He Dines Out On Death by Cristina, 1984

Posted Leave a comment



Another album from the cut-out bin:  Cristina’s 1984 album “Sleep It Off.”  Certainly a striking image, if you call a woman with her throat cut in nine different places striking.

Cristina’s full name was Cristina Monet-Palaci, a Harvard grad who stumbled into doing a disco pastiche called “Disco Clone” with a classmate.  It got her some attention in the New York No-Wave scene in the early 80s.

Her second album was “Sleep It Off,” and it’s brilliant.  The song here is “He Dines Out on Death,” a brutal swipe at urban decadence and celebrity and the disposable little people. But the rest of the songs are also fantastic, from her cover of Prince’s “When U Were Mine” (which is represented elsewhere on Cloth Monkey Radio in a Cyndi Lauper cover) to “What’s A Girl To Do?” (first verse: “My life is in a turmoil/My thighs are black and blue/My sheets are stained, so is my brain/What’s a girl to do?”) and especially the first song, “Don’t Mutilate My Mink,” which I’ll throw in as an extra video. The album was produced by Don Was.

“Sleep It Off” was so outré, so sui generis, that no one in 1984 bought it, and it ended up in the cut-out bin at Penguin Feather.  It was her last record, and she got out of the song business altogether, which is a damn shame.  I mean, how many No-Wave divas are there who got their wedding announcement in the New York Times?


RIP Live365

Posted Leave a comment

Imagine my shock when I tried to log into my Cloth Monkey Radio account on February 1 and found that . . .  Live 365 is gone.  For good.  The first internet radio station, the one with the most interesting and varied listener-programmed stations, finally succumbed to years of bad management and worse decisions.  I cannot tell you how much I will miss my favorites – Backtracks, Blue Tiki, Atomic Lounge, the Apollo 11 channel and the one out of Canada that played episodes of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” 24/7.  And of course good ol’ Cloth Monkey Radio.  I am looking around for a new site to host CMR, and I’ll let you know when I find one.   And I’ll keep posting here.  Because cool songs are still cool songs, even if no one is listening.

High School Drag by Phillipa Fallon, 1958

Posted Leave a comment

This is the coolest freaking thing on the planet.

It’s a scene from High School Confidential, a 1958 film starring Mamie Van Dorn and Russ Tamblyn. From the IMDB plot synopsis: “A tough kid comes to a new high school and begins muscling his way into the drug scene. As he moves his way up the ladder, a schoolteacher tries to reform him, his aunt tries to seduce him, and the ‘weedheads’ are eager to use his newly found enterprise, but he has his own agenda. After an altercation involving fast cars, hidden drugs, and police, he’s accepted by the drug kingpin and is off into the big leagues. A typical morality play of the era, filled with a naive view of drugs, nihilistic beat poetry, and some incredible ’50s slang.”

A juvie piece of crap, in other words. But Russ Tamblyn isn’t bad – you probably remember him as Riff from West Side Story, and his daughter Amber was the star of “Joan of Arcadia” and spent one season as a geeky awkward genius intern on “House.” And Mamie is fun to watch is a sort of car-wreck kind of way.

But Phillipa Fallon – what can I say? This is her only scene in the move, and she steals it blind. There is a lot going on in this little scene, apart from the sexy and ahead-of-her-time Phillipa and her cool little beat poem:

1. The guy sitting at the table with his date is John Drew Barrymore, son of John Barrymore and Delores Costello, and father of the adorable Drew Barrymore. He later went completely crazy and ended up a derelict on the streets of LA with a long ratty beard and tattered clothes. In the last year before he died in 2004, Drew took him in and paid his medical bills despite the fact that he wanted nothing to do with her. Trekkie footnote: he was slated to play Lazarus in the putrid “Alternative Factor” episode of “Star Trek” in 1966, but he failed to show up on the first morning of the shoot and was replaced by Robert Brown. Barrymore was suspended by the union for six months for that little stunt.

