Monday, July 30, 2007

WXPN Most Memorable Musical Moment #2 - Discovering the Sacred Store

To most of you reading this, the idea that you can hear a great song on the radio and then go buy it, either online or at a local store, might seem like the height of obvious. However, to an eleven year old in 1965 with a solid year of listening to top forty radio under his belt, this amazing revelation was unquestionably the next most life changing moment after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan the year before.

Shortly after that momentous night in February 1964, I quickly discovered top forty radio which was then playing all the Beatles hits and so much more. In 1964 Philadelphia, there was only one rock station, WIBG at 990 AM, commonly known as "Wibbage", and I listened to it as much as was humanly possible, even moreso in the summer when there were that many more hours available to listen. Check out this weekly WIBG survey from 1964 courtesy of the Herman's Hermits website.

The WIBG top fifty for the week of November 16, 1964
  1. RINGO - Lorne Green
  2. LEADER OF THE PACK - The Shangri-Las
  3. COME A LITTLE CLOSER - Jay & The Americans
  4. BABY LOVE - The Supremes
  5. HAVE I THE RIGHT - The Honeycombs
  6. YOU REALLY GOT ME - The Kinks
  7. SHE'S NOT THERE - The Zombies
  8. IS IT TRUE - Brenda Lee
  9. EVERYTHING'S ALRIGHT - The Newbeats
  10. THE DOOR IS STILL OPEN - Dean Martin

  11. Ain't That Lovin' You/Ask Me - Elvis Presley
  12. Time is On my side - Rolling Stones
  13. Mr. Lonely - Bobby Vinton
  14. Reach Out For Me - Dionne Warwick
  15. I'm Into Something Good - Herman's Hermits
  16. I'm Gonna Be Strong - Gene Pitney
  17. Mountain Of Love - Johnny Rivers
  18. Don't Ever Leave Me - Connie Francis
  19. Right Or Wrong - Ronnie Dove
  20. Slaughter On 10th Avenue - The Ventures

  21. Walkin' In The Rain - The Ronettes
  22. Needle In A Haystack - The Velvelettes
  23. Little Marie - Chuck Berry
  24. Come See About Me - The Supremes<
  25. Sha La La - Manfred Mann
  26. Sidewalk Surfin' - Jan & Dean
  27. Big Man In Town - The 4 Seasons
  28. Dance Dance - The Beach Boys
  29. Who Can I Turn To - Tony Bennett
  30. Ain't Doin' Too Bad - Bobby Bland

  31. Shaggy Dog - Mickey Lee Lane
  32. The 81 - Candy & The Kisses
  33. Going Out Of My Head - Little Anthony & Imperials
  34. Gone Gone Gone - The Everly Brothers
  35. The Wedding - Julie Rogers
  36. Swim/That Little Old Heartbreaker - Bobby Freeman
  37. Ain't It The Truth - Mary Wells
  38. We Could - Al Martino
  39. Oh No Not My Baby - Maxine Brown
  40. Too Many Fish In The Sea - The Marvelettes

  41. She Understands Me - Johnny Tillotson
  42. My Love Forgive Me - Robert Goulet
  43. Saturday Night At The Movies - The Drifters
  44. Keep Searchin' - Del Shannon
  45. The Jerk - The Larks
  46. Any Way You Want It - The Dave Clark 5
  47. Run Run Run - The Gestures
  48. Amen - The Impressions
  49. Almost There - Andy Williams
  50. I Just Can't Say Goodbye - Bobby Rydell
Top forty radio back then was as much about the deejays as it was about the music. This flyer shows the WIBG lineup of air personalities circa 1965, courtesy of George Anthony's Radio Memories website.

