My First Cassette: 90125

I would’ve guessed 1985 for the year 90125 was released, but it was actually 1983. I’d say the members of the band Yes were already considered Progressive Rock Gods at that point, but I was no expert — I was barely in my teens and was really just starting to discover music. Some hardcore Yes fans may despise this album, but I LOVE it. It’s very special to me not only because it was the first complete album (albeit on cassette tape) I ever bought, but it was fantastic! 90125 in no way disappointed me.

I’m pretty sure I was turned on to the HITS off the album via MTV videos. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” had some dark-headed dude with a buzz cut freaking out with different animals and a rooftop scene. It was “very MTV”, but it didn’t ruin it for me. Hearing those power chords at the beginning of the song, told me it was time to rock. “Leave It”, on the other hand, had an “A capella” intro. The video had some weird special effects to it. The band was upside down with their heads spinning around, etc. While the album 90125, in my opinion, musically stands on its own, I have to give MTV credit for turning me on to Yes. (And yet I still don’t know what some chick scrubbing the pavement has to do with David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”.) I will also say I bought the official Yes 90125 World Tour shirt through MTV as well.

Getting back to the actual MUSIC, the thing that sticks with me about the overall sound is the great harmony for starters. There’s fantastic harmony and musicianship on several tracks off 90125. Listening to it now, the album’s production is pretty “slick”. (It was produced by Trevor Horn.) It’s an interesting combo of a pop/rock sound with sophisticated arrangements from their “prog” days. Listen to the song “Hold On” around the 2:20 mark and you may hear what I mean.

“It Can Happen” had a sitar intro which was more than fine with me. Similarly, this song starts one way and detours into something else, but it sure works to my ears. The song detours around the :35 mark.

There’s also a spoken word bit around 3:12 into the song. Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation:

“The dialogue that can be heard under the guitar solo – about 3 minutes and 13 seconds in – on the 90125 version, is taken from The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. The lines, “…Come, old boy, you had much better have the thing out at once….” and “…that is exactly what dentists always do. Now, go on! Tell me the whole thing” are spoken by the character Algernon Moncrieff, in the play. ” (Now THAT’S trivia!)

Maybe “symphonic rock” would be the best label to put on this album. The great Yes guitarist Steve Howe was not involved in this effort, but Trevor Rabin rocked anyway. Rabin received a songwriting credit on all but one of the songs. If you’re not into harmony, there’s always the instrumental “Cinema”, which was apparently the name of the project before lead singer Jon Anderson got involved. Anderson’s voice is a unique one — what can you say? Great range, great singer. I don’t have the world’s best ear for basslines, but the mega-talented Chris Squire’s bass shines through nicely. It’s even featured in the intro to “City of Love” — another great cut.

To my knowledge, 90125 is the only album named after it’s original catalog number, but I could be wrong. It makes you wonder if they fought about the album title, if they just didn’t care, or if they were “big enough” to do that. One thing hardcore Yes fans might not like about the album cover is there’s no artwork from Roger Dean. In his defense, his artwork on Yes album covers is amazing, but this was a different effort for the 1980s — different time, different guitarist, but a sensational album in my book.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!


Red, White, & Rambo

“Some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a Kaiser blade.” (Sling Blade, 1996). Well some folks call it Rambo, but the first film in the franchise is actually called “First Blood”. While it’s true I’m a fan of many offbeat movies, I’d consider this one fairly mainstream in terms of popularity. However, I think the film has a lot more going on beneath the surface than many viewers might realize.

The short version is the now-civilian John J. Rambo is a decorated Vietnam veteran who drifts into a northwestern town called Hope. He’s met by the obnoxiously arrogant small town Sheriff Will Teasle, beautifully played by Brian Dennehy. (Richard Crenna plays Rambo’s almost-equally arrogant former commanding officer, Colonel Trautman.) The sheriff and his team of redneck deputies abusively push Rambo too far — not realizing he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — and he wages one-man guerrilla warfare on them and the town.

On the surface, it’s an action movie. “First Blood” isn’t the first or last film with the lone sympathetic character who’s been pushed too far or who, vastly outnumbered, conquers his foes. However, even if you’ve seen the film more than once, I ask you to think about, if not COUNT, the number of times you see red, white, and blue throughout the film. It’s in your face from the get go.

Teasle: [noting dirty American flag patch on Rambo’s ragged military jacket] You know, wearing that flag on that jacket, looking the way you do, you’re asking for trouble around here, friend.