2. The guy playing the piano is Jackie Coogan, former child star and future Uncle Fester on “The Addams Family.” (And, I was amazed to find out, one-time husband of Betty Grable!) He also was a glider pilot in WWII, flying General Wingate’s British troops behind enemy lines in the Burma campaign. Jeez. Oh, and his character here, Mr. A, isn’t just a piano player – he’s the town’s heroin kingpin. Nice work if you can get it.

3. The guy in the white jacket is Charlie Chaplin, Jr. His father, of course, starred with Jackie Coogan in The Kid (1921). Dead of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 42.

This scene became something of a cult classic a while back, and some guy, intrigued by our Phillipa, vowed to track her down and find out her story. Well, the story was ten times weirder than anyone imagined. I won’t try to paraphrase it, but you can check out the story of the long strange journey at his Phillipa Fallon blog. It’s in 9 parts – start from the bottom. Exactly the kind of weird detective work I adore.

And special added bonus: Phillipa’s ex-husband, Bill Manhoff, wrote a 1964 episode of “Petticoat Junction” that featured another beat poet. But – get this – the beat poet was Dennis Hopper, of all people, invited to the Shady Rest by Bobbie Jo Bradley (the original one, played by Pat Woodell). He recites his poem, Uncle Joe, Kate, Charlie and Floyd don’t get it, and Dennis sneers at them in the greatest line ever spoken in that sitcom: “It means this is a cemetery and you’re all corpses.” Then he gives Bobbie Jo a cancer stick. Cool beyond belief.

Ghost World by Aimee Mann, 1999

Posted Leave a comment

Aimee Mann is the thinking man’s bombshell. She writes witty, intelligent stuff and I’m not sure why she’s not more famous. She wrote this ode to Daniel Clowes’ series of comic books and the graphic novel before they made a movie out of it. (I’ve always had a thing for quirky girls, and Enid Coleslaw is right up there with Daria Morgendorffer in my pantheon of girls I wish had actually existed when I was in high school.) I love this song, if for nothing else than this line, which completely sums up my high school summers: “Everyone I know is acting weird or way too cool/They hang out by the pool/So I just read a lot and ride my bike around the school.”

Sort-of connected thought: I watched the “Ghost World” movie with a 16-year-old friend of my daughters, figuring her odd intellect would get something out of Enid’s lifeview. Her only comment on the movie? “Jeez, check out the rack on Thora Birch.”

And OK, as long as we’re talking about “Ghost World” the movie, I have to add the “Jaan Pehchan Ho” dance number from “Gumnaam,” the 1965 Indian Agatha Christie ripoff that Enid was watching at the beginning of the movie. I love this damn thing, although it raises a number of questions:

1. Where did the chick in the gold dress learn to dance? An epileptic ward? (Just kidding.  Her name was Laxmi Chhaya, she was 17 when she did this scene, and she died of cancer in 2004.  The adorable die young.)
2. Who are all the fat-ass Western girls in the ugly pink dresses?
3. Why are they all wearing masks?
4. And who the fuck are “Ted Lyons and His Cubs?”

“There’s A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis” (1981); “Innocence” (1989); “Fifteen Minutes” (1989) by Kirsty MacColl

Posted Leave a comment

Why Kirsty MacColl isn’t a household name is beyond me. In her relatively short career, she wrote and performed some wonderful pop classics. The daughter of legendary Scottish folksinger Ewan MacColl, and stepdaughter of no-relation-to-Pete Peggy Seeger (whose “I Was Going to Be an Engineer” is the best damn feminist song ever written), Kirsty was signed to Jake Rivera’s Stiff Records (original home of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe) at the age of 19 and promptly churned out “They Don’t Know,” a classic pop song that didn’t do so well for her but was Tracey Ullman’s first big hit. She only managed to put out five albums over the next twenty years, but they are all great.

Her songs here at Cloth Monkey Radio cover three facets of her remarkable songwriting talent. “Fifteen Minutes” is a wonderfully snarky look at fleeting fame and the shallow idiots who worship celebrity (“City banker looks are in/the heartless heart, the chinless chin”). It has a weird discordant rhythm that warms my heartless heart.

“Innocence” churns along like a runaway train, full of her pithy takes on the idiots that surround her (“You’re sending off those bottle tops for your free piece of mind”).

