Category Archives: Pop Music

Great Album Retro Review: The Partridge Family Album By The Partridge Family (And A Few Other Musicians)

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Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking I’ve lost my mind, right? How could I possibly think the ’70s sit-com musical family’s first album is great?

Well, it’s not great the way the previous great albums (The Who’s Quadrophenia, Genesis’ Abacab, Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water) that I’ve reviewed were great. But, as an example of pure, pleasurable, playful ’70s pop it’s hard to deny this album’s appeal.

I suppose there’s a good deal of nostalgia for my youthful innocence of that time period, from which this album and sit-com arose, that influences my opinion, but when you compare this first album, The Partridge Family Album, to later releases, there’s just something special about it. The Partridge Family, or rather members of the group of studio musicians collectively known as The Wrecking Crew and the pop vocal group The Love Connection, were firing on all cylinders on this album.

It was discovered that David Cassidy, who played the oldest Partridge son, could sing, so he provides lead vocals for most of the songs. And Shirley Jones, who played the mother of the talented brood, was also a fine singer and she provides some backing vocals. The rest of the cast were required to lip-sync… for the show, not the album.

I think the album is great. The sit-com? Well… No.

The Tracks:

Brand New Me – The lush, string-filled opening song starts off with a nice warm guitar riff. There are horns and soaring backing vocals and Cassidy demonstrates he has quite the range to his voice.

Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque – The lushness of their sound continues as Cassidy sings of a young, female hitchhiker trying get home. The song builds and descends again and again in its just under four minutes. Nice piano throughout and the “cha! cha! cha!” vocal bursts at the end are a nice touch.

Bandela – Cow bell! Lots and lots of cow bell! The Wrecking Crew cook on this one, my favorite track.

I Really Want To Know You – This one is a bit sappy, but the vocals are very sweet and sincere and completely David Cassidy-less. It’s kinda fun trying to determine which of the male voices is supposed to belong to Danny Partridge.

Only A Moment Ago – Where did all the happy people go? Did the Partridges just become the Omega Family? Or is David lamenting a lost love and how the world changed after losing her. I prefer to think it’s a post apocalyptic tale. But then I’m a bit fatalistic.

I Can Hear Your Heartbeat – Time for a rocker! A song of new found love and heartbeats and being a man of your word. Nice guitar riffs and excellent building to a quick cut to end the song.

I’m On The Road – Another song without David’s vocals. (Again which one is Danny?) It’s a fun travel the countryside song. They needed a travel song. The family got around in an old school bus, after all.

To Be Lovers – Mostly without David’s vocals, he does sing a little lead in the middle bit, this song is a little creepy. Creepy if you consider the story on the TV show had that this song being co-written by Danny. Who was – what? – ten at the time. A song about lovers who aren’t in love? Jeez! The kid’s been around.

Someone Wants To Love You – Well, it was the 1970s and the hippies’ message of love and peace had been co-opted by TV executives, so, of course, there had to be a song hinting at free love, right?

I Think I Love You – This was their big hit. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s a pretty rockin’ tune about a fellow who woke up from a good dream realizing he might just be in love.

Singing My Song – Another song touching on Hollywood’s notion of hippie culture and their love of singing. It’s a nice quick rollicking singalong end to a good collection of ’70s pop. The “bah-dah-dee-dum” chorus is irresistible.

Packing Peanuts!

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Great Album Retro Review: Bridge Over Troubled Water By Simon & Garfunkel

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Bridge Over Troubled Water is the studio swan song album of the harmonizing folk duo that ruled the 1960s. There aren’t too many two singer voice combinations that were better than Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. And Simon’s lyrics are among the best of any songwriter in all of pop music.

The album was released in January, 1970 and I seem to recall that my parents owned it. That’s a little surprising, because my parents were never big music people. Dad liked his country and western, but I don’t remember them doing a lot of listening to music at home. They watched the Lawrence Welk Show for crying out loud! These weren’t the most musically hip people, but they had this album. Go figure.

I don’t often listen to this album, but when I do it’s amazing how good it is. It’s not the folk sound of their earlier efforts, it explores several musical genres such as jazz, reggae, and world music. Comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla would often complain about how doleful and morose Simon & Garfunkel’s music was and he has a point, but he forgets this album. Sure, it gets a little quiet and sad, but some of it is downright fun!

