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“Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain”

It’s January in Columbus and as I write this it is been gray or rainy for what seems like the 20th consecutive day. ( I think I saw the sun this morning but I’m not sure as I may have forgotten what it looks like.) So to avoid having to blog about the new post-Trumpian world of “alternate facts”; “3-5 Million illegal votes” etc. etc., I thought it appropriate to blog about my favorite rain or stormy weather songs. To qualify for my list, the song must mention rain or stormy weather in the title. Also, I chose only one song per artist. So here is my list of my 30 favorites of the 1960s and 1970s in chronological order by first chart date. See if you remember any/all of these:

  1. “Raindrops” – Dee Clark May 1961 – “It must be raindrops, so many raindrops, it feels like raindrops falling from my eyes”
  2. “Cryin in the Rain” – Everly Brothers Jan. 1962 – “I’ll do my cryin in the rain”.
  3. “Rhythm of the Rain”–Cascades Jan. 1963“Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, pitter, patter…Rain please tell me now does that seem fair, for her to steal my heart away when she don’t care”
  4. “Don’t let the Rain Come Down” – Serendipity Singers Feb. 1964“My roof’s got a hole in it and I might drown”
  5. “ Walking in the Rain” – Ronettes – Oct. 1964 And I’ll be certain he’s my guy, by the things he likes to do… like walking in the rain”
  6. “Baby the Rain Must Fall” – Glen Yarborough Mar. 1965 “Wherever my heart must lead me, baby I must go”
  7. “Lightin’ Strikes” – Lou Christie – Dec. 1965 – When I see lips beggin to be kissed, I can’t stop…Lightning striking again”. Lou couldn’t get enough of rain songs, as his follow up hit in the spring of 1966 was “Rhapsody in the Rain”.
  8. “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” – Bob Dylan – Apr. 1966 “Everybody must get stoned” – A “rainy’ song with neither a mention of “rain”, or any part of it’s title in the lyrics.
  9. “ Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” – Simon and Garfunkel – May 1966 So I continue to pretend, my life will never end, and flowers never bend with the rainfall”.
  10. “Rain” The Beatles – June 1966 “Rain, I don’t mind. Shine. The weather’s fine.”
  11. “Rain on the Roof”- Lovin Spoonful – Oct. 1966 Me and you and rain on the roof, caught up in a summer shower, maybe it will last for hours, waiting out the sun”
  12. “Tell it to the Rain” – Four Seasons – Dec. 1966 “Tell it to the rain, and the stars that shine above, that it is me you’re thinking of, and I’m your love.”
  13. “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down on Me” – The Critters – July 1967 –“Don’t let it wash away my memories”
  14. “Summer Rain” – Johnny Rivers – Nov. 1967 – “Summer rain taps on my window…” 
  15. “ The Rain, the Park, and the Other Things” – The Cowsills – Dec. 1967 “I saw her sitting in the rain. Raindrops falling on her…Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere, I love the flower girl.”
  16. “ I Wish it Would Rain” – Temptations – Jan. 1968“Sunshine, blue skies please go away…I know to you it might sound strange, but I wish it would rain”.
  17. “Stormy” – Classics IV – Oct. 1968 – All of a sudden that old rain’s falling down, and my world is cloudy and gray. You’ve gone away. Oh stormy, bring back that sunny day.”
  18. “Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head” B.J. Thomas – Nov. 1969 “But there is one thing I know, the blues they send to meet me, won’t defeat me.” I’ll admit I tired of this song, because of its excessive airplay. But any song featured in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” has to be on the list!
  19. “Who’ll Stop the Rain”- Creedence Clearwater Revival- Jan. 1970 “And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain”. CCR also had another rain song, which was nearly as good. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
  20. “ Rainy Night in Georgia”- Brook Benton – Jan. 1970 “Heavy rain falling, seems I hear your voice calling ‘it’ s alright’ “
  21. “ Kentucky Rain” – Elvis Presley – Feb. 1970 – “So I’m walking in the rain, on this lonely Kentucky back road…Kentucky rain keeps pouring down.”  
  22. “Fire and Rain” – James Taylor – Sep. 1970 “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days I thought would never end…but I always thought I would see you one more time again”
  23. “Rainy Days and Mondays” – The Carpenters – May 1971 Hanging around, nothing to do but frown, rainy days and Mondays always get me down”
  24. “Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again” – The Fortunes May 1971 “ And soon my tears will be falling like rain”
  25. “Riders on the Storm” – The Doors – July 1971“Riders on the storm…into this world were thrown like a dog without a bone, an actor out alone…. There’s a killer on the road, his brain is squirming like a toad…if you give this man a ride, sweet memory will die….” Ironically, this song first hit the top 100 on July 3, 1971 the day Jim Morrison died. It was also the Doors last successful single.
  26. “ In the Rain” – The Dramatics – Feb. 1972 – I’m gonna go outside… in the rain. It may sound crazy.”
  27. “ Let it Rain” – Eric Clapton – Sep. 1972 – “Let it rain, let your love rain down on me”
  28. “It Never Rains in Southern California” – Albert Hammond – Oct. 1972 “It never rains in California, but girl don’t they warn you, it pours, man it pours”
  29. “Love Reign O’er Me” – The Who – Dec. 1973 – “Only love can make it rain, like a sweat of lovebirds laying in the fields. Love rain on me.” – While this song doesn’t have rain or storms in the title, I made exception because the title is used interchangeably as “love rain over me” in the song. And like several others on the list the song begins with a rainstorm.
  30. “Fool in the Rain” – Led Zeppelin Dec. 1979 “And the storm that I thought would blow over, clouds the light of the love that I found, found” Led Zeppelin also recorded “The Rain Song”.

Honorable Mention: “It’s Raining Again” – Supertramp

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So what are your favorites/ what have I missed?

