Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Mark Germino - Rex Bob Lowenstein

Buy the record

Having read the entries so far, largely essays on the sadly diminished role of radio in any musical education, I thought it better to take a different tack. Back when radio was king, and truly the chart powerbroker, a time honoured approach to gain airplay was to reference the DJ, hopefully inducing it to be played by a presumably grateful and flattered jock. The list is endless, and I have not the space to reference them, but these guys have made a good start. Gradually, however, as the power of the usually sponsored playlist crept in, so too entered a wistfulness for the lost freedoms of those early pioneers. There were 2 songs that I always thought of a pair, the one referenced here, in 1987, and the better known one by Harry Chapin in 1974, W.O.L.D. (ee ee ee ee), and it is only as I researched this piece I realised they were a decade apart. Indeed, whilst the latter was a minor hit, the former virtually sank without trace, apart from in the U.K., where it was relentlessly played on Capital Radio, then the biggest commercial radio station in the country. Mark Germino was more a songwriter, in Nashville, than a singer, with a fairly short lived  recording career, bookended by this song, the above version and an electric version in 1991, which I find to have dated way more than the original. Neither seem available in download.

I shamelessly identify with each of these mythical  guys, Rex Bob and WOLD jockey, both true to the spirit and ethos of their cause, fighting increasingly pyrrhic victories all the way down the schedules. My childhood ambition was to be on the radio, preferably late at night, playing what ever I fancied. My choices here over these past weeks should perhaps please you I never made it. John Peel was the obvious template, but the UK has been blessed with a number of excellent and interested in music presenters over the years, if not also overburdened with facile grinning idiots . I would include Johnny Walker and Bob Harris as 2 who certainly influenced my listening, with tastes less obviously discordant to the moving ever onward from any mainstream Peel, both being unashamed afficionados of what I guess might now be labelled as americana. I have never realised my ambition and it has never gone away. Hey ho.

So what is the future for radio? Will "streamers" such as Spotify render the need for a curated selection redundant? I hope not, but would agree the conventional format has weaker and weaker legs. The only radio I ever listen to now is in the car, and is largely news and speech based, so called Talk Radio, (but at least it is the esteemed BBC Radio 4.) But there seems to be some sign of life wriggling on the sidelines, in the format of podcasting and internet radio, largely taking away any necessity to tune in at the required time, and allowing the listener to pick and choose when and what to listen to, with, rather than the randomness of pick a song any song, but through the ability and reliability of knowing and trusting a "brand" to point your listening diversions up the alleyway of your appeal. Radio is dead, long live radio??

P.S. Clearly and by the way, should any media moguls be looking for a man just like me for their major network, I can be contacted easily enough here......;-)



I don’t really remember listening to the radio when I was really little. It just wasn’t a big deal to my parents. I guess I have some memories of the standards that played on their clock radio when they woke up to WNEW-AM in the mornings. It wasn’t until the summer of 1969, when I was picked up in the mornings to go to day camp, that I remember listening to the top-40 station, WABC, and for the first time really being captivated by rock music. I think my life-long obsession with music and radio truly began during the summers of 1972 and 1973 when I worked as a DJ at the radio station at Timber Lake Camp, WTLC (which appears no longer to exist). Somehow, my 11 and 12-year old self understood the mystery and power of broadcasting, even on a tiny, closed circuit station in a sleep away camp in Phoenicia, New York. I learned that radio was best for allowing imagination to fly. You didn’t know who the DJ was, you didn’t know what the studio looked like, and you could envision anything you wanted about the songs. Also, it was fun to play music that you liked (although we had very few records at camp), and talk about them.

My musical tastes moved from pop hits on tinny AM stations to the more interesting FM dial not too long after, and again, there was a progression from the more commercial outlets, like WPLJ to the then free-form “progressive” WNEW-FM. I remember during high school spinning the dial on the stereo in my room, looking for good music, on all of the rock stations in the New York area, and even discovering the wild world of college radio stations at, what the Replacements later referred to as the “Left of the Dial.”

By the time I went to college, I was hooked on music, and I’m pretty sure that my father still has nightmares about helping me carry box after box of heavy vinyl records up the four flights to my freshman year room. I considered joining the college station, WPRB, but held off until second semester, when I had gotten my feet wet academically, and my first extracurricular activity, the marching band, wound down a bit after football season. Working at WPRB was a transformative event in my life, much of which I’ve discussed in other pieces here and elsewhere. It exposed me to all sorts of music, it gave me a peer group of similarly minded people with strong opinions about music and the willingness to argue about it, it gave me ability to think on my feet, speak publicly and educate others. It exposed me to the music business, gave me the chance to interview musicians and humorists and allowed me to introduce acts from the stage. It gave me some experience with running a business, dealing with both managers and volunteer workers and taught me something about leadership. And it conditioned my brain to think of musical themes.

