The late 70s and 80s were a time lost between the expanded vision of the 60s and the approaching, unknown, and, possibly, sci-fi new century. Frank Zappa had set my absurdity antennae twitching and he and a bunch of other bands and individuals had brought all kinds of sophistication and instrumental expertise to bear on the music that was in the ether.
Gruppo Sportivo was one band that seemed to integrate great pop sensibility and an oblique (not to say wacky) take on traditional ideas and lyrics involving teen angst, true love, and automobiles.
One Way LoveThis band was led by a guy with the great name of Van DeFruits, aka Hans Vandenburg, He and his gang in Holland had heard the same tunes everyone else had and their music alluded to, parodied, and took inspiration from everything under the sun, including hook-oriented pop and hi-tech studio production.
Out There In The Jungle
Album followed album, filled with excitingly goofy and tuneful songs that referred to the collective rock and roll experience that we lived full time. Songs like, Out There in the Jungle, Happily Unemployed, and I Shot My Manager kept me grounded, while thoroughly whacked ones like, Lock Yourself Up, Booby Trap Boogie, and Born On My Birthday stirred tender thoughts and memories.
I like listening to music where I have no idea what they’re saying — like Valerio Longoria, Paolo Conte, and Joao Gilberto, but, fortunately, Gruppo Sportivo sang in English. I would be much poorer for missing their perspective.
Sunny or cloudy, it’s Spring. Whether we can see it or not, there’s always moonlight. And, somewhere in the background, there’s music. I hope these tunes can help bring forth not only the upcoming flowers of May, but also the sweetness of the present moment.
In my mind, he will always be the King of New Orleans, even though there have been and will be many more. He has its history in his fingertips. He’s telling me about gilded splinters and I’m trying to understand what he means. He’s pulling on my coat to let me know who’s been hoodooed. He’s a street guy and has been, since he was a kid going jukebox to jukebox with his dad. He says he’s always been in the right place, but at the wrong time. He’s got a voice that takes me right down the river. You can imitate it, but not what’s behind it. He reveals the need for a little brain salad surgery, but, as far as I’m concerned, he’s always in tune, in the pocket, and talking soul to soul. He always uplifts mine.
More than forty years ago, I was a stranger in town after a long move across the country. It’s my first week there, alone, and facing the end of autumn. I go to a little bar, really a roadhouse, outside of town, where he and his band are scheduled for one-night. As I pull into the parking lot, the flakes start to fall, the first since last winter. I go in, get a beer, and wait for the show to begin.
Doc comes out alone and sits at the piano. He leans, Fats Domino-style, towards the sparse crowd, smiles a sly look, and begins a medley of Christmas carols. Winter Wonderland, Frosty, Silent Night and others. This goes on and on and is amazing me and every other lucky person there. No gravelly singing, just a sweet and funky, soulful solo that stops and silences even the waitresses, each of us present in this wonderful moment and, at the same time, lost in our own particular memories.
By the end of the night, hours later, there are horns and backup singers. The rhythm section and the Doctor are wailing. Sitting is a foreign concept. Everyone is on their chairs, truly drawn together in an experience that transcends New Orleans, is more than the cold Minnesota night, and goes beyond any holiday celebration.
When it’s all over, the audience and I reconnect with the floor, softly, like snowflakes, and I walk outside to the parking lot, now soft and white, and smile into the infinite darkness.
Minnesota had never heard such a thing. It came from another world. It expanded your mind in a way the accordion never could. It provided instant hipness. You could almost smell the incense. In fact, upon hearing it, the entire room started to shimmer, your hair grew faster, colors were brighter, and, without meaning to, you began to question your place in the universe.
Gat Kirawani Ravi Shankar
Guys like George Harrison were serious musicians and, in the real world beyond America, Ravi Shankar was an acknowledged master. On Sgt. Pepper’s, when Within You, Without You came out of speakers, it was like stepping into OZ. And when The Sound of the Sitar, by Ravi Shankar, came in the mail from the Columbia Record Club, I sank like a stone into a world I knew nothing about.
Love Scene George Harrison Wonderwall
Its music was like meditation — something I was never sure I was doing correctly and which seemed to last longer than it should have. A lot of groups in the late sixties added it to their songs to give them a certain psychedelic je ne sais quoi. For guys like B. J. Thomas, the sound of the sitar was like the fringe on his coat, goony and unnecessary, but for others, like the Incredible String Band, it really did add to the sound, the meaning, the emotion of a piece.
