I told a friend Thursday night I want to be president of the Jack Clark Fan Club … read why in today’s High 5:
ON THE MARK: St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer Rick Hummel writes the following: Former Cardinals slugger Jack Clark, talking about players who admitted to having taken steroids or who have been suspected of it, said today: “A lot of them should be banned from baseball, including Mark McGwire.”
– “All those guys are cheaters,” said Clark, who was the Cardinals’ main power threat on the 1985 and 1987 National League championship clubs.
– “A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez): Fake, phony.
– “Rafael Palmeiro: Fake, a phony.
– “(Roger) Clemens, (Barry) Bonds: Fakes. Phonies. They don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
– “They should all be in the Hall of Shame. They can afford to build it. They’ve all got so much money.
– “And they could all go there and talk about the next way to rub something on your skin. The whole thing is creepy. They’re all creeps.”
McGwire and Clark are scheduled to appear this weekend at the Cardinals’ Winter Warmup event. “I’m not even going to say hello to him.” Clark said of McGwire. “I’m not going to shake his hand.”
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO?: Lenny and Squiggy.
MINIMUM STANDARDS: Arne Duncan, the U.S. education secretary, made an interesting point, “If you can’t graduate two out of five of your players, what are they doing at your university?” The man has a point. The nation’s major college basketball powers are again coming under scrutiny for poor graduation rates, and rightly so. I’m a huge sports fan, but these schools need to be more than proving grounds for potential NBA players.
RIPPIN’ ON POSH: From Sharyn Jackson in the Village Voice: “I always thought a British accent made people sound smart, but I guess I was wrong.” Jackson was criticizing the performance of Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) on American Idol earlier this week. Geez, Sharyn, a bit hard on the Brit, eh? She might be a bit malnourished, but I thought she came off rather well on Idol. Pip, pip. Carry on.
WHAT’S PLAYING TODAY ON THE STEVEMOBILE?: “Stuck On You” by Lionel Richie. (Remember when Lionel Richie and his floppy Afro wwere semmingly everywhere? And then he just disappeared.)
To me, words are the lyrics of life, and that’s why they are so important in a song.
All of the Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix guitar riffs are meaningless if no lyrics back them up. And I fully realize that’s what separates me from being any sort of musician — well, that and not being able to play an instrument. But the bottom line for me has always been the lyrics to any song.
There have been two songs in my life that have separated themselves from the rest, simply because of the lyrics. Of course, the music was great, too, but it’s the words I always remember first and foremost.
One is “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, which is less than 2 years old, and the other is “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart, a rock classic celebrating its 38th birthday this summer. Anyone who knows me or is a friend of one my blogs realizes my longstanding love affair with Rod Stewart songs, so that should not be a surprise.
“VIVA LA VIDA,” Coldplay
No song in decades hooked me as quickly — or as deeply — as “Viva La Vida.” From the first time I heard it to just minutes before writing this entry, it has managed to stir emotions and thoughts that normally are dormant.
The lyrics to the song are filled with both historical and religious references. One of its most endearing pulls is the strong percussion background, coupled with a repeating string section. For someone who says he deals primarily in the words of a song, I have to admit those drums and strings are mighty appealing.
Lead singer Chris Martin is marvelous on the song, and in its many accompanying videos. Will Champion, the drummer and backup vocalist, is overpowering (in a good way) at times.
The song was released in May 2008 and was immediately a worldwide phenomenon, and has remained so ever since. Check out the number of hits the umpteen “Viva La Lida” sites receive on YouTube. It is staggering.
The song’s Spanish title, “Viva la Vida,” is taken from a painting by 20th century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It translates into English as “long live life.”
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh, who would ever want to be king
I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman calvary choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
Here’s how one reviewer/listener explained the incredible attraction to this song:
“Viva La Vida soars in with a grandiose instrumental arrangement and sweeping lyrics detailing the pain of being deposed from a lofty position. The big sound of the song constantly verges on becoming overblown, but Coldplay know how to walk the tightrope perfectly. Bells and chimes and orchestral swells are all there on the chorus, but Chris Martin’s voice still pierces through like a clarion call. Lyrically, the pain of the protagonist is clear, but the sweep of words about Jerusalem bells, Roman cavalry, and Saint Peter give Viva La Vida an air of intelligence rare in today’s most popular pop songs.” — Bill Lamb, About.com
An “air of intelligence.” That is perfect. For if nothing else, this song will keep you thinking, especially about the words.