Each of these things has, in some way, affected my subsequent life—school, work, relationships, raising children, volunteer work and music blogging. So, yeah, radio has been important to me. Even with the options of CDs, iTunes, streaming services and satellite radio, I still listen to radio regularly (both in the car, and streaming on my computer), mostly to WFUV-FM, whose DJs clearly have a similar love of the medium (and more so, I guess, because they have been willing to take the risks inherent in making radio a career). But outside of WFUV, I find most radio around here unlistenable for long periods, either because of dullness of their playlists, or their commercials, or their lack of intelligent DJs, which is, ironically, the result of the success of the medium in making money.

Van Morrison has clearly been deeply affected by radio, although in his case, it has influenced the creation of his music. I’ve often joked that every Van Morrison song mentions radio, and while that is a bit of hyperbole, other than “Wavelength,” which I feature above, there are, at least, “Caravan,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Domino,” “In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Call Me Up In Dreamland,” “Take Me Back,” “On Hyndford Street,” “T.B. Sheets,” “Real, Real Gone” and “The New Symphony Sid."

There is an argument to be made that I should have written about “Caravan,” which I think is a consensus pick as a better song, in general, and a better song about radio, but I decided to go with “Wavelength,” in part because of its title. But the song is cleverly about radio in two different ways. Morrison starts the song off by making it clear that, at least initially, he is talking about “wavelength” metaphorically as the connection between a couple—

This is a song about your wavelength 
And my wavelength, baby 
You turn me on 
When you get me on your wavelength 

But later, the song segues into a reminiscence listening to music on the Voice of America, particularly Ray Charles, and then Van throws in a little reference to hearing his own “Brown Eyed Girl.”

The version in the video above (I recently got a “take down notice” for posting “Come On Eileen,” and I am concerned that posting a downloadable version of another mainstream hit like “Wavelength” might lead to another) is the original, featuring the distinctive synthesizer part (played by Peter Bardens, best known, I guess, as a member of Camel), which is reminiscent of radio waves. Here’s a live version, from a 1980 performance in Montreux that downplays the synths for horns and a bit more soul.

The power of radio has stayed with me since I was a child, which has been great for me, and clearly has influenced Van Morrison to create his brilliant body of work, which is even better for the world.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Radio: Radio Boogie

Hot Rize is a band that rose to stardom among bluegrass circles in the 1980s. With a witty nod towards traditional bluegrass music and some seminal artists, that band took their name from the ingredient in Martha White Flour, a product of a Tennessee four firm (Martha White Mills). Cohen Williams, head of that company, had brought guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo-player Earl Scruggs and their band (The Foggy Mountain Boys) to Nashville to host Martha White’s early morning radio spot on WSM in the mid-1950s. The spot was called the "Martha White Biscuit and Cornbread Time."

Only fifteen minutes in length, that show was a great example of how important radio was to the spread of country music in those days before ipods and other high-tech devices. Much of the music broadcast over the airwaves wasn’t recorded commercially. Listeners would grab a cup of coffee and imagine performers right there in their kitchens or living rooms with them. Those were the days that radio offered live music, singing commercials, down-home humor, comedic antics, good-natured banter, sacred songs, fiddle tunes, and announcements or upcoming performances. The radio show was such a success that, by 1955, Flatt & Scruggs and their band were playing on the half-hour Martha White segment of the Grand Ole Opry. Television shows followed for Flatt & Scruggs, and a segment of one program is sampled above with a Martha White self-rising flour commercial and the product’s jingle. 

So it only made sense that one group of hot pickers in the next generation of bluegrass artists decided to call their band “Hot Rize.” Their sound solidified with members Tim O'Brien (mandolin, fiddle), Pete Wernick (banjo), Charles Sawtelle (guitar) and Nick Forster (electric bass). During their first decade, Hot Rize released six albums. Their second (in 1981) was called “Radio Boogie” and opened with that title track. Although they disbanded in 1990, they played several reunion dates each year from 1991-98. Guitarist Charles Sawtelle passed away in 1999, and Hot Rize added guitarist Bryan Sutton in 2002.

Hot Rize is a very entertaining group, and they often disappear backstage only to reappear as a Western Swing outfit made up of characters who hang out in the back of their bus. When Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers take the stage, we’re treated to Red Knuckles (guitar), Waldo Otto (lap steel, pedal steel), Wendell Mercantile (archtop lead guitar), and Slade (bass). These are alter-ego persona of O’Brien, Wernick, Forster and Sutton, respectively.

Sunday, April 27, 2014



On the one hand, it might seem like The Association is a band that has a long way to go to have a good case made for them. Their ensemble singing in the midst of the changing ‘60s rock landscape, moving ever farther away from the innocent days of the Four Seasons in the early ‘60s to the grittier sounds of the psychedelic era, certainly shortened their lifespan. And it would be very understandable to dismiss them if you knew them only for “Cherish,” one of the most cloyingly sappy #1 songs of the ‘60s, if not of the entire rock era. If that was all The Association had going for them, there wouldn’t be much of a case to made. But as it turns out, on the same album that “Cherish” leads off Side 2, Side 1 ends with “Along Comes Mary,” a relatively hip — emphasis on “relatively” — little nugget that not so obliquely references the joys of marijuana. It’s catchy, and hints at an ability to get groovy that “Cherish” doesn't even whisper a suggestion of.

