Great Album Retro Review: The Beat By The Beat

I love ’70s & ’80s pop power. The Raspberries, The Knack, The dB’s all have great catchy tunes with lots of crashing guitars and danceable beats. Out of the ’70s Los Angeles music scene comes this underappreciated power pop band. The band that was responsible for the UK’s popular two tone, ska band being know as The English Beat in the States.

The Beat were led by veteran musician Paul Collins. And I admit it, I don’t know much about this band. I do recall WKRP In Cincinnati having a poster of the album cover in the DJ studio. (Try as I might, I couldn’t find an image showing that poster in the show, so we’ll just have to rely on my memory.) I think it was that show that led a friend of mine to pick up this debut album and share it with me. It may not be as well known as previous records I’ve reviewed on this blog, but it is so filled with great tunes that it had to be included in the series.

It was released in 1979 and its 12 tracks, written by Collins, breeze by in less than 32 minutes. The songs, for the most part, pack quite a pop punch. And when you’re done reading this, be sure to head over to Spotify to give The Beat a listen.

The Tracks:

Rock N Roll Girl – An anthem in tribute to rock n roll and the girls who love it. Collins laments about the popularity of disco and his desire to find a rock n roll girl as the jangly, driving guitars demonstrate this ain’t no disco.

I Don’t Fit In – The song feels like a marching tune inviting all those who feel the same to step in time.

Different Kind Of Girl – Written with bassist Steven Huff, Collins gives us the first of two ballads on the album. It’s the longest track on the album and it showcases the lead guitar prowess of band member Larry Whitman.

Don’t Wait Up For Me – This track starts with quiet pent up energy driven along by drummer Michael Ruiz, but then bursts out with the great three part harmonies that are all over this record. The song pulls back and builds and bursts over and over again. Something the Pixies would later make their signature sound.

You Won’t Be Happy – A nice little breakup song with a touch of ska.

Walking Out On Love – Another breakup song. Coming in at one minute and forty-five seconds, this is the shortest track on the record, but it sure packs a wallop. Best hook of any of the tracks and filled with great harmonies. It’s a blast! And it’s my favorite track.

Work-A-Day World – This one feels a little bit like filler to me, but it’s pretty good filler.

U.S.A. – This track was co-written by Peter Case, who had been a bandmate of Collins years earlier in their band called The Nerves before going on to form The Plimsouls. In fact, three of the songs (Walking Out On Love, Let Me Into Your Life, and Working Too Hard) on this album were originally written and recorded for The Nerves‘ self-titled 1976 EP. There’s a hint of The Beach Boys on this track.

Let Me Into Your Life – This track was co-written with Eddie Money, who received special thanks in the liner notes. The great harmonies are present and well as a bit of 60’s pop.

Working Too Hard – I’m reminded of The dB’s track – Working For Somebody Else – from their excellent 1987 release The Sound Of Music. There’s a little country twang to this track.

You And I – This is the second ballad on the album and it’s the most markedly different song of the collection. It’s piano-based, in fact there are no guitars to be found. There is a hint of what sounds like a mandolin though. It’s an ambitious track that doesn’t quite land for me.

Look But Don’t Touch – Ahhh. The guitars are back. Lots of drive and great riffs on this track. It’s a fun song. The song ends with Collins asking, “Is that enough for ya?” It would have been a great last track, but…

There She Goes – The album ends with this jangly, bouncy love song. Like much of what had gone before it includes the harmonies, riffs, and hooks that make this such a great record. It’s a last track that leaves the listener hanging just a little.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Great Album Retro Review: Skylarking By XTC

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After The Who, XTC is my favorite band. And their 1986 release Skylarking is my favorite album by them.

Long about the summer of 1985, I discovered XTC in two ways. First was the concert film Urgh! A Music War (1982). Urgh! features lots of the more interesting and entertaining musical acts of the alternative scene from the late ’70s and early ’80s. The Police, Dead Kennedys, The Cramps, Gang Of Four, Oingo Boingo, Wall Of Voodoo, X, Magazine, The Go-Go’s and Klaus Nomi are just a few of the acts involved. And XTC’s performance of their song Respectable Street was one of the stand-outs for me.

