It was so much fun the first time that I’ve unleashed 10 more of my life’s musical bookmarks, songs or themes that will forever be associated with a time and place:
1) Ry Cooder – “Yellow Roses”: I’ve had an irrational love for this 1955 Hank Snow classic ever since I started tooling around the streets of Portland, Oregon and playing my 1976 cassette of Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music; caterwauling at the top of my lungs, “But I’ll still love you, though yellow roses say goodbye”. It’s the quintessential broken hearted dirge that is chock full of schmaltz and hang-dog sentimentality and I absolutely cannot tell you why, to this day, Cooder’s version of this song is so permanently lodged in my ever-accommodating mind. 35 years later I’ve finally given into its Trekkian tractor beam and begun performing it live in my act.
2) Aretha Franklin – “Dr. Feelgood” (from Live At Fillmore West): I’ll never forget bringing this great album home from college in about my sophomore year and playing it in my mother’s living room and assuming that she would grasp the unbelievable power of Franklin’s vocals. Instead, she looked up and remarked, “She sure does scream a lot”…Oh.
3) Randy Newman – “Marie”: From 1974’s Good Old Boys, this gem of a song sat in the middle of a theme album about the redneck deep south. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, ironically surrounding a sad, pathetic. drunken attempt at expressing love. Although, I didn’t quite share the subject’s abject failure, I looked at it in the greater sense as an anthem for people’s often spectacular inability to know how to love another person.
4) Gene Pitney – “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, Frank Sinatra – “My Way”, Little Eva – “Locomotion”: These three unrelated 45 singles are lumped together by mutual circumstance, as they were all victims of a 1969 heinous, unprovoked, murderous spree by our toy poodle, Princess. In particular, getting over the loss of the Pitney and Eva records was so traumatic that I shunned that vinyl destroyer until her final exit. The fact that she didn’t choke on the shards disproved, for me, the theory of ‘instant karma’.
5) The Tokens – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight“: We had a tunnel that ran under the busy street that led to our grade school. They built the thing because the wee ones were getting routinely mowed down and then, of course, they staffed it with Safety Patrol kids, which was a cool job with a cool belt and about the same authority as hall monitor…keep in a straight line, no talking. I wrangled my way onto the Safety Patrol. This was a long, cavernous, concrete tunnel and when all the kids had finally cleared the tunnel and I was sure I was alone, I sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” because the falsetto part sounded awesome in the massive reverberation.
6) Yma Sumac – Legend of the Jivaro & Voice of the Xtabay: Because I had unusual tastes as a kid, in 1958 I brought these two albums into my second grade class for ‘show and tell’. Yma Sumac supposedly had some royal Inca heritage but what was not supposition was her amazing 5 octave voice and the wild, exotic vocals she brought to the Latin American rhythms. I’m not sure what my classmates thought but then I didn’t much care. I just thought they needed to know something outside of the monkey bars.
7) Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre: I’d always loved the graphic spookiness of this French tone poem and the story it was based on, an orchestral interpretation of the dance of death, complete with the sounds of the skeletons and other assorted creepy crap. When I was a senior in college I talked my sociology prof into letting me run one of the lectures about music and I played this piece after turning the auditorium into complete darkness. While in the dark I went about collecting wallets and purses and ended up with enough money to pay my next semester’s tuition. OK, every thing’s true except for that last part but you’ve got to admit; what a great idea for a fund-raiser.
8) Clyde King – “Wolverton Mountain”: For unknown reasons, since I bought lots of other 45’s there, this song reminds me of Kresge’s dime store when I was a kid. I bought my first single there, “When I Fall In Love” by The Lettermen, but this short-lived country hit brings back vivid images and even the smell of the store. If you had 39 cents, the music world was open for business.
9) Steely Dan – “Pearl of the Quarter”: At my mother’s place during one of my college summer breaks and I heard this song one morning on the radio. Little did I know this was just a gateway drug to the endless genius of Donald Fagen and his ability to mainstream what were essentially jazz chord structures into memorable pop creations. It was brilliantly executed and never replicated.
10) N.E.R.D. – “Hot-N-Fun”: For the past few years I’ve been running a dance party for brain injured adults in foster care. Long after I’ve surrendered the ability to get funky and I’m sitting around wondering where my knee cartilage went, this ‘get your ass up and dance’ bass line will remind me of the wonderful people I worked with and just how cool it is to let your body get lost in the moment. Life is all about the ‘groove’ and this song has a great one.