The Greatest Radio Spot Ever Produced

I say so because I remember it vividly some 35 years later. It’s a vivid ad, but the fact that it was a promotion for a one-time concert that probably ran only over the course of a few weeks, at most, makes it all the more remarkable that I could recall every sensationalized second. (Sadly, I did not go to the show.)

This airing was recorded from Steve Lorber‘s infamous Mystic Eyes show on WHFS, which I was in the habit of taping because one never knew what to expect from Lorber. Insistently unprofessional, Lorber flaunted both his lack of a “DJ voice” and his enthusiasm for and encyclopedic knowledge of the then-current punk/new wave/weirdo music scene. I’ve left some of Steve’s back-announcing at the end of this transfer so that you can get a taste of his refined taste. Eventually, I’ll transfer the entire tape, and several more filed away in the Nuttycombe Archives.

You have been warned.

How To Make a No-Stress Commercial

Here’s the new commercial I produced, shot, and edited for Middle C Music, D.C.’s only full-service music store. (Also played the swingin’ hi-hat cymbals.) The spot is running on Me-TV, the channel that airs all of the TV shows that were broadcast in the years before cable.

Which means not widescreen hi-def. So, I got out my trusty Panasonic AG-DVC30 miniDV camera, which was expensive state-of-the-art before inexpensive widescreen hi-def became the state-of-the-art. The Panasonic shoots in the same nearly-square aspect ratio (4:3) as the programs that air on Me-TV. So it was a good fit.

The downside production-wise is that the camera records to tape, which has to be transferred in real time for editing. I shot an hour-and-a-half of footage, so had to sit staring at the computer for an hour-and-a-half while the tapes played back.

But I finally used my last two DV tapes. So the camera is now for sale.

The song, or jingle, was created almost instantly by Middle C staffer Michael Sweeney, who is the fellow singing in the video. Darn catchy. I cut 60- and 30-second audio versions of the jingle and I’m trying to convince the store to run radio spots as well. I think this jingle will give Mattress Discounters a run for its money.

Rock & Roll Will Never Die — If The Fabulous Hubcaps Have Anything To Say About It.

hubcaps washington post

My piece on the Fabulous Hubcaps takes over most of the front page of the Washington Post Style section today. The assignment called for 1,200 words. I wound up with nearly 13,000 transcribed words. So I think I undersold the piece. Coulda been a magazine feature, ’cause there was sooo much fascinating, fun, and relevant info that did not make the cut. I will say that I’m glad to be able to use the serial comma again. Also, when will publications stop putting a K in the abbreviation of microphone? It’s mic, not mike. Mike is a person.

But these are personal peeves and not aimed at any of the fine staffers and friends at the Post. Go, newspapers!

Rock in a Hard Place

Rock ‘n’ roll on the friends-and-family plan

ONE SATURDAY AT AROUND 7 P.M., Colin Hoss is at his bar, the Grog and Tankard. The joint is open for business, but the club is nearly empty as the 36-year-old Hoss steps into a tiny sound booth for a quick double-check of the equipment. In a couple of hours, a band you never heard of will be jumping and sweating and shouting on the wooden stage sticking halfway into the middle of the rectangular room. It wouldn’t do for the eardrum-shattering sound to cut out while the kids are standing around not dancing.

Whoever walks in the Grog’s door later that night will not have read about the show in the Washington Post. Or the Washington City Paper. In the next day’s paper, there’ll be no reviews of the show, no mention of the deer head on the wall, the big cloth butterfly floating over the pool tables, the sweating rock fans crowded into a narrow, smoky room. Word of the performance will have leaked out only through the primitive channels that seem appropriate for the Grog’s throwback look: People will have heard about it from their friends, who will maybe have friends in the band, which will have sent out an e-mail. Maybe the audience will be mostly family.

They’re certainly not the usual “North Georgetown” yuppies who ply the strip of Wisconsin Avenue on which the Grog has squatted for 40 years–the folks who chew upscale pizza at Faccia Luna Trattoria or down margaritas at the Austin Grill next door. And they’re probably not regular patrons of the adjacent strip club, JP’s.

