10 Songs From the Seventies That Have Been Buried in the Sands of Time

One of the problems with modern “oldies” stations is simple: an hour of music never sounds the same as an hour of music did way back when. While the big hits keep playing over and over (and over and…), all the records that only dented the charts and got airplay for just a few weeks are gone. Also, when some groups later hit it big, their early songs were left off oldies playlists to make room for the big, big smash hits!

Sigh.

Here, in absolutely no particular order, are ten records that I remember well but don’t remember the radio playing in a long, long time. It’s likely nobody else remembers all these records, but it’s worth your time to give a listen to any that don’t sound familiar.

[1] The Entertainer by Billy Joel. I had seen posters for the musical group the Hassles back when I lived in Syosset (home of Christiano’s Italian restaurant) and went to Cold Spring Harbor High School, so I was aware of Billy Joel the first time he released an album. I wasn’t too impressed with his first album but played Piano Man from his second album on my radio show numerous times. When his third album came out Billy made it clear that he was cynical about the music business.  Nothing made this clearer than The Entertainer, a song that only made it up to #34 in 1974. I played that a lot on my show as well.  I couldn’t help but smile at his complaint about the record company cutting Piano Man down to 3:05 minutes – long records were not a problem on campus radio.

[2] Like A Sunday In Salem by Gene Cotton. If the name Gene Cotton is familiar to you at all it’s probably because of a pair of singles in 1978: Before My Heart Finds Out and You’re a Part of Me, a duet with Kim Carnes.  His third single that year got enormous airplay on album-oriented rock stations, reached #40 on the US charts, and then vanished without a trace.  The record seems to be about the blacklisting in the early 1950s and is often referred to as The Amos and Andy song because of one of the lyrics: “There was an Amos and Andy on the radio.”  We’ll talk about his UK-only single some other time.

[3] Celluloid Heroes by the Kinks.  Most of the oldies by the Kinks that get airplay are their guitar-heavy singles from the sixties.  Mostly forgotten are the biting commentary songs like Dedicated Follower Of Fashion and Sunny Afternoon.  Lola still gets airplay, but only after a small change to the lyrics.  1972’s Celluloid Heroes was a different animal – a nostalgic look at the cinematic heroes that dot the street of Hollywood Boulevard.  The video I have linked in does an impressive job of fitting the mood of the song.

[4] Avenging Annie by Andy Pratt.  Andy somehow mixed classical piano with hard rock and came up with his one claim to fame in 1973.  The record is meant to be a first-person account of living with an outlaw as told by his girlfriend, so Andy did his best falsetto when he sang on the record.  The release only got up to #78, but later the song was also recorded by Roger Daltry of the Who.

[5] Dialog by Chicago.  Early Chicago albums had the group experimenting with long-form music, most notably Ballet For A Girl From Buchanan, a series of connected songs running over 12 minutes.  Dialog on their fifth album was over 7 minutes long, but their record company cut it down to 3:02 (no surprise here, it was the same record company that chopped up Billy Joel’s song!)  The song managed to get up to #24 by presenting a series of questions and answers with a college student.  Somehow the record anticipated today’s special college snowflakes back in 1972.

[6] You Owe It To Me by Natchez Trace live at the Exit / In.  Warning: the first 15 seconds of the video suffer from tape problems; just keep listening!  Unless you lived near Nashville you aren’t likely to be familiar with this record, but those of us who did were lucky enough to hear it off and on from 1971 or so until the end of the decade.  Legend has it that Dan Fogelberg is playing piano on this live recording, but he was unable to record the song later on because of legal tangles.  This is the only surviving copy of the song that I’m aware of, and it was a thrill to find it again.

[7] Gimme Your Money Please by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  BTO came out of the remains of the Guess Who, and this was the first song on their first album.  The single release and the album went nowhere.  The group toured as the warm-up act for the Doobie Brothers, and that influenced the material on their second album, leading to hits like Let It Ride and Taking Care of Business.  Their third album had their biggest hit, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, and when they finally had a greatest hits album their record company re-released Gimme Your Money Please – but it only made it up to #70.

