More than 10 years ago, during my final days in Omaha, a friend and I had a great conversation about the greatest opening hooks in music. Classics such as “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix or “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple were discussed. (Not all the bands involved the color purple, I promise.) One song we did not discuss was “Mother Russia” by Renaissance. The opening strings with the building crescendo of piano chords is a beautiful grabber for the 1974 song about the U.S.S.R.’s banishment of writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I really like this song. I hope you do, too.
It looks like it’s going to be a country music week on Morning Mixtape. I’m a big fan of community radio. In Des Moines, my hometown and current residence, we have KFMG, a low-power station which broadcasts out of the Hotel Fort Des Moines on the southern edge of downtown Des Moines. I heard “Amarillo Highway” by Terry Allen tonight on KFMG when I was going out to get some dinner. This video comes from KDHX, the terrific community radio station in St. Louis, where I once lived. So from one community station to another, enjoy this song.
The AMC series “Halt and Catch Fire” is less moody, atmospheric drama and more meaningless spectacle, but one thing it gets right is good period music for each of its characters. A lesser production would have simply used the top pop hits from the late 1970s and early 1980s for the background, but “HCF” has created smart playlists that fit the mindset and mood of the characters. In fact, AMC published those playlists on Spotify. I recommend you check them out. I discovered a lot of ’80s college rock and alternative sounds through those playlists. And for once character, a native Texan, there is a high quality country playlist that includes this gem from Don Williams, “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend.” Williams took this straight-shooting song to No. 1 in 1977. I enjoy this song. I hope you do, too.
“Every Breath You Take” by the Police was the best-selling single of 1983. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks. It is also possible the most popular song dedicated to stalking every recorded. Because if you listen to the words — “Can’t you see? You belong to me.” — are downright creepy. But nobody really listens to the words.
The song “Toy Soldiers” by recording artist Martika reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1989. After my dad died, Mom 1.0 sprung for cable after we moved into town from the acreage west of Winterset. This video was in heavy rotation that summer. The sing-song chorus reminds me of the rhythmic chatter girls used to say when they skipped rope in games of double dutch in elementary school. Interesting side note: The backup singers on this track include a number of women who would go on to success in their own right, including Stacy Ferguson and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Enjoy this song.
The film “The Legend of Billie Jean,” an enjoyable teenage rebellion movie from 1985, was released on Blu-ray this week. The movie stars Helen Slater, as a teenager trying to protect her brother from bullies and her self from a sleazy store owner who tries to rape her. I’ve always enjoyed the film, though critics thought it was lousy. So it goes. The Pat Benatar song “Invincible” was the theme for the film. I’m a big fan of Benatar, too, even though a lot of people I know don’t think she’s a real rock and roll icon. So, too, that goes. The song reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1985. I hope you like it.
On this day in 1990, Roger Waters performed the Pink Floyd album “The Wall” just north of Potsdamer Platz to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. Guest performers included Bon Jovi, Scorpions, Bryan Adams, Sinéad O’Connor, Cyndi Lauper, Thomas Dolby, Joni Mitchell, Marianne Faithfull, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Van Morrison.
The song “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1996. The song was in heavy rotation on college radio stations and MTV while I was in college. It had been so long since I had heard the song that when it popped up on the local alternative radio station last week, I thought it was a new cover. But I enjoyed 18 years ago, and I enjoy it today. I hope you do, too.
I was at my favorite restaurant several weeks ago when I song I hadn’t heard before started to play. I tried to download that smartphone app that listens to songs and tells you what they are. I couldn’t get it down fast enough and the song ended. All I could remember was “there’s people out there” from the lyrics. I thought it might be something from Richard and Linda Thompson. It had a polished 1970s sound. Maybe it was Fleetwood Mac. I called my buddy Syd Spink, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. We couldn’t come up with anything. I told him it sounded like Stevie Nicks, but not Lindsey Buckingham. But damned if I knew the song. I finally heard the song again and used that app I downloaded. It was “Gold” by John Stewart. Though I completely wiffed on the band, I was at least partially right: Nicks and Buckingham were on the record with Stewart. I enjoyed the adventure figuring out the name of this song. I hope you enjoy the music.
This song is dedicated to all the teachers who tried to get me to pay attention in English class, to all the assignment editors and copy editors who catch my grammatical goofs and to all the retired English teachers who write snotty notes to every person who writes for a living because they may no longer work in a classroom but the can’t resist correcting papers. This is “Word Crimes” by the terrific “Weird Al” Yankovic. Enjoy this song.
Kings of Leon is a band I lost track of in the last decade. I first caught them in 2003 when they played a gig at a riverfront bar in St. Louis when I lived there. I recall enjoying their first EP, “Holy Roller Novocaine.” There might still be a copy of it in the vast Finney Memorial Library. But that was during a time when I bought a lot of albums from two terrific music shops in St. Louis — Vintage Vinyl and Streetside Records. Vintage still thrives, but Streetside died. Anyway, I don’t remember much about the live show. I was with my girlfriend at the time, a lovely blonde girl I met through one of those quicky dating services. She had pretty blue eyes and was extremely loyal. But my head was in a bad place during my years in St. Louis and I was very shabby and abrupt when I ended our relationship. That’s in the past now, but the Kings of Leon live on. I was listening to KFMG here back in Des Moines, I caught this song, “Family Tree,” from Kings of Leon’s 2013 album, “Mechanical Bull.” I liked it. I hope you do, too.
Jenny Lewis has a new album coming out this month called “The Voyager.” The first single released from the record is called “Just One of the Guys,” which is a fun song. Lewis has more fun with the video, which includes actresses Anne Hathaway, Brie Larson and Kristen Stewart. The song has a nice sound and the video is playful. I enjoyed it. I hope you do, too.