I Rate Things, Part 3

From 1 to 10…

It’s A Wonderful Life: 10
Gingerbread: 7
Candy canes: 5
Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark: 10
Mashed potatoes: 10
Fruitcake: 2
Turkey: 10
Stuffing: 10
Sweet potatoes: 3
Sweet potatoes with marshmallows or maple: 9
Electronic Christmas cards: 3
Commercials where people give cars as gifts (with red bows on them): 1
Canned cranberry sauce: 8
Miracle on 34th Street (1947): 10
Egg nog: 9
Frosty The Snowman: 6
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside:” 10
Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town:” 0

(Part 1, Part 2)

Unpopular Opinions

The Nolan “Batman” movies are overrated, cold pie is better than hot, Larry David isn’t funny, Foo Fighters are better than Nirvana, winter is better than summer, Pizza Hut is better than New York pizza, Shemp was just as funny as Curly, washing dishes by hand is fun, fake Christmas trees are better than real, Robert Redford’s Havana is a masterpiece, 90s SNL was better than 70s SNL, George Lazenby was a fine James Bond, dark beer is gross, Seth MacFarlane is a good singer, and Sam Smith is a terrible one.

Tommy Keene

I really didn’t expect to write two posts in a row about favorite musicians, but here we are.

Tommy Keene died last week. Only 59 years old. I found out just a few moments ago and said “oh my God” out loud to no one particular because I’m sitting here alone. I’m not afraid to say tears came to my eyes because he brought back a lot of memories.

He was the greatest rock musician you’ve never heard of.

I first heard Keene back in 1986, when I was a disc jockey at WMWM, the radio station at Salem State College. I found Songs From The Film in the stack of records in the back room and liked the title and cover and decided to play “Places That Are Gone” that day. I must have played something from that album at least once every shift. I don’t know if the program director ever noticed or cared, but I just loved that album and wanted everyone else to love it too.

I think I latched onto his music because it was raw but with a strong, power pop melodic hook. Chunky riffs but with elegance. He had a way of structuring his songs so they built and built to a great chorus you knew was coming, and it would turn into the greatest guitar melody you’ve ever heard. I loved Marshall Crenshaw and Keene dabbled in that same sound. I always tried to decipher his lyrics but in a lot of ways he was like a rock poet.

Now I’m dancing in the light that’s blue
I feel for you
Nothing I could say or do
Would ease the pain
Where love has waned
A dozen roses in the rain
But, I saw you standing in 
The light of love

– “The Light of Love”

Often I didn’t know what he was singing about but I felt like I had experienced it anyway.

And calendars will just spill over now
Forever here they’ll make you stay
The year has left you weak and watered down
If only for a while
You’ve got to get your feet back on the ground
Wandering through these weak and watered down days

– “Weak and Watered Down”

He’s one of those musicians where people say “why wasn’t he more well-known?” I know I’ve said that about him. If things were judged by quality we would have seen his songs on the charts and his death would get bigger notices than I’m sure it will get. But maybe Keene was exactly as famous as he should have been. We knew how good he was and what he meant to us, and he was ours. He played with people like REM’s Peter Buck, The Gin Blossoms, The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, Robert Pollard, The Replacements, and Matthew Sweet.

I’m not even sure if Songs From The Film is his best album. It’s great but I think I like Based on Happy Times and Isolation Party even more. A lot of Keene’s songs are some of my favorites: “Weak and Watered Down,” “Hanging On To Yesterday,” “Long Time Missing,” “Getting Out From Under You.” I could listen to Keene all day long.

And I think I will.

RIP Tommy.

Friday Nights, 1972

Back in July of 2014 I named The Partridge Family’s Sound Magazine my favorite album of all-time. This was after five beers (Sam Adams).

It’s a great album. I would certainly place it in my top half-dozen or so of all-time. But number one? Oh, I don’t know. I try to get away from lists like that now because your picks can change depending on what’s going on in your life that week, that month, that year and what mood you’re in. Is it a particularly good week or has my heart been broken? Sometimes it’s Sinatra, sometimes it’s Robert Ellis Orrall, sometimes it’s Marshall Crenshaw. But Sound Magazine is a pure pop masterpiece.

Here’s the interesting thing: In the battle of The Brady Bunch vs.The Partridge Family – it’s the “Mac vs. PC” of TV battles – history has decided that The Brady Bunch is the more important show. You hear about it all the time, you see many of the cast members on talk shows and nostalgia channels, and it’s the family sitcom of the 70s that most people of a certain age will look back at fondly and quote. Pork chops and applesauce…baby talk, baby talk, it’s a wonder you can walk…mom always said, don’t play ball in the house!

The truth is, The Partridge Family is the funnier show.

They both aired Friday nights on ABC, The Brady Bunch at 8 and The Partridge Family at 8:30 (TPF moved to Saturdays for its last season). One of the fondest memories of my childhood was going down to the Reliable Market (though we never called it that, it was always “Joe Kyrouz”) and getting a big bag of junk food to eat while watching both shows. Hostess cakes were always in the bag, along with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Marathon Bars and soda and maybe an ice cream sandwich or two. I was also fond of eating pound cake with Pepsi. I don’t know how much of that I could actually consume in an hour’s worth of television but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try.

But yeah, The Partridge Family is the funnier show and Sound Magazine is a great album.

David Cassidy died earlier this week. I assume to many people he’s “the guy from that lame sitcom” (something that a lot of people say about a lot of sitcoms), the show with the kids in the bad 70s clothes, obviously not playing their instruments. He was cast for the show (stepmom Shirley Jones got the role of his mom and neither even knew the other was auditioning) without anyone knowing he could actually sing. The music was going to be performed by ace studio musicians and singers and they just planned to have Cassidy lip-sync to someone else’s voice.

But Cassidy could sing. My God could he sing. In fact, I’ll state that he had one of the great voices in pop music history, and I’ll defend that opinion with sharp weapons. There’s something about the combo of his voice – perfect for the type of songs he sang – and the pristine production the songs had that make them catchy and fluffy and meaty all at the same time.

It’s the pop music soundtrack of my childhood, much like the soundtracks of my teen and adult years I’d have later with Frank Zappa and Marshall Crenshaw and The Police and UK and The Connells. I know that there are people in the world who didn’t have a singer or band influence their lives at some point and it’s something I’ll never understand. The Partridge Family is a great memory for me and I love David Cassidy’s music and I’m sorry he’s gone.

A post (about the Post)

Every few months I like to remind you about the magazine I write for, The Saturday Evening Post, and I try to badger convince you to subscribe to the print edition because it really is a great magazine. This is the current issue (with a John Clymer cover from 1957). Here’s what you’ll find inside.

In my column: the delivery of the Rockefeller Center tree, Casablanca, dangerous toys, the Star Wars Holiday Special, Liz Smith, Thanksgiving recipes, and Little Debbie is getting rid of one of your favorite snacks.