Friday, December 31, 2010

A Thrill Ride That Crashes

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Wall of Death
ARTIST: Richard and Linda Thompson
SONGWRITER: Richard Thompson
ALBUM: Shoot Out the LIghts
YEAR/LABEL: 1982: Hannibal

I think that I became a singer through circumstance rather than choice.
(Richard Thompson)

Somehow, in ways that most of us will hopefully never know, misery produces great art.  John Prine (also on this list) turned out a masterpiece of an album in Bruised Orange while going through a divorce.  Steve Miller's divorce in 1971 saw him churn out one of his best albums (the very underrated Recall the Beginning...A Journey From Eden).  Warren Zevon created a gem in The Wind, even as mesothelioma so ravaged him that he could barely breathe well enough to record the final songs.  And Steve Goodman taught everyone how to live, even as he knew he was dying from leukemia, with his final two albums Affordable Art and Santa Ana Winds.

As their marriage crumbled Richard and Linda Thompson recorded their final album as husband and wife in late 1981.  Shoot Out the Lights was released in 1982 to thunderous critical applause and the sound of two hearts breaking:  the people who made the album.  The songs on the album are hardly happy, even though most of them were written before the couple's marital problems began.  Still, with the timing of the release of the album coinciding with the destruction of the marriage between the Thompsons, one cannot help but read the impending doom into the lyrics (much the way many [including me] see Jackson Browne's The Pretender as a thematic album dealing with his wife's suicide shortly before the album was finished).

The star of the album is Thompson's "Wall of Death," the final song on the album.  The song takes the listener to an amusement park and bypasses all the other rides for the ride known as the wall of death:  a ride where a motorcyclist rides a circle perpendicular to the ground, occasionally as the floor beneath him disappears, relying solely on his speed to keep his tires on the wall.  

The song is loaded with carnival imagery ("beware of the bearded lady") and activities ("and maybe you're strong but what's the use of ringing a bell").  The highlight for Thompson is the title ride.  "You can waste your time on the other rides," the Thompsons sing, "but this is the nearest to being alive."  The line about the death-defying ride recalls the line in "The Hanging Tree" by Marty Robbins, "To really live you must almost die."

Still, one cannot overlook the references to other rides that give the appearance, in light of the couple's split, that it is more than just a fair attraction.  "You're going nowhere when you ride on a carousel," Thompson declares, and he dismisses the symbol of devotion, the tunnel of love, as something that "might amuse you."

After the couple divorced they both enjoyed successful solo careers.  Linda eventually won a Grammy for writing "Telling Me Lies," which was awarded the "Country Song of the Year" trophy in 1989 after Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris released it on their Trio album.  Richard has set the world on fire with his astonishing guitar work and numerous solo albums.


The entire Shoot Out the Lights album (Richard & Linda Thompson) -- it is no accident that this album consistently shows up on "best albums ever" lists.
"I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight"(Richard & Linda Thompson, from I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight) -- a hit in England, Richard once did this live and referred to it as "a medley of our greatest hit."  It's a marvelous song and should have been one of many.
The entire Rumor and Sigh album -- one of Richard's best from any phase of his career, featuring the oft-covered "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," the joyous tribute to old music "Don't Sit on My Jimmy Shands," the sexual adolescent joke "Read About Love" ("I read it in a magazine, Cosmo and Seventeen"), and the dynamite "Feel So Good."
"She Twists the Knife Again" (from Across a Crowded Room) -- if "Telling Me Lies" was Linda's post-divorce "love letter" to Richard, this rocker with bitter lyrics ("I keep my nose clean, I keep my promises...she twists the knife again") is Richard's reply.
"Woman or a Man?" (from Small Town Romance) -- an absolutely hilarious song about a date that turns into a robbery that leaves the singer puzzling about the blonde wig left behind.

