Friday Five: Na Na Na Na

The kids and I were on our way to school this week when we heard “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Wilson Pickett. It’s a great song and an even better performance by the music legend. It reminds me of one of my favorite live performances, which is from the legendary film Soul to Soul, a documentary capturing Pickett and others playing in Accra, Ghana in 1971.

I immediately described it to the kiddos. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure. In it, Pickett preaches the power of soul and R&B to a receptive crowd of Ghanaian youth:

“Land of a Thousand Dances” is most famous for its hook, the “na na na na” refrain originally added to the song by the great Chicano band Cannibal and the Headhunters. (Here’s their classic version from 1965. (And while we’re at it, here’s the cover by the equally legendary Chicano group Thee Midniters, released the same year.))

That simple two-letter utterance, sung again and again, is the inspiration for this week’s five songs. It’s a hard list to make. There are a lot of songs spanning the decades that have used a refrain of “na na na na.” So here it goes…

5. “I’ll Be Your Shelter” by Taylor Dayne (1989)
This is probably the least known song of my selected bunch, but it’s one that stands out for me in the “na na” category. Close to thirty years ago, I was driving back from the beach with my good friend Patrick when this song came on the radio. I remember him liking it so much because of the catchy use of the refrain; I also remember we talked about other songs that used it. It’s only right that it be on the list. While it’s a forgotten song by an artist that only had a few hits, and while it’s massively late-80s-pop sounding (which is not a good thing), it’s got a lot going for it, not the least of which is the talented Dayne at the helm.

4. “All the Small Things” by blink 182 (1999)
I remember blink 182’s ascendency in the late 90s. They felt and sounded like a watered down version of Green Day, almost like they were manufactured for the times. They were a solid MTV favorite that year, one I didn’t think much of until I saw the below video for this song (funny, especially since they’re mocking the boys band MT culture when they were courting the rock end of that same pop spectrum) and until the song started playing everywhere. It was catchy, I’ll give them that.

3. “Hey Jude” by the Beatles (1968)
This is the most famous “na na na na” song. I remember playing my parent’s copy of the album of singles by The Beatles, which is the only record we had with it. I was a sophomore or junior in high school at the time and I just played this song over and over, even counting the number of “na na na” refrains they used (I think it was 27). Here’s the version from the song’s premiere, on David Frost’s “Frost on Saturday.” The vocals are live but the band is playing to previously recorded music.

2. Gettin’ Jiggy wit it” by Will Smith (1997)
Big Willie Style was Will Smith’s first solo album, and his first recordings after he became a major movie star. He hit it big with the album, mostly on the tails of this 1998 hit. It made the word “jiggy” part of the mainstream, too, although I’m not sure most people knew how to use the word.

1. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam (1969)
This has to be on the top of the heap because it has the key words in its title! So synonymous with the “na na” refrain, it’s often called the “Na Na Song.” It’s also the tune crowds will sing when somebody we don’t like is being kicked off the stage, the field, or some other venue. It’s a pop culture classic, and a pretty good tune, too. It’s also a throw together song of previously recorded tracks and filler lyrics, a classic unintentional number 1 song.

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Friday Five: Steve Earle

I was listening to some Townes Van Zandt this week, which usually leads to listening to Steve Earle.  As I did, I discovered Earle’s most recent album, So You Wannabe An Outlaw, released last summer.  I fell in love with a couple of the songs and thought he deserved a little spotlight here.

5. “Copperhead Road” (1988)
His most well-known song, so to speak, this single was the title track off his third album, a critically-acclaimed fusion of rock and bluegrass.

4. “The Devil’s Right Hand” (1988)
My favorite song off Copperhead Road, and the first song I ever heard by Steve Earle. The version below is a touch different than the album version, but it really captures the Van Zandt influence in him.

3. “Sometime She Forgets” (1995)
Earle is a drug addict, and this song is from his first album after getting clean, Train A Commin’. It’s folk, bluegrass, country goodness, made all the better by the inclusion of Emmylou Harris and a few other folks who joined him for the album.

2. “This City” (2011)
Earle played a role in David Simon’s short-lived HBO series Tremé. This song closed out the first season. Earle tells the story a bit in the below performance.

1. “Goodbye Michaelangelo” (2017)
This is the song I couldn’t get enough of this week. It’s from the album So You Wannabe An Outlaw, which is billed to Steve Earle & the Dukes. The album harkens back to the Highwaymen and the kind of post-60s music made by Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and others. This song is beautifully recorded on a 1939 Martin D-28 guitar, something Earle explains in this other video.

Friday Five: On the Road

It’s spring break for my kids and that means la familia Summers Sandoval is hitting the road!

We’re off to the Grand Canyon, with side trips to Sedona and (maybe) the Hoover Dam, so there’s not much time to write.  Instead, here’s five songs in honor of our journey, each linked to a live performance.

5. “Highway to Hell”  by AC/DC (1979)

4. “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles (1961) 

3. “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen (1975)

2. “Life is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane (1991)

1. “Crossroads” by Cream (1966)

 

Friday Five: The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski came out 20 years ago this month.

At that time in my life, I was going to a lot of movies.  I was ABD (done with my graduate courses, exams, and left with “all but dissertation” before the PhD) and I lived in Oakland, mere blocks away from two really good theaters (the Piedmont and the Grand Lake).  I’d often go for a walk, pass by one of the two, and buy a ticket to see just about anything that happened to be playing.

I don’t remember if I planned to see The Big Lebowski or if it was one of those spontaneous things.  I do remember that I pretty much thought it was a work of genius. Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke (1978) invented the stoner genre–circular narrative which ends up being about nothing, filled with odd characters, some of who get high and/or are trying to get high.  The Big Lebowski gave us the big budget, high production, epically operatic version of the form.

