Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Louisville Marathon, October 2007

Louisville Marathon, October 2007

I had a blast running with Celeste, Lindsey, Cat, Dan, and Bob in Louisville.  I hope we can do another trip like this sometime.  I'll see you all at Boyd Lake, for sure.  Lindsey and I actually ran together for the majority of the race, which was great, and it was fun seeing everyone else on the out and back course.  It was a good course, very flat, and mostly through parks and on bike paths.  Mostly asphalt, with some concrete.  The weather was on the warm side but not unbearable, not Chicago.

I got to show off my jumping skillz at the dock at mile 8.  They had these boat tie downs for the "Belle of Louisville" tourist boat, and I was weaving around them, just for fun.  The last one was sort of blocked off by the corner of these concrete steps, so I jumped the lowest step in a completely over-the-top "Austin Powers" intro way. I'm totally going to run my next marathon in a blue crushed velvet suit, frilly lace cravat, "male" symbol gold medallion, and Italian leather loafers (Bongiorno, boys!)  Well that got the, uh, crowd going...

Just picture Austin jumping over the tie down and step:

But I digress; of course it's easy to feel good at mile 8.  It's not so easy to feel good at mile 19.  I got tired, and my 7:50 pace degenerated into an 8:20.  nooooooooo!  I brought 2 gu gels with me, I probably should have brought 4.  The weather started getting hot, and, oh yeah, I didn't train very hard this fall.  And I had some depressing Genesis song stuck in my head.  Sad bastard music is not conducive to running fast, Celeste will tell you (Aqualung!  noooooooo) I was trying to break 3:30 (again), and was at about 3:21 at mile 25 (So you're saying there's a chance!).  All I needed to do was average about a 7:30 over the final 1.2 miles; I just - couldn't - do it!  But Lindsey could; I was impressed with her ability to pour it on at the end.  L_ and I were running together until about mile 16.  Then she got ahead of me; she was probably 2 minutes ahead of me at mile 19. Then I slowly started to catch up to her again; at mile 23 I'd bridged the gap to about 30 seconds.  But then at mile 25 she poured it on and cruised on in for the sub-3:30.  It was all due to my expert pacing for the first 16...  Nah, all the glory to Lindsey, well done! The way the finish is arranged you run up a slight incline and pull a U-turn, and run back down to the actual finish, so you pass by the finish at about mile mark 26.  I heard the announcer call out 3:29 on the other side when I crossed the 26 mile mark, and then I knew I was toast -- even in my math-impaired state I knew I couldn't cover 0.2 in one minute.  I rounded the corner and thought, well, my PR is 3:30- somehting (couldn't remember exactly; 3:30:32 it turns out), I could still hit that!  I gave the finish a sprint of some sort ("finish strong", right?), and the clock was pushing 3:30:55.  Not good!  The race was chip timed so there would be some bonus from my start delay, but likely not 20 seconds' worth (there was about 6 seconds delay as it turns out).  But hey at least I finished and was still standing! But still; you run for that long, and miss a PR by thismuch; you know you let a good chance slip away and it's a little frustrating. I got my medal, got some water, and lay down in the grass.  They had a cover band at the finish line, a bad band playing bad songs badly.  I was hoping for a cover of "The Final Countdown", the ultimate bad song.  No dice; I got the Eagles.  While lying down I poured a bottle of water on my face, which went right up my nose -- always unpleasant.  Then I took off my shoes and socks to admire the blood blister on the front of my big toe.  Then I got up and decided that things weren't so bad.  The disappointment of not making your time washes off pretty quickly, like salt from your skin.  I'll take away a lot of fun, exiting, and passionate memories from this race.  Maybe next time I'll break 3:30.  Maybe I'll never break 3:30.  But I will certainly have a good time trying.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), (1971)

Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), 1971

From What’s Going On

Apparently this song was covered on Earth Day 2007, understandably so, as there is a strong environmental theme to the lyric content. I missed that bit though; all I can remember is poor Roger Hodgson! Marvin Gaye was not the first artist to write a pop song about the environment but he had to be one of the first Motown artists to do so. It’s a good song, but I think it is too similar to “What’s Going On”, also on the same album. I have to imagine that Marvin Gaye probably wrote the song in the spirit of Earth Day 1970, and the environmental movement, which were gaining momentum around that time. The lyrical content and delivery are bleak and weary, also a radical departure from the typical Motown style. This song sounds acceptable now, but there was no way of knowing if it would be accepted back then. This song along with the song and album “What’s Going On” literally changed Motown. It is often cited that Gaye’s artistic and individualistic triumphs helped give Stevie Wonder the courage to demand creative control, leading to his unapproachable string of mid-70s classic albums. So this is an important song, as well as a good song, but an imperfect song, because it is still too much like “What’s Going On”

Piano, rhythm guitar, drums, bass and triangle open the song. The rhythm of the song is quite clever. The drum beat is a slow 4/4, which leaves room for a fairly active bass drum beat. The guitar actually carries a loose sixteenth beat and most of the funkiness comes from the accentuated off-beat guitar chords. The piano mostly lays down the chord changes on the one beat. The bass guitar is the star in this song. Since the guitar is keeping time the bass is fairly free to walk up and down the scales and provide a lot of color to the song.

There is a string arrangement that enters the song near the second chorus, and a fairly brassy sax solo closes out the single version of the song. The album version of the song contains a wholly new section complete with dissonant ethereal vocalizations and more prominent string orchestra. It is an altogether unhappy end to the song, and I can understand why it was left off the #4 single.

Marvin sings with a two-part harmony for the first verse, but does not return to that. For the rest of the song he sings the main melody alone, and had backing vocals singing a sort of counterpoint or commentary of the main melody. Counterpoint is probably too formal of a term. The backing vocals have a loose spontaneous jazzy feel that is very indicative of the whole album. Also “The Andantes” are featured with their wordless vocals, particularly at the end of the song.

The strangest sound for me is a very odd percussion effect doubling the snare drum. It sounds almost like water dropping from a great height in the middle of a dark cave, or the sound of a horse walking slowly down a cobblestone road. I love it.


Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Where did all the blue sky go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north, east, south, and sea

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Radiation in the ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can you stand?
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Drifters, Up on the Roof (1962)

The Drifters, Up on the Roof, 1962

Drifters star Pinkney dies at 81

“Bill Pinkney, the last surviving member of the original 1953 Drifters line-up, has died at the age of 81. The rhythm and blues singer was found dead at his hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, a police spokesman said. … Seven members of The Drifters, including Pinkney, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.”

This news item got me thinking about “Up on the Roof”, a sweet old R&B song by the Drifters. Of course Bill Pinkney wasn’t in The Drifters when this song was released, but this is the song I though of when I head of Mr. Pinkney’s passing, so it’s my review for today.

Up on the roof is just a perfect little R&B single. What makes it somewhat unique is that is has a ballad feel, but the lyrics are not about love, or a woman, but about just getting away from it all and taking some time off from this crazy ol world. The song owes a lot to Sam Cooke, both in vocal delivery and production. Cupid and Chain Gang come to mind, both of which were released in the previous two years. The first two note of the song sound like they could go right into Cupid! But there are differences; the lyrical content for starters, and the string break I suppose.

This song has been covered many times by many artists. It's likely that the version you're familiar with isn't by the Drifters. I believe they were the first to record the song, and it do go to #5 on the pop charts and #4 on the R&B charts in the USA. According to the wikipedia a version in the 1990s hit #1 in England. I must admit my first exposure to the song was via an a capella band called The Nylons, who had an album that was popular with my friends in high school. Yes I was a total choir geek. The Drifters first performed the song, but they did not write it. Back then it was still not common to write and perform your own material (The Beatles and Dylan changed all that!). Interestingly enough, "Up on the Roof" was co-written by Carole King, of later performing fame. This is a classic "Brill Building" song, a great example of that craft. The song certainly captures a musical time, sort of the very end of this style of pop music before the Beatles and Rolling Stones and Dylan came over and started shaking things up.