Winter's Come and Gone
Where Do I Go to Throw a Picture Away
When My Rowboat Comes In
When I Lift Up My Head
Rose of My Heart
Rock of Ages, Hide Thou Me
Our Town
Old Memories Mean Nothing to Me
Not That I Care
Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
My Book of Memories
Lost to a Stranger

A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Train Leaves Here This Morning
Swallowed By the Cracks
Stealin' Time
Starting Tomorrow
Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
She's a Runaway
Painted Bells
Out to Sea
One More Song
New Delhi Freight Train

Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

The Last Stanzas in 2010

Category:  News

Here is the chronological list of those from the world of music who performed their final song in 2010: 

Jim Hutton (January 1, age 60, pneumonia/AIDS):  Queen lead singer Freddy Mercury's one-time companion.

Teddy Pendergrass (January 13, age 59, respiratory failure/colon cancer):  a simply exceptional soul singer who went from Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes to a successful solo career.

Chilton Price Searcy (January 14, age 96, natural causes):  a songwriter who wrote the country classic "Slow Poke" for Pee Wee King and the pop classic "You Belong to Me."

Carl Smith (January 16, age 82, complications of stroke):  Country Music Hall of Fame singer who amazed the world for over 20 years...then retired on his own terms.  He was also the first husband of June Carter and the father of country singer Carlene Carter.

Kate McGarrigle (January 18, age 63, cancer):  the former wife of Loudon Wainwright III and folk singer/songwriter who saw her song "Heart Like a Wheel" become the title track of a Linda Ronstadt album.

Pauly Feumana (January 31, age 40, illness):  the lead singer of the band OMC, who had the hit "How Bizarre."

George Clinton Jr. (February 1, age 40, liver disease):  P-Funk leader George Clinton's son.

Sir John Dankworth (February 6, age 82, long illness):  Cleo Laine's husband was a well-known jazz performer in England, and throughout the TV world for creating the theme to the TV series The Avengers.

Richard Delvy (February 6, age 67, long illness):  a surf rock pioneer who owned the copyrights of the hits "Chick-A-Boom" and "Wipeout."

Dale Hawkins (February 13, age 73, colon cancer):  the father of swamp rock and an early rockabilly pioneer who wrote "Suzie Q."

Doug Fieger (February 14, age 57, brain cancer):  the lead singer of the Knack, the one-hit wonder band with one of the best one hits of all time, "My Sharona."

Michael Blosil (February 26, age 18, suicide [jumped]):  the son of Marie Osmond.

Tom "T-Bone" Wolk (February 27, age 58, heart attack):  the bassist for Hall and Oates during their glory years later joined the staff band on Saturday Night Live.

Lolly Vegas (March 4, age 70, lung cancer):  the lead singer of the band Redbone, best known for the hit "Come and Get Your Love."

Mark Linkous (March 6, age 47, suicide [gunshot]):  a singer/songwriter who worked with Tom Waits and went on to form the alternative band Sparklehorse.

Rockie Charles (Alfred Charles Merrick) (March 12, age 67, cancer):  the "President of Soul"  was an R&B guitarist and singer who backed the likes of Otis Redding and Percy Sledge.

Lesley Duncan (March 12, age 66, cardiovascular disease):  a folk singer/songwriter who wrote the great "Love Song" (and sang harmony) on Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection album.  She also appeared with John to sing the song on the 1976 live album Here and There.

Cherie DeCastro (March 14, age 87, pneumonia):  the last surviving member of the DeCastro Sisters, the vocal group who had the 1950s hit "Teach Me Tonight."

Ron Lundy (March 15, age 75, heart attack):  longtime WABC-AM disc jockey in New York was once hailed as the most listened-to DJ in America.

Herb Cohen (March 16, age 77, unknown cause):  the manager of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and new Rock Hall of Famer Tom Waits.

Alex Chilton (March 17, age 59, heart attack):  the young and powerful voice behind the hits of the Box Tops went on to found the legendary underground band Big Star before embarking on a solo career.

Ian Knight (March 20, age 69, cancer):  former stage manager for acts such as Led Zeppelin, Genesis, and the Rolling Stones.

