Category Archives: Musicians

#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

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#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey by Paul and Linda McCartney

Paul & Linda

– There’s a short section of road along the south shore of Lake Erie that I drive almost every day. It’s about seven or eight miles from where I’m currently holed-up and for some reason, more often than not, I’m reminded of Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

This is a bit of a mind game for me because that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Yeah, certain places might remind me of certain songs, but this is a constant. I make a slight curve, glance up a short hill of mowed grass and regardless of whatever one of the thousands of songs on my playlist is coming through the car speakers, the title of this hit from the 1971 album Ram will flash through my brain.

I know… strange.

Smile Away 4 the camera!

In trying to put my memories together I know the album was released that May, less than a month before I graduated high school. I’ve never owned a vinyl copy, but had an 8-track that I played so often the cover photo of Paul holding the horns of a ram showed serious signs of wear and tear by the time I graduated college four years later. By that time, 8-tracks were relegated to either ancient history or collector’s items. It’s now on my digital playlist – which is a current technology that fools me into thinking I’m not that ancient – but I hadn’t heard it in awhile.

So when I woke up with the song playing through my mind on August 25 it immediately went into the subliminal category of Dream Songs. And I guess that makes it a double-whammy when it comes to mind games (and yeah, I was thinking of the John Lennon album as I wrote that) because I also know I’ll drive past that mowed hill of grass within the next day or two and whammy! Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey will be subliminally traveling with me again.

Since the song wasn’t released as a single until later that summer I can only guess it was already receiving radio airplay in advance, or I had propped my state-of-the-art portable 8-track player on the passenger seat of my mother’s car (since I didn’t have my own), using the cigarette lighter as a power source. If Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey was playing all those decades ago while – by chance – I was cruising along this piece of road, it must have made quite the mental impression.

I have no other explanation why that happens. But there is another memory…

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There was bit of a red flag feeling that went up with this song. The Beatles had been the most consistent hit-making band since I was a preteen in 1964. The Rolling Stones had been around almost as long, but were only just moving into their Golden Era off the LP Let It Bleed and released the month before Ram, Sticky Fingers. Led Zeppelin had also become a favorite, but both groups were still in the rear view mirror when it came to The Beatles.

Two thirds of writers

With three major songwriters competing for spots on their albums, you knew there wouldn’t be a dud in the bunch. John Lennon and Paul McCartney regularly supplied number one hits and George Harrison had come into his own as a writer. The winter before he seemed to pass the other two as a solo artist with the classic LP All Things Must Pass.

John had become the Working Class Hero and Paul once again demonstrated his talent with his first self-titled album and the single Maybe I’m Amazed.

And though boomers continued to hold out hope for a Fab Four reunion after Abbey Road and Let It Be, Paul’s second LP Ram (with his new writing and performing partner, wife Linda) really made it clear there was a major separation between him and his former mates as songwriters.

But we should have seen it coming…

When you listen to Abbey Road, the actual final Beatles record (Let It Be was recorded earlier and released later) it was obvious then. Harrison’s Something and Here Comes The Sun, and Lennon’s Come Together are mainstays in Beatles Best Of collections, near the top in Beatles song rankings and highlights in the decades later LOVE show in Las Vegas and the CD.

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McCartney’s main contributions to the album (other than song snippets with Lennon’s on the side two Medley) were Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Oh, Darling! Don’t get me wrong – I love both. But they’re more light-weight pop songs and when compared to the before-mentioned Lennon and Harrison classics they never seemed to rank as high on the Beatles Hit Parade.

There’s no doubt McCartney deserves every award and accolade he’s received. But when the hard rockers were taking over in the early 1970’s he seemed to be moving a few steps back into the pop category. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey has always been a favorite, but releasing it as a single during Spring 1971 didn’t help raise his cool factor.

Rock and rollers

To put it into perspective, as mentioned I was graduating high school. At our graduation parties where dancing and 3.2% beer were legal and common for 18-year olds in Ohio at that time – do you think we were rocking out to Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey or Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter and Whole Lotta Love?

No need to answer. If you’re a first generation Classic Rocker, I’ll rest my case.

Ram was a huge hit in 1971, along with just about everything involving any of the Beatles during this era. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey may have been too pop for much of the Woodstock Generation and too close on the heels of the bubble gum music fad that drove many of us away from AM radio, but McCartney was still writing great tunes and rocking out. One of them, and undoubtedly my favorite from the album, is Too Many People, which came in at #261 on this Dream Song list. It’s rare when an artist has two songs on this list – let alone two songs from the same album (other than a Greatest Hits Collection). It just another example of McCartney’s ability to write catchy tunes.

