Put Your Lips Together & Blow: 25 Spiffy Whistling Songs

The definition of whistling is “to emit a clear, high-pitched sound by forcing breath through a small hole between one’s lips or teeth”.  This musical instrument is well within the playing skills of most of us non-musicians so whistling songs hold a special fondness when listening to a familiar tune on your fave sound generating device allowing you to join in.  My wife Aimee thought a blog post devoted to whistling songs might be fun and I agreed.  I figured these sorts of songs were a lost genre like instrumentals till I started hunting.  Turns out artists like Flo Rida (“Whistle”), Peter Bjorn & John (“Young Folk”) and Bruno Mars (“The Lazy Song” – great video too) have kept the style alive that goes back at least as far as Bing Crosby’s “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)” from the ’30s.  Looking on-line, there have been a few lists devoted to whistling songs, but none of them seemed to reflect all the great songs I wanted to highlight.  I was surprised at how many nifty songs I came up with meaning that several ended up hitting the cutting room floor.  I decided to eliminate the show tunes (though I do love songs like “Heigh Ho” and “Whistle While You Work” plus newer ones like “Always Look At The Bright Side Of Life”) and concentrate on the rock era.  I also eliminated songs that only featured a non-musical whistle like “Walkin’ The Dog” by Rufus Thomas and “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens.  So many of the songs that people think are humans whistling are actually synthesized fakes so they were eliminated from my potential list right away.  My favorite song with that title (“The Whistler” – Jethro Tull) doesn’t even contain any whistling – only fife – go figure.    Grab a beverage to wet your whistler and get ready to pucker to the following.

1.Whistling Jack Smith – I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman

Quite the jaunty tune composed by British Rogers Cook and Greenaway, this was a #20 U.S. hit in 1967 just pre-summer of love.  The actual identity of who did the whistling is still a mystery since it was a studio session with no real artist.  When it became a hit, Billy Moeller (aka Coby Wells) was drafted in to pretend to be Mr. Smith and record a quick (but fun) cash-in LP.  John O’ Neill or the producer Noel Walker have been rumored to have been the lead whistlers.  Either way, this is pure ear candy.

2.Gordon Lightfoot – Ghosts Of Cape Horn

This neo sea shanty comes from Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s fine 1980 LP Dream Street Rose.  He seemed particularly skilled at songs about the sea with my favorite song by him being “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” which was a #2 hit in 1976.  By the ’80s he was still recording nice folk styled LPs but finding it harder to crack the charts (this album peaked at #60).

3.Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – March from The River Kwai & Colonel Bogey

As the head of A&R for Columbia records, Miller’s sound created a pile of hits including this medley from the 1957 Alec Guinness movie about the miseries suffered at a Japanese prisoner of war camp in World War II by British prisoners.  The main theme was composed by Malcolm Arnold with an added counter melody of the 1914 “Colonel Bogey March” composed by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts.  Miller’s sound was always bold, bright and layered with heavy echo giving it a stirring quality.  Sing-along with Mitch became a big thing in the ’60s, but no singing here – only heavily echoed whistling.

4.Earle Hagen & His Orchestra – The Andy Griffith Theme

Boy if every boomer can’t whistle this song, I would be stunned.  Hagen composed (with Herbert Spencer) and whistled a really catchy tune that had the advantage of being on an extremely popular and long-running TV show so we have heard this song hundreds of times.  I own the 1961 single on the old purple Capitol label though it didn’t chart.  With lyrics written by Everett Sloan, the song was titled “The Fishin’ Hole” but it was the whistled instrumental we all knew by heart.  Hagen was a prolific composer writing ” Harlem Nocturne” plus themes for shows like Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy and The Mod Squad.

5.The Beatles – Two Of Us

This Paul McCartney composition was one of the happier songs from the dismal experience that was the recording sessions for what became the Beatles last released LP – Let It Be.  While Paul says he wrote it for wife Linda, the lyrics sound more like a tribute to his musical partner John.  Over a year after they recorded it, the clip of this song from the movie Let It Be was shown on the Ed Sullivan Show.   March 1, 1970 would be their last appearance on the show that over 6 years earlier had launched them into the U.S. living rooms of so many kids and their parents.  John Lennon is credited with the whistled line towards the end of the song.

6.Glen Campbell – Sunflower

One of my fave Glen Campbell songs, this happy ditty was written by the prolific Neil Diamond and was a perfect summer song in 1977.  This was the second single released from his hugely successful Southern Nights LP and was arranged by Jack Nitzsche .  While it only hit #39 on the Hot 100, it charted #1 Easy Listening and #4 Country.  The whistling refrain near the end feels like someone walking down a country road in the sunshine.

7.Perry Como – Magic Moments

Burt Bacharach and Hal David had a very successful writing career mainly in the ’60s and mostly for Dionne Warwick.  This was one of their very first compositions.  The Ray Charles Singers, bassoon and whistling arrangement lend a wistful air to this huge early 1958 hit.  With 8 weeks at #1, it was Perry’s biggest U.K. hit.  In the U.S. this #4 hit was paired on one great single with the #1 hit “Catch A Falling Star” on the A-side.

8.Paul McCartney – Dance Tonight

Between the mandolin and happy whistling, this is a McCartney composition guaranteed to make you smile.  Some 40 years after Sgt. Pepper…, Paul could still write a catchy tune.  It was from his Memory Almost Full album and was released as a single in the U.K. on his 65th birthday June 18, 2007 (my dad’s 79th as well).  It charted there at #34 and in the U.S. at #69.  I bought this album when it was released through Starbucks in Monterey, CA on the 5th of June.  It always reminds me of our 30th Anniversary trip that also marked the anniversary of the big pop festival held there in 1967.

9.Pat Boone – Love Letters In The Sand

Pat Boone should be in the rock and roll hall of fame.  Whatever you think about his sanitized covers of songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “Ain’t That A Shame”, he and Connie Francis were pioneers of early rock and roll – period.  This song fit his style far better than his rock covers and like many of Connie’s hits was a cover of a much older song.  With piano triplets and Boone’s whistling, it was a #1 in the summer of 1957.  The original song was published in 1931 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Charles & Nick Kenny.

10.Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra & Chorus – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The Clint Eastwood starring Sergio Leone movies were dubbed “Spaghetti Westerns” as they were made in Italy (and Spain).  The Italian cowboy pictures made Eastwood a rugged action hero after his initial run on the TV series Rawhide ended in 1966.   This was the theme song to the third Leone western becoming a #2 hit in early 1968 – 2 years after the film was released in Italy and a year after it came out here.  Composer Ennio Morricone used snips of his theme throughout the movie featured the whistling of John O’Neill who may have also been Whistling Jack Smith as we saw earlier.  Hugo’s version used an ocarina (also in the Troggs hit “Wild Thing”) with whistled counterpoint.

11.The Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream

For a short period mainly in 1966, John Sebastian was a hit writing machine making the first 7 Spoonful singles top 10 chart hits – a feat matched in that era only by Gary Lewis & The Playboys.  At a concert a few years ago, he said the opening chords were inspired by the song “Baby Love” by the Supremes.  The relaxed good-time vibe of the song in turn inspired Paul McCartney to write “Good Day Sunshine”.

12.Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

How bittersweet was it that Otis wouldn’t live to see his crowning success of having this fine song top the charts in early 1968?  After his breakout appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, Otis rented a houseboat in Sausalito, CA and was inspired to write about his experience which guitarist Steve Cropper helped lyrically turn into a hit totally different than his other rawer r&b songs.  Otis recorded his vocal November 22nd and died in a plane crash December 10th near Madison, WI.  The whistling at the end is credited to Sam Taylor.

 

13.The Tremeloes – Here Comes My Baby

The first U.S. chart hit for the Tremeloes was this cover of a Cat Stevens composition.  It would hit a peak of #13 in the U.S. just before the summer of love in 1967.  Mike Smith produced this raucous sounding session of the group that he had chosen over the Beatles for a Decca recording contract in 1962 (at that time Brian Poole was their leader, but later left for a failed solo career).  In addition to the whistled lead break, you also get cowbell as an added bonus.  The band is still going today with only drummer Dave Munden left from the original members.

14.John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band (with the Flux Fiddlers) – Jealous Guy

It was hard to choose this version over the excellent Lennon tribute remake by Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, but it gets the edge because this is John Lennon, after all.  This was originally an album track from John’s best solo album 1971’s Imagine.  After his murder in 1980, “Jealous Guy” charted at #80 as a single from the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon.  Bootleg recordings from 1968 show this tune used on another song inspired by the Beatles’ trip to India – “Child Of Nature”.  Paul’s “Mother Nature’s Son” was also inspired by the same subject.  John later changed the lyrics to talk about his feelings of inadequacy.

15.Bobby Bloom – Montego Bay

Bobby Bloom is known mostly as a one-hit wonder for this island’s inspired percussive treat from 1970 (#8 chart hit).  He was a songwriter mostly in a pop-bubblegum vein which included this co-write with Jeff Barry.  The song is about Jamaica and is arranged as a calypso with whistling.  Bloom died in 1974 at age 28 from what was deemed an accidental gunshot wound.

16.Larry Williams – Short Fat Fannie

At #5 (1957) this was rocker Williams’ biggest success on the charts.  He is far better known, however, from the great covers of his songs by the Beatles and The Rolling Stones (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, “Bony Moronie”, “Slow Down”, “She Said Yeah” just to name 4).  Williams couldn’t overcome his demons and would go to jail for dealing drugs in 1960.  At age 44 on Jan. 7, 1980, Williams was found dead in L.A. from a gunshot.  It was ruled a suicide at the time, but was suspicious.

17.Gene Pitney – Only Love Can Break A Heart

So many of the whistled songs are happy, but this was an aching ballad trilled by the late singer Gene Pitney.  In the fall of 1962 Pitney took this Burt Bacharach & Hal David song to #2.  In an ironic twist, the song that kept Gene from #1 was “He’s A Rebel” by the Crystals – a song Pitney wrote.

18.The New Vaudeville Band – Winchester Cathedral

The whole first part of the song is whistled till the megaphoned crooner comes in on the next verse taking the song to #1 in December 1966.  British songwriter Geoff Stephens had recorded his song as a studio session with another songwriter John Carter (the Ivy League) singing lead.  When the record became a hit, an unrelated New Vaudeville Band was quickly assembled for touring.  The song won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording which is about as rock and roll as the Grammy awards got back then.

19.The Highwaymen – Michael

During the early ’60s folk boom, this cover of the African-American song “Michael, Row The Boat Ashore” went to #1 on the charts in the U.S.  Perhaps it was the slightly out of tune whistling or the simpleness of the song, but the rest of the world ate it up too pushing the song to #1 in the U.K and #4 in Germany.  Their only other top 20 hit was “Cotton Fields”.  Note that the country act with folks like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash was not the same Highwaymen.

