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Throwback Thursday – 1966

me - 1966001The blogger in 1966

“My mother used to tell me about vibrations. I didn’t really understand too much of what she meant when I was a boy. It scared me, the word ‘vibrations’ – to think that invisible feelings existed. She also told me about dogs that would bark at some people, but wouldn’t bark at others, and so it came to pass that we talked about good vibrations.”
– The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Rolling Stone magazine

“The concept of spreading goodwill, good thoughts and happiness is nothing new, but it is our hope. The ideas are there in ‘Good Vibrations,’ ‘God Only Knows,’ ‘Heroes and Villains,’ and it is why the new LP is called Smile.”
– The Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson

According to Brian Wilson, Capitol Records didn’t want to release “Good Vibrations” as a single because of its duration: three and a half minutes. Reportedly, executives at the label were also concerned about the psychedelic overtones of the lyrics. Wilson pleaded with Capitol to release the 45.

The song went to #1 and earned the Beach Boys a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Contemporary Group Performance, in which they were pitted against three fine recordings plus “Guantanamera” by the Sandpipers. The Beach Boys lost, thankfully not to the Sandpipers but to the Mamas & the Papas for “Monday, Monday.” Mojo magazine placed “Good Vibrations” at #1 on their Top 100 Records of All Time list, and Rolling Stone magazine had it at #6 on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time survey.

The crowning achievement of “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys was followed by an abrupt reversal of fortune for the group. While “Vibrations” was their 14th top ten single in just over four years, they would have to wait another ten years before cracking the top ten again, with their not-that-great remake of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” in 1976. It would be twenty-two years after “Good Vibrations” that the group hit #1 again, with the classic bad song “Kokomo.” The Smile album Carl Wilson referred to in the quote above went unfinished. Instead, the group released an album entitled Smiley Smile in 1967. Between 1963 and 1966 the group scored nine top ten albums; Smiley Smile peaked at #41. The following year’s Friends album only got as high as #126.

On this Throwback Thursday, Tunes du Jour listens to twenty of the finest singles from 1966, kicking off with the classic “Good Vibrations.”


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The Song Retains The Name

Winston + Bobby Brown
Today is Bobby Brown’s 46th birthday. A former member of New Edition, Brown had his first solo hit in 1988 with “Don’t Be Cruel,” which reached #8 on the Hot 100. Though it shares its title with an Elvis Presley #1 hit from 1956, Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is not a remake.

That brings us to today’s playlist, which I call The Song Retains the Name. It consists of different songs with the same title. I initially planned to include twenty such songs, but more kept springing to mind. Before I knew it, I passed 100 entries. There are plenty more, so I decided to open this up to my reader(s). If you have songs that share titles you’d like to add, feel free to do so.

(NOTES: I included The Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel” because when it was released in 1980 its title was “Heartbreak Hotel.” Thought he didn’t have to, Michael Jackson, the song’s writer, later changed its name to “This Place Hotel” to avoid confusion with the Elvis Presley song “Heartbreak Hotel.” Whitney Houston didn’t feel the need to make the same Hotel accommodation.

Also, though it is listed on Spotify as “The Best of My Love,” the Eagles track does not have a “The” on the 45 or the band’s On the Border album.)

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This Is Not A Love Song!

While riding the subway one day in 1987 I saw a woman sitting on the seat next to the pole onto which I was holding. In her lap was a notepad on which was written across the top “Songs for Wedding Reception.” The first song listed was Jody Watley’s “Looking for a New Love.” I saw a divorce lawyer in her future.

“Looking for a New Love” is a fine song, and it was a big hit that year, but at your wedding reception? It’s not like the lyrics could be misunderstood. “I’m looking for a new love, baby / A new love / Yeah yeah yeah.”

I could understand if she had written down the title of R.E.M.’s hit from that year, “The One I Love.” A casual listener may hear “This one goes out to the one I love,” missing the description of this person as “a simple prop to occupy my time.” I love this song and the Jody Watley song, but neither will get played at my wedding reception.

In 1997 I was dating Dr. Leon, the Russian dentist. The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” came on the radio and he told me he loves the song. “So do I,” I replied.

“You? But you’re so unromantic? How could you like such a romantic song?”

First of all, I’m very romantic, so up yours Dr. Leon. I wouldn’t play “Looking for a New Love” at my wedding reception. Secondly, “Lovefool” is a romantic song? “Fool me, fool me / Go on and fool me / Love me, love me / Pretend that you love me.” To quote The Magnetic Fields, how fucking romantic.

I don’t know what the subway woman selected as her wedding song. Maybe it was “Every Breath You Take,” a popular choice for that honor. It’s something that amuses the song’s writer, Sting. He wrote it after splitting with his wife, and calls it “a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.” Mazel tov!

Some other songs that may not be appropriate for your wedding:
“Best of My Love” by Eagles. “You see it your way, and I see it mine, and we both see it slipping away.”

“Cherish” by The Association. “Perish is the word that more than applies / To the hope in my heart each time I realize / That I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams”

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston or Dolly Parton. “If I should stay, I’ll only be in your way / So I’ll go”

doggies + Police
Today Sting turns 63 years old. We kick off our playlist with “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, from their album Synchronicity. It was the band’s fifth and final album. After that record’s success the group, like many of those who had “Every Breath You Take” as their wedding song, split up. Sting was never heard from again.

