Halloween TV Havoc!: ALICE COOPER – THE NIGHTMARE (ABC-TV 1975)

This past August, I got to see Alice Cooper perform live in concert (on a triple bill with classic rockers Deep Purple and Edgar Winter!). The Coop’s Grand Giugnol antics, complete with a ten-foot Frankenstein, a murderous danse macabre with a ballerina, the famous guillotine routine, loads of pyro, and the incredible shredding of guitar goddess Nita Strauss, stole the show. Alice has always been the most theatrical of rockers, and the man’s still got it!

In 1975, Alice released his first solo LP without his longtime backing band, “Welcome to My Nightmare”, featuring Cooper classics like “Cold Ethyl”, “Black Widow”, “Only Women Bleed”, and the title track. A videotaped TV special was made to coincide with the album, and horror icon Vincent Price was brought in to play ‘The Curator of The Nightmare’ (Price did narration for ‘Black Widow’ on the record, predating Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). If you’ve got an hour to spare (and I know you do – it’s a three day weekend!), here’s you’re chance to watch Alice and Vinnie in this Emmy-winning Halloween spectacular:

 

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Follow That Dream: RIP Tom Petty

In an era of throbbing disco beats, ponderous prog rock, and angry loud punk,   Tom Petty’s rootsy, guitar-jangling sound was like a breath of fresh air blowing through the late 70’s radio airwaves. Petty was a Southern boy, but didn’t fit the ‘Southern Rock’ mode of the Allman Brothers or Marshall Tucker. Instead, he and his band The Heartbreakers were influenced by the stylings of The Beatles and The Byrds, crafting tight-knit pop tunes for the ages.

The Florida-born Petty was an artsy type of kid, an outsider in a world of machismo. He met his idol Elvis Presley when The King was making the 1961 film FOLLOW THAT DREAM on location, and three years later, when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, Tom knew what he wanted to do with his life. By age 17, he’d dropped out of high school, and three years later started Mudcrutch, a successful Gainesville group that included future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. Mudcrutch never broke through outside the Florida/Georgia line, and when they broke up Petty joined his mates in forming The Heartbreakers, who signed with Leon Russell’s Shelter Records and got lots of FM airplay with the single. “Breakdown”:

Their 1978 album “You’re Gonna Get It!’ went gold, but when Shelter was sold to conglomerate MCA, Petty refused to have his music released by them, beginning a long tradition of the musician standing up for his artistic rights. The band wound up on MCA’s new Backstreet label, and had their biggest success to date with 1979’s “Damn the Torpedoes”, featuring the hit “Refugee”:

1981’s “Hard Promises” contained Petty’s first #1 single “The Waiting”:

… and hit after hit followed: “You Got Lucky”, “Change of Heart”, and 1985’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, complete with a bizarre Alice in Wonderland-themed video that sparked some controversy and won an MTV Music Video Award:

Petty and the Heartbreakers’ tour with Bob Dylan led to him being invited to join The Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup composed of Petty, Dylan, Beatle George Harrison, rock legend Roy Orbison, and ELO’s Jeff Lynne. The kid from Gainesville had made good! A 1993 “Greatest Hits” compilation scored another hit record, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”:

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were now firmly ensconced as rock elite, but they never compromised their musical integrity, despite continued success and being one of the most popular touring bands. When Tom Petty passed away last night of a massive heart attack, news reports were at first premature. I learned the sad news this morning that Tom was indeed gone, but his music will remain with those of us who love pure rock and roll, and remember when those jangling guitars and that unique voice breathed new life into the artform. Rest in peace, Tom Petty.

One Hit Wonders #8: THEY’RE COMING TO TAKE ME AWAY HA-HAAA! by Napoleon XIV (Warner Bros Records, 1966)

Back when AM Radio ruled the airwaves, before the onset of polarization, you could hear everything from rock and pop, to soul and jazz, to country and folk all on your favorite local station. Frequently sandwiched in with the hits were novelty tunes, like “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” by Napoleon XIV, which reached #3 on the Billboard Top 100:

Napoleon XIV didn’t really exist. The record was the brainchild of one Jerry Samuels, a recording engineer who used a Variable-Frequency Oscillator to create the vocal effects and manipulated the tape speeds to get his desired results. Samuels didn’t exactly sing the ditty as much as use a poetic cadence, which makes him a pioneer of early rap music!

