Text © Robert Barry Francos
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I put this cassette together in the 1990s, when people still made mixed tapes. It was for traveling in the car, as it had a cassette player and it seemed I was always going somewhere. Certainly, there was nothing on the radio to which I wanted to listen (and that is still true).
In 2001, I starting making a series of six-hour drives up to western New England, and for that summer I often had my granddaughter with me. At the time she was 8 years old, and was heavily into Britney and the like. I was quite proud of her that summer because she really got into some Bollywood music I had in the car. But that’s another tape, and here is this one. It seems I played the first side a lot around her, but judiciously. Some of her reactions at the time, will be included here, if you wonder why I bring her up.
The Cyrkle – I Wish You Could Be Here
The Cyrkle were know for a number of things, such as “Turn Down Day,” “Red Rubber Ball,” being the only American band managed by Brian Epstein, and for playing the last gig with the Beatles at Candlestick Park, which was also their own swan song. The reason for the Cyrkle’s split was that their second album tanked. This was a shame, because there were a couple of really great tunes on it, including this one. Played in a dissonant tone, each stanza climbs one scale, and yet Don Danneman’s voice is clear throughout as he misses the woman who recently left him. Sad song yes, but beautiful (“I keep listening for your footsteps / Or your key turn in the door / I sure could use your company / But we’ve been through that before”).
Bugs Bunny – I’m Going Cuckoo
This song, which I taped off the television, is from one of the very early cartoons, when Bugs was short and stout, and still sounded like Woody Woodpecker, rather than the iconic look and sound that would crystallize in the just- pre-World War II years. The song is brilliant in its non-sequiter imagery, many of which were played out during the song (such as, “Please pass the ketchup / I think I’ll go to bed / Hoo!”)
Mystic Eyes – My Time to Leave
The grand-kinder was impressed that I was a friend of the lead singer of a recorded song, Bernie Kugel. Every time this came on, I would say, “Yay, Bernie!” After a few days, this annoyed her. After a few more, she was doing it with me. This was one of the early tracks of Mystic Eyes, after the demise of Bernie’s previous group, the Good. It is similar to the Cyrkle song in that it is about the break-up, but in this case, the singer is the one leaving (because it is his time, you see…). This is one of Bernie’s strongest early songs, which is saying a lot considering Bernie constructs some killer pop garage tunes. I love the line, “My mind stuck on you like a magnet,” and it is hard to be still during this total beat-fest with a bit of a calliope swirling feel.
Deaf School – Golden Showers
I would fast forward over this song when the kid was in the car, for obvious reasons. Not that I thought she would understand the meaning of it back then, but the last thing I needed was her walking around the house singing it (e.g., “A touch of madness in us all they say / But I don’t do this every day / I get relief from stressful hours / I like those golden showers”). Bad enough she was going around singing, at the top of her lungs, “I’m not that innocent!” Scary. Anyway, while I do not imbibe in the practice this song portrays, it is, nevertheless, a great pop tune, full of great beats and a building power.
Fire, Inc – Tonight Is What it Means to Be Young
This is the end theme to the cult film, Streets of Fire (if you haven’t seen it, you should). It is everything I would normally not like in ‘80s music: overproduced and overdramatic; however, it is one of my favorite songs. I must admit, for those who have seen the film, I like the movie version better because the handclapping within the film takes it to a HNL (hole nother level, for we Keegan-Michael Key fans), but as the film fades out there is talking over the end of the song, I chose the soundtrack rendering. The granddaughter fell in love with the song, too, and when the key change happens during one of the musical breaks, we’d both raise our hand (palms down) to indicate its rising, and laugh.
Mike Oldfield – Five Miles Out
Oldfield was mostly known for his theme to The Exorcist, “Tubular Bells,” but I also like this piece. A bit overwrought, it is about a flyer that is running on fumes and is trying to make it to the airport while in the eye of a hurricane (“Five miles out / Just hold your head in two”). It is a very theatrical piece, which I became familiar with through its video, but came to love independently.
Trashmen – Surfin’ Bird
Papa-Oo-Mow-Mow, indeed! Since everybody knows that the bird is the word, I won’t explain this piece, but here is the meta-story: the kid hated this song, because it was just so stupid, in her words. It would come on, and she would just roll her eyes, annoyed. In the fall of 2008, I showed up for a family visit to celebrate her Sweet 16, and she was all excited. “Did you see Family Guy!? The whole show was about that crazy bird song you used to play! They kept doing it over and over! It was great!” She remembered it after 7 years. Wow, the power of stupid songs, I guess, but I felt like I had done some good in the world.
