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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in billking's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
9:40 am
Station to Station: Romance of the rails

I reminisce about the romance of the rails and my love of train dining cars in a column I’ve written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can find it at https://on-ajc.com/2XSOLfz.

In addition, some of the stories behind that story can be found at my new Quick Cuts blog page, where I share memories of The Station, an entertainment complex at a former train station in Athens where Leslie and I spent much of our courtship, hanging out at the legendary T.K. Harty’s Saloon, and having our first big date in the “Valdosta” dining car. (See the photo above, by Minla Shields.)

Check it out at: https://billkingquickcuts.wordpress.com/2019/06/14/memories-of-the-station/

You can view a gallery of photos at https://www.ajc.com/entertainment/dining/photos-the-romance-rail-car-dining/vJfelUcWBcwFxAneUPf4UJ/

Current Mood: nostalgic
Wednesday, November 7th, 2018
1:01 pm
A favorite for the holidays
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since my son and I went to a preview screening of Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually,” featuring just about every British actor working at the time.

Read more at my updated Quick Cuts blog!
Monday, September 24th, 2018
11:20 am
Shaken and Stirred: Ranking the 007 Films, From Worst to First

The return of James Bond to movie screens seems a bit up in the air right now, as creative differences have delayed production of the 25th official 007 movie. But, that hasn’t stopped the venerable British superspy from being ubiquitous over the past few weeks.

First, in mid-August, there was another brief media flare-up of the rumor that Idris Elba will become the first black Bond after the next film, which many expect to be Daniel Craig’s last as Agent 007. Elba first teased Bond fans by tweeting, “my names Elba, Idris Elba,” before later denying he’s been approached about the role.

About a week later, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, who’d come on board after Sam Mendes declined to do a third consecutive 007 movie, announced he was quitting the latest production, apparently because of “creative differences” with the star and producers. That’s likely to push “Bond 25” (the working title) back to 2020, rather than the fall of 2019 release originally planned.

And, then, as if that weren’t enough to get Bond fans shaken and stirred, the Starz Encore Action satellite-cable channel decided to show James Bond movies 24/7 all this month, which has allowed me to revisit some old favorites, as well as a few that aren’t exactly classics.

All of that, plus the Guardian publishing a ranking of Bond movies that I disagreed with quite a bit, prompted me finally to undertake my own such list, covering the 24 official films released so far by Eon Productions and the two unofficial movies based on Ian Fleming’s character that resulted from Eon not controlling all the screen rights to the tales.

Click here to read my list!
Sunday, August 26th, 2018
5:23 pm
Apple to the Core: A Fan's Notes
My fascination with Apple Records began in the summer of 1968, when I was watching “It’s Happening,” a Dick Clark-produced weekday rock ’n’ roll variety show hosted by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere of the Raiders. It was a spinoff of the “Happening ’68” program seen Saturdays on ABC after “American Bandstand,” and must see viewing for teenage music fans in that era.

A news segment on the show included a report on a young Welsh woman for whom Paul McCartney was producing a single. (Being half Welsh, I paid particular attention.)

I had heard of The Beatles’ London boutique called Apple, which had closed down recently with a massive giveaway, but I think that TV report was when I first became aware that the Fabs were launching their own record label.

To read more about how I've followed Apple over the ensuing five decades, go to SOMETHING NEW: The Beatlefan Blog.
Monday, July 30th, 2018
10:45 pm
What'll Ya Have: More Memories of The Varsity in Athens
The Varsity, the iconic and colorful Atlanta restaurant, where even presidential candidates and their Secret Service entourages line up just like everyone else to order one of its famed chili dogs, is celebrating its 90th birthday.

But, the Varsity, known as the world’s largest drive-in, isn’t just an Atlanta institution. For 86 years, there’s also been a Varsity in my hometown of Athens. The original Athens location was located downtown, just across from the famed University of Georgia Arch. A larger drive-in version a few miles away came along in 1962, and remains open.

In honor of the restaurant’s birthday, I wrote a column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with memories from me and others about growing up and going to school in the Varsity’s other hometown.

But, in the limited space I was allowed, I couldn’t fit in all of the fond reminiscences and stories about the Varsity that were shared with me. So, here, with minimal editing, are more tales of chili dogs, naked steaks, Frosted Oranges, cold beers and kindly carhops from those who grew up with the Greasy V …

MiMi DuBose Gudenrath:
My Dad, Dr. Bolling S. DuBose, was an internal medicine doctor in Athens for over 50 years. When he set up his practice in Athens in the 1950s, making “house calls” after hours and at night was a common occurrence at our house, and probably all the other docs in town, too! My sisters and brother and I would always wait at the front window late in the afternoon for him to come home, and rush out to hug him. Suppers at our house were around the table as a family but, often, he would get a call during that time and would leave. He was called away to someone’s home almost as often as he was at our table, but that was his work ethic.

There was one night, though, that was sacred … and that was Sunday, sacred because we were in First Presbyterian Sunday school and church each Sunday morning, but Sunday night, we ALWAYS went to the Varsity. ALWAYS. As early as 5, we were expected to place our own order with a please, thank you, yes ma’am, and no sir. My whole life I have always eaten hot dogs and hamburgers plain … totally plain … and I use to love to get to place the order with my Dad. He let me say “May I please have a naked dog?” and I would just die laughing because it was the one place I was allowed to say “naked” in public! My Dad would die laughing because I was laughing so hard, and it is a memory I cherish to this day. If I ordered with my Mom, I had to say “May I have a plain hot dog?” so I always tried to get my Dad’s hand to navigate to the counter. When we all ordered, we all sat down and knew that no one would call and interrupt, so we had Dad to ourselves for this one night … and what better place that the Varsity?

As the Varsity grew, and they had different TV shows on in each room, we would race to the room with our favorite show, either Walt Disney or “Bonanza,” and my parents would always land in the room with the evening news. It was still the best night of the week, because my Dad was always there and I still positioned myself to ask for a “naked dog.” We knew everyone’s name who worked there, because they became part of our Sunday family.

When I was in the 10th grade, I was dating the most handsome boy at Athens High School, at least I thought so, and I loved being his girlfriend! One Friday night in the spring of that year, he was to come pick me up for a date, but instead I got a phone call from him saying he thought we should date other people and he would not be picking me up. I was devasted (aren’t all girls when they get dumped??? ), so I quickly thought to myself I have to get out of the house and not let my parents see how upset I am. I got in our 4-door Ford Falcon stick shift, a very old car, left Hampton Court, and burst into tears. I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing, and no friend to “call,” so I drove onto Milledge off our street and found myself at the Varsity in the back, where you could by then place outside orders from the car. I had no intensions of placing an order, I just needed a safe place to go and cry! Think about that … THE VARSITY WAS MY SAFE SPACE!!!

A few minutes after I had turned off the car — I must have looked a mess in a ratty T-shirt and a baseball hat — someone was tapping on my window. I looked up and there was Jackson, one of the wonderful Varsity employees who had waited on our family off and on for years. I rolled down the window, tears streaming down my face, and he bent down and said, “Miss MiMi, you look like you could use a ‘naked dog walking’ … to which I said, “Yes, I guess I could.” He came back with not one but TWO naked dogs walking, a Frosted Orange, patted me on the shoulder and said, “you don’t owe us for this naked dog … .it’s on us. Now, you stop crying and go find some fun.”

Only at the Varsity … and only in Athens!

Oby Dupree:
Oby remembers when she was attending Athens High School in the late ’60s, and she used to slip out during lunch period and go to the drive-in Varsity nearby, where “you could find a hundred or 200 students having lunch,” despite the fact that only seniors were supposed to have off-campus lunch privileges.

“It was always the Varsity,” she said of the kids who left school against the rules. “That’s just where you went.”

Weekends, you also could find plenty of high school students in the Varsity parking lot. “It was the hangout.”

Her family also had a Sunday Varsity tradition. “Each Sunday, Daddy would go and get four or five boxes of Varsity chili dogs and bring them home, along with a big pickle jar filled with the Varsity’s Big Orange. He did that on Sundays for as long as I can remember.”

Oby and MiMi were close friends in high school and were “cut-ups,” Oby said. One night when she and MiMi were 16, theyd decided to emulate the teenage boys who revved their car engines in the Varsity’s parking lot, looking for someone to race down Broad Street.
Oby had her boyfriend’s Pontiac LeMans for the weekend “and we revved it up at the Varsity and, sure enough, got some takers.”
During the ensuing race, “It was said we were clocked at over 120 miles per hour. We each had a Varsity Orange to celebrate.”

In later years, after she was grown and had a child of her own, she recalled, “My Dad used to take my daughter to the Varsity Monday through Friday for years.”

Ben Anderson:
When I was a sophomore at Athens High, in what was called Study Hall, a senior who will go unnamed asked me if I would like to slip out for a field trip to the satellite Greasy V. After careful deliberation of at least a couple of seconds, I said sure, and off we went. Not 2 minutes after we sat down, the AHS principal walked in and said, "Good morning, gentlemen." He mercifully let us off with a warning to never return during school hours.

Johnny Barrett has a similar story:
Skipping 2nd period one day, as I was leaving the Varsity, Dr. John C. Cragg [the principal] was entering, which extended my visit that day until Dr. Cragg ordered his food and escorted me back to AHS.

Marida West:
OMG! Do I have memories. The best memory is when a lot of my girlfriends would pile in my car. We were always broke, but you couldn’t park [at the drive-in Varsity] unless you ordered something. The manager would run us off. What we did is order one Coke and leave it on the [window] tray so we would be in compliance.

If we saw any boyfriends or potential boyfriends, we would go sit in their cars. If we didn’t get lucky, it would be time to cruise to the Burger Chef to see what was going on there. Of course, we would always go back to the Varsity and order another Coke.

My sister and I went to College Avenue School. Some days we would walk downtown before our mom got off work at Woolworth’s. One day while walking by the [original downtown] Varsity, we saw our uncle. It was hard to believe, as he and his family, along with all my mom’s relatives, lived in Indianapolis and Kokomo, Indiana. We had not seen them in a long time but there they were.

He later told us that he wanted to make sure they ate at the “world famous Varsity” before they came to our house for their week’s visit.
My mom got upset with him, but he said he just couldn’t wait for a famous hot dog

Mindy Bacon:
When I was a little girl in the 1950s it was a common practice in our family to go for "a ride" in the car on a Sunday afternoon or evening. My father loved ice cream, so we would often end up at the Varsity downtown to buy ice cream. I remember being too short to see over the marble counter where you ordered, and recall holding on the edge of the counter and jumping up to try to see what was going on.

When the second Varsity location opened on West Broad Street and Milledge Avenue, there were three TV rooms, each with a color TV tuned to one of the three network stations. It was a big deal to go there to watch “Batman” on TV. I also used to think it a strange juxtaposition of those huge, stately magnolia trees on the property with the drive-in Varsity. The trees were in the yard of the old home that faced Milledge Avenue that was torn down to make way for the Varsity. I seem to recall that, in and of itself, being a controversy in Athens.

In the summer of 1973, I had a summer job at McGregor's, the office supply/stationery/bookstore/print shop downtown. I would take my lunch hour and go to the Varsity and sit and watch the Watergate hearings on the TV. I can still hear the Sen. Sam Ervin's booming Southern drawl in my head.

I am still a big fan of the Varsity and hardly ever drive through Atlanta without stopping there or try to grab some of that outstanding greasy Varsity food when changing planes at the Atlanta airport.

Betz Lowery:
Back in the early 1960s, a Sunday afternoon drive with my parents would usually end up at the downtown Varsity — for an ice cream cone. But, Mother told me that women were never to be seen entering or leaving the Varsity, and that was just the way it was. So, Daddy would go in and come back out, balancing three cones for us to eat in the car.

Apparently, that rule did not apply at the “new" Varsity, and I got to see my first color TV while eating at those "desks" [seats that were like schooldesks]. I thought that was the greatest. One time, we ordered curb service at the new Varsity and I managed to hide the glass with the football player kicking under the seat and took it home with me. I coveted that glass for years.

Danny Morris:
One of my first memories as a toddler is Varsity takeout boxes sitting on a small gas space heater in our little duplex on Lumpkin Street.

I also remember my mom sitting in the car in the slant spaces on College Avenue in front of the Varsity while I went in to order our food. She thought women weren't supposed to go in the V.

Tom Hodgson:
Back in the ’60s, in those days between getting a driver's license and finding a steady girl, my brother Joe and Rusty Gunn and I would find ourselves at the Varsity for dinner. There was a standing bet to see who could eat $5 worth of Varsity food in one sitting. Honestly, we never really tried. But what we did do was see who could order the most food by value and finish. Two chili steaks, an order of rings and a large PC only primed the pump. But that was less than $3. More hamburgers and a Coke could bring your order to $4, but you could never make $5. Rusty usually won. He also usually felt the worst.

Terry Smart:
My mom and dad would take my sister and I downtown to the varsity on Friday nights. We would pull up to the front on College Avenue. And the hops would bring a tray, place on the car door; you had to roll up the window a couple of inches for the tray to fit. My dad always ordered a Frosted Orange. On one particular occasion, a fraternity was hazing their pledges in front of the Varsity by blindfolding them and making them squat and do a duck walk in single file while quacking. Why can’t life be that simple and entertaining now?

Kyle Brown:
My one memorable experience is from when I walked in the Varsity in the ’70s with a giant red afro, and I could've sworn the counter guy said, "Hippie?" I said "What?!?" and he repeated himself. Only then did I realize what he actually said was "He'p ya?"