And, obsessed with American country music like all New Wavers, she wrote the wonderful “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis.” (“There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis/Just like you swore to me that you’d be true/ There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis/But he’s a liar, and I’m not sure about you.”) Great stuff.

Personal note: until I pulled up the videos above, I had never seen her in action. What an adorable little lass.

Tragically, poor Kirsty was killed at the age of 41 when, vacationing in Mexico with her teenaged sons, she was struck and killed by a speedboat while they were snorkeling in a restricted area. Her family pursued the driver, the son of the local sheriff, for years to no avail.

And might as well include her first single, which became the breakout hit recording for Tracey Ullman:

It Must Be Love by Madness, 1981

Posted Leave a comment

This is my 9/11 song. Lots of people have songs they most associate with the events of September 11, 2001, such as “Hands” by Jewel, “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood, “Superman” by Five for Fighting. Let me tell you why this cover by the British ska band makes my list.

On 9/11, I was working in my office at the Agriculture Department in the Portals Building on Maryland Avenue in DC. My private office was a little on the small side, but it was worth it, because I had a magnificent view across the river into Virginia. I could see the entire 180 degree sweep from the Wilson Bridge, to Old Town Alexandria, Reagan Airport, Crystal City, the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, the Jefferson Memorial, Roslyn and, if I pressed my head up against the glass, the Washington Monument. I got very little work done in that office, spending most of my time watching the scene. (I certainly got a real appreciation for how many bad takeoffs, lousy landings and near misses happen at Reagan.)

And I certainly got my money’s worth out of that view on 9/11, because I saw Flight 77 slam into the Pentagon. Amid that beautiful, idyllic scene, on one of the four or five days of perfect, sunny, dry weather we get in DC, the sight of that giant orange fireball and the column of angry black smoke pouring into the sky was obscene, and chilling, and horrifying. I literally could not believe what I was looking at. It was as if someone had cued up some stupid Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich movie.

Our kids were little – 11, 10, 8 and 7. We decided that it was important that they see these sights. So a week after, we took them to the Pentagon to see the black, gaping hole in the northwest side of the building, and to visit an impromptu shrine that had been set up on a corner near the site. People had left flowers and balloons and photos and little knickknacks in a widening fan on the lawn. A lot of the items were personal in nature, left by people who knew the victims. One in particular has haunted me ever since – an orange t-shirt with the logo of some military unit on it, and written across it in black marker: “Rest in peace, Bob. We’ll look after Ann and the kids.” (After 14 years, I still can’t type that without tearing up.)

And then, a few weeks later, the six of us, along with my oldest’s best friend, drove up to New York to visit Ground Zero. It was a grey, rainy day when we arrived, and the city seemed quiet and subdued. To our amazement, we found that the Empire State Building, contrary to media reports, was open, and we rode alone in an elevator to the 86th floor observation deck. Looking south through the drizzle, we were amazed to find that thick columns of smoke were still pouring out of the hole where the WTC towers had stood. It had been 19 days since the attack. How bad was it down there that it was still on fire?

We decided to wait until the next morning, October 1, to visit Ground Zero, and made our way to the Gershwin Hotel at 27th and 5th. It was our favorite little funky Manhattan hotel, long gone now, full of good original modern art (a lot of Warhol and Lichtenstein and Johns and such) and with decent-size rooms.

We turned in about 11 and by 11:30 everyone was asleep but me. I couldn’t get the weird vibe of the city out of my head. The ever-present hum of the city was almost absent, and it felt like we were staying in a haunted house. I very quietly got out of bed, got dressed and snuck out the door.

I’d never noticed it before, but there was a bar off the lobby of the Gershwin. It was very small, about the size of a master bedroom, and lit like a cave. Soft music played from a stereo behind the bar. I was the only one there, and the bartender seems surprised to see anyone. I got a bottle of St. Pauli Girl and settled into a deep comfortable chair in the corner.

Here I am, I thought. I am in Manhattan in September, 2001. When I’m an old man, I can tell people, and it’ll be like saying I was in Honolulu in December 1941, or Dallas in November 1963. I started thinking about all the people, the 3,000 crushed and incinerated just a few miles from here, still there in the wreckage, and how little we as a nation could really do in response. Uncharacteristically for me, I became deeply depressed.

