Ladies and gentlemen, The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones are playing in Orlando tomorrow (Friday, June 12). I love the Stones, they were the first rock band that I really got into, but I never had any inclination to go see them live again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will be a really great spectacle (I hesitate to use the word “concert,” because Rolling Stones shows have been more spectacle than concerts for years now), but I have seen them once, I don’t need to see them again. For one thing, I’m just not into paying top dollar to see 70 something year olds play music, but for another, I have no real desire to deal with that many people in one place unless it’s really something special. The one time I did get to see them, it was indeed something special.

I saw the Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour in 1989, playing the football stadium in Clemson, SC, and it was absolutely packed (So that means 70, 80K). My friend and later college roommate Tommy and I camped out overnight outside of the venerable (and by venerable I mean “absolute dump”) Greenville Memorial Auditorium to score tickets, paying what was then a kings ransom of $45 (45!) to sit a few rooms from the top of the stadium.

Even though we camped out, I remember that we were still pretty far back in line, and we were worried that we weren’t going to actually get tickets. Then, for reasons I still haven’t quite figured out, the line in front of us started to move, slowly at first, but soon it was a full gallop sprint. We were kind of slow getting up and moving, which was good for us, because all these people ended up doing was running in a circle around the building and losing their place in line. Some how, some way, the rumor had started that the tickets were going to be sold at a different window, and literally hundreds and hundreds of people ran themselves into a place at the back of the line. And I’ll always thank them, because I’m pretty sure more than a few of them walked away empty-handed the next day.

Fast forward then to November 29, 1989, as we begin the climb to our seats. If you’ve been to a football game at Clemson’s stadium and have sat in the upper deck, you’ll know that it is a steep climb. The deck angles basically straight up, so making that climb is more than a little daunting when your ticket is row “Double Letter.” The first thing we noticed on our climb is that our section was stage left, and by “stage left” I mean so far to the left of the stage that the only time we saw drummer Charlie Watts was at the end when he walked to the front of the stage to wave goodbye to the crowd. The other thing was how big the stage was. Where we were eventually sitting was pretty much eye level with the top of the stage setup, which (I may be misremembering this but it sticks in my mind) had warning lights on the top to warn low-lying aircraft.

Living Color opened the show, and I’m sure they were good but we didn’t make it into the stadium in time to see much of their set, but I do remember how good they sounded on our trek into the stadium. You know how at a lot of outdoor shows the sound is pretty terrible and actually gets worse the closer you get to the stage? Not at a Stones show, my friends. The sound setup was like nothing I’ve ever heard since, and it sounded like the band were playing in your living room no matter where you were within about a 1/2 mile radius of the stage.

The Stones kicked things off with classic track/eventual Windows 95 theme song Start Me Up, which was memorable from out vantage points because Keith Richards boot appeared out of the smoke and haze of the front stage fireworks about the same time as the riff from his guitar reached us. I remember it being a pretty great set, if a tad but heavy on the album they were ostensibly touring behind. A quick search of the Google tells me that 6 of 25 songs in the main set were from Steel Wheels, which in retrospect isn’t that bad at all (the ratio of songs, not the album Steel Wheels – that was a dud).

I remember the highlight being toward the end of the set with Happy (Keith on vocals!), Paint it Black, the underrated 2000 Light Years From Home (one of the few bright spots of the Stones short-lived psychedelic phase), and Sympathy of the Devil. Towards the end of 2000 Light Years most of the house lights went down and the stage was basically dark as the band faded out of the song, before the spotlight revealed Mick Jagger on a platform at the top of the stage, more or less parallel from us, as the opening percussion of Sympathy sounded. The entire audience went apesh*t and drowned out the band completely. It was AWESOME. Easily one of the best concert moments of my life, and I’m sure in a lot of people’s lives. This video from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas doesn’t do it justice, as you don’t get the perspective on where Mick was to start the song, but it basically took him the entire guitar solo to make his way back down to the stage mid-song.

Moments like that are why you pay the money, brave the crowds, and go see what even then was a band threatening to reach self-caricature status – not to go see a band play only their hits for the millionth time. The Stones back catalog is unfathomably deep, so that for every Satisfaction and Jumpin’ Jack Flash, you’ll get to hear songs like Midnight Rambler and Dead Flowers as well. I doubt they let Mick journey to the top of the stages any more (probably for a litany of insurance reasons), but you’re guaranteed to see something amazing, no doubt. I just never need to see it again. I do hope everyone going enjoys the show, regardless.

