WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE

For all of the 21st century so far, I have been looking for music with social relevance.  Yes, there have been a few songs, but not much in these two decades.  And who are the young writers contributing songs with meaning this century?  Neil Young, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Chicago?  

Those guys are still at it, but in this era of social unrest, you might expect more young voices to be heard.  Getting a good deal of notice in recent years is the heavy metal group, Disturbed, and their rendition of The Sound of Silence.  If you are thinking the title is familiar, it is.  They covered the Simon and Garfunkel hit to great effect. 

simon-garfunkle-greatest-hits-album-cover

Enter The Young, When Songs Had Meaning

There was a time I will describe as being from late Beatles up to pre-disco when many songs had a deeper meaning, that is to say, a “social commentary”.  The air was filled with thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics.  Some will argue that these songs helped to sway a nation toward greater equality and away from a war of questionable merits.  For a while, many songwriters abandoned “Ooh baby, baby,” to write about war, race, poverty, inhumanity, and life in the ghetto rather than life on “easy street”.  This was an era in songwriting where the words were as important as the notes being played.

Here they come, yeah
Some are walking, some are riding
Here they come, yeah
And some are flying, some just gliding
Released after years of being kept in hiding
They’re climbing up the ladder rung by rung

Bob Dylan had been speaking to us for years, but suddenly so was McCartney and Lennon, then John Lennon on his own.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Carol King, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Curtis Mayfield, Lou Reed, Marvin Gaye can all be added to a list that goes on and on.  There were some with just a few hits but a big social impact.

Enter the young, yeah
Yeah, they’ve learned how to think
Enter the young, yeah
More than you think they think
Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare

My absolute favorite among the thoughtful lyrics were those done by a group called The Association.  They are probably best known for their hit songs “Cherish,” “Windy” and “Along Comes Mary.”  These songs are filled with clever rhymes and some unique wordplays.  “Cherish” taught me I could rhyme that word with “perish,” and I used it for a wedding lyric years later.

Yeah, here they come
Some with questions, some decisions
Here they come
And some with facts and some with visions

Of a place to multiply without the use of divisions
To win a prize that no one’s ever won

They also commented on society in songs like “The Time It Is Today,” “Enter the Young,” and the biting and rather haunting sounds of “Requiem For The Masses.”  This was filled with the symbolism of those that died for the red, white and blue as well as dealing with the issues of race (“Black and white were the questions that so bothered him, he never asked, he was taught not to ask, but was on his lips as they buried him.)  Yes, the same group that gave us “Never My Love” could come around again and whack you with a social message…hard.

Here they come, yeah
Some are laughing, some are crying
Here they come
And some are doing, some are trying
Some are selling, some are buying
Some are living, some are dying
But demanding recognition one by one

They did get recognition, along with many other such groups, if only for a moment in musical history.  Where are the meaningful song lyrics of today?  I wonder.

Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare

I wore out this album as I found every song to be worthy of constant replay.  I was a teenager, I thought it was great.  All these years later, I still do.  I chose the video above as I could find no good performance video of this song. This one rendered the best sound.

Waiting on the World

It can be a frustrating experience waiting on the world to change. Will the younger composers of songs sing out on the current situation? Or will they see that as hopeless? Will they just wait their turn with the Sound of Silence? Must we continue to rely on the older generation for our social commentary in song? “We keep on waiting.”

And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want
That’s why we’re waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change

The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon 1964 Universal Music Publishing Group
Enter The Young by Terry Kirkman 1966 Beachwood Music Corp.
Waiting on The World To Change by John Mayer 2006 Reach Music Publishing

This article appeared one year ago on SERENDIPITY.

ROAD TRIP

Music For The Highway, by Rich Paschall

Did you skip vacation this year?  Flying to your destination may have seemed like a scary choice. With increased crowds, traveling through airports and on airplanes may not seem as safe as pre-pandemic. Perhaps you should opt for a road trip instead. There is still time and the fall colors await you. Are you ready to “See the USA in your Chevrolet?”

When I first became friends with my favorite French guy, who was here on a business internship, we took some road trips to see America.  We would gather up our favorite CDs for the highway and head off in musical style.  In subsequent years he has returned for even more adventure.  You probably plug your phone into a USB port and listen to a playlist.  I guess we are just old-fashioned.

72-Road-Oct-Home_01

Photo Credit: Marilyn Armstrong

Among my friend’s favorite American songs was a tune by America (the band), A Horse With No Name.  He knew it well before he arrived here, and I happened to own America’s Greatest Hits.  I thought it interesting a young French guy knew this 1970s song.  We had an odd collection between the two of us each time we headed out, but America was always included.  Certain songs now go with those great highway memories.