20.Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – Tunes Of Glory

There must be something about Alec Guinness movies that inspired Mitch Miller whistling hits – then again maybe it was because the music in this 1960 movie was supplied again by Malcolm Arnold who had done The Bridge Over The River Kwai.  The tune is better known as an unofficial anthem of Scotland – “Scotland The Brave”.  The song is usually performed on bagpipes, but  Miller chose a whistler to lead instead.  While it only got to #88 in 1961, it is indeed a stirring anthem.

21.Fitz & The Tantrums – The Walker

Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs and James King proved that a catchy song can still be made with whistling in 2013.  The song’s popularity in culture (being used in movies and TV a number of times) is at odds with the low chart placement of #67.  The band’s indie soul inflected pop sound isn’t in tune with the modern hip-hop culture which is a pity as they write catchy songs including this and “HandClap”.

22.Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontier

While only a #48 charter in the U.S., this single charted at #4 in the U.K. in the fall of 1980 for the former Genesis lead singer.  If one can believe Wikipedia, the whistling is performed by Gabriel with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.  Gabriel’s quirky lyrics seem to be a commentary on world politics and war.  Background vocals are by Kate Bush.

23.The Monkees – Tapioca Tundra

I was at first resistant to include this Mike Nesmith tune due to his atonal whistling at the beginning, but since the song is catchy and has some of his finest lyrics, it stays on the list (plus Mike was my fave Monkee at the time – sort of their Lennon).  By the time of the 5th Monkees LP The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, the band members were pretty much working on their own songs without help from other band members.  This was mostly a Nesmith solo record with Eddie Hoh on drums and charted as a single B-side at #34 in early 1968 (the A-side was “Valleri”).

24.J. Geils Band – Centerfold

The first two J. Geils Band albums were excellent American blues-rock and their Atlantic album Full House is one of the best live albums ever.  After that I lost interest in the band for a number of years as they dabbled in various r&b styles.  It was, however, hard not to get renewed interest in the band in the ’80s with great songs like “Love Stinks”, “Freeze Frame” and this #1 hit (February 1981).  This song was their only real U.K hit at #3.  There is just enough whistling at the end of this Seth Justman composition to qualify for this list.

25.Don Robertson – The Happy Whistler

Songwriter Don Robertson passed away at age 92 in 2015 having composed such hits as “Ringo” (Lorne Greene), “Anything That’s Part Of You” (Elvis Presley) and “Born To Be With You” (The Chordettes).  As a one-hit wonder he hit #6 whistling this merry little tune in 1956  (#8 in the U.K.).

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Phil It Up – My Top Spector Sound-alikes

 

Phil Spector’s contribution to the lexicon of music for me is a very recognizable sound filled with percussive pop pomposity piled with layers of instrumentation and exploding with echo.  His most influential era was the girl-group 1963-64 period – The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love, etc (though his production on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was notable too).  To this day his sound is still imitated reverently and easily recognizable just as film-makers often pay tribute to Hitchcock when it comes to mystery.

What follows is my list of 20 songs from various eras that I enjoy and at least nominally have some similarity to the Spector sound.  They aren’t in any real order as I enjoy them all.  Note that Ace Records of England has put out three fine CDs of Spector Soundalikes that are worth owning.  None of the following songs are on those albums.  Please don’t scream that Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band “Born To Run” should be listed as I was trying to go for lesser known goodies but agree that it was outstanding.

1.Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids – See My Baby Jive

At once their crowning achievement and perhaps their biggest disappointment, this is an excellent cover of the Roy Wood Wizzard UK hit.  This was a 1977 single on the Private Stock label that sank without a trace as the label was winding down operations.  Frankly the sound flew in the face of what was hot in the US anyway – Fleetwood Mac, Andy Gibb , etc.  Sam (Flash), Kris (Angelo) and Linn (Spike) are all in rock and roll heaven where hopefully  great music like this gets a second chance.

2.Dave Edmunds – Born To Be With You

Proving that the kids in the mother country had some taste back in 1973, this was a #5 hit in the UK with Mr. Edmunds handling the playing and singing.  The song was written in 1956 by Don Robertson and was a US hit for the Chordettes in that year in a pop style totally removed from Dave’s wall-of-sound arrangement.  The song appeared in the U.S. on the RCA LP Subtle As A Flying Mallet.

3.Tracey Ullman – Sunglasses

A fine Peter Collins 1984 production for a lady known more as a comedian/tv performer, this single reached number 18 in the UK charts.  Her two Stiff records are collected on the excellent double CD Move Over Darling and is a must for fans of the girl group sound.  This song was written by John D Loudermilk and was a minor hit in the US for Skeeter Davis in 1965 in a more conventional style.

4.The Searchers – Each Time

After their initial success as the British Invasion took off in 1964, the Searchers singles charted lower and lower to the point that by the time their excellent late 1965 LP Take Me For What I’m Worth came out they were barely hanging on in the US.  “Each Time” which was written by Jackie DeShannon could well have been a single, but was buried as an album track.  The production is drenched in glorious layers of echo.

5.Dion – Always In The Rain

Of course Dion will always be remembered for such great hits as “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”, but by the end of the 60s he was pretty much washed up as a recording artist.  In 1989 Dave Edmunds produced a fine comeback album for Dion DiMucci that included this excellent Dion original (co-written with B. Tuohy) as an album track.  The comeback didn’t really take off sadly.

6.Roy Wood Wizzard – Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)

It is nearly painful how unknown the talented Roy Wood is in the US.  He wrote and performed some great 60s pop with the Move then started the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) with Jeff Lynne only to quit after one album to front Wizzard.  While ELO became US superstars, Wizzard were UK stars for a time who could never crack America.  This 1973 single went to #1 in the UK and perfectly encapsulates his sound – an homage to the wall-o-Spector school of overproduction which sounds sublime on CD.

7.The Rubettes – Sugar Baby Love

With production and writing credit by Wayne Bickerton (co-writer Tony Waddington), this was an international smash hitting #1 in the UK in 1974.  For the record, the Rubettes were a studio creation with Paul DaVinci singing lead as opposed to the guy who lip-synces in the video.  When it became a hit, a real group was organized with different players who went on the have more hits but none are big as the first.

8.Ronnie Spector & The E Street Band – Say Goodbye To Hollywood

Production is handled by Miami Steve Van Zandt with backing from the E Street Band he was a member of.  Vocals were by one of Phil Spector’s main singers (and one-time wife) Ronnie so you can’t get more legit than that.  Billy Joel who wrote it had a #17 hit with his song in 1981, but this should have been the one to chart in a more perfect world.

9.The Honeys – The One You Can’t Have

Diane and Marilyn Rovell plus their cousin Ginger Blake (the Honeys) were never successful on their own even though Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was their producer and songwriter (and later husband to Marilyn).  Of course it is well-known that Brian’s favorite record was a Spector production of “Be My Baby” (the Ronettes) so it is not a surprise how much this record owes to that sound. This was a single on Capitol in 1963 and should have been a hit.  It is the Honey’s singing backup on many Jan & Dean records and the single recording of “Be True To Your School” by the Beach Boys.

10.It’s My Party! – Someone Cares For Me

Back in 2000 three young ladies (Aubrey, Cara & Rhian) with producer/drummer John Giotto put out a fine homage album to the girl group sound of the 60s (Can I Get To Know You Better) on Mister Cat Records.  According to their website Giotto still manages a trio of females that mostly seem to appear in New York 30+ years after the original act formed. The song was written by Hawker & Shakespeare the real names of Ken Lewis and John Carter who as a team wrote a pile of big hits (“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”, “Little Bit O’ Soul”, etc.).

11.The Boomtown Rats – Never In A  Million Years

Bob Geldof went against his Irish band’s usual sound for this 1981 single awash in echo.   It managed to only chart in the UK at #62 but was full of Spectorism percussion.  Geldof is better known for his political activism organizing Band Aid and the massive concert Live Aid in 1985.

12.The Breakaways – Here She Comes

The Brits also had the girl group sound as is seen from this nice Tony Hatch (Petula Clark, The Searchers) production from 1964.  It was a single b-side written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich.  They were more known for singing backgrounds on sessions for artists like Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Lulu not to mention “Hey Joe” for Jimi Hendrix.

13.The Boppers – Jeannie’s Coming Back

This Swedish band started in 1977.  If you can believe wikipedia’s translation, this became their first big hit in 1991 (at least in Scandinavia).  The song was written by Norell, Oson & Bard and is from their self-titled CD on Sonet. Production was by Ola Hakansson, Tim Norell and Anders Hansson.  From their website it appears the band is still going with one original member.

14.Showaddywaddy – Don’t Turn Your Back On Me Baby

Showaddywaddy started in the UK in 1973 when two bands came together dressing as teddy boys and singing oldies.  They are still going with at least two original members (though not their lead singer Dave Bartram).  They were hugely successful at their peak having ten Top Ten singles, a number one (“Under the Moon of Love” in 1976), and a total of 209 weeks in the UK Singles Chart.  This group original was an album track from their self-titled debut record in 1974 and was produced by Mike Hurst.

15.Nick Lowe – Halfway To Paradise

Back in the 70s Nick and Dave Edmunds were releasing their Rockpile band records under their respective names depending on who was singing lead.  This 1977 Stiff records non-charting single was a cover of a 1961 Goffin/King composition that was a big UK hit for Billy Fury in 1961 (#3).  Lowe dropped away from rock and roll for way too long, but of late seems to have found his way again recording and touring with one my fave bands Los Straitjackets.  For some reason this video ends early – sorry.

16. The Knack – The Feeling I Get

With “My Sharona” and the like these power-popsters blazed bright for a time in 79-80 then sadly flamed out just as quickly.  This Doug Fieger original was an album cut from their 1980 sophomore release …But the Little Girls Understand that contained their #38 chart single “Baby Talks Dirty”.  The years 1979 and 1980 were some of my favorite years musically with acts like Cheap Trick and other power-pop bands (Paul Collins Beat, the Romantics) coming to the fore.

17.The McKinleys – Someone Cares For Me

The McKinleys were sisters Sheila and Jeanette from Scotland who released this single in 1964 to sporadic success in certain areas of America.  The song was written and produced by John Carter and Ken Lewis  who along with Perry Ford were also the chart act The Ivy League (“Tossing & Turning”, “Funny How Love Can Be”, etc.).

18.The Bay City Rollers – Bye Bye Baby

This was a 1975 cover of the Four Seasons record “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)” from a decade earlier.  Bob Crewe’s production always owed a bit of a debt to Spector anyway, but this version produced by Phil Wainman took it up a notch.  This was a number 1 single for the teen idols from Scotland.

