Category Archives: rock music

#180 – Sloop John B

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#180 – Sloop John B by The Beach Boys

 – Here’s something I’ve mulled over in my Classic Rocker mind the past few decades. I’ve been to four Beach Boys concerts and have seen a different lineup of the core five members each time.

Let me explain that better…

The Beach Boys were the three Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis and Carl, their cousin Mike Love and Brian’s high school football buddy Al Jardine. And yeah, I know Wilson neighbor David Marks is considered an original member and played on their early albums, but by the time the band was releasing hit singles competing with The Beatles and other British Invasion groups on the pop charts, Marks had left. Also Bruce Johnston came on in 1965 to take Brian’s place in live performances and has been with the band longer than Ronnie Wood has been with The Rolling Stones.

But the first-mentioned five are the only Beach Boys inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So we’ll use them as the core lineup.

Now after that brief diversion, let me get back to my explanation…

On the really big “shew”!

The Beach Boys are one of the few major U.S. hit-makers outside of Motown that I remember paying attention to during The British Invasion that started with The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Because of finances as a preteen making only a few bucks every week working in the family business and mowing lawns, I had to be selective in my record purchases. Any new release by The Beatles was worth the bike ride to my local record store. Otherwise a song would need to really grab me to dig into my reserves and make a purchase.

The Beach Boys scored more than a few of those. I don’t need to list the classics since I’m assuming you’ll know them all anyway. But I’m proud to say I pretty much wore down my 45 rpm vinyl singles of I Get Around and California Girls, just to name two.

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But somewhere after the release of their classic album Pet Sounds and The Summer of Love in 1967 when Sgt. Pepper and the psychedelic music craze changed everything from pop to rock, The Beach Boys seemed to disappear. I don’t remember them making the transformation – for lack of a better term. It may have had something to do with their follow-up LP Smile not being released, but I’ll go ahead and take the blame for not paying closer attention. We were getting more into albums, so when the singles Heroes And Villains came out in 1967 and Friends the next year, I didn’t discover them until the early 1970’s.

And speaking of the ’70s…

Central Park 1971

I had a personal transformation during the summer of 1971 when I watched a television special called Good Vibrations From Central Park that featured The Beach Boys. Honestly, I didn’t even know they were still together. But the real shock was how they looked. They had somehow morphed into the Woodstock Generation by ditching the surf band striped shirts and white slacks for hippie bellbottoms, long hair and beards.

They played hits including Good Vibrations, but also a completely unexpected version of Okie From Muskogee. It was a cornball country novelty song as far as I was concerned (sorry Merle Haggard), but somehow The Beach Boys sounded and looked cool doing it. They also had a crowd of New York City hippies in Central Park singing along.

Their comeback became official later that year when they were on the cover of Rolling Stone and released the LP Surf’s Up, which I consider a classic and one of my favorites. I was back to being a fan.

So what about the core lineups? Okay…

I grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio and can only guess I was home from college for Thanksgiving Break when I took my girlfriend to see the reinvented Beach Boys at Cleveland Music Hall on November 20, 1971. It was a smaller venue with great acoustics compared to the larger Public Auditorium next door and the band, with a horn section sounded great.

Of course Surf’s Up was featured, along with the hits.

In the smaller venue there was more interplay between the band and audience. I remember some guy yelled out, “Where’s Dennis?!” Carl answered back, saying Dennis had hurt his hand and not with them. And since Brian had stopped performing, that concert only included core members Carl, Mike and Al.

A memory from that show includes Al Jardine’s guitar strap breaking and his acoustic guitar dropping onto the stage. As the exasperated father yelled on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell LP:

“That’s no way to treat an expensive instrument!”

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Five months later on April 28th The Boys were back in the Cleveland area at John Carroll University. I can only guess I was on spring break from college and my girlfriend had dumped me, because I was there with two of my best friends. Dennis made it to this one and joined the core lineup with Carl, Mike and Al.

Since this was a college show it was a younger and more rambunctious crowd and there was a rush to get closer to the stage. Of course we were part of this music madness. Our pal Tim must have had some open running room in front of him and picked up enough speed that by the time he reached the stage the security guys grabbed him and kept his momentum continuing through the exit door. Locked out, he spent the end of the concert in the parking lot waiting for us.