So sometime in late May or early June 1965, after more than a solid year of top forty radio listening, I was out with my family on a routine visit to Gimbel's Department Store in Cheltenham, an activity that could not be more mundane for most kids. I was wandering aimlessly through the store, killing time while my mom or grandmom was shopping nearby, when I happened onto the record deparment. The display rack of 45 rpm singles of every song on the current WIBG playlist was such an unexpected shock that it took me a few minutes to process the magnitude of the discovery. My first few single purchases were:
  • Ticket to Ride b/w Yes It Is - The Beatles
  • Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds
  • I Can't Help Myself - The Four Tops
  • Silhouettes - Herman's Hermits
Even though at that point I had a number of Beatles albums, somehow the whole singles thing had escaped me. It didn't take long to get in the swing of weekly visits to the record store, which in those days was more often than not, a department store. Gimbels, Strawbridges, Wanamakers, and Sears all had record departments, even appliance stores like Gerhard's in Glenside had singles. E.J. Korvettes' record department always had a large selection of oldies at three for a dollar. New release singles listed for $0.99 but any record store worth it's salt would discount them, the best price being $0.69 each. The first large size record store that I remember was Sam Goody's on Chestnut Street in downtown Philadelphia, which was about the size of a supermarket.

In order to pinpoint the approximate week of this huge discovery, I searched the internet for radio station surveys from 1964 and 1965, the number of which that are available for online viewing is surprisingly limited. The Herman's Hermits website has quite a few, among which is this survey for the week of June 4, 1965 from WLS in Chicago, which contains all four of my first singles in the top ten.

The WLS top ten for the week of June 4, 1965
  1. Silhouettes - Herman's Hermits
  2. Wooly Bully - Sam The Sham
  3. Help Me Rhonda - The Beach Boys
  4. Mr.Tambourine Man - The Byrds
  5. Back In My Arms Again - The Supremes
  6. It's Not Unusual - Tom Jones
  7. Just A Little - The Beau Brummels
  8. Ticket To Ride - The Beatles
  9. Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter - Herman's Hermits
  10. I Can't Help Myself - The Four Tops
Two of those first four singles are still in my collection, scans of them can be seen at the beginning and end of this post. Beatles trivia - scroll back up to the top and click on the image of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" single in order to read the fine print on the label. It says "From the United Artists Release Eight Arms to Hold You" which was the original name of the movie that was later re-titled as Help! before it was released. My number one and two XPN memorable moments document the two most pivotal events that have defined life as I've known it for all the years since, and my appreciation for music continues to grow with each passing year.

Next week: My next two concerts, Cream in 1968 and Blind Faith in 1969, both at the Spectrum, with pictures.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

XPoNential Music Festival, Day One, Wiggins Park, Camden, 7/19/07, James Hunter & Tower of Power

WXPN kicked off this year's XPoNential Music Festival in fine fashion tonight with sizzling sets by James Hunter and Tower of Power. Like last year, all the music performed on the River Stage (the main stage) will be broadcast live on XPN and most sets (excepting Tower of Power) will be archived for on demand listening on the XPoNential Music website.

Slo-Mo with Mic Wrecka opened the show. Added to the lineup at the last minute was Anthony Riley and the Reverend who did a three song set following Slo-Mo. Riley made the news recently when he was arrested by the Philadelphia police for singing too loudly in Rittenhouse Square. Introducing him at Wiggins Park, Helen Leicht invited him to sing as loud as he wanted, a real nice touch from XPN. Riley turned out to be a really capable singer, as this sample from the XPN live broadcast illustrates.

Anthony Riley - A Change is Gonna Come (Live at Wiggins Park, 7/19/07)

James Hunter demonstrated his unique ability to sound like a throwback to the British dancehall era of the fifties while sounding modern at the same time. His voice can sound like Sam Cooke one minute, James Brown the next. Two saxes give his band their trademark sound while Hunter sings, plays guitar and cuts some nice leads. His excellent band is rounded out with an upright bass, drums, and keyboards.

The threatened thunderstorms thankfully never materialized and as Hunter played, the ominous skies gave way to an absolutely delightful summer evening by the river. Hunter played a hot set of tunes including the XPN favorites from his last album, People Gonna Talk (2006). Check out this sample from the broadcast.

James Hunter - People Gonna Talk (Live at Wiggins Park, 7/19/07)

Hunter's set included not one but two covers of classics by The Five Royales, including one, "Think" that was also covered by James Brown. "Evil Eye" was introduced as "the first song I ever wrote." Toward the end of the set, someone in the audience passed Hunter a hand drawn picture of himself that he liked well enough to invite the artist, a girl named Mary, to come up onstage to dance during his final number, "Believe Me Baby". Mary wasn't the only one, as Hunter had the throng in front of the stage happily dancing too.

