Sunday, January 06, 2008

Battle of the Decades

Here's a game I've been playing with my family and a few friends over email. The premise is simple: I open up XM Radio online when the spirit moves me, copy the songs which are playing at that moment on XM's Decades channels, whatever they may be, and send them out to my Battle of the Decades mailing list.

The rules are simple: Vote for the best song. You must vote for one (hard if none of them are any good, which can happen) and only one (hard if there are two or more really strong candidates -- this last rule is broken so frequently that I've abandoned it).

As the game has developed, I've taken to writing desultory notes -- criticism, reminiscence, biography, trivia -- on the list. These have gotten lengthy enough, and at least no less interesting than most of the nonsense here, that I thought I might as well start posting them. Y'all are welcome to join in and vote.

In the last competition -- a two-way race, which surprised me a little -- it was 4 Non Blondes over Elvis. I'm certainly not surprised that none of my daughters voted for Elvis. But I'm surprised that neither Queen not Marvin Gaye/Martha and the Vandellas got any votes. I

So here's the new one, and I predict near-unanimity between young and old.

THE 40s
Freddy Martin
Easy To Love

THE 50s
Bobby Darin
You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby

THE 60s
James & Bobby Purify
I'm Your Puppet

THE 70s
Paul McCartney & Wings
With A Little Luck

THE 80s
Janet Jackson
The Pleasure Principle

THE 90s
Right Said Fred
I'm Too Sexy

But first, a word about young and old, and the generation gap. I'm certainly not going to vote for Freddy Martin, and I feel confident that no one else will, unless my brother is in a really weird mood, but there is a memory attached to him. When Jon and I first started listening to music, and buying records, naturally we listened to, and bought, rock and roll, which was in its early days back then. This was so long ago that for those of you who don't remember 45s, and barely remember LPs, this goes back further -- our first purchases were 78s. Jon can maybe correct me on this, but I remember our very first being "Bazoom (I Need Your Lovin')" by the Cheers. The Cheers are mostly noted for having, as lead singer, a future TV game show host -- according to Wikipedia,

Convy soon took the podium himself as host of several game shows, including the fourth edition of Password, Super Password (1984–1989), but he remains best known for his first television game show, Tattletales (1974–1978, 1982–1984), for which he was awarded an Emmy for "Best Game Show Host" in 1977.

He also hosted the syndicated version of Win, Lose or Draw (1987–1990), which he co-produced with Burt Reynolds (under the firm Burt and Bert Productions). The final season of Win, Lose or Draw was hosted by Robb Weller, freeing up Convy to host his last game show, 3rd Degree, a syndicated program that ran during the 1989–90 TV season. He was also slated to host the 1990 revival of Match Game but was too ill to do so (comedian Ross Shafer took the role instead).

The Cheers also recorded "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots," an early entry into the rock and roll world by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, at that point mostly known for R&B classics like Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog." Loyal rock and rollers, we listened to the Cheers' version and scorned the pop cover by Vaughn Monroe, but actually the Cheers didn't bring much to rock 'n roll, and Vaughn Monroe's version was just as good.

But I digress. My mother, hating everything we listened to, and really hating the idea that we were wasting our allowance money on rock 'n roll records, tried out the classic parent ploy of assuming that all pop music was the same, and if we wanted to listen to records, why didn't we listen to her old records from the 30s? So she got them out, and when we listened to them, we immediately had the answer as to why we didn't listen to them. But the one we kinda didn't mind, because it was a mildly clever novelty and we were, even back then, into clever, was "The Broken Record," a 1936 for both Freddy Martin and Guy Lombardo -- the general gist of which was that this broken record kept sticking, fortuitously, just at the places which delivered the young swain's message most punchily: "My sweetneart, I love you -- I love you -- I love you -- I love you..."

Yes, it's as corny as it sounds. But it conjures up a memory of Nonna, and so gets a sentimental nod. But no vote.

I pretty much hate everything Paul McCartney & Wings ever recorded, and Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast (as opposed to Super breast) didn't do anything to win me over, and Bobby Darin was mostly boring -- so much so that even a major fan like Kevin Spacey couldn't make his movie life interesting. Of course, Jerry Lee Lewis' movie bio was boring too...

Here's one of my favorite exchanges in movie-bio-making history.

Dennis Quaid: Jerry Lee, I just don't feel I can play this part right if I can't sing the songs myself.
Jerry Lee: Well, son, that gives me a pretty good idea of your acting ability.

"I'm Your Puppet" was a great song. Maybe not given its due, because it was one of many great soul numbers during an era of great soul records by masters like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, and James and Bobby were one-hit wonders. Interestingly, for one-hit wonders, and for apparently a brother act, they had a personnel change. James was a real Purify, but the original Bobby, actually named Bobby, was his cousin Bob Dickey. He was replaced in the group by Ben Moore, neither Purify nor Bobby, nor related to Scotty Moore, Sam Moore, Wild Bill Moore, Johnny Moore, the other Johnny Moore, Mandy Moore, or Thurston Moore. Quick trivia quiz -- who can identify all the above Moores? I didn't include Dudley, Mary Tyler or Henry, because they weren't primarily associated with music, although Dudley was a brilliant musician.

"I'm Too Sexy" was also a great song -- also by a one-hit wonder group, but more distinctive, more readily identifiable, and terminally catchy. It gets my vote.


Ed - The Music Man said...

Don't you think that some of the covers from American Idol are bringing back great music to the new generation? Maybe the older artists will start winning your little competitions! I do! Ed - the Music Man

Tad Richards said...

One can only hope.