I could put together a whole mixtape just of the so-called “hair ballads” from the late 1980s and early 1990s that hold fond memories for me. I hear this song and think of myself as a teenager, my heart racing at the thought of asking a girl to dance or seeing a cheerleader in her pleated skirt that showed just enough thigh or a sweater that hugged her curves. Relationships are complicated endeavors. It only seemed simpler then because we didn’t understand the situation. That state of mind isn’t a place I live anymore, but for the duration of a song, I can visit. This is “When I See You Smile” by Bad English. Enjoy.
The great country and Western star Conway Twitty would have been 81 today. He died in 1993, so don’t rush out for a card. “Family Guy” has used Twitty’s music videos as a running gag in recent years. Still, Twitty had 51 No. 1 hits, a beautiful voice and wrote songs perfect for crying in your beer. Here is one of Twitty’s signature tunes, “Hello, Darlin’.” Enjoy.
Guitarist Rudolf Schenker of the band the Scorpions is 62 years old today. I’m not the kind of music fan who can tell you whether Schenker is a great guitarist or not. I’m really only marking the occasion because their 1991 hit “Wind of Change” mentions Gorky Park in Moscow, Russia. The park is named for the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. I don’t know anything about him, either. But Gorky is a great name. It’s such a great name that I convinced my friend Jessica to name her cat Gorky. Gorky died a while back. She misses him a lot and sees his face in other cats at the shelter. None of this really has anything to do with this song, which is about the end of the Cold War. But I am the kind of music fan who makes bizarre connections to songs. And this is a nice ballad, too. So for whatever reason you like a song, enjoy it.
This isn’t technically a song, but I think Taylor Swift has a terrific attitude and a good sense for physical comedy. Enjoy.
Mister Rogers told us we were all special. That’s true to a certain extent, and while I admire his kindness and respect for the individual, the pressure for conformity — whether it be to social groups or family morays or corporate dictums — is overwhelming. To that I end, I favor the Kinks primal scream of 1966: “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” Enjoy.
The great Bob Dylan is releasing another chapter in his terrific Bootleg Series. This is the 11th volume and it covers the complete Basement Tapes, a series of recordings made with the Band while he recovered from injuries in a motorcycle accident. A compilation of that work was released in 1975 and was a critical and commercial success. But an artist such as Dylan always seems to have thrown away as many gems as as he’s put out. The set is released as a six-CD set for about $150, or a tighter two-CD collection for $20. I am torn which one I will buy. November is an expensive pop culture month. The complete “Batman” TV series from the 1960s is being released on DVD and BluRay for the first time the same day Dylan’s collection drops. It’s a big hit, but this is the highest quality stuff. Anyway, here’s “Odds and Ends” from a previous unofficial bootleg of the Basement Tapes. Enjoy.
One of the things I work hardest on is being a little more Mister Rogers and a little less Incredible Hulk. I am probably kinder than I give myself credit for, but I feel angry and frustrated so much of the time. This 1968 song by Jackie DeShannon offers the simple message: “I hope when you decide, kindness will be your guide.” It feels warm and decent. It’s a feeling I’d like to share more often than anger. So here goes. Enjoy this song.
English recording artist Elvis Costello is 60 years old today. My more musically versed friends could cite much deeper cuts from his catalog than I could. I discovered him through “Veronica,” a 1989 hit from Costello’s album “Spike.” Costello wrote it with Paul McCartney. T-Bone Burnett and Kevin Killen produced it. That’s a lot of talent behind this song and it’s easy to see why it reached No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. I saw Costello in concert once about 10 years ago with my friend Syd Spink and his wife. He and Amos Lee opened for Bob Dylan at an Omaha venue. The disrespectful crowd drunk on $12 beers chatted through Costello’s set. I was so angry by the middle of Dylan’s set that I wanted to go sit in the car until the show was over. Syd talked me out of it. It’s one of many reasons why I don’t go to many shows these days. But this song sure is enjoyable. I hope you like it, too.
I listened to a greatest hits compilation of Tommy James and the Shondells this week. I really forgot how many outstanding hits this band produced in the late 1960s, including five in the top ten: “I Think We’re Alone Now“, “Mirage“, “Mony Mony“, “Sweet Cherry Wine“, and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” Enjoy this song, this band and your whole day fi you can.
I am a Taylor Swift fan. The 24-year-old recording artist and actress is a terrific entertainer. I dismissed her early work because I have a prejudice against young, beautiful people — especially women. They wouldn’t want anything to do with me, so I won’t want anything to do with them. But I saw Swift on “The Late Show with David Letterman” while she was promoting the album “Red” and she won me over. She is upbeat, likable and has a fun, forceful onstage presence. Her new single, “Shake It Off,” is accompanied by a terrific video. She responds to her critics, but goes through a series of graceless dance moves to comedically embrace her imperfections. The song is really good pop music. I enjoyed it. I hope you do, too.