In the book More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait Of My Mother, Natalie Wood (Scribner, 2020) daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner takes the reader into growing up with one of Hollywood’s famous actresses.
Wagner is the daughter of actress Natalie Wood and Richard Gregson, who Natalie married after her first divorce from Robert Wagner in 1969. Wood then divorced him in 1971, and eventually remarried Wagner in 1972.
In the first part of the book, Wagner talks about growing up with two fathers, Gregson and stepfather Wagner. There are stories about growing up with Robert and Natalie, who were both famous, including a touching story about when she first saw her mother act, which was a television airing of Miracle on 34th Street. Natasha also describes the bond her and her mother had for reading books, a love for animals (the house they lived in contained birds, ducks, cats, and dogs), along with her telling the relationship that Natalie, Robert, and the rest of the family had with Natalie’s mother and sister, Lana, who has been one of the people in the forefront the past several years in trying to reopen the case of Natalie’s death.
According to the book, Natasha had anxiety issues being separated from her parents when they were off shooting movies and television shows, and at an early age was concerned about the drinking of Natalie and Robert when having many social gatherings with other Hollywood elites at their home. Natasha states that she tried to talk both of her parents out of going on the boat trip, which ended up being the one that tragically killed Woods in her mysterious drowning, thinking something bad was going to happen.
The first half of the book tells about growing up having famous parents , along with the details of the drowning of her mother, and how each family member tried to get on with their lives. However, if the reader is expecting a book full of all Natalie Wood, that is not the case. The second half of the book tells how the author had to deal with the publicity every few years from the press sensationalizing the anniversaries of the death, how both Wagner and Gregson remarried and started their own families (and how Natasha fit in ), along with constantly dealing with schoolmates, friends , and strangers’ attitudes towards her because of her mother. The second half of the book is the tale of Natasha, not Natalie.
Natasha’s struggles, along with her sisters’ attempt to understand the events, are honest and moving, while trying to create a place in the world for themselves. Natasha’s move into acting, where she landed roles in the films like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Lost Highway, along with her landing stage roles, are covered. There are tales about Ricky Schroder, Robert Downey Jr., and John Cusack. She also had to deal with a divorce until marrying Barry Watson, who was on the show 7th Heaven. The last part of the book discusses her thoughts about the re-opening and the media infatuation with her mother’s case, along with the other relatives who have helped promote the media frenzy.
Natalie Wood fans will enjoy this book, especially if they have read some of the other books written about her (which I have), to get another take of the great Natalie. However, this is not a bash fest or a gossip style text, and is also an inspiring tale of Natasha seeking refuge as an actress herself, while still trying to cope with the shadow that she (and her other relatives) had looming over them. No matter what position you take on the mystery surrounding Natalie’s death, the book’s first half gives such great insight of the person she was, including written letter excerpts , along with a look at an author who had overcome extreme grief to see a light in her life. This is a great mix of tales of Hollywood, love, struggles, and inspiration.
From time to time I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com (or see all my published work at online portfolio: llumleyportfolio.wordpress.com)
Sometimes album covers mean just as much to the listener as the record itself. Many rock acts from the 1970-1990s, used the cover not just to draw attention to the record buyer, but the covers may have a theme to it, or enhance something to bring the music to another level, when listening to the release.
There are many album covers that when I look at, I can either remember where I was the first saw it in the stores, or other flashbacks to memories such as who I was with when I got the album or why I wanted to buy it. There are many album covers that have special meaning for me; Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man, New Edition’s 1984 self titled release (the first two cassettes I ever purchased), Destroyer by Kiss (first Kiss cassette I bought), and The Oak Ridge Boys Greatest Hits (first album I got that was truly mine and not shared with my brother) all have special meanings. Another one was the 1990 debut of Mariah Carey.
Even though the cover is just Mariah on the cover (I shouldn’t say just her, because I thought she was stunning), the cover brings back several memories for me. At this time, CD cases were placed in long cardboard boxes, so you had to rip open the box to get to the plastic covered case. I remember at the time my brother was the only one in our house that had a CD player (it was on a small boom box), and I thought paying $15-$20 for a newer type of music was highly pricey for me at the time, when I could get the cassette for under $10. This cover brings me back to when I was writing on my high school newspaper in the journalism class with my co-writer and best buddy at the time. We ran the entertainment page, where we reviewed films and music, with an added comedy touch to it.
My co-editor /writer and I would argue many times over who would have the better and longer sustaining career; me in the Mariah Carey camp, and him in the Paula Abdul group. Just like when I would get into heated musical debates in the school library with my older friends (them stating Rush was the only band that was good, verses my liking of the glam style music of the day), these topics were the only thing worth discussing about as a teen.
To me , Mariah was packaged as a new version of Whitney Houston, which many have stated was the goal of the marketing in interviews since then. Although I loved the first Whitney Houston record, I started to lose interest in her current release, which was during her Whitney album , and her Bodyguard soundtrack was still a few years away. To me , her “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” song was overplayed to the point where I got turned off from listening to the cassette for a long time. Mariah Carey was different than Whitney for me. Carey had multi-range vocals, and combined pop/R&B/and even a crooner style throwback to her songs, along with her beauty.
The opening #1 single “Vision Of Love,” the first release from the album, started off like a movie soundtrack. Her slow bluesy ballad about a love finally coming true and the well produced music video, was something that I liked immediately. Plus I was impressed at the time that Carey co-wrote most of the tracks on the album.
Even though the second track was released as a single, it didn’t get much airplay in my area in Columbiana Ohio, but it is still one of my favorite tracks Carey ever did. “There’s Got To Be A Way” is a political song about homelessness and racism, but it wasn’t offensive or too preachy. There is a gospel feel to the song as well, which resonated with me.
“I Don’t Wanna Cry” is one of my favorite ballads from Carey, which shows her vocal skills, with a lower range on the verses to the more emotional style of the chorus. The video was massively played on MTV and my local music video shows, which helped the song reach #1. If there is a better ballad from 1990 than this one, I do not know it.
Just like Houston’s ” I Wanna Dance with Somebody” or ” How Will I Know” which showed a fun side to her in the videos, “Someday” is Mariah’s off the first album. I remember getting the cassette single of this song before I got the whole album on cassette. At the time, since I had to save up allowance money to buy music, I would sometimes try out the artists by buying the singles before spending my money on the whole album in order to make sure I liked the other songs. The “Someday” video is remembered vividly, having a school setting with a kid playing on a plastic bucket with his drumsticks. Being a drummer, I thought this was a cool thing to do, as opposed to playing on a whole set. The young girl, which showed the awkwardness of the teen years (a teen version of her perhaps?), was also remembered from the video. I like songs that are just plain fun at times, and this is one of them.
A rare track on the album which I constantly played was “Vanishing,” a crooner like song with just Carey and a piano. At the time, I like Mariah so much because she only needed a simple piano to accompany her voice on certain tracks like this, as opposed to heavy drum machines and production that other pop singers needed. The back of the CD cover, also helped this song visually for me, because of Carey standing holding an old style microphone like they used in the big band era. Since my brother was going to throw away the cardboard box, I convinced him to let me have it, which I kept on my dresser, instead of ruining the paint on the walls with posters, although I did have my Kiss pictures on the wall from my music magazines hanging. It was also used as the cover for the single “Vision of Love.” The fact that I could just picture this song being sung in a small club made me like the song even more. The simplicity of this track is still enjoyable for me today.
