For our Thirty Something Thursday, we reach back into the vaults for a cover of a Bob Dylan song recorded by The Byrds in December 1966. It was last Top 40 single for The Byrds and it peaked at #30 during the spring of 1967. While The Byrds had previously recorded seven Dylan songs, they hadn’t considered recording “My Back Pages” until the suggestion came from their former producer/manager, Jim Dickson, who had been recently fired by the band.

According to Roger McGuinn, who sang lead and played the lead electric 12-string guitar, he was stopped at a traffic light in LA when Dickson pulled up alongside him and motioned for McGuinn to roll down his window. He did and Dickson yelled, “Hey, you ought to record Dylan’s ‘My Back Pages.’” McGuinn thanked him, the light changed, and he drove home to learn the song.

Not all of The Byrds, now a quartet since Gene Clark had left, were enthused by the idea of doing another cover – this was a perennial complaint of David Crosby who felt that stylistically they were regressing. It is interesting to note that Crosby’s longtime singing partner, Graham Nash, would leave The Hollies because of their band’s decision to record the album, “Hollies Sing Dylan” – an album that also featured “My Back Pages.”

The song’s most famous line, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” was the inspiration for the band’s fourth LP: “Younger than Yesterday.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mike Oldfield's Single (Theme from Tubular Bells)

Today’s “Wordless Wednesday” release is “Mike Oldfield’s Single (Theme from Tubular Bells).” This was UK single release that differed from his American 45, which became the theme for The Exorcist. While both singles came from the progressive rock LP “Tubular Bells,” they were different movements from this album. “Tubular Bells” was the first album release from Virgin Records in both the US and the UK, and the respective singles were the first Virgin 45s issued in both countries.

Although originally released in 1974, I procured my copy of this import single in 1978 from a record store in Barboursville, West Virginia. Its pastoral theme that hearkens to the traditional music of a previous century struck a chord with me – I believe that chord was a Bm. I actually prefer this movement than the one that was popular in the US. It is believed that Oldfield played all of the instruments in this movement except the oboe, which featured Lindsay Cooper.

While the American single release had a flip that was an edit of a different movement from the same album, the UK single’s B-side did not come from the “Tubular Bells” – it was the traditional song “Froggy Went A-Courting.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dire Straits: Money For Nothing

“I want my MTV!” Today is the 35th anniversary of Music Television (well, when MTV was a music television channel). Because my cable company didn’t begin offering MTV until 1982, I missed the first video, “Video Killed the Radio Star” when it first aired. Being in the entertainment industry at the time MTV broke, I can tell you the great impact that it had on the music business.

Often a song that was being panned by its own company became a big video hit and this translated into increased radio airplay and sales. It was a force with which to be reckoned; as radio programmer, you bet I paid attention to what the VJs were playing in heavy rotation, as I would be doing the same in very short order. It changed the music business as would YouTube has in recent years.

Outside of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the song that is most associated with MTV is Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” Its rudimentary computer-animated video and the obvious pandering to the channel with Sting repeating their tagline of “I want my MTV” hit home with video and radio audiences everywhere. In fact, when MTV Europe went live on this date in 1987, “Money for Nothing” was the first video to air.

Mark Knopfler said that he was inspired to write the song as he heard some employees at an appliance store in New York City were making comments about the videos on MTV – some of these show up in the lines used by the song’s narrator-protagonist. Because ZZ Top was an MTV staple, Knopfler did his best imitation of Billy Gibbons’ guitar sound.

“Money for Nothing” was the second of five singles from their multi-platinum album “Brothers in Arms.” The song did very well everywhere it was played. In the US and Canada, it was a number one single. “Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.”