And then this song came on.

I never thought I’d miss you
Half as much as I do
And I never thought I’d feel this way
The way I feel about you

As soon as I wake up
Every night, every day
I know that it’s you I need
To take the blues away

It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more, nothing less
Love is the best

How can it be that we can
Say so much without words?
Bless you and bless me
Bless the bees and the birds

I’ve got to be near you
Every night, every day
I couldn’t be happy
Any other way

It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more, nothing less
Love is the best

It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love

And the clock ticked over to midnight, and it was now October 2001, and time marches on, and I wiped the tears off my face and went back to bed.

The next day we saw Ground Zero – the layers of ground cement dust covering everything, the soldiers in full combat gear patrolling everywhere, the jagged curtain walls leaning drunkenly, the thousands and thousands of homemade missing posters, all overlaid with the incredible stench of 9/11 – half burned-down house, half rotting meat, that you tried not to think about too much.

But there are always bright spots, like the Madness song I had discovered the night before. We took the Staten Island ferry to get a view of the whole south end of the island, and as we cut through the middle of the harbor, finally leaving the smell and the cloud cover behind, the hospital ship USNS Comfort was leaving, surrounded by FDNY fireboats saluting it with huge arcs of brightly-colored red, white and blue water, sparkling in the sunshine.

And on the way back to the Gershwin, two NYPD cops . . . gave us a box of donuts.

There is always hope.

Bob Dylan, Baby Let Me Follow You Down, 1962; It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry, 1965; Visions of Johanna, 1966; Tangled Up In Blue, 1975

Posted Leave a comment

Jesus, what can I say about Bob Dylan? The guy has bestridden the art world like a colossus since he came rheuming and cackling out of Hibbing, Minnesota in 1960, and there is not a song, poem or novel written by anyone since that doesn’t owe a debt to the greatest bard of the 20th century.

My problem here at Cloth Monkey Radio was keeping perspective. If this was a list of my 200 favorite songs, 150 of them would be Dylan. So I had to narrow it down. I came up with four of them.

“Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is a great little folk song by Eric Von Schmidt, who Dylan met when he first rolled into Greenwich Village. What makes it great is that weird Eb chord in the middle of it. This song was one of the songs on my parents’ “Chicago Tape,” that we all listed to endlessly in the summer of 1962, so I’ve been listening to this pretty tune for over 50 years. (They had borrowed the brand-new album from my Uncle Bill, who had a pretty neat record collection, including a full-length album of “The Bickersons” radio shows, which even as a little kid I thought were hilarious.) It was on Dylan’s first album with Columbia, which you really need to listen to in its entirety. Bob was 20 years old and new in town, and even though most of the songs are covers, you are struck with how worldly and wise he sounds. (I can’t seem to find a YouTube of the original recording – the above is a god-awful version from 1976.)

I first owned the Highway 61 Revisited album on an 8-track tape (yeah, I’m that old). Because of the way the tracks changed at the end of the loop, sometimes the order of the songs was different on an 8-track than it was on an album. (I had a Jim Croce album where they faded out “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” in the middle of the song, *chunked* to the next loop, and faded it back in again. Whenever I hear that song, I can still tell you exactly where the break was.) But Highway 61 Revisited was such a long album that Columbia made the brilliant move of just leaving a song off the 8-track. It was “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” and for years I didn’t even know the song existed. It wasn’t until I bought the vinyl at a $1 sale at a funky little record store in Charlottesville that I found out what I’d been missing. Maybe it’s because of the late reveal, but “ITALTLITATTC” has ever since been my favorite Dylan song. It’s the choogaloog rhythm that matches the train, and the first line (“Well, I ride on the mail train, babe/Can’t buy a thrill”) and the final capper (“I wanna be your lover, baby, I don’t wanna be your boss/Don’t say I never warned you when your train gets lost.”) Ah, Bob.