[8] Colorado by Danny Holien.  The single was released in 1972, but perhaps it was too folky to get much airplay on Top 40 radio.  The record did manage to sneak onto the charts, topping out at #66.  The song is a plea for Colorado to avoid the fate of California, a prescient view of how things have turned out for Denver.  The video takes us on a tour of some of the better landscapes in the state.

[9] Dear Abby by John Prine.  John’s first album may have been the peak of his career.  It contained the ironic song Illegal Smile (about pot smoking), the tragically sad song Sam Stone (about an ex-soldier with a drug habit), and a half-dozen excellent songs.  His second album was a disappointment, but his third album finally moved him into commercial success.  He tried recording Dear Abby in the studio, but it never sounded quite right.  When he did the song live at a show he was fortunate enough to have it recorded, and the live version apparently sounded the way he heard it in his head and gives us the most fun song on this list.

[10] Soldier in the Rain by England Dan & John Ford Coley.  The duo released a string of records that were moderate hits on the regular pop charts, but four of their singles (mostly melodic love songs) hit number 1 on the adult contemporary charts.  Soldier in the Rain was a track on their second album that was quite different.  Soldiers returning from Vietnam faced a hostile public that blamed them instead of thanking them for their service, and this song expresses the feeling of loss that many of them faced.  I only heard the song on the radio a handful of times, but I never forgot it.

This list barely scratches the surface of lost songs, so I’ll probably have to add to it in the future.

The Strange Way An Eclipse Led to My First AD&D Publication

The first solar eclipse I remember occurred in July 1964 while I was in upstate New York at a Boy Scout camp.  We used paper plates to make pinhole cameras to view the eclipse.  Although it was only a partial eclipse, it was still exciting, and all activities at camp stopped when it started to get dark.

The next eclipse that was important to me came in 1983…on MTV.

We can start out with a copy of the book Rock Dreams in 1973.  The book contained a series of near-photo realistic paintings of various musicians at various times in their careers.  The book started with a picture of teenage idol Frank Sinatra in the 1940s and ended with a sad picture of a has-been musician and a quote from the Who – I won’t spoil the ending here.  One section of the book included pictures of some acts that the artist considered potential future stars, and he really nailed it with one picture: Jim Steinman and his pet, Meat Loaf.  It would be four years before Bat Out Of Hell became one of the best-selling albums of all time and made a megastar out of Meat Loaf.  Creation of the follow-up album started in 1979, but Meat Loaf developed vocal problems, and Steinman did his best to create the vocals for Bad For Good, and that album was shelved for a few years.  In 1981 The two of them worked together on Meat Loaf’s second album, Dead Ringer, but that album barely created any ripples in the US, and the tour planned to promote that album vanished without a trace.

No longer working directly with Meat Loaf, Steinman found new success in 1983 with multiple artists.  According to Wikipedia, Steinman offered two songs to Meat Loaf for his third album, but Meat Loaf’s record company refused to pay for the songs.  During 1983 Steinman instead worked with three other artists on those two songs as well as a remake of a third song that was originally done by Meatloaf on Dead Ringer.  Barry Manilow had a hit record and one of his best videos with a recording of Read Em And Weep, Air Supply had one of their biggest hits with Making Love Out Of Nothing At All, and Bonnie Tyler had her most successful single with Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Bonnie’s video for the record was set in what appears to be a private boys school for teenagers.  Similar to the film Village of the Damned, some of the boys had glowing eyes, and the video contained some scenes that implied, well, stranger things going on involving the students.  While I was already writing AD&D tournaments at that time, I didn’t immediately do anything with the ideas from the video.

Several years later I was running an AD&D campaign at a store in Austin, Texas.  The players had spent weeks participating in small adventures close to town, and I decided to force them to travel.  The party had dealt with the mayor a few times, and I simply added a son who was supposed to be at the Charleston Academy for Young Boys.  Without explanation, the son had come back home unexpectedly, and the mayor asked the party to escort him back to school.  I created a few encounters for the trip there, a secret romance, a mystery at the school, bullying, and special classes for future leaders.  I also introduced a new monster, a semi-lich, who was the big bad behind the problems at the school.  Almost none of that was in Bonnie’s video, but the idea of unexplained goings-on at a boys school had gestated in my brain for a few years.  I eventually used my notes from the campaign to create a tournament that TSR and the RPGA (Role Playing Game Association) used at numerous conventions, and the adventure was eventually included in issue 42 of Polyhedron magazine in 1988.  That was the first time any of my AD&D adventures was published!

