Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Only Music Class Will Tell

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
When MTV first came into the Francis family home, circa 1982, every time I turned to that channel, I saw this video from Asia.



What's more, we studied this song in my fifth-grade music class. From time to time, our music teacher would play a hit record and we'd study the elements. With Asia, you had a lot of elements to study: you had a powerful synthesizer track, powerful vocals, soaring guitars, and that distinctive "phooom" of Moog Taurus bass pedals.

We studied other pop hits in that class:
"Silvery Rain" by Olivia Newton-John
"The Devil Went Down To Georgia" by Charlie Daniels (the cleaned-up version which had the line, "I told you once you son-of-a-gun" instead of the more famous retort)

Asia mastered progressive rock with a pop sensibility, and they did it a lot quicker than Genesis. Still, unfortunately, they took a lot of flak for being too commercial.

This is one of the songs I have watch out for if I play it in the car. I could tend to speed up over its power and enthusiasm. That's the kind of thing that led to a criminal speeding ticket when I was driving to Las Vegas. I won't make that mistake again.

Monday, June 26, 2017

No Good Ball Goes Without Emptiness

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
In 2006, before Hamilton hit Broadway, the hottest show ticket in New York City belonged to Wicked. I scored a seat by standing in the cancellation line on Easter Sunday and waiting... waiting... waiting for an hour and a half. The blinds in the cancellation window would go up, and somebody would hand out tickets a couple at a time. The blinds would drop again and as I got closer to the window, I kept hoping something would be left over. I ended up paying more than $100 for an orchestra-level ticket, but the show was absolutely worth it.

I knew I wanted to see it the moment I saw the show's breakout performance on an episode of Martha Stewart's daytime talk show:



I bought the cast album not long after I returned to Tucson and loaded "No Good Deed" into my iPod Nano. It got a lot of plays, but not as much as when I was driving back from Prescott following the We Make History Buccaneer Ball in June 2006, part of what was shaping up to be an epiphany year of wonderful balls and wonderful people. And this one came with some miracle moments before and after. After an intensely blessed experience like that, the afterglow is strong and the comedown from bliss even stronger.

I must've played "No Good Deed" at least a dozen times in my state of mourning over having to journey back into reality, in that long drive home. But why that song? Why not something else? I think it has to do with the theme of reluctantly accepting reality, doing what I didn't want to do. At that time, I was happier living in the past than in the present. It would take several more months before I would confess it before friends who would step in to make the save.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

You've Got To Get In To Get Out

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
I have never seen my favourite band, Genesis, live in concert -- at least not live in person. I have several bootleg CD's and recordings, including their 1976 concert film. I originally taped it off USA's "Night Flight" when they broadcast it circa 1987. I made a cassette recording of that concert and played it over and over, especially while riding the bus to speech and debate tournaments. Once again, my musical tastes diverged from the pack, but I couldn't resist trippy sets like this: a mashup of "Broadway Melody of 1974" and "Carpet Crawlers" from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, that double-album rock opera which the band doesn't seem to want to call a rock opera.



This version of "Melody" is my favourite. Omitting Peter Gabriel's lyrics makes the piece stronger -- along with Tony Banks' combination of RMI Electric Piano (which has been run through a chorus pedal, as far as I can tell) and Mellotron M400 (featuring string section tapes likely embellished with echo or reverb). Notice also that guitarist Steve Hackett is wearing a puffy Jacobite shirt!

When I needed to think, I put this on. When I needed to write, I put this on -- along with a lot of other Genesis music. But ultimately I wouldn't be able to either think or write because I would be too busy listening.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Walking On Baroque-n Glass

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
One idea I've played around with for awhile is wanting to have a Georgian/Colonial/English historic dance party with non-period music. Some pop songs have enough historic flair to lend themselves to longways sets, and this one from Annie Lennox would definitely be on the list:



It has a couple of pauses I would have to work out, but I think I could find a dance that would fit -- or I could construct one.