It is easily my favorite S & G album.

The tracks:

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Right out of the gate. A magnificent song. It’s been compared to The Beatles’ Let It Be and that is an understandable reaction. More gospel than folk, Garfunkel’s vocals soar on this one. And he didn’t want to sing lead on it at first, he needed convincing. I’m glad he was convinced. Also, according to Wikipedia, the “silver girl” in the song is referring to Simon’s wife at the time and her first grey hairs, not heroin as the urban legend claims. That will be a relief to my mother, who had gone off the song when she heard that myth.

El Condor Pasa (If I Could) – This gentle and wistful song is an early indication of Simon’s interest in music from around the world. It’s a little like a World Music version of the folk classic If I Had Hammer.

Cecilia – Oh, this one is fun. Awesome percussion throughout. A great, toe-tapping, uptempo song about a fellow’s not-so-loyal girlfriend taking on another lover while he’s in the bathroom.

Keep The Customer Satisfied – Another uptempo song and another song rumored to have to do with illegal drugs. This time it’s thought to be about a drug dealer, but Simon was writing about how exhausting it is to tour. I love the horns! They add a terrific punch.

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright – A jazzy song praising the world famous architect, sung so sweetly by Garfunkel.

The Boxer – This and the title track were S & G’s most commercially successful songs and this one is a boomer. A gritty song about a fighter trying to survive a life filled with punches. The big drum sound was accomplished by recording the drums in a hallway. The “lie, lie, lies” chorus helps make this a great sing-a-long tune.

Baby Driver – Back to the uptempo, but this time Simon doesn’t counter-point the music with downer lyrics as he does on Customer and Why Don’t You Write Me, this time he just wants to have some fun. I really like this song. It just might be my favorite track. Excellent guitar work!

The Only Living Boy In New York – On an album of so much musical exploration, this and the final track are the most traditional S & G feeling songs. It’s a melancholy track about being lonely in New York City. The big drum sound fits this song, unlike the drum sound that was overdubbed, unknown to Simon and Garfunkel, onto the remixed version of their song The Sound Of Silence.

Why Don’t You Write Me – Simon loves himself an uptempo, bouncing song with a downbeat lyric and this one is a good one. There’s a bit of a reggae feel to this one.

Bye Bye Love – Recorded live on my fifth birthday (just a coincidence) during a concert performance in Ames, Iowa, this cover song is more popularly known to have been hit for pop music’s other famous harmonizing duo, The Everly Brothers. According to Wikipedia, S & G performed the song twice, because when they first played it that night in 1969 they really liked the sound of the audience clapping along. So, they played it again and recorded it for inclusion on this album.

Song For The Asking – Quietly lush with strings, acoustic guitar, and Paul’s vocals, this all too brief song sounds very much like a sweet goodbye. And that’s what it turned out to be for this would be Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album.

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Songs And Moments

There are many things that can trigger a memory. Photographs, certain scents, or someone telling a related story can all jog a memory and take you back to a specific moment from your past. They can be big moments or small, whichever it is, that trigger just brings you back. And a song can be a trigger for me.

This week, I thought I’d list five songs that bring five moments from my past to mind every time I hear them. None of the moments are particularly big. Most are small, everyday sorts of occurrences that just add texture to life. Two of the songs are by Paul McCartney. I’m not sure why, it just worked out that way.

Writer’s note: Click on the headers to be linked to the songs.

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My Love by Paul McCartney and Wings (1973).

This may be the smallest moment I’ll discuss. As I recall, it took place during the summer of 1973 or 1974. In those days, when my siblings and I would suggest our parents buy a dishwasher, Dad would say, “Why? I already have four of them.”

He, of course, was referring to us kids. There were four of us and we were tasked with the chore of washing the dishes. Each kid would get the washing up duties for a week. The moment that comes back to me happened during one of my weeks. And it is so mundane, you may find it underwhelming, but I’m sharing anyway.

One of our perks when doing the dishes was to be allowed to listen to music on the radio. Not too loud!