Oh, there’s one other lasting memory…

My dad had a favorite uncle. He was much older and lived in Michigan, but they were always close. And of course his name was Uncle Albert. The first time my dad heard this song coming from my transistor radio at our family bakery, he stopped working (for a brief moment), looked at me, smiled and said, “Uncle Albert?” Yeah, I’ll always have that memory.

Have a comment? Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Since I don’t know if the McCartney’s ever performed the song live or made an official video, here’s something I’ve found online. The song is heard over family home movies, which will give you an idea of what Paul and Linda were doing following the breakup of The Beatles and before the mega-success of their group Wings.

 

 

To purchase Ram with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (along with Too Many People and other great 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

 

 

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#174 – Brass In Pocket

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#174 – Brass In Pocket by The Pretenders

 – I find celebrity sightings to be more credible in major cities than I do in… well, say my backyard. I could tell you I partied with The Rolling Stones last night, but it only means I sipped a light beer while listening to Honky Tonk Women. I doubt anyone would believe Mick or Keith – or even Mick Taylor – would have wandered by and accepted my invitation for a cocktail.

But even in world entertainment capitals like New York, Los Angeles or London, you have to be wary of imposters or wannabe’s. The only time one of those sightings ever worked in my benefit was a morning in Hollywood when my boss arrived at the office before me. Normally I had it timed to get there just before he did and make it look like I had been hard at work. When I walked in late and he was looking for me, I excitedly told him about “maybe” having seen Elvis driving a car, so I followed him just to be sure. After all it had only been about fifteen years since he “faked his own death” and “disappeared.”

I know he didn’t buy my story – though I sold it with all the comedic-actor talent I possessed. But at least he never asked me again for an excuse when I was late.

The real deal Chrissie Hynde

The Pretenders lineup that released Brass In Pocket as a single in late 1979 and on their first album in early 1980 was the real deal. The band was rock ‘n’ roll enough to stand out from the late 70’s punks and the early 80’s New Waver’s. Lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Chrissie Hynde was the focal point of the group and the rock star everyone could recognize from their videos, played in high rotation on the newly debuted MTV.

So for rock music fans, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to recognize Hynde hanging out in a major entertainment capital like New York City. Or was it…?

During the spring of 1981, I was managing and bartending at a Cheers type of establishment in Gramercy Park. Celebrity sightings weren’t an every day thing, but we’d had our share including Robin Williams, Van Morrison, Peter O’Toole and the members of Journey. The band had such a good time they came back the next night and gifted “the gang” with concert t-shirts.

Yeah, they were the real deal.

Some of our younger “rocker” regulars started talking about Chrissie Hynde hanging out in our neighborhood. Okay, it’s possible…

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Then one night they brought her to the bar. The locals tried to act semi-cool, but she had no problem talking about The Pretenders, their songs, recording and touring. She looked, talked, dressed and acted like how you’d expect Chrissie Hynde to act and everyone seemed to buy her act hook, line and sinker.

It was cool to have one of the biggest rock stars of 1981 hanging out with us. Or was it…?

Is she or isn’t she?

The more we saw her, which became almost nightly for the next couple weeks, something appeared off to me. And I wasn’t alone. I was playing in a rock band at the time and our drummer Bobby, who was a few years older and more cynical than the younger rock fans groveling for our new local rock star’s attention, felt the same way.

We didn’t think she was the real deal.

In fact, we knew chances were better Elvis would drive down Third Avenue and offer us a ride in his pink Cadillac than for this wannabe to be the real Chrissie Hynde.

So we actually came up with a plan…

We’d heard on our favorite NYC FM radio station that The Pretenders were getting ready for a European tour. The first show would be on Saturday, June 17th in Essen, Germany. Because of the time difference, it would be recorded live and broadcast the same evening in NYC on our favorite FM station.

Live from… where?

So that Saturday around… oh, I’ll guess it was 8 pm EST, I was working behind the bar and turned on the radio. Bobby came in, sat down and we both listened to The Pretenders (Rockpalast broadcast) playing in Germany.