Doug Vinson:
So many great sights and sounds from the Varsity. … I remember as a junior high kid seeing two well-lubricated football fans order the famous “two chili dogs walkin’” and two Frosted Orange drinks for takeout, but they were a bit wobbly and decided to plop down at a booth. Each time one of them made a point about the game, he dipped his chili dog in the other fellow’s drink as he continued pontificating. One guy slipped a flask out every now and then and put extra cough syrup in their frosties. By the time they finally finished up their fare and headed out the Varsity doors, they were “two Dawgs barely walkin’.”

Students who attended the University of Georgia also have fond memories of the Varsity …

Steve Oney:
My main memory involves beer, which makes me a classic University of Georgia alum. The downtown Varsity sold ice-cold cans from a glass-topped refrigerated case by the counter. I'm pretty sure it was the closest spot to campus where you could get one. Some evenings, I'd have a beer and a hotdog for dinner while reading the newspaper I'd just bought at Barnett's [a newsstand next door].

In a larger sense, I always loved that street corner. It really felt collegiate, and embodied the town and gown aspect of Athens. Behind the arch was academia. On the other side, beer and newspapers.

Bill Berryman:
In April, 1974, I was a senior at UGA carrying a full load at the J School and working full time at the Athens Daily News as the State Editor —which meant I covered a lot of county commission and school board meetings. UPI called Plott Brice, the editor, and asked if he would send someone to cover Sen. Ted Kennedy’s speech the next Saturday morning at the Law School for Law Day. Plott offered it to me, and I gladly took the $15 or so it paid.

The speech was in the main auditorium where I would later attend Dean Rusk’s International Law class. I walked up to the entrance, and there were groups of prominent politicians and lawyers chatting. A man standing alone off to the side opened the door for me — Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. We exchanged pleasantries, and I walked toward my seat.

Hunter S. Thompson was standing at the back of the auditorium. The effect that Hunter S. Thompson had on the alternative media and avid Rolling Stone readers like me at that time is hard to overstate — he had single-handedly transformed journalism with his blend of outrageous first person adventures and acute commentary about all things political. He was the voice of a new generation, and I was stunned. Here, in little Athens. I controlled my excitement, walked up to him and introduced myself. I said I’ve read everything you’ve ever written and I’m so glad to meet you. Is there anything I can help you with? He was smoking a cigarette with his trademark holder (smoking inside was OK, even expected, then) and looked me up and down.

“Thanks, where can I get something to drink around here?”

Remember, it’s 10:30 on a Saturday morning. I couldn’t let Mr. Thompson down, and I knew of only two places for morning drinking. The downtown Varsity — which for some reason opened around 8 in the morning but never offered breakfast, just the same rings, dogs and burgers, but still did a business, and it sold beer in cans. The beer drinkers in the morning were mostly solo, probably biding their time until the places for lunch drinking opened. The other place was in Normaltown — I can’t remember the name, but it had a Schlitz sign out front and catered to the night shift guys getting off work. So, I told him about the Varsity, and he left. As far as I know, he didn’t stay for Sen. Kennedy. I did, and he gave an uninspired speech with lame phrases like “tall as a Georgia pine.”

Afterwards, the “press” adjourned to the imposing Hatton Lovejoy Courtroom for a press conference with Sen. Kennedy. As he began answering questions, I heard the unmistakable sound of an empty beer can clattering to the polished floor. I looked back, and Mr. Thompson had brought three or four Varsity beers into this hallowed place — used for moot court competitions and the occasional Georgia Supreme Court session. He was sitting on the church-style pew, knocking them off fast and slamming them to the floor. Sen. Kennedy’s security team glowered but did nothing.

I stopped by as we filed out — he looked up at me and said, “That Varsity’s a weird place, man.”

The Law School hosted a luncheon for the dignitaries, but I wasn’t invited. Jimmy Carter was one of the speakers, and Mr. Thompson was able to slip in and attend.

In 1976, just prior to the election, Rolling Stone published a brief piece by Mr. Thompson. For once, his writing was spare, disciplined. He wrote about Carter’s speech that day, how he spoke from the heart and how he needed to be President. Some commentators later said that this piece helped deliver the youth vote and get President Carter into the White House.

I went back to the office and wrote up something about Sen. Kennedy’s speech, trying my best to mimic wire service style. Leaving out, of course, future President Carter, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Varsity.

UPI didn’t publish it, but I did get $15, and a priceless memory.

Mike Webb:
In the fall of 1973 in Athens, when I was a sophomore in the Henry Grady School of Journalism, the Varsity kept me alive. Living in Reed Hall Dormitory with Steve Oney as my roommate on a shoestring budget, I frequently lunched at the downtown V, because they would allow me to write a check, and the food was cheap. I remember the menu featured a killer ham salad sandwich plate. This special sandwich was toasted and adorned with potato chips of sufficient number to rival a Snoopy size pile of autumn leaves.

Larry Pope:
My recollections consist of cashing $10 checks (as a permanently poor freshman) across from the Arch, and ordering Big Oranges to wash away a hangover.

John Thrasher:
My favorite Varsity story involves my father, Col. Warren Thrasher. In 1996, my 82-year old father was accompanying my mother to her doctor’s appointment to see Dr. Lucas. I am quite sure that Dad, who remembered growing up during the Depression, could never let the opportunity to get free medical advice go by. Much to my mother’s aggravation, he began detailing his symptoms, including chest pains and shortness of breath, and adding that he hadn’t been to see his cardiologist because his insurance required that he now get a referral to see a specialist. Dr. Lucas said, I’ll give you a referral right now. As it turned out, Dr. Lucas was able to get Dad in to see a cardiologist immediately. The cardiologist determined that Dad had multiple blockages and wanted to admit him to Athens Regional to prep for bypass surgery.

They did allow Dad to go home to pack a bag, and he was then to come back to the hospital to be admitted. After picking up the bag at home, Mom was driving Dad back to the hospital by way of Milledge Avenue. When Dad saw the Varsity sign, he asked Mom to pull in and ordered 2 chili cheese dogs, an order of onion rings and a Coke. That was Dad’s last meal before quintuple bypass surgery the same day. He went on to live 12 more years and enjoyed many more trips to the “Greasy V.”

Darrell Huckaby:
My introduction to The Varsity came in high school at Newton County. Whenever we came anywhere close to Athens, whether it be after a game or on a scouting trip, or when he took us to watch the Georgia basketball team play, my coach, Ronald Bradley, would make sure we visited The Varsity. I became a fan for life and still look for reasons to go there.

Once, we played Athens High, though, and the girls won and the boys lost. The girls got to go inside and eat, and we had to stay on the bus. Worst trip to The Varsity EVER. To add insult to injury, they all got back on the bus wearing those paper hats and they all smelled like onion rings all the way home!

When I was in college, my buddies and I were in the old downtown Varsity [on a day Georgia was playing Georgia Tech]. Something came over me and I snatched a rat cap off a Tech freshman’s head and ran like the devil, right across Broad Street and across North Campus. He and his buddies chased us all the way to the stadium, and we spent the whole game avoiding those guys.

I was taking a graduate course once and there were a bunch of Yankee-Americans in the class who had never been to The Varsity, so we planned a field trip for supper. It was about an hour before a Georgia-Kentucky basketball game, and the place was packed. There was a tough old gal named Beth in the class — from Chicago — and we tried to coach her to be ready for the brusque manner of the counter workers and to have her “order in mind and money in hand.” She just laughed us off and told us how street smart she was. When we got there, I ordered for two other people while they went to snatch a table — a big order, several dogs and burgers, fries and rings and drinks. When Beth got to the counter she panicked and said, “I’ll have what he’s having!”

My standard order at The Varsity is a chili dog, a glorified steak, a ring, a fry, an FO [Frosted Orange] with onions on the side. Every time. For 50 years.

Last year, I had the glorious honor of introducing my grandson, Henley, to The Varsity and his first UGA basketball game. He came home with a paper hat and ketchup and mustard all over his face and his shirt and now he begs to go back every time we are anywhere near.

Thus another generation of patrons is born.

Thanks to all who shared memories of the Varsity above, along with John Toon (who took the behind-the-counter shot), Pete McCommons, Don Nelson, Milton Leathers, Doc Eldridge, Charlie Bonner, Ort, Helen Castronis, Ginger Adams, Dave Burch and the Growing Up in Athens GA Facebook page, which provided the exterior shots of the old downtown Varsity.
Sunday, July 8th, 2018
12:23 pm
Celebrating small towns and the great American hot dog!
Back when I was a kid, one of the highlights of spending a summer night at my uncle's place in the small Northeast Georgia town where my father was born was getting treated to some of the best hot dogs I ever ate, served up at a roadside gas station.

As the years went by, though, the steamed weenies, dubbed "Bill's waterlogged dogs" by locals, were consigned to my childhood memories. Then, I discovered the hot dog place was still in operation, albeit now in a different location, minus the gas pumps. So, my daughter and decided to make the trek to Colbert, a tiny railroad hamlet a few miles from my hometown of Athens.

The hot dogs were just as good as I remembered, plus we spent an afternoon exploring the 1-square-mile town, looking up family landmarks, including the spot where my grandfather once ran his own little corner burger joint.

I don't know if time travel really is possible, but I'd say we came close that day.

If you'd like to read nore about my daughter and I revisiting my roots, check out this column I wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Thursday, June 21st, 2018
5:45 pm
Macca’s 25 Best of the Past 25 Years
Bill King recently gave a fresh listen to all of Paul McCartney’s mainstream albums released since 1993, in order to compile a list of the 25 best of Macca’s latterday tracks. He had an assist in this project from some longtime Beatlefan contributors. Here is what he came up with,  followed by the other contributors’ choices. ...