The beauty of Bob Dylan songs was that they were so symbolic and impressionistic that you could insert yourself into them. This was certainly true with “Visions of Johanna,” from the Blonde on Blonde album, possibly his masterpiece. (If you want to get a really good argument going, get five Dylan fans in the same room and let them debate which was his “best” album.) It was easy to interpret the lyrics to directly address people I knew and relationships I was in. The verse starting “Little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously” evoked a friend of mine at the time perfectly, although I am at a loss to point to a particular detail that made it so. Other lines talk to other folks, other situations. (The whole album is shot through with moments like that – Queen Jane, Queen Mary with her amphetamines and her pearls, even the sad-eyed lady, although I can no longer sit through that 11-minute lugubrious whine about her.) And my all-time favorite Dylan line: “The ghost of ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face.” And my second-favorite Dylan line: “Jewels and binoculars hang from the neck of the mule.” Can’t beat that. The particular track on Cloth Monkey Radio was recorded live in London on May 26, 1966. The video above is a portion of the same performance.

It may seem weird, since Dylan has been on an endless tour since basically 1988, but for a while in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he kind of disappeared. In his autobiography (which you really should read; it’s excellent), he said that basically being considered by some as the voice of generation and some kind of god was very scary, and he just wanted to be a real boy for a while longer with his wife and kids. After the tepid response to his 1973 album Planet Waves, he decided to come out of hiding and go on a big tour. It was huge. He was one the cover of Time and Newsweek and every other magazine, and the tour was the big event of 1974. (He later put out a live album of the tour, Before the Flood, which I can take or leave – it’s a little bombastic, and he had already started that damn “upsinging” thing he’s always talking about.)

When his next album, Blood on the Tracks, was released in early 1975, nobody expected much. God, were we wrong. It is fucking brilliant. Every song “glowed like burning coal,” to use one of Bob’s own metaphors. It was wise and mature and mostly acoustic, and I remember listening to “Simple Twist of Fate” the night I bought the album, my mouth hanging open in stupefaction that someone could make such a perfect song.

You could argue that “Simple Twist of Fate” or “Shelter From the Storm” or especially “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Heart” are the best things on the album, but the opening track, “Tangled Up In Blue” is the perfect example of Dylan’s skill as a storyteller. This album was the catalyst of me going off and buying a $59 guitar at JC Penny’s, and the first song I wrote was a bald copy of “Tangled Up In Blue” called “Woman Born in May.” Get me drunk sometime and I’ll play it for you. I played it at a party once and it went over pretty well. It just occurred to me, though, that I never actually sang it to the girl I wrote it about. (And no, it wasn’t the girl I pursued all through high school and college. It was her best friend. God, I’m a heel.)

And just for kicks: Bob at his folky best, performing “Mr. Tambourine Man” at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, introduced by Pete Seeger.

Theme from “The Avengers,” 1965

Posted Leave a comment

It’s hard to overstate the impact that the James Bond movies had in the mid-’60s, especially for a kid like me. My dad took me to opening day for Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice at the Seavue Theater in Pacifica, California, and I loved all that secret agent/spy/save the world from evil madmen stuff. {Although seeing that poor girl die from being painted gold gave me nightmares for a while.) I didn’t get all the sex stuff, but I loved the gadgets and the plot twists and how the good guys always won in the end.

And the public had a real desire for this stuff. Soon you had the Matt Helm movies (good God, what dreck), the Flynn movies, and all the LeCarre stories. And on the small screen, you had “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” “Mission: Impossible, “Get Smart” and tangentially shows like “Mr. Terrific” and “Captain Nice.” I owned a James Bond squirt gun, and Sixfinger, which was a toy spy gun made to look like a finger so you could surprise the bad guys.

I especially loved “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” It was cool the way the two agents, one CIA and the other KGB, put aside their animosities to pursue evil. I have a tape somewhere of me humming the most completely unhummable theme song Jerry Goldsmith ever wrote, and I had the TMFU toy gun with the removable stock and the cool U.N.C.L.E logo on it. And I was such a huge fan that, at the age of 9, I wrote a script for it. A friend of mine named Steve Kirby had an 8mm film camera, and we were going to make a fan film, with me as Napoleon Solo and Steve as Illya Kuryakin. Unfortunately, we never got to it, and the script has long ago disappeared. But I went around for a year pretending I was Napoleon Solo, walking with an extra-long stride that I thought made me look grown-up, but actually just made me look kinda awkward and geeky.