“I Might as Well J(Tr)ump, Go Ahead and J(Tr)ump”

With the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration tomorrow, I find myself looking at the next Administration with some, albeit guarded, optimism, despite voting for Hillary. My mood has changed pretty dramatically since my “Lost in a Lost World” post in late October. This is in spite of the HUGE character issues I have with our new President. (Someone please take away his twitter account!) Perhaps it is because most of the Cabinet appointments are good ones in my view and have the possibility at least of reforming our bloated federal  bureaucracy and the possibility of changing our overly regulated economy back to one where this a more reasonable amount of federal regulations or at least less of them. (The Obama administration issued more regulations than the previous Bush and Clinton Administration combined and naturally the old ones that already existed were seldom repealed!). In this light, I have devoted this post to my optimistic hopes as they pertain to the key domestic, economic agenda items of a new Presidency.

The last 8 years have been a “stimulus” economy in the US (and around the world). Economic growth during the recovery period from 2009-2016 has been anemic with the worst GDP growth during an economic recovery since the 1930s. And what growth we have had has been entirely from our massive borrowing. Even in the last two years, our net borrowing has EXCEEDED our GDP growth by over $400 billion. (During the Obama Administration, we borrowed more money than the US borrowed in the previous 240 years of its existence, and we raised federal debt from $8-9 Trillion to an incredible nearly $20 Trillion today! This easily exceeded the amount of GDP growth we had during this period). If you are looking for a historical precedent for this, look no further. We have NEVER had a period in our history like this, which of course means we have NO idea how badly this might all end.

Ironically, while decrying and focusing on income inequality as a prime economic objective, the policies of the Obama Administration and for the first two years a Democratic Congress have actually increased income inequality. The huge fiscal stimulus in 2009 (which was permanent rather than one-time) accompanied by a massive monetary stimulus ( we QUINTUPLED our monetary base between late 2008 and 2014) has had the effect of fueling ultra-low interest rates and massive investment in the stock market. This has meant that the main recipients of our “fake” economic growth has been the wealthy, who disproportionately own US stocks.

Also, and much more disturbingly, there has been no gains in median, personal incomes dating back to 2000. For most of this period we have seen virtually no improvement in “productivity”, which is the holy grail for real economic growth and raising the standards of living for all Americans. (In fact, growth in real personal incomes generally is closely related to the growth in “productivity”). Even the reduction in the unemployment rate is a bit illusory during the past 8 years, as it fails to account for the very-low rate of overall labor participation which fell to the lowest levels since the  1970s. It also failed to account for a disturbing trend where part-time jobs have replaced full-time employment.

It is against this backdrop that I have some optimism based on early indications that the next Administration might actually improve things. The question is will it improve things quickly enough to avoid or at least partially mitigate the inevitable crash or is it too late? So herewith my top 10 economic/domestic policy list of sorts, agenda items that will be critical in the short and longer term to avoid the crash or at least lessen its impact and improve our longer run future. Note I have included a few ideas (but there are others) on how to accomplish each:

  1. Balance the Budget by no later than 2020 and Enact a Balanced Budget Amendment. – Note to do this we will not only need to increase economic growth so that there are more tax revenues but ALSO cut discretionary spending and reform Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.
  2. Reduce Federal discretionary Spending Significantly (~15-20%) Starting NOW. This could include freezing new hiring to replace retiring government workers, eliminating a number of unnecessary or duplicative functions or departments and privatizing a number of services which should be funded via user fees  as well as eliminate or greatly reduce US agricultural subsidies and other federal subsidies.
  3. Balance the Social Security Trust Fund thru the combination of  raising the full retirement age to 70 over the next 10 years, raising the amount of annual income subject to the social security tax and provide for some means-testing to receive full benefits.
  4. Make Medicare and Medicaid Financial Solvent– One of my ideas is to add a consumption tax on ALL added sugar or caloric sweeteners in products which could be used as an additional significant source of tax revenue to fund Medicare and Medicaid, while discouraging our rampant sugar epidemic.
  5. Repeal and Replace Obama Care retaining the pre-existing conditions and several other provisions, make insurance companies actually compete by allowing consumers to buy policies anywhere in the US (no in-state restrictions), eliminate regulations “requiring” certain elective services to be part of health insurance (e.g. birth control), eliminate or loosen restrictions on the use of nurse practitioners rather than doctors on many basic health care services, cap the maximum medical malpractice damages at reasonable levels. Last but not least, fix the provisions requiring businesses above 50 employees to cover employees that work 30 hours a week or more. By doing so we have discouraged some smaller businesses from growing more and have encouraged part-time work rather than full-time employment.
  6. Corporate Tax Reform– Our corporate tax rates are the highest among all developed nations. We need to cut these rates, so that multinational corporations are encouraged to do more business in the US, (rather than in low tax countries like Ireland ), and also to reinvest cash earnings in the US (rather than keeping it overseas). However, we also need to eliminate or reduce other corporate tax deductions to make sure the changes are revenue neutral at least.
  7. Personal Income Tax Reform– My favorite overall tax policy would be the Fair Tax (a national consumption tax which would replace ALL federal taxes), but even a system that reduces marginal tax rates and eliminates or greatly limits itemized deductions (to pay for the overall cuts and keep the system at least revenue neutral AND reduce the economic efficiency losses associated with such tax “subsidies”) would be a pretty good second best alternative.
  8. Reform and Move to a More Competitive Education System – With a few exceptions scattered across the US, our public school education system is a disgrace and particularly unfair to middle class or poorer income students. We should move towards a more competitive school-choice system that provides ALL parents with vouchers to select their school including private or parochial schools. Further, we should eliminate much or all of the federal Education Department bureaucracy.
  9. Eliminate The Large Number of Unnecessary Federal Regulations – The best example is Dodd-Frank (and to a lesser extent Sarbanes-Oxley) which has had the most pernicious effects by forcing companies to hire many workers just for compliance, instead of producing more output and thereby raising overall productivity and personal income.
  10. Move US Economy to a Long run Growth rate of 3-4% rather than the 2% Growth of the past 8 years. – Sound corporate and personal income tax reform , elimination of unnecessary federal regulations, health care reform and even education reform should help here.