The production is part 50s schmaltz, part 60s R&B, with crooning backing vocals and stand up bass meshed with a slow shuffle on the guitars and drums. There’s a fairly brassy trumpet providing accents, and the strings provide a wonderful counterpoint. It’s topped off with marimba and some xylophone percussion.

Listen when Rudy Lewis sings (“On the roof, it's peaceful as can be”) in descending lines, while the string melody climbs in ascending tones through the same passage. Then Rudy pulls up for the last line of the bridge (“And there the world below can't bother me”). That part is easily my favorite passage of the song.

I also like the lower register backing vocals, and call and response style at the end of the song.


When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be
And there the world below can't bother me
Let me tell you now

When I come home feelin' tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let's go up on the roof (up on the roof)

At night the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me

I keep a-tellin' you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I've found a paradise that's trouble proof (up on the roof)
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two
Up on the roof (up on the roof)
Up on the roo-oo-oof (up on the roof)
Oh, come on, baby (up on the roof)
Oh, come on, honey (up on the roof)

Everything is all right (up on the roof)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark (1984)

Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark (1984)

From Born in the USA, 1984

It’s the 4th of July so what better artist to review than Bruce Springsteen? I really should review “Born in the USA” itself, but I don’t feel like reviewing that song so I’m reviewing “Dancing in the Dark”. When this album and this song came out I must admit I was not a fan of Bruce Springsteen. For one, he was too popular and huge, and people like my parents liked him. Two, I couldn’t identify with the lyrics at the time, and if you don’t like his message, you’re not going to like Bruce. This album was titanic in the 1980s. In the USA there were 7 top 10 singles from this #1 album, and “Dancing in the Dark” was the highest charter, topping out at #2. It’s odd that a #1 album with so many singles didn’t produce a single #1 single.

I remember 3 or 4 years after this album came out having a conversation with my friend, who didn’t even like Springsteen, hearing him say that “nothing good has come out since ‘Born in the USA’”. (He denies ever saying this). At the time my other friend and I scoffed at the notion of course, and proceeded to make a mix take full of great songs that came out in the 3 or 4 years since “Born in the USA”. The irony is that it is likely that in retrospect, few if any of the songs on that now-lost mix tape were as good as most of the songs on “Born in the USA”.

But I digress; 20+ years down the road, I’ve learned to appreciate what Springsteen brings to the table. Overall “Dancing in the Dark” is a frustrating song for me. It is a potentially great song seriously hindered by some horrible 1980s production. It is the sort of song that plays better in my head than it does on the stereo. I’m willing to bet that it is a killer live song. Strip away the 80s junk and I believe you are left with a classic.

I particularly enjoy the lyrics to “Dancing in the Dark”. The lyric is told from the perspective of a man who works nights in a dead-end job, wants to write a book, and is generally uninspired with either. He’s looking for a spark to get him motivated with life, and is hipping to find it (likely) at a bar, dancing in the dark. At first blush it’s a downtrodden lyric, but on deeper analysis not hopeless. There’s a nice balance and depth there. It really is a great vocal. Bruce sings it with passion and applies a nice flowing melody to it. Also I do think it has a good tempo.

And the vocals have to be good because there is so much about the production of this song that is awful! In general the song succumbs to mid-80s production pitfalls. The drums are the biggest problem. Any subtleties in Max Weinberg’s drumming are processed out completely. They may as well have used a machine. The snare in particular is awful; a heavy gated reverb is applied to it, a hallmark of 80s drum production. That gated sound can be used to good effect but I don’t like it here. The production nearly completely reduces Max’s contributions to bass and snare, although you can hear some hi-hat in the quieter parts of the song. The bass guitar is pretty anonymous, pretty much hitting eighth-notes and riding the roots of the chords. This part of the band is criminally underused on this song.

Also there is too much synthesizer keyboard sound applied to the song. Probably the most enduring sound of the song is a cheesy sounding synth repeating the chorus melody over and over and over nearly ad nausea through the entire song. And for some reason they thought it would be a good idea to add even more synth “texture” on top of the song. Obviously I don’t think that was a good idea.