The full eclipse in August 2017 has helped bring Bonnie Tyler back into the spotlight, and Carnival Cruise Lines has even scheduled a cruise where she will sing Total Eclipse of the Heart when the ship is affected by the eclipse.  In hopes of attracting more than just Baby Boomers to the trip, the cruise line is also bringing along the group DNCE to back her up on the song.

Here’s the original video.

My Book Is On Sale This Week For Only 99 Cents!

Rewriting modern life’s little atrocities one rant at a time…

tiny 3d cheese

Do everyday annoyances make you want to tear out what’s left of your hair? Author and comic book store owner Rembert N Parker feels your pain, and he’s here to give you a piece of his mind.

Resisting the Challenges of the 21st Century – How Much Extra Is No Cheese is a reservoir of essays, insights, and anecdotes from a true contender for the World’s Most Interesting Man. With dry wit and hilarious adages, Parker tackles an eclectic mix of topics from Academy Award mistakes to using sci-fi principles on Supreme Court decisions (and everything in between).

In this book, you’ll discover:

  • How to spend other people’s money and make a billion dollars
  • Why killing off characters may be the wrong way to add diversity to comics
  • How the Mandela Effect convinced millions that Paul McCartney was dead
  • Why you should blame Skynet for airline seat musical chairs
  • How to deal with the soul-destroying need to pay for cheese you don’t want, and much, much more!

With a wide-ranging mix of rants on pop culture, politics, and coping with the present, Parker’s personal stories show you how to conquer problems with poise. Using Parker’s toolbox of humor, irony, and common sense, you too can take on any challenge.

Resisting the Challenges of the 21st Century is a must-read collection of hilarious essays. If you like observational humor, expanding your point-of-view, and an in-depth look at the past, present, and future, then you’ll love Rembert N Parker’s side-splitting stories.

Buy Resisting the Challenges of the 21st Century on Amazon for only 99 cents today:

 

Glen Campbell Was a Beach Boy and Fought For Chart Success Against Wayne Newton

If you’re younger than 55 years old, there has been Glen Campbell music on your radio your entire life!

Glen played with a group called the Champs who had recorded and had a hit with the novelty record Tequila several years before Glen joined the group.  The song was a near instrumental, with the music interrupted from time to time by the sax player stopping long enough to bellow out, “Tequila.”  Income from that job must have been minor since Glen was also doing session work during that time starting in 1960.

When he got a chance to sign a record contract on his own in 1961, Glen left the group and recorded a record that was almost a minor hit, Turn Around Look At Me. The record only managed to get as high as #62 on the charts but was a top ten record in 1968 for the Vogues.  A year later Glen signed with Capitol Records, the label he would stay with for most of his career.  He released a record with the Green River Boys that made it to #20 on the country charts, but had no follow-up success and spent the next few years as a member of the Wrecking Crew,

A year later Glen signed with Capitol Records, the label he would stay with for most of his career.  He released a record with the Green River Boys that made it to #20 on the country charts, but had no follow-up success and spent the next few years as a member of the Wrecking Crew, a collection of studio musicians that played on an astonishing number of records in the 1960s.

In 1965 Brian Wilson decided to stop touring with the Beach Boys so he could find sanctuary in the safety of recording studios.  Glen replaced Brian for four months as a member of the touring group, making him an official Beach Boy.  Brian created a song that he had Glen sing on, although the record (Guess I’m Dumb) never made the charts (but a video of Glen lip-synching survived).

For the next few years, Glen continued to do studio work (including some banjo and guitar work on Brian’s Pet Sounds).  He managed to barely dent the pop charts a few times, and had a top 20 Country hit in 1966 (Burning Bridges), but true success eluded him until 1967.