James Hunter - People Gonna Talk

James Hunter's myspace
James Hunter's website

Steady listeners of WXPN might know Tower of Power from the frequent play of "What is Hip" on David Dye's Funky Friday program, but otherwise there's been no clue on the XPN air to the fact that Tower of Power, along with the Average White Band (with whom they share an excellent double bill at the Keswick Theater every April), are currently working at the top of their form, sounding as good or better now than they ever have in their long history.

The current lineup hasn't changed much in the last decade. There have been a number of great guitarists including Bruce Conte who was previously the band's guitarist in the seventies and has recently rejoined to the delight of long term fans. They have also had the benefit of some very accomplished keyboard players substituting for a few years when health problems prevented Roger Smith from touring (he's back now), but the core rhythm section and horn section are all long termers. It doesn't get any longer than the relationship between founder Emilio Castillo and alto sax player Stephen "Doc" Kupka (the funky doctor).

Rounding out the band and one of the main reasons that they give such a dynamic live performance is the current lead singer, Larry Braggs. He not only gives voice to every style of music that Tower of Power does with great expression, but he brings an energy to his stage performance that is nothing short of astonishing. With James Brown gone, LB has, I think, a legitimate claim to the title of "the hardest working man in show business."

Check out this sample from tonight's broadcast. This was the first encore song and though I've seen Tower of Power many times, I can't recall ever hearing them do a better version of this classic.

Tower of Power - You're Still a Young Man (Live at Wiggins Park, 7/19/07)

They've been around so long that although there are live CDs and DVDs from various points in their history, but the current lineup with Larry Braggs has not been represented on any live albums to date. This state of affairs will be remedied on August 1st when Tower of Power releases a live DVD, preorders are available now. Braggs also mentioned that Tower of Power is recording a new studio album for release by year's end, and at this year's Keswick show he described it as mostly covers of classic soul songs.

Castillo takes the lead vocal occasionally, and after the band introductions, he proudly states:

We are Tower of Power, and Tower of Power is a soul band, playing soul music for thirty-nine years this year, and from 1968 all the way up until today, one thing remains true for me, I still be diggin' on James Brown.

And with that the band rips into crowd favorite, "Diggin' on James Brown". Although way too many people remained seated on the lawn during their set, Tower of Power gave the live and radio audiences a dazzling performance and showed why they are truly one of our great musical treasures. Live music doesn't get much more joyful than this.

Due to a technical difficulty, the XPN live broadcast cut away after the first encore song and missed a hot version of "Knock Yourself Out" complete with cover of the Sam & Dave classic "I Thank You". Here, courtesy of blaisejones who posted this to Youtube, is a broadcast clip of the song from Montreaux Jazz Festival, 2006, complete with guest appearance by Carlos Santana and Chester Thompson. Note that Larry is wearing the same shirt as tonight at Wiggins Park. Knock yourself out, indeed.

Tower of Power - Live in Germany DVD

Tower of Power - Oakland Zone

Tower of Power's website
Tower of Power's myspace

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

WXPN Most Memorable Musical Moment #1 - Meet the Beatles

Although the Beatles will very likely be well represented in the WXPN 885 Most Memorable Musical Moments archive, their impact on popular music cannot be overstated. In six short years from 1963 to 1969 they either defined or redefined everything we know about rock and pop music and are largely responsible for much of what came after. On a personal level, the Beatles ignited my interest in music at a very young age; I am pleased to credit the Beatles with:
  • The first rock music I ever heard.
  • My first record album.
  • My first rock concert.
  • My first rock concert photograph.
  • A lifelong obsession with music.
The first rock music I ever heard was The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 1964. Many musicians credit this moment as providing their inspiration to become musicians. For me it was truly a life altering turning point in that it opened my consciousness to a world of music, culture, and a worldwide music community that I previously had no idea existed. I'm not sure how I knew this exactly at the age of ten, but somehow through the news coverage leading up to The Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, it became clear that this music was something that parents were not supposed to like. Many parents detested the Beatles, mostly due to their hairstyles and the "yeah yeah yeah" element of their music; mine didn't, and yet I remember feigning disinterest at the time and then watching the Sullivan show secretly on the upstairs television on a small screen set (all television sets in those days were black and white).