Jim Marshall (March 23, age 74, unknown cause):  a rock photographer for five decades whose work is in the book Not Fade Away.

Johnny Maestro (March 24, age 70, cancer):  the lead singer for the Crests, best known for "Sixteen Candles."

Herb Ellis (March 28, age 88, Alzheimer's):  legendary jazz guitarist who played with the Oscar Peterson Trio and with Tal Fallow and Charlie Byrd in the Great Guitars.

Matt Wariner (April 16, age 28, car wreck):  the nephew of country singer/songwriter Steve Wariner was a budding performer in his hometown of Noblesville, Indiana.

Susan Reed (April 25, age 84, natural causes):  folk performer who was hailed as "the leading lady of folk music" in Life magazine.

Kenneth "Butch" White (April 29, age 71, blood clot in lung):  a songwriter who wrote the doo-wop classic "Teardrops."

Will Owsley (April 30, age 44, suicide):  Nashville-based singer/songwriter who, before releasing his own albums, toured with Amy Grant.

Rob McConnell (May 1, age 75, cancer):  a jazz trombonist who founded the Boss Brass.

Ernie Harwell (May 6, age 92, cancer):  the legendary voice of Detroit Tigers radio broadcasts was also a songwriter, penning over 70 songs beginning with 1967's "Upside Down."

Lena Horne (May 9, age 92, natural causes): her voice and the song "Stormy Weather" were made for each other.

Rosa Rio (May 13, age 107, natural causes):  her career as an organist spanned from silent films to TV soap operas.

Dave Fisher (May 14, age 69, bone marrow disease):  a member of the folk group the Highwaymen, who did "Michael" during the folk revival.

Ronnie James Dio (May 16, age 67, stomach cancer):  the heavy metal icon replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the lead vocalist of Black Sabbath, then went on to success with his own band, Dio.

Paul Gray (May 24, age 38, accidental morphine overdose):  the bass player for the band Slipknot.

Judy Lynn (May 26, age 74, congestive heart failure):  country singer who had a hit in the 60s with "Footsteps of a Fool" and gave up her career for a life in the ministry.

Thomas "Slim" Bryant (May 27, age 101, illness):  a country music disc jockey and longtime musician, he was the last surviving person to have played on a session with "father of country music" Jimmie Rodgers.

Ali-Ollie Woodson (May 30, age 58, leukemia):  a member of the R&B vocal group the Temptations.

Benjamin Lees (May 31, age 86, heart failure):  contemporary classical composer.

Steve New (a/k/a Stella Nova) (June 1, age 50, cancer):  member of the punk band the Rich Kids and briefly a touring member of the Sex Pistols.

Tony Peluso (June 5, age 60, heart disease):  guitarist for the Carpenters.

Marvin Isley (June 6, age 56, diabetes):  the bassist in the band with his brothers, the Isley Brothers.

Dana Key (June 6, age 56, ruptured blood clot):  co-founder of the gospel duo DeGarmo & Key.

Crispian St. Peters (June 8, age 71, illness):  the singer of the 60s hit "Pied Piper."

Jimmy Dean (June 13, age 81, natural causes):  pioneering country music television host, singer of "Big Bad John," and businessman in the world of sausage.

Ken Brown (body discovered June 14, age 70, emphysema):  the founder of a Liverpool band known as the Quarrymen, he found three guys named John, Paul, and George to join the band.  The rest is truly history.

Gary Shider (June 16, age 56, brain and lung cancers):  guitarist for the funk supergroup Parliament-Funkadelic.

Larry Jon Wilson (June 21, age 69, stroke):  acclaimed singer/songwriter who released far too few albums for his fans.

Pete Quaife (June 23, age 66, kidney failure):  the original bassist for the legendary rock band the Kinks.

Tommy Hoehn (June 24, age 55, cancer):  Memphis session musician who worked with Alex Chilton.

Jo Jo Billingsley (real name: Deborah Jo White) (June 24, age 58, cancer):  a background singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, she quit right before the start of the fatal Street Survivors tour in the fall of 1977.