The slow groove of “All In Your Mind” is a great pop song, along with the soulful 1970s style of “Sent From Up Above.”
The weakest song for me is “Alone In Love,” which was the B-side to “Someday.” It just didn’t move me as much as the rest of the songs on the CD, and is still a song I skip over.
“You Need Me” is probably the funkiest song on the album, with a rock style to it, similar to a Kool & The Gang format. Vernon Reid of Living Colour (a band my buddies were listening to at the time) provided the guitar intro to the song. This is the most rock song this release.
The second weakest song is “Prisoner,” which is too much production for me, and sounds very much like a Taylor Dayne song. Since I wasn’t a huge Dayne fan, so this style didn’t suit me with the rest of the album.
Maybe my favorite Mariah song of all time could well be “Love Takes Time.” The music video with her standing by the beach was constantly played (again another #1 hit for her). The song was played at my school dances and at the roller skating rinks, where me and friends would spend our free time every week. Ending the song with a ballad is tricky for me, and as I review music today I prefer something up tempo to keep me wanting more at the end of a record, but this ballad works here, because the song is so good, and a pop classic.
I love the early Mariah Carey work, up to her 1993 Music Box album. I played her self -titled, Unplugged, Emotions, and Music Box cassettes even through my early college years. Later on, Carey stated her career and marriage to label head Tommy Mottola was emotionally controlling to be a new Whitney Houston. I still prefer her early work more than the later years, which turned into Rap- flavored music with overproduced tracks , and to me, didn’t separate her from the other acts in terms of using her wonderful vocals. Her diva attitude and extravagance aura now turns me off, along with the lip-syncing scandals she has been involved in the last several years. I miss the rawness and grit of her early work of a struggling singer trying to prove her worth with her once in a million vocal range. Pop music isn’t known much when critics list great debut albums, but this one is definitely one that need to be mentioned in the discussion.
Track List: 1. Vision Of Love 2. There’s Got To Be A Way 3. I Don’t Wanna Cry 4. Someday 5. Vanishing 6. All In Your Mind 7. Alone In Love 8. You Need Me 9. Sent From Up Above 10. Prisoner 11. Love Takes Time
From time to time I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com
There were many great albums coming out in 1990. On the hard rock side, the debuts of Slaughter and Damn Yankees, along with Bad Company and Billy Idol put out some wonderful work. On the pop side, Whitney Houston was still on her mega star run (with her successor , Mariah Carey, debuting), Barry Manilow put out a live album, and Wilson Phillips were breaking through. One album that got lost in the shuffle was the second release by Jude Cole.
Even though A View from 3rd Street had two Top 40 hits, the album didn’t make much dent. Cole ‘s music combined rock/pop/ and blues to be a hybrid of Bryan Adams and Richard Marx in terms of writing and musical style. Not only did he write or co-write all the tracks, but he played almost all the guitars, along with bass and piano on certain tracks. The producer of the album, David Tyson, won a Juno Award for the album, which is the equivalent to the Grammys in Canada.
The opening track “Hallowed Ground” has a light rock/pop style , with a guitar solo by Cole that is similar to Keith Urban’s current playing. The song was co-written by George M. Green, who helped on several of John Mellencamp’s work, along with artists like The Oak Ridge Boys and Hall and Oates.
Cole’s biggest hit, “Baby It’s Tonight,” which hit #16 on the U.S. Charts, is the song that many remember him from. A forgotten, but wonderful, pop song that combines rock/pop and soft rock all mixed together. Cole’s smooth voice, with the song starting soft, then builds to a climax, which is a lost art in songwriting today. Many know the song and video, which got decent airplay.
His second single had a moderate climb on the charts, just breaking the Top 40 at #32, but got more airplay in the past ten years or so on national radio love shows, like John Tesh and Delilah. “Time For Letting Go” has an adult contemporary style lyrically, discussing leaving a relationship that both know it has run its course. Billy Ray Cyrus remade the song in 1998, but it’s nowhere as listenable as Cole’s original. This single has a more Richard Marx flavor to it, as “Baby It’s Tonight” is more Bryan Adams like. I remember seeing the music video for this track, where Cole is singing outside of a hotel, where two separate tales are being told in the building, on video shows.
More ballads like “This Time It’s Us,” which contains a great line of “We’ve become just like the ones we laughed about,” and the piano heavy “Compared To Nothing,” with guest drummer Jeff Porcaro of Toto, should have been radio singles. For some reason either the label didn’t feel the push to release more singles after “Time For Letting Go” didn’t chart as well as the first track, or the start of Grunge music made it harder for the labels to care. “Compared To Nothing” has a Journey style to the tack, where “Prove Me Wrong,” with its tom fills carrying the song, would be a nice fit for fans of Phil Collins. Even though this is the worst track on the album, with it being at the end, doesn’t distract the other great songs and the flow of the album.
Blues fans would enjoy “Stranger To Myself,” with a shuffle style drumming, along with “Heart Of Blues,” and underrated track that starts off as a throwback to a Robert Johnson early blues sound, along with Cole playing a slide guitar solo. “Stranger” has Rick Springfield vibe to it.
For people who like well crafted musicianship, songwriting, and underrated vocals, this is a wonderful album. This is one of the albums that makes audiences wonder about the music business, and how this got lost in the shuffle. In 2000, Cole left the artist side of music to help write and produce for the band Lifehouse, including the hit “You And Me” by the band. He still releases singles here and there, along with his producing and other musical ventures, although the spotlight seemed to evade him after this album. I always liked the singles off the album, and when I found the CD years ago at a used store for under $5, I had to get it, and was amazed by how wonderful this release is, with only one bad song off the whole album (and it’s not really a bad song, it just isn’t a favorite , compared to the other tracks). This was definitely an album that should’ve done better, and needs to be heard for fans of pop rock and fans that want something off the path.
Track List: 1. Hallowed Ground 2. Baby It’s Tonight 3. House Full Of Reasons 4. Get Me Through The Night 5. Time For Letting Go 6.Stranger To Myself 7. This Time It’s Us 8. Heart Of Blues 9.Compared To Nothing 10. Prove Me Wrong.
I became a fan of John Grisham’s writing shortly after I saw Tom Cruise in the 1993 film The Firm, based on Grisham’s novel. Although some of his writing is hit and miss for me, with too much lawyer and court room terminology, I can say he is one of my favorites to read when it comes to fiction ( I generally tend to go with nonfiction and biographies).
Last year, I picked up Grisham’s Camino Island (2017) from my local library. This book is really unique in storytelling, topic theme, and characters, which dealt with stolen literary manuscripts and the black market. The theft of several F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton University is the topic. The story follows the readers to Camino Island where a bookstore owner , Bruce Cable , is rumored to be in possession of some (or all) of the papers. A frustrated writer named Mercer Mann, is hired to try and see what she knows, since her relatives own a cottage on the island. As I wrote in my Goodreads review, Grisham’s characters drive the story, along with the vacation setting , which was different from his normal courtroom formats. This idea made the book a mystery, as opposed to a standard Grisham lawyer thriller. In the book the reader meets many interesting characters, such as Noelle, an antique dealer from New Orleans (who happens to be in an open relationship with Cable), writer Bob Cobb, and other writers like Myra Beckwith and Leigh Trane, who all come down to the island and have parties and discuss authors, writing, and publishing in their literary club.