Based on the what Trump and his appointees has signaled so far, I expect significant activity on areas #5-10, but unfortunately, much less so on #1-4. So it will be important that the Trump Administration and Congress are reminded of the critical importance of ALL of these issues.

Of course, none of these changes will be easy and most will be resisted heavily by the complete spectrum of industry interest groups, AARP, environmental groups, farmers, teachers unions, government employee unions and just about everyone else involved in lobbying Congress, but we HAVE to make progress in most of these areas if we are to avoid a U.S. and worldwide economic meltdown, possibly of unprecedented scope.

More posts and details on many of these areas as we go thru the year. In the meantime, lets hope we can put aside the rancor of a difficult election and for many of us, our respective negative personal feelings about Donald Trump, and work together across state and party lines to solve these critical problems or at least make them better. It is in EVERYONE’s collective interest to make sure we accomplish them.

 

 

 

 

 

“Another Auld Lang Syne” IV

Happy Veterans Day, Happy Thanksgiving , Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Yes, my loyal and few remaining  blog readers, it has been more than 2 months since I posted last. And with the first blog post of 2017, it is time to review how I did last year. So herewith my traditional, annual, self-deprecating “how did I do with my resolutions last year?” (See my blog post in January 2016):

Resolution #1: Lose Weight- Grade F –  Regarding my weight loss goal of 10 lbs to reach 200 lbs. , I got halfway there by the end of the summer, aided by two Adirondack Mt. Hikes ( which certainly “felt” like I burned a 2000 calories on each and definitely reminded me that I am 62 not 22). However, I slipped back to about 210 lbs by late December. Charitably, as we return from Barbados, my guess is I am at about that weight still.

To be fair, it is only partially my fault and I mostly blame Anne for being such a good cook. Though we only eat low-fat at home and plenty of grains and veggies, my days of loading my plate up with as much of even these as I desire are long gone . I suppose if I loaded up my plate with celery, kale and rocket lettuce (without dressing) this wouldn’t be a problem. ( But then again does anyone do this?) ………….“and a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly”

Resolution #2: Stop Eating Desserts/Sugar – Grade C – During our regular meals at home we just about never eat desserts or sweets, likewise we generally don’t when we go out with friends. The problem is holiday meals and parties ( particularly Christmas) which is when I really go off the rails and given my failure in Resolution #1 , this was probably more pernicious than I’m willing to admit  ….“while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads”

Resolution #3 Exercise – Grade B – I did reasonably well both swimming and walking usually 5 times a week or more until late November when an injured heel / plantar fasciitis has kept me from walking for exercise. Then, I managed to get an ear infection in Barbados which has kept me from swimming for the past week.  However, I continue to do rigorous thumb and finger exercises.       ….”then dash away, dash away all”

Resolution #4 Limit of Two Alcoholic Drinks Per Day – Grade C – Unfortunately (or fortunately in most cases), when one has chronic back pain, alcohol can serve as an excellent medicine.  So while I didn’t fail entirely here, I definitely crossed the two drink threshold much more often than occasionally. Had I raised the bar to 3 drinks or less , I would have done much better (and better still if I counted one 24 oz. can of beer = one drink.)

Resolution #5 Blog 24 times – Grade F – I only posted 12 times ( my worst year by far) and may have to rename my blog ‘The Braine Mistrust” . I started out OK with 9 posts by June 7, but then fizzled. I blame three factors:

First, there was the awful US Presidential election which kept my “policy” posts to just two which were more of the ” what the f#%*@k! ” variety. Second, there was my so-called ‘retirement’ which turned out involving much more work than I anticipated , particularly teaching at OSU in the fall, when I co-taught two classes. It seemed like grading papers and final reports took a lot more time than I would have thought. ( It felt like it took more time to grade them than it would have taken me to write them!) .  Third, there was the matter of developing my book.

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This last factor leads me to a new resolution for 2017 to complete and self-publish a book ( most likely as an e-book on Amazon but with some print copies as well) on rock and pop music 1960s and 1970s and a bit about my life growing up with it. I plan to complete by the late Spring. (just in time for the summer reading season). Right now I have almost completely finished the content and have already gone thru a couple of drafts with my editor (many thanks to my good friend, John Lum for volunteering).  A lot of the content comes from my music blog posts over the past several years so if you have enjoyed those, I think you will like the book. So “start spreading the news” among your friends and colleagues. (Maybe, we can create enough of a pre-release buzz that I will get people to reserve their copies ahead of time; I will start doing book signings and appear on all the national radio and TV talk shows. Ah my egomania knows no bounds!)

Of course, I also plan to continue the Braine Trust with more on policy and new music posts this year. Here is the best to all of you and a Happy and Healthy 2017! ……..“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight ‘Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night’!”

“Lost in a Lost World” Election 2016

” I woke up today, I was crying, lost in a lost world” Moody Blues 1972

Looking out to the 2016 Presidential election from the vantage point of one year ago, I found myself more than a bit hopeful. After 7 years of a liberal Presidency that helped bring us the weakest post-WWII economic recovery ever, the lowest labor participation rate since the late 1970s ( a much more telling statistic than the unemployment rate), virtually no growth in average per capita incomes, a quadrupling of our money supply, a more than doubling of our federal debt to almost $20 Trillion, the largest set of federal income tax increases in our history, ZERO progress in dealing with our exploding Medicare and Social Security unfunded liabilities totaling nearly an eye-popping $200 trillion, surely this election would be about those very issues. Maybe, we could solve these problems and mitigate a coming financial and economic meltdown or at least lessen its impact with a more fiscally responsible leader.