That same night…

It really wasn’t that much of a surprise for us – but it had to be for our local pretend Pretender when she walked in the bar. We told her how good the band sounded live, but also wondered how she could perform in Germany that night and still hang out with us in New York? If I remember correctly, cynical Bobby did most of the talking while I watched her slowly meltdown and mumble something about actually being a cousin of Hynde’s and some other excuses I don’t remember – or really want to.

That was the last any of us ever saw of her. I can only guess The Pretend Pretenders Tour moved on to her next destination and a new fan base.

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Though I never saw the real Pretenders perform Brass In Pocket, the song was touring through my waking mind on August 19th. It may have had something to do with just having read an article about Hynde, but since I hadn’t heard the song in awhile it goes down in the subliminal category.

Which is also where this pretend Pretender story has been hiding since 1981. Thanks to… whomever… for the reminder. It goes down as just another entertaining story from one of the entertainment capitals of the world.

Have a comment? Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of the real deal original lineup of The Pretenders performing Brass In Pocket in 1981.

 

 

To purchase The Best of The Pretenders with Brass In Pocket 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

#176 – I’d Do Anything

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#176 – I’d Do Anything from the Broadway musical Oliver!

February 9, 1964

– Here’s a little remembered fact about baby boomers. We weren’t all raised on rock ‘n’ roll. Many parents of young teenagers that went wild over Elvis in the 1950’s were also raising infants who would be converted into Beatlemaniacs only eight years later. This older generation, that included the “bobby-sockers” who swooned over Frank Sinatra in the 1940’s, was just as shocked over the rebelliousness of rock ‘n’ roll as many boomer parents (or grandparents) were about rap music decades later.

So a lot of them didn’t listen. And as infant boomers in the household, we didn’t hear a lot of rock ‘n’ roll until we were old enough to discover it for ourselves.

Popular music was family-friendly. Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby and other “mainstream” singers were having hits. And to make my point even clearer, Patti Page had a number one record in 1953 with How Much Is That Doggie In The Window and I’ll bet most boomers born in the 1950’s can still sing it.

But before we took over our own vinyl turntables with disks by Elvis and The Beatles (and many others), we heard our parents’ record collections. In my case it included the above-mentioned singers, jazz, big band, movie soundtracks and Broadway show tunes.

February 9, 1964 Headliners

This was also the music that was popular on television. In the 1950’s and 60’s variety shows earned high ratings for family viewing. On Sunday nights the most influential primetime host, Ed Sullivan, featured the widest variety of them all.

Most of these shows treated rock ‘n’ roll singers as little more than novelty acts for the youngsters. Though Sullivan may have used that billing to schedule everyone from Elvis to The Beatles, appearances on his show could make their careers more than just a passing fad.

If boomers wanted to see the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll, we watched The Ed Sullivan Show. And while we watched, he also made sure to present acts everyone else in the family could enjoy.

As mentioned in past Classic Rockers, I was well versed in Broadway musicals thanks to my mother – a member of the Frank Sinatra bobby-sock generation. But my first exposure to I’d Do Anything from the musical Oliver! occurred the same night Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles to U.S. audiences on February 9, 1964.

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I’d Do Anything was introduced to this Dream Song list on August 17th. And as proof my digital playlist is as varied as one of Sullivan’s programs, I own a copy from the 1968 movie soundtrack and had just heard it. So place this one into the recent memory category.

So why would a Classic Rocker have this Broadway show tune mixed in with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and others that proved not to be just passing fads?

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first here’s a 1964 fact about this song and a then-future teen idol.

When we watched for our favorite group on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was necessary to watch the entire program. We never had a clue exactly when they would appear. On February 9th Sullivan told us The Beatles “Would appear now and again later in the second half of our show,” which kept us tuned in for the entire hour. On a weekly basis that meant we’d also see comedians, animal acts, plate spinners, acrobats and opera singers while waiting for The Dave Clark Five or The Animals.

Davy Jones as The Artful Dodger

Between the Beatles two sets on their debut night, Sullivan introduced the Broadway cast of Oliver! to perform two songs. The first was I’d Give Anything For You featuring Davy Jones as The Artful Dodger and English singer Georgia Brown as Nancy (who sang As Long As He Needs Me).

Little did we know that two and a half years later Davy Jones would become one of The Monkees. And during an interview years after that, he talked about watching The Beatles from the side of the stage and thinking how much fun that would be as a career. Little did he know

But the real credit for this Oliver! classic making our Dream Songs list goes to my son Paul.