Photo courtesy of THE BEATLES ARE COMING! by Bruce Spizer (498 Press)

My first record album: In the wake of the Ed Sullivan show, I immediately dropped the pretense of disinterest and convinced my mom to buy me a Beatles album, and Meet the Beatles became the very first album in my collection. My then eight year old sister Sara wanted a Beatles album too, but sadly the only other album available at the time was The Beatles with Tony Sheridan, a bummer of major proportions; a previously unknown pop singer doing cheesy material like "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean", backed up by the Beatles and recorded in 1961. This musical disaster was set right soon after, when the movie A Hard Day's Night came out and Sara became the proud owner of the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack album, and even though the album was comprised of approximately half film score music, it had all the great new Beatles songs from the movie.

By the end of 1965, my record collection was off and running with every Beatles album and single then available in the United States. For the duration of the Beatles career, I was right there on most release dates for every new album and single, including being turned away from the center city Philadelphia Sam Goody store on the day that The Beatles Yesterday and Today was to be released, when the famous Butcher cover got recalled and the release was delayed while the replacement cover was produced.


My first rock concert was The Beatles at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, 8/16/66. By then I was age 12, Sara was age 10 and our mom bought the tickets and took us to the concert in spite of not being comfortable in large crowds, thanks mom! Bobby Hebb ("Sunny") and the Cyrkle ("Red Rubber Ball" and "Turn Down Day") opened, among others. Sara refreshed my memory of the concert, adding:

"Do you remember that there was a thunderstorm that night. How it was humid and drizzly with rumbles of thunder? How the sound system was tinny and we were so far away we had to look through Mom's opera glasses? Best. Concert, Ever!"

Great memory Sara, web accounts also describe the thunderstorms that threatened all during the concert and finally let loose within minutes after the show ended. The concert took place in the curved part of the horseshoe shaped stadium. As a result of the controversy surrounding Lennon's comment earlier in the year that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, attendance on the 1966 tour was much smaller than previous Beatles tours, the crowd at this show is listed at various internet sources as approximately 21,000 (the capacity of JFK Stadium is conservatively listed as 75,000, it once hosted a crowd of over 100,000).

We sat fairly high up in the stadium away from the crowd, the Beatles were tiny, way down on the stage. The copy of the yellow ticket stub above is courtesy of, the orange ticket stub is courtesy of Sara. Here is the setlist for the 1966 U.S. tour as listed on
  • Rock And Roll Music
  • She's a Woman
  • If I Needed Someone
  • Baby's In Black
  • Day Tripper
  • I Feel Fine
  • Yesterday
  • I Wanna Be Your Man
  • Nowhere Man
  • Paperback Writer
  • I'm Down

My first rock concert photographs (above) were taken with a Kodak Retinette 1A, given to me by my grandmom, essentially a 35mm starter camera with a fixed 50mm lens (no telephoto). The above are enlarged scans of slides taken with that camera at JFK Stadium on 8/16/66.

And here is what it actually looked like:

This is a shot of the Cyrkle, one of the opening acts. The slightly better resolution suggests that this picture was taken from our original seats before moving higher up. The Beatles' drum kit is the one on the riser.

I also shot a reel of 8mm silent movie film at the concert, just to additionally document the experience. The Beatles look so small in the resulting movie that when showing it to people, I would set the projector in the next room, to get as much enlargement on the screen as possible.

A lifelong obsession with music. As the tag line on this blog states, music has the unique power to make life better. That conclusion is the result of many years of listening, concert going, record collecting, working in radio, reading, writing, and photography, all about music. And it all began for me on the night of February 9, 1964, sometime between 8-9pm. That this blog allows my interest in music, photography and writing to intersect is perhaps the greatest reason that I do it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

WXPN's 885 Most Memorable Musical Moments - Here We Go Again

885 Most Memorable Musical Moments

Following up three great years of 885 surveys and countdowns, WXPN has today launched this year's survey to determine the 885 Most Memorable Musical Moments of all time. Check in with other XPN listeners posting their moments on the WXPN discussion board.