You may have your favorites.  Perhaps you and your friends have all taken parts for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  Maybe you have other sing-along tunes.  There are so many individual tastes for what might make good road music, that you would think I could not come up with a top ten.  Ha!

Indeed it was difficult to settle on a list but I finally had to narrow down this favorite grouping to songs that mention roads, streets, highways, or cars.  We’ll save the other up-tempo tunes for another time.

It’s just like Summertime and The Heat Is On.  Hop in your Little Red Corvette, 409, or Little Deuce Coupe and Shut Up and Drive.  Whether you are cruising down Electric Avenue or traveling the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, just stay On The Sunny Side Of The Street and you will soon be able to say I’ve Been Everywhere and I Get Around.  No need to sing the Basin Street Blues, we have your road tunes.

10.  Route 66.  There was a popular song, recorded by many, named (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, but the television series did not want to pay for it and commissioned another.  I picked the Nelson Riddle instrumental.

09.  Penny Lane.  Yes, the Beatles hit is in my ears and in my eyes.

08.  Takin’ It To The Streets.  The Doobies Brothers, 1976. Michael McDonald wrote it and was the lead singer.

07.  Drive My Car.  Yes, it is another one by the Beatles.  They’ve got the Beat, you’ve got the car.

06.  Rockin’ Down The Highway.  The Doobie Brothers hit the list again with another high-energy tune.

05.  Lake Shore Drive.  “There ain’t no road just like it, anywhere I’ve found.”  “Just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound.”

04.  On The Road Again.  You can’t hit the road without Willie.

03.  Radar Love.  OK, it does not have a road or car in the title, but it is unmistakably a road tune.

02  Ventura Highway.  This America tune is among the ones I always heard on the road with my best friend.

01.  Take Me Home, Country Roads.  This John Denver composition is one of the great sing-along songs.  I think I sang it once or twice or…

Click on any title above or listen to all of them on my playlist here: Road Music.

You might also need our summer tunes playlist:  The Summer Wind.

A version of this article appeared last year on SERENDIPITY.  

TAKE SOME TIME TO REVIVE IT

Socially we are struggling with major problems. The government is still divided in the us versus them battle.  They should be working for all of us.  Chicago, the band, came back around to commentary through song. This article appeared last year on  SERENDIPITY. 

A view of America from Chicago, the band, by Rich Paschall

Chicago has been around for a long time. No, I don’t mean the city, I mean the band. In 1967, five guys from DePaul University recruited a sixth from Roosevelt University and started a band known as The Big Thing. Soon they recruited a tenor, moved to California, and changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority. In 1968 they released a self-titled, double album that included some of their biggest hits and led them down the road to a Hall of Fame career.  After the threat of legal action by the hometown transit authority, the band shortened its name and the rest is pop history.

Chicago Water Tower (Photo credit: Nicholas G. Mertens)

Their pop, rock, jazz-infused sound was groundbreaking.  In an era of bands that included a guitar player, bass player, and drummer, Chicago’s music majors were letting a trumpet, a trombone, and a saxophone lead the way.  It was a sound that led to more groups backed by horns.

As with many bands of the time period, they had their share of songs with social messages.  A war protest song (It Better End Soon), a song following the moon-landing (Where Do We Go From Here?), and political commentary (Dialogue, Part I & II).  They certainly did not rely on this type of song, but they were not afraid of them either.

As the decades rolled on they just may have relied a little more heavily on ballads and soft rock.  That’s why it is interesting to find that Chicago came back with another album, Chicago Now, aka Chicago XXXVI, with a heavy reliance on the type of horn sounds of their early years and commentary on the American scene.

America, America is free!
America!
America is you and me!

America, the third track on Chicago Now, was actually available for download long before the album came out.  With music and lyrics by founding member Lee Loughnane, it is not a throwback to another era, but a push forward for a band that has done something older bands are reluctant to do.  That is, put out an album of new material and social commentary.

The dream was fading before our eyes
Take some time to revive it.
‘We the people’ must start right now
Don’t expect our leaders to show us how
They don’t have a clue what to do
If they knew how to stop this slide
We’d have seen some signs by now
To turn back the tide.

Lou Pardini provides keyboards and lead vocals for this anthem.  The beauty of the chorus and its tight harmony is in contrast to the attack of Pardini on the verses.  At times he is almost at a growling pace as he delivers his lines and the song’s message.

We can’t keep havin’ you make our rules
When you treat us common folk like fools
It’s time to stand up for our rights
Put congress in our political sights.
Make them pass laws that help us all
The Founding Fathers echo
Will be heard in the hall
By the people, for the people, everyone equal.