We learned at (his) very young age that Paul loved Broadway musicals. His first exposure came when he was about four years old and we took him to see the local high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. He sat on my lap the entire time to see over the adults seated in front of us and it was obvious to me he was mesmerized. Days later he was singing the songs – after only hearing them that one time. Musically gifted? As a proud and supportive dad I definitely say yes.

Two years later the high school staged Oliver! and the same thing happened. So before we made a long drive to Florida for a spring vacation, I bought the Broadway cast CD and we listened constantly. On the fun(ny) side (for father and son anyway) his mother almost lost her mind hearing it over and over and over as we sang along. And after each time we’d hear I’d Do Anything, he’d call out from the back seat (since he was still too small to ride in the front):

Play it again!” Being the proud and supportive dad, I always did.

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So my memory is not of Davy Jones on The Ed Sullivan Show, but instead our son Paul as a five or six year old musical prodigy serenading us on a 20+ hour drive to Florida. And adding to the memory bank about the influence this music had on him, he has gone on to graduate from a well-respected Conservatory of Music and onto a career in musical theater. This past year he made the full circle by starring in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. But since he’s in his early twenties and over six feet tall with leading man looks, it’s highly doubtful we’ll ever see him as the youngster Artful Dodger in any revival of Oliver!

The Classic Rocker with Davy Jones

And finally as a footnote for this Classic Rocker’s personal memories about waiting for The Beatles and watching Davy Jones as The Artful Dodger singing I’d Do Anything on The Ed Sullivan Show, I guess you could call this another type of circle.

The first concert we took Paul to – as an infant – was by The Monkees.

I had interviewed Davy Jones for a newspaper column I was writing at the time and being a nice guy, he invited us back stage after the show. We had time to talk and take photos, which was also a thrill for my wife Debutant Deb, who still views Davy as her teen idol from the ’60s. And yeah, we have a photo of him with infant Paul who I know will complete another circle some day soon when he makes his Broadway musical debut.

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Here’s a video of Davy Jones and the cast of Oliver! performing I’d Do Anything on The Ed Sullivan Show

 

To purchase the original Broadway cast recording of Oliver! with I’d Do Anything (sorry, but Davy Jones wasn’t part of the original cast and not on this one!) 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

 

#178 – Sir Duke

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#178 – Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder

 – Motown was everywhere in the 1960’s. If your transistor radio could pick up a Top 40 station, regardless of where you were located, you heard the hits coming out of Detroit scoring big-time on the music charts. Even in the midst of The British Invasion deejays would spin new releases by The Supremes, Temptations and Four Tops as often as they did The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

My claim to being a pop music know-it-all and future Classic Rocker didn’t fully gel until Ed Sullivan introduced us to The Beatles on February 9, 1964. But the roots had already been digging in. When I was about nine or ten years old I had a friend who lived across the street. And he had something I didn’t:

A teenage brother.

Per tradition when it comes to teenagers dealing with younger siblings and their immature friends, we as little kids were not allowed to go in his room or touch any of his stuff.

And of course as little kids, that’s exactly what we would do when he wasn’t home.

The 12 year old genius

A magnet for us would be his record player and collection of 45 rpm disks, usually scattered around his bedroom floor. The ones I remember most were Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean (1961) and Fingertips Part 2 by Little Stevie Wonder, released on Motown’s Tamla label in 1963. He was billed as “The 12 Year Old Genius,” which told us he wasn’t a teenager either.

On the few occasions we were caught red-handed in his room and subject to firsthand demonstrations of Big Time Wrestling moves until we could break away and run out of the house screaming for parental intervention, I never thought of using this age gap as a self-defense weapon. Why the heck were little kids banned from this treasure trove of infectious music when the teenager himself was a fan of The 12 Year Old Genius?

I answered that for myself a few years later when as a teenager I ordered my little sister to stay out of my room and never touch my stuff. If these age gap rules weren’t followed, her punishment would be the same Big Time Wrestling moves I had learned the hard way while listening to Big Bad John and Fingertips Part 2.

And in case you’re wondering about the title, the live recording was too long to fit on one side of a 45 rpm vinyl. So like the classic Isley Brothers’ rocker Shout, Fingertips was edited into two sections. Part 1 was actually the A-side of the single. But thanks to Stevie’s hyper-excited close to the live performance and his “Goodbye, goodbye” ending chorus that we hoped would go on forever, deejays played the B-side and that’s the title that hit number one on the music charts.