I finished the concert close enough to be part of a small group that Mike Love allowed on stage to help sing the chorus of Barbara Ann. And yeah, it was very cool.

Brian & Carl Central Park 1977

My third concert included the entire core when Brian performed with the group in New York’s Central Park on September 1, 1977. I had only moved to the city a few months before and have an almost positive memory of going to the concert alone.

Well… okay, there were about a million other people there so it was far from a lonely experience.

As a Beach Boys fan, it was a real thrill to see the reclusive Brian Wilson on stage. And according to what I just found searching the internet to confirm this date, he sang lead on Sloop John B that hot, dry afternoon. And yeah, hot is a key word in that last sentence since we were in a late summer heat wave. I still have photos somewhere showing the band as small figures on a distant stage with clouds of dust  (from the softball fields?) hanging in the air.

Then I took a break for 22 years…

By the next time I saw The Beach Boys I was doing what a lot of boomers were doing when I was rocking out to the entire core lineup in Central Park. I was more mature and settling down with a family.

Making a return to northern Ohio I was writing concert reviews for a local newspaper. I was doing a feature on The Beach Boys at The Sandusky State Theater (near Cedar Point Amusement Park for all you roller coaster enthusiasts) and decided to make it a family outing. The date was October 22, 1999 and along with my wife Debutant Deb, sons 11-year old Chaos Kevin and 4-year old Dangerous Paul, we raided my once extensive collection of Hawaiian shirts so we could all dress surf-worthy for the show.

The Beach Boys

This version only included core member Mike Love and long-time member Bruce Johnston with their backing band. They were still billed as “The Beach Boys” since Love had legally secured the name from the surviving members, Brian and Al. Dennis had been gone since 1983 and Carl since only 1998.

The two cores and replacements reproduced the hits and we had the kids up and dancing for most of the show. And I have to admit it was great for a mature Beach Boys fan, though the other core members were very missed. It wasn’t the group picture I still have in my mind.

Sloop John B joined this Dream Songs list on August 9th. Brian Wilson rightfully deserves the title genius when it comes to his contributions and innovations to the 1960’s as a composer and producer, but he didn’t write this one.

It’s an older folk song that folkie Al Jardine suggested for the group. Brian did an updated arrangement and included it on Pet Sounds.

It’s one of my favorite tracks by The Beach Boys and even though Brian and Mike took turns singing lead on the recording, it turned into one (of many) that featured Carl during their live performances. Of course I own a copy and had just heard it, so we’ll surf this one into the recent memory category.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Here’s the 1966 promotional film for Sloop John B. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not what you might expect…

To purchase The Very Best of The Beach Boys: Sounds Of Summer with Sloop John B visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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#184 – Livin’ Thing

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#184 – Livin’ Thing by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

 – The album was called New World Record and when it came out in October 1976 ELO was pushed into the big time. Yeah I know, they’d had hits before and were far from unknown. In fact I’d already owned a copy of their greatest hits LP Ole ELO released earlier that summer, and had rocked loudly to Roll Over Beethoven and Showdown in college. But this was an entire album that had to be played like a single – from beginning to end. There was no dead space.

If my memory is correct, A New World Record is what launched the group that combined rock and classical music (they had a string section) into the huge stadium and sports arena touring circuit. It doesn’t get much more big time than that.

It was also a welcome relief for rock fans that were dealing with the early stages of disco music. I don’t mean to sound too critical because in retrospect, after a few decades to think about it, some of the memory-making disco hits of the 1970’s have been added to my digital playlist. I was never a member of the “disco sucks” regime, but I wasn’t a fan. We only danced to it because the girls did. And if you wanted to meet girls… well, you danced.

But I’d never spent my money buying disco records even when one of my favorite groups, The Bee Gees, became the poster boys for the genre. I still listened to Massachusetts and To Love Somebody and did my best to ignore the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack – unless there were girls dancing to it, of course.

Played like a single

Livin’ Thing hit this big time Dream Song list on July 28th. Of course I own a digital copy of the album, but hadn’t played it in awhile. That places it into the big time subliminal category of songs I’ve woken up to with no discernible reason why.

It was just there.

October 1976 is also when I made a move for the big time, though I really didn’t know how big it would be at the time.