Right now we probably need songs of social importance just as we had decades ago. We feel our leaders have gone astray again, and a strong message needs to be sent. Sometimes we can send that message in music. Watch the video below for the lyrics and yes, that is the Chicago skyline at the opening. What did you expect?

IS IT WORTH COOKING?

The pandemic certainly hurt the production of the popular Buzzfeed series, Worth It. Last year, they found a way to film a few additional episodes trying to duplicate some of the food items they had tasted on the show. Late in 2020, after the below article appeared on SERENDIPITY, the crew filmed a few more virtual and/or socially distanced episodes which you can find on YouTube. At the beginning of 2021, they released their top ten cheapest or approximate 1 dollar items from past episodes. At the same time, Andrew announced their intention to continue the series at some point. It has not yet restarted. 

Worth It – Food, a review, by Rich Paschall

Buzzfeed Worth It

Last year I reviewed the incredibly popular Buzz Feed and YouTube series Worth It. The show finds its popular hosts, millennials Steven Lim and Andrew Ilnyckyj, traveling to three different restaurants at “drastically different price points.” They taste and review a similar item at each one. Along for the ride (literally) is sound and cameraman Adam Bianchi, who is often seen in the back seat of the car as they drive to each restaurant. At the end of the episode all three vote on the restaurant that was the most worth it at its price.

Over the past four years, they have produced seven “seasons,” the longest of which was 12 episodes. In 2017 and 2018 they won the Streamy Award (Dick Clark Productions, of course) for the Best Food Series. The show features two young guys interviewing restaurant owners and/or chefs and then sitting down to critique the food as an average person might do. The chemistry between the hosts is largely what makes this work. While many of the shows were filmed in Los Angeles or New York, they have been to other US cities, plus stops in Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.


Final 2019 episode

With a format such as the one described above, I am sure you can see the problem 2020 has presented to the series. How can you carry on when you can not go out to restaurants to eat? In fact, the hosts and cameraman are keeping their distance from one another. At the end of March, the team put all of Season Seven together for a Worth It Marathon in case you wanted to see one hour and 47 minutes all at once. At the end of May, Andrew and Adam presented some editing magic in the social distancing episode. They cut a new video of Steven and Adam in the car with Andrew as he drove around collecting take-out at three “drastically different price points.”  It’s a 3 dollar take-out to a 129 dollar take-out. He dropped off the food to the other two and Andrew and Steven reviewed them as always. It was a good concept, but it was not going to sustain a series.

With no end of the social distancing protocols that most people are following to stay safe, Andrew and Adam (remotely) have carried on with a new version of the show, Worth It – Food. Now Andrew will attempt to make in his own kitchen, a dish they have previously enjoyed at one of the restaurants in the series. Andrew picks the dish, interviews the chef from the restaurant online, and then sets out to make the same item himself. In between getting the recipe and making the dish, Andrew shops for the items. Not only does he get to make a restaurant favorite at home, but he also is able to explore “The Fundamentals of Why Something Tastes Good.”

Andrew proved to be an engaging host in the original series. He brings a good dose of curiosity and a heaping measure of humor. And yet, despite the public appearances and the hosting of Worth It and other shows, almost nothing is known about Andrew’s personal life. He is a very private person. Unlike other YouTube stars, he has no presence on other social media platforms. So the fact that he is filming new episodes in his own apartment adds to the level of interest.

Utilizing two stationary cameras, Andrew does his best to recreate the dish that has been described to him in the opening. Since Andrew is not a restaurant chef, consider the challenge the same as if you started out to follow a new recipe. He has been challenged by Adam to make dishes on a different Buzz Feed show, Eating Your Feed. That has not always gone well, but I digress. This time out…well, no spoilers for you. Along the way, you will be able to enjoy his efforts while he discusses (with himself) what he thinks makes the dish taste good.

Also, cut into the show might be some footage they had taken at the restaurant but not used in the original Worth It episode. Andrew’s first attempt is a pie that was not featured on their show. Andrew explains that their restaurant stops might include other dishes we do not see. Yes, they do eat more at the restaurant than the dish they have gone to review.

If this version of the show has staying power, it will be up to Andrew’s interview with the chef at the outset, his presentation of the recipe, and the quality of the final product. Like any good cooking show, he is giving you the recipe as he goes along so you can attempt it too. The rebooted series is off to a good start, but hopefully, they will be able to return to the restaurants again this year. In fact, that is the hope we all have.

See also: “The Right Food At The Right Price,” SERENDIPITY, May 26, 2019.

COMING OF AGE

A lot of us are still staying home as much as possible, so you might need to see some good movies. Here is my list of young adventures and young love. This ran last year at this time on SERENDIPITY.