Not long after seeing Urgh I purchased a compilation album featuring artists on the Virgin label. It was called Cash Cows and XTC’s Respectable Street was included. I instantly liked that song. Probably because I was vaguely familiar with it having seen Urgh. However, at the time, I had forgotten that earlier exposure to the song.

No matter. I thought XTC was excellent and on the strength of that song I bought the album on which it appeared – Black Sea (1980). Black Sea is a terrific record, produced while the band would still perform live. By the time I bought it, however, XTC had become a studio-only band.

I was bummed that I wouldn’t ever see them in concert, but I was excited to learn more about their music and to know that they were still making records. And in September, 1986 they released the first single for their upcoming album, Skylarking. The song Grass was the A side with Dear God and Extrovert as non-album cuts for the B side. Dear God would soon take on a life of its own, more on that later.

Skylarking was produced by Todd Rundgren and the stories of the difficulties between Rundgren and band leader Andy Partridge are the stuff of legend. This was Andy’s band and Todd was acting too much like the boss. He could also be bitingly cruel to Andy. But, despite the acrimony, or because of it, Skylarking turned out to be a brilliant concept album exploring the stages of life, growth, decay, and death.

And I bought it as soon as it was released. Man! Am I old!

The Tracks:

Summer’s Cauldron – Drowning has never sounded so appealing. Andy Partridge’s imagery evoked by his lyrics is wonderful. This song sounds like a long, hot summer day.

Grass – First of four songs on the album written by Colin Moulding, Grass could have a double meaning. The song, which is linked to the previous track (song linking was one of Rundgren’s ideas), is about the sexual connections two young lovers made on grass. But does Moulding mean the grass they are laying on or the grass they just smoked? The video suggests the non-drug interpretation.

The Meeting Place – Written by Moulding, this song could be about the same couple in Grass trying to continue their affair while dealing with work. I really like the ticking, clomping, steaming sounds that permeate the song. It suggests the industrial presence of machinery.

That’s Really Super, Supergirl – Ever the fan of comic books, Partridge uses the up feeling music to offset the downbeat lyrics of a man who has been dumped. Nice jangly guitars!

Ballet For A Rainy Day – A song about sitting inside on a rainy day, looking out the window and marveling at the beauty of the rain soaked scenes of the street below. Wonderful.

1,000 Umbrellas – This one flows from the previous track, but this time the rain imagery is used to describe the heart-aching pain of loneliness. A nice use of strings and acoustic guitar.

Season Cycle – Andy always had a way of working with metaphor. Here he ponders the turn of the seasons by comparing it to someone riding a bicycle. The beauty of each season is explored, however this song feels more Spring than the other seasons.

Earn Enough For Us – This song opens with what might be the best guitar riff (provided by guitarist Dave Gregory) XTC has ever recorded. It should have been a hit. It follows the desperate determination of a blue collar worker trying to make ends meet with a baby on the way. Work may be tough and humiliating, but it will be suffered to make a better life. This is my favorite track.

Big Day – “Marriage! Marriage is what brings us together today.” Moulding warns that, sure, everything is all wonderful today, but will this last? There’s a slightly unconventional take to the music that suggests both the importance of the day, while hinting at future challenges.

Another Satellite – A song about feeling the pull of another, when already in a committed relationship. It’s my understanding Andy wrote this song in response to being in just such a situation.

Mermaid Smiled – Booted from later pressings of the album when Dear God proved to be a surprise hit, Mermaid Smiled is pure whimsy. It’s a longing for the lost days of youth. It has a beautiful, soaring melody and it should have been treated with more respect.

The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul – Andy’s attempt at writing a James Bond theme. And, damn it, Hollywood! There should have been a 007 flick with this as the title song! This song is the most unusual of the whole album. It sticks out and some might think it doesn’t fit. Hey, it works for me.

Dying – Moulding’s sweet, sad song about death. Similar to the ticking heard in The Meeting Place, there’s a kind of clock sound in the background of this song. In The Meeting Place it was about being on the clock at work, here it’s reminding us we only have so much time to live.

