Monday, April 30, 2012

Starry Skies Back Home

Minnesota - Northern Light

Back in the day, before the world got so small, regional hits sometimes appeared on the pop charts.  One that was big where I grew up never made the national Top 40 - though it did crack the Top 100 - but is fondly remembered by many from Albert Lea to Zumbrota and all points in between: "Minnesota" by Northern Light.

Songs about places appeal to our natural hometown pride.  Shoot, name a city in Texas and odds are I can name a song about it.  Next to love songs, place songs may be the most durable genre.  That's because at heart they are love songs, too, directed not at a who but at a where.

NY - Frank Sinatra.  Georgia - Ray Charles.  Los Angeles - Randy Newman.  San Francisco - Tony Bennett.  Minnesota?  Northern Lights.

After the jump - what the Beach Boys would have sounded like if the beach was Lake Minnetonka instead of Malibu - and answers from Northern Light's David Sandler.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A letter from you know who

A Letter from Anne Marie - Grant Hart

Minneapolis was an amazing place in the 1980s.  Prince, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements were reinventing pop, punk, funk and rock.  Recently, Gorman Bechard directed a documentary about the 'Mats, "Color Me Obsessed," and has now turned his sights to the very compelling Grant Hart of Husker Du.  I encourage you to check out the project on kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1542689813/every-everything-the-music-life-and-times-of-grant) and to pledge if you can.



A quick thought before I get to one of Grant's songs:

Songs that one loves are generally easy to categorize - those that were huge hits; those that feel like they should have been; and those that will only appeal to a smaller audience for whatever reason.  I usually can sort my favorites into these buckets without a problem.  But once in a while there's a song I could listen to endlessly on a loop and I can't quite grasp if it's something a lot of other people would like if they heard it or if it's just me.

"A Letter from Anne Marie" by Grant Hart is a prime example.  To me, it could be a Phil Spector produced track for David Bowie from the 1970s that became an FM staple.  Or maybe a lost Lennon track from the White Album.  But that's not to say that it's a facsimile of other artists - it's a total original by Hart that he sings with real passion.  It strikes home to me.  Everyone can relate to waiting in vain for a letter that never comes - even though now, only 13 years after the song was released, a personal letter arriving via US Mail is a rare thing.

Below the jump: the music and some thoughts from Grant, who graciously responded to my queries with humor and great candor, as you will see.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I got the notion

(It's So) Nice To Be With You - Gallery

Comedies rarely win the Academy Award for Best Picture, which is a shame.  Evidently, some people feel only "serious" works of art are worth rewarding.  In pop music, sometimes songs that are simply fun and cheerful get short shrift, but how often have you chased the blues away by listening to a happy song?  If you're anything like me, many times.  There is great value in that.  No guiltiness in that pleasure.

"(It's so) Nice to be With You" by Gallery hit #4 on the charts in 1972.  The band had two other Top 40 hits in the next year or so... and that was it.  What I like about this single is its purity - the title really says it all.  The lyrics don't get any deeper than that, the melody is lively and very singable.  Pure pop.  Perfect for singing along to with the windows on the car rolled down on a spring day.

The 70s were the last heyday for happy pop songs.  Soon enough, punk and new wave and hip hop and grunge and more would come along - all great genres, to be sure, but something's lost but something's gained...




I reached out to Jim Gold, the singer and writer of "(It's so) Nice to be With You" and his answers to my seven questions appear below the jump:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WILLLLMA!

Live At Bedrock - Bruce Springstone

The things that make Bruce Springsteen great are the very things that make him ripe for parody: his earnest working man populism, the distinctive sound of the E Street Band, his penchant (in concert) for leading into songs by telling long stories. Back in 1982, Tom Chalkley and Craig Hankin created a pitch-perfect send-up of the Boss, releasing "Bruce Springstone: Live at Bedrock." The a-side was The Flintstones' Theme Song, the b-side "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

And it's great fun. The patter about a man coming home from the factory to his wife culminates in a perfect "WILLLMA!" before the familiar "Flintstones... meet the Flintstones..." kicks in. Tom gets Bruce's vocal mannerisms just right and there are little musical nods to various BS songs along the way.

Tom and Craig are working on a graphic memoir about those days - you can check out the successful Kickstarter project here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/620762079/if-id-known-back-then-a-graphic-memoir.

They generously answered seven questions for a blog that had yet to debut; I'm grateful for their kindness and quite happy to feature them in my first post. Read on and please feel free to comment.

1 - Did you ever meet Springsteen or hear from him directly about "Live from Bedrock"?
CRAIG HANKIN: When drummer John Ebersberger & I interviewed Max Weinberg for City Paper in the summer of '84, he told us that, during the "Born in the USA" recording sessions, one of the E-Streeters (Nils Lofgren, perhaps?) played a copy of "Springstone" through the studio speakers.  His bandmates looked at each other quizzically at first, trying to figure out what they were hearing, then howled with laughter.



The year before, Clarence Clemons & the Red Bank Rockers came to Johns Hopkins for a concert.  After the show, I went backstage to meet Clarence & give him a copy of the record & a Springstone t-shirt.  Couldn't have been a nicer, more gracious guy.  Happily mugged (with) me for a photographer and the shot (attached) wound up being published in Billboard and Cashbox.



2 - Will Bruce Springstone ever come out of seclusion to play live or record another song? 
TOM CHALKLEYWe are considering including a recording with our comic book, which would have at least 2 Springstone songs that have had only minimal exposure, and possibly a third.

3 - The b-side of the single is also excellent: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."  Did you record or consider any other songs for the b-side?
TC: I have always been of the opinion that "New York, New York" would be a great Bruce song but we did "Ballgame" because we guessed it would have popular appeal (that was right!!)




4 - Tom, did you study Springsteen's vocal mannerisms or were you just singing by instinct?
TC: I listened to a lot of Springsteen in those days, esp. "Born To Run" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" -- and I'm both an incurable mimic and a baritone like Bruce. So that came easy but I practiced a lot!

5 - The single is in the Guinness Book of World's Records?  Tell me more.
CH: In 1994, WJMP 1520 AM, an Akron, OH sports talk radio station, played our version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" 57,161 TIMES IN A ROW as a protest against that season's Major League Baseball strike.  Apparently, that was enough to land us in the Guinness Book of Sports Records.  (WJMP lost so many listeners during the protest, they ended up changing formats; we're still waiting for ASCAP to pay us the royalties we're owed.)

6 - When did you first realize that the single was going to make a splash? 
CH: Almost immediately.  Ken Tucker wrote a rave review in the Philadelphia Inquirer a few days after the record's release.  The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Village Voice, USA Today & Billboard all followed in short order.  Within 12 weeks, we were being played on 200+ radio stations across the country.


 7- I love the artwork on the record sleeve.  You are both successful visual artists now; who created the single's jacket?
TC: The front cover is by our drummer, John Ebersberger -- brilliant cartoonist! -- and the back cover (aping the style of the front) by Tom C.