In Camino Winds (2020), Grisham revisits the island, along with some of the characters years later. Bruce is still running the bookstore, getting ready for a big author appearance right before a hurricane named Leo is on track to target the island. When the storm hits, causing destruction to the homes and businesses, one of the writers is found dead. Cable, Bob, and a college student named Nick Sutton (who has read all the current and past mystery novels) are convinced that the death was more than accidental due to the storm, and may be a cover up for a topic in the writer’s newest manuscript ready to be pitched to the publishers.
The flow of the book is as good as the first time the readers were introduced to the characters on the island in the first book. There are recurring characters who make cameos from the first book, along with discussing events that happened, but the reader doesn’t need to read the previous work to know what is going on. There are some references about the events that happened years earlier, but throughout the text, the story ‘s main plots are told from the other book. For someone who likes mysteries, or looking for a fun summer read, this may be the book for readers. Even if one is not a fan of Grisham’s courtroom thrillers, this does not have that style to it, and is perfect for readers (along with the other book) who like characters who are bibliophiles. The characters throughout are writers (successful and non successful), and Grisham gives them the quirks and attitudes one may expect being associated with that line of work.
Several “critics” attack Grisham’s writings, calling it “fluff” or has stating it has many “flaws”, but he has proven (much like Nicolas Sparks) to have a huge fan base and following where one can’t argue with his success (Many writers and “critics” in my opinion would love to have the success of even one of these two author’s books, much less a whole career). If books with mystery and unique characters mixed with an island theme is what suits you for a summer read, this is one that should be checked out, or better yet, get Camino Island as well, and have a stay at a tropical paradise within the pages, especially if one can’t get to the beach this year.
Acts like Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrel, Eddie Rabbitt, and Crystal Gayle were a few of the country acts that gained success on the pop and adult contemporary charts and radio. Other stars, like Olivia Newton- John, Dan Seals, and The Osmonds revived their careers switching from pop to country. Even though the 1980s had many great country songs that crossed over, there are some that listening today hold up without having an outdated sound. Yes, just because they were from the 1980s, several songs have that sound where you knew it was from that era. I am not saying they are bad songs, in fact I love the 1980s music in all genres probably the best, but underrated songs like “Snapshot” and “Nobody” by Sylvia, have that 80’s feel to it (I will state that both of those tracks do not get the credit they deserve). Some country music experts have called the decade the Country Pop era, where many acts geared their music to the mainstream audiences in hopes to sell more records by breaking on the pop charts. The success of the movie Urban Cowboy also helped fans who were normally not country music fans take another look at the music, deemed hillbilly-ish before.
These are a few country songs that were from the 1980s that still hold up today, without the label of being too “’80s sounding.” Now just because I am not listing “He Stopped Loving Her Today, ” (George Jones) “9 to 5 ” (Dolly Parton) or “Looking For Love” (Johnny Lee) on this list, they were very important for the movement of country in the 1980s. I also wanted to list underrated songs, which I feel was overlooked, along with only one artist to a track, as opposed to listing many songs from the same artist. So here are my suggestions of country music songs from the 1980s that still could fit in today’s music scene (in no particular order).
“Islands in The Stream” – Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers (1983).
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were no strangers to the crossover market by 1983. Rogers started out with his band The First Edition on the rock scene before hitting his stride in the 1970s in country music. “Islands” is probably the most famous country duet song in history, where everyone heard this Bee Gees’ penned song every hour on many stations, from country, rock, and adult contemporary radio. The song knocked off “Total Eclipse of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler on the pop charts (even Air Supply couldn’t knock off Tyler’s song, as huge as they were, along with the fact their song was written by the same writer as Tyler’s hit). Barry Manilow and Reba McIntyre did a version of “Islands” for Manilow’s 1980’s cover album. This song is still played at weddings and gatherings. The melody of the song, and catchy chorus, makes this song timeless, and finds a new group of listeners every decade.
2.”Could I Have This Dance -Anne Murray (1980).
Speaking of weddings, this classic recorded by Murray, was another song that people couldn’t get away from at the social gatherings from weddings to dances. Just like Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration,” this song is still sometimes played at weddings and receptions. The song was featured on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, along with her Greatest Hits release, and is lyric perfection about falling in love with the right one forever. Just reading the lyrics without listening to the song is poetry. This was Murray’s next to last crossover hit, hitting #3 (AC), #1 (Country), and #33 (Pop) on the charts. The waltz rhythm of the song also adds to the softness of the song. This song would not have worked played as an up tempo song, or a disco track. The light rock style could be played right next to Michael Bublé today.
“Amarillo By Morning” -George Strait (1982).
This song is pure solid country, with its fiddle playing and lyrics about a guy making his life in the rodeo. This is one of my favorite Strait songs, and makes my list of underrated because as many country listeners know the song, it never hit #1, only reaching #4 on the country charts, and is often not mentioned as one of his best. Written by Paul Fraser and Terry Stafford, the character talks about being broke, getting injured, and losing female relationships all for chasing his dreams. This is a traditional sounding country song, that does not have an ’80s sound. Even if the listener is not in the rodeo, the themes can relate to struggling musicians, or anyone else on the road chasing goals.
“American Made”-The Oak Ridge Boys (1983).
Patriotism never goes out of style, regardless of the decade. Many point to Lee Greenwood’s most famous song from the era, but for me, this song still holds up, and is my favorite song about America from the decade. With the strong guitars, wonderful vocals, mixing American pride along with the love of a woman, this song hit #1 on the country charts, and #72 on the pop charts, and was played on many of my local Top 40 radio channels when it came out. Co-written by Youngstown, Ohio’s Bob DiPiero (Youngstown is only twenty-some minutes from my hometown of Columbiana, Ohio), the song references Nikon cameras, Sony TVs, and other foreign merchandise. The uniqueness of three out of the four Oak vocalists singing on the track, also gives each line a different approach. Many pick the band’s “Elvira” or “Bobbie Sue” (also crossover hits) as the best from the ’80s for them, but this is the one that doesn’t sound as dated as the other two musically.
“The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)” – Juice Newton (1982).
My father was always a fan of Juice Newton and Crystal Gayle in the 1980s. Although I liked some their songs, it wasn’t until a few years ago, while listening to my Classic County radio station (AM 600 WRQX) that I really started appreciating the other songs by these two crossover artists. With songs like “Love’s Been A Little Bit Hard On Me” (it has a great 80s style humorous video) and “Queen of Hearts,” Newton had both country and pop hits. This ballad was the third release from her famous Juice album, and may be one of the best of her work. The song was originally recorded in 1975, and then re-recorded in ’81, was a #1 country, #1 AC, and #7 pop hit. Great ballads last , regardless of the era, and this is one that still could be placed on Top 40 or AC radio and not be out of place.
“Love in The First Degree” Alabama (1981).