My Love was a new song at the time. What I think of now whenever I hear that song is me standing at the sink, washing dishes, looking out the kitchen window at the neighbor’s house, listening to Paul singing, “Whoa whoa-whoa whoooa.”

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Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings (1974).

Probably during that same summer as the My Love moment, this excellent song brings me back to playing in a sand pile behind a strip mall near where my parents still live today. Right across the street from the house was an empty lot, in which we kids spent much of our spare time, on the other side of the lot was that strip mall.

I don’t recall why there was a pile of sand there, but what kid could resist making use of it? A group of us kids were digging through it for hours. Someone must have a transistor radio with them, because Band On The Run was playing.

To this day, that fantastic opening guitar riff brings me right back to that sand pile.

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Heat Of The Moment by Asia (1982).

This moment is the summer of 1982. My best friend Greg and I were enjoying our summer between junior and senior year. Greg had his driver’s license and he had pretty much taken over his mother’s Chevy Laguna as his car. And, since it was his car, he needed to make certain the stereo was capable of producing the proper volume level any respectable 16 or 17 year old would require.

He rigged up that Laguna so that the back seat and window space were crammed with speakers. He had seven speakers back there. Some weren’t even car speakers, at least two of them were from his home stereo. He also got his hands, I don’t know how, on an old football stadium style PA speaker. He ran everything through a powerful equalizer and the volume he achieved was impressive. My left ear is still ringing.

The song that became our theme for that summer was that hit by the 80s super-group Asia. Which we played again and again, so very loudly.

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Pilgrimage by REM (1983).

This moment is difficult to nail down to a specific time. It happened when I was in art school. I attended the School of Associated Arts (it was renamed College of Visual Arts in 1989 and closed its doors in June, 2013) starting in the fall of 1983 and graduating in spring 1986. The school was located on the historic Summit Avenue, an avenue in St. Paul, MN filled with old mansions from the days when Minnesota’s wealthiest citizens took up residence in the capital city. Railroad tycoon James J Hill’s mansion is just down the block from the school.

The picturesque Summit Avenue is located on a hill that overlooks downtown St. Paul, where the hoi polloi lived and worked and where the bus would drop me off and pick me up. On the days when I didn’t get a ride, I would bus it in and back. And I would have to walk up and down that hill. There was a long set of stairs, running right alongside the James J Hill House, that meandered its way to and from Summit Avenue. I’m not sure if it’s still there.

That was quite a beautiful yet tiring climb in the morning. I was so thankful for the few stretches in which the path leveled out for a time. I was also thankful for my Sony Walkman (remember those?), which set the mood for the climb. Pilgrimage has somehow become the song that reminds me of that walk on those stairs.

A nice song for a nice, if exhausting, walk.

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Unknown Legend by Neil Young (1993).

In the mid-90s I worked, very briefly, as a staff artist for a little start-up multi-media publishing company. The friends I made there really liked Neil Young’s 1992 album Harvest Moon. Now, it’s not that I wasn’t a fan of Young’s music. I liked and appreciated much of his art. I just enjoyed poking fun at the way he sings. I would take to imitating the yowl of a cat as I “sang” along with the 60’s radical.

Well, the company wasn’t taking off as the investors had hoped and they stopped funding it and we all lost our jobs.

Some weeks or months later, while throwing back a few brews with some other friends, the jukebox played Unknown Legend. I took immediate notice and was transported back to that workplace. My reaction must have been awfully obvious, because my friends asked if I was OK.

I hadn’t started blubbering or anything like that. I had just gotten very quiet. I told them I was remembering some friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

Surely, you have a song or two (or a thousand) that take you back to moments in time. Share some in the comments if you like.

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Great Album Retro Review: Suzanne Vega By Suzanne Vega

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Returning to the ’80s, which is where a very sizeable chunk of my favorite music originates, so get used to it, I will once again review what I think is a great album. In this installment, I will tout Suzanne Vega’s first album.

Released in 1985, the album is self-titled and is beautiful and melancholy. Vega’s singing and songwriting are as graceful as they are thoughtful and poignant. The songs are mainly acoustic and have a folksy feel. They are quiet, simple, and straight forward in their production.

I must have discovered this album at a point in my life at which I most needed it, because it really dug its way into my psyche. I love this album. It is in my Top Ten All Time Favorites.