My Favorite Films, by Rich Paschall

We all have to grow up and learn the lessons of life. Some are fun. Some are work. Some are terrifying. Many films show these various aspects of growing up. The movies may be a Risky Business or capture 400 Blows. They can introduce you to Harold and Maude or perhaps to Willie Wonka. You may find a birthday of Sixteen Candles while you are Pretty in Pink. You may find a Rebel Without A Cause or a Lion King. You could be on an island or just at A Summer Place.

As a boy, a teenager, and even as a young man I would identify with the younger heroes of the story, whether they were the lead character or not.  When I saw Swiss Family Robinson, I was more interested in the young son’s adventure (James MacArthur) than the parents who were trying to protect themselves while stranded on an island.  I was quite young at the time but remember it well.  If you saw Disney films in that era, you knew there was a young hero for kids to identify with, who might also own a dog or horse.  I loved those movies.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

As I got older I saw more mature themes.  Some are poignant.  Some are jubilant.  Some are sad.  Since there are so many great films in this category, I could not cut it to a top 10.  My “shortlist” had a lot of entries.  When I subsequently looked at some published lists, it reminded me of others.  There may be better ones that I have not seen, but these are my favorites from my local theater or living room screen.

Since you may be spending a lot of time at home this year, you may wish to add some of these to your playlist:

20. Mysterious Skin.  A young Joseph Gordon Leavitt is a teenage hustler.  This is not your “feel good” movie.
19. St. Elmo’s Fire.  The 1985 Brat Pack classic is about recent college grads.
18. Donnie Darko. The 2001 cult hit stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an odd teenager.
17. Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon is the young math wiz and Robin Williams is the therapist who tries to reach him.  Ben Affleck also stars.
16. The Breakfast Club. If you served high school detention on Saturday morning, you get it. A John Hughes classic film.

Ferris Bueller

Ferris Bueller

15. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris cuts class and comes to Chicago with a couple of friends.  Matthew Broadrick is Ferris.
14. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. A young man (Johnny Depp) and his mentally challenged younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio).
13. October Sky. Based on the true story of a boy (Homer Hickam) who dreams of being a rocket scientist. Jake Gyllenhaal stars.
12. Big. Tom Hanks stars as the boy in a man’s body.  It is the best movie ever to try this film trick.
11. The Karate Kid. It does not matter which one you see (Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith). Skip the sequels.

10.  The Last Picture Show.  A black and white film about life in a dead-end southern town.  The 1971 film stars Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges, with Cybill Shepherd and Cloris Leachman.

09.  American Grafitti.  It’s the end of summer vacation 1962 and you are cruisin’ in your convertible and listening to Rock and Roll on the car radio.  You might be getting into a little bit of mischief as well.  The low-budget 1973 film was box office gold.

08.  Dead Poets Society.  High School seniors form a poetry society and learn to “seize the day” (carpe diem) from English teacher Robin Williams.  The setting for the 1989 film was an elite academy in 1959.  The film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

07.  Billy Elliot.  An 11-year-old boy in a poor northern England town ends up in ballet class one day while going to his weekly boxing class.  The coal miner’s son is in for a rough time but sticks with the dance class against his father’s wishes.  The film’s success led to the eventual Broadway play.

06.  Dirty Dancing.  “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”  Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey get up close and personal on the dance floor in this 1987 film.  It’s forbidden love and hot dancing.  What’s not to like?

05.  Old Yeller.  A boy, his dog, and another Disney tear-jerker.  This one may be for kids but many of them will be crying at the end.  Is this a good lesson for kids?  Next, I suppose you will tell me Bambi’s mother is dead.

04.  Summer Storm (Sommersturm).  This 2004 German-language film follows the friendship of two boys on the rowing team as one learns his feelings for the other.  It was a winner at the Munich Film Festival among others.

03.  The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho). The 2014 Portuguese language, Brazilian film shows the difficulty of seeking independence for a blind boy who does not know the way he looks or if he will be attractive to others.  His life becomes more complicated when he starts to have feelings for another student.  Based on the amazing viral success of a short film, the feature was made soon enough thereafter to star the original three teenagers.  We talked about the development of this film in the article, In Another Language.

02.  A Separate Peace.  Like many of the above, I guess you might call this a “loss of innocence” story.  Based on the 1959 best-selling novel of the same name, the 1972 movie is set in World War II England at an all-boys boarding school.  The author is quick to point out there are no homoerotic implications.  “It would have changed everything, it wouldn’t have been the same story.”  It’s a love-hate relationship between friends.  I have not seen the 2004 Showtime film.

01.  Harry Potter 1-8.  It really is the greatest coming-of-age movie of all because it is actually 8 movies.  How fortunate that we were able to have the same young actors throughout the ten-year film-making odyssey.  It took all these stories for young Harry to become the man he needed to be to defeat the evil that confronted him throughout.  Daniel Radcliffe will forever be everyone’s vision of the boy wizard who grew up before our eyes.