You may submit up to ten moments to the WXPN archive, including audio, video, or photographs through August 31st. From September 17th through 30th, listeners will be able to vote on the 100 best moments. WXPN staff will select the other 785 moments and the whole thing will be played back countdown style from October 2nd through 16th. Check the website for complete details.

I will be participating as a guest blogger on the XPN site; I will post a memorable moment here each week that will link to the XPoNential Music memorable moments webpage. See you here, there, or on the XPN discussion board.

Previous 885 results are archived for your reading pleasure:
WXPN's 885 Greatest Artists (2006)
WXPN's 885 Greatest Albums (2005)
WXPN's 885 Greatest Songs (2004)

WXPN's myspace.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New Great Northern Video - "Home"

Check out this new video of "Home" by Great Northern, just posted on Myspace.

The song, the vocals, the performance, the production are all top notch. The video was directed by Josh Forbes and was animated by Man vs. Magnet. The screen within a screen effect is really cool. Great Northern are a very talented new band from L.A. Will post soon about their recent show at the Northstar Bar, and their excellent CD.

Great Northern - Trading Twilight for Daylight

Great Northern's myspace.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth - The World in HD, 7/07/07

Posting about halfway through the telecast of today's Live Earth concerts to say that the technical quality of the production is breathtaking. It's like they took everything that was wrong with the coverage of Live 8 and did exactly the opposite. First and best, no blathering hosts. The show began at 4am EDT in the U.S. carried on several of NBC's cable channels, the best of which being Sundance and UHD which are both carrying the complete broadcast start to finish, Sundance for regular TVs, UHD for high definition screens.

They're showing the concert sets in roughly chronological order, breaking for short films and messages about environmental issues with the occasional commercial break. The music is not only being respected by this broadcast, but it all looks and sounds great. The challenge to present 24 hours worth of concerts from every continent on the globe in such quality is a dramatic technological achievement. For those so inclined, the concerts are also being streamed live on, and there are real time live audio feeds from every concert running on separate channels on XM and Sirius satellite radio.

Nunatak rehearsing, courtesy Alistair Simpson

The performance from Antarctica by Nunatak, a band made up of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey who work at the Rothera Research Station there was a really nice touch, considering the subject of today's event.

Like Live 8, the global aspect allows us to hear artists from other parts of the world to whom we would not normally have access, and although the twenty-two hour telecast can not obviously include every performance from every city, the opportunity to see previously unknown artists is quite nice.

Missy Higgins, Getty photo

In the early part of the show, Missy Higgins sounded great performing in Sydney, Australia. I'd heard the name before but had not previously heard her music. Her set makes me want to hear more.

Crowded House, Getty photo

Crowded House, newly reunited, sounded awesome, also at the Sydney concert. Shakira shook it for sure, but also did some music of substance that sounded really good, performing from Hamburg, Germany.

Sarah Brightman, AP photo

Sarah Brightman offered up a gorgeous version of the theme from Cinema Pardiso peforming with orchestra from Shanghai.

Phil Collins, AP photo

Moving over to London at around 10am, Genesis opened with considerably better song choices than their last reunion television appearance on VH-1's Rock Honors. Phil Collins began the set behind the drum kit, Chester Thompson was there on a second drum kit, Tony Banks on keyboards, Mike Rutherford on bass and Darryl Stuermer on guitar, making it almost seem like the good old days of the final phase of Genesis (post Gabriel and Hackett).

Razorlight, AP photo

Razorlight was next, showing the world why Britian has been so nuts about them. David Gray took a small acoustic stage to perform with Damien Rice and a third guy who I couldn't see well enough to identify. My only technical gripe in the whole show so far is that after David Gray's song, they cut away just as Damien Rice was starting his tune. Perhaps we'll see the Damien Rice song later.

David Gray, Getty photo

All in all, at the 10 hour point, this show is hitting all the marks and offering up a musical smorgasbord that is a huge treat. It's so great that they totally got it right this time. Here's hoping that the global awareness of environmental issues is raised proportionately. Will update again later.

Here's the official Live Earth video of Madonna's "Hey You"