Posts Tagged ‘Tracey Ullman’

Into The Ultimate Jukebox

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 21, 2010

Behold the jukebox!

Well, there’s no jukebox, not physically. I could, I suppose, find a picture of a gorgeous Wurlitzer and gussy it up somehow, make it sparkle and glint and shine like the great repository of dreams a jukebox can be. But no, not even the gaudiest picture or the shiniest fake would work here.

What we’re opening up today is the jukebox of the mind, the jukebox that I’d have in my living room if my living room were part malt shop, part beer joint, part crash pad and part heaven. It is, if you will, the Ultimate Jukebox. I first mentioned it in early November and since then have been doing the difficult work of eliminating songs from the list. I started by combing year-by-year through my 41,000 or so mp3s, making a raw list of songs to consider. Sometimes, I’d pull a song off the list within minutes or maybe days, but most of the songs I put onto the list stayed there until I had gone through the collection twice.

At that point, there were two hundred and eighty-five songs on the list. My goal was to trim them down to two hundred and begin presenting posts from there. I trimmed and I trimmed. I looked at the list for hours without changing anything. I got down to two hundred and fifty and then two hundred and forty. And I looked on the long list of titles and despaired of what I would have to trim next. And finally, short of my goal, I could trim no more. I got down to two hundred and twenty-eight songs. I did some math. That total would provide me with thirty-eight posts of six records each.

Presented weekly, that would keep me with a guaranteed post at least once a week for most of the coming year. Sign me up.

Dave Marsh wrote in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, that as his project came to a close, he was already weary of people asking him what his top-ranked single was. (It was Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”) But, he said, he would have been thrilled to have someone ask what single No. 1,002 had been. Or so I recall. In the 1999 edition, he says that the most common question he’d gotten since the publication of the original edition had been about single No. 1,002, and those questions irked him. Without going back line by line through the 1989 edition of the book, I can’t cite the page number, but I’m certain that somewhere in that volume, I got the idea that Marsh wanted people to ask about the first record that didn’t make it. And then, when people do just that, it irks him? I guess it’s a reminder to be careful what we wish for. (He adds, because he says he can’t figure out how it got left out of the 1,001 singles in the book, that single No. 1,002 has to be Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.”)

I thought of Marsh wanting to be asked about the records that didn’t quite make it as I was trimming the list for my jukebox. What are some of the records that fell by the wayside?

Here’s a short list. These are not the last cuts by any means. But these were among the finalists that got trimmed before the swimsuit competition. Great records, but not quite as good as the ones that stayed, for whatever reason (and those reasons can include utter whim).

“Golden Years” by David Bowie
“Charity Ball” by Fanny
“Night Train” by James Brown.
“Guinnevere” by Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Season of the Witch” by Donovan
“Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian
“Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
“Convoy” by C.W. McCall
“Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds

The list of those left behind also includes three by Bob Dylan, two by the Beatles, two by The Band and three by the Allman Brothers Band. And on and on and on down the line. Once I had my two hundred twenty-eight, I figured out a way to put them into random groups, and after one adjustment, I had my thirty-eight selections of six. And here’s the opening selection:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 1
“Look Through My Window” by the Mamas & the Papas from Deliver [1967]
“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan from Blood on the Tracks [1975]
“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream [1976]
“Driftwood” by the Moody Blues from Octave [1978]
‘They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart In Seventeen Places [1983]
“I Try” by Macy Gray from On How Life Is [1999]

Whatever one may think of the late John Phillips as a person – and he doesn’t rank highly on that scale in my book – the man could write a gorgeous song. Think of the Mamas and Papas’ catalog: “Go Where You Wanna Go,” “Monday, Monday,” “California Dreamin’,” “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Comng To The Canyon)” and many more. All well-crafted and lovely. And yet, “Look Through My Window” lies atop the heap for me. Why? I guess it seemed to be more reflective than the group’s other hits, with the narrator observing the world from which he is separated – for the time being, anyway. This is, I believe, the album version of the song; the single edit went to No. 24 in the autumn of 1966. Key lines: “We both knew people sometimes change, and lovers sometimes rearrange; and nothing’s quite as sure as change.”

