Ah, you always remember your first time. There I was, in a dimly lit room…body tense and trembling under crisp sheets…heartbeat wild in anticipation…breaths short and shallow…spellbound by my first glimpse of something big, scary, and invasive…a spectacle that would excite me for the rest of my life: the 1935 classic, “The Bride of Frankenstein.” This cinematic masterpiece introduced me to societal rejection, unrequited love, mob mentality, and the tortured soul of the outcast. It’s the grandest monster flick of all time.
I generally consider someone a true artist if he or she has the courage to produce straight-from-the-soul work that is so provocative it’s likely to offend the masses, incite controversy, and, ideally, inspire people to open their minds and question long-held beliefs. When you think of such artists, Puerto Rican singer/songwriter José Feliciano doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Yet, he made an artistic statement 46 years ago this month that was viewed with such contention that it nearly ended his career. His offense? He performed a soulful, Latin jazz version of “The Star Spangled Banner” to kick off the fifth game of the 1968 World Series, a matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers in the Motor City.
Imagine there’s no Billboard
To measure record sales.
No song’s the winner,
No song ever fails.
Imagine all releases
Imagine the most defining song of John Lennon’s career NOT reaching the number one spot on the Billboard charts when it was released in October 1971. Surprisingly, John’s iconic peace anthem, “Imagine,” actually peaked at number three, which just goes to prove that chart position does not a legendary song make. John’s only single to hit the number one spot during his lifetime was “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” which topped the U.S. charts in November 1974.
“Hang on, Snoopy, Snoopy hang on.” At least that’s what I thought the band was singing until I bought that seminal 1965 single by The McCoys, and realized that Snoopy was actually Sloopy. But who the heck was THAT? Obviously not a beagle who sat on a doghouse wearing a WWI flying helmet.
Jimmy Cagney, hat brim low over his eyes, talking wise to Joan Blondell. Soapy and Bim picking pockets in Hell’s Kitchen. Platinum angels with arched, pencil-thin eyebrows, sipping bathtub gin and waiting in vain for their square-jawed mugs to return from the hoosegow. Sharpies named Ace and Lefty. Dames named Ruby and Peaches. Those were the cinematic heroes of my youth. So, it’s no surprise I’d fall hard for the denizens of Bruce Springsteen’s second LP, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.” To this day, it’s the most romantic “life on the street” album I’ve ever heard.
I didn’t learn much about algebra in 9th grade, but I sure acquired a lot of knowledge during class time about a group called 10cc. And I have my friend Tony V. to thank — for passing me a steady stream of notes containing “essential information” about that particular foursome, as well as loads of other British bands that never really broke big in America. (Of course, I was lost in ‘math hell’ forever after that class.) Anyway, today I’m wishing a happy 67th birthday to 10cc guitarist and keyboardist Laurence “Lol” Creme. He and his bandmates Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart and Kevin Godley were all mega-talented musicians, songwriters and lead vocalists who crafted beautifully layered songs that were often reminiscent of The Beatles.
“Where the boys are, someone waits for me,” Connie Francis once sang. And just where were they waiting in my sleepy little hometown in the slow, sweet summertime? Well, let’s just say they weren’t heading in droves to our beat-up old tennis court. But for me, it was someplace to go, and go I did – back in my pre-car, pre-cash teen years. Every night after dinner, my friend Ann and I would dress to impress and make our way up cemetery hill to the courts to see and be seen. Alas, not much came of our tennis trolloping. Once or twice a guy friend would offer us a ride home, but it was never the guy we hoped for. Weren’t we pretty enough, clever enough, or popular enough? Such thoughts would consume our high school years.
When I was 16 years old, Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury was the man I most wanted to meet. I didn’t want to sleep with him, mind you. I wanted to BE him. Or at least go shopping with him. Seriously, he was one of the people who inspired me to get out of my tiny Pennsyltucky hometown. I figured that if I studied hard enough, I could go to college, get a good job, and afford to move to London and hobnob with him and my other Brit rock idols. As it turned out, I went to college, got a job, moved to Monroeville, and got to hobnob with Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Harold Denton in the backroom of Tivoli’s Restaurant in Penn Hills. But that’s another story.
Rock blaster Robert Plant, like his Led Zeppelin bandmates, was known to have “entertained” thousands of groupies in hotel rooms all across the land, back in the day when cocksure male rock gods reigned supreme. But when Elvis came to town, the tables were turned, and Mr. Plant found himself playing the part of adoring groupie. Just what went on behind closed door between those two? (It’s safe to say it didn’t involve a mud shark.) Actually, the story goes like this…
“People would say ‘You shouldn’t be sayin’ that. You should be talkin’ about country music.’ And I said, ‘Why not? It’s the truth! Why can’t I say I’m a Beatles fan?’ I used to get criticized for that.” Those words are from country music great Buck Owens, who would have turned 85 today. He was responding to the country purists who accused him of selling out by adding rock elements to his repertoire in the mid-’60s. Most rock fans know that The Beatles recorded a version of Buck’s 1964 hit “Act Naturally,” which featured cowboy-loving Ringo on vocals. But few realize that Buck was a fan of The Beatles even before they chose his song as the B side of “Yesterday.”