Sunday, April 9th, 2017

The Freddie Fender ballad “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” has been playing on a fucking loop in my head for the past 48 hours. I loathe this song in capital letters: LOATHE. I can’t say why; it’s one of those gut reactions that makes me instantly change the radio station. I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that I have loathed this song since it was released in 1975. I would’ve been fifteen years old then, growing up in a tiny rural town that was smack in the middle of Wisconsin. The local radio station played just about anything, but music by the likes of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash were featured prominently. I remember hearing “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights” what seemed like every fucking day, although I’m sure now that’s an exaggeration. Although maybe not.

I have just learned that Freddie Fender was born with the name Baldemar Garza Huerta. That’s about the coolest name I’ve heard in my life. I can’t imagine why he wanted to change it. I want to have a son right now just so I can name him Baldemar. Also, Fender was in a band called Los Super Seven, another very cool name, and another band named Texas Tornados, which is a cool name but not as cool as Los Super Seven.

“Before The Next Teardrop Falls” is stuck in my head because I watched a documentary film about a guy with Aspberger’s who sang through his nose in that atonal way just about all of us do when we want to sing but there are a lot of people around so we try to make it look like we’re not singing by not moving our lips and by looking out the window pretending to be interested in the clouds. This guy wasn’t pretending not to sing, though. That’s just the way he sang. He knew all the words to “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” even the ones in Spanish, and he sang them with such deep, emotional feeling that I couldn’t help but be touched by it.

I still hate that song, though.

That’s not the only song that’s been stuck in my head this weekend. Another is “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France, and it’s because of another film I saw this week (I was at the Wisconsin Film Fest with My Darling B last week, so I saw a lot of films; bear with me) called “Frantz,” about a young French soldier who travels to Germany to meet the family of the German soldier he killed during The Great War. It was “great” in the sense that it was really big, not in the sense that everybody thought it was a lot of fun and we should have another one again as soon as possible, even though we ended up doing just that. This is why choosing the right name is so important. “Baldemar” — good choice. “The Great War” — not such a good choice.

Back to the film: One of the principal characters of the film, a young German woman who was engaged to the German soldier who was shot by the French soldier I mentioned earlier, travels to Paris to find the French soldier because … it’s complicated. Anyway, she’s in a cafe in Paris when a couple of French soldiers come in for coffee and everyone stands up and sings “La Marseillaise” because what else would you do, right?

If you’ve seen “Casablanca,” you saw almost the same scene: Victor Laslo leads the customers of Rick’s Cafe in a rousing verse of “La Marseillaise” to flip the bird at the Germans who are after him. What they didn’t do in “Casablanca” was subtitle the words to the song, I guess because they figured everybody knew what it meant back then. I didn’t, and I never looked it up, either, thinking it was the usual stuff of national anthems: “We’re the best, you guys suck, our country is better than your country.”

But the version of “Frantz” we saw was subtitled, and they went on subtitling the words to the anthem during the cafe scene, so this is the first time I’ve heard it and known what they were singing about:

Arise, children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, tyranny’s bloody banner is raised,
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood soak our fields!

The camera kept flitting from the puffed-up French people singing their yoo-rah-rah song to the uncomfortable face of the German woman, who spoke fluent French and knew just what they were saying. And there were a few disgusted-looking women in the crowd who did not stand up and did not sing; I assumed they were mothers of French soldiers who didn’t go for all that yoo-rah-rah crap.

“Kind of a different effect when you know the words to the song, don’t you think?” I whispered to B, who agreed.

While I’m on the musical theme, the last song I want to tell you about isn’t a song at all. It’s a kind of music: jazz, sort of. One of the duds we saw at the film fest was a musical review called “The King Of Jazz,” featuring the Paul Whiteman band. The final number was how they imagined jazz was created: a whole bunch of white people from Russia, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and every other northern European country sang ethnic theme music (“Every laddie has his lassie” for the Irish people, that sort of thing) as they descended into a melting pot. Paul Whiteman gave the pot a stir, the sides of the pot swung open, and for one terrifying moment I thought the musicians and dancers were all going to come out in blackface singing “Mammie”! Instead, they sang what I guessed was supposed to be a jazz number, which was about as jazzy as any song can be when there isn’t a single African-American involved.

