Monday, March 28, 2011

Mix Tape Memories--Repeat of First Show Tonight!

Oingo Boingo.  Depeche Mode.  Tones on Tail. R.E.M. Jethro Tull.  Need I say more?

This is "Mix Tape #4" created in 1986 and airs exclusively on Mix Tape Memories.  If you missed the first show on Friday, you can hear a rebroadcast TONIGHT at 8 pm Central. 

For more on "Mix Tape Memories" and a schedule of future shows, click here.

Join us on April 1 for "Alane's Mix"---another eclectic mix tape from 1986.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Coming Sunday: The Vinyl Brunch!

Pour some coffee, open the Sunday paper and lose yourself in The Vinyl Brunch every Sunday starting at 10 am central.  The Vinyl Brunch features an eclectic mix of music perfect for Sunday mornings. 

Jazz.  Soft-rock.  Motown.  Folk.  Showtunes.  Classical.  All played on original vinyl and commercial free.  Tomorrow you'll hear a song from the original cast recording of Hair.  Frank Sinatra will make an appearance or two.  So will Billie Holiday and Dionne Warwick.  Burt Bacharach, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Gordon Lightfoot and Carly Simon---to name a few.  Remember Nadia's Theme from the 1976 Summer Olympics?  You'll hear that, too, on the Vinyl Brunch.

So join us.  The Vinyl Brunch streams live every Sunday morning from 10 am to 1 pm.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mix Tape Memories---First Show TONIGHT!

Just a few weeks ago, I collected two boxes labeled, "cassettes" from my basement.

And these boxes were full guessed it, old cassette tapes. Hundreds of them. Many of them old mix tapes spanning the last thirty or so years.

Mix tapes. What a concept---a concept that is completely lost on this new generation of kids who know only their iPods. Kids don't make mixes for each other. They create playlists, to be sure. But these are not necessarily designed to share. The mix tape was a collective art form. Mix tapes were meant to share. They were meant to be heard by more than just the person who put it together. There was a certain amount of pride that went into the mix tapes we created. Mix tapes given as gifts contained cryptic messages in the form of songs, and much agonizing thought went into the creation of these.

I pulled out an old Walkman and listened to some of my tapes. The tapes reflect me at certain times in my life. A diary told through song.  Listening to these tapes brought back memories of sitting in the bus, of driving to a friend's house, of parties, of driving alone through the neighborhood late at night.

So that gave me an idea....

I want to share my tapes again. Tonight at 9 pm Central will be the first installment of "Mix Tape Memories." It will air every Friday night, live and commercial free. I will play one of my many mix tapes all the way through and comment a little on the songs and the history. So join us. But catch the stream early, since we are going live and without commercials, there are fewer "slots" available. But don't worry. If you miss it, you can catch it at a different time. The schedule can be found here.

On tap tonight is "Many Songs #4." I know, not a very creative title. In fact, most of my early mix tapes are simply numbered. But that's alright, it's the music that matters.

Oingo Boingo. R.E.M. Tones on Tail. David Bowie. Depeche Mode. Boomtown Rats. B-52s. Jethro Tull.

And Grand Funk Railroad?

Yes, that's the glory of Mix Tapes. You never know what to expect.

Mix Tape Memories can be heard Friday nights at 9 pm central only on the Vinyl Voyage.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother": The Story of a Song

We all have those songs which touch us in certain ways. Music has that ability---to stir emotions, to wrangle memories. We have the tendency to claim songs as our own for what they do within us. For me, no song is more poignant and powerful than “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”

The song was written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, their only collaboration as songwriters. Russell was dying of cancer at the time and his lyrics for this song would be the last he ever wrote. The origin of the phrase is unknown, but it did appear as the title of an article in Kiwanis magazine in 1924 and then later became the motto for Father Flanagan’s Boy’s Town in the 1940s.