The tracks:

Cracking –  This song opens with my favorite acoustic guitar riff on the album and uses a  lilting synthesizer to fill in the sound as Vega talk sings much of the lyrics. It’s a moody piece that sets up the album very well.

Freeze Tag – There’s a lilt to this song as well, as Vega appears to reminisce on playful times with a flame from her past. And a song that drops a reference to Bogie and Bacall can’t be bad.

Marlene On The Wall – My favorite track on the album, this is a more up tempo song about getting romantic advice from an ever-observing poster of Marlene Dietrich. At least, I think Vega means Dietrich.

Small Blue Thing – This song returns to the moody atmosphere of the first track. To me it seems to be about obsession and being controlled by the object of that obsession. She becomes a small thing being held in her obsession’s hand.

Straight Lines – A little up tempo again, Vega sings of a woman changing herself. Cutting her hair, casting away lovers, simplifying her life until she is finally alone. With that accomplished, I can’t help but to feel some sadness for her.

Undertow – Still on the slightly up tempo side, I’m not entirely certain what this song means. But, like much of the album, there is a feel of melancholy filling every corner.

Some Journey – This song has some nice jangly guitar accents along with a flowing electric violin. Vega sings of what might have been had she met a certain person. Would they have been lovers?

The Queen And The Soldier – This song is a fable of a young queen, isolated, impetuous, and powerful, and a loyal soldier who had finally decided he couldn’t continue to do battle for her. Instead, he offers her a chance to end the constant violence and to find love. To break her out of the trap of her royalty. Does she accept his offer?

Knight Moves – I’m not certain if Vega intended this song to be about the same queen in the previous track, but I always thought it was. The melancholy continues as the queen is questioned as whether she loves one, many, any, or me.

Neighborhood Girls – This closing track is the most bouncy of any of the tracks on the album. It almost feels out of place, it’s practically jaunty, but it still works. There are plenty of excellent popping guitar lines throughout this song about neighborhood sex workers.

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Pods Looking Back 3: One More List Of My Favorite Nostalgic Podcasts

Time once again for me to recommend a few podcasts that look back nostalgically. Well, they look back at past events, anyway. And I’m going to throw in a shameless self-promotion. (Hint: I do a podcast.)

Some of these suggested podcasts might get a little explicit in their language, so keep that in mind. However, this list is mostly swear-free. (Hint: Mine isn’t.)

Click on the titles to link to the podcasts.

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Stuck In The 80s For the better part of the last thirteen years, Steve Spears has been the host of this podcast that fondly recalls the 1980s decade. Music, movies, trends, books, even television get talked about on this fun and relaxed and friendly show. The listener feels completely welcome in expressing their love of all things ’80s.

There have been a number of co-hosts over the years, including yours truly for a guest co-host appearance or two or three, but Spearsy (as his friends call him) has been the one constant. For the past five years, Spearsy’s co-host has been Brad Williams. Brad started out as just a fan, but eventually became co-host replacing the very boisterous Sean Daly. Brad brought a different vibe to the show that meshed very well with the original host. Plus there’s a certain Jen with one N who brings a woman’s perspective to the show as she guest co-hosts more and more frequently.

They love the ’80s. If you love the ’80s, check out this podcast.

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Hit Parade It was Jen with one N who mentioned this podcast on SIT80s. It sounded interesting so I checked it out.

It’s a music podcast that comes out once a month. Each month, host Chris Molanphy does a deep dive on a topic from pop music history. The show is very well produced and researched and it is fascinating. In fact, the show is so good and the host is so engaging he made Bon Jovi interesting.

I hate Bon Jovi! So does the host, which is a testament to how good this podcast is.

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The Dana Gould Hour Dana Gould is damn funny and his monthly podcast, never less than two and a half hours, is funny, informative, and so very entertaining. He and his guests will talk politics, the entertainment industry, and comedy in general. There’s a semi-regular segment called Political Talk with Two Guys from Boston in which Gould and actor John Ennis improvise as two Bostonian working class dudes talking about whatever, not necessarily politics though.

