The Strawberry Statement reimagined (and relocated) the 1968 Columbia University student riots, telling the story of a college freshman named Simon who stumbles into campus protest culture and gets his clock cleaned by riot police. (Was Simon the model for Dazed and Confused’s Tony Olson?) It’s another bummer movie and it shares thematic similarities with yesterday’s subject Nicholas and Alexandra: political struggle and befuddlement, idealism shattered, and a sadistic focus on the short lifespan of youth and innocence. The numerous rock soundtrack songs, as I’ve complained about elsewhere, add value to the viewing experience while getting cheapened in return. Two songs bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100, thanks to their appearance in the film. One of these was Thunderclap Newman’s now frequently-licensed “Something in the Air,” which had appeared in 1969’s The Magic Christian and reached #37 during its first run, and which accompanies scenes of Simon overlooking the city. (The song’s distinctive piano solo rarely appears in any of its ongoing media placements.) The other charting single from the film, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s strident version of Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game,” plays during the opening and closing credits and underscores the film’s heavy-handed message.
This #86 single (#14 in the UK) featured the dynamic Humperdinck merging words (by Paul Francis Webster) with the alluring theme music (by Richard Rodney Bennett) for the three-hour epic Nicholas and Alexandra. Released in 1971, the British production depicted the last days of Nicholas II – the last ruling tsar of Russia – and his family. Behind the gorgeous veneer, though, was another early seventies bummer film, asking us to develop a fondness for the doomed lead characters, while additional themes relevant to the developing seventies psyche loomed large: political complexity, the bittersweet demise of an older generation, the hazardous side effects of revolt, and the fragility of – and fascination with – the larger traditional family. The character of Nicholas, reminding one of Mike Brady, drew sympathy as a man whose entire worldview focused on his “too beautiful to last” immediate family. For the mid-sixties Von Trapps, such devotion led toward gorgeous vistas. For the early-seventies Romanovs, it led toward getting shot in a cellar.
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 an ultra-violent blaxploitation film (that’s better than most, for what that’s worth) 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 is able to conjure up mentally when a piece of music plays. Womack’s “Across 110th Street” happens to be one of the most 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), removing it from its original source and assigning it to his own images, illustrates my point. 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 conversely benefits from the song’s evocative power.
One of the very few books to discuss Grenadian calypso. Page 218 gives a good reason for the shortage: “When the Americans invaded on October 25, 1983, one of the first things they knocked out as a matter of military strategy was Radio Free Grenada,” effectively destroying the entire history of “pre-1983 Grenadian calypso.” Shortly after the bombing, Puri writes, “Radio Free Grenada was renamed Spice Island Radio and started playing the Beach Boys.”
Adopting the name of two Incan kings for his stage name, Atahualpa Yupanqui (Hector Roberto Chavero Aramburo) was one of Argentina’s towering troubadours whose somewhat complicated political history never compromised his essential humanism. “Los ejes de mi carreta” (“The Axles of My Cart”) is a poem by Uruguayan poet Romildo Risso that Yupanqui set to music. “Because I do not grease the axles I am called a fool,” go the words. “[But] it is far too boring to follow the track with nothing to entertain me.” Like with all good art, various levels of meaning complement each other, e.g., a worker’s loneliness, resilience, and/or refusal to keep quiet. Since its first appearance, the song has come to life in numerous milonga and tango versions. A recent Italian interpretation by Vinicio Capossela, though, which features Greek instrumentation, offers up an additional meaning: the resolve to dance coyly.
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 junky websites with song lyrics have this one wrong, missing the “Israel” in the chorus.
When I hear the Runaways my mind draws a connection between the double-tracked voice of Cherie Currie and the similar-sounding double-tracked voice of Denise Nickerson, who sang lead on some of the “Short Circus” sequences on The Electric Company. This Runaways track especially; It roars out of the speakers and I picture pre-teen kids in rust-colored polyester outfits shimmying while the word THUNDER flashes across the screen. The association, by the way, doesn’t kill it for me.
I wrote about Jerry Wallace previously, about how he had a hit single that sprung from a Rod Serling Night Gallery episode, about how he would pose with a Behee Lyric harp guitar, and about how he marketed himself as a “covering the bases” crossover king in the early ’70s. If that info interests you, there’s more you ought to know about this pop singer’s curious 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.”