Editor’s Note: I fully stipulate that I am old and there was enough marijuana smoke gathered in a haze in the upper stratosphere of the stadium where we were sitting to give everyone in the upstate of South Carolina a contact high that night, so I may have misremembered and/or hallucinated some or all of the details described here. The important thing though is that this is how I remember it, so that’s just as good as it actually happening. Caveat emptor though, just in case.

Cheers.

The best of 1969 mix tape

So here we are. 1004 songs, 67 mixes, 57 blog posts, and 9 months later, it’s the final entry in the “best of…mix tape” project. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted just counting up those totals. Finishing on 1969 was no picnic either, as I had to cut fantastic songs from Townes Van Zant, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Scott Walker and a bunch of others  to whittle this mix down the required hour. For once I’m at a loss for words, so enjoy one last time.

Love Man – Otis Redding

One of the my favorite Otis Redding songs, which didn’t appear until two years after his death.

Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin

Without a doubt a pretty killer tune.

Hot Burrito #2 – The Flying Burrito Brothers

You might question including this at the expense of say, Space Oddity by David Bowie, but I’ll stand by its inclusion. Outside of The Velvet Underground the FBBs may be one of the most influential artists on this mix. The entire genre of “country-rock” basically exists due to Gram Parsons.

Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival

One of the all-time classic tunes. It was either this or Proud Mary, and that’s not really much of a decision.

Pale Blue Eyes – The Velvet Underground

So many classic tunes from The VU, in so little time.

Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones

Awesome, blues-y tune? Check. Mick Jagger singing in an affected country accent? Check. That’s the recipe for a top shelf Stones tune, alright.

It’s Your Thing – The Isley Brothers

Love this tune a LOT.

Girl From the North Country – Bob Dylan (and Johnny Cash)

The Dylan-Cash recording sessions are a thing of almost mythical proportions, but sadly this is the only official release that came out of that collaboration. There are multiple bootleg recordings floating around the interwebs though, should you be so inclined to look for them. (Here’s a good place to start.)

I Wanna Be Your Dog – The Stooges

If it’s possible to be lightyears ahead of your time while sounding absolutely OF your time, then this song is it.

Suzanne – Leonard Cohen

A stone classic from one of the true giants of song craft.

Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young

Does this song make any sense? No, not particularly. But it’s awesome nonetheless.

The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel

Hands down my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song (today).

I Can’t Get Next To You – The Temptations

Another monster track from one of the most underrated acts of the decade.

Pinball Wizard – The Who

Timeless stuff. When you think about it though, a rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who plays pinball is a pretty bizarre stuff.

Everyday People – Sly & the Family Stone

So many great songs from Sly. And so many great messages in most of them.

Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley

A straight up classic. You know it’s good because it made the cut over In the Ghetto, which is AWESOME, as well as being a song that I SLAY at karaoke. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, look out.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – The Band

Seems like a perfect way to close out the decade, and the mix tapes project.

Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure.

Which one of your favorites did I miss? (I know, Sweet Caroline.)

And to top it al off, here’s the cumulative best of the 1960s playlist to close everything out.

I think that’s the last mix I’ll make for a while. 67 is enough to be getting on with for now.

Cheers.

The best of 1968 mix tape

This is the next to the last entry in the “best of…mix tape” project (at least until 2015 is over). I’m not going to lie to you – my enthusiasm for finishing this lagged a bit there towards the end. I love making mix tapes about as much as I love anything in the world outside of my family, friends, and Susanna Hoffs, but after making 60 or so my natural “I don’t want to do anything that I feel like I’m forced to do” gene kicked in, and it got a little tough. So huzzah for overcoming this lifelong instinct and seeing this project through to completion. Now, if only I had found that kind of strength and mental fortitude when taking chemistry or math. “Way to waste a moment of personal growth on something completely worthless” (my mom, just now, probably).

Before I get to the list, a quick word about Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. I’ve had about 15 Zappa tracks on various incarnations of these mixes, but don’t think any have actually made the final cut. Several of them probably should, but Zappa’s music was SO unique and out of the ordinary that quite frankly they sounded too jarring to include. So, consider this restitution for all of the tracks that should have been included, Frank. It’s not like you would have cared one bit, but it makes me feel better at least.

On to the list, which is once again a Doors-free safe haven.

Dance to the Music – Sly & The Family Stone

It’s kind of sad really that one of The Family’s most inconsequential songs from a content standpoint is one of their best musically. Seriously, how can you sit still when this one is playing?