The Coen Brothers use of music was a standout feature of the movie for me, so much so that I bought the soundtrack that same day.   The CD remains one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. It introduced me to a whole bunch of songs that I had never heard before and ended up loving to this day.  There were some amazingly great records (“The Man in Me” and “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”); two great covers (one by the Gypsy Kings and one by Townes Van Zandt); and a classic tune sung by the great Nina Simone.  It even had a German opera duet (“Gluck Das Mir Verblieb”), which was undoubtedly the first of that genre I ever heard.

So here’s my five favorite tracks from The Big Lebowski Original Motion Picture Soundtrack:

5. “Hotel California” by the Gypsy Kings
I knew no more than one song by the Gypsy Kings.  I knew more than one by the Eagles. I never knew the two became one until this.

4. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by The First Edition
As a child of the 80s, Kenny Rogers was a known entity for me.  Even though we didn’t listen to country, he had a good deal of crossover “pop” appeal to make him more than familiar.  What I didn’t know until 20 years ago was just how serpentine his path to being country legend was, including as it did a stop in psychedelic rock.  (Nor did I know that the band had character actor Mickey Jones on drums!)

3. “Dead Flowers” by Townes Van Zandt
I had heard of Townes Van Zandt by 1998, mostly in relation to Steve Earle, whom I admired since I heard his album Copperhead Road.  As far as I can remember, this was the first time I heard Townes sing.  I bought his Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas shortly after.

2. “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan
I’ve never been a huge Dylan fan.  What I did know (and respect, and often like) went up to Blonde on Blonde.  Between Lebowski and The Hurricane (1999) I started to really prefer some of his 70s work over the rest.

1. “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” by Nina Simone
I love Nina Simone. In the pre-all-music-on-the-internet days, her long and eclectic career meant a constant stream of amazing discoveries for me. They often came to my attention in the most random of ways–an essay on the civil rights movement, a documentary on the assassination of Dr. King, or (in this case) a stoner movie.

Daddy Reads 2.18

My monthly update on what my youngest daughter and I read the previous month.

February is always a little bit of a slog for la familia Summers Sandoval. Or maybe it’s just me. I feel like the month is the thick of it when it comes to the academic year. It can be a challenge when the kids feel the same way.

We keep afloat, however we can. Last month, mi chiquita and I did so by continuing with the adventures and mysteries of the land of Droon.

City in the Clouds; The Great Ice Battle; The Sleeping Giant of Goll; Into the Land of the Lost; and The Golden Wasp (The Secrets of Droon #4-8) by Tony Abbott
Neal, Eric, and Julie continued their adventures in the magical land beneath Eric’s (or Neal’s?) basement. The drama of Droon–framed by the evil Lord Sparr and his primary nemesis, the creative Princess Keeah–grew more interesting and cluttered throughout these next five books in the massively popular series. My little one continued to love them, although even she started to get a little confused at some of the regular introductions of new characters, scenarios, and mysteries. Gladly, with the apparent demise of Lord Sparr (our oldest, who’s read through to book 13, already informed us that he’s coming back) she’s finally growing amendable to adding a non-Droon book into the mix. This makes daddy happy.

Friday Five: “Chicano” Oldies

I realize I have an odd relationship to music. In general, most of the music I love comes from before or just after I was born. To put it another way, when most of the music I love was “new music” I was either not yet born or too young to form any memories of it.

I’m a historian, what can I say.

But part of my love of “oldies” (and by this I don’t mean just “old music” but, instead, the standard 50s and 60s music we associate with the early years of “Rock ‘n Roll”) is also cultural. I grew up in the greater Los Angeles area in a social world dominated by Chicano culture. This music played a big part in defining that culture.

The easy way to make sense of this is that I grew up in a social world where Chicano baby boomers were being nostalgic about their youth. Part of that is true. I think things like the Vietnam War and the more general loss of faith in the US political and economic system of the 70s also played a role in that nostalgia. So did the fact that they were grown up. But this music is bigger than that. It has even transcended the past in which it was first thought of as “old” as it continues to create an musical identity for Chicanos today.

Taken as a collection, it’s what Chicano culture sounds like, at least musically. It might be limited by region (Southern California) and time (late 20th century to now). It might be further shaped by whether folks are working class or not, and even by one’s connection to immigration (I don’t think it has penetrated into the immigrant communities that formed since the 80s).

Proof of this is the longevity of somebody like Art Laboe, the legendary DJ. He’s pretty much been on LA radio continuously since 1949. He was playing oldies music for a Chicano audience when those oldies were still “newies”! His dedication show (where listeners call in and dedicate songs to their loved ones) has been a standard part of Chicano LA (and beyond) for my entire life. The music he plays–oldies from doo-wop to R&B to soul–mostly fall into the “oldies” category, but there’s also newer stuff that sounds like the past. This is what I mean by one “Chicano oldies.”

So, though I’ve done this before, here’s a list of five more of my favorite Chicano oldies songs. My goal here is to choose the less obvious songs that don’t get a lot of play on standard “oldies” stations (or that didn’t, back when oldies stations played songs before 1980). What I think is most impressive about them is that even though they were mostly released more then a half century ago, these songs are well-known by subsequent generations of Chicanas and Chicanos who grew up in the greater LA region.

5. “Together” by Tierra (1980)

4. “I’m Your Puppet” by James and Bobby Purify (1966)

3. “Me and You” by Brenton Wood (1967)

2. “Baby, I’m For Real” by The Originals (1969)

1. “Sitting in the Park” by Billy Stewart (1965)