Alabama along with The Oaks, were one of the biggest groups in country, where many acts were solo artists (this song hit #1 on the Country and #15 on Pop charts). “Love,” with its solid drum beat carrying throughout, and guitar fills, would fit on today’s AC charts. Lyrically about the narrator falling in love , while using criminal symbolism, is not at all country sounding. The drum production on the song (which was a staple of the group), with the snare drum sounding almost like another tom, also adds a dynamic to the track. Every time I hear this song, it gets me in a good mood and feels like a fun song to play on guitar, and would be a crowd pleaser even for a rock cover band to play.
“You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma”- Shelly West/David Frizzell (1981).
This is another classic country duet song, and has grown to be one of my favorites the past year or so, thanks to that classic radio station, mentioned earlier. West and Frizzell had seven duet hits, and West even had a country favorite with “José Cuervo” after this duet in 1983. West( the daughter of Dottie West) and Frizzell’s song was picked by actor Clint Eastwood (after he heard the track and believed it was a hit) for his movie Every Which Way You Can. Lyrically about two people living in separate states and lifestyles (one is a framer/rancher, the other in California), the song has a country sound, but still could be on today’s radio. Even though it #1 on the Country charts during the Urban Cowboy phase, the song is still relevant today. Eastwood was right in thinking this song was a hit, and is still enjoyable.
“Meet Me In Montana” -Dan Seals and Marie Osmond (1985).
Another duet that has been a favorite of mine from the past few years (it’s hard to choose each day which song I like the best , this or #7). With a similar theme of two different lifestyles, this one is Seals struggling to make it as a singer in Nashville, while Osmond is in Hollywood trying to be an actress, where both are tired of the struggle, are willing to give up the dreams for each other and live elsewhere peacefully. Seals had several pop hits with his duo act England Dan and John Ford Coley ( including “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” and “Nights Are Forever Without You”), before moving on to a successful country music career. Osmond was already established with her variety show (with brother Donny) in the 1970s, before having a pop/country singing one (she known more now for her gossipy talk show gig). This song hit #1 on the country charts, and the reason it would still be able to be played on stations today is because the song was written by the vastly underrated pop singer Paul Davis (“Sweet Life,” “I Go Crazy,” ’65 Love Affair,” and the wonderful “Cool Night”). Seals had such a smooth and unique voice, and mixed well with Osmond’s range. This is one song I never get tired of hearing.
Much like Juice Newton and Crystal Gayle, AM 600 WRQX gave me a newer appreciation for Rosanne Cash. While I always liked her song “Seven Year Ache, ” this song was co-written by Rodney Crowell and won a Grammy in 1985 (the rumor was she co-wrote the song after losing to Newton at the ’83 Grammys). This song has a solid pop sound to it, with strong backing vocals by Vince Gill. The guitar sound on the track, and the layered vocals, is a throwback to the 1960’s style rock hits. This song could fit in with an act now like Susanna Hoffs. The song is soft, but has a mid tempo beat that could be brought back today and be a hit (I can imagine it on a movie soundtrack, perhaps the female character alone at a dance). This song is filled with a radio friendly format and a melodic guitar fills on top of the wonderful vocals.
Even though some of these songs still fit the country format, they are still tracks that could be placed on today’s various formats without having an unfashionable theme. Although I am very critical to many of today’s so called country acts, I can still listen to these underrated gems (and there are many more I have no touched on). I encourage you all to take a listen to these.
To say that The Beatles were one of the, if not THE, most influential bands in music history is an understatement. The group is still being discovered by audiences decades after their break up through downloads and physical copies of the music, and still selling merchandise. If it weren’t for the group, there would be no KISS, Billy Joel, or The Bee Gees. Even rivals The Beach Boys were inspired by their music while Brian Wilson tried his best to outdo the band. It’s hard to say The Beatles put out bad music; sure everyone has their favorite songs, but for the most part, fans like the overall work of the band .
However, there is Let It Be, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Much like KISS had with Destroyer, Unmasked, and Music From The Elder, where these releases were very polarizing to fans (they either love or hate it), Let It Be may be the one for the Fab Four, at least for some of the members. I am not going to get into the discussion of whether or not this or Abbey Road was the last album (that debate still goes on today), but I will say it is the last album because of the release date of 1970 for this review. The idea that Paul McCartney wanted to create a film documenting the writing, rehearsing, and performing a live concert, was different than just releasing a live album. Here the fans would not know the songs before the concert, all while getting a behind the scenes look at the band being creative. What really ended up was the filming of the end of the band. John Lennon was spending more time with Yoko Ono, George Harrison even left the sessions at one point, and Paul has stated his dislike for the final product with Phil Spector’s involvement of the tracks, which had been detailed in The Beatles Anthology book from 2000.
But the bottom line is does the music hold up? Is it dated? Is it the masterpiece that some state it is?
The opening “Two Of Us,” an acoustic gem, is a song that I didn’t like when I first heard it. I was re-connecting with a guitar player from a previous band, who wanted me to play for a one time show at a local park for the Fourth of July. The three piece band, with the two singers alternation bass and guitar, became fun that we continued it, and eventually re-formed with the previous bass player and became a more classic rock style band. However in the early stages, this song was brought in to play, which became a crowd favorite during our coffee shop gigs. The bass playing on the song by McCartney is a joy to listen to, along with Ringo’s tom skills, where only a few parts in the song does he play the snare. Lyrics like “Two of us writing postcards, sending letters on my wall” is songwriting poetry. The rawness added on the album, with John telling a joke before the song, is somewhat humorous even though many are not quite sure what the joke was, and continues throughout the album. Call it drugs, or just trying to create the live feel of the release, gives it an added plus.
The bluesy “Dig A Pony” keeps the raw sound , with Harrison’s guitar solo, adding with Paul’s harmony , continues from the opening track of the listener just hanging out watching the band in a basement playing.
“Across The Universe” is one of John Lennon’s most poetic songs (although McCartney gets co-credit on it). In the Anthology book, Lennon states some of the lyrics happened while listening to his wife talking and talking while in bed, which became “endless rain into a paper cup.” Just reading the words by itself is full of imagery and artistic jewelry. The Eastern style playing, which the band was inspired by the Maharishi, gives the song a worldwide appeal, not just an English style rock song, like some of their other work.
“I Me Mine” is one of two Harrison song pieces, which he stated that after taking LSD, he started looking around the room and viewing things as “mine” ( like “My piece of paper”, “my guitar, etc). The rumor is that Lennon already left the band when this was recorded, and even though this is a great blues track, Ringo’s playing on here is underrated. Many people, including me included at times, thought Starr’s playing was simple and not as great as people claim, but here he proves otherwise.
“Dig It” is a short jam session with John singing random words, such as “Like A rolling stone, The CIA, The FBI, Doris Day. ” Many have compared this to John imitating Mick Jagger as a joke while they were jamming the song. Again, his humor comes at the end when he states that this songs was “Dig It by Georgie Wood” who was a child actor, and then leads into the title track by stating, “And now we’d like to do ‘Hark The Angels Come.'”