Whenever lists of Paul McCartney’s best solo songs are compiled, the emphasis invariably is on the first 20 years of his post-Beatles career — the likes of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Live and Let Die,” “Jet,” “Band on the Run” and so on.
Little attention is given to his body of work over the past 25 years. That was a tumultuous time for Macca, with a knighthood, the death of his beloved Linda, a short-lived marriage that produced another daughter before ending bitterly, and a third marriage that seems to have left him happier and more fulfilled. Plus, of course, numerous tours.
In fact, over the past quarter century, Sir Paul’s acclaimed live performances, in marathon concerts running nearly 3 hours, have become what he’s known for primarily, aside from The Beatles.
The new albums he’s made during those years are largely an afterthought, if they’re given much consideration at all — even with many long-time fans.
And, truth be told, much of the new music he has produced since 1993 is middling McCartney. It also was the era of a creative misfire that resulted in what many consider to be the low point musically of his career — the “Driving Rain” album.
Still, when it comes to making music, McCartney is incapable of not mattering. And, as a fresh immersion in his work over the past 25 years recently confirmed for me, there still have been some great tunes in that time.
In going back through his solo albums since 1993 to compile a list of the 25 best Macca tracks of the past 25 years, I limited myself to his mainstream releases — not including his classical works or his ambient or electronica side projects, with the exception of The Fireman’s “Electric Arguments,” which really is closer to a true McCartney album.
I also reached out to a group of Beatlefan contributors, asking for their own lists and comments on Macca music since 1993. Not surprisingly, our lists differed in many respects, but also had certain constants — tracks that everyone agrees are top-flight McCartney.
More about that later. Here are my 25 favorite Macca tracks of the past 25 years, in approximately chronological order …
First up are four tracks from 1993’s “Off the Ground” album:
“Hope of Deliverance.” A fine pop number with a tasty backing that mixes acoustic guitars, autoharp and a prominent bassline with Latin percussion. It also has a very catchy chorus, and a nice message, to boot.
“I Owe It All to You.” A traditional McCartney ballad, with a very effective acoustic guitar hook, some exotic imagery in the lyrics, a plaintive vocal and one of those instantly hummable Macca choruses.
“Golden Earth Girl.” One of those majestic McCartney ballads, with a piano opening that calls to mind “Wanderlust,” and chiming guitars and shimmering oboe and flute orchestration. This one carries an ecological message and some lovely word pictures (“counting fish in a sunbeam, in eggshell seas”), but what you’ll keep with you after listening to it is the beautifully delicate melody and refrain.
“Cosmically Conscious.” Paul wrote this at the Maharishi’s back in 1968. Its dense, echoey, layered sound is chockablock with old Beatles studio tricks and trademarks.
Next are four numbers from 1997’s “Flaming Pie,” an album that stands pretty clearly (to me, at least) as McCartney’s strongest of the past 25 years:
“Somedays.” Recorded with a 14-piece orchestra, this is a beautiful, somewhat melancholy ballad with mournful strings. The Spanish guitar solo is especially good. It obviously was inspired by Linda’s illness. I find some of the lyrics incredibly touching: “Some days I look, I look at you with eyes that shine” and “Some days I cry, I cry for those who fear the worst.”
“Calico Skies.” A solo acoustic guitar love song co-produced by Paul and George Martin, this one almost feels like an Irish folk tune. Another one seemingly written with Linda in mind: “I will hold you for as long as you like / I will hold you for the rest of my life.”
“Little Willow.” Another lovely acoustic number, and another sad one. Written in response to Maureen Starkey’s death.
“Beautiful Night.” A majestic piano-based tune with immediately recognizable Ringo Starr drumming, it has an irresistible, gorgeous chorus that is vintage McCartney. The orchestration by George Martin builds as the song progresses, and it has a false ending that gives way to an upbeat reprise with Linda and Ringo singing along.
Next are three tracks from McCartney’s dip into the rock ’n’ roll of his youth, the 1999 album “Run Devil Run”:
“Lonesome Town.” This melancholy Rick Nelson classic, done as Macca performed it earlier that year at a London tribute to Linda, has a sad lyric that Paul said had become more meaningful to him. It shows, especially in his impassioned vocal, which pushes the limits of his higher register. David Gilmour joins him singing in the middle.
“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.” Done with accordion, this midtempo Chuck Berry number has a Cajun feel, and is a real toe-tapper.
“Honey Hush.” At the time it came out, Macca said this Big Joe Turner number was his favorite on the album to sing. A sometime Macca sound check offering, it’s a rollicking rocker with an infectious “Hi Ho Silver” chorus.
Departing from the album discography, the next track on my list is a one-off number:
“I’m Partial to Your Abracadabra.” This refreshingly different number is from “Brand New Boots and Panties,” an Ian Dury tribute album from 2001, and features Paul covering a Dury song with Dury’s old band, The Blockheads. It’s an engaging taste of a harder-edged Macca than we usually get. Paul, who was just the singer here, tackles the number with gusto, opening with an extended “Owwwwww!” and singing in his Little Richard voice. The catchy tune features a chunky, muscular backing with riffing horns that’s very reminiscent of The Who in the early ’70s.
Next come two tracks from the 2005 album “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard”:
“Too Much Rain.” A beautiful piano-bass-acoustics tune, nicely arranged. The vintage McCartney melody was inspired, he said, by Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” The optimism of the lyric is tempered by an almost mournful guitar line.
“Promise to You Girl.” This catchy tune has a Queen-like chorus, starts out slowly, and ends up rocking out moderately with some pounding piano.
I included two songs from 2007’s “Memory Almost Full” on my list, but it nearly was three (more on that later):
“Dance Tonight.” Immediately memorable, impossibly catchy. The mandolin sells it, and it’s very much a knee-slapper.
“Only Mama Knows.” A classical-sounding string intro gives way unexpectedly to a rock guitar chorus that comes crashing in. The track as a whole harks back to the “Junior’s Farm” Wings era, only played with a bit more intensity. The chorus is very catchy, and there are some nice harmonies with the “Hold on” bit in the middle. This one was an almost consensus pick.
Next up are three tracks from the 2008 album “Electric Arguments” (made by McCartney and collaborator Youth under The Fireman rubric):
“Sing the Changes.” A rollicking number with a wide open, airy feel, echoey vocals and chiming guitars. Worked well when done live.
“Highway.” An upbeat piece of classic rock that also brings Wings to mind, it’s propelled by a great bass line and punctuated with pounding piano and a bluesy harmonica. A very deliberately unpolished production, with a loose-feeling, almost noisy wash of sound.
“Dance Till We’re High.” Classic Macca pop-rock, this midtempo number has an infectious beat and an absolutely gorgeous middle eight and chorus. The production has a quasi-’60s feel to it, with its layered strings and pealing bells, sounding rather Phil Spector-esque. The first time I ever listened to this one, on a preview disc, I had to call up a friend immediately and play it over the phone!
McCartney’s 2012 album of pop standards, “Kisses on the Bottom,” supplied two tracks for my Top 25:
“My Valentine.” This is a far cry from being McCartney’s best love song, but it’s still a very engaging romantic number, in the style of the album’s covers. And, it’s elevated by Diana Krall’s piano and Eric Clapton’s acoustic guitar.
“Get Yourself Another Fool.” A tune associated with Sam Cooke, done here in a very jazzy arrangement with bluesy electric guitar by Clapton and a particularly strong vocal by Paul, who uses his regular singing voice, rather than the higher crooning voice he used on most of the album. Paul also contributes some tasty acoustic guitar.
Finally, Macca’s most recent album (as of this writing), 2013’s “NEW,” landed four tracks on my list:
“Save Us.” Cowritten with producer Paul Epworth, this propulsive rocker is driven by an insistent, fuzzy guitar hook reminiscent of the Strokes, and is backed by rich harmonies. It’s rather like I’d imagine Wings would sound circa 2013.
“Alligator.” A slyly sexy pop-rocker that has some familiar Macca chord progressions. It features a distinctive flute-like synth line, and a slower middle portion sung in falsetto. Plus, one of those oddball McCartney sexual analogies (in the tradition of “my salamander” in “Getting Closer”).
“Early Days.” A lovely autobiographical acoustic number featuring Paul’s unretouched, frayed, timeworn voice. Besides harking back to The Beatles’ early days, the lyrics jab those who profess to know what went on with the Fabs, but who weren’t actually there.
“New.” Making a nice use of horns, this is a terrific, bouncy, retro-sounding number with a wonderful melody. It brings to mind “Revolver”-era Beatles. The coda with Brian Wilson-ish harmonies is a nice touch (unfortunately dropped in concert performances). It’s hard not to feel good listening to this song.
That’s my list of Macca’s 25 best since 1993.
First runner-up was the autobiographical, upbeat rockabilly/skiffle number “That Was Me,” from “Memory Almost Full.” (It was a last-minute cut from the list.)
Other tracks that didn’t quite make my list, but which are worthy of mention: “Get Out of My Way,” “Down to the River,” “The World Tonight,” “Flaming Pie,” “Run Devil Run,” “No Other Baby,” “How Kind of You,” “This Never Happened Before,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “Only Our Hearts” and “Everybody Out There.”
Certainly, some of the songs on my list would not rank among the 25 best of McCartney’s entire solo career, but, overall, it’s a pretty solid playlist. Basically, Macca is in competition with his past self, artistically, every time he releases a new album — and his earlier work is hard to top.
A little over half of the songs on my list also were chosen by some of this project’s contributors: “Hope of Deliverance,” “Golden Earth Girl,” “Calico Skies,” “Little Willow,” “Beautiful Night,” “Too Much Rain,” “Dance Tonight,” “Only Mama Knows,” “Sing the Changes,” “Highway,” “My Valentine,” “Save Us,” “Alligator” and “Early Days.”
I should point out that I included some covers of others’ tunes done by McCartney, whereas some contributors chose to stick strictly to songs penned by Paul for their lists.
Also worth noting, I did not include any tracks from the 2001 album “Driving Rain,” which I consider the nadir of McCartney’s career. The tunes on that album mostly are half-finished and indifferently recorded by David Kahne, though a handful could have been much improved with better production. The ones I’d like to see Paul take another run at, perhaps with a different producer: “I Do” (not really a strong melody, though it has a nice middle), “Magic” (which is the reverse — a decent main melody, but it seems Macca forgot to write a middle), “Your Way” (a rather halfhearted attempt at a country tune) and “Your Loving Flame” (again, it seems he didn’t bother to write a middle and so he just vamped for a few bars).
The most popular track named by the other contributors that was not on my list was “The End of the End,” and I can’t argue with that selection. It’s a fine track; it just didn’t crack my Top 25.
In descending order, other tracks not on my list that were named by multiple contributors were: “Jenny Wren,” “Long Leather Coat,” “Off the Ground,” “Looking for Changes,” “Run Devil Run,” “Ever Present Past,” “The World Tonight,” “Flaming Pie,” “The Lovers That Never Were” and “Fine Line.”
Songs not on my list that drew only one or two mentions from others: “English Tea,” “Queenie Eye,” “I Can Bet,” “C’mon People,” “The Songs We Were Singing,” “Young Boy,” “How Kind of You,” “Sun Is Shining,” “On the Way to Work,” “Vintage Clothes,” “Try Not to Cry,” “Kicked Around No More,” “Party,” “This Never Happened Before,” Summer of 59,” “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” and “From a Lover to a Friend.”
Yes, even that last song, which I barely can tolerate, has its fans. And, I’m sure there are songs on my list that some of you can’t stand. Just keep in mind: Musical taste varies widely, and your favorites don’t have to match mine, and vice versa.
All in all, though, I’d say this is an enjoyable and respectable collection of latterday McCartney tunes.

To listen to the tracks I chose, and to read the lists of Macca's 25 Best of the Past 25 Years compiled by other Beatlefan contributors, go to:

SOMETHING NEW: The Beatlefan Blog
Wednesday, May 9th, 2018
2:07 pm
Thanks to Mom, we had the best of Britain and America

With the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle coming up May 19, quickly on the heels of the latest royal baby, American Anglophilia is flaring anew.

Whether it’s “Victoria,” Helen Mirren, John Oliver, The Beatles or Jane Austen, Americans’ pop culture love affair with the U.K. is an enduring one. But we also show our country’s British roots when we sip English breakfast tea, chow down on fish and chips, or quaff a Newcastle Brown Ale.

However, for my two brothers and me, eating British was a part of daily life growing up in Athens, thanks to our Welsh mom, a naturalized U.S. citizen who served us the treats she grew up with, along with the Southern foods she learned to cook after marrying a Georgian.

So, along with fried chicken, butter beans and corn bread, we enjoyed sausage rolls with puff pastry, Cornish pasties, rice pudding, rhubarb-strawberry pie and, yes, lots of cups of hot tea, served British-style with milk.

As my middle brother Jonathan recalled: “A lot of it, I didn’t know it was British food. It was just food.”

You can read the rest at https://www.ajc.com/lifestyles/food--cooking/thanks-mom-had-the-best-britain-and-america/ZD9n2VmI9VPWC9FIdkwC1I/
Friday, March 2nd, 2018
9:12 pm
Reassessing Paul McCartney's 'Off the Ground' 25 Years Later
Twenty-five years ago, in the spring of 1993, Paul McCartney's "Off the Ground" album was practically the soundtrack of my family's life, as it occupied most-played status on the living room stereo amid a bunch of road trips to follow Macca's New World Tour.

However, after a recent social media post from Beatlefan's Al Sussman noting the anniversary of the album's release, I realized that it had been years since I'd listened to "Off the Ground.
That also spurred a memory from nearly five years ago, when my son Bill sent me a link to an article published by Grantland, the late, lamented pop culture site operated by ESPN. The piece by Ben Lindbergh was titled "Ranking the 21 Best Paul McCartney Deep Tracks," and at No. 9 on the listing was "Golden Earth Girl," a track from "Off the Ground."
My son remarked that, until reading the list, he had forgotten about "Golden Earth Girl." Ironically, he said, that was "an album I heard probably 90 times that year and have never, ever listened to since."
Bill's general impression of the album was that it featured rather dated production, sounding very early '90s, and that it didn't have the same level of songwriting that shone through on its similarly produced predecessor, "Flowers in the Dirt."
I replied to him that "Off the Ground" had some good stuff on it (and some mediocre), but most folks, including Paul, seemed to have forgotten about it.
Five years went by, and I still hadn't listened again to "Off the Ground," until Al's anniversary posting. My memory of the album was that some of it was really good ("Hope of Deliverance," for instance) but much of it hadn't held up well and wasn't as satisfying as when we were caught up in the excitement of the tour.
I decided to revisit "Off the Ground" with fresh ears and then go back and compare my contemporary impressions with what I wrote in my original review of the album, published in Beatlefan #81.
Check out my thoughts on the album, then and now, at SOMETHING NEW: The Beatlefan Blog.
Wednesday, November 29th, 2017
10:32 am
As a holiday treat, Cadbury isn't just for Easter!

While the holiday most folks associate with Cadbury is Easter, thanks to those ubiquitous foil-wrapped Crème Eggs that flood stores in the spring, Christmas is prime time in my family for the company’s large variety of chocolate treats from England.

We take our Cadbury seriously — having even visited Cadbury World, the company’s tourist attraction/candy factory near Birmingham, England (at the insistence of my daughter, a major Cadburyaholic). We dropped quite a few pounds sterling (and probably gained a few of the other sort) in the shop at Cadbury World.

And, so, rather than accept the U.S. knockoff version of Cadbury found in most American stores (actually made by Hershey), we trek out to Taste of Britain in Norcross or hit the internet to stock up on the imported variety of the classic Dairy Milk and Flake bars, the chocolate Buttons, the Bournville dark chocolate, the airy, bubbly Wispa bars and Fry’s Chocolate Cream. Plus, the many varieties of “biscuit” (British for cookie) featuring Cadbury chocolate.

In my latest Adventures in Food column for the AJC, we’re joined by some friends in comparing the U.S. “Cadbury” with the original from the U.K. Check it out and you’ll see why we think it’s worth the effort to get the original.

Monday, August 21st, 2017
8:59 pm
‘Give More Love’: A Track-by-Track Preview of Ringo’s New Album
If you’ve listened to Ringo’s three most recent albums that he’s self-produced with engineer Bruce Sugar (2010’s “Y Not,” 2012’s “Ringo 2012” and 2015’s “Postcards From Paradise”), you already have a pretty good idea what to expect from most of the tracks on Ringo’s 19th solo studio album, “Give More Love” — upbeat philosophy, lots of midtempo rockers, an unabashed love song to wife Barbara, a host of famous sidemen, and plenty of namechecks from the drummer’s storied career.

This time, however, he offers more tracks on the CD and digital configurations. And, refreshingly, Ringo takes a slightly different approach to a few of the numbers. While, overall, the album is very much in keeping with recent Ringo efforts, the sound is a bit rockier in places, and there’s also a straight-up country number, a taste of ’50s rock ’n’ roll and some surprisingly bluesy numbers.

The overall set isn’t quite as strong in terms of material as “Postcards From Paradise,” which received regular play in my car CD player for a good three months. But I’d give a strong thumbs-up to half of the 14 tracks. And Ringo is in good voice throughout; he’s much more versatile as a singer than in his earlier days.