Today, my Charlie Brown optimism has evaporated as sure as Lucy pulls away the football every time Charlie tries to kick it. Donald Trump was nominated by the Republicans for President in July and this fiscal conservative was left twisting in the wind. I have tried everything to try to lessen my depression and my cynicism. I have tried not listening to any news reports on the election. Then, I tried watching the first debate by myself and laughing at Trump ( and occasionally Hillary too). I switched back and forth between the 2nd debate and Sunday Night Football which featured my team the NY Giants looking atrocious, though not as atrocious as the debate. I tried crying in the shower. I thought of fashioning a bumper sticker “Don’t Blame Me I’m from Ohio” (since Kasich won Ohio) along the lines of the famous “Don’t blame me I’m from Massachusetts” that became the rage in the mid-1970s after Nixon was linked to the Watergate scandal (recall that Massachusetts was the only state to go for McGovern in the Nixon landslide victory in 1972). I even considered starting a write in campaign for “None of the Above”. Nothing seems to help. In fact, the most insightful thing I have heard this entire election cycle was the focus group participant responding to NBC News by noting ” 350 Million People and we chose these two to run for President?”.

To be crystal clear, I am NO fan of Donald Trump – never have been and never will. He is not even remotely “Presidential” and the recent revelations regarding his alleged sexual misconduct around women and his so-called “locker room banter” is disgusting. But it goes way beyond this. I am worried that Trump’s egomaniac “I’ll fix that”, his lack of ability to get along with members of his own party, let alone the Democrats, suggests that the man would be a disaster in office and is probably NUTS. Do I like Hillary Clinton being our next President? Other than the fact it will make my daughters and wife very happy, I can’t say I do. But at least I know that with exception of economic policy (taxes, jobs, fiscal spending, debt, social security and Medicare), most of what she will try to do as President will at least be semi-reasonable.

Nonetheless, I cringed when the discussion in the final debate came to taxes, social security and Medicare. Hillary seemed enamored with the notion that if we simply make the top 1% their “fair share”, then we could fix everything including Social Security and Medicare! Wow! Really??? This completely ludicrous notion is not shared by anyone who is trained in economics and recognizes that the top 1% earns a lot – 19% of all reported income, BUT also ALREADY pays a lot more – 38% of all federal income taxes (seems like at least, their “fair” share to me). Also, many of these top 1% are small successful businesses that are creating the little job growth that we do have in the US. In fact, evidence abounds that raising the top marginal tax rates is probably the WORST possible way to raise more revenues! Meanwhile, the Donald talked about his tax plan (which is not at all revenue neutral and will only add to our deficits) , his repeal of Obama care ( good idea in my view, but hardly a solution for soaring Medicare spending). The simple reality which of course no one is willing to talk about is that most taxpayers will need to pay more, and some benefits will have to be cut for us to FIX social security and Medicare, permanently.

There are many good, largely “conservative” ideas that can help make us all better off and more importantly help the middle and lower-income citizens of this country. They have worked in the US before and /or have worked in other countries. These include among others:

  1. Corporate tax reform ( NOTE: we now have the highest tax rates in the developed world ) would eliminate many inefficient deductions, but substantially lower our corporate tax rate which would greatly encourage location of businesses in the US as opposed to offshore, and at worst would be revenue neutral.
  2. Better still, outright obliteration of the current pernicious tax code, replacing it with the Fair Tax – which as I have blogged about before is a national consumption tax. The Fair Tax eliminates ALL federal taxes (including social security and Medicare) on most of the bottom 50% of incomes, effectively taxes the more $1 trillion underground economy, encourages savings and investment, eliminates the huge inefficiency and fundamental unfairness of our current tax code, and would be a boon to long run economic growth.
  3. Competitive schools with school choice for parents
  4. Elimination of unnecessary and duplicative regulation (and there is a lot of that!).

Further, perhaps we could even return to the most basic notion of beginning to live within our means (as most of us individuals do), slashing still WAY TOO HIGH government spending, running balanced budgets and even beginning to pay down some of our huge debt burden thru a combination of budget cutting AND massive tax reform.

But this election hasn’t been even remotely about real issues or any sensible solutions. Between the evidence of Donald’s foul mouth, horrible personality and the likelihood that he sexually harassed women, and the various shady revelations about the Clinton Foundation’s pay to play policies and the Hillary’s inability to handle email properly (and the probability, albeit with no proof, that she destroyed many incriminating emails), the election campaign has been a true circus. One could reasonably conclude that if the Democrats or Republicans had nominated ANYONE else, that this election would be a landslide for that candidate.

I can’t wait for this election to be over. I just hope we can survive being “lost in a lost world” when the dust settles.

 

 

 

1976 “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

Forty years ago in 1976, America celebrated it’s bicentennial with tall ships in the New York harbor on the 4th of July. It was also the year that the U.S. started to emerge from the deep 1974-75 market crash and recession. But for me, when it came to 1976, Charles Dickens may have described it best ” It was the best of times and it was the worst of times”.  I had fallen I love in my senior year with Molly, a sophomore at Brown, who I subsequently went with for two years. I had a single in Miller Hall with my good friend John just down the hall. And I already had enough credits to graduate so I only took the minimum 3 classes per semester. In many ways, senior year was my best year at Brown. And the end of the year was the best — graduation weekend and the campus dance at Brown, my first trip to Chicago were part of a whirlwind end of May, early June that I still remember fondly to this day.

But I had also learned at the end of 1975, that my father had lymphoma which had not been caught early. He had surgery removing lymph nodes in his neck but the cancer had spread requiring more major surgery in late January 1976.  They removed his spleen and a significant portion of his stomach but they couldn’t get all the cancer and the prognosis was not good . He was sent home in February and then my brother and I came home to be with my mother and sister to wait out the inevitable. He died on March 25th. He was only 58.