Click on any movie title above to see the trailer.

See also: In Another Language, Watching Foreign Language Films, SERENDIPITY, August 29, 2021.

ONE HIT WONDERS

In case you forgot last year’s golden anniversary celebration, here is our Top Ten countdown again. This list originally ran on SERENDIPITY

1970 Edition, by Rich Paschall

Everyone likes to get invited to the party, but imagine getting invited to just one party…ever. That’s how it must have felt for these 1970 rockers who climbed high on the rock and roll charts just one time. They may have had minor successes with other songs, but only one big hit.

In the summertime, when the weather is hot, You can stretch right up and touch the sky

A one-hit wonder is “an act that has won a position on [the] national, pop, Top 20 record chart just once” according to The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders. Some of these one-hit wonders have made a career out of it and are still going. Others have become just a footnote in rock and roll history. In order to celebrate the occasion, we have decided to throw a fiftieth birthday party for the following artists and songs. So come across those White Plains and watch out for those Five Stair Steps when you arrive. O-o-h Child, you will feel like a Mississippi Queen when The Rapper gets going. So, Ma Belle Amie, we want to see you movin’ and groovin’ to my personal Top Ten choices.

10. Tighter, Tighter by Alive and Kicking. Written by Bobby King and Tommy James (Yes, that Tommy James) the song was released in June and reached number 7 by August. Tommy James and the Shondells recorded it years later with little success.

09. Hey There Lonely Girl by Eddie Holman. This was released as Hey There Lonely Boy by Ruby and the Romantics in 1963. It did not chart. This version made it to number 2 on the Billboard 100.

08. All Right Now by Free. These English rockers scored with this one. The story is this was written by bassist Andy Fraser and singer Paul Rodgers after a particularly bad live performance.

Ride captain ride, Upon your mystery ship, On your way to a world that others might have missed

07. Ride Captain Ride by Blues Image. This was the only Top 40 hit for this American band. “As a storm was blowin’ out on the peaceful sea, Seventy-three men sailed off to history.”  That’s sort of like this song.

06. Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse. The group was basically a studio creation. The song was number 5 in the US but went to number 1 in the UK. It has a similar sound to another one-hit-wonder that year. My Baby Loves Lovin by White Plains may have had the same lead singer. Tony Burrows did studio singing and is often reported as the real voice here. He did work on the song. You decide.

Honorable Mention: We would absolutely be remiss if we failed to mention Rubber Duckie by Ernie (of Sesame Street). Yes, he has been involved in many songs over the years, but alas, this was his only song to hit the charts. It seems the tune was so popular up and down Sesame Street that it was released as a single and climbed the pop charts all the way to number 16 by September of that year.

05. In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry. There actually is no “Mungo Jerry.” The band is named after Mungojerrie from T.S. Eliot’s book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The song was written by lead singer Ray Dorset.

04. Montego Bay by Bobby Bloom. The song was co-authored by Bloom. It is written about a Jamaican city of the same name.

03. Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum. The singer claims to have written the lyrics in 15 minutes’ time. It was a popular tune on the AM radio rock stations in Chicago in early 1970. It reached number 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

02. Venus by Shocking Blue. The Dutch rockers topped the charts in nine countries with this tune, including the US.

01. Vehicle by Ides of March. The local rock band was a favorite in Chicago. In fact, they still are.  When I was in high school, they were playing “sock hops” at other high schools. When Vehicle hit in 1970 it was on the Big 89, WLS 890 AM on our radio dials ALL THE TIME!

To hear any of the songs above just click on the title. To hear them all, go to my One Hit Wonders playlist here.

See also: One Wonderful Moment, 1968 Edition,” SERENDIPITY, May 13, 2018.
Good Old Rock ‘N Roll, One Hit Wonders of 1969,” SERENDIPITY, March 10, 2019.

THE SUMMER WIND

Here are MY Top Ten Summer songs.  This list appeared last summer on SERENDIPITY.   

SONGS THAT CAME BLOWIN’ IN, by Rich Paschall


If you visited this space last Sunday, you saw the top Summer Songs as given by the musical genius, Brian Wilson.  Those may have been songs that evoked thoughts of summer for Brian, but some were a real stretch of the imagination to me.  I promised you songs that are really about summer.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Summertime by George Gershwin is arguably the most beloved summertime song ever. Great singers from Billie Holiday through Janis Joplin recorded hit versions of the song. Originally written by Gershwin for the 1935 modern opera, Porgy and Bess, rock and opera stars alike have recorded it. Guinness World Records claimed it to be the most recorded song ever. I’m sure you’ve heard it and probably have a favorite version.