“Let It Be” is an unique track when one starts reading into tales about the song. Apparently Lennon did not like the track, especially the “Mother Mary” reference, which he thought was a reference to religion (which Lennon criticized heavily), but McCartney has stated that Mary was an nod to his mother. Billy Preston plays the organ on the track, who appears on a few other songs. There were two versions of the recording- the single which had less guitar and orchestration on it produced by George Martin, and the album cut with more heavily orchestration and guitar production by Spector. The song is a timeless classic, whichever version you like better, but Harrison’s solo on here is one of the best solos in music history for me, along with the delayed hi hat cymbals from Ringo. Lennon stated that he thought this was a McCartney solo track (or a Wings’ song) , and not fitting The Beatles. It’s weird to see if the song would still been as successful if it was held off the album, and placed on a solo or Wings’ album. Timing is everything in music, and would the track be the same without Spector’s input (I have read stories that the jokes from Lennon was actually added in later by Spector’s choosing as well) ?
“Maggie Mae” was a traditional song that the band would play for warm ups at times, and few references stated that the group changed the title spelling, so they could get royalties from the song as an original composition. The accents they use on the song is a little humorous, again, keeping with trying to keep a fun, relaxed, raw, live setting. McCartney sings the song in the movie Pirates of The Caribbean : Dead Men Tell No Tales, where he plays Jack Sparrow’s uncle. Since Sparrow’s dad was played by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, I wonder how the Richards would take to the Mick Jagger imitation in “Dig It?” Humor aside, this is a quirky song that is placed nicely on the album, which shows another creative side to the band’s talents.
One of my all time favorite Beatles songs is “I’ve Got A Feeling.” This song features Preston on piano again, and the guitar groove on here is a great listen. The song was actually two songs combined (where one can hear) ; the first part with McCartney’s song from the title, while adding Lennon’s “Everybody” song. The vocals on the song is another favorite part of mine, with Lennon and McCartney singing together, and then going off to split their songs’ vocals, similar to what The Guess Who would do on “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.”
The R&B flavored “One After 909” is a throwback to the band’s earlier pop rock days. Even though I enjoy the later Beatles work better, this song (looking at it historically as the last released record) is almost a full circle track in symbolic nature, with an ode to the early days.
“The Long And Winding Road” is one of the songs where McCartney has stated he did not like the finished Spector product, with the heavy orchestration on the record. According to several books and interviews, the rest of the band liked the strong production, stating that the song was not as good without it. To me, this song is one of the greatest musical singles in all of popular music. Paul’s vocals is one of the best he has ever done, and the piece needed the extra musicians to give it the power and completeness. The song hit #1 on many charts, so to me, Paul’s complaints is kind of null. This is still a masterpiece all around, and will still be appreciated for another 50- plus years.
The second Harrison track, “For You Blue,” written for his wife, is a blues/country song, with steel guitar playing by Lennon. George’s soft, smooth vocals are enjoyable here.
The final track “Get Back” again, starts off with a Lennon joke, about “Loretta Martin thought she was a cleaner, but she was a frying pan.” The song itself jams and rocks , without being powerful or loud. It has a catchy rhythm that chugs steadily throughout. Ringo’s shuffle beat, along with the dynamics of the track , makes the song the best closer for the album. When John states at the end that he hopes the band “passed the audition,” one could read into that this was a farewell, hoping that they passed the try out, so they can move on to other solo work. Yes, this is reading too much into it, being that the original timing where Abby Road was the actual “last album,” but as mentioned earlier, I’m stating this album as the last one because of the release date. However, with the band’s career closing, it is safe to say that the four did indeed “pass” the audition.
My favorite albums by The Beatles are The White Album, Help!, and Rubber Soul. But Let It Be is definitely an album that has stood the test of time, is not dated by any means, and is still enjoyable to listen to as much as it would have been when it first came out (I was not around when it was first released, so I’m assuming here). There has been talks of releasing the full movie, and I really hope that it will come to pass soon, because after hearing this release again, I really would like to see the full filming of the band, as opposed to just the few rooftop performances that has been found online. I know that the original versions, without the massive Spector production, has been released but frankly I’d rather not hear them. To me the 1970 released material made the songs legendary. This is an album that should be appreciated in its entirety, rather than just hearing a track here and there, and from someone who does not usually want to sit and hear an full album at one sitting, this happens to be one that once the listener does, they will find the appreciation of the artistic and musical talents of one of the greatest albums of all time, regardless of its polarization among the band members and certain listeners.
Track List: 1. Two Of Us 2. Dig A Pony 3. Across The Universe 4. I Me Mine 5. Dig It 6. Let It Be 7. Maggie Mae 8. I’ve Got A Feeling 9. One After 909 10. The Long And Winding Road 11. For You Blue 12. Get Back
From time to time I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com
There have been many actors who have tried their hand in music, among them Rick Nelson, David Cassidy, and many of The Disney stars. In the 1980s actors like Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, Don Johnson, and Patrick Swayze had hit songs. Rick Springfield starting acting as a way to pay the bills before he broke through with his 1981 album.
Country music had several actors as well, including Clint Eastwood, and one of the more famous actors of the 1980s, The Dukes of Hazard star John Schneider (co-star Tom Wopat followed into music as well). Schneider’s debut album, Now Or Never, was one of the memorable albums from my childhood.
The title track was a remake of the Elvis Presley classic, and Schneider does a good job on it. In fact, for a while (until the band UB40 in the 1990s), Schneider’s version was the highest charted remake of a Presley song, hitting #4 on the Country charts, #5 on the Adult Contemporary charts, and #14 on the U.S. charts. I personally care for this remake’s version a little better than the original. Listening to the first track, especially at the end of the song, Schneider shows he has the vocal skills, and is not a novelty act.
The second song “Them Good Ol Boys Are Bad,” also hit the Country charts at #13. This song is more of a traditional country song that was being played on the radio, as opposed to the opening pop song. It also has the themes more suited for the Dukes audience, with the telling of country boys always being in trouble by getting in fights and chasing women.
The next three songs are ballads. The Eric Carman written “Stay With Me,” along with “Let Me Love You,” and a cover of Lionel Richie’s “Still” end the side. It wasn’t uncommon for actors to just release albums of all covers, however I think “Still” is the weakest of the three. I remember seeing a television appearance of Schneider promoting “Let Me Love You” sitting with a bunch of girls outside Disney.
Side two starts off with one of my favorite songs off the album to this day. “No. 34 In Atlanta” talks about the narrator’s record barely hitting the country charts, but he’s proud he’s stayed true to his roots, instead of following what’s hot in music coming from L.A. The song mentions a love for Earl Scruggs, gospel, and country music. At the time, this song described me more than anything-while my friends were listening to what was “in,” I still listened to many forms of music, and the influences that started when I was younger, no matter if it was popular or not.
“Am I Falling In Love” is another great song off the album that I still love hearing. This has a more pop sound to it; heavy on piano, with good lyrics, and a catchy melody. The singer is questioning if he is actually falling in love or is it the idea of love. Why this song wasn’t released as a single is beyond me, because it could’ve been a pop hit.