Sacrificial Bonfire – Another soaring melody, this one by Moulding. This closer tells of endings, but that the cycle continues. Life goes on.

Dear God – As I mentioned earlier, this song didn’t make the cut on the original pressing. It was regulated to the B side of the first single. However, an American DJ liked it and decided to play it and it took off from there. Andy wasn’t entirely happy with the lyrics of this atheistic anthem, but its power was picked up on and it became XTC’s biggest hit in America.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Great Album Retro Review: Empty Glass By Pete Townshend

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If you know me at all, chances are pretty good that you know The Who is (are? I never know which to use) my favorite band. They have been since October 2, 1982. I can pinpoint it because that was the day I first saw them in concert. (I go into the story in much more depth here.) From that day to today, The Who have held an esteemed place in my heart. And their leader Pete Townshend is the focal point of my love of this band.

Townshend turns 74 this month (May 19). Waitaminute. Wasn’t there something about dying before getting… Oh, never mind…

Anyway, in honor of his birthday, I thought I’d do a retro review of his first “official” solo album – Empty Glass. There had been other non-Who Townshend projects before. At least one album that was originally only intended for other followers of Pete’s spiritual guru Meher Baba – Who Came First from 1972 – and another with musician Ronnie Lane – the excellent album Rough Mix (1977).

In April of 1980, Pete released this album of solo material. It was a tumultuous time for Pete. It hadn’t yet been two years since his bandmate Keith Moon had died, there were strains in his marriage to Karen, eleven people had been crushed to death attempting to get into the venue The Who were playing in Cincinnati the previous December, and he wasn’t doing well in his struggle with booze and drugs.

But despite all this, or maybe because of it, he produced what I think is a brilliant album.

The Tracks:

Rough Boys – Dedicated to his daughters and the Sex Pistols, this song fueled much speculation as to whether or not Townshend was coming out as bisexual. Folks focused on the “I wanna bite and kiss you” line when he was singing about rough boys. Maybe, but so what? This is a fantastic opening track. It’s rough and aggressive with plenty of windmilling power chords. Great horns at the end.

I Am An Animal – Townshend always had a knack for great melody. Even unusual ones. This one is great. It soars and it wallows. It’s self-critical and it’s proud. And no one drops an F-bomb quite as well as Pete. This is my favorite track on the album.

And I Moved – This is another possible admission of bisexuality (again, who cares?), which is much more explicit. What I’ve read about the song was that Pete had written it for Bette Midler, but she turned it down, so he recorded it himself without changing the gender reference. That’s cool. And the cascading piano by John “Rabbit” Bundrick is terrific.

Let Me Love Open The Door –  This was Pete’s one hit as a solo artist. It made the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100. His intent for the lyrics was that God was imploring us to allow His love to open our hearts. But listeners chose to believe it to be a song about a person attempting to romance someone who might not be ready for love. I think of it as the latter.

Jools And Jim – In an answer to certain rock critics who were underwhelmed by Keith Moon’s greatness and his death, Townshend recorded this scathing critique of critics. This song seems to have been an attempt to pick up on the aggression expressed by the Punk Rock movement, of which Pete had been a strong proponent.

Keep On Working – This is a pleasant ditty about the pleasures of working, having children, and being a bit in the red. There’s a video for this song in which Pete looks like hell. He’s pasty, emaciated. He looks as though he hasn’t slept in days as he wanders around a dingy apartment, drinking some kind of booze right from the bottle, while wearing a very lived-in bathrobe. And, yet, his sense of humor still comes through as he writes the lyrics of the song on a chalkboard. Check out the video here.

Cat’s In The Cupboard – This is a pretty straight forward rocker about freeing cats trapped in cupboards. I think. Some good guitar riffs and plenty of harmonica.

A Little Is Enough – The story as I know it goes like this: Pete’s wife had told him she no longer loved him. Ouch! But he did get her to admit that she did still love him a little. When he sought spiritual advice on his marriage, he told his advisor of Karen’s “a little” remark. His advisor reacted, “Ah! Well then a little is enough!” Song inspired!