The reality of life quickly followed his death. I started work at a Newark bank in June and experienced “the first job after college” syndrome that so many do. Moving from a great college social community to a more isolated life in New York City and reverse commuting for 2 hours a day to a job I didn’t really like at all was depressing to say the least. When coupled with a distance relationship with my girlfriend and still grieving the loss of my father, life in New York seemed almost unbearable.

Music in 1976 followed an eerily similar pattern. While there were some excellent albums, most notably the best ever from the Eagles, Boston, ELO and the Steve Miller Band and a few other excellent rock songs (e.g. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, the Four Seasons “December 1963”,  Kansas “Carry on Wayward Son”) a lot of music in 1976 was downright dreary or simply bad.

Was Rock Music Dead?

In 1976, British rock music was particularly disappointing. There was no new material from the Who, Yes or the Moody Blues. (i.e. my three favorite groups). Fleetwood Mac‘s self-titled and excellent late 1975 album was all over the radio in 1976 including three top 20 hits with “Over My Head”, “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me, but it wasn’t until 1977 when the superb Rumors album came out that they would have any new material.  Led Zeppelin had a sub par album Presence (though I did like the hard rocker “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”). The Rolling Stones had a decent album Black and Blue but only the song  “Fool to Cry” (#10 June) was particularly memorable.  Elton John had his two sub par albums Blue Moves and Here and There and only his duet with Kiki Dee “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (#1 Aug.) made me smile. In the U.S., Bruce Springsteen, after his successful and excellent “Born to Run” album in 1975, was prevented for almost three years by a court injunction from recording new material owing to a bitter legal dispute over royalties with manager Mike Appel.

Meanwhile, the former Beatles solo careers had fallen to a new low. Lennon began a five-year period without any new recordings (apparently a lot of it spent partying ) before his excellent comeback album with Yoko Double Fantasy in 1980. Harrison Thirty Three and 1/3 was better than his most recent disastrous efforts (e.g. the Dark Horse album) and did contain two decent songs “Crackerbox Palace” (#19 Mar. 1977) and “This Song” (#25 Dec.) (his comment about the “My Sweet Lord” plagiarized “He’s So Fine” lawsuit ) but the rest of the album was not memorable. Ringo Starr sank further with his Ringo’s Rotogravure album  and Paul McCartney and Wings “Wings At The Speed of Sound” was another step down for the group from 1975’s Venus and Mars though at least it boasted two good songs “Silly Love Songs” (#1 Jun)  and “Let ‘Em In” (#3 Aug.). The former became a favorite of mine in April possibly because it was an upbeat love song, in contrast to many others in 1976.

British rock was clearly suffering, while disco ruled the American charts and the rise of punk and new wave was still a year or two away. However, rock music did have some excellent music in 1976 albeit mostly during the second half of the year and with American groups in the lead:

In December 1976, the Eagles released by far and away, their best album Hotel California. Joe Walsh formerly of the James Gang and best known for his solo rocker “Rocky Mountain Way” joined the group in 1976 and Hotel California benefits mightily from his addition. The album is a fusion of folk-rock and more mainstream rock which works very nicely. It features more traditional-style Eagles songs such as “New Kid in Town” (#1 Feb. 1977) an excellent folk-rock tune that was the first single from the album, as well as “Wasted Time” and “Try and Love Again” two excellent album cuts that could have easily come from any of the Eagles earlier albums. But it is the Joe Walsh influenced electric guitar songs “Life in the Fast Lane” (#11 June 1977) (which Walsh co-wrote) and “Victim of Love” (b-side of “New Kid in Town”) along with the title track “Hotel California” (#1 Apr. 1977) that really make the album soar. The former two songs are great rockers, but “Hotel California” was a very special song. Building slowly with acoustic guitars, then a slow rhythm track and great infectious tune and vocals from Don Henley, the song finishes with an extraordinary guitar duet from Don Felder and Joe Walsh. This melding of folk rock and hard rock works perfectly and makes “Hotel California” one of the best rock songs ever and my favorite in 1976 or for that matter in 1977 when it received most of its airplay.

Boston released their self-titled debut album in August, which was every bit the equal of Hotel California by the Eagles in terms of overall quality. Led by writer/producer and lead guitarist Tom Scholz and vocalist Brad Delp, Boston had a unique rock sound that made their music irresistible. Highlighted by their soaring single “More than Feeling” (#5 Dec.), Boston  features nine tracks which all could have been singles. “Foreplay/Long Time” was another favorite, particularly the link between the instrumental “Foreplay” and “Long Time”(#22 Feb.1977). But the single “Peace of Mind” (#38 Jun. 1977) as well as the album cuts “Hitch a Ride” and “Something About You” were not far behind. Great guitar hooks, nice vocals and strong melodies make Boston one of the best rock albums of all time.

Heart  had their U.S. release of their first album Dreamboat Annie in February.  The album’s success was driven by two superb songs, the two best they ever recorded – “Magic Man” (#9 Oct.) and “Crazy on You”(#35 Jun.). After Nancy Wilson excellent acoustic guitar intro, “Crazy on You” morphs into a hard rock ballad featuring an unforgettable guitar riff and Ann Wilson’s soaring vocals. The rest of the album doesn’t offer anything comparable, but it isn’t bad either. “Dreamboat Annie” is a nice folk-rock song which was also a successful single and is reprised to good effect at the end of the album. Another folk rock song “How Deep it Goes” and the rocker “White Lightning” are also good.

The Steve Miller Band and their album Fly Like an Eagle, released in May, soared to #3 on the album charts. The album is the best single album the group ever did, highlighted by three very catchy hit singles “Take the Money and Run” (#11 Jul.), “Rock N Me”(#1 Oct.) and “Fly Like an Eagle” (#2 Mar. 1977). But the album featured much more, most notably two very good songs “Serenade” and “Dance, Dance, Dance” (which both also appeared on the group’s Greatest Hits album in 1978) and the interesting rock-blues song “Mercury Blues”.