Side two is probably my favorite on the album, because for a third song in a row, there is another gem that I still listen to today, titled “The Next Time Around.” The AC/pop theme continues, but is a mid tempo song. This is a unique take on looking back on a relationship, because there is hope involved that the next time he is going to be more cautious. The lyrics, written by Jim Weatherly (who wrote “Midnight Train To Georgia” among other big songs), is just music excellence, such as “There’s nothing quite as hopeless as a love that wants to die/ And no one quite as helpless as one who wants to try.” This song got me through my early teen years, whenever the school girl I crushed on did not feel the same, or I was misunderstood (teen drama ). The percussion on the song gives it added depth, giving an island feel. This is a great pop gem that many need to hear.
“Stay,” is an odd choice to me. It is the second song on the album with the word “Stay” in the title. I’m not sure why this was done, but it’s one of the only times I can recall that I’ve seen this.
“You Could Be The One Woman” ends the record on a ballad. Very few artists to me can end an album with a ballad and not have it feel like a let down. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work.
Now or Never is filled with pop, AC, and country music. I personally listen to the second side more than the first side, but overall the album is a good debut for someone that may have thought of Schneider as just an actor on television. We now know that he has created a versatile resume of acting and singing throughout the years. I never understood why this album was never released on CD or on MP3 format. The release did well on the charts, and yet the other Schneider releases are the only ones available. Nevertheless, this album brings back many childhood memories , and still has songs that aren’t dated. Schneider is an underrated singer, and listening to this album, many will see why.
1.Now Or Never 2. Them Good Ol Boys Are Bad 3.Stay With Me 4. Let Me Love You
5.Still 6. No. 34 in Atlanta 7. Am I Falling In Love 8. The Next Time Around
From time to time I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com
I am not a major fan of country music, especially the country that is played today. To me, the listenable country acts are The Oak Ridge Boys, Jerry Reed, Dwight Yoakam, George Strait, Waylon Jennings, and others from the 1970s-1990s. I have played in several country cover bands my area near Youngstown, Ohio, along with being a roadie for a few local bands as well. I do not enjoy most of today’s acts, filled with drum machines, auto-tuned vocals, and rappers that call themselves “country music”.
The first time I heard Kenny Chesney was when I saw the video for his single “The Tin Man” in 1994. He was a new artist, and the video was played on The Nashville Network. I purchased the cassette single of the song , which compared how he’d rather be the Wizard Of Oz character instead of having to deal with breakups. The song didn’t do much damage on the charts, hitting #70 for the Capricorn label before the label shut down. It wasn’t until later, when Chesney re-recorded the song that it did well on the charts.
Although I like several songs here and there from Chesney, his total albums seem to be hit or miss for me; a good track here followed by several fillers, before getting to another great song. I ‘m not sure why I decided to get the release Be As You Are , an album that Chesney decided to do for himself (regardless of sales), but to me, it is his best work of his career.
The themed album is all about his love for the islands and an ode to his love of the Caribbean beaches, sailing, and just getting away from the everyday life of a musician. Much like Sammy Hagar and his love of Cabo San Lucas, Chesney’s infatuation resulted in great songs. The album is mostly filled with softer , acoustic island music, along with great songwriting poetry. Jimmy Buffett may be the king of the island music for most (to me, his work is hit or miss as well), but Chesney’s work here holds up just as well.
“Old Blue Chair” starts off with soft acoustic guitars , along with percussion and piano keyboards, but gives a relaxing mode. The song discussing all the things Chesney’s life has seen while sitting in the chair on the beach, is great songwriting. Even though he’s seen the world from a tour bus, to him, this is where he wants to be, with his book, in the sand.
“Be As You Are” continues the theme , and his love of being allowed to be whatever he wants to be, without being judged by the other locals, as opposed to being in the city where occupations define the person. The guitar fills throughout, his soft vocals, and wanting to be with the locals , paint the picture that many of us would love to leave their jobs and just relax. The one line sums it up , by stating you can “be a tourist, a beach bum, or a star.”
The weak “Guitars and Tikki Bars” is more of a Buffett track (with steel drums) with an up-tempo sound, but lacking the quality songwriting as the first two songs. There is a build up to the chorus, and then just falls flat when it arrives. This is one that I skip early on in the release.
The album goes back to the soft, mellower sounds, on “Island Boy,” which Phil Vassar has a co-writing credit on. The story about a man moving from Maine, after saving up his money, and moving to the island, is great poetry in a song, telling the story of a man finally finding paradise. He watches what’s going on back in the states, with its snow on CNN, and claims he will never go back to that life again, where “stress is the enemy.”
One of my favorite tracks is “Somewhere In the Sun.” The ocean sounds are heard at the beginning and end of the song, which gives the added background picture that is being painted. Chesney (the narrator) is stuck in Texas after snow cancelled his concert, and he is stuck in a Holiday Inn watching “Andy and Barney on Nick At Night,” eating cold fajitas. The song also mentions the sailors’ hoisting their sails on the boats, which is another theme he adds to the song. This is one of his best songs in his catalog.
“Boston” continues the story about people leaving their old life and coming to the islands to start anew. However, this has a female as the main character , who works at a jewelry store near the harbor. Although the lyrics are a little weak compared to the other tracks, it is still listenable. This has more of a song structure of something from Bruce Springsteen (which may be why I’m not a huge fan of it; I’m not a big Bruce fan), but it is still better than a few others, and not bad enough that needs to be skipped. The experimental aspect is commended by bringing a tale about a female into the overall story.
If “Something Sexy About The Rain” was a book, it would be written by Nicholas Sparks. The songwriting here (co-written by Skip Ewing) is a masterpiece, describing the romance that happened for “a season,” while the narrator is back in the city. She comes with him to his normal life via ways of a photograph. It may sound like a typical country song format, but the island feel, and the eerie opening of the track (like the calm before the rain starts), is actually a very adult contemporary oriented song.
“French Kissing Life” has a humorous title to it, but is another favorite of mine. While “Boston” took a different approach by adding a female perspective, this track has the narrator (Chesney) on his boat sailing on the sea. One of my favorite lines from any of his songs is here with “Maybe I should’ve been a pirate/maybe in my next life that’s what I’ll be.” The chorus is simple, but it works here.
“Key Lime Pie,” “Sherry’s Living In Paradise,” and “Soul Of A Sailor” are all tracks that could’ve been left off the album, and seem to be thrown on there to give extra songs. However, “Magic” experiments with a jazz/blues format that could be heard in an island bar (or a club in the 1940s). The saxophone solo adds to the flavor of a throwback era. This is definitely the best song from the second half of the album.
The added “Old Blue Chair (Ocean Mix)” is nothing more than a demo of the opening song, which ocean noises thrown in to create another weak and useless version of a song that was already great.
Even though the last four out of five songs could have (and should have been ) left off to create a more solid piece of work, this is still Chesney’s finest album. This is a wonderful release to get you in a summer mood, or when you need to take yourself to another place. If you can’t make it to the beach, this is also great in your backyard in front of a nice fire pit. If you haven’t heard this album, and like quality storytelling songwriting, with soothing vocals and music, this is the one to get. Although I skip the second half mostly, the tracks I do listen to are expertly placed and written to take you on a vacation trip you won’t want to return from.