“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” plummeted down the charts as quickly as it rose. A controversy had ensued regarding the song making fun of the mentally ill, and the record wound up banned in many cities, disappearing as fast as it emerged. Samuels made several unsuccessful attempts to recapture his one-hit glory, but lightning never struck twice for him. The record remains a favorite among afficianodos of bizarre obscurities, and has been a staple of the Dr. Demento radio program over the decades.

One Hit Wonders #7: “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas (Glades Records 1972)

I had a completely different music post scheduled for today, but with all the strife and hatred going on right here in our country, I thought I’d share Timmy Thomas’ #1 global smash “Why Can’t We Live Together”, an impassioned plea for peace and unity that’s (sadly) as relevant today as it was 45 years ago. No further words from me are necessary, just watch the video:

Adios, Rhinestone Cowboy: RIP Glen Campbell

There aren’t many entertainers who can boast of 9 #1 hits, 12 Gold Records, 4 Platinum, 1 Double Platinum, 10 Grammys, a hit television show, and a co-starring role in a John Wayne movie! In fact, there’s only one. Glen Campbell, who died yesterday at age 81 of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease, was more than just an average country music singer. During the tumultuous late 60’s/early 70’s, when protests and riots were common occurences, Campbell’s country/folk/pop songs were a common denominator, enjoyed by hippie freaks and establishment tools alike. Face it, Glen Campbell was The Man!

Born in humble, sleepy little Billstown, Arkansas, Glen took up playing guitar at an early age. His uncle was a musician, and teenage Glen began his show-biz career picking on his radio show. The young man soon formed his own band and toured the South and Southwest extensively. The bright lights/big city of Los Angeles beckoned, and Campbell headed to LA, joining The Champs, who’d had the hit “Tequila” (his band mates at the time included future folk/rock duo Seals & Crofts).

Glen’s musical talent got noticed, and he became a highly sought-after session musician, playing with a collective called The Wrecking Crew. These were among the top musicians on the West Coast, including during Glen’s tenure Leon Russell, Hal Blaine, and Tommy Tedesco. They backed up hitmakers from Frank Sinatra (“Strangers in the Night”) to The Righteous Brothers (“You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”), The Crystals, The Ronettes, Sonny & Cher, The Mamas & The Papas, virtually every pop artist on the LA scene. The Wrecking Crew were the house band in the seminal 60’s concert film THE TAMI SHOW, backing up all those great acts. Glen also did work with The Beach Boys, playing on their hits “I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda”, and the album “Pet Sounds”. He filled in on tour for an ailing Brian Wilson, singing the falsetto parts and playing bass.

Around this time Campbell tried launching a solo career, with limited success. His record company was about to drop him when he suddenly found himself on top of the pop charts with the bluegrass-flavored “Gentle On My Mind”, written by his friend John Hartford:

After all those years paying dues, Glen Campbell was an overnight sensation. His smooth-as-honey voice dominated AM radio, and his Eddy Arnold-influenced country pop, combined with his clean-cut good looks and pleasant personality, made him a star at last. Among his biggest hits were his interpretations of songwriter Jimmy Webb’s tunes: “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Galveston”, and the haunting “Wichita Lineman”, as perfectly crafted a piece of pop music as there ever will be:

In 1968, Glen hosted a summer replacement variety series for folk duo The Smothers Brothers. It was another hit, and the following January he began a three and a half run on THE GLEN CAMPBELL GOODTIME HOUR. This CBS series brought families together to watch and enjoy some of the best music had to offer at the time. Hartford was a regular, as was a young country artist named Jerry Reed. Not just country stars (Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash & June Carter, Roy Clark, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans) appeared, but rock acts like The Monkees, Linda Ronstadt, Three Dog Night, and Stevie Wonder were featured (there was even a film clip from The Beatles doing “Get Back”!). The world of show biz was well represented by Lucille Ball, Tony Bennett, Walter Brennan, George Burns, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, and some guy named The Duke:

Campbell had made his big-screen acting debut in TRUE GRIT, Henry Hathaway’s 1968 Western that netted John Wayne his first (and only) Oscar. Glen played Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who along with one-eyed Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) and vengeful young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) hunt down killer Tom Cheney (Jeff Corey). Campbell wasn’t the greatest of thespians, but his natural charm was made for the Silver Screen. Unfortunately, his next picture was 1970’s NORWOOD, a plodding bomb that reunited him with Darby and another late 60’s/early 70’s icon, football’s Broadway Joe Namath. He was given a starring role as the Elvis-like rooster Chanticleer in 1991’s animated ROCK-A-DOODLE, which didn’t exactly light up the box office, but is a pretty decent kid’s movie (in my opinion, anyway).