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As time will do with all of us, we grew older over the years. But unlike with my circle of teenage friends during the mid to late 1960’s, Stevie Wonder was making hit records. He also dropped “Little” from his billing and by the end of the decade he was a mature artist blazing a trail through funk and soul music. I guess that also earned him enough rock ‘n’ roll cred that he flew directly into my realm of fandom via a rock concert. It was during my final year as a teenager when he opened for The Rolling Stones during the legendary Exile On Main Street Tour in July 1972.

This was four years before the release of his mega hit double LP Songs in the Key of Life with the song Sir Duke, but his creativity had already been taking him in that direction. His latest album prior to The Stones’ tour was Music of My Mind and his next single would be Superstition.

We’ll get more into that concert experience in a moment, but first…

Songs in the Key of Life

Sir Duke joined this Dream Song list on August 12. I’ll call it Big Band Funk since it was a tribute to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo) and others mentioned by name in the song and stands as one of the many highlights from Songs in the Key of Life. But since my vinyl copy is stored in the Classic Rocker Archives and I can’t recall hearing it since my son Paul’s junior high jazz band performed the song as an instrumental during a school program, it funks its way into the subliminal category.

Of course I had been a Stevie fan since Fingertips Part 2, but once he entered the Superstitious era I appreciated his genius even more. It had become a Christmas tradition that I would be gifted with an album. It started with Beatles ’65 in 1964 and Rubber Soul the next year (which I hijacked and started playing a couple weeks before). I remember The Stones’ Let It Bleed made the list, along with George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and The Concert For Bangladesh.

In 1976 it was Songs in the Key of Life. The entire collection of songs, along with Sir Duke made both LP’s mandatory listening throughout the winter.

But now let’s return to the summer of 1972…

A new era

At the time Stevie Wonder seemed to be a strange choice to open shows for The Rolling Stones. With their roots in the blues, it was never a surprise when artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters or The Ike and Tina Turner Review kicked off the concert experience. But Stevie Wonder didn’t seem that far removed from his 1960’s Motown hits and the once descriptive adjective “Little” before his name.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier Classic Rocker, my pals and I saw the Exile On Main Street Tour at the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl on July 11th. It was outdoor, festival seating – meaning you arrived early to find a good seat and stake claim to it. By the time we got to the outdoor stadium we were relegated to space halfway up in the stands and about a fifty-yard rush to the left side of the stage. Fortunately it was the first concert I had ever been to that had huge screens on both sides of the stage and we had close-up views of everything happening under the spotlights.

Also from our vantage point, we had no problem seeing a lot of what was happening below us on the football field that was jammed packed with fans.

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Keep in mind this was 1972 and things were different. The concert scene had been going through some recent changes…

The screaming teens that had turned Beatles and DC5 appearances into short pop music events had matured into The Woodstock Generation. If you didn’t at least try to look like a hippie with longer hair, bellbottoms and concert t-shirt, you probably looked out of place. Most Stones fans were also old enough to purchase alcohol, (3.2% beer if you were at least 18 in Ohio) and the smell of marijuana wafting through the air was as much a part of the scene as the music.

But that didn’t mean this entire scene was all that acceptable to the older generation.

One of my most vivid memories of this concert happened during Stevie Wonder’s opening set. We had all read about the violence and mayhem that followed The Stones on this tour. There were stories of violence and injury reports at almost every stop and there was no reason why Akron would be different.

Stevie and Mick Exiled on Main Street

Sometime during Stevie’s opening set a large contingent of policemen gathered at the end of the football field facing the stage. We all noticed – and all started watching. Then forming in a long line, they pushed and shoved their way through the crowd like they were zeroing in on a certain group. Again, we were all watching – only this time everyone started booing the cops.

About midfield they stopped and – apparently – tried to drag out a few hippies. We could only speculate it was a drug bust and it took everyone’s attention away from what was happening on stage. We could see it turning into a brawl and fans near the action were throwing bottles and whatever at the cops. I distinctly remember seeing blood on the top of one officer’s bald head.

Eventually the cops retreated. And as far as I remember, there were no arrests – at least on the field during the concert. The fans cheered as the cops withdrew and all eyes and ears went back to Stevie Wonder. And they stayed that way after the sun went down, the stage lights went up and the images of Mick and Keith kicking into Brown Sugar were projected onto the large screens at both sides of the stage.

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Here’s a video of Stevie Wonder performing Sir Duke.