Not all is lost musically. Although his contribution is limited to the close-out of the song, I really enjoy the sax solo by Clarence Clemons. Also Steven Van Zandt’s guitar has a nice, breezy, almost Roger McGuinn sound to it, and I think he plays very well on this track.

The song busts out of the gate and just barrels along, alternating between verse and chorus with the slightest gap between them. The verses consist of two repeated melody lines, on which the second one Bruce usually gets a little agitated (“Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!”). This is followed by a single line with a slightly elevated melody (“I ain’t nothing but tired, man I’m just tired and bored with myself“), and then back to the original melody, with one change; the bass line drops to a lower note. It’s actually a nice effect. This leads directly into the chorus, which introduces a new melody in the first line (“You can’t start a fire, you can’t start a fire without a spark”) and then settles back into the original melody for the “title” line of the chorus. It’s a nice flowing melody line that sounds very natural.

The payoff of the song for me is a single bridge after the second chorus, where the song shifts briefly into another set of chord changes and Bruce introduces another, more hopeful set of lyrics (“You sit around getting older there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me / I’ll shake this world of my shoulders, come on baby the laugh’s on me”). Then the song settles back into the familiar refrain for the final verse/chorus, and on to the finish line.

You can’t mention this song without mentioning the video:

Dancing in the Dark Video

This was 1984 and music videos were a big deal back then. I think everyone who is of my generation remembers this video, particularly in retrospect for Courtney Cox dancing on stage with Bruce at the end. I always thought the video was pretty cornball back then, and watching it now I still think that. One thing that annoyed me greatly back then was how cheerful he looked singing the song; I think I always interpreted the lyric as more desperate and wanted Bruce to sing it with more earnestness. I do concede that there is this element of the pick up line in the song (“I need a love reaction come on now baby give me just one look“), and playing up that angle would result in a more animated, bouncy performance. And, hell, the title is “Dancing in the Dark”, so I concede that some dancing around is warranted during the performance.


I get up in the evening, and I ain’t got nothing to say
I come home in the morning, I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain’t nothing but tired, man I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help

You can’t start a fire, you can’t start a fire without a spark
This guns for hire even if were just dancing in the dark

Message keeps getting clearer, radios on and I’m moving round the place
I check myself out in the mirror I wanna change my clothes my hair my face
Man I ain’t getting nowhere just sitting in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere baby I just know that there is

You can’t start a fire...

You sit around getting older there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me
Ill shake this world off my shoulders come baby the laugh’s on me

Stay on the streets of this town and they’ll be carving you up alright
They say you got to stay hungry hey baby I’m just about starving tonight
I’m dying for some action I’m sick of sitting round here trying to write
This book
I need a love reaction come on now baby give me just one look

You cant start a fire…

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Clash, This is Radio Clash, (1981)

The Clash, This is Radio Clash (1984)

The Clash, This is Radio Clash, 1981

"This is Radio Clash" is a Single released by The Clash in 1981. I think it is a great single, mixing ska/dance hall, disco, proto-rap, while maintaining a punk attitude. It was never released on any Clash LP, but I expect most Clash collections contain the song. I first remember enjoying the song freshman year in college. My friend Dave had purchased “Story of the Clash, Vol. 1” (on 2 discs), and we listened to those discs a lot that year in college. I suppose there never was a volume 2, as the band had already broken up by the time this compilation came out. I was always struck by how un-“punk” the song was, belying their reputation as a punk rock band.

The intro is very 80s British ska. A minor horn motif opens the song, doubled by the bass. It sounds like a classic vaudeville “bad guy” melody. The drums accentuate the rhythm with the bass drum and choked crash cymbals. Wild-eyed maniacal laughter and a sharp snare drum fill conclude the intro, while the melody descends quietly. This is altogether an excellent intro to the song. Sinister, edgy, and yet somehow fun.