Jimmy Webb had written a few songs that Johnny Rivers recorded and then written Up, Up and Away for the Fifth Dimension.  Somehow Jimmy and Glen connected, and in the next year Glen had hits with two songs written by Jimmy that took Glen’s career into overdrive, By the Time I Get To Phoenix and Witchita Lineman.  The first single hit #2 on the Country charts, but only got up to #26 on the Pop charts, and at the time the Pop charts were where the real money was.  In hopes of getting better results, somebody at Captial talked Glen into recording Dreams of the Every Day Housewife – and they also got Wayne Newton to release the song.  The company even released identical press releases for the two singers, each indicating that Housewife would be the song would be the breakthrough that each one needed in the pop music world.  Glen did better than Wayne on the pop charts (Glen #32, Wayne #60).  The song did much better for Glen on the Country charts, reaching number 3.  It wasn’t until Wichita Lineman came out the next year that Glen finally broke down the pop barriers…and Wayne had to wait until Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast was a hit in 1972.

The Smothers Brothers television show hit the air in 1967 and started an endless battle with the censors at CBS.  At that time, television shows typically ran for 39 weeks each year and a summer replacement would take their place for a few months before the next season.  Several hosts were considered for The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, and an effort to smooth things over with CBS, and Glen’s friendly personality and country music presence was calming enough to get Glen his own television show.  Things went so well that Glen was given his own show beginning in 1969 and he continued on the air for over three years.  Thanks in part to the exposure of the television show (and in larger part to his incredible singing and guitar-playing talent) Glen had a few more hits on the pop chart and a long string of major hits on the Country and Adult Contemporary charts during that period.  He even got to make a movie with John Wayne (True Grit).

His career faded a bit going into the seventies, but all that changed when he released Rhinestone Cowboy in 1975.  That was his biggest selling record and was followed by a string of Pop/Country crossover records over the next two years.  1977 was his last appearance on the Top 40 Pop charts, although he continued to release top ten Country hits through the eighties.  After the resurgence of New Country in the early nineties destroyed most of the existing Country careers Glen began recording Christian music, and that kept his career alive through until the mid-nineties.

In 2010 Glen was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  Over the next few years, he recorded a handful of songs that were put together for a final album release this year.  Along the way, a documentary about his illness was produced, and a song from his final sessions was released in 2014 when the movie came out.  I’m Not Gonna Miss You is a heartbreaking look at the impact his illness was having on Glen’s life and abundent talents.

Be prepared to shed a tear or two when you watch that video.

How Television Binging Could Save An Industry

When I was a kid, my Summer vacations gave me a few months off from school.  I usually got to spend a few weeks at Summer Camp, but other than that I spent most of my time reading, mostly science fiction.  One of the downsides of being an adult is losing that long stretch of free time; instead, I have a few hours at the store most mornings before the customers start to show up.  I can write or read or watch YouTube videos with few interruptions.

All year-round Bevie and I spend our evenings together eating dinner and then watching television.  Most of the year this entails taping the shows we want to watch all week long and then deciding each night which of our stored treasures we’ll open up.  Our current cable boxes can now store up to 100 hours of shows, but there are so many shows we want to watch that during most of the year we typically fill up 70% or more of that space.  That grinds to a halt in June: the shows from the Fall to Spring season that we’ve saved up run out, and after we binge we’re left with slim pickings from the Summer shows.  Bevie still has lots of shows she records, mostly horror and SciFi channel series and cooking and craft shows, but I have little interest in any of that.  As a result, we usually end up binging shows we may not have seen during the regular television season.  Sadly, this year we couldn’t even find many shows from the last year that we missed, so we looked at the shows in my instant queue on Netflix and decided to give Blue Bloods a chance.

Blue Bloods is primarily a police procedural that stars Tom Selleck as the police commissioner of New York City.  The cast includes his father (a former police commissioner), a son who is a detective, a daughter who is an assistant district attorney, and another son who studied to be a lawyer but changed course and became a rookie street cop.  There are also a wife and three kids in the mix.  It’s the kind of show I would normally watch, but back in 2010 we could only tape two shows at a time, and Blue Bloods was the odd show out that we skipped.

