Top Ten soul chart hit for the legendary “Mr. Excitement” featuring his famous octave leaps in the choruses. (This was the third to last of his Billboard Hot 100 appearances, peaking at #59.) Musically, the song pays general tribute to the Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” while in the intro and at the 1:42 mark, it pays specific tribute to “Danny Boy,” which Wilson had taken to the charts in 1965. Songwriting credits go to Johnny Moore and his frequent collaborator Jack Daniels. Moore is not the same one who sang vocals with the Drifters; neither is he the former leader of the Three Blazers. He’s an unheralded Chicagoan whose catalog as a singer and songwriter is most familiar to Northern Soul fans. Moore and Daniels’ biggest hits as songwriters were Tyrone Davis’s “Turn Back the Hands of Time” (with Moore gifting his label credit to his then-girlfriend Bonnie Thompson) and Syl Johnson’s “We Did It.” Grapevine Records released a compilation of Moore’s vocal recordings in 2003 called Lonely Heart in the City.
This title song for the ultra-violent blaxploitation film is a reminder that music is the more powerful medium. Although a song can expand in meaning through its association with a film, never does a film live up to the possibilities one can conjure up mentally when a piece of music plays. Womack’s “Across 110th Street” is one of the truly potent blaxploitation themes, with its opening organ mimicking flashing city lights and its first-person lyrics (“I was the third brother of five/Doing whatever I had to do to survive”). Quentin Tarrantino’s usage of “Across 110th Street” as an intro for Jackie Brown (1997) removes it from its original source and assigns it to his own images. Like with all of the music Tarrantino has poured into his earlier films from his song-license shopping bag, the song suffers damage from its association with the movie’s images, while the film benefits from the song’s evocative power.
P. 62: “In Dallas on September 18, , where they were due to play the Memorial Coliseum, the boys – particularly John – expressed a keen interest in driving by the notorious Texas School Book Depository, site of the Kennedy assassination just ten months earlier.
“‘Let’s take a quick look at the scene of the crime,’ John said as he finished off breakfast in his room late in the morning. John had been the most traumatized by President Kennedy’s murder.
“‘He brought it up time and again in interviews with me,’ remembered Art Schreiber, who covered the trip for the Westinghouse network of radio stations.’ He was genuinely outraged by America’s passion for guns and the daily reports of violence that played out nightly on television.’ And he didn’t hold back. He said he loved what little he had seen of America, but was sickened by what he called, ‘America’s fookin’ shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later cowboy mentality,’ Schreiber said.”
Pp. 88-89: “In the privacy of his suite, he also sounded off about gun-happy Americans and the U.S. political system, which he said allowed any trigger-happy geezer to own a weapon. He complained to Art Schreiber that America was still the Wild West, because hardly a day went by ‘without me reading about some bloody idiot with a gun shooting somebody else after a fight over a pint of beer.’
“‘There’s too many loonies with guns,’ he told Schreiber with eerie prescience.”
Minimalist debut single from a Liverpool duo that, for a few years in the early ’80s, had a flair for electropop enchantment. Although their lyrics tended not to communicate clearly, this one actually had building blocks for a social protest message about Israel’s support of South Africa’s Apartheid. Most of the low-quality lyric repository sites have this one wrong, missing the “Israel” in the chorus.
The double-tracked voice of the Runaways’ Cherie Currie draws a connection to the similar-sounding double-tracked voice of Denise Nickerson, who sang lead on some of the “Short Circus” sequences on The Electric Company. Hear it happen on this Runaways track especially; It roars out of the speakers and you picture pre-teen kids in rust-colored polyester outfits shimmying while the word THUNDER flashes across the screen.
A curious addition to the country pop singer Jerry Wallace’s resume: The biggest selling single of his career was a 1970 Japan-only release that featured Charles Bronson on the sleeve. It was the soundtrack to a commercial for an aftershave called “Mandom,” starring Bronson as an urbane action figure who rewards himself at night by splashing the product all over himself like victory champagne. As he does this, Wallace gives the following lyrics one hundred-and-ten percent: “All the world loves a lover/All the girls in every land-om/And to know the joy of loving/Is to live in the world of Mandom.”
A word of warning: the Dean of American Rock Critics also refers to himself as “Mr. Too Much Information” and means it. But why doesn’t Mr. TMI include an index?
P. 289: “…I edited a lot at home. Since Carola and I didn’t even own a fan for a while, I often received writers shirtless in the summertime, but not, as I recall, in my underwear and certainly not naked – the source of that tale, the great Lester Bangs, never let facts ruin a colorful story.”
P. 335: “A brutal June heat wave upped our stress levels. I spent entire days in shorts alone, slipping into flip-flops and an unbottoned shirt to go buy coffee. Sometimes I even worked naked; in fact, the only time I remember receiving a guest unclothed was when Stephen O’Laughlin came over to talk records once.”
For further study, an accounting of Bangs’s “colorful story” appears in Jim DeRogatis’s Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic (2000), p. 137: “Christgau relished the role of the ex-hippie college professor too preoccupied with great thoughts to trifle with everyday pleasantries. Lester talked about the time he went to Christgau’s apartment and was greeted by the dean sans clothing. Christgau proceeded to edit Lester in the nude.”
