Posts Tagged ‘Billy Joel’

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 9, 2008

A year or so back, I wrote about my first working summer, the summer I ended up cleaning and waxing floors with Mike and learning, along the way, to use one of those rotary floor scrubbers and polishers.

I saw a fellow using one of them somewhere the other day – I’ve wracked my brain and cannot remember where – and it brought me back to that summer. It also reminded me of a day in the autumn of 1983, not long after I’d started graduate school.

At the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, there is a covered walkway between Neff Hall and the building that houses the Columbia Missourian, the newspaper written by students and edited by teachers and graduate students. As I came through the walkway one autumn morning, I saw one of the maintenance men, an older fellow whose name I sadly do not recall, using a floor polisher with streams of students walking past him.

Sympathizing, I said to him, as the flow of students clogged, “Kind of hard to hit all the spots with all this traffic, isn’t it?”

He thought I was being critical. He stopped the machine and spun the handles toward me. “You wanna give it a try?”

I thought about trying to explain what I had meant and decided that wouldn’t work. So I shrugged and handed him my briefcase. I grabbed the handles, reminded myself – after twelve years – what it would feel like. I glanced over at the janitor, who was looking at me with a gleam of anticipation in his eye.

I squeezed the handles, and the polisher pulled me slightly to the right. I adjusted the weight, and – it came back to me in an instant – began polishing the floor right next to where he’d been working. Push forward slightly and go one way, pull back a little and go the other way.

The janitor smiled wryly and chewed his cheek. “You’ve done that before,” he said.

I nodded. “That’s one of the ways I got through my undergraduate years,” I told him.

I stopped the machine and took my briefcase, and he resumed polishing the floor. I spent another fifteen months taking classes at Mizzou, and every time I saw him from then on, he shot me a wink and a smile.

And here’s some of the music that I might have heard that evening when I was doing janitorial duties in my own home.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2
“Love Is The Law” by the Suburbs from Love Is The Law

“Easy Money” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man

“Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran, Harvest single 5195

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA single 52316

“Rings” by Leo Kottke from Time Step

“Murder By Numbers” by the Police from Synchronicity

“Oh, What A Night” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart in 17 Places

“Finally Found A Home” by Huey Lewis & The News from Sports

“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners from Too-Rye-Ay

“On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. single 04594, from the film, Eddie And The Cruisers

“Man of Peace” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Poison Arrow” by ABC, Mercury single 810340

“True” by Spandau Ballet, Chrysalis single 42720

I’ll admit to not knowing a lot of these at the time they came out. I retreated from pop and rock as the Seventies moved into the Eighties, bored for the most part with what I was hearing and thus not keeping up with things as New Wave and Punk wandered into the room. In many ways, I’m in the same circumstance with a lot of the music from that time as I was in 1969, when I began to catch up with the years previous to then. But I have a few thoughts:

I’m still not impressed with Duran Duran. I wasn’t back then, when they were on MTV a lot (those were the years when MTV played music videos almost all the time), and I’m not now. They’re an inescapable part of the Eighties, though, in the same way that, oh, Alice Cooper was in the Seventies. (And I know I’ve offended two sets of fans there. Sorry.)

I’m not sure if one can lump the Suburbs and ABC into the same category, but the songs by those groups here are propulsive and fun (and that last adjective is odd when one considers the topic of ABC’s “Poison Arrow”). Another one of these songs that can be described the same way but is less consciously “New Wave” – if that really means anything – is “Come On, Eileen,” which in its single edit went to No. 1 in early 1983.

I guess “Easy Money” is the place on An Innocent Man where Billy Joel makes his nod toward Stax/Volt or something similar. I don’t know if it works in the context of the album, but hearing the song on its own, well, it just sounds like a mismatch. (The review of the album by Steven Thomas Erlewine at All-Music Guide also gauges the song as a Stax/Volt tribute. Erlewine makes the point that although the bulk of the album is an homage to pre-Beatles pop, Stax/Volt showed up after that time, putting “Easy Money” out of place on the album.)

“Rings” by Leo Kottke is a remake of the 1971 hit by Cymarron, and Kottke comes off pretty well. I almost lost my coffee laughing when I heard Leo sing, “Got Mel Blanc on the radio” instead of “Got James Taylor on the stereo.”