I’ve written at least once before about Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” but I’m not at all sure what I said, and I’m not going to sort through the unarchived files. Suffice it to say that this has to be the sprightliest song about foreseen romantic disaster ever recorded. I mean, he knows she’s going to go, he knows he’s going to be lonely, and he seems to almost be looking forward to it. I guess that’s what happens when times are so good: The inevitable sorrow down the road seems a small price to pay for today’s joy. Key lines: “Flowers on the hillside bloomin’ crazy; crickets talkin’ back and forth rhyme. Blue river runnin’ slow and lazy. I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.”

Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has also been mentioned here at least once. I hold to my original position of a couple of years ago that Lightfoot’s song is one of the relatively few modern examples of folk song as both news and commemoration. When one wanders through the odd, dissonant and sometimes plain creepy songs in Harry Smith’s 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, one finds many examples of folk songs reporting the news of disasters small and large, and one finds many cases, too, of songs devised to keep long-gone events or individuals fresh in memory. Lightfoot’s song did both, telling the tale and commemorating the event so successfully that it’s become a familiar part of the cultural landscape, with the single reaching No. 2 in the autumn of 1976. Key lines: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

When the Moody Blues released Octave in 1978, it had been six years since the release of their last album, 1972’s Seventh Sojourn. I, for one, was ready for some more Moodies. I had a few of the earlier albums and I’d loved Sojourn, so, as soon as it was offered, I ordered Octave from my record club. I guess it disappointed me, as I don’t know the album as well as I do many others, including most of the Moody Blues’ catalog. But “Driftwood” has captivated me from the first time I heard it, with that lonely French horn calling me in for a meditation that seems longer than the listed five minutes and yet doesn’t seem long enough. Key lines: “Time waits for no one at all, no, not even you.”

With its Wall of Sound intro – chimes and all – and its witty video, Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” was one of the light-hearted highlights of pop radio and MTV in late 1983 and early 1984. I was in was in graduate school, and after some years away from pop and rock and certainly Top 40, I found myself surrounded by current music once again, enjoying much of it. A few other tunes from that period will show up in the project later, and several barely missed the cut. But there was never a doubt about “They Don’t Know” making it into the jukebox: Its good humor and its girl-group-reminiscent sound make it one of my favorite records of that time, now more than a quarter-century past. Key lines: “Why should it matter to us if they don’t approve? We should just take our chances while we’ve got nothin’ to lose.”

I wrote the other day about the dismal winter of 1999-2000. One of the things that helped me through that winter, as is true of all of my life, is music. Some of the tunes I listened to during that time, however, have had that season’s despair attached to them. As I wrote a while back, I am to this day unable to listen to Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia without lapsing into sorrow. Macy Gray’s On How Life Is and its single, “I Try” could easily fall into that category, as they’re among the most memorable music from those months. And the topic of “I Try” – a seemingly hopeless connection – seems tailor-made to settle the record into the unhappy file. But for some reason, the song seems to rise above that when I hear it. Maybe it’s Gray’s odd voice. Maybe it’s the very cool backing track. Maybe it’s just time having passed. Or maybe the song tugs at me still, but I recognize its place in this mythical jukebox that is essentially the soundtrack of my life. Whatever the reason, it’s one of three songs I’ve selected from 1999, the most recent year I examined. And it belongs here. Key lines: “I believe that fate has brought us here, and we should be together. But we’re not.”

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.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983

May 6, 2011

Originally posted September 5, 2007

This is a busy week around here. The Texas Gal took the week off from work, and we’re investing a lot of our time in sorting through stuff, trying to make room.

Our apartment is not small, by any means, but we are both collectors, and the space available to expand collections – books for both of us, records and CDs for me and fabric and yarn for her (gathered not for its own sake but for use in quilting and crocheting) – becomes more limited as time slithers on.

So we spent yesterday going through closets and identifying things that we could live without. This morning we took a carload of stuff to the local Goodwill store. And we have the garage to go through yet, a back wall of boxes in which resides more surplus. The hope is to winnow the boxes on the back wall enough so that boxes currently in the apartment – filled with things we wish to keep but do not at the moment need – can be shifted to the garage.

That will leave us more room in the apartment, until we fill the created space with books, music and textiles. Eventually, I fear, we will have to either rent a storage unit somewhere nearby or make a breakthrough in physics that will allow us to store things in a fourth dimension, one that allows easy access for retrieval.