The bass line continues with the basics of the intro melody, and the drums settle into a relatively straight up stomp. The snare sound is accentuated by a very artificial sounding clap on the 2 and 4 beats. The hand claps are numbingly consistent through the entire song, reinforcing their robotic quality. Dance hall-styled percussive sound effects come and go through the song. The bass starts the melody and quiet horn fills finish it out. The overall effect is that of space, sort of calm after the relatively wild intro.

At the beginning of the first verse, the bass switches to a fairly straight-ahead 1-2-3-4 rhythm, with the horns mostly following suit. It is a very good dance club beat. The song continues to maintain a ska feel, even though there is no emphasis on the off beat, which is typical or ska songs. The basic melody is actually similar to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, which was released a year earlier and was a huge hit in the USA.

Joe Strummer handles lead vocal on this track. Mick Jones and Joe Strummer had completely distinct vocal styles. This variety of vocal delivery styles is one of the many things that elevated the Clash a cut above most bands. Mick typically handled the more “pop” vocals, while Joe was more of the punk rock screamer. Although on this song I think Joe goes more for the drunken lout effect. Joe delivers nearly every lyric in the song with the same melody. In retrospect it has an almost rap feel to it, although at the time it would probably be considered a dance hall or ska delivery. The song does not really have choruses, just verses and instrumental breaks.

The guitar (this is the Clash, right?) does not make an appearance until the break between the first and second verses, and when it comes in it is with a very funky disco break. Somehow the Clash are so punk that everything they do is punk, but there is very little that is punk about this song, other than perhaps the lyric content.

During the second break there is some great interplay between the disco guitar, which has returned, and a little funk slap bass playing.
The song never really “goes anywhere” in the view of a traditional song. There’s no chorus, no solo, and very few song changes. In that regard it reminds me of “Chocolate City” by Parliament. Just lay down a killer groove, and let the man speak.


I don’t want to interpret too much, but I assume at the time they could be interpreted as a denouncement of Thatcher’s England. It sort of details an English urban ghetto and new Vietnam, right at home. It outlines a criticism of conducting war abroad while allowing the economy at home to suffer. They’re all sang from the standpoint of a radio broadcaster of sorts. At the time England was going through a terrible recession, and unemployment was quite high. The general feel of the lyrics is an apocalyptic view of society in the 80s, and a warning that the troubles, and quite possibly the radical politics, of the third world (Cuba, Vietnam) could be coming soon to countries like England. You can also listen to the lyrics on another level, as a bit of boasting about the band itself. “The Clash is coming into your home, listen to what we have to say, we can’t be controlled by the man, we have our own pirate radio station.” The attitude projected on that level is very closely aligned with a lot of rap/hip-hop sentiments, I’m thinking about Public Enemy in particular.

The lyrics are by no means a well thought out polemic, but the style of the song doesn’t call for that. The lyrics are more like “sound bytes”, and given the title of the song, you can picture a sort of revolutionary campaigner with a bullhorn and a microphone, shouting out fiery slogans to the unwashed masses.

Interrupting all programmes

This is radio clash from pirate satellite

Orbiting your living room,
Cashing in the bill of rights
Cuban army surplus or refusing all third lights
This is radio clash on pirate satellite

This sound does not subscribe
To the international plan
In the psycho shadow of the white right hand
Then that see ghettology as an urban viet nam
Giving deadly exhibitions of murder by napalm

This is radio clash tearing up the seven veils
This is radio clash please save us, not the whales
This is radio clash underneath a mushroom cloud
This is radio clash
You dont need that funeral shroud

Forces have been looting
My humanity
Curfews have been curbing
The end of liberty

Hands of law have sorted through
My identity
But now this sound is brave
And wants to be free - anyway to be free

This is radio clash on pirate satellite
This is not free europe
Noh an armed force network
This is radio clash using audio ammunition
This is radio clash can we get that world to listen?
This is radio clash using aural ammunition
This is radio clash can we get that world to listen?
This is radio clash on pirate satellite
Orbiting your living room,
Cashing in the bill of rights
This is radio clash on pirate satellite
This is radio clash everybody hold on tight

A-riggy diggy dig dang dang

Go back to urban nam