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Wednesday, Oct 7, 2009
Tom Waits isn't the only Pride of National City

“Angel Baby” by Rosie & the Originals should be the official song of National City, California, the way states have flowers or universities have mascots. The song reached #5 on the Billboard charts in late 1960, and most people don’t even know who sang it, even if they are familiar with the tune.  But for generations of kids who grew up in neighborhoods like mine, “Angel Baby” will always be the anthem of our childhood and an indelible part of the soundtrack of our lives. Other songs like “Always and Forever” by Heatwave and “Together” by Tierra round out the top spots on this chart, but “Angel Baby” is, without a doubt, number one.


The woman who wrote and sang the song at the tender age of 15, Rosie Hamlin, lived in National City during her elementary, junior high and high school years. I always knew this, and it was a point of pride for anyone who came out of our much-maligned little suburb of San Diego. We have Tom Waits, and we have Rosie. But I didn’t know until recently how far her influence reached, and that the likes of Robert Plant and even John Lennon were fans! In the Houses of the Holy liner notes, right after the lyrics to “D’yer Mak’er”, Led Zeppelin wrote “What ever happened to Rosie & the Originals?” And Lennon went so far as to call “Angel Baby” one of his “all-time favorite songs”, when he recorded a cover version in 1973.


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Tuesday, Oct 6, 2009
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

It begins with 40 ominous seconds, dangerous seconds; 40 instantly intriguing seconds that capture the imagination of listeners desperate to find out what happens. It begins with 40 seconds that are more warning than music and the sense of danger is real. When Mick Jagger sings of fire sweeping through the streets “like a red coal carpet” and Merry Clayton’s amazing background vocals crack on the words “rape” and “murder” two-thirds of the way through “Gimme Shelter” the danger seems very real. That’s what makes The Rolling Stones’ 1969 masterpiece Let It Bleed so riveting. Every note of it sounds so damn real.


In 1968, with the release of Beggar’s Banquet, The Stones proved that they were not just another rock band; they were masters of the form. Beggar’s Banquet was the first of what could quite possibly be the four best successive rock albums released by any band in the history of rock and roll. The album was a work of startling simplicity, a collection of songs built around American blues and roots music that invented the concept of what it meant to be “The Stones”. With 1969’s amazing follow up, Let It Bleed, The Stones began to add to this concept. If Beggar’s Banquet is a masterpiece of simplicity then Let It Bleed is a masterpiece of authenticity.


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Monday, Oct 5, 2009
Pop Heroism, One Song at a Time

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” - Nirvana
Attributed to Huddie Ledbetter
From MTV Unplugged in New York (Geffen, 1994)


This V-C-V originally ran on August 23, 2005 on pcmunoz.com


I have a picture of Kurt Cobain on my desk. It’s a pretty well-known shot: a sort of sad close-up, with Cobain sporting a scruffy beard and looking directly into the camera, a few blonde locks falling over his face. At the bottom it says KURT COBAIN, 1967-1994. It serves to remind me that we never know from where our great artists will come, or when they will leave us.


I thought Kurt Cobain was an astonishingly expressive vocalist. I’d put his screaming up there with Prince, his emotional voice-breaks up there with Hank Williams, and his commanding way with a melody in there with any of the great pop singers. I liked his original songs quite a bit, especially “Come as You Are”, “All Apologies”, “Heart Shaped Box”, “In Bloom”, and the more recently released “You Know You’re Right, which has a great, unique vocal.


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Friday, Oct 2, 2009
Sometimes the best hit singles by "one-hit wonders" are the ones that have been forgotten over the years.

In some ways, a one-hit wonder is in the eye of the beholder (or more accurately, the memory). A-Ha peaked at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “The Sun Always Shines on TV”, a great song that spent four months on the chart. But most people only remember “Take on Me” (and the phenomenal video that accompanied it), so A-Ha is mistakenly thought to be a one-hit wonder. Vanilla Ice fared no better. “Play That Funky Music” was on the chart for four months and peaked at #4, but the song was overshadowed by the enormous success of “Ice Ice Baby”, so he too is often labeled a one-hit wonder.


This bothers me. The geek part of me cringes when Katrina and the Waves, for instance, is labeled a one-hit wonder. They actually had three Top 40 hits, “Walking on Sunshine”, “Do You Want Crying”, and “That’s the Way”. And my love for music makes me feel sad that radio stations (and as a result, listeners) have completely forgotten that “Real, Real, Real” was almost as huge a hit as “Right Here, Right Now” for Jesus Jones and was, in fact, a great song too.


So today I want to talk about so-called one-hit wonders who actually had more than one hit. There are literally hundreds of singers and groups who are remembered primarily for the one hit among many that lived on, from the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back” was just one of four Top 40 hits for the female pop trio) to Spandau Ballet (“True” peaked at #4, but “Gold” and “Only When You Leave” were also Top 40 hits in the US). I thought it would be interesting to talk about “one-hit wonders” who released successful songs I personally liked more than the hits they’re remembered for.


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Thursday, Oct 1, 2009
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

It’s pretty ballsy to call yourself the world’s greatest rock and roll band, but the Rolling Stones have got the talent, and the back catalog, to back such a boast up. They began their careers as eager teenagers with a love for American blues music and found themselves, upon tasting their first success, being compared to the Beatles because the Beatles had tasted success first. However, the Rolling Stones were more than just another British band to crash through in the Beatles’ wake. From 1968-1972, they were the world’s greatest rock and roll band. They were masters of the form who recorded what could quite possibly be the four best successive rock albums released by any band in the history of rock and roll, four discs that became blueprints for generations of aspiring rock bands to follow: Exile on Main St., Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed and the album that started the impressive run, Beggar’s Banquet



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