White Light/White Heat – The Velvet Underground

Hey, it’s my favorite heroin-related song, from a band that wrote more than one of them (allegedly).

Song of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield

All hail Dusty, first of her name, Mother of Dragons and queen of the Andals and the Seven Kingdoms. Wait, what? No? Well, she should be.

Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix

When people talk about what an amazing guitar player Hendrix was, this in my mind is the song they are talking about. It wasn’t so much recorded as created, chiseled on stone tablets and sent down from the heavens as gift to all mankind.

Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you still, only these days all they see are A-Rod and Brett Gardner.

Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin

Of all the amazing Aretha Franklin songs out there, this is head and shoulders my favorite of the lot.

The Weight – The Band

I don’t really know what it means, but this song just sounds important, doesn’t it?

Pictures of Matchstick Men – Status Quo

Thanks to the popularity of the Camper Van Beethoven cover amongst many people my age, I still meet a lot of folks who do not realize that it was originally a Quo song. Hopefully this clears things up.

Cocaine Blues – Johnny Cash

I’m violating the no live song rule for this one, because, well, it’s Johnny Freaking Cash, and The Man in Black don’t play by your rules, man.

Hurdy Gurdy Man – Donovan

I debated this one for a while. It’s not a song I particularly enjoy to be honest, but it does seem to scream 1968 to such an extent that I couldn’t justify leaving it off the mix. Plus it sounds like the template for about 15 great David Bowie songs.

Mama Tried – Merle Haggard

This one is basically the template for every good country song every written. Trains, Mama, church, sorrow, and prison (I think we can assume there was a large amount of whiskey consumed as well somewhere between hopping the freight train and the life term in prison).

The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks

Just my favorite Kinks song ever. Used to excellent effect in the movie Hot Fuzz.

Piece of My Heart – Big Brother & The Holding Company

First off, this isn’t a Janis Joplin solo recording, though most people assume that it is. Second, if it wasn’t for Son of a Preacher man, I would have put the Dusty Springfield version of this song on here. Janis was great and all, but subtly and nuance wasn’t her strong point, and that’s being charitable.

The Way Young Lovers Do – Van Morrison

You can make a very strong case that Astral Weeks is the best album of all time. You’d be wrong, but I wouldn’t try and argue with you all that much.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones

Ok, how’s this for a musical Sophie’s Choice? How do you choose between Sympathy for the Devil and this song? You can’t really. JJF wins by virtue of being shorter, which usually ends up being the tie breaker for these mixes. Can’t go wrong either way, really, though a part of me isn’t sure the best Stones choice here isn’t Prodigal Son. Or maybe Salt of the Earth. Curse you Beggars Banquet and your endless supply of awesomeness!

Ole Man Trouble – Otis Redding

Of all the musicians lost too soon, Otis is probably the one that I miss the most. Nothing but fried gold here.

The Pusher – Steppenwolf

This song is just flat out amazing, and a great way to close things out.

There she is. The penultimate entry in the “Best of…mix tape” project. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure.

Admit it, you’re going to miss these when I’m done.

Cheers.

The best of 1967 mix tape

I’ve been looking forward to 1967 for a long, long time, if for no other reason than to have an excuse to intentionally leave Doors songs off this mix. Yeah, I think To Sir With Love is approximately 100000x superior to Break on Through (To The Other Side). This dude does not abide by Jim Morrison (except for LA Woman. That one might have a chance). Also, apologies to Pink Floyd and Miles Davis for not finding room for songs from your two great albums on here. I may be the only person alive that thinks The Piper At the Gates of Dawn is the best Floyd album, but I do love me some Syd Barrett.

To the mix then. The rest of the best of the 1960s mixes are here, and you can find the basic rules for inclusion here.

Give Me Some Lovin’ – The Spencer Davis Group

There was a brief period of time when I was 13, about a month really, where this was my favorite song of all time. I still totally dig it.

So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N Roll Star – The Byrds

Hmm, on second thought, no I don’t, because one day the internet will exist and jerks with no musical talent will write pretentious blog posts about how my music sucks. Plus, I look like a moron in tight pants. Good call, JLo.

I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Loved You) – Aretha Franklin

How great is this song? It made it to the list instead of Respect, which also came out in 1967, so there.

The Wind Cries Mary – Jimi Hendrix

Picking a song from Are You Experienced? is well nigh impossible. This one is a personal favorite, but I could have gone three or four other ways and been just as happy.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Gladys Knight & The Pips

Want to really find out if somebody has excellent taste in music? Ask them which version of this song they like best. If they reply the Gladys Knight version, then you’ve got a winner. (If they mention anything about the California Raisins, you are legally allowed to bludgeon them with a shovel in 39 states. Wait, what? I’m being told that is not true. It should be though.)