Track List: 1. Old Blue Chair 2. Be As You Are 3. Guitars and Tikki Bars 4. Island Boy 5. Somewhere In the Sun 6. Boston 7. Something Sexy About The Rain 8. French Kissing Life 9. Key Lime Pie 10. Sherry’s Living In Paradise 11. Magic 12. Soul Of A Sailor 13. Old Blue Chair (Ocean Mix)
I have mentioned many times on here that my first exposure to professional wrestling was seeing George “The Animal” Steele on television. Since wrestling wasn’t on every week in my area (or at different times each week), I would only see bits and pieces until 1986 or so. There were two other early memories that I remember when it came to wrestling, and one of them was seeing Andre The Giant get his hair “cut” by Big John Studd and Ken Patera. I was always a fan of Andre throughout the years (until he “turned ” on my favorite at the time Hulk Hogan).
The Eighth Wonder Of The World :The True Story Of Andre The Giant by Bertrand Hébert and Pat Laprade (ECW Press, 2020) is a historical collection covering the life of one of the greatest and misunderstood wrestlers in history. For those that saw the HBO documentary from 2018 on him, this expands on what was covered on the show, along with detailing some of the myths and common rumors about the life of Andre. The authors have written several wrestling books , including ones on Mad Dog Vachon, Pat Patterson (Hébert) , and a history of women’s wrestling ( You can find reviews of the Mad Dog and women’s wrestling books here in the archives).
The first part of the book covers his early childhood growing up, along with his beginnings in wrestling; traveling throughout France and Japan and even winning titles there (which dispels the rumors that he never won titles). There is also an in depth look at his name lineage. The book looks at the dates when his family (and Andre himself) may have found out that he had acromegaly. The one interesting part in this section is how agile Andre was in the ring (many remember him in the 1980s when his moves were limited), along with the fact that one of his early finishing maneuvers was the “tombstone piledriver,” which The Dynamite Kid and The Undertaker made famous decades later. The part also tells how he wasn’t named ” Andre The Giant” until 1973, but given titles like “The Monster,” “The Polish Giant,” and his last name being used.
Andre’s career takes him through the various wrestling territories like Montreal and all throughout Canada, Iraq (including a story meeting Saddam Hussein who was childhood friends with wrestler Adnan Al-Kaissie), and the various times Andre was body slammed in matches, way before fighting Hulk Hogan in 1980 at their more known Shea Stadium match. Various famous events are covered, such as Andre being a part of the boxer/ wrestler card against Chuck Wepner, a publicity stunt by Vince McMahon Sr. where he “tried out” for The Washington Redskins, and some unknown matches that many casual fans may not know about, such as losing to Ronnie Garvin in Knoxville in a handicap match. Andre’s various acting roles are touched on like the Bigfoot character on The Six Million Dollar Man (which he turned down a return spot on the show), Conan The Destroyer, and The PrincessBride.
Andre’s more well known time of his career, when he started working for Vince McMahon Jr., is covered. Vince’s expansion of wrestling, made Andre a bigger star, which many fans my age became aware of him; feuding with Studd, King Kong Bundy, The Ultimate Warrior, and, of course, Hulk Hogan, a man he wrestled several times before their match at Wrestlemania III. The text tells stories about several wrestlers Andre did not like, like The Warrior, Randy Savage, Studd, Bam Bam Bigelow, and a few others. However, once he did warm up to a person, he was friendly and kind throughout his life to that person. His on air storylines included having his ankle “broken” by Killer Khan, the haircut incident, his Wrestlemania and other PPVs for the WWF, along with his post WWF career (showing up in the UWF for Herb Abrams in between WWF deals, a small show for Bobby Fulton, and his odd appearance on WCW’s “Clash Of The Champions” event) are written.
The book has many tales with in-depth detail. My one complaint with the book is the chapter where there is massive discussion on some of the rumors of Andre’s life which became larger than life, including how much Andre could eat or drink at a sitting, along with his height and weight being exaggerated. I understood the logic of having the stories about his eating and drinking (this is one thing that made him a legend backstage), but the part about his height and weight went on too much for my liking. It’s professional wrestling; does it really matter if he was really 6’9” or 7’2”? Wrestling has always built up a back story , from Canadian wrestlers being “Russian” to changing a person’s hometown to fit the character. I give the writers props for covering everything they can (this is over 400 pages long), but the dispelling of his height and weight went on a little too much for me. However, one small section which didn’t appeal to me is a good track record with a book this lengthy.
This text is a wonderful historical writing of Andre’s life and is very detailed. It is filled with facts that many may not remember (one for me was a Saturday Nights Main Event taping after Wrestlemania III, where he wrestled a tag match against Hogan in the dark match not shown on TV-my second live event ever attended was the Survivor Series in November of that year, where most thought was the next time they actually went against each other), along with the many wrestlers before Hogan who actually body slammed him in the ring. The book also shows the lonely life Andre led at times, dealing with his condition (from having to sit on a bench inside a movie theater, and having a special made van for traveling) to the last few years of his wrestling career where many wrestlers and fans wanted him to retire.
The book has many stories and quotes from people like Tim White (the referee who became his personal assistant), George Steele (who was the agent who set up his matched with Warrior), Bret Hart, Hogan, and more. His whole career is covered, from the early days, his many years being a bad guy (or “heel) in Japan long before his turn on Hogan in 1987, to his love for his ranch. His relationship with his daughter and dealing with injuries, as a result of his career and the disease, add an emotional tone to the book throughout, and especially at the end of his life.
Even if you are not a professional wrestling fan, you can enjoy this book. People, especially in the 1980s, knew who Andre was and his influence on pop culture, with not only his wrestling, but his acting outside of it (where there are humorous tales about him on the set of filming). The writers did wonderful research and (at times) excessive detail, which makes the book a giant sized memorial of the life of the ultimate giant.
This review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher.
The Eighth Wonder Of The World: The True Story Of Andre The Giant by Bertrand Hébert and Pat Laprade (ECW Press, 2020) ISBN: 978-1-77041-466-2 (hardcover) 978-1-77305-477-3 (PDF) 978-1-77305-476-6 (epub) can be found at http://www.ecpress.com
For information on the authors, go to @PatLaprade and @HebertBertwre
Geared For: 13 and Up
For Fans Of: Pro Wrestling, Biographies, Sports, Movies,
From time to time, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com
If there is any album that deserves to be mentioned in my Childhood Classics it’s The Oak Ridge Boys’ Greatest Hits from 1980. This album had such a huge influence on me , that it is listed as one of my Hall of Fame albums.
I got this album on Christmas Day of 1980, along with my first drum set, a practice set which had the Sid and Marty Kroft characters Captain Kool and The Kongs on the front on the kick drum, along with my first record player. Before this, my parents would give us records that me and my brother shared, from The Village People’s Cruisin‘ release, and the Bay City Rollers’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Letter. So firstly, the Oaks’ album was the first one that I remember that was mine alone to own and play at any time. Secondly, I remember my parents dropping the needle on the first song, and I started playing along with the recording without knowing the songs (beat for beat) along with the record, which was the first time I guess I showed a natural ability to play drums (since I was hitting every fill and crash pretty much, call it a God thing if you’d like).