Recorded at Roccabella West, Ringo’s home studio in Los Angeles, “Give More Love” has 10 new tracks featuring collaborations with friends, including Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Steve Lukather, Peter Frampton,
Benmont Tench, Timothy B. Schmit, Richard Page, Amy Keys, Richard Marx, Nathan East, Gary Burr, Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard, Don Was, Gary Nicholson and Gregg Bissonette.

The three advance singles available as downloads are the catchy title track; the hard-rocking “We’re On the Road Again,” which features McCartney on bass and backing vocals; and the country number “So Wrong for So Long.”
The four CD/digital bonus tracks that won’t appear on the vinyl version are remakes of “Back Off Boogaloo,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “You Can’t Fight Lightning” and “Photograph,” and generally present the tracks in a more stripped-down, bluesier style than the originals.

The new version of “Back Off Booglaloo” is based on the original recording Ringo made when he wrote the song. The other three bonus tracks are collaborations based on performances from Starr’s 2016 Peace & Love birthday event. Anglo-Swedish rock band Alberta Cross performed “You Can’t Fight Lightning” and Louisville, KY-based indie-folk group Vandaveer performed “Photograph” and “Don’t Pass Me By.” Starr loved their renditions and asked them to record the songs for his new album, adding his own vocals.
The album was produced by Ringo and “recorded” by Sugar, and the two of them mixed the tracks.

For a track-by-track look at the album, complete with credits, my thoughts, as well as comments from Ringo, go to SOMETHING NEW: The Beatlefan Blog at http://bit.ly/2v9paAG
Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
9:54 am
Remember the days of 'mystery meat' in the school lunchroom?

Remember school cafeteria dishes? Or are you still trying to forget?

Today’s varied school lunch offerings (whether they follow the healthy Michelle Obama guidelines or Sonny Perdue’s more populist bent) are worlds apart from baby boomers’ schooldays.

Take a humorous trip back with me to the school cafeterias of our youth … complete with gray-colored mystery meat, hamburgers resembling dog food, government surplus black olives and soup chock full of everything served the previous two weeks.

Ah, but there was always the buttered toast “seconds” if you somehow managed to clean your plate!

Hope you enjoy this column I did for The Atlanta Journal Constitution. …

Click here to read it: http://bit.ly/2wljHqC
Sunday, July 16th, 2017
6:04 pm
McCartney on Tour: Still Worth it? Oh, Yeah!
I saw the July 13 stop of Paul McCartney’s One on One tour at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, GA. My thoughts on the evening ...

Say what you will about Paul McCartney’s mostly unchanging show and his occasionally faltering voice, it’s still a wonder of nature watching him onstage, thoroughly pleasing an audience for nearly three hours with pop music’s most stellar songbook, served up with charm and whimsy to spare.

Admittedly, when I first saw the set list for the current edition of McCartney's One on One tour, I was a bit underwhelmed, as there was nothing on it that he hadn't done live somewhere before (though “I Wanna Be Your Man” never had been a regular part of the show before this tour).

But, after the amazing 2-hour-53-minute show by the 75-year-old legend at Infinite Energy Arena in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth had finished, I had the usual big smile on my face — as did every other concertgoer I saw.

Yes, as a hardcore fan I would have loved a somewhat fresher selection of tunes. And it baffles me why he skips over a couple of decades of his career like they didn’t exist. As my friend John Sosebee (who attended the show with me and Leslie) noted, the lack of any “Flowers in the Dirt” songs this time around was particularly surprising, considering that album just recently had gotten the archive reissue treatment. “My Brave Face,” a favorite on the first solo tour back in 1989-90, is a terrific tune that drew acclaim at the time and is in a key Paul easily can handle.

Still, there's no denying the sheer entertainment power of the numbers presented onstage. Most of the crowd looked like they are probably getting the same Medicare mailers I am, but there also were youngsters who seemed to appreciate what they were seeing and hearing, including the young lady with green hair and a nose ring in front of me, who stood for most of the show.

It was a great concert, and his voice was surprisingly good, only a bit shaky on a few numbers and never to the point where it really detracted.

Read the rest of my concert review at SOMETHING NEW: The Beatlefan Blog.
Wednesday, January 25th, 2017
9:06 pm
From Happy Hotpoint to TV icon: Remembering Mary Tyler Moore

Even before I saw them, I knew which phrase would be used in many of the headlines over stories about Mary Tyler Moore’s death this week at age 80.
It’s the line that everyone quotes from the instantly hummable theme song used in the iconic opening of her 1970s situation comedy, showing her walking around Minneapolis and then twirling around and throwing her tam o’shanter in the air – a moment immortalized in 2002 by a statue TV Land put up in the Minnesota city.
Still, sometimes, you can’t beat a cliché, because it’s just spot-on: Mary Tyler Moore really did turn the world on with her smile.
Moore and that wide-mouthed, beaming grin were central to two of television’s greatest comedy classics.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the comedy with the hat-throwing opening, has been justifiably lionized for its intelligent scripts and its groundbreaking premise of focusing on an over-30 career woman who was making it on her own just fine without Mr. Right.
But America already had been turned on by Moore during her five-year run as Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” starting in 1961.

Laura was groundbreaking in her own way -- a funny, relatable Jackie Kennedy-esque housewife and mother whose penchant for form-fitting Capri pants gave CBS execs and sponsors the jitters before helping launch a ‘60s fashion trend. Even Van Dyke wondered early on whether she was too young to play his wife (10 years his junior), but nobody cared, because Moore’s performance was so completely adorable while also being consistently funny.
Prior to being cast as Laura, Moore mainly was known for having been appliance touting elf Happy Hotpoint, and as the seductive voice and gorgeous legs of the unseen secretary on “Richard Diamond, Private Eye.” But the young actress proved she could more than hold her own in an ensemble cast that included rubber-faced Van Dyke, veteran vaudevillians Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, and the show’s creator, TV pioneer Carl Reiner.
Whether she was dancing in the living room, getting spaced out on tranquilizers and wine before meeting her in-laws, doing one of her hilariously halting crying scenes, or simply lamenting, “Ohhhh, Rob,” Moore’s Laura was irresistible, and quickly became one of my earliest TV crushes.

After Van Dyke folded the weekly sitcom in 1966 to concentrate on his film career, Moore signed her own movie deal with Universal Pictures, which saw her as a younger Doris Day. But, after getting largely upstaged by Julie Andrews and Carol Channing in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” having her starring role in a Broadway musical based on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” come to an abrupt end when the show closed in previews, and costarring as a doubting nun in “Change of Habit,” one of Elvis Presley’s lesser film vehicles, Moore wisely decided to return to TV.
Moore reteamed with Van Dyke for an acclaimed one-off variety special, then she and her then-husband, TV exec Grant Tinker, managed to sell CBS on starring Moore in her own sitcom as Mary Richards, an associate producer for WJM-TV in Minneapolis who sometimes seemed too nice to be true, but who wasn’t afraid to demand she be paid the same as a male coworker and who was openly on the pill.
Although Moore eventually won four of her seven Emmy Awards for the show, her performance in the central role was undervalued by many critics, with most of the attention going to her brilliant surrounding cast: Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Ted Knight, Betty White and Gavin McLeod. But, just as “The Andy Griffith Show” would have been nothing without Griffith, Moore’s ensemble wouldn’t have had an audience if we hadn’t been tuning in to renew our love affair with Mary.

Moore wasn’t just a force in front of the cameras on that show, either. She and Tinker founded its production company, MTM Enterprises, which went on to spin several other series off Moore’s (including “Rhoda” and “Lou Grant”) and became one of Hollywood’s prestige TV studios, responsible for such fare as “The Bob Newhart Show,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Remington Steele, “ “St. Elsewhere” and “Newhart.”
(Moore and Tinker divorced in 1981, about the time he became head of NBC, but they remained friends. He died a couple of months ago at age 90.)
In the years after “The Mary Tyler Moore” show had left the air in 1977, Moore broadened her acting career, taking on dramatic roles on the big screen as well as in TV movies and on the stage, earning a best actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a cold, repressed mother grieving the loss of her son Robert Redford’s 1980 film “Ordinary People,” and a Tony Award for the Broadway play “Whose Life Is It Anyway?”
She also tried unsuccessfully several times to return to the weekly TV series grind, starring in two short-lived CBS variety shows in the 1978-79 season, the first of which was notable mainly for having David Letterman and Michael Keaton in the supporting cast. (She remained buddies with Letterman, and in later years would guest occasionally on his late-night shows to surprise those who thought of her as America’s sweetheart by telling slightly dirty jokes.)
When CBS announced another sitcom try in 1985, “Mary,” during a time I was covering television for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I had high hopes that Moore would join the list of personal favorites I’d had the good fortune to interview, but it wasn’t to be. The press interviews for the show were done instead by co-star James Farantino. (The show was pretty bad and didn’t last long, amid word that Moore was unhappy with the production team and the direction of the series, perhaps explaining her absence from the advance promotion.)
I did ask Farantino about working with Moore, whose company owned the series, and he noted: “There's no pulling of strings here. Mary does not walk around as head of MTM. As a matter of fact, I didn't even realize she was chairman of the board until we were into our third or fourth show.”
Moore continued to appear in TV films and to guest on other series, and occasionally revisited her past glories. She and Valerie Harper reprised their 1970s characters in the 2001 telefilm “Mary and Rhoda,” and Moore teamed up again with Van Dyke for a PBS adaptation of “The Gin Game” in 2002 and “The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited” in 2004. She and Harper also reunited with their female “Mary Tyler Moore Show” co-stars on an episode of the TV Land sitcom “Hot in Cleveland,” featuring Betty White and Georgia Engel.
Moore also became an outspoken animal rights advocate and, having been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in her early 30s, served as the international chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

I don’t really know how well the younger generation knows the Van Dyke and Moore sitcoms, but I hope, if they haven’t already, they search them out on Netflix or wherever. Maybe some of the millennials who haven’t abandoned network TV got a chance to sample Moore’s greatness back before Christmas when CBS aired a pair of colorized episodes of the Van Dyke show, including one showing Moore at her nervous best when Laura inadvertently reveals on TV that her husband’s vain boss is secretly bald.
As for those of us who were lucky enough to watch Moore in her prime, we know that, as Van Dyke tweeted after her death, she was simply “the best.”
Another Twitter tribute, posted by Ben Stiller, nicely sums up how fans felt about the lady with the huge, legendary smile:
“I loved Mary Tyler Moore on so many levels … such a huge part of our culture and consciousness.”
Saturday, January 9th, 2016
10:29 pm
A Quickie Look at 2015, and Tackling the ‘Sherlock’ Mystery!
I decided to handle my 2015 year-end entertainment wrap-up again in the Q&A format that I used last year at Leslie’s suggestion. Rather than a comprehensive look at the year in entertainment, these are merely the highlights of what I particularly enjoyed. Here goes …

What did you want and get?

Finally, after years of rumors, The Beatles got around to issuing sort of a “video greatest hits” compilation. And, best of all, they not only upgraded and restored the video, they also paired it with a revised version of the previous “1” collection of their No. 1 hits featuring not just remastered versions of the songs but totally new mixes created by going back to the original session tapes.

You have your choice of just getting the revised “1” album or various CD-DVD-Blu-ray configurations of the expanded package with the videos, dubbed "1+." It's safe to say one or the other is a must-have for any fan. For the casual, perhaps younger fans (who made the original "1" collection of No. 1 hits such a resounding success), it's a chance to finally hear the Fabs' music in the quality today's music buyers have come to expect. The quirky early stereo separation is gone; the voices are centered, the sound is much fuller and sharper. Bass and drums and guitars, in particular, benefit from the remixing, the first done since the 1999 "Yellow Submarine Songtrack."

The older fans, meanwhile, are celebrating The Beatles' Apple Corps finally releasing the band's promo films, along with other video clips, all restored and looking fantastic. You can buy just the CD, but it's highly recommended you go for one of the deluxe sets which add a pair of DVDs or Blu-ray discs (your choice). You'll see "Penny Lane" and "Hello Goodbye" like never before! Apple Corps and Universal get a definite thumbs-up for this project.

Any surprises for you this year?

During a delightful few days visiting with our son Bill in Raleigh, N.C., he arranged a surprise visit to the UNC / Duke Special Collections Library in Chapel Hill, where we viewed some of the private collection donated to the library by Andy Griffith, including letters Andy wrote home when he was a student at UNC and his personal copies of scripts for the first season of "The Andy Griffith Show" and the pilot film of "Matlock," complete with his own handwritten notations and changes! It was fascinating to see how he changed some of Sheriff Andy's dialogue to make it sound more authentically smalltown South. And since I was on location to interview Andy when the "Matlock" film was shooting, that brought back some great memories. For a lifelong Griffith fan, this was a real thrill! Thanks, Bill!

A related surprise over the holidays was CBS combining two episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" that had been colorized to air as a one-hour special on Christmas night! The first was the famed Christmas episode, featuring a Scrooge-like storekeeper trying to dampen the holiday spirits at the Mayberry Jail. That was paired with the “Pickle Story” episode, one of the most popular among series fans, in which Andy and Barney try to figure a way to replace the “kerosene cucumbers” that Aunt Bee insists on serving them. Definitely two TV classics!

What did you want and not get in 2015?

The usual suspects in Beatledom: “Let It Be” and “The Beatles at Shea Stadium.” The former film is long overdue for restoration and rerelease, since it’s been off the market for nearly three decades, while the latter record of the Fabs’ most famous concert, shown as a TV special in 1966, has never been officially released. The Beatles’ Apple Corps has shown tantalizing clips of both in spectacular quality over the years. Maybe this year?