Empty Glass – This title track was actually recorded earlier by The Who during the Who Are You? album sessions. I prefer this version. This is another song in which Pete seems to knocking on himself while still proudly puffing out his chest. There’s lots of slashing power chords as Pete rips through this one.

Gonna Get Ya – A call and response rocker to close out this great album is bluesy and bombastic and a bit overlong. At six and a half minutes it drags a little, but it’s still a good closer for this excellent record.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

April Snow And A Missed Cheap Trick Concert

“Just when we thought it was safe to put the shovels away…”

Said just about everyone living in the Upper Midwest during the last day and a half. The weather reports started warning us last Sunday evening. They told us it was early yet, things could change, but, despite temperatures in the 60s Sunday and Monday, it was looking as though winter would return on Wednesday afternoon right through Friday. They predicted low temperatures, high winds, and lots of wet and heavy snow.

They were right. The jerkfaces.

Oh, I know. Don’t blame the meteorologists. They don’t make the weather. But just look at this. Grrrrrr.

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This shows Western Minnesota, which got hit even harder than where I live in the Twin Cities. Photo credit: KARE11.com

This is the second April in a row in which Minnesota got dumped on. It’s quite a gut punch after seeing the grass and the trees starting to bud after a long winter. It was almost 70º on Monday. 70 degrees!!

So, as I sit here, resting my once again snow shoveling sore muscles, a snow-related story came to me. No, not last year’s April gut punch. Not the Halloween Blizzard of 1991, which I experienced. Oh, boy. That was something!

I want to take you back to November 23, 1983. I was going to art school. I had been there for only three months and I still hadn’t quite jumped on the punk rock bandwagon. I was being introduced to it, but I hadn’t got the feel for it yet. However, I would before that first school year was out.

One of my favorite bands in those days (and I still like them a lot) was coming to Minneapolis – Cheap Trick. It would be a one night engagement to promote their new album Next Position Please. An album I liked, but it hadn’t charted very well. Despite the excellent production by Todd Rundgren, there wasn’t a truly standout song in the collection. Although the opening track I Can’t Take It is pretty good.

Well, no matter. My friend John and I were going to see them. We got our tickets for a mere $9.92 each. $9.92! Boy, those were the days, eh? That wouldn’t even pay for parking now.

I must have been awfully excited about it, because my classmates were well aware that I was going to the show. I got a little bit of teasing by the punk rockers in class. “That’s kids’ stuff,” they’d say. I held my ground. “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander? The charisma of Rick Nielsen? How ’bout the tunes…”

Sorry. I seem to have drifted into an 80s teen comedy.

Anyway, it was late November. We were in Minnesota. And we know what can happen. Earlier in the week the weather forecasters began to predict snow. Lots of it. And right on the night of the big show. I was getting nervous. Please, let the weather person be wrong. Please, don’t snow.

I kept looking out the windows at school throughout that day. No snow yet. No snow yet. No sno… Was that a snowflake? Oh, no. Are those more? Don’t look. It’s not really happening. If I don’t look it won’t be snowing. Everything will be fine…

“Hey, Jim. Did you see outside? It doesn’t look good. Looks like you won’t be seeing Cheap Trick after all.”

The school day ended. Somehow the city bus got me home. When at home, I stood at the window looking at all that snow coming down. Realizing that not looking at it wouldn’t make it stop, I tried to will the weather to cease its impinging on my concert-going life.

The phone rang. It was John.

“Sorry, man. There’s no way I’m driving in this. We’re not going.”

“But, John! We paid $9.92! Each! It took me three hours of work to earn that!”

“It ain’t happening. And, geez, you earn crap.”

“I know. It’s minimum wage. What can I do? You know, one day this country will realize that people new to the workforce, such as myself, working entry level positions at unskilled jobs, such as working at Wendy’s, as I do, deserve a living wage…”

Sorry. I seem to have drifted into some 99% protest.

We didn’t go. The show went on without us. And, I suspect, without several other fans.

On July 11, 1997, I finally got to see Cheap Trick play live. It was at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue & 7th Street Entry. It took more than 13 years, but it was worth the wait. They were great! I would go on to see them another four times.