19.Pat Powdrill – I Only Came To Dance With You

Okay, I admit that this is probably a bit of a cheat as it was arranged by Jack Nitzsche who was Phil Spector’s right-hand man.  Production on this 1963 single was by Jimmy Bowen (Dino, Desi & Billy, Frank & Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin and just about anybody else on Reprise back in the day).  Pat Powdrill was one of those faceless but essential singers from back in the day who supplied background vocals on records.  From 1966 till the early 70s she was a member of the Ikettes who backed Ike & Tina Turner.

20.Radio Stars – It’s All Over

This was an album track from the UK band’s second Chiswick album Holiday Album in 1978.  Radio Stars was a band started by Martin Gordan (ex-Sparks bassist) and Andy Ellison (vocalist with John’s Children who also featured Marc Bolan) fitting in somewhere between punk and new wave.  Gordon handled the production.

Musical Tribute To My Mom In 12 Albums

After I lost my dad in August of 2017 I did an easy listening blog post as a tribute to the kind of music he loved.  Having just lost my mom, sadly it is time to do a musical tribute to the types of records she loved – ’60s show tunes and symphonic classics mainly.  I am sure my sister Cheryl would agree with me that some sort of music was always playing in our Broomfield home even up till mom’s passing.  While dad was the parent with musical talent, mom most certainly taught me how to listen to it.  Mom and dad had season tickets to the now defunct Denver Symphony and I was lucky enough to occasionally get to attend a concert myself.  As a child of the ’50s and ’60s I love classic rock and roll.  The great thing about that era, however, is you got exposed to every other style of music and learned to appreciate that excellent music comes in many forms  – not just the music of your generation.  My friend Dan reported to me that before his dad’s passing, he mentioned that he feared for the future of classical music.  I must say that I too worry that today’s hip hop generation won’t have the inclination to fund orchestras since they don’t seem to have the patience for that kind of music (prove me wrong kids!).   I salute my elementary school music teacher Miss Buckley at Kohl School for fueling the flame for the classics started by my parents.  To this day, one of my favorite pieces of music was introduced to me by her in class some 56 years ago – Prokofiev’s march from “The Love For Three Oranges”.  What follows is a listing of my favorite albums from mom’s record collection.  A large portion of the records in my parents’ collection, by the way, were from the Columbia  record club which rewarded you with something like 10 LPs for a penny (or some such nonsense) then hooked you in on future releases they figured you would want.  I still remember mom commenting favorably about two records I played from my collection back in the ’60s – “North To Alaska” by Johnny Horton and the classic Moody Blues LP Days Of Future Passed which wedded orchestrations with rock stylings.  I mention that since it was only a little gesture, but still makes me happy to know that she didn’t hate all the music of my generation.  I love you and miss you mom – this is for you.

1.The Sound Of Music – An Original Soundtrack Recording

Anyone who knew my mom knows that I would not be a card-carrying Krieger if I didn’t list this album first.  I think mom had this classic 1965 Julie Andrews soundtrack on continuous play at times.  Oscar Hammerstein II  and Richard Rodgers wrote the original Broadway score.  In addition to the stirring title song there are classics like “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “My Favorite Things” and mom’s favorite “Edelweiss” which many people mistakingly assume is an old Austrian song.  As he died in 1960, Hammerstein never saw the huge success of the movie and soundtrack (over 20 million worldwide sales estimated).  For the movie Rodgers wrote two new songs.  Julie Andrews’ marvelous singing voice and sweetness wedded her forever in your mind with Maria Von Trapp (who was nothing like her in real life).  While Christopher Plummer starred as Captain Von Trapp, his singing voice on “Edelweiss” was dubbed by Bill Lee in the movie.

2.Balalaika Favorites – Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra

Founded in 1919, the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra on this enchanting Mercury records LP play their native music on instruments very foreign to U.S. musicians.  They leaven it with a classical music style.  Fifty plus years after it was recorded, it still sounds fresh and enchanting.  At the time it was recorded, the Soviets were seen as a scary presence bent on nuclear destruction of the U.S. so it opened up a world very few of us Westerners had any knowledge of.

3.Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – Original Soundtrack And Music

1964 was a memorable year musically with the explosion of the Beatles and British rock and roll in the U.S.  December of that year saw another release that has become a mainstay lasting so far over five decades and thrilling generation after generation – the Videocraft TV special Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.  The stop-motion figures and the story combined well with Burl Ives and an elf that wants to be a Dentist (of course I approve – it’s rare that shows don’t make fun of us tooth-tinkerers).  Johnny Marks outdid himself in composing  a group of memorable songs that any kid can learn to sing after just a few spins of the turntable.  This record got trotted out every year for Christmas and it is still that way around our household.  “Silver & Gold”, “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” and of course “A Holly Jolly Christmas” are just a few of the goodies found in these grooves.

4.Fiddle Faddle & 14 Other Leroy Anderson Favorites – Maurice Abravanel/Utah Symphony Orchestra

While you may not know the names of the songs or the composer, folks of a certain age know just about every classic pop song the Harvard grad Leroy Anderson wrote.  His music was always used as background themes for TV shows it seemed.  I certainly can’t think of another piece of music that made the typewriter a lead instrument as his “The Typewriter” did (of course nobody has a clue what those even are anymore).  Born in 1908, Anderson was arranger for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra.  Anderson had a surprise chart hit in 1952 with “Blue Tango”.  “Sleigh Ride”, “Syncopated Clock”, “Bugler’s Holiday” – on and on – great music that holds up well even today and can still bring a smile to your face.

5.How The West Was Won – Original Soundtrack

What a stirring epic theme Alfred Newman (Randy’s uncle) created for this sweeping 1962 Cinerama movie about the taming of the West.  Newman’s credits are amazing having composed music for over 200 movies including Wuthering Heights, The Prisoner of Zenda, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, etc.  Any movie with stars the caliber of John Wayne, Gregory Peck and James Stewart demanded great music.  The album was a mix of orchestral themes, Americana styles and Debbie Reynolds sung rousers like “Raise a Ruckus Tonight”.

6.My Fair Lady – The Original Soundtrack Recording

From 1964 the year of the Beatles, it seemed like all the movies back in the ’60s were chock full of classic music.  This Lerner and Loewe musical was no exception with great songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Get Me To The Church On Time” and “With A Little Bit Of Luck”.  The movie was based on Shaw’s 1913 play  Pygmalion about turning a street urchin into a proper British lady.  With Camelot, Gigi, Paint Your Wagon, etc. to their credit, lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe created some wonderful music over their careers.  Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice was dubbed in the movie by the very talented Marnie Nixon.

7.Magnificent Marches – A Glorious Sound Spectacular – Eugene Ormandy/The Philadelphia Orchestra

This LP is a ten track olio of popular and stirring march music from the baton of Ormandy who lead the Philadelphia Orchestra for 44 years beginning in 1936.  The Mendelssohn “Wedding March”, Purcell’s (now listed as by Clarke) “Trumpet Voluntary”, Rimsky-Korsakov “Procession Of The Nobles”, etc. – all march music to stir the blood

8.Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture & Capriccio Italien – Antal Dorati/Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra

The “1812 Overture” may well at it’s climax be the most stirring piece of music every performed.  Clanging bells, an orchestra ablaze with fire and a cavalcade of cannon blasts all combine to bring chills to your spine.  Of course all us boomer kids remember this was the theme to ‘the cereal that was shot from guns’ – Puffed Rice.  The piece was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1880 to commemorate the Russian victory over a Napoleon lead invasion attempt on their homeland.  In addition to the two main pieces of music on the LP, there was commentary by critic Deems Taylor about the music on the disc.  Many will remember Taylor as the master of ceremonies for the classic Disney movie Fantasia.

9.Today’s Golden Hits – Andre Kostelanetz & His Orchestra

Well this was about as wild as the music got in our household when my parents had control of the turntable.  I suspect that it being on Columbia was the only reason we owned it (due to the record club membership), but I liked the fact that there were three originals by Lennon & McCartney (“Help!”, “Yesterday” and “Michelle”) plus some other well-know tracks like “A Taste Of Honey” and “Mame”.  Not as good as a Tijuana Brass record, but at least it was contemporary.  Andre Kostelanetz was a Russian Jew who escaped to the U.S. in 1922 and became one of the biggest stars of pop orchestral music.

10.The Age Of Elegance – Eugene Ormandy/The Philadelphia Orchestra

Another compilation LP, this album had the more sedate but well-loved melodies from the late 18th century.  Composers like Mozart, Handel, Haydn and Beethoven populate this record.  Ormandy showed a light touch in leading one of the top five national orchestras – The Philadelphia Orchestra which was started in 1900.

11.Dvorak-New World Symphony – Bernstein/New York Philharmonic

This piece of music dates back to late in 1893 and was written by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak as his tribute to early Americana music – Negro Spirituals and Native American songs.  Harvard educated Leonard Bernstein (who conducted this piece) was the first truly acclaimed U.S. born conductors and was certainly the best known of that era of conductors.

12.Three Favorite Ballets-Chopin:Les Sylphides, Delibes-Sylvia Suite, Coppelia Suite – Ormandy/The Philadelphia Orchestra

Ballet is of course a delicate style of dance and so generally demands a lighter touch musically.  Ormandy did a fine job on this record of keeping things gentle and stirring.  The Chopin piece has several themes that are just slightly less well-known than Tchaikovsky’s ballet – “Nutcracker” (which would have made this list, but I don’t recall mom owning that record).

Let’s EAT!

    

So this is ostensibly a blog about music, but this month I am going to deviate into my other passion – eating.  Man, it is sad that as you get older your love for food seems to increase at the same rate as your metabolism sloooowwws down thus allowing your once young trim body to become misshapen and lumpy in all the wrong places.  Hey, I have always liked to eat, however as you get older you know your taste buds better and (hopefully) can afford to eat better goodies thus appreciating it more.  It is also interesting that over time your loves/hates when it comes to certain foods can actually change pretty dramatically.   As  a kid I loved tuna fish salad sandwiches, for instance, but as an adult, fish and mayo are two items I dislike intensely while gravitating toward broccoli that was inedible to the younger me – go figure.  As a baby boomer, it is interesting to see how eating out of the house has evolved from something we only did on special occasions as a kid to a weekly event as an adult (we dine out at least every Saturday; weather permitting).  I thought I would fill this month’s posting with fave restaurants both past and present (that I no doubt knocked over at least one drink on the floor some time thus embarrassing myself and all involved).   My hope is that this will inspire readers to write in with their best places to eat past or present as well.  I think the first place I ever remember eating out was when mom would take me to the Horn & Hardart when we went to visit my grandparents in Philadelphia back in the ’50s.  That was a real adventure – we would ride the trolley cars up from their row house on South 55th St. and when we got there you selected what you wanted by looking through small glass windows.  If you wanted the chicken salad sandwich for instance, you would put your token in the slot next to that window and pull out your plate of food.  Man that was super (supper?) high tech for that era.