Another candidate for the non-period period ball -- this one by The Left Banke:



The Fab Four would get their due:



Surprisingly, and probably much to the concern of some of you purists, old disco records might actually work very well for non-period-correct English Country Dance. They have a solid, four-on-the-floor beat that's easy to dance to. As such, I'd have to include this one on my playlist from Yvonne Elliman:



This particular record could pose a few challenges because it has some variations that could throw a few dancers. But how many of us dance adventurists have backed down from a challenge?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Across The Distance

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
One my favourite Genesis songs that never made it onto an album comes from the 1990's, when they recorded We Can't Dance, and left off "On The Shoreline," a song that deserved to be on the disc rather than "Since I Lost You."



I hear this and I think about this moment near Monterrey, standing on the rocks of the shoreline on New Year's Day of 2010.



The lyrics nearly sound like a worship song... and it could very well be, in the proper context. But more, it's about uncertainty and decisions and reaching a crossroads in your life. It reminded me of where I had been, and where I wanted to go.

Well there's a place where two worlds collide
The pile of stone against the pull of the tide
You can stay with your feet on the ground
Or step into the water, leave the dry behind

On the shoreline
Meet me on the shoreline
Where you can only swim if you try

Well, if there's somewhere on the other side
It might be better, it might be as bad
Someday soon you'll have to make a move
Cos you can't stay forever, ah just waiting

On the shoreline (on the shoreline)
Meet me on the shoreline (on the shoreline)

Take me over, lead me through

Well can you take me there, to the other side
Where everything is new, uncertain and strange
Don't ever let me go till we're there
I don't know what it is I'm looking for
And until it's found I won't be sure...

Well, there are squares in the game of life
When you can keep on moving or turn aside
Yes, there are times when you have to decide
To put your feet in the water, or stay

On the shoreline (on the shoreline)
Meet me on the shoreline (on the shoreline)
Where you can only swim if you try
I'll be there - oh
On the shoreline (on the shoreline)
I'll be there on the shoreline (on the shoreline)
Where you can only swim if you try
I'll be there
I'll be there - oh
Yes, I'll be there
I'll be there...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Be Still My Curious Eyes

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
In the late 1980's, when my Queen Mother was pursuing her Master's degree in education, she made many a trip to the UMKC library with your young servant along for the ride. One one cold February day, as we journeyed from Raytown towards downtown Kansas City -- and through the seedier, trashier, run-down parts of town lining Swope Parkway -- I remember this song coming over the radio, which I had tuned to KYYS ("KY-102") as I developed a taste for album-oriented rock.



"Is that Sting?" the Queen Mum asked.

"Yes," I said, surprised she knew that.

"He has a very distinctive voice."

Mother knew best, and she crammed her head with all sorts of knowledge in those days as she researched at that library. I liked it because it had oodles of magazines I couldn't find at school, including Radio/Television Age, that trade publication that let me read about everything going on in the broadcast world that didn't make the regular newspapers. Not far away from that collection on the shelves sat World Marxist Review, the kind of magazine you didn't want in your mailbox, one that claimed to chronicle peace and progress. I couldn't digest more than a couple of pages of it, and what I did read, I couldn't comprehend. International politics and wonky policy didn't appeal to any of my senses. That was even though I was researching heady issues as part of the debate team. I remember drawing upon the library's vast resources as I prepared to debate the topic "Resolved: that a candidate's public policy is more important that his personal reputation." This came before Google, when the only computer search I had linked to the library's card catalog. Feeding a few keywords into a green-screen Wyse terminal brought up a few hits on a few books, which may or may not have the information I sought. Then I actually had to go find the books on one of three floors, organized by the a system other than the familiar Dewey Decimal System.

What did I learn from this library work? That I had a lot to learn. That very little information I was finding was useful in building my debate cases. Maybe I would score a useful chunk here or there. At least the Queen Mother was having better results as she took notes and put together what would be an epic research paper laying out a teaching plan for Hemingway, long enough to resemble a thesis, even though it wasn't. I helped her get AppleWorks -- on our trusty, reliable Apple //c -- to print it all out correctly.