Written in the late 60s, the song conjures images of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam. In fact, every year when I teach Vietnam, I use music to tell the story and “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother” highlights 1970, the year of it’s release. However, for me, the song has nothing to do with Vietnam.

For me, the song is about my brother.

My brother, Christopher, had recently turned three when he was tragically stuck and killed by a car in 1974. I was just a month away from turning six and, although it had happened almost 40 years ago, the details of that day are seared into my memory as if it had occurred not years, but moments ago. If I close my eyes I can still see that sunny Sunday afternoon. My brother was riding his big wheel; I could see him from the top of an A-frame tree house recently constructed in a friend’s back yard. In my excitement over the tree house, I called out to him.  A train had recently rumbled along the tracks behind the house. Other children were playing, their laughs could be heard echoing throughout the neighborhood.

And then…..then our lives changed forever.

It’s not something I often talk about. In fact, I didn’t talk about it much growing up. I kept to myself.

It was in music where I found refuge.

I first heard “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” sometime in 1975 or so. My parents had recently bought Olivia Newton-John’s release, Clearly Love. I can still picture the album cover: Olivia standing in a denim jacket, a slight smile on her face as wind blows through her feathered hair. Olivia Newton-John may have been my first crush. The song is the final song on the album and it would be the first song in my life to become emotionally significant.

I may not have understood the true meaning of the song at the time, but the refrain struck a chord. I thought the song was about losing a brother and being sad about it. Olivia sang it so mournfully. And so beautifully. It must have been about me.

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness.

I listened to the song whenever I could. When it came on the reel to reel my parents had, I stopped and listened. When I got older, I played it myself—sometimes over and over.

Most people are familiar with the more famous Hollies version. I, however, wouldn’t be aware of that version for many years. But when I bought The Hollies’ Greatest Hits on cassette in the early 80s, it would be that version that would carry me through the next decade or so. As a teacher, I would play the Hollies’ version to my classes. My students may have been thinking about Vietnam, but not me. I sat in the back of the classroom, thinking about my brother. Sometimes doing all I could to hold back the tears, staring at the image I had placed on the overhead of a soldier carrying a wounded comrade through the jungle.

I recently became familiar with the very first recording of the song. Neil Diamond actually recorded the song before the Hollies, but would release it later.   It appears on his 1970 release Tap Root Manuscript, which I just recently picked up in a used record store.  Although it is the oldest, my relationship with Neil Diamond’s version is still in its infancy. But I like it. In many ways, it is better than the Hollies version. It is better than Olivia’s. Neil Diamond may not be the best singer, but his voice exudes emotion. As a man in my early 40s, it is this version that I turn to more often. It speaks to me in a way the others don't.

My brother would have turned 40 this year.  As I get older, his presence in my life grows more significant.  I look upon my two boys and sometimes see subtle reflections of Chris.  When you think about it, people never really die---they live on in our lives in numerous ways, shades of them appearing unexpectedly in others.  And songs like "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" help us cope and, in turn, keep the memory alive.   In the end, it doesn't matter the original intent of the song.  True art transcends purpose and becomes something more---much, much more.  Art has the ability to help us deal with life's curve balls.  It can calm us and excite us.  But, most of all, art makes us pause every now and then, especially when we are consumed with the minutiae of everyday living, to remind us about what is truly important.

In honor of what would have been my brother's 40th birthday, I created a video dedicated to his memory. Of course, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" is the soundtrack. It couldn't have been anything else.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mix Tape Memories

If you grew up in the 80s, no doubt you took your vinyl collection and made mix tapes.  The Sony Walkman went on sale in the United States in 1980 and nearly everyone I knew eventually had one.  I brought it to school, listened to it on the bus---not too different from kids today with their iPods and mp3 players.