Where that hint leads to something of real musical worth is, in my mind, their 1967 album, Insight Out. Aside from containing two of the best non-Beatles pop singles of the ‘60s, “Windy” and “Never My Love,” the album has two lost gems of Summer of Love psychedelia, “Reputation” and “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’”; a passably decent war protest song, “Requiem for the Masses”; a quirky psychedelic vaudeville song (how many bands can claim that?), “Wasn’t It a Bit Like Now (Parallel ’23)”; and an assortment of other melodically appealing songs well-informed by the classic pop sound of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they match that level of greatness, the songs exhibit a similar perfectionist feel). Insight Out is a lesser-known masterpiece of baroque pop, and one can’t help but imagine that it had a big influence on the sound of ‘80s baroque bands such as The Three O’Clock and later on the likes of such Elephant 6 Collective bands as Beulah and Olivia Tremor Control.

But since my case for The Association is based primarily on this album, let's let the music do the talking now. I encourage you to listen to these gems before you write the band off as hopeless sapsters, rather than the influential baroque popsters they actually were. [Click the song titles to hear the songs.]

First, the uncannily cool “Wasn’t It a Bit Like Now” — even if the first minute or so doesn’t grab you, wait for the second half, where they come roaring back with a groovy riff and verse that Austin Powers would have gone bonkers for.

Wasn't It a Bit Like Now

Then there’s the massive hit, “Windy,” one of the great happy pop songs of the era, rivaling Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song.” It’s a wonder — written by Ruthann Friedman — the propulsive beat of which can’t help but bring a smile to all but the most jaded music fans.


Next up is a cover of a Tim Hardin composition, “Reputation,” where they show some true rock chops and show themselves able to truly get into a Jefferson Airplane-like frame of mind. I love this song.


Then there’s “Never My Love,” which manages to be everything that I think “Cherish” wanted to be but was too cheesy to achieve: A truly gorgeous melody and romantic lyrics that don’t get mucked up by the ensemble singing. In my mind, one of the great love songs of all time.

Never My Love

Next is “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’,” a cover of a little-known psychedelic song by The Flower Pot (a Spinal Tap-worthy pseudonym for session musician Mike Deasy, who played on Pet Sounds and scads of other ‘60s records). Instead of linking to the song directly here, I’d like to direct you to my primary blog,, for an August 2011 post where you’ll find a more detailed writeup on "Wantin' Ain't Gettin'," as well as the beginnings of my defense of The Association as a whole.

Finally, one great, final track from their next album, Birthday, released in 1968: “Like Always,” one of their most freewheeling and organically cool songs, period. It trips along, intentionally lazily in the verse, but features a chorus full of beautiful Beach Boys-style harmonies, and then suddenly switches gears for a stunning vocal round. A really fantastic piece of ‘60s pop.

Like Always

Hopefully, after listening to these, you've gained more of an appreciation for the talents of The Association. Admittedly, I grew up with Insight Out and Birthday, so I've had more time to soak them in, but there's a lot of stuff I liked as a kid that hasn't aged nearly as well, so there's more to it than that.

[Purchase Insight Out]

Radio: Radio Radio

Elvis Costello: Radio Radio
Purchase: Amazon link to MP3

You are well aware of the historical importance of the electronic radio.  As in: the family gathered around the device back in the 40’s. Moving into the 50’s and 60’s, radio provided the main medium for disseminating current trends: the Top 10, musical hits, the news, traffic updates and more. AM and then FM radio, replaced by Internet media and satellite radio … the radio used to be how you learned about “cool” music.

Living overseas  (briefly in the US in ’65, when rock/pop began to pervade my being), I relied on Radio Luxemburg: a “pirate” radio station that I tuned in to via shortwave radio. Shortwave reception was decidedly flakey: the sound modulated in and out: more out than in. The “band” seemed to move around such that half the listening effort was in trying to tune in the station so that I could catch the rest of the song, This undoubtedly gives me a deeper/different perspective on Marconi’s invention (and- as a result - the miracle of the Internet)

When MTV video clips first came out (who even watches MTV or knows about it any more?!), we would record  them to VHS video  tape so that we could watch them again. (How quaint!) Obviously, YouTube, “on demand” viewing of music videos (and the Internet) were pie-in-the-sky dreams at that time.

This raises the question that media companies have been faced with since the ‘90s : whither radio? Is the solution Serius satellite radio? iTunes “Radio” and their ilk? Why even bother with blogs like this? Why not pay a few dollars and get access to a million-song archive (that I can carry in my pocket and access on demand?)

Costello was certainly not the first to focus on the issue of how the “powers that be” used all-pervasive media (TV? Internet? and radio?) to guide us/command us. Think 1984. The lyrics of the song tell you:

you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don't give you any choice
'cause they think that it's treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.

I no longer listen to radio. How ‘bout you?