There She Goes – The Velvet Underground

Yet another album where it’s basically impossible to pick just one song, but this one is just smudge better than the rest in my humble opinion. I almost wrote IMHO, but then I would have risked a shovel bludgeoning as well, so I thought better of it. The same should be true for use of selfie sticks. Or taking selfies in general. Basically, shovel bludgeoning is a vastly underused penalty and we should seriously reconsider its use. How in the world did I get to shovel bludgeoning from The VU? Oh well, let’s move on, shall we?

Ruby Tuesday – The Rolling Stones

What a tune. Too bad they named a crappy chain restaurant after it. Eat at Ruby Tuesday’s voluntarily? That’s a bludgeoning.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, this is one of my kids favorite songs. What would happen if you could go back in time and tell Marvin Gaye that his music would reach a whole new audience thanks to a movie that featured a kick ass, talking raccoon and a dancing, humanoid tree? He’d probably bludgeon you with a shovel, wouldn’t he? See, it really is the one size fits all punishment.

I’m A Lonesome Fugitive – Merle Haggard

I fear that Merle has been criminally underrepresented in these mixes. Hopefully this makes up for it a bit.

Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane

This songs practically screams 1967.

The Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

You could make a really good case that, outside of the Beatles, nobody had a bigger impact on the music of the 1960s than Smokey Robinson. Seriously, the man wrote basically EVERYTHING.

Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees

There’s real depth in this song, a rather blistering indictment of the blandness of suburban life hidden behind a pleasant, jaunty tune.

Jackson – Johnny & June Carter Cash

If you ever doubted bond between Johnny and June Carter, just listen to the playful banter between the two in this gem.

Once I Was – Tim Buckley

As unique and powerful a voice as you’ll find on any of these mixes.

Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

In many ways this is kind of a bizarro companion piece to Pleasant Valley Sunday, only it celebrates the bustling urban life.

Happy Together – The Turtles

Possibly the prototype late 60s pop rock song.

Soul Man – Sam & Dave

As much as I loved the Blues Brothers, the original crushes their version like a grape and then grounds it into a fine cabernet, or possibly a merlot.

When Joanna Loved Me – Scott Walker

Along with Tim Buckley and Leonard Cohen, Walker was and remains king of the melancholy crooners.

Tales of Brave Ulysses – Cream

2:46 in length, which gives it the upper hand over Sunshine of Your Love.

To Sir, With Love – Lulu

Hey Doors, To Sir, With Love has a classic Sidney Poitier movie on its side. You don’t have a Sidney Poitier movie, do you? Didn’t think so.

All Along The Watchtower – Bob Dylan

Hendrix took this song and made it his own (as well as a completely different animal), but I’m always partial to the original.

I’m not going to lie to you, making fun of the Doors never gets old. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure.

Only two more mix tapes to go! How did I do? Does my dislike of the Doors come through clear enough?

Cheers.

The predictable, confounding, infuriating, and ultimately satisfying Mad Men finale

Mad Men is without question one of the great television dramas of all time, and maybe one of the last purely character dramas that will gain a wide foothold of cultural significance. With seemingly every show on television obsessed with one upping itself with plot twists, Mad Men was stubbornly resistant to the trend. The show was intimately intertwined in history, but its characters remained outside observers, watching events like the Kennedy assassinations, the Chicago riots, and the moon landing on television just like everybody else. One can imagine the machinations and back flips one of the current generation of show runners might go through to insert Don, or Roger, or Peggy directly into these events, but Matthew Weiner was content to let them unfold around a cast of characters and focus instead on their reactions, everyday lives, hopes and dreams, and disappointments.

Many have speculated for years that Mad Men had only one possible ending, one that flashed before us every episode during the opening credits: Don Draper plunging to his death in imitation of the falling man silhouette. I never thought that Weiner would choose to end the show with anything so dramatic, though he certainly hinted and toyed with that result for much of the final episode. I was frankly surprised at the episode that Weiner delivered, as it bordered on an old-fashioned, upbeat ending, with each of the major characters getting a send off and the man in the middle seemingly finding redemption (until THAT commercial ran before the close). It’s probably best to mirror Weiner’s approach and take the round robin tour through the characters as we left them.

