Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘Dichotomy of the Dog’

Singles Night

In pop music, record collecting, records, Uncategorized on April 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

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Last night was Singles Night at our house. It was kind of a big deal.

The occasion? My friend, singer/songwriter Cliff Hillis, released a brand new 45 r.p.m. single, “Love Not War” b/w “The Buddha’s Belly,” this week. Both excellent tunes and well worth hearing (go to Cliff’s website to learn more).

Cliff had a big to-do at a local café on Friday night to introduce the single. Sadly, I was too busy falling asleep to attend the show, which by all accounts was fantastic. However, I did drop by Cliff and his wife Beth’s place yesterday and picked up the single. And, while the idea of a 45 in this millennium might seem retro (speaking of which, check out Beth’s excellent website!), Cliff is, in his way, a thoroughly modern guy, since he’s including a download of his complete seven-song Love Not War e.p. with the 45. It’s the best of both worlds.

I played both sides of Cliff’s single a few times yesterday, then declared that we’d be having a Singles Night. I rustled up a cool stack o’ wax from my vinyl collection and we listened to ’em one-by-one.

And that’s the beauty of the 45 r.p.m. single, which I seriously consider to be one of the most important cultural inventions of the 20th century. Introduced in 1949, singles became of the bedrock of popular music, allowing fans of many musical genres to grab their favorite songs in a convenient format, at a reasonable price. It’s no accident that rock’n’roll exploded within 10 years of the invention of the 45. Rock music, and all permutations thereof, owe their existence to the humble 45.

In addition to Cliff’s new tunes, we reached back to 1987 to hear “Radio Americana” by Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s (see: you could buy 45s in a dimestore. How cool was that?). This is one of my friend Ed Masley’s — aka Johnny Rhythm — great early tunes (and believe me, he’s been writing great tunes ever since, with his previous band, The Frampton Brothers, and his current combo, The Breakup Society). “Radio Americana” is a song about how corporate radio stifles the musical variety heard on the airwaves. While satellite radio may have alleviated that problem to a degree, a spin through terrestrial commercial radio — I (Heart) Radio, anyone? — will point to the notion that Ed’s song is as relevant as ever.

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Singles Night was great, but it was while drinking coffee this morning that I listened to what I believe is still the crowning achievement of the 45 as an artistic medium: “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles.

Artistically, of course, this Beatles single is a triumph: we are talking about artistic breakthroughs for both Lennon and McCartney. But, what is so thrilling to me about “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the conceptual beauty of the record. Two songs, both delving deeply into the childhood memories of the composer.

“Penny Lane”: stately, almost baroque, filled with physical detail, a catalogue of precise memories, Paul’s memories of the external world surrounding him a child. Above all, McCartneyesque.

“Strawberry Fields Forever”: swirling, psychedelic, almost no physical detail, a catalogue of internal feelings, John’s impressionistic reflections on the internal world of his childhood. Above all, Lennonesque.

Two songs, seemingly worlds apart from each other, brought together on the lowly 45 r.p.m. single, and making perfect, profound sense together. Pop music as art and memoir and, yes, as pop music, all at once.

Here’s our playlist from Singles Night. Hopefully we’ll do it again sometime soon.

“Radio Americana”/”Doin’ Time” — Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s

“Love Not War”/”The Buddha’s Belly” — Cliff Hillis

“Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” — The Beatles

“Narrator” — Hindu Love Gods

“Perdido” — Three Suns

“Cool Places” — Sparks and Jane Wiedlin

“Friends” — Whodini

“I Gotta Hole in My Heart That Goes All the Way to China” — Cyndi Lauper

“She’s Always in My Hair” — Prince

“The Big Hurt” — Miss Tony Fisher

“Kiss Me Deadly” — Lita Ford

“Rock the Boat” — The Hues Corporation

“Elenore” — The Turtles

“Eight Miles High” — Hüsker Dü

“Let The Music Play” — Shannon

“Make a Circuit with Me” — Polecats

“Harlem Nocturne” — Earl Bostic

 

 

 

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Two of a Kind? R.E.M. Meets Talking Heads!