“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Brown Beaver Band is the best non-Springsteen Springsteen ever.

From A Muscle To The Junkyard

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 22, 2008

As some cliché writer once said, there’s a first time for everything. I’m still not sold on the “everything” in that, but I do seem to have cataloged a “first time” that I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days, and last evening, while sneezing, I pulled a muscle in my ribcage. I never knew one could do that. But I did, and one of the results is that I’m not very comfortable writing. So I’m not going to do much of that today, beyond a short introduction and some comments about some of the songs that pop up.

Several of the online outlets where I buy CDs have had sales and promotions lately, so there is an appreciable pile of CDs waiting to be logged into our collection here. Most of them are albums from the 1960s and 1970s, as I continue to fill gaps. In an effort to fill one such empty space, I finally picked up last week Wanted, the first album by the country-rock group Mason Proffit. So we’ll start today’s walk through the junkyard with “Two Hangmen,” the Vietnam-era protest song dressed up as a Western morality play. In the year it came out, I used to hear it through whispers of static on KAAY in Little Rock.

A Walk Through the Junkyard
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted, 1969

“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan from The Royal Scam, 1976

“Wolves In The Kitchen” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Hurt So Bad” by El Chicano from Viva Tirado, 1970

“Everything Is Gonna Be OK” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente, 1968

“Stranger Than Dreams” by Lowen & Navarro from Scratch at the Door, 1998

“Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man, 1983

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters, Chess single 1571, 1954

“Poems, Prayers & Promises” by John Denver, RCA single 0445, 1971

“So Easy” by Aztec Two-Step from Aztec Two-Step, 1972

“Love at the Five & Dime” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“That Girl Could Sing” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out, 1980

“One Fine Day” by Carole King, Capitol single 4864, 1980

“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy, 1970

“Moses” by the Navarros, GNP Crescendo single 351, 1965

A few notes:

I’ve learned from conversations and correspondence with radio folks that “Two Hangmen” is one of those songs that brings a buzz when it is aired: The phones light up as listeners have questions, comments and just plain gratitude for being able to hear the song one more time.

Steely Dan’s sound was unique and so consistent from album to album that sometimes the group’s body of work can blend into a whole. While the Dan never released a truly bad album, there were a couple that weren’t as good, and I think The Royal Scam was one of those.

I’m not sure if Lowen & Navarro were as popular elsewhere in the 1990s as they seemed to be in Minnesota. Every two or three months, it seemed, the duo would stop by Cities 97 for a live-in-studio performance. Their acoustic folk-pop was well-done, and I enjoy the couple of CDs I have, but there never seemed to be much change or growth: the songs on 1998’s Scratch at the Door could easily have fit into Walking On A Wire, the duo’s 1991 debut CD.

I have seven LPs and three CDs of Billy Joel’s work in my collection. I’m not sure I need that much. That said, An Innocent Man is a good album, and if “Keeping the Faith” isn’t the best track on the record – I think that title goes to “Uptown Girl” – it’s nevertheless a good one. Maybe someday I’ll write a post examining why I’m not all that fond of Joel and his work, and maybe by the time I’m finished with that post, I’ll understand the ambivalence he brings out in me.

Aztec Two-Step was a folk-rock duo that released four albums during the 1970s and a few more sporadically since then, including 2004’s Days of Horses. Their self-titled debut in 1972 created some buzz, but by the time the duo recorded 1975’s Second Step, folk-rock was falling out of favor. The first album is the best, though all of their work is pleasant.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a Nanci Griffith song among either a Baker’s Dozen or a Junkyard, it almost always has fewer hits than the other tracks posted that day. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Love at the Five & Dime.” I think that if I were to make a list of the one hundred best songs in my mp3 collection – which now numbers around 23,600 – “Love at the Five & Dime” would be one of them. I know that Nanci Griffith is not as well known as other artists whose recordings are posted here. I know that her delivery can be quirky. But the woman can write a song, and this one is most likely her best, from where I listen.

The Carole King track was the single pulled from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King, a 1980 record for which King recorded some of the songs she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin crafted during the Brill Building days in the early 1960s. I’d call the album a must-have.

The Navarros’ “Moses” is not quite a novelty record, but it comes close. I almost skipped over it when it popped up at the tail end this morning, but then I decided it’s a good day for a little bit of a chuckle.