Takin’  It to the Streets  was the Doobie Brothers fifth album and their best since the excellent The Captain and Me.  In late 1975, Michael McDonald joined the group effectively replacing lead singer Tom Johnston who was having serious health issues. McDonald’s keyboards , vocals and blue-eyed soul sound permeate the album. And the best two songs on the album were McDonald compositions with his distinctive vocal style –  “It Keeps You Running” (#37 Jan. 1977) a great soul ballad and the up-tempo “Takin it To the Streets” (#13 Jun.) one of my favorite songs by the Doobie Brothers.

Steely Dan had another strong album The Royal Scam. I’ll admit I didn’t listen to it much in 1976, but grew to love four songs in particular from the album (after I listened to them repeatedly on a “Best of” collection in 1978)– “The Fez” (#59 Oct.) , “Don’t Take Me Alive” “Haitian Divorce” and “Kid Charlemagne” (#82 Jul.). All four were catchy with Steely Dan’s very distinctive rock-jazz fusion sound.

English rockers, the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), released their best album in September, A New World Record. Consistently good throughout and featuring Jeff Lynne’s distinctive orchestrated rock sound, the album was also their most popular to date. It features three singles “Livin’ Thing”(#13 Dec.), “Do Ya” (#24 Mar. 1977) and “Telephone Line” (#7 Sep. 1977) as well as several other good rock and roll songs notably, “Rockaria”, and “So Fine”. My two favorites from the album were “Livin’ Thing”  (“I’m taking a dive”) a nice lively upbeat song and “Do Ya” (“Do ya, do ya , want my love”) an excellent rock and roll song. I bought this album in 1977 and played it constantly.

Peter Frampton  released the highly successful live double album Frampton Comes Alive in early 1976. The album spent 10 weeks as the number 1 and spawned three top twenty hit songs in 1976, “Show Me the Way” (#6 May), “Baby, I Love Your Way” (#12 Aug.), and “Do You Feel Like We Do” (#10 Nov.). The album was one of the first live albums I can remember where the music quality was actually quite good. Nonetheless, while I enjoyed the three hit songs from the album particularly the long version of “Do You Feel Like We Do” as well as another album cut “Shine On”, the rest of the double album was underwhelming for me and didn’t live up to its popular hype.

Other rock songs that I enjoyed included:

  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” (#9 Apr.) by Queen was one of the best songs of the year, a rock-opera style hit featuring great guitar and contrapuntal vocals which was great fun even after multiple listenings. The song has the rare distinction of actually charting 16 years later and reaching #2 on the charts after it was featured in the movie “Wayne’s World”. Queen also had the very good song “Somebody to Love” (“can anybody find me somebody to love?”) (#13 Jan. 1977) which featured some great singing by Freddie Mercury and the rest of Queen as well as the excellent single “You’re My Best Friend” (#16 Jul.).
  • Blue Oyster Cult had their first hit and best song with “Don’t Fear The Reaper” (#12 Oct.) which is one of my favorites of the 1976. It was the source material for a great SNL skit in the 1990s featuring Christopher Walken as the music producer that demands “more cowbell” from band member Will Ferrell.
  • Boston-based, Aerosmith had its first two top-10 hits with its re-release of the 1973 song “Dream On” (#6 Apr.) in 1976 and the release  of “Walk this Way” in November (#10 Jan. 1977), two of the best songs the group has ever done. “Sweet Emotion” which barely made the top 40 in 1975 was another excellent Aerosmith song that received more airplay in 1976, because of the group’s new founded popularity. While having their own distinctive style, both musically and vocally, Aerosmith’s early hits reminded me a bit like American version of Led Zeppelin.
  • Gordon Lightfoot had the lengthy epic song “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (#2 Nov.) one of those rare recordings that tells a riveting story thru an excellent song.
  • “Carry on Wayward Son” (#11 Feb. 1977) by Kansas was a great rock song . Taken from the 1976 Leftoverture album, the single was released in December 1976 and became the trademark hit for the group and is among my favorites.
  • Gary Wright had two very catchy pop-rock singles, the synthesizer heavy “Dream Weaver” (#2 Mar.)  and “Love Alive” (#2 Jul.).
  • “Love is a Drug” (#30 Mar.) by Roxy Music from England was an interesting art-rock song that presaged the beginning of new wave in 1977.
  • English rockers, Foghat had their best song “Slow Ride” (#20 Mar.) which has a unique pacing and rhythm for a hard rock song and later the catchy “Fool for the City” (#45 Jul.).
  • Thin Lizzy from Dublin had their first and only major US hit “The Boys Are Back in Town” (#12 Jul.)
  • Manfred Mann had a huge comeback hit when they successfully covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” (#1 Feb. 77). This was the group’s first top 40 hits since “Mighty Quinn” in 1968.
  • And speaking of comebacks, “Rock and Roll Music” (#5 Aug.) by the Beach Boys was an excellent remake of the Chuck Berry classic and was the Beach Boys first top 40 song in nine years. Technically, the Beatles also had a comeback hit except it was just a re-release of an album cut from the 1966 album Revolver “Got to Get You into Your Life” (#7 Jul.) . That the song was a re-release of a ten-year old song as a single, and it made the top 10 is a good indication of the dearth of strong rock songs in 1976.
  • The longtime British artist Cliff Richard had fourteen #1 hits in the U.K. but had never had even a top 20 song in the U.S. However, with “Devil Woman” (#6 Sep.) Richard finally had a U.S. hit and a pretty good one at that.