Some years later, when I went to college at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I would tuck myself away in Ellis Library next to the stack of TV Guide. Whenever I needed a study break, I would reach for one of the bound archives on the shelves and see what was on the air in March of 1972.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How About A Song That Fits The Hat?

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
When I came to Tucson in 2000, my colleagues turned me on to singing karaoke after my first weekend on the job at KOLD. After putting the 10pm Sunday night show to bed, we went down the street to the Old Father Inn for beers and amateur crooning. That would be the first of many such ventures.

I belted out Earth Wind and Fire, James Brown, AC/DC and too many other artists to remember. For some unexplained, incomprehensible, and unrecallable reason, I started wearing my tricorn hat to these outings. Paul Revere and the Raiders I wasn't, let alone Prince or even Genesis -- once known for art-rock costume theatrics. I once decided to do this Paul McCartney number because the hat lent itself so beautifully to a section of lyrics.



I could pose like Captain Morgan for at least a couple of stanzas while indulging my Peter Gabriel-esque desire to belt out some progressive rock. "Supper's Ready" is way too long for karaoke, although I could've handled it without breaking a sweat or destroying the furniture. I had to settle for the next best thing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Get Down, Stay Up

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
As I mentioned in a previous posting, when my family and I went to visit friends in Pittsburg, Kansas, it always seemed to rain in La Cygne, Kansas, on the way back. And sometimes, it stormed. I think half the time we came back, Kansas City would be under a Severe Thunderstorm Watch or Tornado Watch.

As a kid, I had a hard time falling asleep in severe weather. Not only did the lightning scare me -- along with the thought of a Tornado Warning in the middle of the night -- I wanted to watch what the weathercasters were saying on TV. So one Saturday night after getting home from a Kansas trip, I stayed up late, very late, past 1 in the morning to monitor the weather via TV. I didn't see any severe weather bulletins (save for a "Severe Thunderstorm Watch" icon in the lower left-hand corner of KCTV 5), but I did see this video from Kool And The Gang.



I always remember this video for its use of computer-generated effects -- a little messy, I'll grant you, but groundbreaking for 1981. I think I ended up falling asleep in front of the set, waiting for that weather update that never came.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Amadeus Rocks!

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
In the spring of 1985, a relatively-unknown Austrian rapper exploded all over the radio with a funky take on a classical genius. Requests poured in for it, and I remember hearing it several times on a St. Louis station while on an outing with my church youth group. Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" eventually became one of the few 45-rpm singles I ever bought.

The release came with two versions: Falco's original with the German lyrics and an American edit substituting a timeline of Mozart's life.



This was the one I preferred. I also dug the video, which featured the original German and a heap of 18th Century fashion -- years before your servant would dress up in it himself.



Notice Falco rubbing his hands together about 45 seconds into the above video. I incorporated that same hand gesture into a church play before I sat down on a throne as King Darius. I don't know if anybody got the reference.

Falco represented white rap at its whitest and classiest. To me, he didn't culturally appropriate anything as much as adapt it for a different audience and different subject matter, blending it with mainstream rock and white soul. Weeks after "Rock Me Amadeus" rocketed to number one, he got a follow-up onto the charts, "Vienna Calling." This time, he had no English version. It played on the radio in the full German, cracking the top 20 in the summer of 1985. He never had another big hit in America, although he kept going for years before dying of injuries from a drug-influenced car wreck in 1998.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Changing Times And Changing Towns

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
A few days or so after I moved to Tucson in 1999, and with some time on my hands before I started my new job, I was going through the alt.music.genesis Usenet group (remember Usenet?) and ran across a posting from someone who had come across several Genesis outtakes and b-sides compiled onto a CD. He offered to share it with anybody who wanted a copy, and I quickly responded, offering him to pay for postage and media. Remember, posting and downloading of music had not yet come into fashion.