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

As a songwriter, Jimmy Webb scored his first hit in 1967 at age twenty when The 5th Dimension took “Up, Up and Away” to the top ten. Later that year Glen Campbell had a hit with Webb’s composition “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

Webb then wrote a 22-minute cantata. His friend Bones Howe, with whom Webb worked on The 5th Dimension’s Up, Up and Away album, invited Webb to play the new piece for The Association, who Howe was then producing. Their reaction was less than enthusiastic. Per Howe, one group member said “Any two guys in this group could write a better piece of music than that.”

Sometime after, Webb received a telegram from actor Richard Harris, who he met at a fundraiser in Los Angeles. Harris was nominated for an Academy Award in 1963 for This Sporting Life and again in 1990 for The Field. He later went on to play Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies. The telegram read “Jimmy Webb, come to London and make a record. Love, Richard.”

Webb flew to London, bringing a satchel of songs he’d written. He played each for Harris, but nothing struck the actor. Webb recalled “I looked down with some dread because there was only one thing left.” That one thing was the last movement of the cantata he presented to The Association. He called it “MacArthur Park.”

Here are the lyrics to “MacArthur Park.” Raise your hand when they get confusing.

The opening lines are “Spring was never waiting for us, girl / it ran one step ahead, as we followed in the dance.”

I see some hands raised. The next line should help you understand: “Between the parted pages and were pressed in love’s hot fevered iron, like a striped pair of pants.” Now you got it! Harris, who is from the UK, where “pants” means underwear, uses an iron, a hot fevered iron, on his striped underwear. You may be asking: Does he iron his solid-colored underwear? Does he have solid-colored underwear? Boxers or briefs? Relax – there are still six and a half minutes left in the song, so maybe you’ll find out.

Moving on, we learn that MacArthur Park, which Harris calls MacArthur’s Park for the duration of the song, is melting. In the dark. Its icing is flowing down. Who hasn’t been there?

We now arrive at the classic lines about a cake left out in the rain, which appears to be causing Harris to have a breakdown. “I don’t think that I can take it ‘cause it took so long to bake it and I’ll never have that recipe again. Oh no!” Calm down. It’s just a cake. Bake another one. I know – this song was recorded in the pre-Internet age when finding a cake recipe required one to open a cook book, but come on! This cake can’t be that special if you chose to leave it out during inclement weather.

By the end of verse one we have learned several things: 1) Harris is singing to a girl; 2) Harris irons his striped underwear; 3) a park is melting; 4) if you bake a cake and wish to leave it outside, check The Weather Channel first; and 5) never write a song while you are on an acid trip.

As the song continues it gets more bizarre. The melody changes and Harris threatens us by singing “There will be another song for me, for I will sing it.” Luckily, this other song never became a hit. (And may I add, he is being rather presumptuous by calling his performance on this record “singing.”)

The song clocks in at nearly seven and a half minutes, and though it reached #2 on the US pop charts, most listeners had no idea why Harris was singing about a melting park, ironed underwear and a waterlogged dessert.

Songwriter Webb didn’t understand the confusion. He told Q Magazine that the song is “clearly about a love affair ending, and the person singing it is using the cake and the rain as a metaphor for that.” Clearly. Clear as mudcake.

The love affair was one from Webb’s own life. He and his girlfriend would meet for lunch at MacArthur Park, where there would sometimes be birthday parties, with cake. Their breakup devastated Webb, who wrote “Mac Arthur Park” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” based on their relationship. (Bonus trivia – the woman went on to marry Linda Ronstadt’s cousin.)

In 1993, humorist Dave Barry surveyed his readers to find the worst song. The clear winner for Worst Overall Song and Worst Lyrics was “Mac Arthur Park.” Culture critic Joe Queenan disagreed with the results “because ‘Ebony and Ivory’ exists, as do ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,’ ‘Baby, I’m-a Want You,’ ‘Feelings,’ ‘Benny and the Jets,’ ‘Witchy Woman’ and ‘Sussudio,’” adding “On a planet where somebody thought it would be a good idea to write ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,’ the best ‘MacArthur Park’ is ever going to earn in the sucky-song sweepstakes is a tie.”

Good or bad, the song is a classic. A 1968 Grammy winner for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist, the song has been recorded by top artists in diverse genres, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, the Four Tops, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. Waylon Jennings’ 1969 version won a Grammy. In 1978, Donna Summer’s rendition became her first #1 pop record and stands as the only US #1 pop song for Jimmy Webb, who also wrote “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “Worst That Could Happen” and “All I Know.”

It has been rumored that Webb and Harris had a falling out due to the song’s success. Harris promised Webb his Rolls Royce if the song went top ten. When the record did, Harris offered Webb a different Rolls Royce. It is because of this that people named Richard are often called Dick. Allegedly, the pair stopped speaking.

Ringo + Harris 2014-08-15 12.17
Today Jimmy Webb turns 68 years old. Hopefully he’s somewhere celebrating with a nice piece of wet cake. We kick off our weekly dance party with Donna Summer’s version of “MacArthur Park,” which she, like Harris, insists on calling “MacArthur’s Park” for the duration of the song.

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Your 420 Playlist

doggies + Peter Tosh

I don’t smoke the marijuana; I get high on music.

Here is your 420 soundtrack – twenty hits:

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