Glen’s career, like many, skidded to a halt in the early 70’s. Times and tastes were changing, and his records weren’t automatically climbing the charts anymore. That is, not until 1975’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”:

The tune, an ode to surviving in the show-biz jungle, was yet another surprise smash, and Campbell was back on top. More hits followed: “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in LA)”, the theme to Clint Eastwood’s ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, and most of all the soft-rock classic “Southern Nights”:

After a bout with alcoholism and cocaine abuse, Campbell went on to continue touring and receiving accolades for his manybaccomplishments. In 2001, he bravely announced to the world he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but kept touring as long as he could. He released the plaintive 2014 song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, about his struggle:

The length of this post says a lot about Glen Campbell’s impact on me. There’s a lot of ground to cover in his 50 year career, and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface. Singer, actor, TV star, talk show guest, Campbell was first and foremost a musician, and I’ll bid Glen a fond adieu with his rendition of “The William Tell Overture”. Rest in peace, Glen Campbell. Wherever you are, I know there’s room for you in the band:

 

One Hit Wonders #6: ARE YOU A BOY OR ARE YOU A GIRL? by The Barbarians (Laurie Records 1966)

Garage rock bands sprouted up everywhere during the 60’s. Any teen who could master three chords on guitar or bang on a drum kit wanted to be a rock star, mainly because all the girls were ga-ga for teen idols. Cape Cod, MA was no different, and The Barbarians rose to #55 on the Billboard charts with their long haired anthem, “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?”:

The difference between The Barbarians and all those other would-be Beatles was their drummer, Moulty, who had a hook in place of his left hand. Victor “Moulty” Moulton lost his hand in a homemade pipe bomb explosion at age 14, but that didn’t stop him from joining the rock revolution. He had his hook modified to fit a drum stick, then he and the band grew their hair out longer than the popular Beatle-bowl cut. Their unique looks helped land The Barbarians a gig in THE TAMI SHOW, a filmed concert featuring top groups like The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, and the one-and-only James Brown:

Moulty recorded an autobiographical tune called (what else?) “Moulty” under The Barbarians’ name, only the rest of the band was back in Boston, while he was in New York City. Instead, he’s supposedly backed by members of Ronnie Hawkins’ group The Hawks, who were soon to go solo and rename themselves The Band:

“Moulty” was featured on the seminal 1972 garage rock anthology NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PPSYCHEDELIC ERA 1965-1968, complied by rock writer and future Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye. NUGGETS contains tracks by artists like The Electric Prunes, The Standells, The Shadows of Knight, The Seeds, The 13th Floor Elevators, and The Blues Magoos, among others, and is highly recommended. The CD is still available on Rhino Records; get your copy today!

Since this weekend around these parts we’re celebrating The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament (better known as The Portuguese Feast!), I’ll end this post with The Barbarians’ instrumental tribute to my favorite Portuguese sausage, “Linguica”! Til next time, peace out and rock on!

One Hit Wonders #5: DOA by Bloodrock (Capitol Records 1971)

Talk about shock rock! Proto-metal rockers Bloodrock reached #36 on the charts in 1971 with DOA, a morbid little ditty about a plane crash, told from the victim’s point of view:

Bloodrock began playing local Ft. Worth, Texas venues in 1965 as The Naturals, quickly changing their name to Crowd +1. A string of unsuccessful singles followed, until they were discovered by Detroit rock impresario Terry Knight, a former DJ who once fronted his own band, Terry Knight & The Pack:

Knight changed their name to Bloodrock, taking over management and producing duties for the band. He also at the time handled the immensely popular (yet critically reviled) hard rock group Grand Funk Railroad:

After an acrimonious split with the two groups, and failing at starting his own label (Brown Bag Records), Knight vanished from the music scene. He hung out with stars, raced autos, but mostly did tons of cocaine. After getting clean in the 80’s, Terry Knight settled down to a life in advertising sales, until he was stabbed to death in 2004 by his daughter’s meth freak boyfriend. Which is a pretty gruesome way to go itself.

As for Bloodrock, they hung around the lower end of the album charts, continued touring, and finally disbanded in 1975. The song “DOA” is their only claim to fame, a heavy metal hit barely remembered except by those who have a taste for the ghastly. Like me! And perhaps, you too.

Terry Knight (1943-2004)