“All By Myself”

1976 raised an interesting “chicken or the egg” question. Did so many songs seem depressing to me, because I was feeling down in the dumps during much of 1976 or was I  depressed because there were so many dreary songs? While logic says that it was the former, I can’t help that some of the songs didn’t help matters much. Songs about breakups, relationships on the rocks or loneliness were particularly difficult for me to listen to even though I will admit that a few of them were good songs. Consider some egregious examples from 1976:

  • “If You Leave Me Now” (#1 Oct.)  Chicago  – “If you leave me now, you’ll take away the greatest part of me, ooh no, please don’t go…you’ll take away the very heart of me”
  • “Here Comes those Tears Again” (#23 Mar. 1977) Jackson Browne – “Here comes those tears again, just when I was getting over you, just when I was going to make it thru another night without missing you”
  • “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” (#2 Sep.) Lou Rawls– “Late in the midnight hour, baby (you’re gonna miss my lovin’) When it’s cold outside (you’re gonna miss my loving’), You’re gonna miss, you’re gonna miss my lo-o-ove.”
  • “The Pretender” (#58 Jun. 1977) Jackson Browne – “And when the evening rolls around, I’ll go home and lay my body down, and when the morning sun comes streaming in I’ll get up and do it again, Amen… Caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender. …out into the cool of the evening strolls the pretender”
  • ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye” (#1 Jul.) The Manhattans “This has to be the saddest day of my life…… I’m gonna miss you, I can’t lie (I’m gonna miss you)Understand me, won’t you try (I’m gonna miss you) It’s gonna hurt me, I can’t lie (I’m gonna miss you)…Let’s just kiss And say goodbye”
  • “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (#6 Dec.) Elton John  – “What I’ve got to do to make you love me, what I’ve got to do to make you care…its sad, so sad, it’s a sad sad situation” (This song featured a VERY dreary vocal style and music to make matters worse)
  • “It’s Over” (#38 May) – Boz Scaggs – “Why can’t you get it thru your head, it’s over, it’s over now. Yes, you heard me clearly now I said, it’s over, it’s over now.”
  • “She’s Gone” (#7 Oct.) Hall and Oates – “Everybody’s high on consolation. Everybody’s trying to tell me what is right for me, yeah, I need a drink and a quick decision. Now it’s up to me, ooooh what will be……She’s gone, oh why, oh why, I better learn how to face it, she’s gone, she’s gone, oh why, oh why , I’d pay the devil to replace her, she’s gone, she’s gone oh why, what went wrong?”

This last song caused me to trash one clock radio when I woke up to this song a few mornings after Molly and I broke up in November 1977. (At least, I was angry instead of depressed!).

But the king of depressing songs in 1976, was the Eric Carmen hit “All By Myself”(#2 Mar.):

When I was young
I never needed anyone
And making love was just for fun
Those days are gone

Living alone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
Nobody’s home

All by myself
Don’t want to be all by myself anymore
All by myself
Don’t want to live all by myself anymore

This song should come with a warning. “Do not listen to when all alone in your apartment!”. Fittingly, Carmen had the follow-up hit  “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” (#11 Jul.). To which my response was “Well yeah, particularly if you depress everybody”.

Disco, Funk and Soul

While most disco was pretty bad, there were a few exceptions. My favorite disco songs were by artists that were not disco acts per se.  The best was “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” (#1 Mar.) by the Four Seasons, a catchy comeback song for Frankie Valli on the heels of “Who Loves You” (the Four Seasons first disco hit) in late 1975. My other favorite disco hit was “Love Hangover” (#1 May) by Diana Ross which probably indicates my general preferences for 60s artists.

But the rest of disco was pretty dismal. Among the most popular, but still bad, a faux classic  “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy (#1 Oct.), the instrumental disco song that certainly had Beethoven “rolling over” in his grave, yet another KC and the Sunshine Band disco hit “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” (#1 Sep.) and “Love to Love You Baby” (#2 Feb.), the orgasmic first hit by the “Queen of Disco” Donna Summer.

Fortunately, funk and soul music was quite a bit better. War had their best song with the mellow and picturesque “Summer” (#7 Sep.) “Riding round town with the all the windows down….Yes it’s summer, my time of year”. Earth, Wind and Fire had yet another excellent funk and soul hit “Getaway” (#12 Oct.) featuring their unique harmonies. Brothers Johnson– had the soulful “I’ll Be Good to You” (#3 Jul.). And my favorite funk song of the year was, “Play that Funky Music” (#1 Sep.) by Wild Cherry which would get even the most reclusive types on the dance floor.

The Bad

Unfortunately there were a number of bad songs, even beyond disco.  Captain and Tennille did such a saccharin version of  “Muskrat Love” (#4 Nov.), I found myself pining for the original by America, even though it was never a favorite of mine. The Carpenters destroyed a nice Herman’s Hermits hit “There’s a Kind of a Hush” (#12 Apr.). Barry Manilow sang “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again” (#10 May) and I sorely wished he wouldn’t try! Then there was the #1 song of the year “Afternoon Delight” (#1 Jul.) which took saccharin to new heights both musically and lyrically “Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight…skyrockets in sight, afternoon delight.” But, perhaps the worst song of the year, (if you can call it a song) was C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” (#1 Feb.) which took trucker C.B. slang to new heights. I can still remember one of my friends putting that on the juke box at our favorite pizza joint at Brown and having some woman scream out “What asshole put that song on?!”.

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1976 music wasn’t all bad of course. And for the Eagles, Steve Miller, Boston and Heart, their 1976 records ultimately represented the best of their careers. And there was promise that 1977-1978 would be even better with a new album Rumors on the way from Fleetwood Mac, and several new wave groups The Police, the Talking Heads, the Cars beginning to gain in popularity. In 1977, rock would be taking a new turn and by the end of 1977 I learned I would be heading West to Stanford Business School and a new chapter in my life.

 

 

 

“Maisie Day”

 

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Yesterday, we had to put Maisie, our 14-year-old dog, to sleep after she succumbed to advanced heart disease. Maisie was our first dog. (And the first and only dog I have ever owned in my life). We “rescued” her from an animal shelter as a several month old puppy. My daughters, particularly my youngest Maryanne, never forgot the promise that when we moved from McClean, Virginia to Columbus that we would get a dog. ( I blame that one on Anne!). The question “When our we going to get a dog?” was asked perpetually in our household for several years after we moved. Finally, in 2002, we adopted Maisie, a cute terrier, dachshund (and probably a lot of other dog types?)  mixed breed. In addition, to being very different looking , (some even called her “funny looking”), Maisie had a very unique personality. She was very shy and fearful of others (both dogs and humans) that she did not know. At her first and only puppy class that my wife took her too, she spent the bulk of it hiding in fear behind my wife’s legs while all the other dogs were playing in the room.