Hooked on a Feeling B. J. Thomas
The Mad Hatter’s Song The Incredible String Band
In the end, it didn’t matter. I loved the sound and I felt that just by hearing these tones, these notes, these rhythms, I was moving closer to the center of the cosmos. This is what I felt all music was doing to me. I still do.
Within those grooves, jazziness and corny expression existed in an unlikely balance. It was created by a powerful, swinging, yet restrained, collection of musicians. The pictures show a bunch of guys lined up with shiny instruments, in tuxedos. Elegant and up to no good.
Music, Maestro, Please Lew Stone and his Orchestra
Radios and records miraculously brought this elegance to the farthest corners of Great Britain and beyond. As the people danced, the bands played on, providing fun and distraction from whatever life was handing their audience. The tunes that were being played conjured a time outside of time. It was a dream where boy could not only meet girl, but the two of them could dance off into a sunset filled with cottages, chocolate, and kisses.
What a Little Moonlight Can Do Gaumont British Dance Band
There were similar orchestras in the States, but the British dance bands maintained a stiff upper lip on those clarinets and saxophones. Never too fast, never too wild, but always at the service of romance, where behind good manners lay passion. It wasn’t tango, but it had better lyrics.
Love is Good for Anything that Ails You Orlando and his Gleneagles Hotel Orchestra
Sections played in unison giving it power, which drove the melody forward. The excitement was tossed from reeds to the piano to the bass and drums and, halfway through, some shiny-haired vocalist or glamorous dream girl in a long, sequined dress stepped forward with the narrative.
One, Two, Button Your Shoe Jack Hylton and his Orchestra
Your coffee in the morning, your kisses in the night. Set the date, don’t hesitate, but just make up you mind, dear, Now’s the time to fall in love with me. Love is good for anything that ails you, Baby, there is nothing love can’t do, Love is good for anything that ails you, how about a sweet romance or two?
Footloose and Fancy Free Jack Hylton and his Orchestra
You couldn’t be cuter, plus that you couldn’t be smarter, plus that intelligent face, you have a disgraceful charm for me. Somewhere the sun is shining, so, Honey, don’t you cry, we’ll find a silver lining, the clouds will all roll by. Dinner is ended, the music is grand, softly the lanterns gleam, Isn’t it splendid to sit hand in hand, silently lost in a dream?
Nice Work If You Can Get It Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Orpheans
Music, cocktails, and dancing. What a concept! Leave your troubles and reality at the coat check and take your rightful place at the table. This is music to lift you from your seat. A time to lose yourself in a state of motion and emotion, more dreamlike than just a night on the town. Your turn to hold and be held. Dreaming a dream, while smoke gets in your eyes.
Drive My Car The BeatlesThe engine was combustible, just like I felt. Whether it was an old beater or a red GTO, it was going to take me away from the house and out of my parent’s clutches. At the time, life in suburbia was all about cars.
Mustang Sally Wilson Pickett
Gas was cheap, cars were big, and the road went on forever. I didn’t care if we went around in circles or up and down the strip. The window was rolled down, my arm sticking out, and the wind was in my face. We went to places my parents couldn’t imagine – Lake Street, 4th Street, an unopened stretch of freeway, dancing at the Legion Hall, girl’s houses, deserted roads.
I’m a Road Runner Jr. Walker
450 horsepower, backseats bigger than a bedroom, and no seatbelts. It sounded like a rocket and I was the astronaut. Inside those four doors, anything could happen. It was a separate world, a new life. There was a soundtrack to the whole thing and it wasn’t background music, it was as essential as the gas.
I’m dancing, though seated. I swing the wheel to the right, to the left, my foot’s to the floor, and I’m twirling the knobs, turning it up! I’m young, I’m alive, and I’m livin’ in the USA.
Push Button Automobile Vernon Green and the Medallions
Chuck Berry is singing about no particular place to go and no money down. Motown, Beach Boys, Mustang Sally, Baby, you can drive my car, Get your kicks on Route 66, first gear, it’s all right, at the drive-in, drag races, hot rods, fun, fun, fun.