One of those times was an outdoor show as part of the Minneapolis Rib Fest. It was free, but I could say I paid for it years in advance.

I got my $9.92 worth.

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The actual unused ticket.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Great Album Retro Review: Great Divide By Semisonic

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Lest you think my musical tastes never advanced past the 1980s, I have a great album from 1996 to discuss. It’s the first full length album by Minneapolis band Semisonic. Formed from the ashes of another influential band from that fabled city of the Upper Midwest, Trip Shakespearse; Semisonic carried on the psychedelic ’60s influenced sound of Trip Shakespeare while giving it a more polished, heavier guitar feel.

The songs of Great Divide are catchy with the warm and welcoming vocals of lead singer and guitarist Dan Wilson. There’s sensuality mixed with bombast on this album. Romantic and grand. The swirling and layered guitars are occasionally accompanied by sound affects to add texture. It’s a pleasure to listen to this one.

The Tracks:

F.N.T. – Standing for Fascinating New Thing, F.N.T. starts of with a great guitar riff and kicks the album off right. It’s a song about that strong attraction one can feel for someone new. It’s an exciting feeling. But the song also take the long view in that this “new thing” will still be fascinating even when no longer new.

If I Run – This is a great road song. It about a guy who feels the need to drive on. It will be alright if he could just leave it all behind. All, that is, except that one person.

Delicious – Seems like this is a bit of a sex song. Dan Wilson’s vocal take on a sensuous nature as he describes the desire he’s feeling for that certain someone. Kinda sexy.

Down In Flames – This song shows that bombastic side of the band. It’s big. It’s grand. It’s pretty good. Starts slow and small, but builds quickly.

Across The Great Divide – Sort of the title track, this is my favorite song on the album. Another love song. This one is about devotion to a loved one despite the distance separating them. It seems autobiographical as Wilson sings of heading far off to a place and a life unknown to him to record this song.

Temptation – Wilson adopts a falsetto for this song about desiring someone that maybe he shouldn’t, but the temptation is too great.

The Prize – Another big song. More bombast. Some nice call and response vocals between Wilson and bassist John Munson. A little plodding in its pace. This is a rerecorded version of a song that appeared on the band’s 1995 EP – Pleasure.

No One Else – Another love song on an album loaded with love songs. This one is low key and quietly played. It’s as if it’s being sung to a lover in bed after a romantic encounter. A bit of pillow talk.

Brand New Baby – Another rerecording of a track from Pleasure, this song is about the brave face one puts on when their ex has a new love interest. They said they wanted their freedom, to be on their own, but there they are with someone else. Hey, that’s great. Good for you. Just keep smiling. Keep smiling.

Falling – Love again. This time the object of Wilson’s desire seems to want to keep things at arm’s length, but something’s brewing. I like the use of the amusement park ride as a metaphor for falling in love.

In Another Life – John Munson takes the lead vocal for this quiet, thoughtful track about a broken relationship that is beyond repairing. Too much time has past. The damage is done. Move on.

I Feel For You – The quietest track on the album closes it out. Guitars, bass, and plenty of whirling and swirling sounds work their way around your head. It’s a trippy lullaby.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Pods Looking Back 4: More Podcast Recommendations

Here are a few more podcasts to recommend for your listening pleasure. There is a more or less nostalgic aspect to all of them, but one will also examine items that are more current. The first two are heavily, if not completely, filled with music content, the third has varying topics.

These shows may contain content and language that some might find objectionable.

Click of the titles to link to the podcasts.

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Discography This podcast is relatively new. Host Marc With A C does a deep dive into the musical output of “one legendary musician at a time.” What the host does is review all the albums and singles that make up a particular artist’s body of work. Marc places the music into the context of the times it was created. And he gives the histories of the musicians, their struggles and their triumphs, who created the music.

So far the show has covered Frank Zappa, Janet Jackson, and, my favorite band, The Who. Each artist gets several episodes to go through their canonical work. I must admit I’ve only listened to The Who series, because I’m most interested in their work.