But she was quite different when her surroundings were familiar. She was very protective of us, ruling “her” house and yard with a loud, deep sounding bark when any intruders or friends or the mailman came near. She must have sounded like an 80 pound ferocious german shepherd until people saw this little 20 pound dog, barking and then retreating. And of course she never bit or attacked anyone. In fact, it only took a few sniffs of the person and then she was fine, the danger in her mind having passed.

She was a loyal and very loving dog with a gentle disposition. When I was alone in the house for a few days, I never felt alone because Maisie was always there. Of course, she could be a pain during the summer (and for that matter the Spring and Fall too). Bark at the front door – let me out, bark at the side door – let me in, bark at the back door – let me out, bark at the front door – let me in etc. While in our yard, she loved to chase squirrels (but never catch them) and her (and our) earlier years she would go on long walks and even runs with us. After the kids moved to college/jobs in New York, we became empty nesters about 6 years ago and I started to bond even more with Maisie. When up at our summer camp, she loved to jump up on our bed and be next to me so I could pet her while I was reading.

I will remember Maisie best for her joy of living and just being a dog, when we would walk along the country road near our camp and Maisie would catch the scent of a deer or another animal. She would bound along by the side of the road , leaping up above the tall grass so she could see where she was going. It was at these times that we would sing “Maisie Day” (To the tune of the Cowsills “Lazy Day”) and all was wonderful with the world.

Now she’s gone, and I miss her terribly. Thank you Maisie for being part of my life.

 

 

“It’s Only Words”

Over the past several months I have started playing “competitive” scrabble in a Columbus area Scrabble club. “Scrabble Lovers of Columbus”. This includes using a clock which gives each player a total of 25 minutes, playing with challenges and all other official rules including the use of the official scrabble dictionary (current 2014 edition) . While I always thought I was a good player , I have found playing competitively a humbling experience and have lost the vast majority of the time (though the games have usually been relatively close) . One thing I have learned is that my vocabulary with regard to strange and unusual words (never found in books or discourse ) – the so-called “scrabble” words,  is generally weak.

So as a public service to aspiring Scrabble players (or really mostly for me), this blog post presents a bizarre dream which uses many new words (51 to be exact) that you probably won’t see anywhere else other than on a scrabble board on Monday nights or Saturday afternoons in Columbus. And to make reading it a little easier, I have provided definitions along the way.

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Last night I had the strangest dream, perhaps due to the chubaso (violent thunderstorm) outside. I jotted down what I could in my cahier (notebook) using flokati (Greek handwriting) ….My dream began as I was trying to sell my kylin (composite mythical animal) to a knacker (buyer of old livestock) ,who was oddly resting on an exedra (curved bench). He was telling me that he didn’t buy such things, when an exequy (funeral procession) passed by. I mistook it for a klatsch (social gathering) until I saw the body of the kabaka (Ugandan emperor) being pulled in a wagon by an eohippus (an extinct horse) with muscids (flies) all about. Immediately behind was a pyknic (a broad stocky person) who I recognized as Idi Amin. He was shouting that he was the most eximinous (excellent) kabaka with imperia (absolute powers) and pointed to a qadi (Muslim judge) as confirmation. I found this odd and stared, though I admit my view was obscured by some maquis (thick underbrush).  

Nonetheless, Amin noticed me and approached and demanded to know my quaere (question). He yelled ” I will peen (beat with non-flat end of a hammer) you” brandishing a hammer as he approached. He noticed my kylin and the knacker and demanded to receive my kain (tax paid in livestock). The knacker was silent in a muzzy (confused) samadi (yoga concentration) or perhaps practicing ka (spiritual self in Egyptian religion). I fumbled thru my pockets and handed Amin ten khoums  (Mauritania money) and twenty qurshes (Saudi money). He scowled so I gave him six qindars (Albanian money) and seven leus (Romanian money) and fifteen buqshas (Yemeni moneyinstead. His anger only increased so at last I found and gave him fifty eyrirs (Icelandic money).  Ah I feel cooler already” he said under the scorching sun.

Just then, a small gosson (boy) approached. “May I join your polyadic (group of three or more)?” A vrouw (Dutch woman) accompanied the gosson and then bizarrely they both chivareed  (sang a mock serenade) the Carpenters song “Close to You” to the three of us. Just then an etesian (annual recurring wind) or really a buran ( violent wind) bent the nearby quandong (Australian tree)  grounded the queleas (African weaverbirds), oxpeckers (African birds) and the avadavats (small songbirds), and ripped the eyrirs from Amin’s hand. Amin yelled to the vrouw “Quaen,(harlot), faineant (lazy person) get my eyrirs! ” and grabbed her gamb (leg). The vrouw screamed “I am not your factotum (employee that does multiple types of work) get your own eyrirs” .   Amin brandishing the pointed end of his hammer screamed back “I will kerf  (make an incision with a cutting tool) you, quaen” . 

I turned to the knacker and said “This must be a dream, as it is completely atactic (showing no regularity of structure).” But the knacker was still in a state of ataraxia (peace of mind). So I ate his bap (small bun or roll) and drank from his quaich (small drinking vessel). Just then a bhut (small whirlwind) accompanied by a bolt of lightning struck Amin, and with the metal hammer providing multiple mhos (units of electrical conductance) , the chronaxy (time required to excite a nerve cell electrically) was quick. Amin fell instantly , his last bilabials (sounds articulated with both lips) were incoherent.

And then I awoke.