When the Beach Boys put out a new album for their 50th anniversary, they served up a perfect piece of nostalgia with Summer’s Gone, written by Brian Wilson. He took lead on the record and in performance.  Unfortunately, they did not do it throughout the anniversary tour and there’s only one fan video from the last stop I can find.  Therefore, this tribute through old and new pictures will have to serve:

Now, the countdown.

10. Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer, Nat King Cole, 1963.  If I heard it once, I heard it a million times (as the saying goes) while growing up.  I guess we must really have liked it. Cole was alive then and would turn up on variety shows to perform this.  Unfortunately, variety shows have disappeared.
9.  A Summer Song, Chad and Jeremy, 1964. They were part of the “British Invasion” and this was their biggest hit.
8.  Summer Nights, from the play and movie, Grease.  It was “the word” for John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.  If you can look past all the people who killed this song in karaoke, it might still be a favorite.
7.  In the Summertime, Mungo Jerry, 1970  The song filled with odd sounds and rhythms was a mega-hit for the British group.
6.  Hot Fun In The Summertime, Sly and the Family Stone  This one was at the top of the Brian Wilson list.

5.  Surfer Girl, the Beach Boys  This early Beach Boys hit remained a fan favorite through the years.  Almost 50 years after first recording it, they could still perform the harmonies with ease.  Well, if not with ease, then at least with a lot of coaching by Brian:

4.  Summer Rain, Johnny Rivers, 1968  It didn’t make it to the top of the charts, but it is one of those songs that keeps getting played.  Now in his 70s, Rivers is still performing his many hits.

3.  Summer Wind, Frank Sinatra, 1966  Wayne Newton first recorded the song in 1965, but it is Sinatra who had a hit the following year.

2.  Summer Breeze, Seals & Crofts, 1972  Written and performed by Jim Seals and Dash Crofts.

1.  Summer in the City, The Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966  Released in July 1966, by August it was number 1.  The overplayed summer anthem included a car horn and jackhammer sounds to let you know you were in the city.

What are your summer favorites?

SUMMER SONGS

Since we are in the midst of summer, you might need a few summer songs. You may not agree with some of them so feel to add yours in the comments.  This article originally appeared on SERENDIPITY last summer. 

The Top 10 of a Musical Genius

From the time the Beach Boys hit the surf and the top of the charts in the 1960s, Brian Wilson has been considered a musical genius. His prolific songwriting propelled the careers of the original “Boys.” Their music remains popular to this day.

Wilson was not just trying to crank out rock and rolls songs for public consumption. He was trying to create a new sound, the “California” sound of blended harmonies and instruments. His obsessive work in the studio while seeking a certain type of perfection was both his strength and ultimately his weakness.

Brian Wilson

Today Brian is again touring, writing, and producing. His opinions on music are held in high esteem by songwriters everywhere.  Many, including Paul McCartney, Bono, James Webb (American songwriter), and Rolling Stone Magazine, consider Wilson’s “God Only Knows” among the best songs of all time.

So when Brian offers an opinion regarding rock and roll music, it usually garners some attention.  A few years ago he gave us a top ten list of his favorite songs of summer.  To no one’s surprise, a couple of Beach Boys’ songs made the list, but there are also a few interesting choices:

1. Hot Fun In The Summertime: Sly and the Family Stone.
2. In The Summer Time: Mungo Jerry.
3. I Get Around: The Beach Boys.
4. Be My Baby: The Ronettes.
5. California Girls: The Beach Boys.
6. Give Me Some Lovin’: Spencer Davis Group.
7. Hey Jude: The Beatles.
8. Honky Tonk Women: The Rolling Stones.
9. My Obsession: The Rolling Stones.
10. Mony Mony: Tommy James and the Shondells.

I don’t know how some of these songs were chosen for a summertime list, but it is Brian’s list so he can do as he pleases.  I am happy to modify it a bit. You can follow with your own list in the comments if you are so inclined. First of all, any song I have to look up because I never heard of it needs to go.

“My Obsession” by the Rolling Stones is an early hit that really offers little in the way of music and lyrics.  It is certainly forgettable in every way and a surprise on any list provided by Wilson.  Of course, we all have early rock favorites that will probably sound weird to anyone else.  So, I am kicking that one off the list and replacing it with one of the Beach Boys’ top hits of all time, Little Surfer Girl.

Next, I have to replace the overdone Hey Jude. While McCartney still uses this epic to kill 10 minutes of every concert, I think it is time to retire it. Seriously, have you seen any performance of McCartney, live or on television, that did not contain an overblown version of this hit?  I can not associate it with summer anyway, so I am replacing it with “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful.  Every oldies station will indeed play the heck out of this song from now until Labor Day, but I never tire of it. That’s my standard.