What new TV shows did you take up watching?

Back in the summer, my daughter and I saw a trailer for the new CBS "Supergirl" series in a movie theater and weren't impressed, but I decided to sample the series anyway and was surprised to find it was pretty good. And, as the first season has progressed, it’s gotten even better.

Especially winning is Melissa Benoist as Kara, Superman's Kryptonian cousin, who's just come out of the closet and donned the uniform with the "S" on the chest. (The Man of Steel is an unseen presence in the series.) Benoist is thoroughly believable and charming -- even more so when she's playing Supergirl's "mild-mannered" secret identity.

The surrounding cast is good, too. At first, I thought Calista Flockhart's media magnate Cat Grant (for whom Kara works) was a bit too much of a "Devil Wears Prada" knockoff, but they've started to humanize the character a bit, which helps. This isn't must-see TV, by any means, but it's a fun way to spend an hour.

Staying in the female comic book hero vein, I really enjoyed last winter’s ABC series of Marvel’s “Captain America” TV spinoff, “Agent Carter,” with Hayley Atwell’s title character working at a post-WWII spy agency. I’m looking forward to the second series, due to start later this month.

Any TV shows you dropped?

I decided not to bother with “Homeland” any more, despite feedback from my wife and others that the series got back on track over the past couple of seasons. Basically, I didn’t have time enough to watch all the series that I was more interested in; plus, I wasn’t sure I could take another Claire Danes crying scene!

What other TV shows are you still watching regularly (or have DVR'd for future binge-watching)?

I’m still watching Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” which has rebounded from a mostly disastrous second season (and now is being filmed locally, with Georgia subbing for upstate New York!). I also dip in and out of the various “NCIS” series (I particularly enjoyed an episode over the holiday season that revisited Ducky’s younger days) and I never miss “Elementary,” the smart modern New York City twist on the Sherlock Holmes stories starring the amazing Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as a female Watson. I also still enjoy the interplay of the strong cast of the new “Hawaii Five-0,” even if the plots get a little outlandish at times. And I’ve dipped in and out of the CBS sitcom “Mom,” a surprisingly funny yet unsentimental look at a mother and daughter (effectively played by Allison Janney and Anna Faris) who both are trying to hold on to their precarious sobriety.

I also enjoyed the second season of Starz’s “Black Sails,” a “Treasure Island” prequel starring Toby Stephens as the fabled Captain Flint, Luke Arnold as John Silver before the “long” nickname (and the peg-leg and parrot), and Hannah New as a young woman who acts as the main fence for booty brought into the pirate stronghold of Nassau. The third series of that also is due soon.

Awaiting me on the DVR: the most recent seasons of “Gotham,” “The Americans” and “Turn: Washington’s Spies.”

What about late night?

The last six weeks of “Late Show With David Letterman” was an absolute feast of top-notch guests and memorable musical performances, and the final shows were thoroughly enjoyable and even touching. I never would have expected the likes of Norm Macdonald to get emotional, but there was an extraordinary moment of television when, after telling his favorite Letterman joke, the comic got all choked up, saying: “I know that Mr. Letterman is not for the mawkish, and he has no truck for the sentimental. But if something is true, it is not sentimental, and I say, in truth, ‘I love you.’”

Me, too.

The months between Dave’s departure and the arrival of the new incarnation of the “Late Show” with Stephen Colbert and a renovated Ed Sullivan Theatre seemed to drag on, but once Colbert arrived he promptly became my late-night must-see viewing.

Colbert goes for a much more diverse mix of guests than the other late-night hosts, mixing millionaire entrepreneurs, authors and scientists in with the usual stars promoting their latest film-show-whatever. His musical guests also have been interesting, and Colbert frequently joins them, including on the wonderful program where he and James Taylor duetted on a lovely version of “You Can Close Your Eyes” and an amusing updating of “Fire and Rain.”

There was also a memorable interview Colbert did with Vice President Joe Biden. It was very emotional and empathetic, and I was tremendously impressed by both men. (It's also something I couldn't imagine seeing any of the other late night hosts doing).

Colbert is also the only late-night host who doesn’t hide the fact that he’s religious, though he’s certainly not afraid to poke fun at his own Roman Catholic faith. The night when avowed atheist Bill Maher guested produced a weird but wonderful back-and-forth that seemed to get under Maher’s skin while Colbert was obviously enjoying himself.

But, for me, the best moments of the new “Late Show” are the bits on current affairs, pop culture and politics that Colbert does from the desk. They’re smart, funny and on target.

Although he hasn’t challenged Jimmy Fallon since premiere week and sometimes has even fallen behind Jimmy Kimmel in the ratings, and not every bit works (a recent visit round the corner to Dave’s old foil Rupert Gee at the Hello Deli fell flat), Colbert is elevating the level of discourse, comedy and political commentary in late-night TV. Check him out if you haven’t already.

What was your favorite album or song of the year?

I mostly bought expanded reissues, like Paul McCartney’s archive editions of “Tug of War” and “Pipes of Peace,” or hits complilations like the 2-CD “Just One Look: The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt” and the very interesting “Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City,” issued in conjunction with an exhibit running through this year at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

But I did pick up a few new releases, including James Taylor’s new album, “Before This World,” his first collection of original material since 2002 and his first No. 1 Billboard album; Ringo Starr’s “Postcards From Paradise,” an understated but ingratiating collection of new tunes that had a good four-month run in my car CD player; Bob Dylan’s quirky Sinatra salute, “Shadows in the Night; Diana’s Krall’s intermittently successful pop effort, “Wallflower”; and the return of Jeff Lynne’s ELO on “Alone in the Universe” (which I’ll write more about next time).

However, like the previous year, I mainly listened (usually via radio or YouTube) to a lot of individual songs, most of which were new this year (or, at least, new to me). Those included: the Rebel Light’s “Strangers,” Mumford and Sons’ “Shots” and “Believe” (dropping the banjo for more of a Coldplayesque sound), Modest Mouse’s “Lampshades on Fire,” Beck’s “Country Down,” Wilco’s “Taste the Ceiling” and “Magnetized,” retro soul man Mayer Hawthorne’s “Handy Man,” Imagine Dragons’ “Shots,” Coleman Hell’s “2 Heads,” the Struts’ “Could Have Been Me,” Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight,” Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats’ “S.O.B.” and Coldplay’s “Adventure of a Lifetime.”

What were your favorite movies?

I again didn’t get to the cinema to see that many films in 2015, but the ones I did catch were enjoyable. The best, I think was "Mr. Holmes," the quiet but engaging Bill Condon film starring Ian McKellen as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes battling a diminishing memory as his housekeeper's young son prods him into telling the true account of the case that forced him into lonely, bee-keeping retirement 30 years earlier.

McKellen was absolutely wonderful in a nuanced, understated performance that shows you're never too old to learn or make personal connections. Laura Linney also did good work as the housekeeper. But it was young Milo Parker, who played her son, who adeptly kept pace with McKellen. Recommended for fans of both McKellen and Holmes!

Runner-up: “SPECTRE,” the latest James Bond adventure. There were a lot of references to the three earlier Daniel Craig 007 pictures as Bond met up with the guy who bragged at being "the author of all your pain." It didn't quite pack the emotional wallop of "Skyfall," but director Sam Mendes turned in another fine effort. Léa Seydoux, a favorite of mine since "Farewell My Queen," made a memorable Bond girl. If Craig does turn in his license to kill and this becomes his last Bond film, it did a good job tying all the adventures he's starred in together.

I also enjoyed “Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg's Cold War period piece featuring another wonderful performance by one of our national treasures, Tom Hanks, and "The Man From UNCLE" movie from director Guy Ritchie, who did a good job of capturing the '60s feel (particularly in the colors, editing and music), even if, as Leslie pointed out, the fashions were more mid-'60s than the film's early '60s setting. It was essentially a "prequel" about how Napoleon Solo (played by Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryankin (Armie Hammer) first worked together (reluctantly) and became the men from UNCLE. Not quite the chemistry of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the TV original, but a diverting summer treat.

Anything new on the bookshelf worth noting?

I really enjoyed how Andrew Grant Jackson melded social and musical history in “1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music.” And I’m currently reading a Christmas gift from my son: Daniel de Vise’s “Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show,” a dual biography of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts and how their time-honored friendship, both on and off-screen, came about.

Those are my 2015 entertainment highlights; please feel free to share your own!

"Sherlock" Spoiler Alert!

The following contains info you might not want to know if you are a “Sherlock” fan but haven’t yet seen the latest adventure …

OK, for the rest of you:

The first movie I saw in the theater in 2016 also turned out to be the first non-football program I watched on TV: "Sherlock: The Abominable Bride," a fun 90-minute special edition of the series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as a modern-day Holmes and Watson in which the producers moved the setting back to Victorian era that gave birth to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. On New Year’s night, we watched the premiere on PBS and then a few days later caught it on the big screen as one of those Fathom Events presentations. (It’s being reshown Jan. 10 on PBS.)

The writing-producing team of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who also do the current “Doctor Who” for BBC Wales) had a lot of fun packing the film with the kind of head-scratching moments that fans can puzzle over afterward.

For example, the entire Victorian-era mystery appears to have been a drug-induced sort of daydream in which Holmes sought to use an unsolved mystery from the past to figure out whether his modern-day arch-enemy, Moriarty, could still be alive, as was indicated at the end of the most recent “Sherlock” series.

I found it interesting, though, that out of the many recaps and reviews of the film I read, only one even touched on what, to me and my daughter Olivia, was the knuckleball thrown by the final scene. Most critics focused on the next-to-last scene, where modern-day Sherlock concludes that “of course” Moriarty couldn’t have survived blowing his brains out, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a threat.

A lot of commentary also was devoted to the feminist subtext of the Victorian portion of “Abominable Bride” and whether, being written by two men, it was really effective.

But what most of these critics overlooked was what my daughter Olivia and I thought was the biggest jaw-dropper: the final scene, in which the Victorian-era Watson is questioning Holmes about the outlandish things like airplanes and telephones, that Sherlock had come up with in a futuristic hallucination. Holmes notes that he’s always felt like a man out of his time.

And then the camera pulls back outside the sitting room window of the Victorian-era 221B to show a modern-day Baker Street with a London bus going by!

My immediate reaction: Have we been St. Elsewhere’d, like the final scene of that series, which revealed it all apparently to have taken place in the mind of an autistic child? Does this mean that the entire modern-day “Sherlock” series has been the hallucinations of the Victorian Holmes?

Perhaps. Or maybe the key to it all is at the start of the film, which briefly recaps the earlier seasons of “Sherlock” and then adds the on-screen caption “Alternatively …”

So, while “Abominable Bride” seems at first to fit in the series continuity, maybe it really is an alternate-universe standalone, and Moffat and Gatiss were just messing with the audience. Guess we'll have to wait for the next series to find out. Anyway, “Abominable Bride” was well done and great fun, whatever it was ...

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Current Mood: pleased
Monday, July 13th, 2015
8:43 pm
Nashville Cats, Late Late Night TV and Little Miss Puffytail
There are a lot of big names, including three Beatles, on the new compilation “Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City,” issued in conjunction with an exhibit running through next year at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. But the real stars of this album are the session musicians, or sidemen, who backed a surprisingly diverse mix of country, pop, folk and rock acts in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Inspired primarily by Bob Dylan, who recorded his 1966 “Blonde on Blonde” album there -- and enabled by Cash, who hosted an ABC TV variety hour from Music City -- a wide variety of performers from genres other than country-western started making the trek to Nashville to take advantage of such talents as multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy, steel guitarists Pete Drake and Lloyd Green, and bassists Norbert Putnam and Charlie Daniels.

Some classic tracks resulted, and two discs of them have been gathered together for this album, with a couple of lesser-known numbers done by some of the sidemen themselves thrown in for good measure.

“Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats” covers roughly the period from 1966 to 1974, more or less chronologically, opening with Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” Among the other highlights of the first disc are Cash covering Dylan on “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” Dylan doing “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” The Byrds’ “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (from their “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album), John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” Mike Nesmith and the Monkees’ “Some of Shelly’s Blues,” Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” -- not a track generally associated with Nashville but partly recorded there.

Disc 2 opens with Dylan and Cash (who had first met at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival) duetting on “Girl From the North Country” from Cash’s TV show. Other highlights of the second disc include Joan Baez doing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” (recorded when Young came to Nashville to appear on the Cash show), Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road,” the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (from the splendid album of the same name featuring a host of Nashville legends), Earl Scruggs and Linda Ronstadt on “Silver Wings,” Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes teaming up with Cash and Carl Perkins for “Matchbox” on Cash’s show, and tracks by George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.

Harrison didn’t travel to Nashville to work, like Ringo and Paul did, but he flew Pete Drake over to London for his “All Things Must Pass” sessions, represented here by “Behind That Locked Door.” While in London, Drake invited country music fan Starr to visit Music City to record an album, and the title track of the resulting LP, “Beaucoups of Blues,” is here. And McCartney and Wings spent several weeks in Nashville in the summer of ’74 and among the tracks they recorded there was a country number, “Sally G,” included in this collection.

Plus, there’s a previously unreleased take of Dylan doing “If Not for You” with pedal steel and violin.

This collection does a good job of representing an exciting era of musical cross-pollination.

The two most notable things about James Taylor’s new album, “Before This World,” are that it’s his first collection of original material since 2002, and the album’s first-week sales gave JT his first No. 1 Billboard album … ever, hard as that is to believe.