Having grown up mostly in Broomfield, Colorado with a distinctly working or middle class outlook on food, you will not see any expensive restaurants listed.  My Dentist buddy Ed Hansford and I have discussed over the years how we frankly don’t feel very comfortable spending a hundred bucks for a meal that usually doesn’t satisfy us as much as the old Country Buffet or that third plate of Chinese noodles and egg rolls at the Great Wall Super Buffet out on South Wadsworth in Lakewood for a fifth of that price.  Definitely working class children.

My assistant Meagan bought me a fun book a few years ago called Lost Restaurants Of Denver (American Palate) by Robert + Kristen Autobee and if you are intrigued by that subject of old Denver area places to eat I would recommend reading it.

As a boy, we mostly ate out at a restaurant with my grandparents in Fort Collins (Hansen’s Cafe or Luby’s) or once a year you could pick a place to take a friend on you birthday.  My dad, however, always loved the roast beef and live piano entertainment at Furr’s Cafeteria.

    

We went to the Furr’s in Northglenn often as a family.  The crispy fried chicken and the rich creamy slices of pie were a personal favorite.  Picture standing in a long line to grab a tray plus a roll of tableware inside a napkin then sliding it down a tubular metal shelf.  As you went you pointed out what you wanted to have placed over the sneezeguard in front of you by the no nonsense women wielding serving spoons looking like they had just gotten off the boat from the old country in their sack dresses and hairnets.  The early part of the line was all cottage cheese, salad and jello, but as you moved along it got more savory and desirable.  A buttery roll to dip in the brown gravy, corn swimming out their nutrients and any vestiges of flavor in vast pans and finally chopped steak (hamburger from a better neighborhood) and other assorted meat products.  At last rows of overly sweet desserts beckoned which ended the food but lead to a stern cashier that tallied the damages (you paid by the item, bunky).  Dad shelled out then you would set off with your 20 pound tray in search of the perfect table away from screaming infants but near the piano.  If you were still hungry, sorry but no going back was allowed without paying more.  Then a miracle happened – after years of austerity, the corporate gods of Furr’s decided that you could get free seconds at least once – another chicken breast with an inch of golden brown sodium laden crust.  Man that was eating 1960’s style.

  The original inspiration for this post was my wife Aimee and I talking about how much we LOVED the egg rolls and chicken chow mein at the old Lotus Room Chinese restaurant that was for so many years our family’s go-to place in the VFW post at Speer Blvd. and Ninth in Denver.  There was never a family birthday that wasn’t celebrated here in the rather noisy dining room.  People attuned to the fancy woodwork and murals of modern Asian restaurants with pages of exotic dishes would no doubt walk out on the linoleum and basic American-Chinese fare at the Lotus Room, but it tasted for all the world like heaven on a plate to a procession of boomer kids and their parents.  I am always taken with how many people my age that grew up here all have the same memory of eating at the Lotus Room.   I think it would be fun to go back and see how many people I would know today sitting around me that were just kids at the time who I didn’t know then – my buddy Ed ate here with his family for instance.  As you entered, the wall behind the cash register had pictures of Channel 9 news anchors as decoration since it was just up the road.  An ancient Asian lady (later her granddaughter) was always seated at a table shelling pea pods as you were seated.  You hoped to get George the waiter as he amazed you with his memory as he forgot nothing yet wrote nothing down as you ordered.  People have asked if the food would really taste as good to us today now that we have tried so many more Asian dishes – yes, the food was great and I can still taste it in my mind.

   Volcano Asian      Spice China

It seems that today if we want good Chinese, we either go to Volcano Asian Cuisine (in a hard-to-spot strip mall a block or two east of I-25 off of Arapahoe Rd. on the south side) or Spice China if I am up near Louisville (north of Hwy 36 on McCaslin Blvd).  I have to say that Spice China has some outstanding won ton soup, but nobody has the meaty egg rolls and such of the old Lotus Room.

On rare occasions, dad would decide to get a pizza.  In today’s cheap-pizza franchises on every corner world it probably comes as a shock that in the ’60s we would have to drive from Broomfield to the Pizza Oven just west of Hwy. 36 on Baseline to get what was a rarity back then.  Dad would have never paid the fifteen cents to take the toll road (a dime to Denver I think – or maybe the opposite charges).  As a result we zigged and zagged back roads the minute the order was placed arriving just in time to pick up the finished half sausage and half Canadian bacon cheesy sauce-covered wheel.

  What a big deal it was when they opened a Shakeys Pizza across Hwy. 287 on Midway when I was at  Broomfield High School.  You had pizza within minutes of the house, banjo entertainment in old-timey stripes and a place to take a date.  Indeed the young me took Kristi Kuehn here on a triple date with friends – my first real one.  The match didn’t work out, but the pizza was tasty.  Sadly these passed away as a relic of an era when people ate pizza in a restaurant and not at home as take-out for sporting events.  When my wife and I were first married and had zero money, we decided that our entertainment would be to try out a different pizza joint in the Denver area as we could afford to do it.  We grabbed the yellow pages and worked our way through all the classics like Edgewater, Bonnie Brae, Beau-Jo’s etc.  We settled on Grande Giovanni at 6th and St. Paul in Denver as the best.  Run by John Silchia in the late ’70s, they had the tastiest sauce I have ever had on a pie and to this day my wife and I moan about the loss of this savory food when the owner closed it to get into politics.  I don’t like pizza currently, but would make an exception to eat this pie if it were available again.

Since dad didn’t care for the wide noodle pasta of most Italian places (he only liked angel hair), we never went to those sorts of places.  He did, however, love the Three Coins at 525 Main in Louisville – not for their food, but for their music.  My dad Ted was a wonderfully talented organist who played in church from the time he was a teenager till late in his life.  For that reason he sought out restaurants that had an organist.  Dick Hull and later Ray Young played the Wurlitzer organ here from 1963 till 1975 (the organ is currently owned by Colo. State University).

 They were across the street from the Blue Parrot which sadly closed in 2017 after 98 years in business.  Luckily you can still get their tasty spaghetti sauce in the grocery store and eat it at home (I buy it at Costco as it’s cheaper).

 To go to a movie as a kid, you either had to go to Denver (mostly 16th St.) or the drive-in.  When they opened the huge movie theater just north of the old Northglenn shopping center where I worked, it became THE place to take dates or see campers with trout decals on the side in the parking lot during Grizzly Adams showings.  Since closing, the building has seen new life as the cut-above all-you-can-eat Italian buffet Cinzetti’s.  The place is massive and filled with various enticing cooking stations turning out pizza, red sauce creations, yummy desserts, etc.  Heck, it’s a 40 minute drive from our house and typing this makes me think we are going there tonight.

 One of our family fave places to eat is Mama Louise Italian in Centennial at the corner of Orchard and Parker Rds.   I’m always torn between the Chicken Franchaise (very lemony) or the classic spaghetti with meatballs, but they both come with salad, soup and tasty garlic knots.  The service here might be the best of any place we go to and that is a HUGE deal to me (I get pretty annoyed  when nobody even bothers to take your order and you have been sitting for 20 minutes at a restaurant).

 

   In this era when every 20-something eats sushi and wields chop sticks like somebody from Osaka, folks would likely find it hard to believe that there was a time that Japanese fare was pretty darn exotic and rare.  Heck, the connotation of ‘made-in-Japan’ was cheap and cheesy – not the high quality associated with that label today.  When we were dating in 1977, my wife-to-be introduced me to a place on the east side of Lincoln at 930 called Fuji-en.  While I still think John Wayne would not have used chop sticks (so I stick to a fork), I perked up to the joys of sukiyaki, tempura and chicken teriyaki pretty quickly – no raw fish, however.  Aimee recalls Fuji-en as having light non-greasy tempura.  When the batter hit the hot oil it would seemingly explode leaving arty brown tasty tendrils attached to the food (like snow flakes – no two look alike) that you dipped into a wonderful sauce.  If any cuisine is associated with an arty presentation, it is Japanese (though it isn’t cheap).  For years we ate at the Samurai which was hidden away back in the corner of a small strip center at Arapahoe and Dayton.  When they closed a few years back we were cast adrift to futilely try many spots (and there are way too many of these places) till locating Okinawa Sushi in a Safeway center on Yosemite and Lincoln in Lone Tree.  It’s a small utilitarian spot that turns out fantastic food if you can get a table.  If we are up north the only place to get great Japanese is just north of I-70 at Wadsworth in the same center as Sam’s Club – Namikos.  Outstanding food.

 When my wife and I were younger and needed a special occasion meal it seemed that we would go with my family to the southern outskirts of Denver to a Japanese steakhouse that had hibachi tables, clacking wooden shakers and clanging spatulas called Gasho.  It had a wonderful outdoor garden (my dad was a landscaper on the side and loved it doing a Japanese theme for the old health center building in Broomfield when he did their garden) and a unique look.  After you made that LONG drive south of Denver to what is now the Tech Center, you turned east on Belleview and then left.  Today that property is way too valuable for something so quaint plus it seems that all the Japanese steakhouses have lost their vitality.

    My old tennis playing buddy Chuck Davis turned me on to Vietnamese food – he’s gone now, but (if he can see this somehow) thanks Chuck.  When we reconnected as young Dentists, he and Marsha took my wife and I to a totally hidden non-descript place on Broadway a bit north of Arapahoe called the Vietnam Inn.  Wow, have I been hooked ever since.  Sort of an amalgam of the best of Chinese and Japanese styles, it has flavors all it’s own due to the French influence.  We became addicts of the tasty delights that are cha gio rau song – egg rolls you wrap in a lettuce leaf with various other goodies (rice noodles, sprouts, mint, etc.) and dip in the most disgusting smelling (but great tasting) sauce you have ever had – and don’t ask how the sauce is made as you won’t ever eat it again.  You could have stopped there, but they had so many other great tasting dishes – and all different.  We were just today lamenting that we will likely never again find the beef and fried potato dish they used to have (Bo Khoai Tay- sp?) since we have never found it on any menu since they closed.  The best Vietnamese place we have found of late is Kim Ba which is tucked away in the Pacific Ocean Marketplace on E. Mississippi out in Aurora.  We always have to find several people to go with us as they have so many dishes that we like, we can’t NOT get one of them (mi xao don, ga ngu vi huong, thit heo xao bau hoa lan, etc.).