No, the scene at the Grog is its own little bluejeaned world in the middle of pressed-khaki Glover Park, a world that changes ever so slightly from one night to the next, depending on which band has coaxed enough of its mailing list to the show.

The club’s Web site makes much of the fact that there is no built-in audience. Every band must bring its own crowd. Phishy jamheads one Wednesday, aggressive rap-metalers on Thursday, bluesy roots-rockers the next Friday, power-poppers on Saturday.

The Grog draws largely from the nearby colleges: American University, George Washington, Georgetown. Unlike the moody dreamers and self-defined outcasts who populate the Black Cat, Velvet Lounge, or Galaxy Hut, a Grog crowd usually looks to heavily represent the pre-law, pre-med, pre-middle-management aesthetic.

And the Grog has perfected a business plan for catering to that demo. Family entrepreneurs in the time-honored American tradition, the Hossainkhail brothers left Afghanistan to come to, as Colin says, “the greatest country in the world called U.S.A.,” when Colin was about 14. After acquiring the Brit-pub-style club from Englishman Nicky Williams in 1984, the Hossainkhails grafted the same name onto a second club, in Baltimore. The chain grew to include another Baltimore venue and Planet Nova in Virginia. Now the family concentrates on the D.C. Grog. Oldest brother Abdul handles the day-to-day operations, as well as dealing with the D.C. bureaucracy over permits and the like. Middle brother Hammed watches the door. And Colin, n

Hot Hot Hot

Passion: The Music of Love
Various Artists

Passion: Music for Guitar
Various Artists
Narada Lotus

Romance: Music for Piano
Various Artists
Narada Lotus

THE CONCEPT OF MAKE-OUT MUSIC is probably as old as music itself. Surely Pythagoras developed his notion about the “Music of the Spheres” after a particularly hot toga party. Beats there a modern heart so cold that it can’t be turned to mush at the first strains of some radio hit from the puberty years? The song that first stirred your loins may be embarrassing twaddle in the full light of maturity, but that’s beside the point. The point is, music hath many charms, one of which is to fan the flames of desire.

The average 45 rpm record lasts barely three minutes. Granted, that’s longer than most anxious teen-age males need, but it’s still problematic. The old long-playing vinyl album was only good for 20 minutes, at most, before someone had to get up and replace the tone-arm. But with the advent of compact disc technology, modern swingles can program hours and hours of sensual sounds for uninterrupted rapture. For the multi-orgasmic and slow-to-ignite, this would seem a near necessity.

After the mad vault-cleaning rush of best-ofs and box sets, enterprising record companies have realized they can target acquisitive consumers with theme releases. And since nothing sells like sex, it’s hardly surprising that a near glut of prepackaged boudoir soundtracks should appear. In addition to the discs here, Cyborgasm 2 is out, and Rhino will shortly release Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection, four volumes of “Quiet Storm” music.

The discs at hand contain no triple-X, Donna Summer “Love to Love You Baby”-style explicitness. Rather, they take a Hallmark-card approach, with the packaging including many poems to set the appropriate tone. No Bukowski. No Ginsberg. Strictly the high-school sentimentalists: Byron, Yeats, Shelley.

Passion: The Music of Love offers four discs, arranged under the titles A Time for Love (pop symphonic), Classics for Lovers (classical hits), Sensual Interludes (solo piano), and Forbidden Pleasure, which is defined here as soft AOR pop.

A cavorting couple adorns the box, as well as each jewel case and the discs themselves; the man and woman affect that bored, vacant manner of the professional model, illustrating the collection’s lascivious theme like the “serving suggestion” on a box of Rice-a-Roni. Liner notes helpfully identify the pair as Shelly Jones and Brad Cooper. Also credited is a hair and makeup artist. What makeup? They’re nearly nude!