Ironically, while it’s a completely enjoyable collection of folk-rock tunes ably performed by the 67-year-old Taylor, whose warm, nasal voice doesn’t seem to have changed over the decades, it’s far from his best work. For me, the two best tunes are the album opener, “Today Today Today” (which makes good use of harmonica and fiddle) and “Far Afghanistan,” a sympathetic and yet realistic and questioning look at the latest theater of war for American soldiers.

Otherwise, the tracks mostly blend together as a sort of seamless travelogue (from Massachusetts to Montana), with only “Angels of Fenway,” an ode to the Red Sox beloved by Taylor and his grandma, standing out.

If you like JT, I don’t want to put you off: You’ll probably enjoy this mellow album, which features support from Yo-Yo Ma and Sting. But, really, while most of it is pretty and familiar-sounding, it is not very memorable. These songs may remind you of Taylor’s best work, but they don’t come close to equalling it.

Last time, I wrote about the retirement of one of the giants of late-night television, David Letterman. Now, having watched CBS’ “Late Late Show With James Corden” since its March premiere, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on late night’s newest entry.

So far, British comedian-actor-singer Corden’s weeknight hour is an uneven amalgam of tried-and-true elements (including quite a few running bits openly based on things Letterman did in his early days in late night) and attempts to tweak the formula, with varying degrees of success.

The idea of bringing the guests out at the same time and sitting them together on the couch, a la the BBC’s Graham Norton, is a nice wrinkle when it works, which is usually when the two or three celebs have something in common. When it doesn’t, as on the night when Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”) and Matthew Perry (“Friends”) obviously could barely tolerate each other, it can be awkwardly uncomfortable.

As an interviewer, Corden is sort of like a British Jimmy Fallon, all goofy puppy-dog enthusiasm, but with self-deprecating charm. Like Fallon, he’s a good singer and some of his best interactions with guests have been musical bits. The game show elements, lifted from Fallon, have been less successful. Overall, Corden mainly needs to tone down the gushing and that high-pitched laugh.

On the subject of music on the show, bandleader-announcer Reggie Watts is more than a little strange, which, again, sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Interestingly, the producers have smartly placed the show’s stunning female bassist, Hagar Ben Ari, just behind Watts, so she’s on-screen regularly, resulting in lots of interest on social media -- and from guest Christoph Waltz, who asked on-camera to be introduced to her.

The interviews aside, the prepared bits are where Corden really shines, including “Carpool Karaoke,” featuring him driving and singing along in the car with such guests as Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson and Iggy Azalea, and the segments where Corden takes over someone’s job for a while (one of those lifts from Letterman). He’s also had some good fun ridiculing his employer, CBS, for its unfathomable decision to run much-seen reruns of its police procedurals as Corden’s post-Letterman lead-in until Stephen Colbert arrives in September.

The main problem with the new “Late Late Show” is that, in the traditional late-night show setting, Corden frequently seems to be trying too hard, especially during the monologues, which are not his strong suit. In fact, the best overall episode so far was the most different one, in which Corden took the whole crew out into a nearby neighborhood and finally found someone willing to let them do a show in his house. From Jeff Goldblum flirting with Jessica, one of the residents, to a game of hide-and-seek in the bedrooms and an intimate living-room musical performance by Beck, the visit to “Tommy’s house” (above) was nicely low-key but thoroughly enjoyable. The producers should consider breaking the format like that more often.

I'm not particularly a fan of AT&T (though I'm a customer), but I like their ads. The previous "It's Not Complicated" series with Beck Bennett (now a featured player on "Saturday Night Live") interviewing pre-schoolers was a favorite.

And his successor, Milana Vayntrub as AT&T saleswoman "Lily Adams," also has caught my fancy. Vayntrub, a veteran of various online comedy shorts as well as a few minor TV roles, strikes just the right adorable/sexy tone in a Zooey Deschanel sort of way. Speaking of "SNL," having watched some of her Yahoo comedy films, I think Vayntrub would make a great addition to the cast of that show, which recently finished what, in my mind, has to be its weakest season in at least a decade. …

If KFC wanted to make use of the Southern gentleman image of its founder, the late Harland Sanders, they would have done better to reuse old footage from the many TV ads he did in his lifetime, rather than their current lame series of ads featuring former “SNL”-er Darrel Hammond doing a ham-fisted, tone-deaf imitation of the colonel. There are many of us around who still remember the Colonel’s frequent TV appearances, and so Hammond’s lame approximation comes off as incredibly fake.

Of course, the company CEO recently said he didn't care if a large percentage of the audience hates the ads, because at least they have an opinion. Which, I believe, says something about how far KFC has sunk as a brand. Then again, these are the folks who came up with the infamous Double Down. …

While on the subject of TV commercials, I acknowledge that coming up with ways to advertise a product like toilet paper can be problematic, with those awful animated ads about the Charmin bears worrying about bits of paper left behind on their rump being a great example of how not to do it. And Cottonelle’s current “go commando” campaign is pretty questionable, too.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are Quilted Northern’s unusual “Designed to Be Forgotten” ads, which have the narrator sharing the imagined lamentations of bathroom decorative figurines. While those who use Quilted Northern can forget the experience, the ads note, Daddy Gator, Little Miss Puffytail, and Great Grandpa Thaddeus must endlessly bear witness to the toilet activities … and can’t forget. The best of the series is the ad with Little Miss Puffytail, who, the narrator says, can only dream of “the sweet sweet swing of a careless elbow” to smash her into a million pieces. Now, that’s an ad you won’t forget.

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Sunday, May 3rd, 2015
10:09 pm
Coming Full Circle in Late Night
Watching “The Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS these days definitely is bittersweet.

On the one hand, I'm savoring the last weeks of Letterman before his May 20 finale on the “Late Show.” It’s like a victory lap: Dave's going out at the top of his game. Great guests; a relaxed, playful Letterman; a nod to familiar, beloved bits; and top-notch music.

At the same time, it’s hard to imagine the late-night network comedy scene without him. I don’t think I’m overselling it at all when I say we haven’t seen a departure of this magnitude since Johnny Carson on May 22, 1992.

I’ve enjoyed Conan and both “the Jimmys,” as Letterman likes to call Fallon and Kimmel, and I’m a fan of Stephen Colbert, who will take over the “Late Show” Sept. 8. But Dave will leave a gap none of them is capable of filling. No matter how popular they become and how many viral clips on YouTube Fallon and the others launch, no one is ever going to say about them what a CBS promo for a May 4 prime-time Letterman tribute special accurately says: “He reinvented late-night television.”

Yes, Johnny Carson was and always will be the king, as Letterman has always said of his mentor, but when Letterman became the first occupant of the “Late Night” slot on NBC behind “Tonight” in 1982, he debuted a new-age version of the late-night talk show. While paying tribute to and building on the foundation Carson had laid, Letterman turned the format inside-out with a postmodern approach that appealed to a younger audience as it mocked network TV conventions.

A big part of Letterman’s appeal was his snarkiness, but that proved to be sort of a two-edged sword. While it endeared him to the hipper elements of the late-night audience, it probably cost him a promotion to “Tonight,” with NBC deciding to go with the safer, more traditional Jay Leno when Carson departed. (Carson preferred Dave and actually sent Letterman jokes for his monologue in retirement.)

Although Dave started out on top initially after moving to the hallowed Ed Sullivan Theater with his own show on CBS opposite “Tonight,” Jay’s blander, more predictable brand of comedy ultimately drew the larger audience. A lot of people apparently viewed Dave as something of a misanthrope. Still, Letterman managed to make himself a late-night institution while trailing Leno in the ratings, and those of us who appreciated his good-natured goofiness laced with a rattle snake-quick (and just as deadly) sarcasm stayed loyal.

And that was despite the fact that Letterman didn’t really seem to give a damn whether we liked him or not. Young Dave was a smartass while older Dave could be just plain irascible. And, admittedly, in his third decade in late-night he sometimes seemed to be coasting – though when something major happened on the national scene, particularly a tragedy like 9/11, it was Letterman who we looked to for a summing up that allowed us to move on.

And, actually, after his 2000 quintuple bypass surgery and his late fatherhood with the birth of son Harry 11 years ago, Dave even managed to become something approaching lovable. As Steve Martin told him amid his 2009 sex scandal (which I previously wrote about), "It proves that you're a human being. And we weren't really that sure before."

Still, it’s the classic Letterman comedy bits and interactions with guests that we’ll miss, and many of them are featured in “David Letterman: A Life on Television,” the May 4 retrospective hosted by Ray Romano (whose “Everybody Loves Raymond” was produced by Letterman’s Worldwide Pants company).

From the Top 10 list, Stupid Human Tricks, the forays around the corner to Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli, making celebrities out of production staffers like stage manager Biff Henderson, the wacky man-on-the-street bits (my favorite had Dave send Rupert out with an earpiece with the instruction to repeat whatever random thing Letterman said to complete strangers) to the annual Christmas show’s Lone Ranger story and throwing the footballs at the pizza atop the tree, Dave’s late-night comedy “furniture” set a tongue-in-cheek, self-referential TV template that Fallon, Kimmel, etc. continue to utilize.

And then there were unforgettable bits with his guests: From Cher calling Dave an asshole and Drew Barrymore flashing him to Letterman dicing up an unresponsive Joaquin Phoenix and telling Bill O’Reilly that 60 percent of what he says is “crap,” Dave’s interviews had an unpredictable nature missing on many others.

I even have a couple of personal Letterman memories: sitting in the audience for a mid-1980s “Late Night” show (Bill Murray was the guest and Dave did one of his prank telephone calls); and snapping a picture of my son posing with Rupert (who tried to hide a cigarette behind his leg) in front of his deli in the late ’90s.

I’ve remained a Letterman viewer throughout his run, but Dave’s last month has been particularly enjoyable, as favorites who’ve visited the show scores of times over the years drop by not to promote a new film or TV special but to say a fond farewell and share wonderful stories.

Michael Keaton showed a clip from when he and Dave were in the cast of a short-lived Mary Tyler Moore variety show. It was Mary singing "With a Little Luck" (the Wings song) while Keaton and Dave and others danced behind her. Dave crawled under his desk and refused to watch.

Billy Crystal paid tribute to Dave with one of his patented musical parodies. And Jerry Seinfeld came out on his recent visit and did the exact same stand-up routine he first did on the Letterman show 33 years ago. Then, during the interview, he and Letterman swapped seats and he was interviewing Dave. Fellow heart surgery veteran John Mellencamp came out for his interview smoking a cigarette, leaving Dave gobsmacked. And “Jungle” Jack Hanna visited one more time to let Dave do his Carson-inspired fear-of-wild-animals shtick. When they came back on camera after a collection of clips from Hanna’s many visits through the years, Hanna was visibly emotional, wiping his eyes.

Meanwhile, the Letterman musical guests have been going from strength to strength in Dave's last month on the "Late Show," including such highlights as having the likes of Todd Rundren sit in with Paul Shaffer and the band, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires doing Letterman favorite Warren Zevon's "Mutineer," Elvis Costello doing “Everyday I Write the Book” in his 27th appearance on the show, Tracy Chapman and John Mayer performing special requests from Dave (“Stand By Me” and “American Pie,” respectively), and Steve Martin teaming up with Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Mark O'Connor and Amos Lee for a rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Still to come are some of Dave’s favorite guests from over the years, including Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks and Bill Murray. While Hanks was Letterman’s last guest on his NBC show (before Dave hopped on a horse and rode off into the sunset), it’s considered virtually a lock that Murray, who was the first guest on both “Late Night” and “Late Show,” will be the main guest on the final show.

It will be one of television’s changing-of-the-guard moments, as Letterman, who arrived as one of the young turks, leaves as what he called one of the “old guys in suits.”

I expect I’ll react something like “Jungle” Jack.

Feel free to share your own favorite Letterman moments in the comments below. You don’t have to be registered with Live Journal. Next time: Saying hello to a new face on the late-night scene.

Current Mood: melancholy
Monday, March 2nd, 2015
7:43 pm
Some entertaining distractions from the long winter
Listening to music and watching TV are great ways to pass the time when the weather outside is frightful, so here’s a quick look at what I’ve been playing and watching recently.

ringo postcards

First up, an advance of Ringo Starr’s “Postcards From Paradise,” which is due for release March 31:

This latest collection of 11 songs, on which Ringo also has acted as producer, is a very pleasant and enjoyable fellow traveler with his two previous efforts, consisting largely of midtempo rockers that lyrically offer 12-step-worthy tidbits of Ringo’s upbeat philosophy on life, and musically feature some top-notch playing by the celebrated drummer and his friends — including Joe Walsh, Benmont Tench and Peter Frampton, plus his current band members featuring Steve Lukather and Todd Rundgren.

The thing I like about Ringo producing himself, as he’s done on his three most recent albums, is the organic feel of the recordings, which I find refreshing after years of former producer Mark Hudson’s catchy but sometimes cloying faux-Beatles pop. There’s a comfortable groove to these tracks that makes it sound as if the musicians had a lot of fun making the album.

The downside, though, is this album, like his other recent efforts, misses those earworm musical hooks that were Hudson’s trademark.

The album gets off to a strong start with the fourth installment of Ringo’s ongoing musical autobiography-in-song, a track called “Rory and the Hurricanes.” With its guitars and organ and prominent use of female backing vocalists, the number has a suitably early ’60s feel, as Ringo sings of visiting London with his old band. He namechecks the legendary Two i’s coffeebar and U.K. proto rock star Tommy Steele, but plays it coy when he notes that the next time he hit London, “I was with you know who.”