    

When Chuck Davis and I were in college up at CU, we became addicts to the chili rellenos on Walnut in Boulder at Ticos (if we could afford them).  The non-traditional crispy egg roll skin fried version of the chili relleno is just about the only way that I will eat cheese, not being a fan of sour dairy products.   When they closed and I moved on in life, I totally forgot about them till we found out that Piccolo Italian/Mexican Restaurant had those old Ticos goodies on their menu.  When I was in Dental school, it seemed like just about every weekend Chuck and I would go toss around a football in a lighted field on Evans near DU then go a bit west and across the street and nosh on the great food at Piccolo’s.  They always have brought out a basket of taco chips with salsa and rolls (I will not go to a place that charges for taco chips – put it in the meal cost!) so we loaded up on several baskets of those before having the combo plate with 2 chili rellenos plus a beef taco with rice and beans.  After that, it was on to the sonitas with honey for dessert.  Man could we eat back in the ’70s.  I got my mom and dad hooked on their food right away and when I got married it wasn’t a long stretch to take Aimee here – only she really doesn’t like Mexican food.  Well, that is the joy of this place as they have excellent Italian food as well so she gets the linguine with clam sauce plus a salad with no garbanzo beans and everybody’s happy.  Then when we moved south of Denver, we found a location of Piccolo on University and Dry Creek – till it closed along with the one on Evans (they also once had a location in Arvada).  Luckily the flagship restaurant run by all-around great guy Vince Canino just east of I-25 on Hampden and Monaco in a King Soopers shopping center is still going strong.  It has been our #1 family restaurant ever since save a short period after my dad died when we had a horrible experience with a waiter (amazing how a bad waitperson can make you forget what you like about a place).  Thank heavens for Mike Shearrer who has been a good friend and waiter for so many years there – when he leaves it will be a sad day.  With so many restaurants not even lasting a year, it is so comforting to still have someone serving food we love over four decades after we found it (PLEASE don’t get old and close it, Vince!).

This leaves out the Old Heidelberg up in Golden where I took my wife on our first date, the 94th Aero Squadron where one could sit at old Stapleton and watch the planes take off while eating a steak, the Denver Drumstick and later the Wishbone for fried chicken, the Golden Ox where Art Wiener would show us his ‘pride & joy’ then serve an outstanding piece of beef on Colfax, the White Fence Farm for family enjoyment, Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine just off of I-25 on 23rd, the Appletree Shanty, the China Palace in Fort Collins (on College – mom made the tablecloths for that place for owner Amy), Casa Bonita (?!) – on and on.  Till later, good eatin’ folks.

Covered In (Chuck) Berrys

We lost some pretty significant rock and rollers in 2017.  How can we lose Tom Petty so soon – what a tragedy (plus he was only a couple of years older than me – yikes)?!  Luckily I got to meet him backstage at Fiddler’s Green and talk a bit back in the day – a good guy.  Fats Domino was a gentleman I regret I never saw in concert and really deserves to get more respect as a father of rock and roll music.  Just go back and listen to his first hit “The Fat Man” and realize it was recorded in December 1949!!!  Oh, and I was sorry to see Pat DiNizio the lead singer of the Smithereens passed at only 62 years old.  Having seen that band at the Soiled Dove Underground back in June, it was a shock what bad shape Pat’s nerve damage had left him in though he still put on a fine show without being able to use his arms.  “Top Of The Pops” is an example of some of the great music that his band created – he will be missed.  We also lost one of the greatest early rock and rollers in Chuck Berry who actually came out with a credible posthumous album in 2017 (Chuck) at age 90 – showing age doesn’t mean you can’t still rock.

If it wasn’t for Chuck Berry I honestly don’t know what all us wannabe rockers of the ’60s and ’70s would have warmed up to.  His songs have become such standards that you forget they haven’t always existed – someone actually wrote them once.  My drumming buddy Dan Campbell and I would always start off jamming to some old Berry tune like “Johnny B Goode” which makes me wonder what today’s kids in bands warm up with (if they still even play guitars and drums – but that’s another topic).  Reading about his life unfortunately proves that you don’t have to be a good person to be a good music star – he was in jail three different times and barely escaped a fourth trip later in life for some rather unsavory allegations.  Admittedly this was an era, however, where being a black man mixing with whites was seen as reason enough to be put in jail.  He may well have had a reason to be angry at the world, but he seemed to be pretty hard to work with it you hear the stories told by musicians like Keith Richards who idolized him.  His recording career started late for your usual rocker as he was nearly 29 when he had his first hit in “Maybellene” back in 1955 but he made up for lost time quickly and became a rarity for early rock in writing his own hits while playing the classic guitar licks that made the music move.  His songs always had two things going for them – the riff and the story.  It always seemed that if his songs were about love, that love was usually a car and it was generally a Cadillac.

I was a kid who discovered rock and roll during the ’60s British Invasion which meant early American rock fed back to us from across the Atlantic, it seemed fitting to do tribute via a list of my favorite Chuck Berry covers.  Note that Dave Edmunds’ “Run Run Rudolph” would have come in at #1 if I included Berry songs he didn’t write but merely performed, but since it was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie I chose to omit it.

1.No Money Down – Dave Edmunds

I am shocked that this track doesn’t exist on youtube or else I would supply a link.  This was a live performance that ended side one of Dave’s second solo album Subtle as a Flying Mallet (1975).  He was backed here by the band Brinsley Schwarz who featured bass player Nick Lowe who would later partner with Edmunds on some of their best music under their own names and as Rockpile.  The song was originally released in 1956 and is classic Berry in that it tells a story about a dude who trades from a beat up Ford to a Cadillac with no money down.

2.Rock & Roll Music – The Beatles

Once again there is no link to the studio version due to the legal power of the Fabs so go out and buy the record if you don’t already have it.  John Lennon’s vocal is one of his best owing to his having performed this stompin’ rocker hundreds of times in sweaty clubs.  The song appears on my fave Fabs U.S. LP Beatles ’65.  Berry’s original went to #8 in 1957 and was an ode to how much he loved the music.

3. School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell) – Gary Glitter

For someone already 30, Chuck managed to sum up what the kids were feeling at the time – surviving the day in class so they could go out and rock and roll with their friends.  His version titled simply “School Day” hit #5 in 1957.  Americans mostly know Gary Glitter from the ‘HEY’ song that many football teams have played after scoring a touchdown (“Rock & Roll, Part 2”). His debut 1972 album (Glitter) that featured that song also had this great Berry cover.  Glitter’s legal problems with pedophilia gives this a bit of an unsavory aspect, but there is no denying that producer Mike Leander’s rockin’ music is the real deal.

4.Reelin’ & Rockin’ – The Dave Clark Five

It wasn’t the Beatles, but rather the DC5 that won me over to the joys of rock and roll music back in 1965.  The pounding drums, the booming bass, the wailing sax and Mike Smith (who had the greatest rock voice of all the Brit invaders) turned this into a stompin’ #23 US hit in ’65.  Berry’s original was recorded in December 1957 and was the b-side to “Sweet Little Sixteen”.  A live version became his last chart single at #27 in 1972 four months after his surprise #1 with “My Ding-A-Ling”.  The song was about the unabashed joy of hour after hour of rockin’.

5.Carol – The Rolling Stones

Keith Richard is an unabashed Berry-phile even going so far as to organize a 60th birthday all-star concert in 1986 that was the centerpiece of the excellent ’87 movie Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll.  The first Rolling Stones album was known as England’s Newest Hit Makers and it finds a Stones group very different from the confident Glimmer Twins led outfit of just a few years later.  This band played mostly straight oldies and R&B covers.  I always say handclaps can make a good song great and the proof is here.  Berry’s single version went to #18 in 1958 and had a guy begging a girl named Carol to give him a chance to prove he could learn to dance.  Strong stuff, kids.

6.You Can’t Catch Me – Love Sculpture

Dave Edmunds first came to prominence in England with this trio playing a mix of blues, oldies and electrified classical music.  This crazed cover comes from their second album Forms & Feelings (1970) leading off side two.  While Chuck’s original single didn’t chart in 1956, it was recorded at the same session as “Maybellene” and “Wee Wee Hours” which are both name-checked in the lyrics.  The songs content is about cruising out on the New Jersey Turnpike and was used in the 1956 movie Rock, Rock, Rock with Berry lip-syncing to it.  It was John Lennon referencing the line “here come a flat-top, he was groovin’ up with me” in “Come Together” that got him into legal hot-water which is a pity as he was simply paying tribute to the man who wrote so many songs he loved.

7.Johnny B Goode – The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys first #1 album came in 1964 and was recorded live at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California.  The final song on that album was a ripping version of what may be the quintessential Chuck Berry song (and shows those So-Cal guys could really play).  Chuck’s single hit #8 on the charts in 1958 and may be one of the most ubiquitous songs every young band tried to play back in the day.  Berry pretty much took the intro from an old R&B song by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five – “Aint That Just Like A Woman”.  The lyrics are about a young man from Louisiana who plays a mean guitar and dreams of seeing his name in lights as a star.  Johnny Winter did a pretty hot version as well on his 1970 live album.

8.Maybellene – Foghat

After the great Savoy Brown album Looking In, three of the members went off and formed Foghat which became a big success known primarily for their boogie stylings.  This version of Chuck Berry’s first hit rocks like a mother and comes from the ‘hat’s debut in 1972 (produced by Dave Edmunds).  The original was a #5 hit in 1955 and helped establish rock and roll as the music of the  youth of the era.  Berry adapted an old Western swing tune “Ida Red” and made it into a song about romance and cars – universal themes for the kids.  Recorded May 21, 1955 for Chess records in Chicago, the lineup was Chuck Berry – vocals, guitar, Johnnie Johnson – piano, Willie Dixon – bass, Jerome Green – maracas and Ebby Hardy – drums.

9.Sweet Little Sixteen – Ten Years After

Following their star turn in the movie about the Woodstock Festival, Ten Years After (and especially guitarist Alvin Lee) took the leap from cult status to stardom.  Their 1970 album Watt was an okay studio affair, but it was the final track recorded live at the Isle Of Wight Festival that leapt out of the speakers.  Lee tears through an amped up version of an oldie that really tore the place up.  The song was Berry’s a second biggest chart record climbing to #2 in 1958 and tells the story of a teenager obsessed with collecting autographs of her fave stars.

10.Come On – The Rolling Stones

Released June 7, 1963 in the UK, this was the first single by a new Decca Records band who were named after a Muddy Waters song.  The Stones’ version made it to #21 in the UK but never hit in the US.  The original recording by Berry in 1961 about how everything has gone to heck after losing his girl never charted in the US either as frankly music had changed from rock and roll to the greasy Frankies and Bobbys.

11.Dear Dad – Dave Edmunds

From my fave Edmunds LP D.E. 7  (1982) comes this spiffy rocker about a young man who wants to trade in his barely adequate Ford automobile and needs permission from daddy (who happens to be a Ford by birth).  Berry had a short resurgence after getting out of jail for the second time and this single came out at the tail end of that period – 1965.  The nearly 40-year-old Berry barely scraped the charts at #95 in the face of the British Invasion and folk-rock so kudos to Dave for digging up this lesser known gem.

