Category Archives: Bob Dylan

Today’s Top 5: January 1994, aka “Hello Mary Lou” (via CMJ Music Monthly’s CD Sampler)

cmj_94001Of all the compilations in all the countries in all the world, on one cold winter’s day she showed up on mine – well, not mine per se, but CMJ New Music Monthly’s. And unlike Rick’s initial reaction to seeing Ilsa again, I’m glad she did.

First, though: January 1994 wasn’t a snowy month for the Philly region, but it did feature some extreme weather. On the 7th and 8th, an ice storm paralyzed the city and suburbs; and, on the 19th, we “enjoyed” a not-so-balmy high of 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Major events that occurred: figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked on the 6th in a plot hatched by rival Tonya Harding’s ex-husband; Vice President Al Gore chaired a Superhighway Summit in L.A. on the 11th; a major earthquake struck the L.A. area on the 17th that left 57 dead and 8700 injured; President Bill Clinton delivered his first State of the Union address on the 25th; and, on the 30th, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII.

On the music front: the year opened with the Lemonheads’ wondrous “Into Your Arms” atop Billboard’s Modern Rock Hits chart. Other songs that topped that specific chart this month: Pearl Jam’s “Daughter,” the Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You” and Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Mainstream hits included “Hero” by Mariah Carey, which held the top spot for the first three weeks of the month, and “All for One,” a collaboration between Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting that I’ve yet to hear.

The ‘90s may not have been the ‘60s upside down, but they were a great time for music. A wealth of newer acts in all genres were crafting cool sounds and old-timers like Neil Young were doing the same – his early ‘90s run, which actually began in ’89 with Freedom, rivaled his work in the ‘70s. Alternative rock, which was really just rock cranked out by Gen Xers, was the Big Thing. Alt.country, as it was called, was an actual thing, too. Singer-songwriters were (finally) in vogue, again. Hip hop was mainstream.

Rolling Stone and Spin were both solid music magazines with robust review sections, but there was so much music being released that many new releases weren’t mentioned in them, which is why I sought out additional magazines and newsletters. As a result, on an excursion to Tower Records on South Street or in the Northeast, I picked up the January issue of CMJ New Music Monthly, a habit I’d picked up a few months earlier.

cmj_94b002For those unfamiliar with it, the magazine mimicked the shape of a CD longbox, though (as I remember it, anyway) it wasn’t quite as long. (A CD longbox, for those unfamiliar with the term, was a cardboard sleeve that held the CD jewel box; they were used in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s because, when placed side by side, they took up the same space as a vinyl album, which meant retailers didn’t need to change their racks; and, too, they made shoplifting a bit more difficult.) I enjoyed CMJ because it focused primarily on newer acts, many of which were ignored by Rolling Stone – and for the sampler CDs that were included with every issue. Though I no longer have the magazines themselves, I do have quite a few of the CDs.

And, with all of that out of the way…welcome to today’s Top 5: January 1994, aka “Hello, Mary Lou,” which is drawn from CMJ Music Monthly’s January 1994 CD compilation.

ml_blurred1) Mary Lou Lord – “Some Jingle Jangle Morning (When I’m Straight).” The second-to-last song on the sampler is this, a digital conversion of a 7-inch single released by the Kill Rock Stars label. (The version on Mary Lou’s 1998 album Got No Shadow is a different recording.) Even now, after all these years, the song sends me to another place. Diane loved the song, too, and we both became major MLL fans as a result. She’s released a handful of albums, including one last year, and a bounty of EPs; and we’ve seen her in concert twice, including once in the mid-‘90s at a swing-dance club in Philly, and again in the early 2010s at a house concert (which is where the photo came from).

2) Bob Dylan – “Blood in My Eyes.” As I said above, CMJ focused primarily on newer acts, but veteran acts sometimes snuck onto the compilation CDs. This song hails from Dylan’s 1993 album World Gone Wrong.