The only difference is that more thought went into a mix tape--after all, you only had 60-90 minutes for all of the songs you wanted to include.  A mix tape was all about mood.  It was about current feelings.  It was about friends.  Mix tapes were more inter-relational.  We would make mix tapes for road trips into the city; mix tapes for special events.  We would give mix tapes as gifts.  iPods are about the individual; mix tapes were more about friends. Mix tapes were meant to be shared.

I had a special mix tape entitled, "Depression Songs."  Too bad I no longer have that one.  It was a tape with songs that would make me more depressed when I was depressed.  We tried to be creative with our mix tapes by making names for them to highlight the particular mood we were in when making them. I recently pulled out my cassette collection and there are mix tapes entitled, "Songs I Made When I Had Nothing to Do,"  "A Rainy Evening, Sipping Coffee in Front of a Fire," and "Oh For a Muse of Fire."  Of course, I was not all that creative most of the time:  most of my mix tapes are simply titled, "Many Songs #1" and so on.

I still have many of my mix tapes.  I wish I had more.  Unfortunately, my car was broken into one night at the mall and my tape collection was stolen.  That was about 1988, I think.  But I still have many.  Of course, mix tapes turned into mix cds--but I think that, too, is a thing of the past.

Before high school, I made mix tapes by simply recording songs off of the radio.  How many of you did that?  I still have some of those tapes and they are very interesting---a musical snapshot of a particular time in my life.

Starting this month, the Vinyl Voyage will begin a new show entitled, "Mix Tape Memories."  Currently, I am listening to a mix tape I made on October 18, 1986.  I had just started college and no doubt made it for the ride downstate.  As a freshman I didn't have a car, so I often took a bus.  I couldn't have survived without my Walkman.

This will be the first mix tape on "Mix Tape Memories."  It includes artists such as Oingo Boingo, R.E.M., Tones on Tails, Shriekback, Boomtown Rats, Depeche Mode and the B-52's----just to name a few.

Check back for more details.

Friday, March 4, 2011

K-Tel’s Classic Music Express: This month on Adventures in Vinyl

One of my favorite albums as a kid was K-Tel’s classic 1975 compilation, Music Express. It’s typical K-Tel: cheesy 70s graphics, a few bona fide hits and obscure never-again-heard-from artists. Who the hell is Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes anyway? But there are some 70s powerhouses on this album to be sure: Captain and Tennille, Elton John and Barry Manilow.

I think the Captain and Tennille may have been the first band that I could recognize by name. Yes, I admit it. Before the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or any other classic rock band---I remember Captain and Tennille. How could I not? They were all over the place. My parents had their albums, the first of which came out in 1975 and contained the title song which appears on K-Tel’s Music Express, “Love Will Keep Us Together.” And they were all over tv as well, even appearing on their own variety show. I remember watching that show, actually. And the segment that stands out was the “Bionic Watermelon.”

The album also features examples from a unique American musical genre: the “splatter platter,” or teenage tragedy song. You remember these songs: a narrative in which a person is tragically killed, usually because of an illicit love. This album has two: David Geddes’ “Run Joey Run” and Austin Roberts’ “Rocky.” In “Run Joey Run” a father accidentally kills his daughter after she dives in front of the bullet intended for her older lover. “Daddy please don’t,” she cries, “It wasn’t his fault. He means so much to me. Daddy please don’t, we’re going to get married…”

In “Rocky,” the protagonist tells the story of the love of his life who dies leaving him with a young daughter.

And she said,
“Rocky I never had to die before.
Don’t know if I can do it..”

There were other songs like these scattered throughout the 70s: Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun,” “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods and “Blind Man in the Bleachers,” another hit by David Geddes. And all of these appear on other K-Tel compilations as well.

Music Express is being featured on this month’s episode of Adventures in Vinyl. Join us. We will spin the album in its entirety on original vinyl----hiss, crackle, pops and all. So grab your bean bag, open a Tab and join us.

The episode will premiere Saturday, March 5 at 11 am.   You can catch repeats of the episode throughout the week.  Check out the schedule here.