12.Roll Over Beethoven – The Electric Light Orchestra

Jeff Lynne is no slouch when it comes to rock and roll with his group ELO’s music known by everybody of a certain age with over half of their 50 singles charting in the US (in the ’70s and ’80s mainly).  Roy Wood of the Move had the original idea to create a band akin to the “I Am The Walrus” Beatles with cellos alongside guitars.  When he brought Jeff Lynne on board they put out the first ELO album before Wood left to form Wizzard.  Edited from a lengthy rockin’ workout, this was their first chart single in the US (# 42 in 1973).  When Berry released the single in 1956 it went to # 29.  It is said that he wrote the lyrics as a swipe at his sister Lucy’s training classical music.

13.Bye Bye Johnny – Status Quo

Forever relegated to essentially one hit wonder status in the US (1968 – “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”), in the UK they have had more hits than any other rock band (something like 69).  Their style is no-nonsense boogie rock and roll and this cover of Berry’s non-charting 1960 single is classic Quo.  It comes as the last track on their eighth album On The Level (1975).  The lyrics update the saga of Johnny B Goode with him leaving Louisiana to head out west to stardom while making his mom sad.

14.Nadine – Juicy Lucy

This was an album track from the band’s self-titled 1969 debut which had more success in the UK than over here.  When Chuck came out of jail in 1963 his first release was “Nadine (Is That You)” in February of the following year.  Surprisingly it managed to chart at #23 in the face of maelstrom that was the initial frenzy of the British Invasion sweeping the US.  The lyrics are pretty clever in covering the saga of a man trying to catch his girl on foot and in a taxi.

15.30 Days – Shakin’ Stevens & The Sunsets

Talk about a huge star in the UK that nobody much knows in the US, Shaky tried for elusive stardom till he was 32 when his career suddenly skyrocketed tallying 33 top 40 singles over there in the process.  This cover of Chuck Berry’s “30 Days  (To Come Back Home)” via Ronnie Hawkins’ rework as “40 Days” was from his first album (the wishfully titled A Legend).  That this was produced by Mr. Dave Edmunds is no coincidence as it was straight out classic rock and roll – a style that Edmunds excels at.  Back in 1970, however, it was ten years before it’s time and the LP flopped.  Frankly the same could be said for Berry’s original single as inexplicably it too failed to chart coming as his followup single not long after the success of “Maybellene” which it sounds a lot like.  The lyrics talk about getting his woman back home in thirty days.

16.Memphis – Lonnie Mack

Johnny Rivers would take his vocal version to #2 the following year, but I prefer this instrumental attack on what was a fairly low-key Berry original.  Guitarist Lonnie McIntosh was born in Indiana to sharecroppers and dropped out of school at age thirteen.  He became a working musician scrambling for what he could get before landing as a session guitarist for Fraternity records.  His amped up instro went to #5 in 1963.  Berry’s song was released in 1959 as “Memphis, Tennessee” with no chart action (it did hit in 1963 in the UK at #6) and told the tale of a man trying to talk to his little girl Marie who he is no longer able to see due to a split with her mom.  Pretty adult stuff for the era.

17.Sweet Little Rock ‘N’ Roller – Rod Stewart

Berry tells the story of how rock and roll music has overtaken the little nine-year old daughter of a well-respected man becoming the only thing in life she cares about.  The single only managed a peak of #47 in late 1958.  It was the only real bright spot on Stewart’s 1974 album Smiler – his last for Mercury records.  It was straight ahead three chord rock and roll which Rod excelled at before he decided he was sexy, etc.

18.Tulane – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Straight ahead three chord rock and roll sounded mighty attractive coming out of this pint-sized leather demon (who was just as nice as could be to my friend G Brown and I backstage at Red Rocks years ago).  This was an album track from her sixth studio album after leaving the Runaways – Up Your Alley (1988).  The original non-charting 45 came from the Berry LP Back Home that referred to the fact that he was back on Chess records in 1970 after years on Mercury.  The subject matter was definitely a sign of the times as it seems to refer to Tulane and Johnny getting busted at their novelty shop for selling narcotics.

19.Talkin’ About You – The Redcaps

A totally unknown rarity in the US, this was a flat out stomper of a song and probably too raw for the British Invasion.  Singer Dave Walker later found success with the Street Corner Talkin’ era Savoy Brown while the guitarist on the track managed to do pretty well for himself too – Jimmy Page.  Berry was in some pretty tough legal straits when he released  “I’m Talking About You” as the b-side to his early 1961 single “Little Star” which didn’t even tickle the US charts.  The song is all about a girl he thinks is fine.

20.Promised Land – Elvis Presley

Quite a driving rock and roll song for the latter day Elvis, this single hit #14 late in 1974 and was for me the highlight of his ’70s career.  “Burning Love” from ’72 was good, but this track recalled classic rockin’ Elvis.  Chuck’s single in 1964 charted at #41 coming after his stint in jail for violating the Mann Act.  It was pretty much a rewrite of the old country classic “Wabash Cannonball” by Roy Acuff.  In his 1987 autobiography, Berry relates how he borrowed an atlas while in jail to write the lyrics about a young man traveling from Norfolk, VA to the promised land of Los Angeles.

Doc Krieger’s  2017 Top 20 Albums & Orphan Songs

Doc Krieger’s  2017 Top 20 Albums

Yearly disclaimer:  As a 60+ year old white male, I tend to like 60s type pop/rock music, 70s progressive and guitar blues/rock which isn’t the hot trend anymore – but there is still some good stuff out there if you look for it.  Most of these albums & songs can be found on youtube so I will try to supply a link if possible – so here goes (my top track is underlined unless it is the title track):

1.Alan Doyle – A Week At The Warehouse – well I guess it says something when my favorite album of the year is a Canadian import.  Doyle was in the fine band Great Big Sea who for many years did rocked up versions of sea shanties and Newfoundland folk songs.  Doyle still has a devoted following in the Celtic community as a solo artist (and author) doing energetic Americana music and ballads.  The fiddle and accordion intermix on “Come Out With Me” and “Summer Summer Night” is energetic fun. The stately “Fall” and the country rock of “Ready To Go” are also of note.

2.Liam Gallagher – As You Were – the Oasis lead singer’s first solo album sounds much the same as that group plus his last band Beady Eye – Lennonish vocals on guitar based mid-tempo rock (“Wall Of Glass”) or strummed acoustic ballads that tend to build to the finish (“Bold”).  Actually a much gentler album than you would expect and shows that he doesn’t need brother Noel to write a good song.

3.Lonely Robot – The Big Dream – this is the second album by the side project of prog guitarist John Mitchell (It Bites, Arena).  The title track is a classically bombastic prog rock instrumental.  “Awakenings” and many of the other tracks feel like Fish era Marillion.

4.Dan Baird & Homemade Sin – Rollercoaster – in an odd bit of marketing, Baird in just a short period of time put out this cool rock and roll album plus another fine solo album (both imports only).  The band includes his former drummer in the Georgia Satellites (Mauro Magellan) with the music sounding a bit similar to that band.  Baird’s voice sounds like it could open tincans  while the guitar is straight chunk-a chunk-a monkey beat classic rock and roll.  “Shake It Till It’s Sore” could be Tom Petty while “Roll On Chattahoochee” is a John Fogerty clone.  “Love Gone Wrong” 

5.J D McPherson – Undivided Heart & Soul – if his third album was an Elvis song it would be more “Good Luck Charm” than “Hound Dog” – good rock and roll but more tuneful than straight oldies rock.  Frankly the best way to enjoy him is live.  Bassist Jimmy Sutton is rock royalty adding a tough bottom to growlers like “Lucky Penny” and “Crying’s Just A Thing That You Do”.  On these sorts of albums I usually skip the ballads, but these guys always throw in a great slow song and “Hunting For Sugar” could be a Flamingos doowop – goosebump beautiful.  “Let’s Get Out Of Here While We’re Young” almost has a Paul Revere & the Raiders garagy feel with cheesy organ and a great riff.

6.Blackfield – V – Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson continue to put out fine progressive music that can be catchy and accessible while still being prog in feel.  Alan Parsons produced three songs on the record which lends some old-school cred.  The gauzy “Family Man” and especially “Lately” are favorites.

7.Nick Heyward – Woodland Echoes – pastoral pop that spans the gentle “Love Is The Key By The Sea” to the more guitar-driven and very catchy “Baby Blue Sky”.  This import has a southern downhome feeling song in “Mountaintop” and a rocker like “Perfect Sunday Sun” but is mostly more gently pop.

8.Kim Wilson – Blues & Boogie Vol. 1 – well this is more like what we want from Fabulous Thunderbirds harmonica player and singer Wilson.  His band’s last few albums have not been up to their legacy of hot jumpin’ blues and boogie, but this fine monaural solo record gets back to his roots.  “Searched All Over” is great Elmore James and “Ninety Nine” is a tail-shakin’ groove.  Fine instros too like “Bonus Boogie”.

9.Strawbs – The Ferryman’s Curse – it is amazing that something like 50 years into their career, Strawbs can still put out an album as good at this.  The packaging is great and while Dave Cousins’ voice has always been an acquired taste, it fits their version of prog rock well.  Newcomer Dave Bainbridge on keyboards wields a mighty mellotron which is always a fave of mine.  “When The Spirit Moves” is suitably bombastic while “We Have The Power” is a classic Strawbs tune that sounds like a great encore.

10.The Biters – The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be – this seems like a futile effort – trying to make great stoopid guitar rock and roll when the charts are nothing but hip-hop.  These guys channel 70s rock icons like T Rex (“Stone Cold Love”) and Sweet (“Let It Roll”).  My fave is the ACDC similar Vulture City”.

11.Dan Auerbach – Waiting On A Song – this is way poppier and more understated than his usual material in the Black Keys but I guess that is what a solo album is supposed to be – different.  It’s fun to see Duane Eddy playing guitar on songs like the title track while “Malibu Man” would be an Al Green soul work-out.  Mark Knopfler lends his guitar to the instantly familiar “Shine On Me”.

12.Dirty Thrills – Heavy Living – these guys are clones for the Rival Sons who have brought back Led Zep/Free heavy 70s rock.  There isn’t a whole lot of variety in the riffage of “The Brave” or “Law Man”.

13.Ayreon – The Source – talk about a classy package – hard cover like a book, great graphics in the booklet plus 2 CDs and a DVD.  That has been the norm for Arjen Lucassen’s long-running prog-metal project Ayreon which is up to album nine of sci-fi bombast.  Dutchman Lucassen plays great shredding guitar which can be a bit too heavy for me at times, but generally fits the albums well.  Each project features a bevy of well-known instrumentalists (i.e. Paul Gilbert of Mr. Big and Mark Kelly of Marillion) and singers (i.e. Floor Jansen of Nightwish and James LaBrie from Dream Theater).   The story of the Alphans and their journey to the waterplanet “Y” is the excuse for almost operatic guitar rock.  The story is basically in four long songs broken up into many tracks that run together.  “All That Was”.

