Friday Five: November

Fall is in the air. Thanksgiving is around the corner. Here are five songs from five albums that were all released in November.

5. “The Girl is Mine” (Michael Jackson)
Thriller was released on November 30, 1982. This duet with Paul McCartney was the first single released from the album. It’s not quite what you’d expect from what would become the biggest selling album of all time. In some ways it’s a homage to the Jackson of the 70s.

4. “You’re No Good” (Linda Ronstadt)
This is the first track on Linda Ronstadt’s breakout album Heart Like a Wheel, released in November 1974. Ronstadt was one of the most successful performers of the 1970s, and there’s lots of reasons why. When I listen to some of her work (like this song, a reinterpretation of an old R&B tune) I’m surprised she’s not more well-known today.

3. “Bombtrack” (Rage Against the Machine)
The self-titled debut album of Rage Against the Machine was released on November 3, 1992. This is the first track. I remember when a friend first put this CD in the player and pushed play. It’s a memorable opening for a band that would become a voice for some of the best parts of my generation.

2. “Thinking of You” (Tony! Toni! Toné!)
One of my favorite albums of the 1990s was released on November 19, 1996. The fourth album of Tony! Toni! Toné! is something of a comeback album, with rumors of their break up bolstered by their individual success behind of host of hits in the interim. The sound they captured was a homage to 60s soul wrapped up in a 90s way. It’s best felt in this song, the first track on the album.

1. “Candy Man” (Roy Orbison)
A year before Roy Orbison died, a bunch of music stars (ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Waits) and a killer back up band (including the great Jim Burton) accompanied the legend in an evening of his greatest hits. Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night aired on Cinemax in early January 1988. In December Roy would die. A year later, in November 1989, the album of this historic evening was released.

Friday Five: Boo!

Happy Halloween!

It’s a testament to my wife that my kids get more excited for putting on their costumes than they do eating candy. It’s a testament to their father that they know Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well as anything by Taylor Swift.

Here’s five more songs they’ll know by the end of the weekend.

5. “Monster Mash” (Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers, 1962)

4. “Dead Man’s Party” (Oingo Boingo, 1985)

3. “People Are Strange” (Echo & the Bunnymen, 1987)

2. “Halloween” (The Misfits, 1981)

1. “Werewolves of London” (Warren Zevon, 1978)

Friday Five: Silly Love Songs

I have few actual memories of 1976. I was only 4, after all. I developed a deep love for the entire decade later in life, though, a mix of the sights and sounds I do remember with my later interests. 1976 is a great representative slice of that.

As I’ve written before:

It was the bicentennial (I love US history); Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President’s Men came out (I love 70s cinema); and “What’s Happening!”, “Laverne & Shirley”, and “Charlie’s Angels” all premiered on TV (all were big for me in syndicated repeats). One of my favorite movies ever–Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993)–takes place on May 28, 1976!

Wing’s “Silly Love Songs” was a hit in 1976. I like the song okay, but Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles life isn’t my favorite stuff. It was a good year for love songs, though.

So here are 5 love songs from 1976:

5. “Sweet Thing” (Rufus, featuring Chaka Khan)
If you want to know why a certain segment of baby boomers is crazy for Chak Khan all you have to do is listen to songs like this, when she was the lead singer of Rufus. She pulls off what only she could do.

4. “Beth” (Kiss)
Kiss is one of thos love-hate things, mostly because in an era of “artistic” album rock they were a commercial juggernaut who didn’t hide their desire to make money. That said, they hit it more than a couple of times. This is one of those times, a snapshot into the life of a rocker.

3. “Isn’t She lovely” (Stevie Wonder)
Stevie Wonder is a genius who was at his most genius in the 70s. This is one of the best songs of all-time, from one of his most amazing albums.

2. “Sara Smile” (Hall & Oates)
Damn but these white boys could sing some soul!

1. “Somebody to Love” (Queen)
So beautiful. The loneliness contrasted with the operatic the energy is amazing as a studio production, but remained amazing in its many live performances, too. It’s my favorite Queen song ever.

Lucky Guy

Today is the start of the 2016-17 academic year!