 

To purchase Songs in the Key of Life with Sir Duke 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

#179 – Achy Breaky Heart

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#179 – Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus

 – Depending on which side of the fence you’re using to pick sides, this song never fails to stir up contrasting opinions. In some cases, it’s downright confusing. For example, in one poll VH-1 named it one of the 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s (coming in at number 87). However, with a different opinion, the same VH-1 pollsters ranked it at the number two position of Worst Songs of All Time.

Yeah, I’m confused too.

Achy Breaky Heart stirred up a position on this Dream Song List on August 10th. The reason for my confusion is because of how I went from one side of the fence to the other in my personal opinion. I don’t own a copy and haven’t heard it in awhile, which places it in the subliminal category. But I wouldn’t mind listening to it again. Like almost all the songs on this list, it has a catchy tune that makes it hard to forget.

And I’ll have to admit it brings back some down home memories.

The extreme mullet!

When it made Billy Ray Cyrus a household name in 1992, topping music charts around the world and becoming one of the top-selling country singles of all time, Classic Rockers like myself were more inclined to cringe, rather than dust off our boots from the Urban Cowboy fad a decade earlier and kick up our heels in line dancing extravaganzas. This wasn’t John Travolta giving us Hollywood’s version of country music. This was a new trend that brought a pop feeling to the real deal that was coming out of Nashville at that time.

But it wasn’t just the music that was different. It was also the artist. The days of Rhinestone Cowboys were over and rockers were moving in. Aiming to take country to new heights of popularity were Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt and Billy Ray Cyrus.

The style was changing.

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And speaking of style, Billy Ray’s mullet made such a confusing and lasting visual impression in 1992 that ten years later comedian David Spade reprised the look for laughs with his character Joe Dirt in the movie of the same name. And believe me, it wasn’t meant to be a flattering impression.

Extreme Joe Dirt

But now that the musical changes, along with the critical and comedic opinions have been aired out, I’ll admit to my residency on both sides of the Achy Breaky fence. When the song was riding high in early 1992 it immediately became a punch line for late night television hosts and more than a few comedians. And since I was working in Hollywood scheduling stand-up comedians for live shows and television, I was laughing along with them. It seemed like the TV show Hee-Haw was being reinvented for our entertainment.

Yeah, I know. It was an opinion not everyone on the opposite side of the fence would have agreed with. And it didn’t matter whether you were boot-scootin’ in Nashville or Hollywood – you couldn’t escape hearing it.

Then in 1993 I also caught a bit of critical flack from some of my comedy cronies by jumping the fence and moving back to my hometown in Ohio. Talk about Hee-Haw being reinvented… Okay, that was meant to be a joke and nothing personal toward my current cronies. Considering my choice of career you’ll have to cut me some flack on the humor side once in awhile.

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Embarking on a second career as a writer, I scored a weekly entertainment column for a local newspaper. I pitched the editor my value as a comedy journalist covering live shows in the area. I wasn’t surprised he went for it and hired me on the spot. The surprise came when he made the deal contingent on me also writing a weekly column on country music.

Guess it was time to dust off the boots.

The down home memories started line-dancing into my life about two months later when I met my future wife Cowgirl Deb and future son Chaos Kevin. Discovering the value of combining my work requirements with a social life, I took Deb to a comedy show on our first date. By our third date I was wearing boots and line dancing to a cowboy deejay.

Both work outings received great reviews in my weekly comedy and country music columns. The social life grabbed my achy breaky heart.

The Classic Rocker & Billy Ray Cyrus

But just like I refer to myself as a Classic Rocker kind of guy, the Cowgirl tag fits the girl. She has the ability to sing along with almost every song that has a twang, while I’m still trying to figure out the lyrics Mick Jagger was singing in the ’60s and ’70s.

Though her county stylings never really rubbed off on the rest of the (future) family, Achy Breaky Heart did find its way onto (then) five-year-old Chaos Kevin’s playlist. It was one of the first songs I remember him singing and dancing (jumping) to around the living room. I guess it was his enthusiasm that rubbed off on me because after only a few listens I was singing it too.

And as for my dancing ability, jumping is a suitable description.

So with all this Achy Breaky fun going on in the household, the next step was to get married – which we did six months later. The five and a half year old Chaotic member of my new family was my best man. We laid the groundwork for our shared ability to surprise his mom when she walked down the church aisle and noticed I had mistakenly pinned my groom’s flower (officially called boutonniere) to his jacket while I sported his pint-sized version on mine.