Also one of the album’s stronger efforts is the next track, “You Bring the Party Down,” on which Ringo appears to be making a sales pitch for clean-living to someone who is “still living off your memories of when you were in the band.” This one is notable for a taste of what sounds like sitar, and for a strong guitar solo.

The momentum falls off a bit with “Bridges,” which offers one of Ringo’s obvious metaphors for dealing with life’s choices (“crossing bridges is the best way to grow”). Not a great tune, but there’s some really stinging guitar work showcased in an extended solo.

Next up is the title track, which Universal sent out as an advance promotional digital “single.” Unfortunately, “Postcards From Paradise” is the album’s weakest song, a plodding rocker on which Ringo and his cohorts have created lyrics by stringing together lots of Beatles and solo Beatle song titles. An example: “And I ain’t going nowhere man / Because I want to hold your hand / It’s like I said the night before / I’ll love you when I’m 64.” That tells you pretty much all you need to know about it.

(You can watch a "lyric video" for the song at the link below. The video is a lot more clever than the song itself.)


The next chapter in Ringo’s musical testimony for a post-rehab life comes in “Right Side of the Road,” a lyrical cousin of “Bridges.” The musical backing is the highlight, with another extended guitar solo.

Next up are a pair of tracks that are among the album’s best, and it’s worth noting that on both of them Ringo departs a bit from his usual musical formula. “Not Looking Back” is a piano-driven ballad with strings on which Ringo sings about preferring to look forward. It has a nice violin solo. And “Bamboula” is a fun, moderately upbeat number about New Orleans, with some horns and accordion mixed in for Creole-Cajun flavor, along with very danceable percussion. (The title comes from the name of a type of bamboo drum that slaves brought over from Africa.) It’s good enough to make you overlook a few tortured rhymes in the lyrics.

The most notable aspect of the next track, “Island in the Sun,” is that it’s the first time Ringo has recorded with his current All Starr Band. Loping along to an almost-reggae beat and with some tropical-sounding percussion, it is enlivened mainly by its sax solo.

“Touch and Go” is a decent slice of neo mid-’60s rock. Better is “Confirmation,” a slightly upbeat, horn-backed love song about living life with no regrets. As Ringo sings (presumably to wife Barbara), “If I had known then what I know now / I’d do it all again with you anyhow.” He again makes nice use of his female backing vocalists on the title chorus.

The album concludes with “Let Love Lead,” which provides another summing up of Ringo’s philosophy: When in doubt ... (see title). This one offers more tasty guitar licks in an extended instrumental portion that closes it out.

All in all, this album is goodtime, unchallenging listening that is no more musically relevant than what any other stars Ringo’s age are doing. But, if you’ve liked his music in the past, I think you’ll enjoy it.

dylan shadows in the night

The winter release that has drawn some of the best critical press and yet is viewed by many potential listeners with some trepidation is Bob Dylan’s “Shadows in the Night,” on which the rock legend covers 10 numbers from the Frank Sinatra songbook.

If you’ve heard the sandpapery croak that has passed for Dylan’s singing voice in recent years or have heard him make his own standards nearly unrecognizable in concert, you might expect Bob covering the Chairman of the Board to be awkward at best and painful at worst. But, actually, what you get here is a respectful, if at times a little surreal, collection of performances, self-produced by Dylan (under his “Jack Frost” alias) with his band providing understated, country-tinged backing that replaces the usual orchestration with simple pedal-steel or Hawaiian guitar. Bob isn’t messing around here.

It’s all done at a stately pace that would be as soothing as a Norah Jones album if it weren’t for the occasional instance of Dylan’s voice cracking as it reaches for a note. Yes, it might take a track or two for your ears to fully adjust to Bob in crooner mode, but once you do, the result is downright charming. Dylan sticks to the melodies, and his aged voice gives these songs a certain gravitas that they might lack in the usual lounge music setting.

True, at times, like when he’s taking on Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening,” the overall feeling is rather like an acid-drenched cocktail lounge scene from a David Lynch movie.

But, at his best on “Shadows in the Night,” Dylan comes off more as a worldweary, bruised romantic.

The album opens and ends with two of its best tracks: “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “That Lucky Old Sun,” which Dylan pretty much makes his own. Other highlights include “Stay With Me,” “Full Moon and Empty Arms” and “What’ll I Do.”

If, like one of my brothers, you never thought Dylan could sing even at his peak, this collection might be too much of a stretch for you. But if you’ve ever gotten any pleasure from the long, varied career of His Bobness, you should find this latest chapter satisfying.

diana krall wallflower

The third album that I’ve spent a lot of time listening to recently is Diana’s Krall’s long-awaited “Wallflower,” originally set for release last fall and then delayed when the accompanying tour was postponed because of a lengthy bout with bronchitis.

“Wallflower” continues Krall’s musical exploration outside her usual jazz home. Last time, on “Glad Rag Doll,” the pianist-vocalist was trying out early 20th century honky tonk music. This time, with one exception, it’s a collection of cover versions of pop-rock tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

Thanks to Krall’s enchantingly smoky vocals, the resulting album is always listenable and enjoyable, and at times flirts with the greatness that fans might have expected. But an overreliance on songs that already have been covered to death (does anyone really need another version of “Desperado”?), too few instances of putting a fresh spin on a familiar tune, and producer David Foster’s penchant for drowning everything in strings keep “Wallflower” from being the album it could have been.

There’s not even that much of Krall’s tasty piano-playing, with Foster himself handling most of the keyboards. And it’s mostly taken at a somnambulant pace, relieved only by the occasional Latin rhythm (“California Dreaming” and “I Can’t Tell You Why”) and a brief bust of ’60s dance pop in a duet with Britain’s Georgie Fame on his hit “Yeh Yeh” as one of the four bonus tracks included on the Amazon version.

What’s wrong with the album, and what it could have been, are encapsulated in one track, Leon Russell’s “Superstar.” Krall does a fine job of singing it, and a slightly jazzy bass line added in the middle works well, but the rest is all Mantovani-like orchestration.

Likewise, Foster’s MOR production on Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” done as a duet with Michael Buble, seems completely at odds with the quirky, suicidal lyrics.

The two best numbers on the album are also the two least-known. The title track is a downbeat Bob Dylan tune from 1971, which thankfully is done in a sort of country-folk style, with a fiddle and guitar replacing Foster’s usual strings. And the album’s only new song, Paul McCartney’s “If I Take You Home Tonight” (which was written for but not used on his “Kisses on the Bottom” album on which Krall worked), is a wistfully romantic ballad that provides a perfect showcase for Krall’s voice.

Another highlight is one of those bonus tracks, a simple, beautiful take of Lennon-McCartney’s “In My Life,” done as a very slow ballad featuring a melancholy Krall vocal that seems to take the lyrics to heart.

I’d love to hear what Krall could have made of this concept with, say, her husband, Elvis Costello, at the controls instead of Foster. Chalk this up as a missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, two of my regular series on the tube wound up their seasons last week.

sleep hollow

Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” rebounded from what had been a mostly disastrous season (creatively and ratings-wise) with a smart finale that reversed the series’ usual format. The series, which drew praise in its first season for its crazy mixture of the supernatural, history, horror and comedy, revolves around Revolutionary War spy Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), who awakens in the 21st century, where he teams up with a police officer (Nichole Beharie) to battle demons shepherding the Apocalypse.

Unfortunately, in the second season the producers derailed the show by introducing too many other regulars, most notably Crane’s 18th century witch wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), fresh from Purgatory. This put a not-very-enticing triangle at the heart of the show and diluted the focus on Mison and Beharie, who have terrific chemistry. Also, an overemphasis on an arcane, convoluted story arc made the show tough viewing for those who hadn’t been along for the ride since the start, and ratings plunged.

So, in the last few episodes, the writers set to work shedding characters, and the finale saw Abbie transported by the now-evil but somewhat inept Katrina’s spell back to the 1700s, where she had to convince an unknowing Ichabod that she was his partner from the future and they had to stop his wife’s demonic doings (and undo the spell). The fish-out-of-water humor that made Crane’s arrival in modern America such fun got a nice reverse twist.

SPOILER ALERT! By episode’s end, Katrina was vanquished and the core cast of regulars were all back in the present day and ready for more adventures, assuming Fox chooses to grant them that opportunity. If not, well, at least it didn’t end on a cliffhanger.

agent carter

Also, Marvel’s “Captain America” TV spinoff, “Agent Carter,” wound up its eight-episode run on ABC with Hayley Atwell’s title character showing the condescending old boys’ club at a post-WWII spy agency how to kick butt.

The furiously-paced period piece, set in 1946, looked great. The plots and action definitely showed their comic book origins, but the series wasn’t afraid to kill off regulars and Atwell proved herself a terrific lead. Here’s hoping we get more of “Agent Carter” next season.

black sails

I’m also enjoying the second season of Starz’s “Black Sails,” a “Treasure Island” prequel starring Toby Stephens as the fabled Captain Flint, Luke Arnold as John Silver before the “long” nickname (and the peg-leg and parrot), and Hannah New as a young woman who acts as the main fence for booty brought into the pirate stronghold of Nassau. (She’s also the romantic partner of the scheming madam of a whorehouse plus at least two pirate captains. Busy girl.)

The interweaving storylines occasionally can be a bit difficult to keep track of, but the writers in the second season have managed a better mix of bloody action and pirate politics, and the flashbacks to Flint’s pre-pirate days have provided not just a deeper characterization, but a neat plot twist that casts the captain in a whole new light. Two episodes remain in this series and, again, I’m hoping for more.

If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal.
Monday, January 5th, 2015
11:09 pm
A Quick Look Back at 2014 in Entertainment
I decided to handle my year-end entertainment wrap-up a little differently this year, reviewing 2014 in a Q&A format suggested by my inquisitive wife, Leslie. Here we go …

What did you want and get?

paul ringo grammys

I was gratified to see lots of special attention to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Between Paul and Ringo teaming up for a special performance at the Grammys and again at the end of CBS’ “The Night That Changed America” tribute concert special and the release of a box set of the “U.S. Albums,” February was pretty special for fans of the Fabs.

Also: a front-row seat for the world premiere of the 50th anniversary remastered reissue of “A Hard Day’s Night” (complete with Q&A appearance by director Dick Lester) at the British Film Institute in London (thanks to my pal Simon Rogers), and a McCartney concert in Atlanta for the first time since 2009. Hard to top either of those experiences.

What did you want and not get?

The rumored official compilation of The Beatles' promo films/music videos, which never came to pass.


What new TV shows did you take up watching?

A pair of series on Starz: the stylish pirate adventure "Black Sails" and the Scottish time travel rom-dram "Outlander." Plus, "Gotham," the thankfully dark, gritty Batman prequel that premiered this fall on Fox, as well as Showtime's horror mash-up "Penny Dreadful" (which was hard to follow at times but had some amazing work by the always worth-watching Eva Green).

Any TV shows you dropped?

I bailed out of HBO's "True Detective," even though what I saw was excellent, simply because I didn't have the time to keep up with it and didn't want another series sitting unwatched on my DVR. I originally had planned on watching Fox's "Gracepoint," a remake of the BBC's "Broadchurch" (which was excellent), but after finding out that the American version was an almost literal remake (except for naming a different killer at the end), I passed it up. I had previously dropped HBO's "True Blood" two or three seasons ago, but I did return for the series finale episode, which was merely OK. I had never regularly watched "How I Met Your Mother," but I did watch the much-dissed final episode and didn't find it nearly as bad as many fans seemed to think.

What other TV shows are you still watching regularly (or have DVR'd for future binge-watching)?

The third series of the superb "Sherlock" with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on "Mystery!," the second season of Fox's humor-horror supernatural romp "Sleepy Hollow," CBS' mondern-day Sherlock Holmes series "Elementary" (which has thrived by going its own way while still remaining true to the basic premise of the original stories), the terrific second season of BBC America's "Orphan Black" (with star Tatiana Maslany continuing to amaze with her multi-clone performance), several good old reliable CBS procedurals (the various "NCIS" series, when I can catch them, and the modern-day "Hawaii Five-O"), the second season of FX's excellent cold war spy drama "The Americans," AMC's revolutionary war adventure "Turn: Washington's Spies," NBC's "The Blacklist" (mainly for the ultra cool James Spader), and HBO's hardhitting comedy/news series "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver." Also, I really enjoyed "American Experience: 1964" and what episodes I got to see of Ken Burns' "The Roosevelts" documentary series on PBS. I hope to catch up on the most recent episodes of "Mad Men" and "Homeland," too. Leslie tells me the latter was a terrific return to form for a series that had gone badly off-track in the previous season.

What about late night?

I continue to watch the soon-to-depart "Late Show With David Letterman" on CBS (with the recent final Christmas show being a particular favorite) and used to enjoy Craig Ferguson's crazy bits with his gay robot skeleton sidekick on CBS' "Late Late Show" before he departed. I also dip into the new "Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon and "Late Night" with Seth Meyers on NBC. Fallon is best with his pop-culture set pieces and musical interactions with guests (and the Roots are a great band), though his gushing fanboy interviews can be a bit much. Meyers is still feeling his way. The monologue and desk pieces he does are reminiscent of his "SNL" "Weekend Update" days and are usually fun, but the interviews are hit-or-miss and his interactions with band leader Fred Armisen (also late of "SNL") are lame and very repetitive. I'm looking forward to seeing what British comic actor James Corden does with CBS' "Late Late Show," starting in March.

Any off-the-wall viewing choices?