But that all paled next to “The Avengers.” It was a British show, a rarity since we didn’t get many shows from the UK in the ’60s. It had been on for a few years, a serious spy show, until Season 4 in 1965. That’s when the show went color, and added the inestimable Emma Peel to the show.

Ah, Mrs. Peel. She was gorgeous and brainy and dressed in catsuits and slacks, unlike any other woman on TV back then. She was witty and hip and dry and just about the sexiest package in the world. OK, I was 9, but Mrs. Peel was my first crush, the first time I realized that girls could actually be a lot of fun. She has stood as the signpost for all the woman I’ve met since, the standard against which I compare the fair sex.

Her teaming with John Steed, the proper English gentleman who could kill you with his Homburg or his bumbershoot, was brilliant. Along with Mrs. Peel joining the show, the show got kinda weird. It had an odd sense of humor, always with a proper quip over a dead body, and the plots started involving aliens and paranormal crap and general oddities. But to a 9 year old, it was brilliant.

Alas, the dream team of Steed and Peel only lasted two seasons. Diana Rigg left the show in 1967, and was replaced by a dippy blonde played by Linda Thorson. The show never recovered and died soon afterwards. But definitely check out some of the Season 4 and 5 episodes. They are cool beyond belief.

Isn’t It Time? by the Babys, 1977

Posted Leave a comment

This is an overproduced, overblown piece of mid-’70s dreck, but what lifts it up and makes it cool is the pretty piano line between the verses. The Babys were two-hit wonders and they just got back together last year for a new album.

This song hits a personal note with me for another reason. Let’s face it – you don’t listen to popular music in a vacuum. It all ties back to where you heard it, and who you heard it with, and you can’t separate it all out.

In the spring of 1977, I was finishing up my last year at the University of Virginia. My closest friend at UVa was a girl I had lusted after all four years of high school, lurking around her locker (1488 – I still remember the number, God help me), hiding in the bushes by her house, and harassing her to the point that she probably should have called the cops. I naively applied to UVa, blithely unaware of how difficult it was to get in, solely because she went there. But I managed to grow up a little once I got to Charlottesville, and we became close friends.

She was not a prude by any means, but she had managed to get to the last semester of college still a virgin. (She lived in a college apartment with some weird girls, one of whom was a Baptist from Alabama, determined to save herself for marriage, who managed to sublimate her sexual urges by allowing her boyfriend to bite her ass for hours at a time. Hey, whatever floats your boat.) So one day in April, she told me she had decided that she didn’t want to graduate a virgin, and she wanted to do the deed right away.

Great, I thought. Here’s my chance. Ka-ching!

“There’s the guy I met at a choral meet a while back, and I’m flying up to Ann Arbor to spend the weekend with him.”


And the kicker? “Can you drive me to the airport?”

Remember that scene in (500) Days of Summer where Summer tries to explain to Tom on the bench at Angel’s Knoll how she found love, but just not with him? And how you wanted to reach though the screen and strangle Zooey Deschanel? Well, I managed to smile and agree.

And I drove her to the Albemarle County airport, and “Isn’t It Time” was playing on the radio. And it was playing on the radio when I picked her up two days later.

Fucking song.

In Praise of “Hullabaloo”

Posted Leave a comment

If you really want to check out all the great ’60s acts, and see them in their natural habitat, we have the great archives from “Hullabaloo.” The show ran on NBC from January 1965 to April 1966 (just over a year!), and any act worth seeing appeared on it. Along with its ABC cousin, “Shindig” (which ran from September 1964 to January 1966 -jeez, things burned out quick in the ’60s), they are an invaluable collection of music acts. A lot of the videos here at Cloth Monkey Radio are from these two shows. But if you really want to dig in and wallow in this stuff, the above is a link to 2,381(!) clips from the two shows, plus “Shivaree” (a local LA show that also ran in the golden ’65-’66 timeframe) and “Shebang,” a Casey Kasem syndicated show that ran a little longer, from ’65 to ’68. Watch out – this stuff is pretty addictive.