As the discs played, I found myself becoming ever fonder of the distant Shelly. Her sepia-toned cheeks, her pouting lips, piqued my imagination. I pictured myself in Brad’s place, holding her close. I imagined myself with Brad’s body. I imagined calling the makeup artist over for a quick touch-up. Eventually, I grew to despise them both. These collections reach me at a moment when I am—how to phrase it?—between tragically doomed affairs, and the languid couple’s feigned infatuation mocks me.

To fully test the passion-producing prowess of these recordings, I dug deep in my phone book, seeking a listening partner. When the enticement, “Just you, me, some Asti Spumanti, and the shuffle/repeat key,” yielded only threats of fresh injunctions, I swallowed my pride and a hefty slug of Chianti and pressed on, unaccompanied.

Fully one-third of the songs on Passion are identified as theme songs from movies, and most of the rest often appear on soundtracks or commercials. Fine—cinema has long defined what is romantic. But conspicuously absent is that famous film song, Ravel’s “Bolero,” from the Bo Derek flick 10. It is widely regarded as the most erotically charged piece of music ever written (after, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “That Smell”). It’s omission here seriously dampens the collection’s usefulness.

Also missing is Wagner‘s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which could have been identified as the Apocalypse Now tune. Maybe this is too personal a complaint, but I say there’s nothing like a little Viking foreplay to get the pheromones racing.

AS SEDUCTIVELY STIMULATING AS A POP SONG MAY BE, it is but a peck on the cheek compared to the deep, sustained soul kiss that is classical music. Classics for Lovers runs through those “hits” most people are familiar with, as performed by the London Festival Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and others, from the pastoral Trois Gymnop

Mellow Christian Disco Country — I’ll Play Anything

Hal Blaine has always been an inspiration to me. He calls himself the most recorded drummer of all time, and the evidence seems to support him. And his quality matches his quantity. In addition to pounding the definitive Phil Spector beat on “Be My Baby,” the skins man provided precise stick- and footwork on “Return to Sender,” “Good Vibrations,” and even Dino’s “Everybody Loves Somebody,” as well as hundreds of chart-toppers through the late ’70s.

All of which is to say I’m no Hal Blaine. But these tracks display a certain versatility, if nothing else. First up is a disco song. I think disco was already dead when we recorded this at Omega Studios in Kensington. I am unashamed to say that the beat is fun to play and if asked, I would play it again. So there.

“Another Eight Hours”

My only entry into the world of Christian Rock came via an intense young man named David Coggeshall. Producer Caltrick Simone (ne Stein) was unafraid to put his money into a work of unabashed Godliness. And, miracle of miracles, the tune was pick-hit-of-the-week on WINX-AM radio in Rockville. (Or WPGC. I’ll fact-check this later.) Not sure what happened to Mr. Coggeshall. Hope he’s not in Hell.

“Give Your Life to Him”

I remember this session, but not the names of anybody involved. It was the ’70s, make your own joke. I recall that a couple Georgetown or GW students, or grad students, had a bunch of songs they wanted recorded and I got the call. One guy’s tunes were wacky folky things that he presented with more enthusiasm than authority. But the other guy was more serious and his song has an Andy Williams vibe that I kinda dig. If Andy Williams has any vibe.

“Carrie’s Plane Is Leaving”

Another Dan Pasley session. I think this was supposed to be part of a musical, or something. Dan’s commercial work was always trying to be theatrical, and his theatrical work hoped to be commercial. Recorded this in the basement of a tract house in PG County. Again, can’t recall the singer, a spunky little gal with a big voice.

“Nashville Women”

A sports writer, TV writer, music writer, and a drummer walk into a recording studio. Here’s music recorded in this century, recorded at the fabtabulous Scary Clown Studios, in fact, by the equally splenderiffic Philip Stevenson.

The first session, we got right down to recording the theme song for the music writer’s radio show. Which had been canceled some weeks previous. Still, there was a need for closure. I’m sure the three people who listened to the program are retroactively delighted to finally have a tune to hum along to while not waiting to dial in.

