Category Archives: Top 5

Today’s Top 5: And That’s the Way It Is

Sometimes I listen to music in the car. Other days, however, I tune in KYW-1060AM, the Delaware Valley’s all-news channel. It provides local and national headlines, breaking news, traffic reports, business updates, weather and sports, and at 6:30pm – if I’ve left work late or am just stuck in traffic – a simulcast of the CBS Evening News. I also read/subscribe to the digital edition of the Washington Post, and check out the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer from time to time – aka the “fake news” outlets so labeled because they report actual facts, not the partisan propaganda our dear leader prefers.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: And That’s the Way It Is.

1) Neil Young – “Ambulance Blues.” This song percolates through my synapses pretty much every time America’s answer to Erdogan speaks. The line “I never knew a man who told so many lies” may have been inspired by Nixon, but it describes him, too.

2) Juliana Hatfield – “When You’re a Star.” I came to the conclusion, long ago, that Juliana is basically Generation X’s Neil Young. Think about it: She started her career in an influential, but commercially under-appreciated group; she’s at home on acoustic and electric guitar, solo or with a band; and has a distinctly idiosyncratic outlook on life. And no one can write her songs but her. This week, after the sordid news from Hollywood broke, she tweeted a link to this song, which was inspired by both the lecher-in-chief and a former Jell-O salesman. It’s from her Pussycat album.

3) Bob Dylan – “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues.” Originally slated for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but yanked by Columbia due to lawsuit concerns, this classic satire of political paranoia remains relevant today. The dear leader and his minions, after all, see enemies everywhere.

4) First Aid Kit – “This Land Is Your Land.” Diane and I watched the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory a few weeks back. Great movie. It got me to thinking that that era, more than any other, is the era Trump and the GOP want America to return to – where some have plenty, but most nothing at all. First Aid Kit’s cover of the song includes the two “radical” verses that speak to the song’s message that America is for all its people, not just the rich and well-off. (See the Wikipedia entry for more.)

5) The Long Ryders – “Masters of War.” The Ryders’ cover of Dylan’s classic, about old men sending young men to their deaths, still rings true today. (The pulpit’s bully is itching for war, after all.)

And two bonuses…

6) Grant Hart – “Now That You Know Me.” During the winter of 1989-90, I played Hart’s Intolerance CD more than most – and this song wound up on many a mixtape. I won’t lie and claim to have kept up with Hart’s career in the years since, but the news of his passing in September shook me all the same. Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade and New Day Rising were monumental albums in my life.

7) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Peace in L.A.” The L.A. riots of 1992, sadly, weren’t the last riots spurred by racial injustice. One of Petty’s best yet lesser known singles, this call for peace was recorded mere days after the figurative fires were put out; and was on the radio a day later. “Stay cool. Don’t be a fool.”

 

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Today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. LVIV

Fall has (finally) arrived to our neck of the proverbial woods, which means our front lawn will soon be cluttered with leaves from trees that are not rooted on our property, or even on those adjoining ours. No, the wind whips them up and down and across the street(s), and for whatever reason they amass at our house as if attracted by a magnet. It’s maddening – as is what’s been an interminable commute home of late. Thursday, I left work at 5:45 and exited the turnpike at seven. Friday’s crawl clocked a similar runtime.

Yes, of course, those are penny-ante annoyances. In the words of the noted philosopher Roseanne Rosannadanna (1946-89), “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”

And on that note, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. LVIV.

1) First Aid Kit – “It’s a Shame.” “Lately, I’ve been thinking about the past. How there is no holding back, no point in wasting sorrow on things that won’t be here tomorrow.” Those aren’t my words, but First Aid Kit’s. They released a new single this week, which means a new album is (hopefully) near. “It’s a Shame” delves into the dark side of life on the road, loneliness, and moving on while others stay put, and the fleeting relationships that form as a result. It’s not a new topic for the sisters Söderberg, of course, but it’s well executed. And those harmonies…

2) Neil Young – “Powderfinger.” Hitchhiker just gets better with every listen. While stuck in traffic on the ride home Friday, I played it, then played it again. And this morning, while out and about doing mundane errands, I played it yet again. It’s a hypnotic set that – and I don’t say this lightly – is in the running for my fabled Album of the Year honors.

3) Erin O’Dowd – “Queen of the Silver Dollar.” Erin’s full-length debut, Old Town, is due in early December for those of us who backed her on Kickstarter, and I can’t wait. She possesses the voice of a world-weary angel. Here, in the first of hopefully many “Porch Swing Sessions,” she shares her spin on this Shel Silverstein classic, which has been recorded by everyone from Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show to Barbi Benton(!) to Emmylou Harris.

4) The MonaLisa Twins featuring John Sebastian – “Waiting for the Waiter.” The Liverpool-based duo, who may well be best known for their Beatles covers, turn in this bluesy original about…is it a metaphor? Could be. Could be not.

5) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Sea Town.” Can a day go by without me listening to Courtney? Yes. But then I hear a song such as this, the b-side to her recent “Near You” single, and it’s like a flip switches inside my soul and I want to listen to no one but her…

And one bonus…

6) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Near You.” What I said above. Times two.