“MAGGIE MAY,” Rod Stewart
To this day, the song defines a time of life and personal experience for many, which I think, has always been part of its enduring appeal. Even those who are not a fan of Rod Stewart to the degree I am will normally praise this effort.
The autobiographical lyrics depict his “coming of age” as a 17-year-old with an older woman, sort of a cross between the “Summer of ’42″ and an encounter with a lady of the night.
Stewart’s incredibly unique voice and the words he penned have combined to provide the song with a certain timelessness. If released today for the first time, I’m confident its popularity would be equal to what it was in 1971, probably more so.
The song runs 5 minutes, 15 seconds, which was exceptionally long for the period when it was released. The early 1970s were still at the height of the three-minute pop song that was the staple of AM radio, but “Maggie May” always had a certain magic about it. The song broke a lot of barriers, from playing time to subject matter.
In October 1971 Stewart became the first artist in history to hold all four No. 1 positions in the British and American singles and albums charts. While “Maggie May” topped the singles tally in both territories, the album it came from, “Every Picture Tells A Story,” achieved the same feat on the album charts. Five years ago Rolling Stone magazine listed both the single and album as among the best in rock history.
I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school
Or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool
Or find myself a rock and roll band that needs a helping hand
Oh Maggie I wish I’d never seen your face
“I still can’t see how the single is such a big hit,” Stewart once said. “It has no melody. Plenty of character and nice chords, but no melody.”
It’s the words, Rod. The words.
Ironically, seven years after the release of “Maggie May,” Stewart references her by name in the song “Ain’t Love A Bitch,” noting:
Oh I didn’t realize she made a first class fool out of me
Oh Maggie if you’re still out there the rest is history
And soon, so will be all of the jokes about the plastic surgeries and the scandals that ruined what could have and should have been the most memorable career of an entertainer in this — and arguably any other — generation.
Michael Jackson while performing "The Way You Make Me Feel"
Such a talent.
Such a tragedy.
On a day like this, we should be remembering the brilliance of a man so gifted and so charismatic, yet what is the first thing that popped into your mind when you heard he had died? Was it the hideous figure he had become from the surgeon’s scalpel, or the scandals that branded him an alleged pedophile? He became known as “Wacko Jacko” in the world’s press and did little to discourage the negative publicity.
Was it the alleged abuse he received as a child from his tyrant father figure that helped turn him into such an enigma? It is a discussion that will probably never have any sort of final resolution.
It seems fitting the questions that currently cloak Jackson’s death are much the same as the mysterious circumstances that seemed to swallow his life in the late 1980s. What could possess a man so successful, so beloved and so talented to do the things he did — to himself and allegedly to others?
Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know.
I’m guilty, like many during the past two decades, of cracking Michael Jackson jokes, but as of today there will be no more. I prefer to remember the music.
My 10 favorite Michael Jackson songs, including the period when he was part of the Jackson Five:
1. “The Way You Make Me Feel”: I know many will say their favorite Michael Jackson video/song was either “Thriller” or “Beat It” or “Billie Jean,” but mine was always this offering. I felt it provided a glimpse into “all” of the Michael Jacksons we came to know, and the energy of the video coincided perfectly with that of the song.
2. “Human Nature”: Jackson had that rare ability to be convincing, no matter what the genre might be. I felt this song established him as a true force in adult contemporary, as well as the world of pop.
3. “Black or White:” The social commentary was obvious, but what an incredible track. “American Idol” contestant Adam Lambert reintroduced this Jackson classic to America and blew everyone away — including me. Not only was Lambert’s take on the song incredible, it underlined how brilliant the original version was — and remains.
4. “The Love You Save”: I think my favorite line in any Jackson song was in this one: Alexander called you, he said he rang your chimes.
5. “Mama’s Pearl”: This was never a huge radio hit, but was always popular among Jackson junkies back when he was “Little Michael,” one of those high-energy songs that to this day makes me hit “replay” on the CD player.
6. “Never Can Say Goodye”: So smooth.
7. “The Girl is Mine”: ” … the doggone girl is mine.”
8. “I Want You Back”: This was the song that started it all, 40 years ago
9.”Rock With You”: Wouldn’t you give anything to have this Michael Jackson back?
10. “Billie Jean”: I actually liked the video a little more than the song.
We’re beginning something new here today. It’s the start of our Pop Culture Hall of Fame.