We also had our own running commentary as she approached the alter:

  • Me: “Who’s the babe?
  • Chaos Kevin: “That’s Debbie.”
  • Me: “Oh yeah…”

Instead of continuing this Achy Breaky family affair into the years where an older Chaos Kevin discovered rap music and I learned the value of closing the door to any room where he was listening to rap music (and soon opening again to tell him he was too young to repeat those lyrics, which for some reason he understood better than I understood Mick in the ’60s and ’70s), we’ll return to my good fortune of combining work with a social life. Rather than acting as a rap music critic at home, it was a lot more fun to have reviewer seats and backstage passes for country music concerts and comedy shows.

Hannah Montana’s dad & The Classic Rocker

I’ve lost track of how many years I did double duty as a comedy and country music columnist, but I’ll say it was at least fifteen. And during that time we saw some heavy duty performers. I could name drop from a worthy list and probably will in the future, but one happened to be Billy Ray Cyrus.

Though I’m sure he toured through our area more than a few times during those years, we saw him twice. The first time I didn’t know what to expect. Achy Breaky Heart and…

Well, I honestly didn’t know anything else.

And you know what? Billy Ray and his backup band gave us a new wave of country that had a backbeat and rocked. Did I give his shows good reviews? Better than that – they were great.

And afterwards, thanks to backstage journalist passes, I was able to tell him in person.

Finally, I’ll return to the Achy Breaky family affair. As mentioned above, this song joined the list on August 10th. By coincidence that date also happens to be Chaos Kevin’s birthday. Was that a subliminal message? It depends on what side of the fence you’re on when it comes to premonitions.

Hannah Montana & dad

And to fast forward through the years, our son Dangerous Paul was added to the family mix. Of course he’s a younger generation with a younger outlook and I have no memory if he was ever into Achy Breaky Heart. In fact, I doubt he knows any of the lyrics other than the title.

But my well-earned journalistic credentials helped me become a big deal during a commercial break on The Disney Channel when he and his young friends saw my photo with Billy Ray Cyrus…

  • Dangerous Paul & friends: “That’s Hannah Montana’s dad!”
  • Me: “Yep.”

At least my time as a country music columnist earned me a limited amount of cool factor with the younger generation. Now if I could just figure out what Mick has been singing all these years I might be able to do the same with my peers in The Classic Rocker generation…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Here’s the 1993 video of Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus that started the craze.

To purchase The Definitive Collection by Billy Ray Cyrus with Achy Breaky Heart 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

#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

#181 – Windy by The Association

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#181 – Windy by The Association

 – This one turned into a real memory workout for me. I’m not talking about the song. I know Windy came out in late spring 1967 just before the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper and The Summer of Love. I remember that. What I’m talking about is my brief association with The Association.

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first the song…

Windy joined the Dream Song list on August 7th. The group had about a half dozen big hits and this was one of them. But it’s one I don’t own and hadn’t heard in awhile. In fact, the only Association song in my digital collection is Along Comes Mary. And to make another admission – I still don’t understand the lyrics to that one. But in this case of The Classic Rocker Countdown, that doesn’t count for anything. In my waking mind that morning the song was Windy and it joins the subliminal memory playlist.

Now onto the association part of this Association tale…

Also The Association

I grew up in a small Ohio town on the shores of Lake Erie. Next to us was a small city called Lorain. Like many small towns and cities in the 1960’s before enclosed shopping malls became the rage, Lorain had a pretty cool downtown area with lots of stores, restaurants and diners, and three movie theaters. In 1965 when I was twelve years old I took a bus with my older (by a year and a few months) cousin Johnny and my best pal Kevin to Lorain to see The Beatles movie Help! in color on a giant screen in the giant Palace Theater.

If you were going to see the movie for the first time, THAT was the way to see it.

Afterwards we hit a local diner and then on to the record store to buy the Help! soundtrack LP. We were practiced at catching the last Greyhound Bus traveling along Lake Road and could be home – playing our new albums – before 11 pm on a summer night.

Great memories.

By the summer of 1967 John (we dropped the “ny” by now) was old enough to have a much-coveted driver’s license. This didn’t make our bus travel completely obsolete, but when he could coax his parents into letting us joy ride in the jeep used at their family boat yard (remember, we were on the south shore of Lake Erie), our teenaged world grew a little larger.