3) Tara Key – “Seraphim.” This punky, low-fi delight led me to buy Bourbon County. The song itself isn’t on YouTube, but here’s the album in full.

4) Lorelai – “Mostly I Sleep.” I never followed through and purchased anything by this Pittsburgh-based group, but this track is pretty cool – conjures the glorious Three O’Clock.

5) The Spinanes – “Noel, Jonah and Me.”

Today’s Top 5: February 1984 (via Record Magazine)

record284008Thirty-three years ago, in February 1984, America was stumbling out of back-to-back recessions that almost hammered the American Dream flat. The unemployment rate for January was 7.9 percent, which is high – but better than the 10.3 percent of January 1983. In fact, the unemployment rate for 1983 as a whole was, according to the St. Louis Fed, 9.5 percent – the same as it was in 1982. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics has slightly different numbers – 9.6 and 9.7 percent, respectively.) The trend was headed in the right direction, however.

(This Pew Research Center essay delves in-depth into the “Reagan recession.”)

Stories in the news included Michael Jackson’s hair catching fire while he filmed a Pepsi commercial on Jan. 27th; the cable networks A&E and Lifetime debuting on Feb. 1st; the first successful embryo transfer from one woman to another being announced on Feb. 3rd; the movie Footloose premiering on Feb. 17th; and Michael Jackson winning eight Grammy Awards (seven for Thriller and one for the E.T. audiobook) on Feb. 28th.

record284009New music releases for the month included the Footloose soundtrack; Thompson Twins’ Into the Gap; The Smiths’ eponymous debut; Queen’s The Works; The Alarm’s Declarations; and Van Morrison’s Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which had been released in November 1982, still ruled the album charts, as Record’s Top 100 list shows. At the time, I owned – on vinyl or cassette – four of the top 10 and seven of the top 20; and, by year’s end, 20 of the top 100. As February dawned, the top single was – according to Weekly Top 40 – Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon.” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” had just cracked the Top 10. By month’s end, the top slot was held by one of the more infectious songs of the year, Van Halen’s “Jump.”

hatborotheaterAt the time, I was 18 and living the commuter-college life. I lived at home, attended Penn State’s Ogontz campus and worked, worked and worked as an usher at the single-screen Budco Hatboro Theater – a fun job that I’d held since the previous summer. (That’s me in the doors in the picture on the left.) This month, however, the employees learned that it was destined to close at some point over the summer, as Budco saw the writing on the wall for single-screen palaces. The building was sold, torn down and a Wendy’s was built on its spot.

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My purchases for the month show where my head was at, beginning with Neil Young’s masterful On the Beach, which I picked up on Feb. 1st.

I also bought Stephen Stills – Stills (6th); CSNY – So Far (6th); Stephen Stills/Manassas – Down the Road (12th); Joni Mitchell – For the Roses (12th); and Stephen Stills double-LP Manassas set (17th), which quickly became (and remains) one of my all-time favorites. This song, featuring former Byrd and Burrito Brother Chris Hillman on co-lead vocals, is a a minor gem:

And, with that, onward to today’s Top 5: February 1984 (via Record Magazine)…

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First, though: This issue isn’t one of the magazine’s best. I wasn’t a fan of David Byrne at the time (I’m still not), and never read the interview with him. I also never read the articles about Huey Lewis, Spandau Ballet, Juluka, Philip Bailey and DeBarge. So why choose this month? Because of On the Beach and Manassas. When I saw both in my old desk calendar, well, how could I not go with this month?!

1) The Rolling Stones – “Undercover of the Night.” I won Undercover, a sad-sack Stones album, from WYSP on November 19th of the previous year by calling in on a trivia contest and saying “John Drake” (the real name of Number Six in The Prisoner TV series). I think I played the album once, maybe twice, and never went back. In other words, Anthony DeCurtis – who penned this review – is more generous to it than I obviously am. Of this song, he writes that it “opens the first side with a machine-gun run of synthesized drumming that crashes into a barrage of percussive disco bottom and patented Stones guitar chords.”

record2840122) Paul McCartney – “Pipes of Peace.” This, the second review, goes to show the delay that once existed between release and review. The February issue of Record would have been on newsstands by early or mid-January, I’m sure, but Pipes of Peace had already been out for at least two months by then, as it was released in October 1983 (as I write about here).