My daughter Livvy has gotten me into watching "Chopped," one of the myriad cooking competition shows that seem to have taken over the Food Network since the days I was a regular viewer. I have to admit it is kind of addictive, especially when they do special competitions like their teen tournament and a recent one involving past champions. Also, normally I wouldn't go near ABC's "The Bachelorette," but I confess to having watched this past summer's finale of the series, because I wanted to see if the bachelorette (an Atlanta prosecutor) chose former Georgia Bulldog football player Josh Murray (brother of former UGA quarterback Aaron). She did. Livvy followed the show on Twitter as we were watching, and the tweets from his old teammates were a lot of fun.

jenna coleman

Favorite performers in prime-time series?

I really like the chemistry between Ichabod Crane (British actor Tim Misson) and Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) on "Sleepy Hollow" (though this season it's been diluted somewhat by the arrival of his 18th century wife fresh from Purgatory — don't ask!). I wish they hadn't just killed off the character played by Orlando Jones, but, considering what kind of show it is, I have a feeling that won't stop him from continuing to appear. I watch "Hawaii Five-O" mainly for the interplay between stars Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan (son of James), Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. I also like the chemistry between Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu) on "Elementary, and I am quite taken with Holmes' new protege Kitty Winter on the series, played with great charm by a young actress with the wonderfully British name of Ophelia Lovibond. I also really like Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, who stars in "Outlander." And on BBC America's "Doctor Who," I have no problem with the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, though I haven't quite warmed up to him as much as his two predecessors in the role (Matt Smith and David Tennant). However, Jenna Coleman, who plays holdover companion Clara on the series, is my main TV crush these days.

george psychedelic small

What was your favorite album or song of the year?

I didn't buy that many albums in 2014, and most of the ones I did were expanded deluxe reissues, including Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition, Roy Orbison's "Mystery Girl Deluxe," McCartney's "Venus and Mars" and "Wings at the Speed of Sound" Deluxe Editions and George Harrison's "The Apple Years 1968-75" box set. Plus, the aforementioned box set of The Beatles' "U.S. Albums" (of which "The Beatles' Second Album" was a particular favorite). And, in a throwback from my days covering the music scene, a combo reissue of Sea Level's "Cats on the Coast" and "On the Edge." On DVD, I picked up the Criterion Collection reissue of "A Hard Day's Night" and also got "Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration."

The only new or almost-new albums not related to The Beatles that I bought last year were Tom Petty's "Hypnotic Eye," Imagine Dragons' "Night Visions" and Coldplay's "Ghost Stories," all of which I enjoyed.

Mainly, I listened (usually via radio or YouTube) to a lot of individual songs, most of which were new this year (or, at least, new to me). Those included: "Different Days" by Jason Isbell, "Weight" by Mikal Cronin, "Fugitive Air" by Of Montreal, "Brighter!" by Cass McCombs, "Love Me Again" by John Newman, "Kiss of Fate" by Black Prairie, "Lazaretto" by Jack White, "Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams, "Blood on Your Bootheels" by Caroline Rose, "Pompeii" by Bastille, "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors, "The Walker" by Fitz and the Tantrums, "Take It or Leave It" by Cage the Elephant, "I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers, "Dangerous" by Big Data featuring Joywave, "Come With Me Now" by Kongos, "Take Me to Church" by Hozier, "Riptide" by Vance Joy, "Team" by Lorde, "Habits (Stay High)" by Tove Lo, "My Sweet Summer" by Dirty Heads, "Bad Blood" by Bastille, "Cool Kids" by Echosmith, "Stolen Dance" by Milky Chance, "Do I Wanna Know?" by Arctic Monkeys, "Superheroes" by The Script, "Fever" by the Black Keys, "Fool's Gold" by Fitz and the Tantrums, "Rude" by Magic!, "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon and "I Bet My Life" by Imagine Dragons. I also really liked "Keep Banging On," the number Craig Ferguson opened his final "Late Late Show" with, though it hasn't been made available anywhere else at this writing.

What album or song disappointed you?

"The Art of McCartney," an expansive tribute set featuring lots of big names (from Billy Joel, Steve Miller and Heart to Willie Nelson, B.B. King and even Bob Dylan!) covering Macca's tunes, but rarely with any originality. Mostly they just aped the McCartney/Wings originals, which seemed like a lot of wasted effort.

imitation gmae

What were your favorite movies? Any disappointments?

I didn't get the chance to see that many films in 2014, and the ones I did catch were movies I was pretty sure I'd enjoy. So, no disappointments.

The best of the bunch was "The Imitation Game," the film about computer grandaddy Alan Turing and how the Nazis' Enigma code was cracked in WWII. Based on his starring performance, Benedict Cumberbatch looks like a very strong contender for a Best Actor Oscar, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the always fine Keira Knightley get a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Runner-up goes to "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," in which Peter Jackson did a really good job winding up the series with an entertaining, exciting film in which good prevails, but not without cost. The film segues well into the previous "Lord of the Rings" series (and ties the lthree "Hobbit" films together nicely) and should make for a tremendous box set of all six films, as my daughter Livvy noted.

Also recommended: the "A Hard Day's Night" reissue, "Monuments Men" (George Clooney's drama about the Allies' efforts in WWII to save great works of art from the Nazis) and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (which was as much government conspiracy thriller as it was super hero adventure). I wanted to see "Gone Girl," but it was gone from area cinemas before my schedule eased up.

got that something

Anything new on the bookshelf worth noting?

I naturally read a bunch of Beatles-related books, but the best by far was my friend Allan Kozinn's ebook "Got That Something! How the Beatles' 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' Changed Everything." Aside from local histories about my favorite towns (Athens, Abergavenny and Atlanta), I also picked up several titles in 2014 that I'm reading or intend to read: "Moriarty," a Sherlock Holmes-related novel by Anthony Horowitz, who wrote the most recent authorized Holmes story ("The House of Silk"); "1965: The Year Modern Britain Was Born" by Christopher Bray; and a pair of books on the Southern rock bands (Allman Brothers, etc.) that I covered in my rock critic days: "Rebel Yell: An Oral History of Southern Rock" by Michael Buffalo Smith, and "Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock" by Scott B. Bomar. I hope to soon pick up copy of "Hope: Entertainer of the Century," the Bob Hope bio by one of my favorite former coworkers, Richard Zoglin.

All in all, not a great year in entertainment, but still one with moments worth savoring.

If you'd like to take a shot at answering any or all of these questions about your 2014 entertainment experiences, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal.

Current Mood: contemplative
Sunday, August 17th, 2014
8:20 pm
August 1969: Some Kind of Innocence
beatles august 69

(I originally wrote this 20 years ago, and it was published in Beatlefan #90, September, 1994, to mark the 25th anniversary of these events. I thought it would be a good way of now noting the 45th anniversary.)

It's a year for anniversaries. Beatlemania. D-Day. And observances of the I-remember-where-I-was events that packed that yin-yang summer of 1969.

Yes, I remember Woodstock. I was there.

OK, so I wasn't up to my ears in sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and mud on Max Yasgur's New York farm. But I was in Woodstock, in Georgia's Appalachian foothills, where my family was "roughing it" for a week in a rustic cottage — complete with color TV with which to stay in touch with the rest of the world, which seemed to be going mad.

So it is that my memories of Woodstock and the Manson Family killings forever are entwined with images of us sitting at the breakfast table, trying to pick millions of tiny bones out of the catfish we'd snagged in Lake Allatoona.

It was as if the spicy social and cultural gumbo that was the ’60s was boiling over in the latter days of summer as my senior year of high school approached. Already in July, we'd had the wild contrast of the investiture of the Prince of Wales in an ancient ceremony and the modern marvel of man walking on the moon — both telecast live around the world via satellite.

A few days after the moon landing, Teddy Kennedy, who earlier that year was the fifth most admired man in America in a Gallup Poll, had gone on national TV to try explain Mary Jo Kopechne's death in his car at Chappaquidick.

And then, that jam-packed week at the lake, we heard of the bizarre and bloody Beverly Hills murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends, followed by the similar slaughter of an L.A. grocer and his wife the next day ... Northern Ireland erupting as Catholics and Protestants took their age-old hatred into the streets, prompting the introduction of British troops ... the gathering of more than 400,000 at that place in New York with the same name as our vacation site for a three-day rock fest that became a cultural watershed ... and Hurricane Camille tearing up the Gulf Coast, killing 283.

We didn't know it yet, but another cultural upheaval was taking place in London,where The Beatles were burning out in a creative supernova. The day before Sharon Tate was butchered, the Fab Four strolled across a certain zebra walk that was to be immortalized in the most famous record album cover of all time.

Even for those of us who lived it, 1969 seems like another world ... a world where the hot new home entertainment item was the 8-track tape; the hottest new band was Creedence Clearwater Revival; Johnny Cash was pioneering country crossover; adolescent boys were falling in love with Olivia Hussey of "Romeo & Juliet" while Henry Mancini had an unexpected chart-topper with the film's theme song; and Hollywood was courting the burgeoning youth market, with "Goodbye Columbus," "The Wild Bunch" and "Midnight Cowboy." A film that satirized the new sexual freedom, "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," was due out soon and "I Am Curious (Yellow)" was testing pornography laws across the country.

TV's tame answer to all this sexual license fell well short of Broadway's nudity-laced "Hair" and "Oh! Caluctta!," but some ABC affiliates nevertheless were nervous about the new comedic anthology, "Love, American Style." The networks were on their own youth kick, with Michael Parks roaming the country in search of the Meaning of Life in "Then Came Bronson," cool teens and caring teachers addressing relevant concerns in "Room 222," and Aaron Spelling trying to follow up on his "Mod Squad" success with "The New People," about a group of college kids stranded on a Pacific island who must start all over. For our little brothers and sisters, there was a goofy new sitcom about this lovely lady with three daughters who met this man with three sons of his own. ...

As school got underway, we seniors briefly lost and regained our off-campus lunch privilege; we argued the upcoming Vietnam Moratorium Day nationwide anti-war protest in Coach Warlick's Current Affairs class; we still watched "Dark Shadows" when we got home; and, in the latter half of September, tracks from the forthcoming "Abbey Road" album started showing up on the radio. Stations in a few cities also began programming the rough-hewn tracks from the abortive "Get Back" album, taken from advance acetates that had leaked out.

A taste of the times can be had via the "Posters, Incense, and Strobe Candles" bootleg, taken from a recording of WBCN in Boston airing the "Get Back" album on Sept. 22, 1969.

That same night, on my 17th birthday, The Beatles were seen on TV in a disjointed promotional film for the summer hit "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (with a drum beat replacing each mention of "Christ" and a couple of minutes of "Give Peace a Chance" from that May's Montreal Bed-In inserted in the middle).

The occasion was the star-loaded premiere — with Tom Jones, James Brown, Janis Joplin, Oliver, Buck Owens, Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young also on the bill — of ABC's "The Music Scene," a hip but ultimately short-lived variation on "Your Hit Parade" notable mainly for introducing Lily Tomlin.

Leafing through a TV Guide from that week, and listening to that "Get Back" bootleg, I am swept back to a time when outrage still was tempered with hope, that heady mix of anything-goes and lingering innocence made life a thrilling adventure of discovery, there seemed to be no limits to what we could do ... and when, not coincidentally, The Beatles were at the apex of their musical and cultural influence, a presence so powerful and pervasive that it crossed almost all socio-economic boundaries.

For our children, it must be difficult to fathom the unique position the Fabs had in1969. But if they imagine the combined impact of Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, David Letterman, Kurt Cobain, Fabio, Madonna and, yes, even dead Elvis — and multiply it several times — they might come close.

The Beatles occupied a sort of pop culture Mount Olympus. No mere stars, their every move triggered worldwide interest and trends. Their lyrics and even their album covers were examined for meanings in the uniquely ’60s belief that these rock ’n’ roll demi-gods must know something we didn't.

(This, of course, resulted not only in that ludicrous media uproar in the fall of ’69 now known as the Paul-is-dead hoax, but also in the revelation at the Manson trial a few months later that Crazy Charlie considered The Beatles to be higher beings who were sending him messages through their music. "Helter Skelter," he believed, foretold an impending race war and was the alert for him to get on the right side by slaughtering some pigs. In reality, it used playground imagery as an analogy for sex.)

Back then, The Beatles were so unbelievably hip that we figured anything they did must be hip, even if it didn't appear so on the surface. I remember when I first heard the "Abbey Road" album: A group of us had gathered at a schoolmate's house to work on a Senior English class report (something boring by Joseph Conrad) and it wasn't long before our attention wavered and we adjourned to Mary's basement bedroom to listen to the new Beatles LP, which I hadn't yet scraped up the bucks to buy.

Anyway, we listened in awe as Mary guided us through "Abbey Road," and I'll never forget her preface to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," which today is viewed in the same light in which The Beatles themselves saw it — as the "corny" one — but which Mary, who was known as one of the school's artsy intellectuals, imbued with some unknown quasi-mystical meaning beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals.

"This one is too far out," she said breathlessly as the song began.

And, you know, listening to the tale of Maxwell Edison and his deadly silver hammer in the wake of the summer of '69 ... well, it did seem that way.

2014 POSTSCRIPT: I recently sent this piece to Mary, who at first didn't recognize herself in it, and then was bemused that I described her as an "artsy intellectual." She also couldn't believe she had ever used the phrase "too far out." I can't swear those were her exact words, but that's definitely how I remembered it 20 years ago, and still do. I also should note that, while I'm not sure anyone would have described me as an "artsy intellectual" in 1969, that's the group I mostly hung out with in high school.

If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal.

Current Mood: nostalgic
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