14.Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie – a Fleetwood Mac album without Stevie Nicks (alright by me since I can’t stand her) so you know going in what it will sound like.  Buckingham’s quirky almost muted sound undercuts what would have been a great album with better production. They certainly still can write pop hooks, however.  “In My World”, “Feel About You”

15.Big Big Train – Grimspound – this quick follow-up to the excellent Folklore is tasteful progressive rock that is less electrical bombast than many groups of their ilk.  “Brave Captain” is 12 ½ minutes of classic prog while the 15 ½ minute “A Mead Hall In Winter” has an early Yes feel (if not vocally).  Judy Dyble (Fairport Convention) guests on “The Ivy Gate”.  “Meadowland” has an early acoustic Genesis feel.

16.Steven Wilson – To The Bone – not as good as his Blackfield project this year, but still a good progressive feel album.  He claims this is his attempt to sound more like the pop bands he liked such as ELO.  Well maybe “Permanating” and “Nowhere Now” are catchy but by no means pop.  It is perverse that by far the best song on the album (“A Door Marked Summer”) is only available on the horribly pricy boxset version along with several other more progressive tracks and demos.

17.Brother Firetribe – Sunbound – a Finnish band with a vocalist that sounds like Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) fronting a band that could be Survivor from the 80s.  “Give Tonight” is a hit if it’s the 80s.

18.New Politics – Lost In Translation – the 4th album of catchy  modern sounding music by this Dutch band.  Rivers Cuomo is featured on “Tell Your Dad” while “Lifeboat” has the thumpy dance sound the kids seem to like (“One Of Us” also catchy).  I prefer the keyboard pop of “Clouds”.

19.Dave Kerzner – Static – his last album New World deluxe edition was my fave album two years ago so this is a bit of a letdown but still decent Pink Floydian progressive rock.  I hope his band with Phil Collins’ son (Sound Of Contact) will release more music eventually but in the meantime this is pretty good.  The title track and “Chain Reaction” have all the usual prog moves. Steve Hackett guests on “Dirty Soap Box”.

20.5 Billion In Diamonds – a UK super-collective from Butch Vig (Garbage).  Ebbott Lundberg of Soundtrack Of Our Lives and David Schelzel of Ocean Blue sing.  “I’m Becoming You” is fine neo-psych.

Doc Krieger’s Best EP 2017

Magna Carta Cartel – The Demon King – wow, would have included this when I first published back in December, but frankly didn’t know it existed till was reading online about the controversy with the band Ghost and how, just like the band Alice Cooper did years ago, their lead singer decided he was the band and dumped the rest of the musicians.  While I like the new Ghost album, it is missing some of the influences that made Meliora great and it turns out that Omega (Martin Persner) might well have been the Pink Floyd fan of the band.  His new project Magna Carta Cartel is very Floydian with my only gripe being way too much echo and not enough ability to hear the vocals in the mix.  I certainly hope this Swedish import becomes a full album release in the future.  For now I would suggest listening to the whole thing (or downloading it).  Four of the tracks have vocals, but my favorite “Mayfire” is an instrumental.

 

Doc Krieger’s Best Orphan Songs 2017 – these are downloads, singles, EPs, isolated top tracks on LPs.

1.The Mavericks – Brand New Day – the album of the same title is decent if standard Mavericks Cubano/

Country music featuring the outstanding voice of Raul Malo, however this song (from the minute I played the CD) simply leapt out of the speakers.  The sound is very different for them with a 60s Phil Spector wall-of-sound production that demands you turn up the volume (weird video, though).

2.Train – You Better Believe – well I didn’t like their 10th album A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat much as it sounded like they were trying to have a modern hit so it was a real surprise to get to a wonderfully introspective ballad at the end.  The song is a piano song about the relationship of a father and a son.

3,Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Holy Mountain – ex-Oasis songwriter/guitarist Noel’s new album (Who Built The Moon?) is a bit of a sludgy mess with awful production.  On this seeming homage to pounding early 70s glitter rock it works however.

4.Chris Hillman – Here She Comes Again – former Byrd bassman Hillman revisits a lot of music from the old days on Bidin’ My Time.  Frankly, the new versions don’t hold a candle to the originals (do we need “Walk Right Back” when the Everly Brothers own the song?).  This previously unrecorded 70s Hillman and Roger McGuinn song  is so much better than the rest it makes you wish for more in that vein.  These ex-Byrds  get some help from Tom Petty and Herb Petersen (from Hillman’s Desert Rose Band).

5.Dan Baird –  Naughty Marie – as mentioned earlier, ex-Georgia Satellite Baird put out a band album plus this album titled SoLow.  It is a pretty decent album but not as good as the full band record.  This track was by far the best and is once again buttshakin’ monkey beat rock and roll with a fine riff.

6.The New Pornographers – High Ticket AttractionsWhiteout Conditions is decent if not up the their last album.  Good catchy guitar pop/rock that has a nice male/female vocal back and forth.

7.Cheap Trick – Blackberry Way – I think they should have waited a bit since this feels like a rush job LP (We’re All Alright!) after last year’s excellent Bang, Boom, Crazy…Hello.  This Roy Wood (The Move) composition is only on the deluxe version and is so much better than the rest of the record it makes you wish they would do a whole album of some of their favorite obscure oldies tracks.

8.Big Big Train – Haymaking – their third album in something like a year and a half (The Second Brightest Star) has some fine moments but violinist Rachel Hall’s instrumental contribution is by far the best thing on the record.

9.Fastball – Behind The Sun – Austin trio Fastball have never reached the commercial heights of “The Way” now six albums into their career, but they continue to make tuneful guitar based pop.  Their new album Step Into Light isn’t bad but this fingerpicked gentle McCartney-esque ballad is what grabbed me.

10.Los Straitjackets – Shake & PopWhat’s So Funny About Peace Love & Los Straitjackets isn’t one of their best, but you can always count on them to come up with at least one excellent Ventures-like guitar rocker.  This CD is a tribute to the music of Nick Lowe which isn’t bad, but it could be way better.

11.Greg Kihn Band – The Life I Got – this doesn’t sound very different than his early 80s new wave hits – catchy guitar rock and roll.  He continues to use his name in his album titles as well (ReKihndled).

12.The Church – Another Century – the Church are a long-running Aussie band that occupies the territory between prog and psych on this track from Man Woman Life Death Infinity.

13.Fairport Convention – Summer By The Cherwell – their 50:50@50 album is a mix of live and studio tracks celebrating their 50th year of creating fine British traditional music.  This song is a stately amble.

14.Humming House – Make It Through – they are a Nashville band that started as a folky string band.  This song from Companion recognizes the need to persevere. They sound like the Decemberists at times.

15.Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – The Punishment Of Luxury – this is the title track to their newest album which is a tribute to the sound of the  “Autobahn” synth pioneer band Kraftwerk.

16.Operus – La Catedral – a black metal band with a cello player from Toronto.  The prog metal riffage is decent though the theatrical singer can be annoying – probably why I prefer this nylon guitar instro.

17.Scarborough – Right About You –  weirdly, MSNBC host (Morning Joe) and political muckraker Joe Scarborough (who looks totally GQ) actually has some talent doing 80s sounding rock.  Apparently his plan is to put out an EP of new music each month for four years. This is from Freaks Love Freaks.

18.Walk The Moon – One Foot – well it’s not “Shut Up And Dance” but it grows on you (though I can do without the singer’s hairstyle in the video).

19.The Dark Element ft. Anette Alzon & Jani Liimatainen – Someone You Used To Know – a former Swedish Nightwish singer joins with a former Finnish Sonata Arctica guitarist to make an album of bombastic prog metal.  The music almost feels like ABBA fronting a metal band which is decent but I prefer this ballad to anything else on the record.

20.The Woggles – Luminol Test – Little Steven has done a great job of trying to keep garagy 60s music alive with his Sirius XM show and his Wicked Cool record label.  The album Tally Ho! came out on his label this year and features the usual cheesy organ and Kinks sneer.  This song stands out from the rest.

Best Reissue Album (Music)

The Yardbirds – Yardbirds ’68 – the Jimmy Page era of the Yardbirds tends to get forgotten when compared to the hits of the Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck years.  This fine (if overpriced) two CD set has one disc of unreleased tracks (“Avron Knows”) and another that finally presents their March 30, 1968 Anderson Theatre (NY) in excellent sound.  I bought the first version of this record in 1971 and was horrified to hear all the awful overdubbing of crowd noise Epic did to ruin a pretty fair live concert (Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page).  That record went out of print quickly due to a lawsuit so this is a welcome reissue.  Without the overdubs you can hear a band that very clearly was heading to the Led Zeppelin sound (“Dazed & Confused”) while still offering slashing versions of older songs (“Heart Full Of Soul”).

Best Reissue Album (Packaging)

The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Boxset – musically I will always go back to the original even if the sound isn’t as good as on the remix here.  The packaging is outstanding with six discs and a hardcover book worth the price of the set.  Here’s hoping we see more of these Beatles sets.

Sappy Christmas Movies – Top 20

This month’s blog was going to be a musical tribute to all the great fallen rockers this year, but after much debate your blogger decided it was time to come clean on a secret that is hard to admit to.  I must come out of the closet and admit that I love sappy Hallmark-type Christmas movies.  Oh, I hate Christmas, make no mistake of that.  Oh make no mistake, however, the spirit of this time of year plus the chance to visit with friends and family (or at least most of the family except you-know-who – probably me) is joyous and wonderful.  What I despise is the need to spend mounds of cash buying overpriced worthless junk for everyone you know in the name of holiday giving – ugh. Call me Mr. Scrooge.  Being generally frugal, this just tears my guts out – especially when January 16th rolls around and the credit card bill shows up (happy happy, joy joy).  In trying to analyze why I love cloying Christmas cinema (made for TV) I suspect it’s because at the end of the each show is that happily-ever-after moment.  The route to that throat-catching eye-wetting moment is almost always pretty predictable and often the stories are interchangeable, but the payoff is the knowing that everything in the hero and heroine’s lives will be perfect in the end.  We know that our lives have no chance of getting to that level, of course.  I mean, it’s amazing how much money most of the characters seem to have and how good looking they all are (the cuteness of the characters however is a factor in whether I like the show – especially the female lead, let’s be honest).  Frankly I do tend to like the shows where the people at least look somewhat normal and don’t have 6 figure incomes more than the movies about royalty or slumming celebs.  Oh, and right off the bat I won’t watch any show starring Candace Cameron Bure, a Barbie Doll of a lady who doesn’t look or act like anyone you have ever met in real life.  By the way, having an old recognizable star in a supporting role always helps even if you can’t place their name or what show they used to be on.  When you watch these movies, you are struck by how many beautiful/handsome single parents there apparently are in the world who have had some sort of Christmas catastrophe that has ruined their holiday spirit and only need to meet the right person to fulfill their lives with a little help from an angel/magic spirit/man in a red suit.