Not long after, I got a CD with about a dozen tracks I had never heard before. I fancied it a brand new Genesis album after the disappointment of ...Calling All Stations..., in which Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks tried to replace the departing Phil Collins with new singer Ray Wilson and some help from session drummers. The album bombed, and deservedly so. Genesis without Phil just wasn't Genesis, even though I felt the album had some promising tracks. This one, "7/8," was an instrumental left off the album but tacked onto the CD single of "Shipwrecked."



I'm not sure if the title was a working one or not, but it refers to the song's time signature. Genesis did a lot of great instrumentals, and I consider this one of their best. It starts small, rises, envelops into a wall of sound and falls back into a comfortable refrain. I can remember this song going through my head many mornings at KOLD during the week, when I served on associate producer duty, helping other producers write. This song reminds me of that respite I had from the grind of line-producing two shows every weekday. I still had to do that, but now I was only doing that on weekends.

Several weeks later, I noticed the $5 check I had sent to my musical benefactor hadn't been cashed. I emailed him back, and he told me that he had gotten it, but it ended up forgotten on his car dashboard. He didn't mind: "Merry Christmas!" he wrote back.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Raining All Over My Heart

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
Every time I hear Brook Benton's "Rainy Night In Georgia," I think back to August 1994 and a lonely drive from Harlingen back to McAllen after seeing my mother off on a flight back to St. Louis. This song came over the radio of my battered Chevy Celebrity.



Benton sings about it "raining all over the world," and I could feel it. I had just arrived in the Rio Grande Valley to start my first television job, and I had been living in motel rooms for the past couple of days with the Queen Mother as we looked together for apartments. And then, while we were watching TV in an aging room in Weslaco, we got the stunning news that my Grandma Francis had died. This heaped an anvil onto my emotional weight, as I was already tired of driving and looking for apartments only to find them in seedy neighborhoods, not open for viewing, or not available.

Now we had to decide whether I should go back home to be part of the funeral. After discussions with Mom and Dad, we agreed that I should get myself settled in my new community and get to work. Grandma would've wanted it that way. Grandpa Francis understood completely. Mom moved up her flight rather than staying an extra day. And now, in the car, I heard Benton singing on KSOX-FM in Raymondville, an oldies station that became one of only two I liked in the Valley. We had no rock station or all-news radio to divert my mind from my sadness and feelings of being a displaced person, a foreigner in a strange land without a home.

I would somehow pull myself together and get the apartment, which wouldn't be ready for 30 days. The manager at the complex gave me a lead on temporary quarters, and so I rented a Winter Texan's trailer for a month. And then I called my new boss and said I was ready for work.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Feeling Hawkish

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
A classical track or two has made it onto my devices. This one is both a wonderful classical piece and a chunk of a classic movie score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Sea Hawk.



It sounds even better in this version than it does in the original film. This is how Hollywood movie music used to sound: big and majestic and powerful. You don't hear it like this anymore. Maybe from John Williams or Danny Elfman you do, but how many movie scores burn themselves into your head?

We had the soundtrack CD laying around the studio when I worked at KBIA-FM in my University of Missouri years. Occasionally, on our in-depth news program "Between The Lines," we would pop it in and play it for bumps between reports. It shook things up from the jazz cues we usually pumped out. It has energy, and you need to be pumped up when you're anchoring a hectic half-hour radio show and watching the board operator behind the glass hurriedly load up reel-to-reel tapes and cartridge machines. Sometimes the technology -- and the operator -- would not work as expected.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Nose, Meet Grindstone

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
The news business can be draining on multiple levels: physically, emotionally, intellectually. And in those times where more is demanded from less, time is too short and the list is too long, my brain starts playing this early classic from Steely Dan:



The lyrics are about an extramarital affair, but it's the hook that resonates:

I'm a fool to do your dirty work, oh yeah.
I don't want to do your dirty work, no more.