musical | 10:11 am CDT
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Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Weirdest thing that happened to me last weekend: I heard Barry Manilow on the radio. That never happens. Never. I listen to two stations that brag they play the best of the 70s, but they must be using a definition of “the best” that I’m not aware of. Either that, or the people who program their music didn’t do a minute’s research on what was considered the best of the 70s. I’m assuming they didn’t grow up in the 70s either, because if they had done either of those two things, then they would know they’d have to play Barry Manilow every single flippin day. And I know this because I was a teenager in the 70s who listened to a lot of pop music, as teenagers do, and I can tell you I heard Barry Manilow every single flippin day.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Barry Manilow fan. I never bought any of his albums or singles. But neither do I dislike his music. It was fun to listen to, it was easy for me to learn the words to the chorus so I could sing along, and I could even dance to it as much as I could dance to any music (which is to say, not so much dance as rhythmically twitch and jerk, usually in time to the music). I could listen to it again, while on the other hand I’ve had my fill of Peaceful Easy Feeling, or We Are The Champions. I think I’d be all right if I never heard either of those songs ever again. I guess I’d be all right with never hearing Mandy again, but I would get up out of my overstuffed chair and do the mambo if I ever heard Copacabana again. And I wouldn’t care who was watching.

Oh Barry | 1:34 pm CDT
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Monday, May 23rd, 2016

I quite like this one, too.

SHOWTIME! | 7:58 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

I just can’t get enough of this video.

WORK! | 1:09 pm CDT
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Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Best Songs Of The Seventies, Part One
(because I’m pretty sure I’m going to think of lots more for a Part Two right after I hit the “post” button)

Bee Gees: crickets. These guys dominated the seventies and eighties. I’ve never been able to figure out why. No one’s ever explained it to me in a way that made sense, either.

Boston: That One Song. You know it. It was on the radio all the time. You can air jam to it so hard! What the hell was it called?

Elton John: Bennie and the Jets. Did you know this song had words to it? Besides “Bennie and the Jets” I mean. No, really! It did! I looked them up a few weeks ago and discovered it’s got two whole verses! I wish we’d had the internet in the seventies so I’d been able to sing more than the chorus. Still, best Elton John song ever.

Hall & Oates: nothing. I have literally no love for any of the songs that Hall & Oats cranked out. I know y’all think they’re the greatest pop duo of the seventies, but everything they did irritates me. And it’s a totally irrational irritation; I can’t explain why I don’t like them, just that they rub me the wrong way. Sorry, Hall & Oates.

Jackson 5: I Want You Back. It’s not as hard as you think to declare this the best of all the music recorded by the Jackson 5. It’s got a great beat, not the least of all because of the heart-pounding bass line, and the melody is catchy as hell. Sometimes I get hung up on the message in the lyrics; after all, “those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd” isn’t exactly the most endearing thing you could say to a woman you were trying to woo back into your arms. Still, boss song.

Journey: Any Way You Want It. THAT’S the way you need it. ANY way you want it. DAH duh dah de dum dum dum dum DUM DUM DUM DAHHMMM!

REO Speedwagon: Roll With The Changes. Nothing better. Nope. Not gonna hear it. This is their best tune ever. Don’t care how big a fan you are or what you say about any of their other stuff. This is it. Talk to the hand.

Rod Stewart: Maggie Mae. Duh. I mean, did the guy even record anything else? It’s all Maggie Mae. Be honest. You can do it.

Queen: Somebody To Love. You thought it was going to be We Are The Champions, didn’t you? That song is the most overrated Queen song. Literally anything else they recorded was better than We Are The Champions. Actually, it was a tough call between this and Don’t Stop Me Now, but memories of me singing this at the tops of my lungs in the car tipped the balance. Best Ever.

Simon & Garfunkle: Trying To Keep The Customer Satisfied. Everybody who grew up in the seventies had a copy of the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. Everybody. And this was not only the best song off the album, it was their best song ever. I like everything they ever recorded, except – it has to be said, sorry – El Condor Pasa, and I sing along whenever their tunes are on the radio, because if you don’t show everybody that you know all the words to every Simon & Garfunkle tune, just go home, but this is the song that I crank all the way up to eleven. Try it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Steve Miller: Jungle Love. I remember Steve Miller was on the radio all through the seventies. The man could crank out the pop tunes. This one, though – this one’s got a beat that leaves all the others behind. And it’s got that whistling thing. Whatever that is, it was so much fun to do in the car.

Tony Orlando and Dawn: Who’s In The Strawberry Patch With Sally? I just have to mention this one because it’s so goddamn much fun to sing at parties. Not that I go to a lot of parties these days. Probably because I sing this song. Please invite me to your party so I can sing this song.

favorites | 5:04 pm CDT
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Sunday, September 21st, 2014

I had tickets to see Pomplamoose last week at the High Noon Saloon. Too bad I didn’t get to see them.