The following list of my fave 20 sappy Christmas movies doesn’t include any of the real cinematic holiday gems such as my favorites It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th St (that cane hanging on the doorknob in the end always chokes me up).  I will try to include a link if one exists but I apologize for any technical issues (note that due to copyrights many are either not available or altered in some way plus may be removed at any time).  WARNING – get your hankies ready and I apologize if I give away the plot too much but frankly you know how they are going to end, now don’t you?

1.The Christmas Card – 2016

Any made-for-TV show with Ed Asner and Lois Nettleton as the parents has a leg-up on the competition.  The main characters are believable human beings – Alice Evans as a woman whose parents own a logging operation and John Newton as a soldier trying to find her based on a card she sent thanking the troops for their service at Christmastime.  The card shows an idyllic life that Newton’s character longs for after the pain of war.  When you see the sort of creepy smarmy guy she is supposedly in love with you know that she will fall for the handsome GI.

2.The 9 Lives Of Christmas – 2014

Kimberly Sustad plays a lady training to be a veterinarian who doesn’t have time for romance and seems awkward with her looks – oh and she loves cats.  Brandon Roush plays a hunky but down-to-earth firefighter mainly interested in work and rebuilding the house he lives in so he can sell it.  A stray cat seems to have designs on mixing these two together (and removing Roush’s worthless girlfriend from the picture).  Will they or won’t they?

3.The Mistletoe Promise – 2016

A newcomer from last season, this has one of the more original story lines for these sorts of shows and includes two very likable characters.  Luke MacFarlane plays a lawyer who hates Christmas and Jaime King a travel agent also disillusioned by how the holidays have let her down.  The story involves how they are thrown together and make a legal pact to help each other’s careers.  They have great chemistry, so…

4.Mrs. Miracle – 2009

The late Doris Roberts is a gem as the title character (Mrs. Merkle) who mysteriously shows up when a sweet but frazzled single dad (James Van Der Beek) is desperate to find a nanny for his out of control kids.  Merkle magically has a hand in bringing a cute-as-a-button travel agent (Erin Karpluk) into his life and makes sure that everyone cleans the dishes.  Of course she has family issues that need to be worked out as well.

5.Fallen Angel – 2003

Gary Sinise is what makes this movie believable and warm with perhaps the best acting in any of these movies.  He plays a big-city lawyer who returns to his old town to tie up his estranged father’s affairs after his death.  He gets sidetracked by a single mom (played by Joely Richardson) who he has a past with – unknown to her.  While her blind child (Jordy Benattar) seems a tad contrived as a plot addition, she ends up adding sweetness and wonder to the show.  The parts about her homeless dad are instructive as well and handled with dignity.

6.A Boyfriend For Christmas – 2004

The cast in this show is alot of its charm.  Veteran character actor Charles Durning plays Santa who spends a lot of his time trying to bring two do-gooders (played by Kelli Williams and Patrick Muldoon) together that are fated to love each other but can’t seem to make the proper connection without a little help.  They may also share a backstory unbeknownst to them.  Martin Mull plays her dad and his blessing feels genuine but man do these people look rich rich rich!!  The Salt Lake City establishing shots are a rare addition.

7.Call Me Mrs. Miracle – 2010

Sorry, but only the trailer is available on this sequel to the movie at number 4 on our list starring Doris Roberts again as the magical Mrs. Merkle.  This time she meddles with the lives of a department store heir played by Eric Johnson (whose dad hates what Christmas reminds him of) and a lady watching her nephew while her brother is in the Army.  Jewel Staite plays that woman and her interesting non-cookie cutter look sets this apart (plus the late Doris Roberts who was so good here and as the mom in Everybody Loves Raymond).  This is one of the few movies with a decent supporting part for a Latino (Patricia Mayen-Salazar).

8.The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – 2008

Since Henry Winkler played the Fonz in Happy Days it seems like he has never been cast in anything that worked like that character for me till this one.  Here he plays a no b.s. ex-cop from the east coast travelling to visit his niece who is a single mom living in Chicago.  The way he befriends and trusts implicitly the character played by Warren Christie would seem odd in today’s scary world if Winkler didn’t make is seem okay with his ex-cop mentality.  Brooke Burns is a tad more beautiful than any other suburban single mom I can imagine, but the story works again because of Winkler.  His Uncle Ralph character brings home a man who wants to be a chef and is on his way to Denver to try his luck but can’t make it due to weather.  The rest is chemistry.

9.Matchmaker Santa – 2012

Another trailer here as the full movie isn’t available for free online.  Lacey Chabert plays a lady who a large jolly man named Chris who may or may not be the real Santa is trying to be matchmaker for.  She is to wed a busy business-type but of course may or may not end up with his handsome assistant (Adam Mayfield).  A rarity for these shows is that the business-type played by Thad Luckinbill is not unlikable and good things end up happening for all involved thankfully.  Recognizable background players include John Ratzenberger of Cheers and Florence Henderson of The Brady Bunch.

10.The Christmas List – 1997

As these shows age, TV seems to drop them which is too bad as you hardly see this one anymore.  This two decade old charmer is much better then the Alicia Witt movie it shares a title with (though that one is at least watchable if not great).  Mimi Rogers plays a perfume expert in a store who on a whim makes a list of all the things she wants for Christmas.  When her friend playfully mails it to Santa her wishes amazingly start coming true but not always with the result she wants.  Old-guard actress Stella Stevens plays her mom.

11.The Christmas Shepherd – 2014

The star of this show is Ace the dog who plays Buddy, a German Shepherd who brings together a single dad (Martin Cummins) and a children’s book author (Teri Polo).  Ace has great acting skills and chemistry with the rest of the cast.  The scenes where the author helps the clueless dad get his daughter ready for a dance are especially believable.

12.Trading Christmas – 2011

The third Debbie Macomber story in our list is the first not about Mrs. Miracle.  Virtually all the cast have recognizable TV faces and are mostly Canadian.  Without giving away too much, small-town teacher (U.S. actress Faith Ford from Murphy Brown) goes to the big city to surprise her daughter who isn’t there and ends up meeting a business-type (Gil Bellows).  Her friend played by Gabrielle Miller goes to surprise her in her small-town and ends up instead surprising her house-swapping big-city author played by Tom Cavanagh.  Those stories are winning and fun as opposed to the daughter’s story which didn’t grab me as much.

 

13.Crazy For Christmas – 2005

Another trailer I fear.  The payoff for me is Howard Hesseman who seems truly believable as an eccentric rich dude who after years of being a ruthless businessman is now giving back in spades at Christmastime.  Andrea Roth plays a single-mom chauffeur he hires to drive him around while he does his good deeds.  That he has a backstory with her she isn’t aware of is what supplies the plot.  Yannick Bisson plays a reporter who is tailing them and may have some interest in doing more than report on the chauffeur.  It is fun to see former SCTV star Joe Flaherty in a small role.  While I can’t stand the part (or actor Jason Spevack?) who plays her whiny kid, this is the only movie here that has a surprisingly sweet gay story arc that works in the context of the main plot.

14.Christmas Every Day – 1996

This is the oldest show on our list and shares plot similarities with Groundhog Day with the main character played by Erik Von Detten replaying Christmas till he figures out how to get it right due to a wish by his sister.  The story is actually based on an 1892 story by William Dean Howells with the same title.  Robert Hays as the dad is one of those character actors you instantly recognize.  The teens in the show actually seem believable and you end up interested in the ancillary stories that feed the main plot.

15.Finding John Christmas – 2003

Peter Falk as Max the angel is the glue that holds together this sweet story about trying to find a lost soul and bring him home to his family after years of self-torture having formerly been a hero fireman.  Valerie Bertinelli plays his sister who is also trying to save the E.R. she works in.  Canadian actor David Cubitt (who plays the reporter Max is trying to steer toward the nurse) has a backstory with the fireman as well.

16.The Christmas Ornament – 2013

Once again if you wish to watch this you will need to fork over $9.99 or watch the myriad repeats on the Hallmark Channel.  Okay, parts of this story seem way hokey and contrived – trying to sell Hallmark ornaments methinks.  At the same time, the stars actually look and feel like real people with Kellie Martin and Cameron Mathison being good enough looking but not knockouts.  Truth be told, I do find her friend played by Jewel Staite (see number 7 above) to be cute in an exotic way (the big glasses help).  She lost her husband and is trying to keep his bike shop afloat even though her heart isn’t in it as she bakes killer cookies (what could be in them?).  He had his heart broken by a rotten but hot babe and has a tree lot while he dreams of some sort of Christmas theme-park or something.  Will they get together?   Will she find her lost mittens?

17.Holiday In Handcuffs – 2007

This one is on DVD and occasionally on TV so once again you get a trailer.  This is a screwball comedy that only works because of the sweetness and charm of Melissa Joan Hart.  She plays a struggling artist who must bring some guy – any guy – home to her odd family for Christmas.  I suspect the only reason Mario Lopez is cast as the reluctant guy is so he can go without a shirt (his acting skills are okay but I would think the ladies like his pecs better).  Old-guard actors Timothy Bottoms, Markie Post and June Lockhart play the odd family perfectly.  Will they ever get Mario out of Hart’s handcuffs?  Well they must have found the key as I see there is a new pairing of the two listed on this years’ Hallmark movie calendar.

18.Christmas Angel – 2009

The title is similar to several other shows so make sure to look for veteran actor Bruce Davidson in the credits.  Since this doesn’t play as often as some of the less worthy shows it is too bad I could only include a trailer.  Davidson’s understated performance sells him as a real person who is dying and has enough money to bestow on someone of his choosing to carry on his Secret Santa mission.  Kari Hawker and K.C. Clyde play a cynical woman and a reporter looking into the Santa story.  The plot digs deeply in to what Christmas should be about.

19.Three Days – 2001

Holy cow, if this one doesn’t make you cry you have no heart.  A hard driven business type has been neglecting his marriage and comes to regret that when his wife dies.  An angel played by Tim Meadows gives him a chance to relive the three days before his wife dies and he tries to change everything, but things don’t always go perfectly in life.  The end feels like something that Rod Serling would have written for The Twilight Zone.  Kristin Davis and Reed Diamond play the couple.

20.A Town Without Christmas – 2001

The Grinches at Hallmark make you watch this in mirror image but at least they haven’t taken it down yet (but you can watch this in endless replay on the Hallmark channel anyway).  This was the first movie in which Peter Falk played Max the angel (there is a third not on our list – When Angels Come To Town).  The story is about a small-town Washington child who writes a letter to Santa about his divorcing parents and how he doesn’t wish to exist anymore.  Patricia Heaton plays a hard-bitten reporter who goes to the town to get the story and ends up bonding with a struggling writer (Rick Roberts) in search of the truth.  The story is great though there isn’t the same chemistry between Heaton and Roberts as she had with Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond.