Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Time Favorites

We all have favorite songs.  Some start out OK but then grow on you.  Others you may not even like at all, but you eventually come around.  And then there are the kind that the very first time you hear it, you know it’s a killer, an instant favorite.  Sometimes it’s one more song from an artist you already like.  Other times, it comes right out of nowhere and makes you find out more about the artist and maybe even a whole new genre of music.  There is a certain something about these songs that connect with you instantly, right down to your DNA.  It’s like you were programmed to like these songs and you just didn’t know it yet.

I’ve talked about a couple of these songs in the past.  In March of 2010, I wrote about the first time I heard a Joan Jett song, when my college radio music director handed me Joan’s first solo album and I dropped the needle on “Do Ya Wanna Touch Me,” which promptly melted my face off.  That one moment led me to a lifetime of JJ fandom and the opportunity to meet her a number of times.  And in that same post, I talked about going to an album release party at which I heard “I Hate Myself for Lovin’ You” for the first time and got to tell Joan herself how awesome it was. 

I also wrote about the first time I heard “Pride and Joy” on the radio, which brought me to discover Stevie Ray Vaughan and changed me into a full-fledged blues fan.  Last month, I wrote about the how hearing “Hell’s Bells” for the first time turned me into an AC/DC fan, where previously I couldn’t stand them.  So with those in the can already, let’s carry on…

This one also happened while I was on college radio.  I was already a big ZZ Top fan when “Eliminator” came out.  That was the album that put them into the stratosphere, fueled by their snappy MTV videos.  Right off the bat, radio put the first single, “Gimme All Your Lovin’” into heavy rotation and the local rock radio station was playing “Got Me Under Pressure” with regularity.  So when I finally got my hands on “Eliminator” for the first time during one of my air shifts, I started looking for something else to play.  Those 2 songs were tracks 1 and 2 on the first side, so I dropped the needle on the 3rd track, which happened to be “Sharp Dressed Man.”

In the first 5 seconds, I knew it was a hit.  Pow… power chords right upside the head, with a rollicking boogie beat and just a hint of synthesizer fizz.  I played the shit out of it long before it became the next single.  In reality, my playing it on our puny 15-watt college station didn’t do squat for the band, but in my mind, I broke that song, brilliant music video be damned.
Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m only using YouTube videos that play the studio versions of the songs, (where available) because that’s the way I first heard them.

In 1986 I was managing a mall record store when we got in this package of promo records to support an Electra Records promotion our company was running.  We were supposed to play these in-store and I was worried these would be ‘gloomy-music’ records… you know, that stuff that was popular in the mid-80s like Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Joy Division, etc.

But trying to be a good ‘company man,’ I picked an album out of the pack to try it out.  I’d never heard of the group before but their name was “The Georgia Satellites.”  The second the first song came on, I knew that this was no ‘gloomy’ album. 

“I got a little change in my pocket going jing-a-ling-a-LANG
Wants to call you on the telephone baby, give you a ring.
But each time we talk, I hear the same old thing.
Always ‘no hug-GEE no kissEE until I get a weddin’ ring.’
My honey my baby, don’t put my love up on no shelf.
She said ‘don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself…’”

The song was “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and by the time the first verse was done, I knew it would be a hit, with me, if not the rest of the country.  Its charming vocals, huge guitar riffs and primitive music video (that looked like it was made for about $150) made the Georgia Satellites a household name, at least for a short time.  I think they’re unfairly characterized as 1-Hit Wonders because they put out 2 more incredible albums full of fat hooks, barroom harmonies and sly wit.

In fact, there is a song on their second album, “Open All Night,” that also makes this list.  I was fairly certain I’d like their sophomore effort, but you never really know.  It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice.  The album didn’t do very well, but not for lack of quality.  They had a couple of covers on this album, of songs they used to play in their early days.  One was a rockin’ version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” which featured some rocking piano as required by anyone attempting to cover Jerry Lee Lewis.

But the piano was all over this album, including the next cover track.  The funny thing is that the first time I heard it, I had no idea it was a cover.  I’d never really listened to the Beatles’ “White Album,” so I had never heard “Don’t Pass Me By.”  That was a sing-songy tune sung by Ringo Starr, that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a carnival calliope.  But in the hands of the Satellites, it became a full-speed romp of jamming guitars, big drums, and tight garage-band harmonies.  I loved it immediately and I tell you, the first time I heard the Beatles’ version, I laughed out loud.  It was like they weren’t even in the same species.

Discovering Stevie Ray Vaughan had opened me up to seeking out other blues guitarist and some of the most helpful devices were the cheap blues compilations put out by Alligator Records, the premier blues label in the country.  Two songs I first heard on these compilations made me instant fans of the artist.

For anyone that likes guitar, hearing a Roy Buchanan track can change your life.  Nestled on that first compilation was a track called “Short Fuse,” and it certainly lived up to the name.  The thing just blew up within the first 20 seconds.  It was like the old Batman TV Theme if it had been done by Jimi Hendrix.  Surf music meets screaming guitar strings.  There’s a point after the sax solo that Roy’s guitar comes tearing in and just howls in a combination of string-bends and volume.  In later years when I’d play it in the store, I’d grab one of my new people and say, “You want to know about Roy Buchanan, listen to this lick right here and that says it all.”

If you like guitar and only have time to play one video here, play this one.
It also cracks me up that these amazing sounds were produced by someone that looks like somebody's granddaddy.

The Alligator compilations also introduced me to the legend that is Albert Collins (who I wrote about here).  Most people don’t know the name, but if you ever saw the movie “Adventures in Babysitting” with Elizabeth Shue, Albert is the bluesman on stage that tells her, “Nobody leaves this place without sangin’ the blues…”
Albert’s on the far right.

I’d heard Albert on the first Alligator compilation, but the track that really grabbed me came on the second, a tune called “I Ain’t Drunk”.

“Every day baby/when the sun go down
I get with my friends/and I begin to clown.
I don’t care/what the people are thinking.
I ain’t drunk/I’m just drinkin’…

The lyrics would have been perfect for our Barn Parties… Lord knows we loved a good drinking song… and the rockin blues shuffle beat was infectious, topped off with Alberts trademark stinging guitar solos.  This song should have been on barroom jukeboxes all over America.  (And it will be, once I’m King.)

I’ve been saving the best song for last.  It’s a crime that so many people don’t know the name Johnnie Johnson.  Johnson was the piano player on Chuck Berry’s big hits back in the 50s.  The “Johnny” in “Johnny B. Goode” is actually Johnnie Johnson, only he rocks the keys instead of the strings.

In 1991, Elektra (again) put out a compilation of “new” artists. The first track up grabbed me immediately, with its easy-rolling piano boogie.  It sounded like the soundtrack to a party to which I would very much like to attend.

Listen to me baby, and hear what I got to say.
I said listen to me baby, and hear what I got to say.
I’m going’ round the corner,
And have a drink of Tanqueray.”

My first thought was, “Oh, my parents have GOT to hear this one.”

Tanqueray” rolled on to sound even more like a party.  I found out later that Keith Richards produced the track and his solo band played on it as well.  By the time they get to the choruses, it sounded exactly like a bunch of well-lubricated raconteurs sitting around a piano bar.  And of course, any bar that Keith Richards is in immediately becomes the coolest place on the planet.

Keith and Johnnie go way back to when Keith produced a film about Chuck Berry called, “Hail Hail Rock and Roll.”  It not only spent time going into Chuck Berry’s past and present world but culminated in a big concert featuring Johnnie, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt and many others, all backed by Keith and his band.


Oh, and the parents loved it.  You will too.

17 comments:

  1. You picked some great songs to highlight here. Love SRV and ZZ Top.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love, love, love ZZ Top! You have some great taste in music Bluz!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You guys gotta check out the songs you don't know! Trust me!

    ReplyDelete
  4. We were watching SRV in concert last night with our Austin friends and talking blues music. I thought of you and had to laugh when I saw you had written a whole post on that very thing!

    Also, love that Georgia Satellites song. My dad used to rock out to it in his truck all the time. Brings me immediately back to riding around with him when I hear it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Jessica,
    Given the video, it's the perfect song for riding around in a pickup truck. If you liked Keep Your Hands to Yourself, check out Don't Pass Me By, for sure. (Sometime when the baby's occupied. You wouldn't want to drop her if you suddenly got a case of Happy Feet.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Whoa, Bluz! Tanqueray is awesome! Those Blues and that variety mixed, well, I'll be playing that over and over. Have to put that on my iPod!

    ReplyDelete
  7. See? Bluz wouldn't steer you wrong. That song is a 4-minute cocktail party. It's such a gentle little song, but so much fun.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, man. "Keep Your Hands to Yourself." One of the quintessential redneck songs, and I mean that in the BEST way.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I DO love it, Cowboy! I do! I do!

    Your Hot Arizona Aunti

    ReplyDelete
  10. Now alll day I'll be humming, "I gotta little change in my pocket, going ding-a-ling-a-ling..." Yes, it's a good song but not the hundredth brain loop. Mind you, it might give the Doobie Brothers "Listen to the Music" a nice little break. I think they're tired of playing that song over and over in the confines of my cerebrum.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'll admit it, a few of these songs I didn't know, but I love them all. Great collection. Love ZZ Top.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mrs. Bachelor Girl,
    That, it is. It’s the perfect marriage of big hooks, loud guitars and catchy lyrics. Dan Baird, (their singer who I once got to hang out with) once said something to the effect of, “that song means I can play State Fairs for the rest of my life.”

    Judie,
    No way this Cowboy would “steer” you wrong, young lady…

    Sandra,
    I like that one too. It’s also spent some time rattling around the old cranium. I don’t usually mind when I get an earworm from a song I like… but it drives me bonkers when it’s a commercial jingle or TV theme-song. Gah! That’s when I have to call in an “eraser,” which is a song I like better that I concentrate on until it replaces the previous tune.

    Beer,
    I was fairly certain that no one would know the blues songs, so I was hoping that they’d go over. Glad you liked!

    ReplyDelete
  13. In spin class we use ZZ Top often. Gets your legs moving, that's for sure.

    You'd be proud, when the instructor (who's in her late '40's) says we're going to go way back musically, I can still recognize all the songs. My Mama raised me right.

    (Although when she plays Low Rider by War, I get warm and fuzzy.)

    ReplyDelete
  14. OK, so we have very different taste in music. We can agree to disagree on that. But I did love the subtle Back to the Future reference at the end...

    ReplyDelete
  15. I connect songs to certain times in my life, and not necessarily when the song was popular. I remember a horrible job one summer scrubbing desks in a junior high school. We listened to The White Album, Cheap Trick, Journey, Jeff Beck, UFO, and Jimi Hendrix that whole summer. A weird mix, I know. Those were the cassettes we had. Every time I hear one of those songs, I go back to that summer.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Cassie,
    ZZ Top is definitely good workout music. And Low Rider is a classic. I love to just listen to all the percussion. It always reminds me of Cheech dancing around his car in “Up in Smoke.” (Which I’m sure you never saw…)

    Sherry,
    And here I thought you were a woman of taste and refinement… Tell me something, did you actually listen to any of the ones you didn’t know? What don’t you like?

    Carpetbagger,
    I have a lot of the same kind of song associations… in fact, I did a whole post about it. (See “Musical Memory Lane,” June 2009.) Luckily, they were positive associations, not some crappy job. Too bad the situation had to ruin some good tunes.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Actually, the music made the job survivable.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are like 'crack' to a blogger... Please help me get my 'fix' by leaving a comment! And be sure to check back for my reply. Consider it the Afterparty!