I like “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Mony, Mony” but let’s replace them with Summer hits.  Add Jan and Dean’s number one hit from 1963, “Surf City.”  With a similar sound to the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean successfully rode the airwaves on their musical surfboards for many years, cashing in on the California-style rock.  Another song I’m adding is “Saturday in the Park.” by Chicago — if for no other reason than to include a song from one of my all-time favorite bands, but will it make my Top Ten?

When I discovered Billboard’s list of the Top 30 Summer Songs I see there are a few more that could go on my list by the masters of their style, the Beach Boys.  Go forth and create your own list and enjoy the sounds of summer.

Yes, next week you will get my top ten summer songs that are really about summer. I know you can’t wait. Just sing Hot Fun In The Summertime until then.

THE BEST MAINSTREAM LGBT MOVIES

The Top Ten Movies For Pride Month, Rich Paschall

Our first outing, “In The Mainstream,” featured some of the best movies ever made, brought to you by the numbers 11 through 20. You will find the sequel today is equally exciting. Every one of these features to hit the screen is a gem and worthy of our Pride playlist.

We know you have been eagerly awaiting my countdown of the best LGBT movies ever made. It is important to point out that we should just say, some of the best movies ever made. They rank with the most entertaining and important features in cinema.

In fact, my number one pick was the best movie of 2005, but the Academy was not ready to bestow that honor on a film of this genre. If you see nothing else from the list below, be sure to see that powerful movie.

Now if you have refilled your bowl of popcorn, picked out a super gulpy size of your favorite drink, put a box of your favorite movie candy (Dots?) in your pocket you are ready to sit down to our 11 feature program. Number 8 is a multi-language, double-feature.

10. Kill Your Darlings. (2013) This time Daniel Radcliffe is Allen Ginsburg during the college days of some members of the Beat Generation. The title does not pertain to a murder that takes place involving one of the writers, but to those pieces of writing that you can’t quite improve. Dane DeHaan received critical acclaim as Lucien Carr.

09. Maurice. (1987) James Wilby stars as the title character in the Marchant-Ivory film based on the E.M. Forster novel. Set in early 20th century England, Maurice falls for Clive, played by a young Hugh Grant. The film picked up some film festival awards and an Oscar.

08. The Birdcage. (1996) This is a remake of the classic French-Italian film “La Cage Aux Folles.” (1978) In the American version, the setting is changed to Miami, and the movie stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Do yourself a favor and see both versions.

07. Dallas Buyer’s Club. (2013). Matthew McConaughey picked up an Oscar for the true story of Ron Woodruff, an AIDS patient in the 1980s who smuggled in experimental drugs from Mexico to treat himself and members of the “Buyer’s Club.” Jared Leto picked an Oscar as well in a supporting role. Both actors lost a lot of weight to play their characters. The film picked up four other Oscar nominations and one more Oscar.

06. God’s Own Country. (2017) Never has a tough miserable life been so beautiful. A Yorkshire sheep farmer hires a migrant Romanian farmhand for the season. Gritty is the best description for this one. If the scenes between the two farmhands don’t put you on edge, the rough farm work will.  The movie picked up a long list of festival awards.

05. Philadelphia (1993). Bring a box of kleenex along with your box of popcorn for this groundbreaking film inspired by a true story. Tom Hanks is gay lawyer Andrew Beckett who is dismissed from his firm for being suspected of having AIDS. Denzel Washington is the homophobic lawyer who finally agrees to take his case and sue the law firm that fired Beckett. The A-list cast includes Jason Robards and Mary Steenburgen. Antonio Banderas is Hanks’ partner. Hanks won an Oscar, so did Bruce Springsteen for Best Original Song. Neil Young was also nominated for Best Original Song for the movie.

04. Love, Simon. (2018) Nick Robinson gives an excellent performance as a closeted high school senior searching for someone like himself while trying to keep a blackmailer at bay. The romantic comedy also stars Jennifer Garner and John Duhamel as the parents.

03. Call Me By Your Name. (2017). The scene is set in northern Italy in 1983. Elio’s father, a university professor, has a 24-year-old graduate assistant come for the summer to help him out. Timothée Chalamet plays 17-year-old Elio who at first disliked the grad student but slowly changes his feeling.  Chalamet was nominated as best actor for his outstanding job as the conflicted teen.

02. Milk (2008). Sean Penn is perfect in the role of Harvey Milk, the gay activist who was eventually elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. James Franco is a longtime boyfriend, Scott Smith. Emile Hirsch plays an energetic Cleve Jones. The film is historically important using archival film footage when necessary. Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor and Dustin Lance Black picked up one for Best Original Screenplay.  Highly recommended.