And it is The Who that has gotten the most shows so far. There are eight episodes, because Marc thinks very highly of the band and he expanded his usual format to include examining the solo material of the individual members of the greatest rock band in the world. The series isn’t just a love letter to The Who though, Marc gives his honest opinion on the times the band and the individual artists fell short of greatness.

Marc is obviously an enthusiastic music fan and a good researcher. However, he makes one error that I will correct here. When he was talking about Pete Townshend’s acoustic set at the charity event The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979, he mentions that Pete was accompanied on the song ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ by John Williams. That is not the John Williams of Star Wars fame as Marc states. It’s a different John Williams. This one is a well-respected classical musician who plays acoustic guitar.

Hey. Nobody’s perfect.

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Rolling Stone Music Now This podcast by the venerable music magazine has been running for a few years and covers a wide variety of topics within the world of music, both old and new. The show will also touch on other aspects of the entertainment industry.

It is hosted by Brian Hiatt and has several regular contributors. Often the show starts with a round table discussion of what everyone is listening to at that time. There are plenty of interviews with musicians and they will explore the history and significance of an artist’s body of work. They will also examine some of the seminal albums of pop and rock history. They have discussions on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and the White Album (the remix versions), U2’s Pop, Radiohead’s OK Computer, and others.

They even have a show covering the times the magazine was less than complimentary of some of rock’s most highly revered bands, such as AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. They will also honestly assess the lesser work of artists they really like. And they really like The Who. I mean, The Who pops up in conversations with guests quite often. There’s an interview of Saturday Night Live alumnus Fred Armisen in which almost out of nowhere they go into a five minute discussion on the greatness of The Who. (How could I not like this podcast?!) But they’ll also honestly knock The Who for their less-than-stellar Superbowl Half-Time performance.

Hey. Nobody’s perfect.

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One Plus One This is the newest of the three podcasts and it’s very good. The host, Rico Gagliano, explores the history of great collaborations, times when two individuals combine their talents to produce greater work than either could do on their own. The podcast posits that:

“Every great collaboration is a love story. It’s intense. Passionate. Along the way, there’s flashes of love, hate, pride, ego, ambition, and brilliance.”

And, oh, boy! Do they start with an excellent collaboration!

The first six episodes focus on what is probably the greatest songwriting duo in pop music history: John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Rico looks into how the two met and began writing together, through their tremendous success and their tumultuous break-up and beyond. He digs into their pasts to show how these two were connected by more than their love of rock’n’roll. You see, each had lost his mother at a very young age. Paul was 14, John 17.

In fact, I had not known how John’s mother died. The story is quite tragic and very well told. The storytelling of this series is masterful. Rico weaves the stories of these two legendary artists together wonderfully. He’ll tease an event enough to pique your interest and then set it aside until the listener is set up for the full impact of the story.

For example, the first episode ‘Eyeball To Eyeball’ starts with Lennon heading over to McCartney’s place with a fragment of a song idea. He has something good, but he needs Paul to help flesh it out. Paul also had a bit of a song he had set aside. They sit “eyeball to eyeball”, combine the two songs, and get something pretty good. They bring it to the studio and invite some friends and an orchestra.

The song? A Day In The Life.

It’s an excellent podcast that won’t be focusing solely on musical collaborations. The next series, of which the first episode is available now, focuses on the collaboration of sports legends Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. If the first series is any indication, the Shaq and Kobe story should be fascinating.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Concert-Going Veteran Finally Sees A Legend

Guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a review of rock legend Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour’s stop in Sacramento, CA.

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I’m a veteran of more than a few hundred rock concerts over the years.

BTO, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, U2, David Bowie, The Clash, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Devo, AC/DC, Depeche Mode are a handful of the big boys who come to mind immediately; The Cure, Crowded House, The Cramps, Tears For Fears, The Pretenders, Thompson Twins, Grizzly Bear, The Pixies, Love And Rockets, The The, and Adam And The Ants are a few others who made lasting impressions.