This song was featured in the opening minutes of American Hustle, when a key character tells another he has to clean up the messes of another. I've had to do that a few times -- mostly outside of work, fortunately. And yet, for all the times I didn't want to do the job, I did it. I don't know if that makes me foolish or wise... but I do know it has kept me employed.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ain't A Party If Nobody's Dancin'

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
I remember hearing Rufus & Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" at a friend's Christmas party a decade ago. Or was it Halloween? I don't remember, and seeing as how the song came out in 1984, I can't figure out how I missed hearing it for the first time.



This song was featured in the dance flick Breakin', and my younger brother had the soundtrack -- and the moves. Your servant was in full geek mode at this time, meaning the only moves I had were shifting bits around in my computer's memory, although I bet you if somebody had introduced me to Scottish or English Country Dance at this time -- outside of school -- I might have let it fly.

The song has enough funk, in my opinion, to escape an expiration date. It fit the break-dance craze, but it's not married to it. Once I acquired this for my device, I must've looped it at least 20 times. I've done that with a lot of songs: play them over and over again until my brain wears out on them and ejects the melody so I don't keep thinking about it. Torture? Only if somebody's waterboarding you.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Give Me Just A Little More Space

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
Driving away from the Rio Grande Valley in December 1999, I felt liberated and free. A new, exciting job lie ahead in Tucson. And on the radio, the Chairmen of the Board sang about my need for release.



Before my eyes, as I rolled through small town after small town on the way to connect with I-10 south of San Antonio, I saw signs of life as the sun rose on a foggy Saturday morning. Restaurants opened, stores started opening, and people were picking back up on the holiday spirit and sprint. Christmas was the furthest thing from my mind at that moment, even though I was getting my biggest gift right now.

"Give me just a little more time, and my love will surely grow."

I needed time and space. I needed to decompress from what had been a grueling and demoralizing year in a job with a tempermental boss. I needed to get back to other things in life other than work. A road trip -- even though it wasn't a vacation -- fit my needs exactly at this moment. This was going to be an adventure, no matter what. My colleagues had given me an emergency road kit and some snacks. I could only hope the Celebrity was up to it. It had made it from St. Louis to McAllen. I had it checked out and fixed up before the trip. What it lacked in style and a working tape deck, it compensated for with an engine built like a tank.

It powered me through Texas, New Mexico and into Arizona the next day. Before I started work, I had time to enjoy the beautiful new scenery of my new hometown. I would be working and on vacation at the same time. I would be in a desert Oasis. I would have more time to just... breathe.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Break The News To Me Gently

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
One year ago on this day, like many of you, I woke up to learn of a heart-wrenching tragedy: 49 people dead inside an Orlando nightclub at the hands of a gunman. For once, I was glad I was on vacation and not in the newsroom. I could turn it off when things got too emotionally heavy.

Just the night before, I had been at a Scottish dancing ball, reuniting with dancing friends in the Los Angeles area. After fun and frolic, I saw a first alert on my phone about a nightclub shooting in Florida, one considerably tamer than what was about to come. That same phone had served up a ditty from Brenda Lee on the drive back to my parents' house in Upland.



I had a long, sad drive back home to Tucson as the news unfolded all of Sunday morning into the afternoon. The breaking news had broken as gently to me as possible given the enormity of the tragedy. I didn't have to write scripts on it or plow through soundbites of the mourning and devastation. I just had to think about the aftermath and how all of us as a nation would be dealing with it, coming back to the same old questions about guns and violence and missed clues.

A month later, a man would open fire on police in Dallas. Then Baton Rouge would come under the crosshairs. We would jump from tragedy to tragedy in the newsroom, sorrow to sorrow, pain to pain.