We found out The Association would be playing at a local club in Lorain and decided we had to be there.

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This music venue was basically a large warehouse type building called Big Moose. I’m not sure how they came up with that name, but through a little research I’ve learned it used to be a roller rink and was once called The Lorain Moose Lodge. Big Moose? Well, I guess that fits better than calling it Little Moose.

Maybe we only paid 50 cents?

I also don’t know how promoters pulled it off, but this strange named club brought some big name performers to our neighboring small city. During that summer of 1967 I was taking guitar lessons at a local music store from a young guy I still remember because he greased his hair back like Elvis. He still came off as cool, even though the rest of us had taken to combing what little hair we were allowed by school dress codes down into mop tops over our foreheads.

He was a nice guy and a good player who taught me the riff from I Feel Fine and the lead guitar solo from Journey to the Center of the Mind by The Amboy Dukes. It’s just that he had a retro look – before the term retro was cool.

During one lesson told me about seeing an English band the week before at Big Moose. He pulled out a package of photos he’d taken of the guitar player wearing a Union Jack shirt and swinging his arm around like a windmill.

Yeah… he had seen The Who in Lorain, Ohio.

On the evening of July 21st, John picked me up in the jeep and we headed out to see The Association. I’m pretty sure tickets were a dollar. What I’m actually sure of was that my mom said I had to be back by 10 pm. Are you kidding me? I was fourteen and ready to hang out, but no argument seemed to work. We had close relatives visiting and I’m guessing it looked like she practiced more responsible parenting if I was burdened with a curfew.

We were both bummed, especially John since he was old enough to stay out later. Too bad he was already committed to being burdened with me.

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I can still dredge up some of the excitement I felt walking into the Big Moose. Other than dances at my junior high school, church basement and the YMCA at our local shopping center, it was the first time I had ever been to a real live music club. My first concert had only been the summer before when we saw The Beatles at Cleveland Stadium, but my parents went with us. This was my first real teenage outing as a teenager.

Big Moose in 2018

The place was dark, huge and loud. There were two stages at opposite ends of the “warehouse” so the live music was continuous. The opening band was called The Broken Bricks and they were from our high school. They had played most of our YMCA dances that year and it was very cool to see them as professional musicians. Wow… I really wanted to be one of those guys.

Then out of the blue I was spotted by some of the cool girls from my class. This was also a big deal since we had only just graduated junior high and here we were now associating with an older crowd. Well, maybe I can’t put it that way when talking about myself. We were still only fourteen and this was a group of the more popular girls who already had their sights set on the older high school guys.

They were cute, funny and ran over to me with a “What are YOU doing here?” kind of attitude. We were all friends so we talked and might even have danced together for a song or two. I probably felt cool for about five minutes before they shifted their attention back to the older guys and cousin John was back to be burdened by me.

The next band to play that evening was The James Gang.

Since they were from Cleveland, which was within an hour bus ride, I had heard of them. But don’t get too excited because it wasn’t the lineup that went on to fame with the songs Funk #49 and Walk Away. Joe Walsh didn’t join the group until the next year.

By the time they finished the stage on the opposite side of Big Moose was set up for The Association. It was announced they would play two sets, split by an intermission. But since we were pressed for time thanks to my parental enforced curfew, John and I could only be there for the first.

I can still picture the band playing Along Comes Mary because one of the members, Terry Kirkman, played a flute-type (recorder?) during the instrumental break. We also got to hear their mega hit, Cherish – written by Kirkman – right before the intermission.

So what about Windy?

The song had hit number one on the national charts earlier that month. And since it was their latest hit and the song everyone would wait to hear, I can only assume it was played during their second set. I don’t know for sure since I was home by that time.

But here’s what really has me curious about The Association performing at Big Moose in Lorain, Ohio. It didn’t make any sense when it came to their touring schedule.

While dredging around the band’s website for past tour dates I found they had opened the mega Monterey Pop Festival on June 16th. Then they played at The Anaheim Convention Center (also California) on August 26th.

The only date listed between these two concerts is Big Moose in Lorain, Ohio on July 21st. That was a long trek – almost 3,000 miles – for a one night stand in front of an audience where some of us had curfews. But at least I can say I was there – and still able to make the trek home in time to make my mom’s parenting skills look respectable.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Here’s a video of The Association – the lineup I saw – performing Windy in 1967.

To purchase The Association Greatest Hits with Windy 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