01. Brokeback Mountain. (2005) Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, as Jack Twist and Enis Del Mar, spend a summer as sheepherders on the mountain, and a lifetime longing for a relationship they could not have. The film is set between 1963 and 1983 in the American West when they must balance love and fear. Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams are their wives. The brilliantly crafted film picked up Oscars for Director Ang Lee, and Best Adapted Screenplay as well as Best Original Score. Gyllenhaal, Ledger, and Williams were all nominated. It was the best picture of the year but apparently, the Academy was not ready to vote for such a film. Highly recommended.

For numbers 11 through 20 on our list, head back to “In The Mainstream.” For a look at the trailer of any of the above movies, just click on the title. If you want to play all twenty-one and some bonus clips, click here.

This post originally appeared on SERENDIPITY here.

IN THE MAINSTREAM – RICH PASCHALL

LGBTQ in cinema, by Rich Paschall

We don’t need a declaration from an orange politician to know that June is the national Pride month. There may not be Pride parades this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed, but we have a Pride list of movies for your viewing enjoyment. Stay home, save lives, watch movies.

For this list, we have chosen films that have made it into the mainstream of cinema. Most enjoyed wide distribution and many found commercial success. There are many award winners including some that received Oscars at the annual Academy Awards. You should be able to find all of these screen gems on DVD or online.

In some of these movies, gay issues are the main topic. In others, it is just a part of the storyline and not necessarily the main theme or focus of the film. I have seen all of the films on the following list, or I would not have included them. There may be many other commendable films that could easily be included. Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review site, has a list of 200 best LGBTQ movies of all time, although many are foreign films that would not be considered mainstream here.

However, I will start with an honorable mention from the foreign film category and offer you the critically acclaimed Brazilian film, Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho, entitled “The Way He Looks” for American audiences. The feature is based on the hugely successful 2010 short film that instantly went viral on YouTube. It now has over 8 million views and you can find it here, although I recommend finding the feature-length film.  The language is Portuguese. Both the short film and the feature have English subtitles.

Now grab your popcorn and be prepared to be entertained by some of the best movies ever made. A few are of historical interest, so you may learn a little history along the way. When I compiled the list there were 20, so I decided to rank them all.

20. Weekend. (2011) The British feature concerns two men who meet and spend the weekend together. After that…well, there will be no spoilers today.
19. The Children’s Hour. (1961). Based on the 1934 Lillian Hellman play, the film downplayed the whispered lie about a gay love affair between the two female teachers. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine star. The film was nominated for five Oscars.
18. I Am Michael. (2015) The biographical drama concerns a gay activist turned Christian preacher. James Franco stars as the conflicted main character.
17. Dog Day Afternoon. (1975). Based on the true story of a bank robbery gone wrong, Al Pacino stars as real-life Sonny Wortzik trying to steal money for his transgender mate’s surgery. It was nominated for five Oscars, winning one.
16. I Love You Phillip Morris. (2009) Based on the true-life story of the con artist Steven Jay Russell and the man with whom he falls in love in prison. Jim Carrey gives a strong performance in comedy-drama.

15. The Crying Game. (1992) The tense drama is set during the conflict in Northern Ireland. A member of the IRA promises to protect Dil, the mate of a rival fighter. The film picked up six Oscar nominations, winning one for Best Screenplay. The story included an element most audience members did not see coming.
14. Mysterious Skin. (2004)  Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an early film role as a male prostitute. Set in the 1980s, the storyline follows two friends’ lives and their separate paths following a childhood incident. It’s not for the squeamish.
13. My Own Private Idaho(1991) The cult classic stars River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as street hustlers and friends.  It picked up a variety of Film Critics and Film Festival awards.
12. Another Country. (1984) The British historical drama stars Ruppert Everett and is set in public schools in the 1930s. The story concerns the openly gay student, Guy Bennett, who is based on the real-life spy Guy Burgess.

11. Howl. (2010) James Franco stars as Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg. The experimental film style concentrates on Ginsberg’s poem of the same name and the 1957 obscenity trial that followed. The reenactment of the Six Gallery Reading in 1955, spread throughout the film, is often illustrated through animation. Franco also relives a Ginsberg interview where his comments about the poem and the trial are being recorded. Franco carries the movie as Ginsberg with his top-notch performance.

Like many good movies, we are ending with a cliffhanger. The top ten movies will be up tomorrow, but you can start on this list today. The above includes comedy, drama, and comedy-drama. There is romance and there is history. There is mysterious skin and there are mysterious people.

For a look at the trailer of any of the above movies, just click on the title. If you want to play them all and get a sneak peek at tomorrow’s list, click here.