In the review, the (apparently tone-deaf) critic Craig Zoller doesn’t mince words: “The only McCartney LP worth holding onto, by any stretch of the imagination, is Wings Greatest because it collects most of his good hits (along with some silly ones). And seeing sluggish hodgepodge efforts like Band on the Run and Tug of War garner critical raves is as bad a joke as hearing the Beatles described as Paul’s old back-up band.” Lest one have any doubts about where he’s headed, he then states of Pipes of Peace: “I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s just another lousy McCartney album with a couple of halfway decent cuts, a load of hummable pablum and the usual no-risk coasting.”

What I find interesting: in back-to-back reviews, a subpar Stones album is saluted while an admittedly mediocre McCartney album is thoroughly trashed. Says much about the mindsets of rock critics at the time…

record2840133) Bob Dylan – “Sweetheart Like You.” I’ve been in something of a Dylan mood of late, having listened to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changing, Bringing It Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 this week, with Freewheelin’ and BIBH both receiving twin spins. But, though I know his ‘60s output as well as most, and bought Slow Train Coming in 1979, by the time the decades turn to the ‘80s… I’m admittedly ignorant. There are a few albums I’ve bought and liked, and a few I’ve bought and disliked. Which is likely why I turn to his ’60s oeuvre whenever I have a hankering to hear him.

Anyway, of Infidels, reviewer John Swenson opens by saying that Dylan “is the most consistently misunderstood figure in pop music history” and closes with “Dylan hasn’t sung this well in some time, a fact which indicates his ultimate commitment to his material.” In between, there’s a lot that makes me want to check out the album, which I may well do in the coming week.

4) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Pink Houses.” Christopher Hill accurately describes the one-time Johnny Cougar’s seventh album: “Uh-Huh, Mellencamp’s first record under his real name, is also his first conscious effort to speak collectively for the people of his state and his state of mind. Though not always successful, the rough grain and savor of parched Midwestern earth that comes through makes this a bracing, provocative antidote to the bleak romancers of the ‘Badlands.’” He doesn’t single out the album’s tour de force, however, which is this song:

record2840145) Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers – “A Woman’s Got the Power.” Anyone from the Delaware Valley circa the late ‘70s and early ‘80s likely remembers the A’s – at least, anyone of a certain age who, regardless of whether you were old enough to get into the clubs, listened to Philadelphia’s two main rock stations at the time, 93.3 FM WMMR and 94.1 WYSP. The homegrown rockers were routinely plugged and played on both, as they should have been – they were damn good.

And this song, which was the title track of their 1981 album of the same name (their second and last on Arista), was played to death – as I remember it, at any rate.

Anyway, of the Big Man and his side band: Barry Alfonso, who reviews Rescue, notes that “the feel captured is right on the mark—such tracks as ‘A Man in Love,’ ‘A Woman’s Got the Power’ and ‘Savin’ Up’ (the last-named a Springsteen composition) have the funky nobility that big-band R&B has always traded in.” He also raves about lead singer John “J.T.” Bowen: “He lends to Clemons the same sort of urban bravura that Clemons brings Springsteen. It may not be new, but it still packs a wallop.”

