Category Archives: Top 5

Today’s Top 5: My Back Pages

I worked from home last Thursday, as I sometimes do. If there’s a chance of snow, or it has snowed, or (as in this case) if Diane and I have a show to go to that night, or if the weatherman is predicting heavy rain, the odds are good that my morning commute will consist of me fighting the traffic from the Keurig machine in our kitchen to here, our second-floor study. Most days, my work consists of banging away on a computer keyboard; the need to be in office is often nil (though it’s always better to be seen than not). This day, however, I also had a meeting so – at the appropriate time – I clicked a Skype link to join in.

The reason I mention it: Those who Skype into my company’s meetings are greeted with our head shots from our company ID cards; they’re visible to everyone in attendance, both in the conference room and online. In my case, it’s a photo that was taken in the mid-2000s; as now, I have long blondish-brown hair and a mustache and beard. Unlike these days, however, there’s nary a white or gray whisker on my upper lip, cheeks and chin.

That’s a long-winded way to say that I was reminded, yet again, that my internal clock is tick-tick-ticking closer to midnight.

There’s a well-documented disconnect between how people perceive time and the reality that is the static measurement based on the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. A month lasts forever when we’re young, for instance, but seemingly blurs by at ever-increasing speeds the older we become. And when looking back, the flawed internal workings of recall come into play. Often, the time between now and then doesn’t seem quite as long as it is. It was just yesterday, right? Other times, even with more recent memories, it might seem like a lifetime ago.

As regular readers know, I sometimes dig through my old desk diaries, excavate old rock magazines, and drill into my brain’s medial temporal lobe (where most memories are stored) for my musings. I’m accustomed to dealing with the figurative distance between the present and past, and in peeling away the nostalgic layers of memory to present life as it was – well, as much as I can in a few hundred words.

But seeing a picture of myself pretty much as I still look, just minus wide swaths of white and gray in my beard? That’s a proverbial slap in the face from the original time lord, Chronos.

And, on that cheerful note, here’s today’s Top 5: My Back Pages.

1) Bob Dylan – “My Back Pages.” From Bob-fest, with Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison, but originally found on Dylan’s 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.

2) Dusty Springfield – “Goin’ Back.” In 1966 and ‘67, Dusty starred in two seasons of the Dusty TV series on the BBC. In ’68, she moved to ITV for It Must Be Dusty, then returned to the BBC for Decidedly Dusty in 1969. Each episode of each series followed the same pattern: Dusty sang, welcomed a guest, and then sang some more. Some episodes of Dusty are available on DVD, but – sadly – the tapes for many episodes were either erased or misplaced. The audio has survived fo some, however, including of this beautiful rendition of “Goin’ Back” from 1966.

3) Kasey Chambers – “We’re All Gonna Die Someday.” From Kasey’s classic 1999 debut, The Captain. Sometimes you just gotta laugh about our end times.

4) The Chromatics – “Into the Black.” I first heard this cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” via an episode of what was one of my favorite TV shows, Covert Affairs, in 2012. It’s a haunting rendition.

5) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” And here’s Neil riding the Horse on the same song, circa ’79.

And a few bonuses…

6) Bob Seger – “I Knew You When.” The title track from Seger’s most recent album. “We all sit here with our memories/of a glorious long ago…”

7) Steely Dan – “Hey Nineteen.” “Hey nineteen/No, we got nothing in common/No, we can’t talk at all…”

And finally…

8) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Nah, not a song about death, growing old, or looking back. Just a great Dylan song by a young(er) artist who knows her music history…

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Today’s Top 5: Personal & Universal

Thursday night, Diane and I journeyed to the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., to see the country-flavored singer-songwriter sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer.

As expected, the set was almost the same as when we saw the two last August at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, given that the tour is in support of their note-perfect covers album Not Dark Yet. And, as expected, this show was as magical as that one. The lone change of substance consisted of them swapping their cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” for Shelby’s “Miss You Sissy” (from her I Am Shelby Lynne album).

One performance that crawled into my subconscious this night was “Is It Too Much,” the lone original from Not Dark Yet. It’s a stark, powerful piece about the heavy emotional weight they’ve carried since their teen years, yet the lyrics are applicable to all who’ve weathered tough times. The mark of much, though certainly not all, great art is that it’s simultaneously personal and universal, restrictive yet expansive.