Every so often, we’ll induct five personalities from all walks of life. On each of these occasions, we’ll induct one representative from music, the movies, athletics, television, politics and culture in general. The only prerequisite is each must have had an impact on our society and their specialty.
Our first class of inductees:
Music: Bruce Springsteen Comment: I’ll always remember The Boss for two things: 1. He is the only musician to ever appear simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines. 2. No one, repeat no one, has ever given his audiences more in a concert. I once saw him in Cincinnati, and he and the E Street Band played for four hours.
Movies: Paul Newman Comment: Women loved him, men wanted to be him. And he never made a bad movie. It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite Newman film, but I might lean toward “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Newman and Robert Redford were magic.
Athletics: Jackie Robinson. Comment: What Jackie Robinson endured in 1947 should never be forgotten. His story should be required reading for every schoolboy and every schoolgirl. Jackie Robinson’s journey was not simply about baseball, it was about life, it was about America, and in the end … it was about the nation we would become. The key words are would become, because we are still a work in progress.
Politics: John F. Kennedy. Comment: Love him or resent him, JFK and Camelot were important elements of our history and helped shape how we will forever view the 1960s. More than 45 years following Kennedy’s death, he remains a popular conversation topic. I remember like it was yesterday when my third-grade teacher walked into the classroom and told us the president had been shot.
Television: Carroll O’Connor Comment: His Archie Bunker character on “All in the Family” helped redefine a generation. It not only changed how we look at ourselves but at our entire nation. During those first few seasons of the show, if you are old enough to remember, it was the equivalent of “shock and awe” during every Saturday night telecast. And then I think most everyone slowly began to realize that creator Norman Lear was going for more than laughs and ratings. A message was there, too.
Culture: J.K. Rowling Comment: Her most important contribution to our pop culture through those Harry Potter books may have been creating the interest in those millions of kids to read. That should not be overlooked.
Drop me a line with any suggestions for future “inductions.”
In my humble opinion — yes, I have actually been known to be humble — these are the 10 greatest songs produced by bands and artists from the greatest state in the union: O-H, I-O.
1. “HANG ON SLOOPY” (The McCoys):Not only is it the official song of the greatest college football program, the video is … well, amazing. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, don’t lose this link.
2. “HUNGRY EYES” (Eric Carmen): Eric Carmen and the Raspberries (see No. 3) burst on the music scene in the early 1970s and are still regarded as deity in the greater Cleveland area. The group even had a book written about it in 1993. Carmen eventually left the Raspberries to go solo, a move that someday will probably see him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located (of course) in Cleveland, Ohio.
3. “GO ALL THE WAY” (Raspberries):Arguably the best guitar riff to open any song at any time in any period. Carmen was the flamboyant front man who put on a great show. This song represented their finest hour. If you happened to buy the landmark album more than 35 years ago, you probably remember once you removed the cellophane wrapping it smelled like … raspberries!
4. “LITTLE BIT O’ SOUL” (Music Explosion): This group was one of two from my hometown who hit it big when I was in junior high and high school. “Little Bit of Soul” went all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Lead singer Jamie Lyons died recently, but this song will forever. When you’re feelin’ low and the fish won’t bite, You need a little bit o’ soul to put you right. The Music Explosion and the Ohio Express (see Nos. 5-6) were two great bands from the “garage rock” era. If I had one retro wish come true, it would be to return to the late 1960s and early 1970s for just a few days, simply to buy as many old 45s and LPs as I could.
5. “CHEWY CHEWY” (Ohio Express): I think I literally played a hole in this 45. I can remember my mom pleading from the living room to “play something else.” Sorry, mom. The Ohio Express started out as Sir Timothy and the Royals and went through a dozen different members, but who cares? With songs like this one, plus “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” “Beg, Borrow and Steal,” and “Pinch Me,” the band’s legend will always live on.
6. “BEG, BORROW AND STEAL” (Ohio Express): There is some legal dispute right now that is preventing this recording from being posted on YouTube.com., so sorry about no link. For those who remember the song, let’s sing together: You threw me out the night ‘fore last, and now you want me back in your arms again …
7. “TIME WON’T LET ME” (The Outsiders): Above all else, check some of the hair on the band members when there are close-ups. Wow … Also, lead singer Sonny Geraci later fronted Climax for “Precious and Few.”
9. “MERCY” (Ohio Express): I would have this much higher if not for the rather annoying chorus. The first verse is great and the second OK, but … well, you’ll know what I mean when you hear it. Long live the Ohio Express.