AND, if two clips of the same song aren’t enough, here’s a third: the A’s performing it live…

 

 

Today’s Top 5: December 2, 1976 (via Rolling Stone)

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Yesterday, I explored the Archive – no, not our attic, but an ephemera store in Lansdale, Pa. I was there once before, found its contents fascinating, and with time to kill yesterday spent a good three hours combing through second- and third-hand books, magazines and other things, including 45s, LPs, sheet music, maps, autographed pictures and…did I mention magazines? You name it, chances are they have a copy – though not the “Women in Revolt” issue of Newsweek, sad to say. The treasures I came home with were relatively modest: two issues of Rolling Stone, one Creem from ’81 and two Newsweeks (one from 1966, the other from ’69).

fullsizeoutput_1112This Rolling Stone is dated December 2, 1976; I covered much of the year here, so won’t repeat myself. But in addition to marking America’s bicentennial, the Flyers crushing the Soviets and a presidential election, the year is notable for a few personal reasons: I finished elementary school in the spring, turned 11 in the summer, and entered Loller Middle School, the first of two middle schools in the combined Hatboro-Horsham school district, in the fall. (Hatboro-Horsham had one middle school for 6th and 7th grades and another for 8th and 9th grades.) Oh, and that summer my family moved from a rented townhouse on the edge of Hatboro to a home in its heart, which meant instead of taking the bus, I walked to the school. The trek was about half a mile, and took me past Burdick’s, a newsstand-soda shop that also sold reams of candy.

Oh, and at Loller? Unlike every other school in the district, jeans were banned. (I’m sure that added clothing expense went over well with parents.)

With that said, here’s today’s Top 5: December 2, 1976.

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1) Linda Ronstadt – “Tracks of My Tears.” Linda, whose first Greatest Hits album had just been released, graces the cover. The Cameron Crowe-penned article delves into how her life had changed since the release of her breakthrough album, Heart Like a Wheel, two years earlier. (The entire article is available online.) The set collects her hits from 1967 (“Different Drum” with the Stone Poneys) through 1975’s Prisoner in Disguise, which is where this rendition of the classic Smokey Robinson & the Miracles hit comes from.

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2) Jackson Browne – “Here Comes Those Tears Again.” A simple ad hawks Browne’s fourth album, The Pretender, which was his first release following the March 1976 suicide of his first wife, Phyllis. This song was co-written with Phyllis’ mother, Nancy Farnsworth, but predates Phyllis’ death by a year or so.

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3) Heart – “Dreamboat Annie.” As I explained back in October, the Dreamboat Annie LP took some time to sail up the charts.

 

fullsizeoutput_111b4) Bob Dylan – “Lay, Lady, Lay.” In the lead review, Kit Rachlis calls the Hard Rain album an “enigma,” “atrociously recorded,” “problematic,” “a psychodrama of the most solipsistic sort” and a “revisionist critique of [Dylan’s] of his own past. He is not so much reinterpreting his work as blowing it apart.” That is to say, “Mostly his voice pushes the songs past recognition, beyond interpretation.” Of the performance of this classic song, he observes that it’s “no longer a request, but a demand.” And if, after all that, you’re still not sure what he thinks of Hard Rain, he concludes with: “Like a true primitive, Dylan’s work functions as a direct megaphone to himself. The result has been some of the most brilliant art that popular culture in this country has ever produced. But it also means that Dylan is at once his own best and worst critic. Hard Rain is the product of the latter.”

Unfortunately, I can’t find any tracks from the live album on YouTube. So, instead, here’s a 45 for “Lay, Lady, Lay” from 1969 –

5) Lou Reed – “You Wear It So Well.” Lou’s Rock and Roll Heart album did not win over reviewer Frank Rose, who says that it’s “less a collection of rock & roll songs than a series of meditations” and, after giving Lou his due for the continued influence of the Velvet Underground, observes that “[t]he key phrases [on the album] are all refrains: ‘I’m banging on my drum’; ‘You wear it so well’; ‘You’re caught in a vicious circle’; ‘It’s just a temporary thing.’ Reed chants them like mantras, until they’re almost stripped of meaning. He has scooped out their depth and given us nothing but surface.” Ouch!

And that’s that. Kinda. Here, in descending order, are the concluding sections of the Linda, Heart and Dylan pieces.

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