You see the American flag worn on Rambo’s jacket, but also the uniform jackets of Teasle and his redneck deputies. However, that’s only the beginning. There’s a red, white, and blue Greyhound bus in one of the opening shots as Rambo rambles into Hope. Viewers may also notice a similarly colored Chevron logo at a Hope gas station. (It appears at least three times in the film, if not more. ) The sheriff’s patrol car has a red light and a blue light. You see the American flag flying in front of the sheriff’s department. There’s a red binder and a blue binder in another early scene near the elevator. I’m sure some people will tell me I’m making something out of nothing or it’s all coincidental, but I don’t think it is.

Rambo I (First Blood) absolutely raised awareness about issues like PTSD and the treatment of returning American soldiers, especially from Vietnam. (I’d recommend checking out the special edition two disc set. The extras alone are worth it. ) I won’t get into the sequels, but I think First Blood, at some level, ultimately addresses the question of “What is it to be an American?”. (Ironically, the film was shot in Canada.)

For example, guns are a BIG part of this film. I don’t know if gun control was as big an issue in 1982 as it is now — maybe I just wasn’t as aware of it. Does being pro or con gun rights make you more or less of an American? Some might argue violent 80s films like this one contributed to the society which produced the school spree shooters of today. Then again, I’ve seen this film a lot and I’ve never owned a gun.

Would calling First Blood a morality play be accurate? Sheriff Teasle is obviously flawed, but Rambo isn’t perfect either. Is the real moral of the story that one skilled soldier with a knife is more effective than a bunch of rednecks with guns? Granted, it IS an 80s action movie with Sylvester Stallone, but I think there’s much more to take away from this film.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Dirty Toes ‘n Nova Scotia

It was the early 1990s in Lawrence, KS. My uncle told me about a band called “Uncle Dirty Toes”, but what’s in a name? Before I went to hear them and see them perform, my uncle told me they did a rendition of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. My ears definitely perked up when they caught wind of that. Al Gore had yet to invent the internet (sorry I couldn’t resist) so I found out via the local music newspaper about their next show.

At the time, there was a well-known sub shop called Yellow Sub near the University of Kansas campus. It was on the ground floor with a bar called The Crossing upstairs. That’s where the band “Uncle Dirty Toes” blew me away. I guess you could call them “folk rock” if you had to categorize them. They covered some amazing sixties rock songs, but they used to open their set with a traditional tune called “Farewell to Nova Scotia”. h

The song has been recorded a lot over the years by the likes of The Irish Rovers, Gordon Lightfoot, and many more, but the Uncle Dirty Toes version has always been my favorite. (One time on St. Patrick’s Day, I requested this song and the acoustic player knew it!) Throughout the UDT show, I remember their lead singer saying something like “This is another Richard Thompson song” a few times. I’d never heard of him then, but came to find out he’s quite a songwriter and played in folk-rock mega band Fairport Convention. “Meet on the Ledge” is one of my faves.

I purchased the Uncle Dirty Toes album “Foot to the Path” and highly recommend it. I’ve never met any of the band members or anything like that, but I just think their music is fantastic.   My favorite original UDT tunes include” Mother England”, “Make Them Come Alive”, and “Boys of Bedlam” (I believe “dirty toes” is a line from this particular song.) If you have any appreciation for traditional folk, folk-rock, or just good music in general, I urge you to check them out. 

I haven’t seen Uncle Dirty Toes play live in many years, but just to put an exclamation point on them, they even performed a cut from The Beatles’ Revolver album: “Tomorrow Never Knows”” — I’ve never heard anyone else attempt this song live — not even The Beatles themselves. In conclusion, I’m thankful to my uncle and Uncle Dirty Toes for turning me on to some great music.

Till next time keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Sundown, Stars, and Pele’

Certain songs bring back certain memories. It’s weird how those things happen. It’s not intentional. It’s more like some sort of accidental psychological conditioning. (Ask Pavlov’s Dog or B.F. Skinner.) For me, one of those songs is “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot. I don’t hear it very often, but EVERY TIME I do, it not only takes me back to the 1970s, but to a specific place/time.