Ventures – Pipeline
This was definitely one of the superior versions of the song, and one of the better instrumentals to hit the top 10 (and there were many in the ‘50s and ‘60s). There are plenty of good interpretations, including by Johnny Thunders, but this one takes it. It starts off so subtle with feather-light string picks, which turn into bass rhythms, and the listener is hooked even before the core melody starts. I firmly believe that this song started the surf music craze as much as the Beach Boys and Dick Dale.
SIDE 2 –
Jonathan King – Mary, My Love
Despite my disagreeing with King on his musical philosophies (I interviewed him in the early ‘80s), and especially on his troublesome vocation (look it up), he did write some great songs. Yeah, a lot of his work is crap (e.g., a disco version of “Una Poluma Blanca” and “Hooked on a Feeling” with the ooga-cha-kaas, an idea which was stolen by Blue Swede), but I really like this reworking of Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” theme. I have a running disagreement with Boston musician / publicist Joe Viglione on the meaning of the ending (I say she comes to protagonist, Joe says he rejects her); whatever, it is a well-written album cuts from the ‘70s). Yes, that is King in the video, as this is HIS official release.
Grease Broadway Soundtrack – All Shook Up
They screwed up the movie in many ways, one of which was by dropping this song for the tedious and musically out-of-place “One That I Want.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear you out there saying, “But I loved that song!” Fiddlesticks. “All Shook Up” was much better. Barry Bostwick’s Danny was stronger than Revolta, and while I like some of the early work of Newton-John (i.e., her country period), Carole Demas of The Magic Garden was a great Sandy. It felt moving when Bostwick wailed, “Got a fever / 104 Fahrenheit / Need your lovin’ / Can I come over tonight / Feelin’ low down / My equilibrium’s shot / Give me that tranquilizer you got!” As she turns on the “bitch,” Carole was much more believable in this exchange:
Danny: C’mon an’ take my ring, coz you’re my match
Sandy: Well I still think there’s strings attached
D: You’re writin’ my epitaph
S: Well that’s just tough-and-a-half
D: You’re gonna make me die
S: Don’t make me laugh!
David Essex – Rock On
David’s only hit in the US, this is a spooky, echo-riddled, and cryptic ‘50s homage. While disconnected here, David was associated with the ‘50s a lot in the UK because, in part, to a few films in which he was the lead that took place in that time period (e.g., That Will Be the Day). The song’s beat is hypnotic and the rhythm of the lyric patter with David’s voice makes this a kind of zen-lite experience. Plus, once heard, it’s hard to get out of the head.
Grass Roots – Bella Linda
While this song was a hit, it is not one of their biggest, and tends to get forgotten. That is a shame. It is sort of a whiney version of “Lightening Strikes” (i.e., I was a screw-up, still am, and may be for a while, so please forgive and wait), while the lyrics plead and cajole, but with great harmony. Mind you, the whiniest song is, arguably, the Seeds’ “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” (another classic, recently used for a TV commercial), but this one is up there. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, much like Robert Klein’s beggar screaming, “Pleeeeeease!” If one looks at a Grass Roots’ greatest hits collection, it is amazing how many times one will go, “Oh, yeah! I love that song!”
Deaf School – All Cued Up
Deaf School – I Wanna Be Your Boy
Yes, two in a row. I’m not quite sure why, but Deaf School seemed to be left out of a number of punk histories that focus on England. They were a true egalitarian punk group that started out of pretty bourgeois circumstances. “All Cued Up” is Betty Bright singing about waiting on a line (“I don’t remember a place / I don’t remember a time / When you got what you wanted / Without waiting in line”). However, “I Wanna Be Your Boy” is a white-ska masterpiece, starting off with a slow rhythm, which doubles, then again, and again, repeatedly. And just when you think they can’t go any faster, they double it once more. Killer tune.
Daddy Cool – Baby Let Me Bang Your Box
If I remember correctly, Daddy Cool was an Australian band in the ‘80s. Here, they cover a ‘50s doo-wop innuendo-laden tale of playing piano to perk up a boring party (“Baby let me play your 88s / I’m gonna play ‘till the whole house rocks”). Amazing they gave “Louie Louie” such a hard time, when this one was so much more blatant. Seems like the perfect song to end the tape, on an up beat and wanting more.