California Nights by Lesley Gore, 1967

Posted Leave a comment

Apropos of the time travel topic – years ago, I had a very vivid dream, one of those that really sticks with you. I was traveling back in time. I have no idea why I had to do it, or how it was accomplished, but I materialized in the cool, breezy dusk of Friday, April 14, 1967 (yeah, I remember the date), crouched down in the parking lot of a garden apartment complex in Santa Monica. A couple was standing silhouetted on one of the balconies, smoking and chatting. I could hear the ocean a few blocks away, and next to me was a red ’65 Mustang convertible with the top down. The radio was on in the car, and “California Nights” by Lesley Gore was playing. I don’t know how it turned out, but it was one hell of an opening scene for something.

Lesley did some great stuff back east, but this song, written by Marvin Hamlisch of all people, is the most California song ever recorded. And what make it special double extra great is that she premiered it on, believe it or not, an episode of “Batman.” In what was one of the strangest moments of that already strange series, everything stops so Lesley, one of Catwoman’s henchcats, can sing the song wearing little cat ears. She was freaking adorable. She even made me stop looking at Julie Newmar for a few seconds. (Watch the video quick – I had to upload it to YouTube myself, and it will probably be taken down.)

Lesley died earlier this year, way too young. Rest in peace, kitten.

And, on a side note, I’ve always been a nut for those damn AIP “beach party” movies from the ’60. But I caught a great non-AIP beach movie on Amazon Prime last week – “The Girls on the Beach” from 1965. You’ve gotta see this. Not only do you have Noreen Corcoran from “Bachelor Father” playing the lead in an awful blonde wig, and Lori Saunders from “Petticoat Junction” (one of my all-time crushes) as a belly-dancing coed – but you also have the Beach Boys, the Crickets, and the ever-adorable Lesley Gore doing multiple musical numbers. And the finale – well, the girls have to raise $10,000 real quick or the bank will foreclose on their sorority house. What would you do? Why, the same thing they did – dress up four girls in wigs and Edwardian suits and pass them off as the Beatles. I kid you not. I wonder if Noreen Corcoran (who I’m friends with on Facebook) ever wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks, “Good Lord – I played Paul McCartney in a beach movie. My life is full.”

Hang On Sloopy by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, 1965

Posted Leave a comment

I’ve read a lot of time travel stories over the years, and I’ve always wondered what time or event would be first on my list were I given the opportunity to go back in time. The premiere of Hamlet at the Globe Theatre? Watch Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address? Chat up the Beatles at the Cavern Club? But I think the absolute first place on my list would be Saturday, October 16, 1965 when the Ramsey Lewis Trio played “Hang On Sloopy” at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California. As far as I’m concerned, 1965 was the last good year before we all got so cynical and selfish and ironic. Listen to this recording with headphones. I can see the crowd at the Lighthouse. A bunch of twenty-somethings, half in the bag, still smelling of sand and salt from a day surfing or just hanging out at the beach, dressed up for the night – the guys in narrow-lapel grey suits and crew cuts, the girls in square-neck sleeveless dresses that came to two inches above the knee, a perky-girl flip in their hair and little Lesley Gore flats – smoking Newports and sipping on Tanqueray and tonics, feeling all cool and edgy and hip to be listening to three black dudes from Chicago whip the shit out of some forgettable little top-40 ditty. Just kills me to know that I was only 400 miles away (and, regrettably, only eight years old) when RLT played this date. You never hear great music in little clubs like this these days, and it’s a damn shame.

(The video above is from an episode of “Hullabaloo” – not the recording on Cloth Monkey. Damn shame you don’t see more dancers in cages these days.)

Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals, 1961

Posted Leave a comment

In 1961, a 15-year-old SoCal girl named Rosie Hamlin wrote a simple little song she called “Angel Baby.” She managed to put together a band, and a friend arranged for her to have a few hours at a recording studio. When her mother drove her there one Saturday morning, they were a little surprised to find that the “studio” was a corner of a disused airplane hanger in the Mojave Desert. It was over 100 degrees out, and much worse in the studio. The band ran through the song a few times, hit “record” and did the song in one sweaty take.