Oh, I was there. I got there early. Tickets said the show started at eight, so I was there with my hot date at seven-thirty hoping to score a couple of seats close to the stage. Turns out the High Noon doesn’t do seats close to the stage. They don’t do seats anywhere near the stage. You can stand on the open floor around the stage, or you can try to wrangle a seat in the balcony. We managed to wrangle a seat in the balcony behind some motormouthed dude who apparently paid the fifteen-dollar cover charge so he could spend the whole time yammering to the other people at his table what a great show it was. Or something. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, only that he was making a lot of noise.

To be fair to the motormouth, everybody was making a lot of noise. Here’s a tip: If you want to hear what one of your favorite bands would sound like as background music, go see them at the High Noon Saloon, where the customers pay for tickets to see a band and then stand around jabbering while the band plays. Made my head explode. Twice, because there were two opening acts: John Schroeder, a blues singer who might’ve been pretty good if only I could have heard him over the crowd noise, and Danielle Ate The Sandwich, a kind of folksy singer who might’ve been pretty good if only I could have … oh, you know.

I bugged out before Pomplamoose came on stage, for two good reasons: I didn’t want to get arrested for jumping up on the pool table and yelling, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE WILL YOU DUMBSHITS SHUT THE HELL UP?! And also because it was late. I’m old. I go to bed at ten o’clock. To see my favorite band I’ll make an exception, but not after they keep me waiting for two hours, and not when the crowd is going to keep on gossiping about the dumb shit that happened at work that day. So I didn’t get to see Pomplamoose. Sad face.

Here’s one of my favorite Pomplamoose songs, just so you know why I’m kinda bummed that I didn’t get to see them:

Pomplamoose | 5:06 pm CDT
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Friday, August 29th, 2014

One of my coworkers takes great delight in singing less-than-likeable pop songs from the 70’s. The asshole. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy, but I could cheerfully curb-stomp anyone who thinks it’s hilarious to resurrect pop songs that should have remained dead and buried. That’s one breach of etiquette that ought to be punishable with at least a bit of ad hoc facial reconstruction.

And by ‘etiquette,’ I’m being purely rhetorical. I certainly don’t mean that my coworker should be asking permission to drag these musical abominations from the grave. If you’re going to politely ask, “Say, do you mind if I sing the chorus to Seasons In The Sun?” you might as well just sing the fucking song, because either way it’s going to play on a loop in my head the rest of the day.

And I’m not talking about mildly annoying songs, or songs that I like in spite of themselves. The kind of songs I’m talking about are vile in their construction, repugnant in their performance, and malicious in the way they infect you. They are musical disease. I’m not kidding. Do you seriously believe Playground In My Mind was recorded for any reason other than to painfully torment you for the rest of your days?

These are the kind of songs that were so long gone that not only had I dared to believe they would never be heard again, I had reached a kind of pop-song Nirvana: I had not thought about them for decades. If only every song by Hall & Oates would vanish so completely. But now there’s this coworker who has to go and dredge them up, one by one, by singing just one or two lines of a chorus, off-key. One pass, and I spend the rest of the afternoon listening to every goddamned saccharine-sweet line, because of course my memory, which can’t be depended on to remember a grocery list with three items on it, can remember every word of every song I heard in the 70s.

dead and buried … and undead | 6:08 am CDT
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Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Word Crimes | 4:26 pm CDT
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Sunday, July 6th, 2014

I have the pop song Afternoon Delight stuck in my head. It ought to be Muskrat Love, the song I was reading about when one of the commenters to the online article noted that it was one of those schmaltzy pop songs they couldn’t help but love, like Afternoon Delight. For some reason, my brain decided to obsess on the latter instead of the former.

I, too, am one of those people who have to shamefacedly admit I love schmaltzy pop songs like Muskrat Love and Afternoon Delight. Even though earworms like these will eventually drive me to sing The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island in self-defense, I am right now tapping my toes and humming along as Afternoon Delight is echoing over and over deep within my cortex.

Footnote: I did not know that Muskrat Love, specifically the version I know by the Captain and Tennille, was a cover of a song called Muskrat Candlelight by Willis Alan Ramsey.

skyrockets in flight | 8:36 am CDT
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Monday, June 9th, 2014

I was listening to tunes while doing some mindless, repetitive paperwork the other day when “Don’t Walk Away” came up as a random pick. My phone’s shuffle option tends to favor modern pop tunes and the Dave Brubeck best-of album I bought a year ago. It almost never plays the one-off tunes in my collection even though it’s supposed to be random, so I practically never hear older songs like “I Want You Back” or “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” unless I flip through the list and poke it by hand.