This year marks the start of my 15th year as a professor and 21 years since I first taught at the college level (as a TA at UC Berkeley). To look at it another way, since I started college in the fall of 1990 and didn’t take any time off between college and grad school and my two tenure-track jobs, this is also the start of my 27th year in higher education.

More than a quarter of a decade!

I’m coming off a year-long sabbatical, where I spent my time researching and writing about the Vietnam War and Mexican Americans. So I haven’t been in the classroom for awhile. Truth be told, I’m excited and a little nervous. But that’s part of the norm for me anyway.

No matter how you cut it, I’m a lucky guy. I get to read and write and teach for a living. I get to spend my time learning more and more about subjects I’m still passionate about. I get to work with young people–smart and eager young people–who help me develop a greater appreciation for the subjects we learn about.

It’s good stuff. I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I remind myself daily how lucky I am to be able to say that about my work.

So happy new (academic) year!

Friday Five: Rick Rubin

Whenever I take a look at the life and career of producer Rick Rubin I’m reminded of how diverse and impressive his catalog of music is. I’m also reminded that I need to start working on my beard length and my casual pants collection.

Here are five of my favorite songs he’s had a hand in making:

5. “Angel of Death” (Slayer, 1986)
4. “Chop Suey!” (System of a Down, 2001)
3. “Under the Bridge” (Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991)
2. “Walk This Way” (Run-D.M.C., with Aerosmith, 1986)
1. “Hurt” (Johnny Cash, 2002)

Friday Five: Nostalgia (late 80s version)

I’m going to see Guns N’ Roses tonight.  As far as I can remember, this is the first time I’ve gone to a show by a band that was big “back in the day”–when that “day” was my teen years.

I’ve been to lots of shows like this for other eras.  I’ve seen Steve Miller at least five times, for example.  I’ve seen the Doobie Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd and a whole bunch of other 70s rock bands.  But each time I went to those shows I was in my 20s.  The audience, though, was filled with mostly middle-aged folks reliving their youth.

Well now I am that middle-aged guy reliving his youth.

I could say a lot about GNR, and it would be easy to pick five songs from them for the occasion, but I think the thing on my mind more right now is a general appreciation for my youth. And, so, here you go…

5. “What It Takes” (Aerosmith, 1989)
4. “Still of the Night” (Whitesnake, 1987)
3. “Finish What Ya Started” (Van Halen, 1988)
2. “Fire Woman” (The Cult, 1989)
1. “Patience” (Guns N’ Roses, 1988)

August 16, 1977

It’s the 39th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

If you’ve ever read this blog you likely know I’m a big Elvis fan. (My very first blog post on the first iteration of this blog–on Blogger–was on the 30th anniversary of his death!) It’s a fandom that stretches back as many years as I can remember, even though I was born in 1972, after the height of the Elvis phenomenon and just 5 years before he died.

That’s probably because I was born into a time when Elvis was still very much a part of the popular culture. His music was everywhere and his movies were regularly on TV. I also came of age at a time when the mainstream culture was popularizing narratives about the 50s. Documentaries about Elvis and about the early years of his stardom were common.

I think that shaped a particular kind of fandom in me. I love the phenomenon of his stardom. I have a great appreciation of his role in popular music but also his role in popular youth culture. I’ve always loved his “story”–the poor, white boy growing up with Black music; the rise to fame; the cultural phenom; the frame and fortune; the marriage and love affairs; the string of corny movies where bits of his brilliance peak out; that brilliance on full display in his ’68 “comeback”; and even the later years as a jump-suited impersonator of the star he once was.

And, of course, there was the shock and spectacle of his death. I remembered where I was when I heard Elvis died, and I was only 5 years old.

Through it all, there’s the music. I think we can often lose sight of his special talent when we get caught up in all the rest of it. Maybe that’s a good way to mark this day.

Here are his two first recordings made on July 18, 1953 at the Memphis Recording Service (later called Sun Studios). As the story goes he recorded them to give to his mom as a gift. He paid $3.98 for a double-sided acetate press of “My Happiness” and “That’s When the Heartaches Begin.”