After graduating college that spring I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to be when I grew up (which is something I’m still trying to figure out). I just knew what I didn’t want to be – and that was living in Ohio working in the family business.

While actually growing up (before reverting to immaturity in college), both my parents had shown me there was more to the world (accidental reference to A New World Record?). We had never spent family vacations laying on a beach somewhere warm or just relaxing. Instead they took me to big time big cities where we exhausted ourselves running between shows, restaurants, shopping and sight seeing. I had experienced the hustle and bustle and loved it.

That’s where I wanted to be.

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So in October ’76 I made the decision to move to New York City. I didn’t know anyone there and really didn’t know what I would do, but there was a seed of an idea in my mind. Since I had just earned a degree in Business, I wanted to be in show business.

Something like this – only younger

While A New World Record was the vinyl of choice that month playing constantly on the portable stereo I had moved from college and into a small room behind my parents’ garage, I started making plans. And in case you want a dose of 1970’s decor, I had cleaned out the small room and made it habitable for a recent college grad with shag carpeting, dark blue walls, L-shaped cheap couches with a large white table and lamp over the “L” and a water bed.

In my opinion – cool pad.

I called a favorite high school teacher who was now superintendent of a school district near Cleveland. He had given me a lesson in show business by casting me in the lead role of our high school musical my senior year. He was someone that hadn’t been afraid to be creative and even a bit flamboyant (a favorite word of mine) in a sea of conservative teachers that quite frankly, bored me out of my mind in high school. This teacher had listened to The Beatles and Traffic with us during study halls, while the rest of the staff told us to cut our hair and quit wearing bellbottom pants that dragged on the school floors.

His wife answered the phone and when I told her I wanted to talk with both of them about careers in show business, she invited me to their house. When I arrived they had books on acting schools, talent agencies and talent managers. I talked about taking a chance and they encouraged me, which is a lot more than I can say for any other high school teacher I’d ever had.

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And yeah – that was another intentional dig at my former high school teachers. No credit deserved and none given. Period.

To me, taking a chance means going for the extreme. We only go around once, so make the most of it. As Elvis once said, we don’t come back for an encore. I didn’t think the members of ELO were much older than me and though I rarely watched television, I knew the young cast of Welcome Back Kotter and some of the other hit shows were also in my age group. So if I wanted to go from a Business Degree to the extreme of show business, I might as well try acting.

My NYC acting coach

While going through the books I landed on The Lee Strasberg Acting Studio. I’d heard of Lee from reading articles and interviews with famous actors. And by the way, that’s how I know I’m a genius (I’ve told my kids this theory and they’re like… well, I’ll continue anyway…). I still passed all my boring college business classes such as Accounting, Economics, Finance and others in which I had zero interest with minimal effort. But I would read Rolling Stone, People Magazine and the supermarket tabloids from cover to cover. My business interests have always included the word show.

I called the acting studio in New York and made an appointment for an audition at the end of October. But I’ll also make a confession here for anyone big time enough to continue reading these ramblings. As you can tell so far, Dream Songs isn’t only about the song, but also the memories it brings back.

I’d had a college girlfriend who broke up with me because I couldn’t make a commitment. To be honest the last thing I’d ever wanted to do was get married right out of college, settle down with a career job and raise a family. I could do that (and did do that) later. But I was at a crossroads with a big time move in my sights and wanted to make sure. So I called her to see if there was still anything between us.

The last time I’d seen her she had walked in my room, said she dropped out of school and her mother was waiting outside in a car to drive her home. It was a bit of a surprise and blame was thrown my way because of the commitment problem. But I didn’t stop her. In fact I partied like a frat boy for the next few months until graduating, but was suddenly feeling unsure.

ELO – Let’s hit the road and have some fun!

Believe me, the phone call made my decision. She was nice but obviously had moved on. I hung up, walked into the living room where my parents were sitting and announced, “I’m moving to New York.”

I’ve filled in some of the career blanks in past Classic Rocker posts and will share more that come to memory with upcoming songs. But A New World Record and Livin’ Thing provided the soundtrack in October 1976 when I drove to New York and successfully auditioned for The Lee Strasberg Acting Studio. Six months later found myself living among the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan and embarking on a career no teacher could have ever prepared me for in high school or college. Goodbye small time and hello show business!