Pete & Trudy: On a show defined by shallow consumerism, it’s appropriate that the show’s two shallowest characters (well, maybe they aren’t as shallow as Harry Crane, but its a near run thing. Do NOT get in Harry’s way when he’s hungry) found each other again. Pete did show one of his occasional glimpses of humanity saying goodbye to Peggy, but she has a way of uncovering the best in everyone, even Pete. Dear Trudy, you know Pete will disappoint you eventually, but at least you get unlimited use of a private jet out of the deal, so it’s probably worth it to you. They say success is fleeting, but that has to be doubly true of any success that stems from the efforts of Duck Phillips, right? Caveat emptor, Peter.

Betty, Sally, and Bobby #what? 5?: Ah poor Betty. You gained wisdom, clarity, and a sense of self-worth finally, and all it took to cement it was a terminal cancer diagnosis. She showed admirable strength and determination during her final phone call with Don (it was fitting that Don’s final three phone calls were with Sally, Betty, and Peggy, the three women left that he truly cared about, but more on that in a minute), firmly but lovingly rejecting Don’s proposal to return and take the children. Betty, you may have been a crap mom for most of the show, but you ended well. Sally’s eventual nervous breakdown and rebirth as a self help guru in the 80s will likely be delayed for a few years thanks to you and your efforts. Well done, Birdie.

Roger Sterling: Speaking of someone who needs his own talk show, tell me you wouldn’t watch a one-hour, Dick Cavett-style talk show/variety show called Sterling’s Gold (based on the best-selling book)? Enjoy Montreal, Roger. Don summed Marie up best: You know she’s crazy, right? (Best: Joan’s reaction to Roger’s reveal of the identity of his latest, and possibly final, flame.)

Joan Harris: Let me just say this: I LOVED Joan’s final storyline. For so long she’s been defined by what she looks like and what men want to do for her/to her, good and bad, so it was really thrilling to see her cast off a seemingly dream relationship to pursue her new career. Even Peggy, seemingly her ally but someone who she has always had something of frosty relationship with, has consistently underestimated Joan and dismissed her potential based on her looks. Rock on, Joan Harris. You deserve it, and don’t let the fellas define who you are anymore, and stay away from the cocaine, m’kay? (I’m totally willing to overlook the fact that your move to independence was definitely underwritten by the generous bequest to your son from Roger, ensuring his future regardless of what happens to Harris Productions.)

Peggy (and Stan): So, the one thing I didn’t really expect from Mr. Weiner was straight up fan service. Mad Men has always been as much Peggy’s story as Don’s, but did anybody see the Nora Ephron movie ending coming for Peggy and Stan? I can see why she rejected Joan’s offer and the chance to be her own boss; she’s always wanted to succeed in advertising, and Joan’s offer, while enticing on the surface, would have been ultimately unfulfilling. (Also, see above about her refusal to take Joan seriously on a professional level.) Regardless, everybody’s thrilled to see that Peggy is seemingly happy, but little does know that by staying at McCann she’s likely steering into the path of Hurricane Draper again in he near future.

Don: First off, let say that I’m thoroughly unnerved by the sight of Don Draper in a denim jacket. It’s fitting that we get see his three phone calls with the there women left who he truly cares about, and each of them reject him in their own way. Even Peggy, who seemingly shows the most concern for him, doesn’t seem to spare him a second thought once Stan the Man comes into the picture. It slowly dawns on Don that none of these women need him, that they are truly better off and have made their own way without him. So surely here’s where Don is going to fulfill the reoccurring prophecy of the credits and hurl himself off the cliffs into the sea below, right? Well no, but at least Don’s transformation back into Dick Whitman is going to be made whole by some group therapy, self-reflection, and early morning meditation. But then we see the smile, and one of the most iconic television ads in history rolls and the meaning is clear: here is the ultimate triumph of consumerism over everything. Neither personal redemption, nor cultural ideals can stand in the way of a great Don Draper pitch, and in retrospect it should have been obvious (and it was obvious to one TV critic and his colleague). The Coke account was the bait that McCann used to try and lure Don into the fold from season 1, and presumably it finally succeeded. Mad Men has never shied away from cynicism, so it seems fitting that Don’s final moments should be a smirking, jingle-filled monument to the triumph of that cynicism to over all.

Whatever you make of the ending, Mad Men ended on Mathew Weiner’s terms, and I’ll miss it. It’s not too late, though, for Trudy to come to her senses. RUN FOR THE HILLS. TRUDY! Wait, there are no hills in Kansas.

Cheers.

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