We’ve already managed to watch over 70 of the 133 available episodes this Summer.  With few exceptions, the episodes follow a very specific pattern:

  • Each episode has three distinct plotlines following different characters.
  • The plotlines will sometimes intersect but have individual resolutions.
  • At some point in the episode, the entire family will come together at a dinner, giving them a chance to discuss the events of the episode.
  • Prior events in older episodes are sometimes referenced, but only as a nod to long-time viewers.

The important part of the plotting is very simple: done in one.  With only a small handful of exceptions, there are no big bads hanging over every episode and no ongoing investigations that clutter up the episodes.  While the characters may learn a lesson or become more aware of the challenges faced by the roles other characters play in the pursuit of justice, there is no major character development on the show.  The net result is that viewers who are not recording and binging episodes can casually decide one Friday night to watch the show live and not feel like they don’t know what’s going on.  Unlike almost every other show we watch, Blue Bloods is NOT an ongoing soap opera that requires constant attention.  While the show did have an unsolved mystery in the first season that impacted a handful of episodes, they did not return to that pattern in the following seasons and ratings for the show improved.

The show has also had a rotating group of supporting characters the family members work with, including several different partners, but they have enhanced the storylines without requiring constant attention from the viewers.

How I wish the comic book industry could learn a lesson or two from Blue Bloods!

Return with me now to a short visit to the comic books of the late fifties and early sixties.  Each comic book featured three complete, self-contained stories.  Worlds Finest, Detective Comics, Action Comics and Adventure comics were anthology books that had three complete stories that each featured different heroes.  Readers could pick up and read any comic off the newsstand and know everything they needed to know to follow and understand the story.

There was mild continuity.  There were recurring characters (such as the Legion of Superheroes) who would show up from time to time.  It was fun when the comics mentioned (in a note to the reader) which issues in the past had featured some of the characters before, or mentioned little things from the past (like Flash’s watch that could record sounds helping save the Justice League).  These little nods to long-time readers encouraged but did not require reading every….single….issue.

The first clue I had that things were changing came in 1959 when Wonder Woman #105 featured a single story that filled up the entire comic.  Showcase and Brave and Bold comics quickly followed suit, and Fantastic Four #1 started the tide at Marvel that would eventually put an end to multiple stories in a comic.

There were crossovers between comics, but not the kinds of events we have now.  Guest appearances were usually complete in one comic (such as the Spider-man/Avengers/Hulk crossover in Amazing Spider-man Annual #3).  Sometimes a story only required reading one comic from each of the main characters (such as the Namor versus Iron Man story that started in Tales of Suspense #80 and ended in Tales to Astonish #82).

Comic sales were in the millions.

Sadly, look where comics are now!  Very few writers seem to be able to tell a complete story in a single issue, and there appears to be pressure on writers to write to the trade: storylines are designed to last 4 to 6 issues so they can be collected in a graphic novel.  The ongoing soap opera that makes up most comics make it nearly impossible for new readers to get into most comics (except by buying the expensive trade paperbacks).  Nobody can casually pick up a single issue of hardly any comic and expect a self-contained story.  Everything seems geared to keeping the current readers at the expense of growing the audience for the comics and attracting new readers.  The only way Marvel and DC try to widen their audience is by throwing away what came before and starting over (and over and over) or by throwing out massive crossover events that require buying dozens of different, unrelated titles to keep customers spending money.  Instead, it appears they are driving away their customers without bringing in any new readers.  One would think that the success of the movies and television shows featuring comic book characters would lead to booming sales of the comics, but the high cost of the comics combined with the difficulty of finding an entry point has blocked that.

Sales of comics are now in the tens of thousands.  Or less.

Perhaps the comic book companies could learn something by binging Blue Bloods.  Bring back self-contained stories.  Produce comics that match the media characters people are expecting.  With any luck, those sorts of changes would yield higher sales that would allow lower prices which would lead to much higher sales.

We don’t often get songs that mention comic book characters.  Early in his career, Donovan sounded a lot like early Bob Dylan, and there’s even a video on YouTube of the two of them singing to each other.  While Donovan had success in his early career doing folk-rock songs like Catch the Wind and Colours, he didn’t really hit it big in the US until he switched a more pop-oriented sound and released Sunshine Superman, his first and only number 1 record in this country.