Today’s Top 5: September 29, 1979

The fall of 1979 can best be summed up in one word: “eh.” Disco ruled the charts, but a New Wave was breaking. I was a newly minted ninth-grader and having a blast – primarily in cartooning, a fun elective where we made silly Super 8 movies – but also in most everything else. I got good grades, had good friends, and had good times.

In the wider world, however, things weren’t quite as upbeat. Unemployment averaged 5.8 percent, the lowest it had been since 1974, but as the year wore on that number inched higher. The bigger concern: inflation, which rose from 9.3 percent in January to 13.3 percent in December.

As recounted in “The Great Inflation,” a Federal Reserve historical overview, the reasons for the spiraling inflation were plenty, including the Fed’s own policies, President Nixon’s decision to opt out of the Bretton Woods system (aka the gold standard), and the oil shocks of 1973 and 1978-79. This March 1979 news report from WEWS in Cleveland does a great job of explaining the ripple effect that OPEC’s recent decision to raise the price of oil would have:

Now, factor in oil-related events beyond OPEC – like the Iranian revolution, which decreased overall oil production by about seven percent, and old-fashioned hoarding, which was also in play, and the result was scenes like the ones captured by the MacNeil-Lehrer Report in June 1979:

Beyond the economy, this year in American history is notable for the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident that March; President Carter being attacked by a “killer” rabbit in April; McDonald’s introducing the Happy Meal in June; Steve Dahl’s “Disco Demolition Night” at Chicago’s Comiskey Park that July; Michael Jackson releasing Off the Wall in August; and, on Sept. 23rd, an anti-nuclear protest in New York City drawing an estimated 200,000 people.

Of course, as a 14-year-old boy in suburban Philly this September day, a fine Saturday with highs in the mid-70s, I was at once aware and unaware of much of that. My family watched ABC’s World News Tonight most nights, and read the newspapers – granted, in my case, that meant scanning the headlines before diving into the Sports and Entertainment sections, but I knew what was what. Kind of.

I likely spent part of the day playing ball in the street with friends, or at the park doing the same. A radio may or may not have been blaring, and if one was that meant WIFI-92, the Top 40 station I wrote about in this remembrance of Donna Summer, was providing the soundtrack to the fun.

Movies in the theaters that month included Amityville Horror, More American Graffiti and Monty Python’s Life of Brian; and, over the next few months, included 10, The Rose, 1941 and The Jerk. Of those, I only saw More American Graffiti and 1941 in the theaters, though I read the Amityville Horror book. But here’s one memory tied to one of the films I didn’t see, 10: Not long after its release, a girl came to school with her hair braided in cornrows exactly like Bo Derek’s. Now, cornrow braids work for some folks – Alicia Keys springs to mind. Others? Not so much – and this girl definitely fell into that camp. Everyone looked. Everyone laughed (though hopefully not to her face). And she arrived at school the next day with her locks returned to their natural curls.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 10: September 29, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40)…

1) The Knack – “My Sharona.” The debut single from the new-wave Knack knocked just about everyone for a loop – most of all, I’m sure, the band itself – when it landed atop the Billboard charts for six weeks in a row, with this week being its last; and it went on to be the the year’s best-selling 45. It’s an undeniably catchy tune, and one that won over many young music fans such as myself – small surprise since the Knack’s Doug Fieger later said it was written from a 14-year-old boy’s POV. But Capitol’s accompanying promotional campaign, which conjured the Beatles, ultimately caused a mean-spirited backlash (“Knuke the Knack,” anyone?) that soon doomed the band to joke status. Which is a shame because, as I said, this song is a delight – and the followup single, “Good Girls Don’t,” was pretty darn good, too. Here they are on Top of the Pops promoting it…

2) Robert John – “Sad Eyes.” The No. 2 song, which would inch up a notch to rule the Billboard charts the following week, is this easy-listening favorite.

3) Herb Alpert – “Rise.” No. 3 this week is this light disco instrumental from legendary trumpeter Herb Albert. It would take the top spot in four weeks’ time.

4) Michael Jackson – “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” What needs to be said about this, this week’s No. 4 single? That it’s disco? Yes? That it’s undeniably catchy? To quote my wife, “it’s a great song.”

5) Earth, Wind & Fire – “After the Love Is Gone.” Rounding out the Top 5 is this EW&F classic, the group’s sixth Top 10 hit in six years.

Also making their chart debuts this week…

6) Blondie – “Dreaming.” Clocking in at No. 79 is this, my all-time favorite Blondie song. I could play it on a loop – and, in fact, I’ve done just that. Here’s a factoid about it that I never knew: According to Blondie’s Chris Stein, the song’s a direct cop of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” (though I and American Songwriter don’t hear it).

7) The Records – “Starry Eyes.” And at No. 89 is this under-appreciated classic from the Records, a British power-pop band. It hails from their debut album, which was named Shades in Bed in the U.K. but morphed into a self-titled delight in the U.S., where the album also featured a much cooler cover. That’s the reason I bought it, actually.