The middle section of each show has Gould giving a talk on the history of something usually related to entertainment. Those stories include Roy Orbison’s triumphant and tragic life, the awesome schlocky genius of Robert Corman, and just how the hell that crazy film Beneath the Planets of the Apes got green-lit. Gould has the gift of telling these stories in such an engaging way. I love how he does it. Hell, I even listen to his ad reads, instead of fast forwarding the way I do with all the other podcasts to which I listen.

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The Assault of the 2-Headed Space Mules It’s a mouthful title, ain’t it? This podcast is hosted by my friend Douglas Arthur. It’s an easy, relatively quiet podcast that explores various aspects of pop culture. He’s discussed the film Mad Monster Party, Saturday morning cartoon theme songs, Jonny Quest, novelty songs, Devo, and much more. He’ll even read a short story or two by H. P. Lovecraft on the show.

And he’ll bring in members of the G.O.O.C.H. (Gang of Occasional Co-Hosts, of which I am a member) Squad to have some fun blathering on about whatever strikes his fancy. We just gathered to do a show on… No, I don’t want to spoil it.

The show comes out irregularly. Douglas is a busy man, so it adheres to his schedule.

Dimland Radio

Dimland Radio Finally, my shameless self-promotion. I do a weekly podcast/internet radio show. I talk about sports, politics, science, skepticism, atheism/religion, and anything else that I find of interest. I’ll give movie recommendations and gripe about pop culture, just not necessarily at the same time.

I have segments that include the Dimland Radio Science Hero or Science Zero, It’s Not True (usually internet memes and urban legends people tend to believe, but aren’t true), Dimland Radio ARGH! (that’s something that really bugs me), Three Cool Things, and my most popular segment the Dimland Radio Pedantic Moment. People love those. I think.

And I’ll talk about The Who. I talk about them a lot. It’s kind of an obsession. I’m trying not to do it too much. Really. I am trying.

All of these podcasts are available on iTunes. So, check ’em out. (Please! Please! Please! Subscribe to Dimland Radio. You don’t even have to listen if you don’t want. You can just download and delete. Please?)

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Great Album Retro Review: Abacab by Genesis

41sSESitKELI read an article reporting on the psychology behind why people tend to favor the first album they’ve heard by a musical artist over the rest of that artist’s output. It has to do with familiarity. Since it’s the first album you picked up, it’s probably the one you’ve listened to the most and so it’s your favorite. Makes sense.

I can think of a some albums that weren’t the first I’d owned by a particular band, but are my favorites (XTC’s Skylarking, for instance). However, when I give it some thought, there are plenty of favorite albums in my collection that fit in the “first heard” category. This month’s album is one of those.

It’s Abacab by the prog (becoming more pop) rock band Genesis. Released in 1981, it wasn’t my first exposure the UK band. I knew and liked the song Misunderstanding from their 1980 release Duke. That song had gotten a good deal more radio play than anything from the band’s previous nine albums. But I didn’t buy Duke.

When Abacab’s title single hit the radio, I was impressed enough to buy the album. So, my first Genesis album was the band’s eleventh! Abacab was more pop than their previous albums. The songs were simpler and more direct, which was intentional so as to stay fresh in their sound. Not being much of a prog rock fan, the poppier aspect was more attractive to me.

The tracks:

Abacab – Named for the sections (A, B, & C) that make up the song, when creating the song the band would move the sections around until they found the one configuration they liked, Abacab was one of those section configurations, but not the final one. Still they liked the way the letters made a “word” and used it for the album title. This song (and album) also had that big Phil Collins’ drum sound, a sound that would influence much of pop music through the 80s. As I said, I was really impressed with the song. Still am.

No Reply At All – Oh, boy! This song just jumped off the record for me. I loved the horns, provided by the horn section of the R&B giants Earth, Wind & Fire. There’s just something about a good jaunty horn section to boost a song. And the lyrics of a lonely guy pining for love struck a chord with my high school self.

Me And Sarah Jane – When I got to learn more about the history of this band and of Peter Gabriel, their original lead singer, I could hear more of their prog roots here and I can also hear why the band picked Collins as their new leader singer. There’s quite a lot of Gabriel’s sound in this song. A quieter song that builds and gets quiet and builds and gets quiet.