“The Theme From the (Canceled) Music Show”

The second tune was inspired by an interview with Don Kirshner, he of the fabled ABC show In Concert, the show that introduced Alice Cooper to much of America. Don also introduced us to the music of the Monkees, a fact the Monkees themselves are still not too happy about.

Anyway, we did the song, then stuck in real and imagined quotes from the interview. It’s not Don, of course, saying these things. But it’s certainly the spirit of Don. And the spirit of Don is what’s kept this country free.

“Plump Little Fingers, “The Chocolate Thing”

The Soundtrack Remains the Same

Ludwig Super Classic at Track Studios

While I wait for Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer to call, here’s some music I recorded for a couple of industrial films.

Until the early ’80s, Washington, D.C., was a hotbed of taxpayer-supported documentaries, training films, and informational filmmaking. Almost none of it was necessary. Like everyone else, I was happy to take the cash.

Tragically, I never got a copy of any of the tunes from my greatest session, a song cycle for the film School Bus Safety and You. I did keep the sheet music, and the lyrics stick with me these many decades later:

Be at your bus stop on time
Always wait by the yellow line
Be careful, courteous, and kind
And ride the bus that your assigned

If you can imagine the cloying sing-songiness, you are only halfway to imagining the extremely cloying sing-songiness. Barney would be proud.

Anyway, the first tune is from a film created to explain the wacky new “European-style” road signs that the government was forcing on unsuspecting Americans. You know, the red circle-and-slash? Whose meaning is pretty close to obvious. Yes, there was a time when the U.S. didn’t take its marching orders — and don’t-walk orders — from France. Of the dozen or so cuts, I think this track states the theme nicely, don’t you?

The European Way…

UPDATE: After listening to this again, I do believe that Tommy Hannum is playing the pedal steel on the track. Tommy’s big in Nashville these days, but back then he was a member of the Rosslyn Mountain Boys.

The 1970s were dangerous time. For one thing, Al Gore was preoccupied with courting Tipper, leaving the country in the grip of the greatest menace since fluoridation. From the stirring documentary Drinking Water Alert, this song helped win the Vietnam war.

Watch what you drink…

Jingly Jangly Jingles

dave oyster drums

I write elsewhere about the death of the jingle, and these samples may better explain why it died.

You cannot have listened to the radio in the past, oh, 30 years, and not heard this ditty. Me, bass player Gary Fallwell, and guitar player Chopper spent a whole day at Track Studios in Silver Spring jamming around on various ideas before settling on four notes in a descending pattern repeated over and over. And over. Horns and vocals were added sometime later. Got $25 for the effort. If I’d asked for a five-cent royalty, I’d be rich today. Not a week went by without the Jerry’s Ford jingle playing somewhere. It was syndicated, so I even heard late one night it as I drove into Dallas.

In fact, the jingle was played so much that the master tape wore out. They re-did it with synthesizers some time in the early 2000s. When I heard the new version, I called Jerry himself, looking to get in touch with the original producer, whose name has escaped me. I was going to write an article. When I mentioned that, Jerry got real squirrely and defensive.

“Jerry’s Ford jingle”

I do know the producer’s name for these Blank Pontiac spots: Dan Pasley. Most of my commercial recording work was with Dan, and it was (almost) always a pleasure. Mostly because Dan ran a, shall we say, loose session. Often he’d show up, late, open his briefcase, pull out a bottle, and declare, “Let’s get started.” It was then apparent that whatever we would be recording would be made up on the spot between now and whenever everyone passed out. Good times.

In this session, we cut a bunch of variations on the theme, for the different radio stations. Here’s the WGAY, i.e., white people, version. And this is the WOL downtown black people version. Same damn Pontiacs, of course.

“Blank Pontiac “Wide Tracking” (Smooth)”

“Blank Pontiac “Wide Tracking” (Funky)”

Did a whole bunch of work for the Britches of Georgetown organization thanks to Dan. This is one of my faves, for the chain’s country branch. The Eagles were popular at the time. Guess they still are.

“Britches Western”