The Inevitable Kodachrome Reference

Originally posted June 22, 2009

News from Rochester, N.Y., this morning: The Eastman Kodak Co. is retiring Kodachrome. The film will no longer be produced.

According to an Associated Press piece filed this morning, sales of the film – sold by the company for seventy-four years – now account for less than one percent of the company’s total sales of still-picture film. And, notes AP, only one commercial lab in the world – in, oddly enough, Parsons, Kansas – still processes Kodachrome.

The AP reporter, Carolyn Thompson, led the story with, almost inevitably, a reference to Paul Simon: “Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak is taking your Kodachrome away.”

Well, I likely would have done the same. And the news makes life just a little easier for me this morning, as I’ve been trying to figure out how to ease into a six-song random selection from the years 1960-1999. Now I have an obvious place to start:

A Six-Pack of Mostly Random Tunes
“Kodachrome” by Paul Simon, Columbia 45859 [1973]
“Down In The Seine” by the Style Council from Our Favourite Shop [1985]
“Alone” by Wishbone Ash from Pilgrimage [1971]
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton, Elektra 45687 [1970]
“Comes A Time” by Neil Young from Comes A Time [1978]
“Song For the High Mountain” by Jorma Kaukonen from Jorma [1979]

I imagine the story of “Kodachrome” is available somewhere (and I’ve never really looked), but I’ve wondered occasionally since 1973 about the genesis of the song. What sparked “Kodachrome”? Its infectious melody, sparkling production (at Muscle Shoals) and somewhat off-beat lyrics made it a No. 2 hit in 1973. In some ways, I suppose the song shows that Simon could write a song about anything. In any case, it’s a great piece of pop that became a cultural touchstone, as the lead to the AP story shows.

I continue my explorations of Paul Weller: Our Favourite Shop was the Style Council’s second true album, if I read things right. U.S. releases were slightly different than those in Britain, which makes the whole thing a mess; as an example, Our Favourite Shop was released in the U.S. as Internationalists after the track “Our Favourite Shop” was removed. I imagine there was a reason, but . . . Anyway, “Down In The Seine” seems to be a typical Weller conglomeration: some soul touches, some jazz touches, some odd bits – the accordion – all tossed together. On some tracks, the approach didn’t work very well; in this case, it did.

Every time something pops up on the player from Wishbone Ash’s first three albums – Wishbone Ash, Pilgrimage or Argus – I find myself wishing I’d been a little more adventurous in my listening habits as high school ended and college began. I was on a different listening track entirely, and it was one that served me well, but hearing some Wishbone Ash and a few things in that vein might also have served me well. “Alone” is an instrumental that’s a lot more mellow than the rest of Pilgrimage.

A true One-Hit Wonder, Crabby Appleton was a Los Angeles-based group, and its one hit, “Go Back” was actually a pretty good piece of pop-rock when it rolled out of the speakers during the summer of 1970. The single spent five weeks in the Top 40 but stalled at No. 36, which means that the record rarely pops up on radio, even in the deepest oldies playlists. All that does, from my view, is make the record sound more fresh when it does surface, and I like it a lot. The group also released a self-titled album that featured the single, but the record didn’t sell well. Nor did any of the follow-up singles or the band’s 1971 album, Rotten to the Core, sell very well.

Neil Young has recorded many albums that rank higher in critics’ eyes than does Comes A Time. It’s not a particularly challenging album, for Young or for the listener. And yet, it remains my favorite, and I’m not entirely certain why that is. The one thought I have – and it popped up again the other day when the CD was in the player as I sat nearby with a book – is that throughout the entire album, Young sounds like he’s happy. And that’s a rare sound.

Jorma Kaukonen played guitar for Jefferson Airplane and then, when the Airplane broke up in 1973, focused on solo work and his work with Jack Cassady as Hot Tuna. Jorma was released a year after Hot Tuna broke up and it’s quite a nice album, as I hear it. Critical assessment says it’s not as good as Kaukonen’s work with Cassady or even his earlier solo album, Quah, released in 1974. I’ve always thought, though, that Jorma was the sound of a musician taking a figurative deep breath and exhaling, figuring out where he wants to go next, now that things are quieting down.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

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