Have a comment? Please use the form below. Thanks for reading and keep rockin’!

Though I’m a fan of the entire album, here’s a video of Livin’ Thing from ELO.

To purchase A New World Record by ELO remastered in 2006 with extra tracks visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

Born To Run – Featured Book Review

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Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Classic Rocker Featured Book Review

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Takes You Along for the Ride

Bruce Springsteen is an American storyteller. His songs have meanings, characters, situations and experiences. He digs deep and can never be accused of not having an opinion. He brings that same attitude when telling his own story as he details events, thoughts and reasons that shaped him into who he was along every step of the way and into what he’s become. You can envision the streets, frustrations, determination, thought processes; relationships, success, fears and ongoing results that continue to drive both his creative process and personal life.

Like his songs and famous ramblings that set up where he and The E Street Band are about to take fans during his marathon concerts, Springsteen does the same with this book. His energy builds into a full tilt, no holds barred life or death scenario that is as entertaining as it is insightful. His expressive writing feels like he’s spitting out every adjective and emotion he can dreg up while inviting readers along for the ride.

Each album receives its own chapter beyond any mundane details of “who played what and where,” but rather goes behind the inspirations, meanings and what he HAD to say. Every career decision needed full commitment or wouldn’t be worthy of his fans or brotherhood of musical conspirators.

As opposed to after-thoughts or simple overviews of events, he takes you with him. From his earliest gigs in New Jersey to sold-out stadium shows around the world he relives the surroundings, people, highs and lows, and emotions. For example, his heartfelt and exciting telling of the band’s halftime show at The Super Bowl will get your adrenaline pumping while mentally preparing backstage and reliving the twelve minutes allotted to encompass the band’s history. Afterward you’ll appreciate unwinding with Bruce while knowing he “nailed it.” On another extreme, he can hear the difference on stage when his audience is screaming “BRUUUUCE” or “BOOOO” and is not afraid to admit when it happened.

If this book were put to music it would fit the definition of one long Bruce Springsteen song with all the storytelling characteristics mentioned above. And like a concert by Bruce and The E Street Band, you don’t have to be a diehard fan to enjoy the ride.

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#190 – Strutter

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#190 – Strutter by KISS

KISS in NYC

– On July 25, 1980 I was getting ready to hang out in New York City. I didn’t have any specific plans, but the great thing about living in Manhattan was just going out and always knowing something would happen.

I can’t remember how I’d heard the news, but word reached me that KISS would be performing a special concert that night at The Palladium on East 14th Street. Usually the band played stadiums and sports arenas so appearing at the 3,000 seat venue was a big deal. Already having seen quite a few shows at the former Academy of Music, I knew no matter where you sat it would be a lot more intimate and close-up compared to sitting in the upper levels of Madison Square Garden or The Meadowlands in New Jersey.

But here’s some inside information. I really wasn’t a fan of KISS.

The band seemed to break with the younger crowd around my senior year in college. I was locked into The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and other rockers, so when the freshmen in my frat house (yeah, I was a frat boy) hung up posters of these guys wearing Kabuki makeup and alien spacesuits (whatever), my college crowd pretty much laughed them off. And when we watched the fire-breathing, blood-spitting performance clips on television it seemed more like a circus than a rock ‘n’ roll show.

Rock ‘n’ roll all night!

The only song I knew was Rock And Roll All Night, mainly because the younger crowd had it on heavy turntable rotation and cranked up to full volume. We’d try to drown it out by blasting the latest and classic hits by our classic favorites.

Yeah… real music wars as a youth movement tried to knock the college boomers off our rock ‘n’ roll pedestals.

Fast forward to 1980 in New York, we had a great friend who had insider contacts at The Palladium. Louie was a lot older than the rest of us, but since no one really paid attention to that he was still part of our crowd. His sense of humor, energy and boomer outlook made him one of us and everyone that met the guy loved him. Especially the ladies.

Oh yeah, and one other thing he had going for him was that he seemed to be connected with just about everyone in the entertainment business.

One of his connections was in charge of the backstage area at The Palladium. Whenever a band was appearing I’d want to see, I’d call Louie, he’d make a call – and arrangements would be made for me to be let in through the stage door entrance. A backstage guy or a security guy would sneak me (and guests) past a curtain and we would grab whatever empty seats we could find.