Suave, knowing glam rock single that ended up as the Jook’s final one. The UK quartet included two former members of John’s Children (guitarist Trevor White on the far left and drummer Chris Townson on the far right). The band shared their manager John Hewlett (another former member of John’s Children) with Sparks, who marched to the orders of the American brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Shortly after the single came out in 1974, White and bassist Ian Hampton (middle right) snuffed out the Jook by defecting to Sparks, whose “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” single had reached #2 in Britain the same year.
Here’s a portion of an interview (by Phil King) of Jook drummer Chris Townson in Jeremy Thomson and Mary Blount’s Wired Up: Glam, Proto Punk and Bubblegum: European Pictures Sleeves 1970-76 (2013) (pp. 206-207):
Phil King: Did you go and see Sparks play?
Townson: No, because there was a bit of argy bargy going on. I took a swipe at Russell over a table. He said something that I thought was quite disparaging. I used to be quite aggressive when I was a young man. I just caught his nose. They were really quite arrogant. I really didn’t like them at all. I went out for a meal with them once – Ron and Russ – and it was really one of the most unpleasant meals I ever had. There was no conversation…
King: Did they come and see Jook play?
Townson: They came to see Jook play and said “Yes, they sound like a rock band.” No further discussion.
King: What about the story about the Bay City Rollers stealing your image?
Townson: We were playing in Scotland and this rather scruffy long-haired bunch, who looked like we did a year previously, came in after the gig and said what a fantastic show it was and how impressed they were with the image. Not two months later, even less, we saw these same guys and they’d patched it up with lots of tartan and everything. It was essentially the Jook image….
King: That must have been another nail in the coffin.
Townson: It was, and it was also bloody irritating when you go somewhere and they say, “You look like the Bay City Rollers.” I think I came close to punching many people.
Two years ago I heard this song, with its ghost voices and Star Trek organ, through static on a Mexican oldies station in the Arizona desert. Because none of the instant-info apps on my phone could get the job done and the station’s Clear Channel website contained nothing of use to anyone, I conceded defeat to the gods of ephemerality who oversee the affairs of most pop music in people’s lives. All of the song’s residue then vaporized except for three words from the chorus: “y mi sentimiento.” The gods had mercy on me last month when I was listening to Austin’s 1560 AM and it slithered out of my car speakers again, giving me time to pull over and scribble down more of the lyrics. Information, then: The song title translates to “I Swear I Love You” and was recorded in 1972 by a group of young adults from Venezuela. Calling themselves the Earthlings, they watched their song take control of Mexican radio for a moment in 1975.
Miriam Linna’s 1988 Kicks magazine cover story about Bobby Fuller brought him to life in a way few other writers could do. This is because her enthusiasm for – and knowledge of – Fuller’s records and the music that inspired him revved up her feature like a V8 engine. The gloom surrounding his mystery death couldn’t possibly enshroud the euphoric sound she celebrated. (It was also packed with historical details available nowhere else. I remember a Saturday I spent in the early ’90 zigzagging across El Paso with a copy of the magazine on the dashboard, locating all the sites she pinpointed.)
Her new book, titled I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, is a different, darker sort of prospect, which it perhaps has to be. It includes much of that first Kicks piece but adds material from Bobby’s brother Randy and lots of extended quotes from other first hand sources. While the death doesn’t get solved, you get a clear sense of the motivating factors and which parties likely qualify for the hayride to hell.
A sense of desolation takes the forefront in I Fought the Law to the extent that you wonder if that, too, wasn’t as crucial to the Fuller sound as its trademark euphoria. Tiger Moody’s foreword gives the doom Bobby sings of in his most famous song an alternate, but no less stifling, context. (This instantly made my personal racing lit Hall of Fame.) Randy’s introduction recounts the devastating ride home to El Paso from Los Angeles in the never-to-be-impounded death car, reeking of the gasoline that once drenched Bobby’s dead body. Also included is the stark and detailed revelation that the Fuller family had already suffered through the murder of Bobby and Randy’s older stepbrother.
Then there’s passages like this, spoken by Randy who ruminates on his decision to join his brother’s band full time and to go wherever it would take him (p. 57): “In El Paso, there was nothing for me, period…You’d get days when the wind would blow, and sand would be blowing across the street, and the clouds were a certain way, and it just seemed like there was never anything good ever gonna happen. It was a hopeless place. It was hopeless from the day we got there…[A]ll I would do is get in my car, and I’d drive all the way to northeast El Paso, watching the sand blow across the desert by the airport, and watch rabbits and wild things run across the road, and then I’d drive all the way over there where the teen club was and turn around and drive home. That was my thrill.”
If a second edition of I Fought the Law is ever in the works, I hope that a “where are they now” appendix makes the cut, especially since Randy’s introduction stokes reader interest for such after-the-funeral info. (Maybe, too, some of the long transcribed quotes can get a trim.) The best reason for a second edition, though, would be that positive developments in the Bobby Fuller story would call for one, and I wouldn’t want anyone but Miriam Linna or Randy Fuller to deliver the news.