Listening to it, the first thing you realize is that, well, the Originals suck. You can see how all the record execs they schlepped the song to would listen to the first eight bars and say “No thanks, kid.” Frustrated, they finally convinced a department store to play the acetate disk, now damaged from overplaying and sounding even worse than before, over the PA system. Folks loved it, and before long it was a Top Ten hit.

Obviously, the kicker here is Rosie’s voice. I have heard this song endless times in the last 50 years, and it still gives me chills. Somehow the murky band (you can almost hear the sweat dripping off the strings), the lugubrious beat and lousy sax solo just make Rosie’s voice more ethereal, more other-worldly. And for a 15-year-old songwriter, the song has some cool odd features. I especially love that the lowest note in the song is the first note of the title phrase. That’s outside the box.

As usual, the record company screwed over Rosie. They decided that since she was a minor, her name couldn’t appear on the song as the writer, and randomly gave the writing credit to the oldest Original. She spent decades in court, and was finally vindicated.

John Lennon once said his two favorite songs were “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals. As usual, he was right.

Tear Off Your Own Head/Here Right Now by the Bangles, 2003

Posted Leave a comment

The Bangles are the proto girl group – great musicians, great writing, great singing. Their few hits were mostly covers, which is a shame because they write great songs on their own. From their very first EP (again, a cut-out buy from the Penguin Feather), I was smitten with their tight sound and Susanna Hoff’s babydoll/slut voice. They are the real thing, and despite multiple break-ups and reformations, they are still performing 35 years after that first EP.

But this song . . . it’s like when I heard Tom Wolfe was writing a book about the Mercury astronauts: my favorite writer and my favorite topic brought together like chocolate and peanut butter to make something greater than the whole. (Synergy – see, my MBA actually came in handy there.) “Tear Off Your Own Head” is an Elvis Costello song, with his usual brilliant wordplay and offbeat topic. But he really hasn’t rocked out much since his first four or five albums, and his version of this song is a little boring. But in the hands of the Bangles, it is brilliant.

“Here Right Now” is a perfect Bangles song, written by drummer Debbi Peterson. (Thereby joining Mickey Dolenz and Karen Carpenter in that spooky group of drummers who can sing while they’re drumming.) This is exactly the kind of song I love the most, like REM’s “Stand,” where the singer is basically telling the audience “Hey, get your head out of your ass and appreciate what you’ve got, idiot,” and I get chills every time I hear it. Fast, chiming, with gorgeous harmonies, and all the notes nailed down like they were fired from a Black and Decker nailgun. Turn it way up and weep.

Money (That’s What I Want) by the Flying Lizards, 1979

Posted Leave a comment

This is the kind of song that drives my wife nuts – the discordance, the weird sounds, and especially the unsinger. The guy who did the record asked a school friend of his to do the vocal, and told her, “Make it as bored and uncaring as you can.” And boy, did she.

This is a nice little bit of New Wave japery, but I personally always liked it because the girl sounded, minus the British accent, like the girl I was dating at the time. She was a tall redhead who, due to drugs or neglect or something, could not show the slightest bit of emotional response to anything. (I met one of her sisters – she was one of eight kids – and her dad, who was an famous expert on, of all things, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and they all seemed normal.) I found it kinda kicky and avant-garde for a while (Moe Szyslak – “Avant-garde – weird for weird’s sake”) but it stated to creep me out after a while. (This is the same girl who I dated because “A Wedding in Cherokee County” was her favorite song, which I guess should have been, as Sherlock Holmes would call it, a clue.)

Classic ’70s moment with my weird unemotional girlfriend: I was to meet her at her bohunk apartment above a comedy club on Connecticut Avenue near the zoo in DC. She was a hour late.

“What happened?”

“I didn’t have any money for a cab.” She worked in Old Town Alexandria, so that was definitely a problem. (The Metro didn’t go that far up Conn Avenue yet.)

“So how did you get here?”

Shrugging her shoulders in that weird inhuman way: “I blew the cab driver.”

And my ’70s response? “I wish you’d told me that before I kissed you.”