I kept thinking, "I am so ready for the Christmas season, when people know how to be kind to one another. Or least, they remember how."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

When They Invade, They'll Go For The Pretty Ones First

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
Donald Fagen's "Kamakiriad," a science-fiction inspired concept album released in 1993, is not a Steely Dan album -- but it might as well be. Fagen re-teamed with Walter Becker to record it, and they both toured it. I would've never heard a note of this album if it had not been for KFXB/WFXB in St. Louis -- "The Fox" -- which regularly played cuts, including this one about an alien invasion of beautiful women.



I later got the entire CD through the BMG Music Club, something I subscribed to through one of those offers in magazines saying, "Get 8 albums for 1 cent, with nothing more to buy, ever!" BMG usually had older, less popular music than Columbia House's similar club, but the terms were less restrictive.



I liked Fagen's album for its adventurous lyrics and storyline, the same qualities that attracted me to Genesis years earlier. Although I don't think it's as good as Steely Dan's group work, "Tomorrow's Girls" worked its way into my devices. The rest of the songs are still mostly in my memory.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

You'll Never Find Another Station Like This

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
During my childhood in Kansas City in the early 1980's, I loved to see what distant stations I could pull in on my bedroom TV. When the weather conditions were right, mainly during thunderstorms, I could get stations from hundreds of miles away. One late summer Sunday night, I remember picking up "Solid Gold" on KOLN-KGIN in Lincoln-Grand Island, Nebraska, and Lou Rawls was singing this tune.



"Solid Gold" was appointment viewing for me. I used to catch it on KQTV in St. Joseph -- another station pulled in from afar -- Saturday nights at 10:30. It featured the latest hits and the week's top ten countdown (different from the one on "American Top 40," skewing more towards Adult Contemporary radio airplay). I even got my Grandmother Lawson interested it at one point when she was babysitting my brother and I over at their house, and "Saturday Night Live" was running a bit too raw for her tastes.

"See, Orton," she said to my grandfather, "you can keep up on all your hits."

I scratched my head as to why that one Nebraska station needed to be on two different channels, 10 and 11. A little more than a decade later, I would be driving through that part of Nebraska on my way to an interview for what might have been my first TV job, and I would be very familiar with this part of south-central Nebraska and its overlapping TV stations and unusual channel configurations, a product of geography, demographics, financial considerations and efficiency.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Long Live The King!

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
If you ask me what's on my music players, I will tell you, "About one-third classic and mainstream rock and pop, one-third classic soul and R&B, and one-third wildcard, which can be anything I like." That includes things like TV show themes... and songs from ABC's "Schoolhouse Rock" like this one.



I put this song in my iPad Nano at least a couple of years before the re-enacting bug bit me. It has an addictive melody written by Lynne Ahrens (who would later go on to compose Broadway shows like "Ragtime"), and even though the lyrics oversimplify the facts, they do plug into the patriot paradigm of the colonists saying it was time to break from the mother country -- something my college American History teacher taught without the earworm melodies.

I have the challenge of explaining to young people why they should care about their heritage, and sadly, "Schoolhouse Rock" isn't on the air anymore in a supporting role. I learned the preamble to the U.S. Constitution from another of its history songs, which came in handy when I had to put it down on paper for a test.



To this day, I hear that people are still learning this and singing it to themselves if they have to pass a preamble test.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Delayed Gift

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
In January of 1992, I'm about to start the second half of my Sophomore year in college at the University of Missouri. After Christmas break, I've returned to my dorm in a snow-caked Columbia, Missouri. After unpacking and re-setting for the upcoming semester, I finally remember to check my mailbox. I haven't forwarded anything during the last month I've been away, so a pile of correspondence is waiting for me, including an Elton John hits CD from the BMG music club. I'd forgotten I'd ordered it before the holidays. But now it was here, and I put it into the stereo. Among the songs is this one, which sounds unlike any Elton song I've heard.



Elton barely plays piano on this disco-infused number. He didn't even write it. Neither did his longtime partner, Bernie Taupin. But I remember the bouncy beat giving life during the dead of winter, grey and cold. I would soon start another round of classes, and this was a nice surprise to find before having to hit the books again.