For me, it takes me back to a summertime soccer game, but not just ANY game. This one involved the man widely thought to be THE all-time greatest soccer player ever: Pele’. I was lucky enough to see him play. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old at the time, but my dad took me to the event. It was a match between the New York Cosmos (who signed Pele’) and the St. Louis Stars. This was, according the North American Soccer League website, the “golden era” 

I’m pretty sure Pele’ scored a goal. I wish I could remember more details about it now. I briefly tried to look up game records, but it could have even been an exhibition game. (Maybe some soccer stats guru can help me out here.) In any event, that song “Sundown” must have been played at least 10 times over the PA system. I don’t remember hearing the song before that night, but when I hear it now, it takes me back to that hot summer night at Francis Field, St. Louis, MO. It’s pretty amazing how the song has kept that memory alive for me.

If you’re unfamiliar with Pele’, you should hear his story because it’s (in a word that’s vastly overused nowadays) inspiring. The story goes something like this: He grew up in poverty-stricken Brazil without even the funding for a proper soccer ball, but he used whatever he could. (Sock stuffed with newspaper?) And, damn, did he get good! Fast forward a few years and Pele’ not only went on to lead the Brazilian National Team to three World Cup championships, but also helped to spread soccer’s popularity throughout the United States and elevate the world’s most popular sport that much higher. Talk about a guy “playing on another level”.

In terms of pop culture, Pele’ even made it to the big screen with Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine in 1981’s “Victory”. There’s a scene with Pele’ juggling a soccer ball (that’s juggling with his feet) which is basically his own personal story of growing up and learning to play soccer. His skills were amazing and his story still is.

It’s strange how a Canadian singer-songwriter and a Brazilian soccer player can be thrown together into one great memory. For that, I’m grateful.

Till next time keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

November 23, 1963

The letters J.F.K. may be the easiest three syllables to stir up controversy and/or a good old fashioned argument.. You could call the day President John F. Kennedy died one of the worst in American history — and calling his assassination fodder for conspiracy theorists might be the understatement of the century. (More on that later.) Was it solely the action of Lee Harvey Oswald? Many would argue against that. Who benefited the most from JFK’s death? Did people want Kennedy dead, and why? If you’ve ever watched or read anything about that day, you’ve probably heard a lot of the same stuff.

However, the 2013 film Parkland was a completely different take on this important American story to me. (Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas was the place where both JFK and Oswald were taken after being shot, and is a big part of this film.) For example, did you know Oswald had a brother?

I decided not to show the official trailer because I knew nothing about the film before I rented it at a Redbox. ( I think the trailer could give too much of it away.) You experience some of the pain, sorrow, anger, anxiety, and other emotions that day brought upon many different people: Dallas Police, Secret Service agents, Jackie Kennedy, Oswald’s family, Abraham Zapruder, and more. The film features an interesting cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, and Paul Giamatti to name a few. The performances of Marcia Gay-Harden as a Parkland E.R. nurse and David Harbour as a Secret Service agent stand out in my mind. Tom Hanks and others were involved in its production.

The hard to find 2002 film Interview with the Assassin , on the other hand, is in no way a historical drama like the previously mentioned film. It’s a work of fiction and one of the most creative ideas for a film I’ve ever encountered. It was written and directed by Neil Burger.

The basic story line starts with an out of work TV cameraman interviewing his creepy neighbor (believably played by Raymond J. Barry) who claims to have been a gunman on the grassy knoll during JFK’s assassination. From there, the two go down a rabbit hole and take the audience along with them on a sweaty-palmed adventure. This film is creepy — not in a horror movie kind of way — more in a psychological/make your skin crawl kind of way. Like Parkland, I had never heard of this movie, but the DVD box marked “from the producers of Rounders” caught my eye. This movie blew me away! It’s a true one-of-a-kind. There really aren’t any big name actors, but the STORY itself is amazing. Wikipedia describes the film’s style as “pseudo-documentary” so it has a realistic feel. After all, the protagonist is a cameraman . If you can find this movie, you’ll most likely have to buy it, but it’s well worth it. This isn’t a film for the mainstream masses, but it is fantastic.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Unheard Of Stones

I enjoy bands with long histories because you can keep discovering songs you might not have previously heard. Maybe the songs were just not mainstream enough or were not as “radio-friendly” as some of their other material. There are load of songs which fall into this “Unheard Of” category. The first one that pops to mind was originally released by The Rolling Stones on 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request. Just to clarify, the song I’m talking about is called “2000 Man” — not to be confused with “2000 Light Years From Home” from the same record. “2000 Man” is not the greatest Jagger-Richards song ever written, but it’s worth a listen. It’s an interesting track with an acoustic intro and some spacey effects on it.