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So when I heard KISS was playing The Palladium that night, I thought it could be interesting and maybe even fun to watch them for a few songs. After all they were one of the biggest acts on the planet at that time. Then I would sneak back out through the curtains, through the stage door and continue on with my nightlife in Manhattan.

So I called Louie. He made a call and the deal was done.

The late Eric Carr

The reason for this KISS show was a payback for The Palladium allowing the band to use it as a rehearsal space to break in their new drummer, Eric Carr. Original drummer Peter Criss had left and this would be the debut of the new lineup.

On my walk to The Palladium I ran into my pal Bobby and his future wife Barbara. This was one of those kismet (had to be) moments especially for them, because Bobby had auditioned for the drummer spot. By this time we had been playing in the same rock band for a couple years and I knew he was a huge KISS fan. When word got out in music circles about the auditions the rest of us encouraged him to go for it. I’m not sure if he actually got to audition by playing with the band, but he’d sent in a tape and had already designed makeup for his character as “Metalman.”

But he never got a chance to wear it since Eric Carr got the gig (as “The Fox”).

And in case you’re wondering about the other characters:

  • Paul Stanley – Starchild
  • Gene Simmons – The Demon
  • Ace Frehley – The Spaceman
  • Peter Criss – The Catman

Since Bobby was the never-to-be Metalman, I still thought it would be cool for both of them to check out the show. So using Louie’s connection to make my connection seem cooler, I took Bobby and Barbara through the stage door with me.

The place was jam-packed with no empty seats to be found. A Louie-connected security guy led us up to the mezzanine and said we could sit on the aisle steps and watch. Guess no one really worried about fire codes and overcrowding in 1980…

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The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

20% OFF Retail Price with FREE Shipping (Continental U.S. Only)

Signed by the author and only through the website – BeatlesSheaStadium.com

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From what he told us the audience included a lot of music biz heavyweights. The only one I remember recognizing was Dick Clark, but I didn’t pay much attention to that type of star-watching. As mentioned, I wasn’t much of a KISS fan and was really there to watch the circus for about three songs, and then head out into the New York night.

But that all changed the moment KISS hit the stage.

Holy ****!!!! I had seen everyone from The Beatles and The Stones to Led Zeppelin and The Who. And when it came to theatrical rock, I thought no one could ever top the show I had seen at the Akron Rubber Bowl a few years earlier by the original Alice Cooper band.

But I had NEVER seen anything like this!

It was LOUD and in your face. The band sounded great, even though I really didn’t know any of their songs except Rock And Roll All Night and their latest, disco-influenced, I Was Made For Loving You (which I already liked!). But the show is what kept me locked in with no more thoughts of leaving after only three songs.

KISS comes alive!

In their Kabuki makeup and costumes they stomped, danced and posed on high platform shoes. Simmons spit (fake) blood and when he did the fire-eating routine, I could swear my eyebrows were tinged from sitting so close. The guitars shot Roman candle blasts over the crowd and at various times the members of KISS flew through the air on wires. Bobby, Barbara and I stayed until the final notes and crowd cheers were over and all that was left was high pitch ringing in our ears.

And yeah – from that point on I’ve been a KISS fan. After this spectacle, there was no way I couldn’t be.

The next day, before I even had a chance to run out and buy KISS Alive or any other LP at our neighborhood record store (it was era when we still had them), Bobby made me a cassette of KISS songs he felt I had to have. The first track was Strutter, which I immediately recognized from The Palladium show.

I also recognized it the morning of July 3rd as a power pop way to kick off the morning. I own a copy on my digital playlist, but since I hadn’t heard it in awhile it kisses its way onto the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

Admittedly I never became a full force fan, which would place me into the category of KISS Army membership. In fact, I can’t name any song they came out with after removing their makeup in 1983 – even though I watched their unmasking in a club with my New York crowd on MTV. I also haven’t seen the band live since that show at The Palladium, but the sheer impact, showmanship and sitting close enough to actually feel the energy (and fire!) they generated on stage makes it an exciting memory.

Here’s a video of the original KISS lineup performing Strutter.

To purchase KISS Alive with Strutter visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!