Luckily for me, mp3s take up very little real space, leaving it possible for me to spend a morning rummaging through the sounds of 1983. That was the year I left Monticello and its weekly newspaper and went to graduate school at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

It’s a very fine school (next year, it will celebrate one hundred years since its founding as the world’s first journalism school) and a challenging one. Drawing students to Columbia, Missouri, from all over the world for its graduate and undergraduate programs, it taught me at least as much out of the classrooms and labs as it did in them. During the eighteen months I spent in Columbia, I got to know students from all over the U.S. as well as from Germany, France, South Africa, the U.S.S.R. and China, to name just a few. After six years in a small Minnesota town – a good town, but a small town nevertheless – graduate school brought me into a much larger and more complex world.

I spent twenty hours a week working as a graduate assistant, helping edit the Columbia Missourian, a daily paper written by students at the journalism school and edited by faculty members. Classes were rigorous, but basically, beyond my work at the newspaper, graduate school boiled down to reading and writing, two of my core strengths. So I enjoyed it immensely, and I did well.

There was plenty of time for fun, too, of course: Intense discussions over beer and pizza at a place called Shakespeare’s. Beer and burgers and talk at the Old Heidelberg. Beer and talk and good music at the homes of any number of my fellow students, grad students and undergraduates alike. (The beer was generally dark and plentiful, though not particularly distinctive; I had not yet become too discerning or demanding about my brews.)

And being on a college campus put me in an environment where I once again heard a lot of newer music. I wasn’t as immersed in the music as I had been as an undergrad, I suppose. But I think I was more attuned to the tunes than I had been while working at the newspaper in Minnesota.

And then there was MTV. Late in 1983, I had cable television installed and I spent a fair amount of time with the television tuned to MTV, playing it in the background, kind of like radio with pictures. (This was back when MTV’s main purpose was to play music videos, an activity that has since become rare, if not nonexistent on the network.) So I heard a lot of new music that way, too.

As a result, I’m more familiar with the music from 1983 than I thought I would be when I began to assemble today’s random Baker’s Dozen:

“They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman, MCA single 52347

“Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Romance” by Gordon Lightfoot from Salute

“Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top, Warner Bros. single 9576

“Help!” by Isaac Scott from Big Time Blues Man

“Ta ‘Me Mo Shui” by Clannad from Magical Ring

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Kate Wolf from Give Yourself To Love

“It’s Cold Outside Your Heart” by the Moody Blues from The Present

“Crawdad Hole” by Big Joe Turner & Roomful of Blues from Blues Train

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, Columbia single 03906

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by the Eurythmics, RCA single 13533

“Breaking Us In Two” by Joe Jackson, A&M single 2510

“Holiday” by Madonna from Madonna

A few notes on some of the songs:

Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” is one of those tunes that brings MTV to mind. The song is a witty pastiche of the early 1960s girl group sound, and the video itself is witty, especially the final shot of Tracey riding off with the slumming Paul McCartney. I love the chimes, too, which I’ve always kind of heard as a salute to Phil Spector.

Isaac Scott, who died in 2001, was a legend in Seattle. His bluesy take on the Beatles’ “Help” is an eye-opener. If I’m not mistaken, I found this track at the blog Rato Records, where Rato on occasion posts collections of obscure covers of Beatles songs. Many of those covers are a little bit lame; some of them are superb. This one falls in the latter category.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I discovered – probably through Enya, who was a member before her solo career – Clannad. Sitting firmly in a niche between new age and traditional, Clannad offers a sometimes breathy but often gorgeous take on Celtic music. Magical Ring might be the group’s best album.

Give Yourself To Love is an album of live performances released in 1983, a few years before Kate Wolf died from cancer. Her take on Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” is one of the better versions I’ve heard of that well-covered tune.

Big Joe Turner was one of the elemental forces in Kansas City R&B in the 1950s, and Blues Train, his 1983 album recorded with Roomful of Blues, sounds as if it came from KC sometime during those years. To repeat a Dave Marsh line, dated but never out of date.

Never having been a big Madonna fan, I’m unsure if this version of “Holiday,” which was on her self-titled debut album, is the same as the version that was released as the single. A six-minute dance single would not be unheard of, but I can’t find any information that tells me if the album track and the single were identical.