Live, it was even more stirring and spellbinding than on album.

Another highlight: their cover of Jason Isbell’s “The Color of a Cloudy Day.”

During the show, Allison – whose online journal is littered with interesting essays – discussed a piece she’s writing for a friend’s book about places. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that where we’re from shapes us as much as who we’re from. Think about it. (As Shelby then exclaimed, and this is a near-exact quote, “that’s some deep shit!”)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Personal & Universal.

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – “The Kindness of Strangers.” I shared this song from Courtney’s forthcoming May Your Kindness Remain album a few weeks back, but not this video, which she released on Thursday. She talks about it, and other things (including once crashing on Chris Pratt’s couch), in this GQ UK article.

2) H.C. McEntire – “A Lamb, A Dove.” The lyric video for the lead track from McEntire’s solo debut, Lionheart, is little more than a time-lapse of a sunrise. But it’s as amazing and addictive as the song and album.

3) Whitney Rose – “You Don’t Own Me.” In a Billboard article, Whitney says of her latest single, “[Y]ou can’t turn on the news these days without seeing that it’s just as relevant now as it was when Lesley Gore released it in 1963. I want everyone in the world to know this song and I want everyone to believe the words. I may not have that kind of reach but I wanted to do my part.”

4) Sarah Louise – “The Field That Touches My House and Yours.” Sarah Louise, who’s half of House and Land, has a new album titled Deeper Woods due out on May 11th. Back in my old folkie days, I’d have played it alongside the hand-me-down songs of yore, and listeners would likely have thought it was a lost treasure. It has that kind of vibe.

5) Bette Smith – “I Found Love.” I have to thank Highway Queens for introducing me to this soul singer, whose cover of the Lone Justice song on her Jetlagger album has drawn plaudits from the Little Diva herself. Maria shout-tweeted (in response to a tweet from me) “I LOVE THIS SO MUCH MORE THE ORIGINAL”

(And, finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Diane for the picture up top!)

Today’s Top 5: Pat Benatar

Most folks know the first video played on MTV: “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. What many people often forget, or never learned, is the second video: Pat Benatar’s rendition of the Rascals’ “You Better Run.”

In the beginning, MTV basically translated the radio experience to TV – and that, believe it or not, was it. (The “reality” programming that now congests the cable channel wouldn’t arrive until 1992 and The Real World.) VJs, aka video jockeys, introduced music videos and sometimes interviewed the artists. As this list of the first 208 tracks played shows, the songs spanned the typical AOR spectrum of styles. There was plenty of new wave, rock and pop, in other words, but no R&B or soul. And there were limited videos available at the start, as that list shows, which meant many clips – including “You Better Run” – were played over and over again.

The impact was immediate.

In her memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Pat Benatar recalls, “In one week, our world changed. After Crimes of Passion, I’d become much more recognizable, but it was nothing like what happened after MTV. To have a hit song on the radio was to have someone know your voice, your sound. To have a hit video was to have someone know your face. The semi-anonymity that we enjoyed was gone. We had officially arrived, and America had seen our faces—a lot. In the week that followed MTV’s launch, I could no longer go to the grocery store or the movies, because I was swamped. People didn’t simply look at me and think I looked familiar. They thought they knew me. It was great and awful, a blessing and a curse. There was no handbook for how to deal with that kind of stardom. Even musicians who’d hit it big on the radio never had to contend with their faces being literally everywhere overnight.”  (The memoir is well worth the read, I should mention.)

Prior, her career was already on an upward arc – her first album, In the Heat of the Night, was released in August 1979 and made it to No. 12 on the charts; and the single “Heartbreaker,” which was a mainstay on AOR radio, made it to No. 23. A year later, Crimes of Passion soared to No. 2 on the charts, while one single, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” cracked the Top 10 at No. 9 and another single, “Treat Me Right,” eked into the Top 20 at No. 18.

But MTV pushed her into the stratosphere. Here’s one of her latter-day videos, from 1985, which I always liked:

Anyway, the scans that spread out across this page are from the Pat Benatar fan club circa the Get Nervous (1983) album. The LP (and cassette) came with a mailer, which I sent in; I received the fold-out pamphlet a month or two later. One side has the pictures; the other, the album’s lyrics. And speaking of Get Nervous, here’s Pat and band on British TV in promotion of it…