Some of the more adventurous outings featured Flock Of Seagulls, Tones On Tail, Polysics, Wall Of Voodoo, Dread Zeppelin, Haunted Garage, The Tubes and, most recently, Psychostick. Woven within them all, are hundreds more individuals and bands and shows and benefits of mind-boggling number, a couple of which I’m certain I’ve forgotten. I’m sure I’ve witnessed close to 500 events in person. And let me tell you: There were days I woke up ridden hard and put up wet after a show. (Indiana Jones said it best: “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”)

But of all those adventures I’d never before seen Elton John.

That changed last night.

His “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour was in town (the “town” being Sacramento), the tickets for the event had been purchased back in 2017. The showcase venue was the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, the relatively recently opened arena (2016) housing the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. With a seating capacity well over 16,000 seats for concerts, the Center did a nice little job of filling up for the night – not quite to capacity but damned close.

Going into the show, I fully predicted a retrospective sampling of John’s storied songwriting history. (And he did not disappoint.) But I was expecting more from the man and the band, regardless of the fact the dude has hit his 70 year mark. (More than a few of his band members, too, are a bit long in the tooth, some having played with him since the 1970s.) Did he still have the chops? How long would the show last? And could his voice hold out for however long the show commenced?

John set the tone for the evening by launching into the familiar strains of “Bennie And The Jets” which, of course, got the crowd clapping in unison. After that rousing beginning, however, things went downhill quickly with “All The Girls Love Alice” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.” Let me explain:

It wasn’t the song selection by any means. It was the unfamiliar, goofy arrangements he decided to use. His odd rendition of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” actually had me cocking my head dog-like with its funky queerness; John’s almost off key singing didn’t help matters. And this is something that would continue throughout the evening, I was to discover. Several more tunes (“Rocket Man,” “Crocodile Rock” and especially “Sad Songs” and “The Bitch Is Back”) unapologetically tested the audience’s listening range. But isn’t that part of the concert going experience? You never know what you’re going to get, right? And, after all, they can’t all be gems.

But with the evening’s fourth song came the highlight of the show: “Border Song.” Not only did he execute it brilliantly, he offered a tale about its infancy back in 1970 when it was originally released and how, as a young man with a young band, he discovered the song covered unexpectedly by none other than The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who did very well with her version. (Side Note: John shares a birthday with Franklin, a nice little piece of trivia there.) The song has always been a favorite of mine in my history of Elton John Marching And Chowder Society appreciation. It was a pleasant surprise to hear it. Early in the show John formally apologized to the audience in the event he didn’t get to some folks’ preferences given the abundance of tunes in his song repository.

Now, while there was often song quirkiness to break up the evening, some of the more pleasant aspects of the night hovered around the extended piano riffs and copious band pronouncements during several songs. The crowd was treated to “extended versions” of tunes courtesy of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” the latter already clocking in as a long composition in its original form. There were a couple more examples, but these two in particular were unexpected highlights.

And, yes … there was of course the cheesiness of “Philadelphia Freedom,” “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock” – all with ditzy arrangements – to round out the mix and get the crowd jauntily clapping in rhythm. (I’ve never been on board with those particular fluffy songs. It’s a personal thing.)

But, when all was said and done, Elton John turned in an overall worthy two and a half hour concert for the 15,000 or so in attendance. Not bad for someone turning the page on 71 years in a couple months. And while his voice didn’t hit the highs and lows of younger days, he more than made up for it with his enthusiasm and appreciation at being the center of attention. There seemed to be a palpable genuineness to the man whenever he stood and took in the applause of the crowd.

Was I happy to have finally seen him? Yes, regardless of the sometimes weird warbles with which he constructed some songs. (I even plunked down $75.00 for a poster and tour program, well worth it to this concert-attending yahoo.) I mean, come on: The dude’s an icon. He’s a legend. He’s been appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. For his charitable work, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. And, most of all, he’s a major player in music, making up a big part of the fabric of rock and roll history.

See him if you can. His Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour is worth the effort.

The Evening’s Set List

Set 1:

Bennie And The Jets
All The Girls Love Alice
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Border Song
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Indian Sunset
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be A Long, Long Time)
Take Me To The Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Levon
Candle In The Wind

Set 2:

Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down The Mission
Believe
Daniel
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

Encore:

Your Song
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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