The first time I remember seeing the Oaks was on PBS (we didn’t have cable television back then). I watched it every time I could see it (it was played many times). I was a fan right away, even being a member of their fan club, which back in the day fan clubs were free and they sent you a black and white pamphlet with some pictures of the members and a small biography of each member (I unfortunately do not have that pamphlet anymore).
I was big into country music and the normal pop songs at the time, but one band I never strayed far away from was The Oaks. The blend of country/pop/and gospel music was not just entertaining, but I learned how to study vocals by listening to these records. One time in the 1990s, when playing drums in a blues/rock band, my one guitar player asked how I knew the melodies vocally being a drummer (most bands I was in discouraged drummers to sing), I told him “The Oak Ridge Boys” (not that I was a great vocalist, but I helped out on backing vocals in bands).
The Greatest Hits album details the first four albums of the singing group, starting with “You’re The One” from their first full country album. This song features the great Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban sharing lead vocals. I never heard of a bass singer being so up front in groups until I heard Sterban’s singing, although even at a young age I listened to the 1950s and 1960s acts, like the Doo-Wop singers, but a bass singer that sang lead was unknown to me until I heard the Oaks.
One of my all time favorite songs by the group is “I’ll Be True To You.” As a youngster (and still today) , Allen was my favorite member of the band, with his smooth voice, and also because my father worked with a guy at the time that looked similar to him (my young self actually asked him if he was the guy singing on the records). I would argue that The Oaks were the country music version of The Beatles, due to every fan had their favorite member. “I’ll Be True To You” is not just a classic country song, with the sad lyrics, but I would put it up there along with The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” in the list of the most beautiful songs in American recordings. During this period, the Oaks’ recording formula included the great Ron Chancey on production, which gave the Oaks a mix of country and adult contemporary sounds, with powerful orchestration adding to the flavor of the great vocals.
“Trying To Love Two Women” was a song I always skipped over at the time of I had this record (and later on the cassette). I was never a huge fan of this song, even though it went to #1 on the country charts. The song was too adult themed for me at the time, and I wasn’t as huge fan of William Lee Golden’s voice at the time (I was more scared of him seeing that long beard), but within the past several years I have had a more respect for the man and his abilities (especially seeing him live). This song has grown on me throughout the past few times I’ve seen the band live, maybe because of the power the band adds to the song. The odd thing about me not liking the song at first is that I had the 45 single, which the B-Side was the wonderful (and often overlooked “Hold On Til Sunday”). I still choose some of Golden’s other work as opposed to this one, but it is a Greatest Hits record, and this was huge for the group.
“Cryin’ Again” is another favorite song of mine, with Allen singing lead again. The adding of Sterban switching the chorus repeating at the end of the song, adds to the song, along with the great guitar work throughout the song. The song was co-written by the legendary Don Cook. The listener can hear Joe Bonsall more on the harmonies on this song as well. It wouldn’t be a few years later when I got to really appreciate Bonsall’s work singing lead on “Elvira,” but even as a young kid at age 10, I tried to hit the notes he was hitting on the song (major fail by me).
“Dream On” was , again, one the first times I heard a bass singer sing lead. It wasn’t until several years ago when I started doing my page here, that I found out the song was originally done by The Righteous Brothers. No offense to fans of that legendary group, but The Oak’s version is better; it has more power to the song with the strong backing vocals and orchestration , but the recording of records evolved too. I still like this version the best, and you’d can’t convince me otherwise.
“Leaving Louisiana In the Broad Daylight” kicks off the second side of the album (younger kids today can’t recall the time where you had to stand up and turn the side over to listen) . This Rodney Crowell penned song, is again, better done by the Oaks than the original, and the other acts who recorded it. Many fans would remember this being sung on the group’s appearance on The Dukes Of Hazard TV show. That show was a big favorite of mine, and seeing one of my favorite music acts on one of my favorite shows was a dream come true, especially since I was a huge fan of actor John Schneider’s NowOr Never album, which was also played constantly on my player. This is a song that has grown on me throughout the past few years, originally getting tired of it, but a former boss at a grocery store I worked at got me hooked on this song again, where we would sit around to pass the day trying to stump each other with music or pro wrestling trivia. At times, we would randomly ask “Have you ever seen a Cajun when he really got mad?” walking past each other, or using other song lyrics in everyday conversation (something we did to pass the time at work).
One of the underrated ballads that Duane Allen has sung on is “Heart Of Mine.” I think some Oaks fans forget how wonderful this song is when mentioning the great ballads of the group, maybe because it hit #3 on the charts and not #1? I don’t know . Some songs today fail to see the structure of a great ballad, like this song shows, by building throughout until the end. This song has an adult contemporary style to it, that would have fit on the radio right next to Barry Manilow. This was a strong pop song, and not just plain country. Right before the repeated chorus at the end, Allen hits a wonderful note that he holds that always made me love. Even though I love the 1980s glam hard rock acts , who would hold powerful notes, there is a similar emotion to this song without being overpowering, which adds to the ending of the climax of the track.
No matter how many times I heard “Come On In,” I never get tired of it, and it gets me in a up tempo mood still now. I have heard Christian acts use this song, rewording some of the lyrics, many times throughout the years of playing in churches as well. This is just a great “feel good” song that you can’t get tired of. The shared vocals of Bonsall, Sterban, and Allen on the chorus makes the song just as fun. I always wondered how the group chose which member to sing what parts, but it always to seem to work when the final product was done. I challenge anyone NOT to be in a good mood after playing this song.
“Sail Away” is another one of my all time favorite songs by the group, and not just on this album. The guitar work is great throughout with that opening riff (and throughout), and the drum fill towards the end of the song brings an extra dynamic to the song. Even hearing this song live gives me a thrill decades later after the release. Once again, Allen’s lead vocals has soul to it. The fact that this song didn’t hit #1 amazes me when reading about the history of some of the tracks.
The final song “Y’all Come Back Saloon” was one I always sang along and liked playing drums to. Listening to it now, this was the perfect ending song for the album. The placement of the songs were in their right spot. Rarely can acts deliver ending an album with a ballad or mid tempo song, but this song picks up at the end that leaves the listener wanting more, which is what a good album should do at the end in my opinion. Those that follow the band know how the song got backlash lyrically for fans of the gospel side of the group, but the lyrics by Sharon Vaughn makes this song unique when I look at it now. The fact that the characters in the song do not have names, but are just mentioned as “cowboy” and the female is just “she,” shows that at times simplicity is better in songwriting.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ Greatest Hits album not only gave me my start into a band that I have yet to be tired of, even when some left the group’s core audience when Golden left the band (I personally loved the late 1980s and 1990s group as much as the so-called heyday of the band), but it exposed me to study vocals and songwriting, as well as just liking the drum parts or the catchy sing along tracks. Listeners could use this album to study production values, and how songwriting works as well as dynamics of harmonies. The album just didn’t make me become a fan, but gave me wonderful childhood memories by constantly playing the songs with my family, and helped me discover a talent (drumming) that was a major part of my life.
The Oak Ridge Boys are : Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden.
Track List: 1. You’re The One 2. I’ll Be True To You 3.Trying To Love Two Women 4.Cryin’ Again 5. Dream On 6. Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight 7. Heart Of Mine 8. Come On In 9. Sail Away 10. Y’all Come Back Saloon