The drums have an interesting sound to them — not sure if that’s an effect on them? To my ears, parts of the song have a bit an Indian vibe. I was actually turned on to this song via KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley — fittingly, he was “The Space Man” character of the group. Frehley sang the lead vocal on this 1979 Dynasty track and re-recorded it on KISS Unplugged during the mid Nineties. He turns up the volume on this one with a more straight ahead rock sound and gives it a less trippy feel.

Kudos, Ace.

Another Rolling Stones song I just discovered during the past few years is from the Mick Taylor era. More specifically, the plaintive ballad “Winter” was released on 1973’s demonically-titled release Goats Head Soup.

Like many Stones songs, it features a guitar tuned to Open G. However, according to Wikipedia, this song is a Mick & Mick (Jagger and Taylor) effort with no contribution from The Mighty Keef. .

The songwriting credit still went to Jagger & Richards, though, with no credit going to Taylor. This type of thing was, supposedly, one of the reasons why Mick Taylor left the band. Later, Taylor recorded a couple of long, epic versions of this song with Carla Olson on vocals. I also found some live covers of “Winter” featuring Open G aficionado Rich Robinson.

Say it with me…Kudos, Rich. I think this song deserves to be kept alive. It’s too bad Mick Taylor allegedly got the shaft on the songwriting credits because I think it’s an interesting, beautiful song.

There are other “Unheard Of” songs by other bands I’m sure I’ll mention as time continues. I’d be thrilled to discover more by The Rolling Stones.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Joan Jett: Covers ‘N Attitude

Joan Jett — wow, what can you say about her? Could you label her a rock ‘n roll icon? Yes. A punk pioneer? Yes. Chick with an attitude? Yes. Perhaps just calling her a “rocker” or a “rock ‘n roller” is the most accurate, if not important, label you could try to stick on her. (Roots rocker also works in my book.) Joan Jett has recorded a lot of well-known cover versions of other artists material. Most people, myself included, didn’t know “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” was a cover – it was written by Alan Merrill and was originally released by The Arrows in in the mid 70’s.

Joan Jett and The Blackhearts’ cover version, on the album of the same name, was released in 1980. What a song! They took it to another level. The Jett version is in the same vein as the original, but its memorable guitar solo rocks even harder. This record had a powerful sound. I can remember being at a school picnic one night when I was in about sixth grade with this song was blasting out of the largest, loudest PA system I’d ever heard in my life. It was FANTASTIC! It was like being bathed in the SOUND of rock ‘n roll music.

Jett and The Blackhearts were no one trick pony in the quality cover department. The “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” album has some good ones. Most folks have heard their stellar version of the Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover”, but there’s also “Nag” (The Halos) , “Bits and Pieces” (Dave Clark Five), and the Christmas tune “The Little Drummer Boy” — but, I digress.

The song I absolutely have to mention is one of my favorite Joan Jett and The Blackhearts covers — it’s a tune called “Roadrunner” which was written by Jonathan Richman and recorded by his band The Modern Lovers. The song itself is poetry. It’s a stream of consciousness take on driving around and rocking out to the radio, but not in a “Fun, Fun, Fun” kind of way. It’s a celebration of freedom. My words don’t do this two chord song justice. You just have to experience it.

Do all of the lyrics make literal sense? Not really, but you get it anyway. It captures and expresses that feeling of freedom and the open road. (Side note: This song is not to be confused with the also amazing Bo Diddley tune of the same name. Maybe someday, someone will record the two as a medley.)

One of my other favorite covers is the somewhat obscure version of “Love Is All Around”, better known as the TV theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. This rendition blew me away the first time I heard it. I came across the one minute version on 1997’s “Fit to be Tied” collection of hits.

This version is a piece of pop-culture-heaven for so many different reasons. It was written by Sonny Curtis (who also played in The Crickets and wrote “I Fought the Law”. Wow, can punk’s origins really be traced to Texas?) If you were alive in the 70’s you definitely saw the MTM Show, complete with kitty cat parody of the MGM lion thing at the end of every episode. For me, I thought, “Wow, it’s this song I know, but it’s Joan Jett and she totally made it her own.” Call it a punk rock masterpiece. I think her version was used commercially to promote a women’s basketball tournament.

What else can you say about Joan Jett? Her no-compromise, rock ‘n roll attitude shines through in her original and her covers. Maybe that’s what makes them so powerful. There are many other Joan Jett covers so I may have to re-visit the topic another day.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!