Keep It Dark – My favorite track on the album. I love the guitar riff and the lyrics of a man who had been abducted by a gang of thieves. Or were they aliens? The protagonist decides not let on exactly what happened to him. He decides to keep it dark. Great song.

Dodo/Lurker – This one is probably the most prog of any of the songs of the album. I enjoy the flow of the song as it makes time changes and discusses the plights of dodos and minxes.

Who Dunnit? – I don’t know about this one. I do like it. However, it feels a little like a throwaway song. On the other hand, the song also seems a bit tongue-in-cheek and shows the band to have a sense of humor. It’s also just plain weird. I don’t know about this one… But, I like it.

Man On The Corner – This one is a start out quiet and build until it’s hitting the ceiling song. It is a tried and true (and sometimes overdone – see Whitney Houston and Michael Bolton) style of song delivery. Genesis makes it work here. I think because the whole build up is so slow and the ceiling isn’t too high.

Like It Or Not – Another quiet song that builds well, but it still holds back just enough. I like that. Sometimes that holding back makes a song more powerful (don’t see Whitney Houston and Michael Bolton).

Another Record – The album started with a big drum sound and it ends with big drums. Yeah, I know, there were big drums pretty much the whole album, but this track sounds as though the drums are the lead instrument. The song is a little of an anticlimax – good, but not quite as powerful an ending as the album’s beginning.

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Great Album Retro Review: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship By Love Tractor

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I’m going a little hipster here by looking at an album by one of the lesser known bands to come out of Athens, GA in the ’80s. Also, as this series continues, you will probably notice quite a few of my picks are from the ’80s. What can I say? I guess I’m stuck.

It was 1987 and my friend John, who was my cohort in the discovery of music that matters, not that crappy pop and hair metal getting all the radio airtime, found out about this band. They’re called Love Tractor. I hadn’t hear of them before John discovered this their fifth album: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship.

I have to admit, I don’t know much of anything about their other musical output. I will try to remedy that, but I just love this album.

If you need an example of lilting guitars, this is it! Along with the lilting guitars is plenty of excellent melodies and hooks. This album just feels so good.

The tracks:

Cartoon Kiddies – This is my second favorite track on the album which is an ode to TV cartoons, most particularly Top Cat. Now, Top Cat wasn’t one of my favorites, but this song is a great kick off

Small Town – There’s just something about Mark Richmond’s vocals. There’s an ease to them as well as just the merest hint of snarl. Nothing threatening though. And his frequent forays into falsetto really work for me.

Chili Part Two – This song is more of an instrumental, which touches on the band’s roots as they started out an instrumental band, with a few bits of lyrics thrown in. And I find it so effective when the lyrics come rolling in – “Heeeeeere cooomes that feeeeliiing agaaaaiiin!”

Night Club Scene – The lilting guitars glide over the big ’80s drumbeat as this song opens. It’s a slower song that contains the line that gives the album its title. What does the song mean? I dunno.

Outside With Ma – For me, this is the weakest track on the album. That’s not to say it’s a bad song. It has a darker feel than the rest of the album. It also has a funky feel, which doesn’t quite work.

Rudolf Nureyev – Returning to their roots, this is the album’s first of two fully instrumental tracks. Plenty of lilt and I can almost see the dancer after whom it is named dancing gracefully along.

Beatle BootsHands down, my favorite song on the album! It just feels so good. It’s got a great ’80s dance vibe. The lyrics speak of an emotionally complicated woman who is both a hero and a mess. I love this song!

Amusement Park – This song sounds like Summer. It’s about hanging out and seeking thrills. “Meet me here. Meet me there.” Let’s go downtown, to the record store, and, of course, to that amusement park.

Party Train – A fun, rockin’ yet still funky cover of The Gap Band hit. Love Tractor makes it their own. And it’s pretty good.

We All Loved Each Other So Much – On the original vinyl release, this was the last track of the album. It was also the second fully instrumental track. It’s a quiet contemplative tune and, at just over seven minutes, the longest track on the album. Lilting to the very end.

Got To Give It Up – This bonus track is another funky cover song. This time the band covers the great dance party track by Marvin Gaye. Lots of falsetto and lots of fun. It’s a nice bonus.

Wanna give it a listen? Of course, you do! It’s available on iTunes and Spotify. Check it out!

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