In 1980s, 1985, music, Music/Memory on June 10, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Can’t get there from here? That’s because you’re on a road to nowhere!

Thirty years ago today–June 10, 1985–I walked into a record store. I am not absolutely certain, but I think it was the Sounds of Market near 13th and Chestnut, in Center City Philadelphia. Don’t look for it now; it’s long gone.

I walked out of that store with two albums, both just released that day: Little Creatures by Talking Heads and Fables of the Reconstruction by R.E.M. I caught the train and bus home and soon after that, I taped the albums back to back on a cassette tape. I proceeded to spend the summer of 1985 riding buses and trains from deep in Delaware County to the heart of North Philadelphia, listening to that tape on a constant loop.

Little Creatures and Fables of the Reconstruction–or if you prefer, Reconstruction of the Fables (which I don’t)–did not change my life in any major way. But, as the primary soundtrack to the summer of my 20th birthday, both records certainly secured a place in my heart, brain and soul. Three decades later, R.E.M.’s third full-length studio album and Talking Heads’ sixth continue to inspire and beguile me.

Here is what I wrote in my journal on 6/17/85, after I’d had a week to listen to both albums:

The brand new albums by Talking Heads and R.E.M. are both fantastic records. The Heads album seems like a culmination of everything the band has ever done. It has the minimalist new wave approach of the early albums, but many of the songs have retained the funk elements of Speaking in Tongues.

The name of the LP is Little Creatures, an excellent title since at least two of the songs are about children. One of them, “Creatures of Love,” is a country song, which is a real departure for the band.

Fables of the Reconstruction, R.E.M.’s follow-up to Reckoning, is a stunning moody album. It’s similar to the Murmur album in that the sound of the music and the mood it generates is more important than song titles or the lyrics. Fables sounds like it contains a lot of desperation and loneliness.

R.E.M and Talking Heads were already among my musical favorites the day of their dual release, but these two records solidified my love of both bands. I remember how much I loved sinking into the dark and murky atmosphere on Fables–five years later, I’d have the same experience watching the first episode of Twin Peaks. Some fans and critics might have considered it a “grower”–an album you gradually appreciate over many listens–but I completely surrendered to the sound and feel of the album almost immediately. Seeing R.E.M. live later that summer, performing a concert as moody and dark as the album itself, was all I needed: after that, R.E.M. ascended to #1 on my favorite band list and has yet to relinquish that spot, even though the band has retired.

As for Little Creatures, it proved to be more a grower for me than Fables, but perhaps only because the deceptively simple pop songs with rootsy influences threw me for a loop after the funk-influenced sound of their previous two Talking Heads albums. But I grew to love Little Creatures. No other artist captured the way I was starting to look at life as David Byrne did on this record. The simple but odd storytelling, matched with Byrne’s detached irony, seemed like a great way to describe the world as I was seeing it. I still think so, though I gave up irony as a lifestyle choice many years ago.

It’s no wonder that I named my college newspaper column, “Road to Nowhere,” after the final track on Little Creatures. At least one friend asked me why I’d name my column after a song that was so obviously about death. I replied at the time that to me the song, and thus my column, was all about the journey without a destination, etc. Thirty years down the line, I’m thinking that, yeah, “Road to Nowhere” is pretty clearly about death. Of course, since I am now a cemetery tour guide, I guess I’m OK with however the song is interpreted.

I am not into nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia, though this column may indicate otherwise. However, I think we all have cultural moments–albums, movies, books, etc.–that stay fresh for us. We return to these when we need to, maybe sometimes as a form of spiritual renewal. I have spent much of today listening to Fables and Little Creatures, but I have also been very much in the moment of my life right now and both albums were a snug fit for that right now. In fact, I even had a new audio/visual juxtaposition: driving down 15th Street from Girard Avenue in Philadelphia this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite buildings, the magnificent Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street, as I was hearing “Can’t Get There From Here” from Fables. This was a new combination and I very much enjoyed it. It got some neurons fired up in my brain and that’s a good thing.

So, thanks Chris, Tina, Jerry and David for Little Creatures. And thanks BerryBuckMillsStipe for Fables of the Reconstruction. You created the music for my summer of 1985. And every season since.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

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