Benny Powell (June 26, age 80, complications of back surgery):  a trombonist in the legendary Count Basie Orchestra.

Bill Aucoin (June 28, age 66, prostate cancer):  the man who discovered and managed the band Kiss.

Daniel Cho (July 6, age unknown, drowned):  cello player for Regina Spektor.

Harvey Fuqua (July 6, age 80, heart attack):  R&B legend with many hats:  member of the Moonglows, songwriter, producer of Marvin Gaye's final album Midnight Love, and owner of Harvey Records.

Bill Porter (July 7, age 79, Alzheimer's):  the man Chet Atkins credited with being responsible for "the Nashville sound," he was the engineer for RCA on recordings ranging from Elvis to Jim Reeves.

Walter Hawkins (July 11, age 61, pancreatic cancer):  gospel singer who, with brother Edwin, wrote the gospel classic "Oh Happy Day."

Tuli Kupferberg (July 12, age 86, stroke):  the founder of the 60s underground garage band the Fugs.

Hank Cochran (July 15, age 74, pancreatic cancer):  a songwriter's songwriter who gave country music six decades' worth of classics from "I Fall to Pieces" to "The Chair," and even had his own hit with "Sally Was a Good Ol' Girl."

Fred Carter Jr. (July 17, age 76, stroke):  the father of country singer Deana Carter was a well-known Nashville session musician for years.

Andy Hummel (July 19, age 59, cancer):  the bassist and co-founder of Big Star was the second member of the band to die in 2010, following Alex Chilton.

Robert Tharpe (July 20, age 72, colon cancer):  a member of the act Tom & Jerrio, who had a novelty hit in 1965 with "Boo-Ga-Loo."

Margaret Ann Rich (July 22, age 76, Alzheimer's):  the widow of Charlie Rich wrote several of his songs, including "Field of Yellow Daisies" and "Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs."

Grady "Tiny" Harris (July 23, age 81, blood clot):  the leader of the Tiny Harris Band that backed country acts Freddie Hart and Tammy Wynette.

Al Goodman (July 26, age 67, heart failure):  a member of R&B bands the Moments and Ray, Goodman & Brown.

John L. "Johnny" Carson (July 27, age 77, heart failure):  the grandson of early country pioneer Fiddlin' John Carson was instrumental in the foundation of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Ben Keith (July 27, age 73, heart attack):  a pedal steel guitarist who played for Patsy Cline ("I Fall to Pieces") and Neil Young.

John Aylesworth (July 28, age 80, pneumonia):  the creator of the legendary country corn TV series Hee Haw.

Mitch Miller (July 31, age 99, illness):  the king of the "sing-along" pop records.

Mitch Jayne (August 2, age 80, cancer):  Mayberry's Darlings were really the Dillards, and Jayne was their bassist.

Phelps "Catfish" Collins (August 6, age 66, cancer):  guitarist in Parliament-Funkadelic who played with his brother Bootsy.

Jack Parnell (August 9, age 87, cancer):  the musical director on TV's The Muppet Show.

Richie Hayward (August 12, age 64, liver disease):  the drummer and co-founder of the legendary Little Feat.

Michael Been (August 19, age 60, heart attack):  part-time actor (played in The Last Temptation of Christ) and full-time singer, songwriter and bassist who fronted the rock band The Call.

Kenny Edwards (August 19, age 64, prostate cancer):  the co-founder of the Stone Poneys who went on to spend decades performing with the Stone Poneys' lead singer, Linda Ronstadt.

Bill Phillips (August 23, age 74, diabetes):  country songwriter and singer best known for "Put It Off Until Tomorrow," the song that introduced Dolly Parton to the world.

George Weiss (August 23, age 89, natural causes):  a prolific songwriter who penned "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Mike Edwards (September 3, age 62, car accident):  a founding member of the Electric Light Orchestra.

Rich Cronin (September 8, age 36, leukemia):  the lead singer for the boy band LFO, who had the hit "Summer Girls."