That’s one reason I was startled enough to stop what I was doing and sit up in my chair when “Don’t Walk Away” came around on shuffle. Another reason is, the song opens with the raw, ragged voice of Toni Childs all but shouting the title of the song, followed by a brace of trumpets blasting out two quick bars before Childs repeats her demand. It’s an introduction that grabs you by the lapels and holds on.

But the most personal reason I had to stop and listen to “Don’t Walk Away” is that it’s my breakup song, the song that perfectly captured my utter wretchedness at the moment my heart had broken. Those three words and those blaring horns were a top ten hit when I was dumped by the one and only person I couldn’t live without.

After I heard this song on VH1 or MTV or whatever I went straight out to the store, was strangely relieved to find they had a copy of “Reunion” on cassette tape, paid whatever they asked for it, popped it into my player as soon as I got back to my dorm and replayed it so many times I’m surprised to this day that my roomie didn’t strangle me in my sleep. He gave me a pass only because he and everybody else in the whole world could see what a wreck I was.

That summer, Toni Childs barked out the words I needed to hear. I still get the chills listening to this song, same way I get all warm and gooshy inside when I hear Basia Trzetrzelewska, another singer you’ve never heard of, croon “Time and Tide.” What a year that was. What a song.

Don’t Walk Away | 8:42 pm CDT
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Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

The song stuck in my head this morning is the Bobby Goldsboro version of “Watching Scotty Grow.” I loved this song when I was a kid and would crank up the volume whenever I was lucky enough to catch it on the radio. They just didn’t play it often enough for me back then.

As for now, the song is so insipidly sweet that it makes me want to piss granulated sugar. I’ll have to rinse my ears out with the theme song from Gilligan’s Island from now until sundown to start feeling normal again.

earworm | 5:00 am CDT
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Sunday, November 24th, 2013

My brother plays this game with me where he texts me a line from a pop song, sometimes familiar, sometimes obscure, and I try to guess what it is.

He’s much better at this game than I am. The other day he texted, “He says his name is William, but I’m sure he’s Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy,” while the best I’ve ever been able to do is stump him by quoting the first few lines of Elton John’s Benny and the Jets:

Hey, kids, shake it loose together
The spotlight’s hitting something that’s been known to change the weather
We’ll kill the fatted calf tonight, so stick around
You’re going to hear electric music, solid walls of sound

“I got nothin’,” was his best guess. When I told him it was Benny and the Jets, he said, “I didn’t know that song had words.”

I never knew the words to Bennie and the Jets either until I looked it up on the internet one day and even then they didn’t make sense until I put a recording of the song on a loop and listened to it with the words in front of me. To this day, only the first verse makes any sense to me, by which I mean that I can sort of sing them with the song, not that they make any actual sense. I couldn’t ever manage to make the second verse scan very well at all so I don’t remember what it is even after listening to it a couple hundred times.

Songs Without Words would be the name of my a capella tribute band, made up entirely of singers with awesome voices singing in flawless harmony who would nonetheless know none of the lyrics to the songs they were singing. All the songs would be pop tunes from my youth that I pretended to know the words to but didn’t. I would make my best attempt to write the words down after a single pass over a recording. For instance, here’s what I heard when I listened to Brass In Pocket by The Pretenders just now:

Got brass in pocket
Goat fly dell
I’m gonna use it
Intention
I feel in my tab
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice
Got motion
Listen demotion
Been diving detour leaning
No visa
Just seems so pleasing
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice
Gonna use my arms
Gonna use my legs
Gonna use my style
Gonna use my sad sail
Gonna use my fingers
Gonna use my, my, my imagination
Cause I’m gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here, no one like me
I’m special, so special
I’ve got to have some of your attention
Give it to me
Got rhythm, I can’t miss a beat
I got you, skank, sooo reeks!
Got something, when can I tell
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice
Gonna use my arms
Gonna use my legs
Gonna use my style
Gonna use my sad sail
Gonna use my fingers
Gonna use my, my, my imagination
Cause I’m gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here, no one like me
I’m special, so special
I’ve got to have some of your attention
Give it to me

This is in fact the first time I’ve ever tried to write out the words to Brass In Pocket, and I believe it turned out so well that I’m never going to look up the lyrics on the internet. I’m just going to stay with these for the rest of my life. If you make any attempt to inform me of the actual words I will delete your comment without reading it and never speak to you again.

no words | 3:39 pm CDT
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