King Coleman (September 11, age 78, heart failure):  vocalist on the hit "(Do The) Mashed Potato" and worked with James Brown.

Leonard Skinner (September 20, age 77, Alzheimer's):  the Jacksonville high school gym teacher who kicked teenager Ronnie Van Zant out of class for having long hair.  Van Zant responded by naming his band after the teacher.

Eddie Fisher (September 22, age 82, complications of hip surgery):  pop singer and actor, best known for the sorrowful hit "Oh! Mein Papa."

Reggie Leon Battise (a/k/a Reggie Leon) (October 8, age 55, prostate cancer):  played bass in Sha Na Na then in the 80s band the Bus Boys.

Solomon Burke (October 10, age 70, natural causes):  "King Solomon" was a masterful R&B singer and performer who gave the world the classic "Everybody Needs Somebody" (later covered by the Blues Brothers in their 1980 movie).

Ari Up (real name: Arianna Foster) (October 20, age 48, reportedly cancer):  The step-daughter of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) was also a member of the all-girl punk band the Slits.

Linda Hargrove (October 24, age 61, complications of bone marrow transplant/leukemia):  country songwriter of such hits as "Just Get Up and Close the Door" and "Tennessee Whiskey."

Jim Clench (November 2, age 61, lung cancer):  bassist of 70s bands April Wine and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Jerry Bock (November 3, age 81, heart failure):  the composer of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Ronny Scaife (November 3, age 63, brain hemorrhage):  songwriter of country songs including Travis Tritt's "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."

Don Meredith (December 5, age 72, brain hemorrhage):  the Monday Night Football color commentator who concluded games by singing Willie Nelson's "The Party's Over."

Bobby Woods (December 8, age 59, heart attack):  the bassist in the original line-up of the 80s band the Hooters (of "All You Zombies" fame).

James Moody (December 9, age 85, pancreatic cancer):  jazz saxophonist whose legendary recording "Moody's Mood for Love" is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

George Pickow (December 10, age 88, respiratory failure):  longtime music photographer who shot the album covers for the likes of Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne and husband of folk singer Jean Ritchie.

Nick "The Stick" Hunter (December 16, age 67, cancer):  founder of the Audium record label and concert promoter of country acts Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson, and Dwight Yoakam.

Don Van Vilet (Captain Beefhart) (December 17, age 69, multiple sclerosis):  former cohort of Frank Zappa's who went on to become for many the definition of avant garde rock and roll.

Jack Tracy (December 21, age 83, unknown causes):  editor of DownBeat magazine and a jazz record producer.

Dorothy Jones (December 25, age 76, Alzheimer's):  a member of the Cookies of "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby" fame and served as a back-up vocalist on songs such as Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up is Hard to Do."

Teena Marie (December 26, age 54, possibly related to grand mal seizures):  R&B singer/songwriter and one-time protege of Rick James best known for the song "Lovergirl."

Myrna Smith (December 26, age 69, kidney failure):  a member of the Sweet Inspirations, a vocal group that backed acts ranging from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Van Morrison.

Bernie Wilson (December 26, age 64, stroke and heart attack):  the baritone singer for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

Agathe von Trapp (December 28, age 97, congestive heart failure):  a member of the von Trapp family who inspired The Sound of Music.

Bobby Farrell (December 30, age 61, heart failure):  the leader of the 70s disco group Boney M.

Farewell, and thanks for the music.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thank the Lord for the Nighttime!

Category:  News

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have been announced.  Neil Diamond is among the new inductees for the March 2011 ceremonies.

As predicted, Tom Waits is among the new inductees.  The other acts who are now officially Hall of Famers:  Alice Cooper, Darlene Love, and Dr. John.

Thankfully, no disco acts were inducted this year.  Hopefully next year they will not be on the ballot, and actual rock acts like Steve Miller and Linda Ronstadt will be.

Congratulations to the five new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members!

2011 Rock Hall of Fame