Today’s Tracks

"Fire & Ice"
Pat Benatar
Live on the King Biscuit Flower Hour

Chrysalis was a wannabe major. After having its wares marketed by other companies, they went solo in the U.S., they set up their own shop, it became a full-service label. You’d think they’d purvey more English art rock in the vein of Jethro Tull, which established the label, but the company went pop, and most of the artists were American. We had Nick Gilder. And eventually Huey Lewis & The News. But what broke Chrysalis big as its own entity was Pat Benatar.

The debut Pat Benatar album, "In The Heat Of The Night", opened with a rocker with all the passion Courtney Love wishes she possessed, "Heartbreaker". But what made the album was cut 2, Pat’s cover of John Cougar’s "I Need A Lover". Oh, John’s original version was a killer, but heard intermittently on FM radio. You see he was on a label so far removed from the mainstream, he got no traction. And he deserved it. There was this eerie subtlety in this heartland rock track. It sounded like midwesterners drinking beer and picking up their instruments to play only for themselves. Whereas Pat’s take was FEISTY! This was a city girl who was PISSED! And didn’t mind TELLING YOU! Patti Smith might have represented the downtown underdog, but it was Pat Benatar who spoke to the masses. She embodied girl power. All packed into this tiny frame. When Pat sang you paid attention.

Well, a few of us anyway. The first album wasn’t a monster. The mania started with her cover of the Rascals’ You Better Run" on the second record, and then suddenly "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" became UBIQUITOUS! Oh, it was kind of stupid, kind of cliched, but the way Pat SANG IT! FIRE AWAY!

Pat Benatar was a trained singer with the pipes of Mariah Carey who didn’t need to demonstrate her prowess, didn’t need to write her own lame material, but triumphed by playing within the rock and roll structure. Singing killer material. KILLING KILLER MATERIAL!

Pat Benatar became SO big, such an icon to women, skewing ever younger, that it was easy to reject her.

And I never bought another album after the first Mike Chapman produced and Peter Coleman engineered effort, which still sounds fresh to this day.

But Pat was perfect for MTV. She had a foothold. She was a monster. We saw her when we were riveted to the box, watching those original videos. We saw not only the stupid dance video to the non-rock, off point "Love Is A Battlefield", we were also privy to Pat Benatar fighting World War II in "Shadows Of The Night".

Have you listened to "Shadows Of The Night" recently? As good as the best of Bon Jovi. It’s got dynamics, it gets to your gut. Rather than starting at 10 and reaching for 11, Pat starts subtle and then EXCLAIMS, she turns the song into an anthem!

And not long thereafter Pat Benatar burned out. Could have been all the success, her time just might have been up, but she never came back. She was done. No matter what she recorded, it didn’t hit.

Someone e-mailed me about a live version of Steve Miller’s "Baby’s Callin’ Me Home" and I fired up my P2P program to look for it. Turns out it came from the King Biscuit Flower Hour. And, as the cut was downloading, I decided to search for other tracks from the live concert show that was a staple of FM radio. And that’s how I found this, a live version of Pat Benatar’s "Fire & Ice".

Fire and ice
You come on like a flame
Then you turn a cold shoulder
Fire and ice
I wanna give you my love
But you’ll just take a little piece of my heart
You’ll just tear it apart

Oh, the mixed signals. Maybe we should carry around traffic lights. And when we come across a member of the opposite sex, when we exchange glances, when we have a conversation, we should flash the color of our emotions. Red for Stop. Green for Go. And Yellow for Caution.

Oh, the women get to choose. And, in this song, Pat’s interested, she wants to play. But is it just too RISKY?

Men can ask, women can say no. That’s part of the game. But a woman who makes the move, she’s risking so much, since the man sees this as YES! It’s not casual, it’s not meaningless, she’s opening up her heart, and is probably willing to part even more.

She’s seen him burn ’em before. Is she different? Is there any way to KNOW?


So do you stand on the sidelines, or PLAY? Isn’t that not only love, but life! There are no guarantees, no safety net, but what’s across the chasm, it’s so DESIRABLE! You have a burning in your soul, in your loins. But if you end up losing you’ll feel worse than unsatisfied, you’ll feel broken. And there’s not enough duct tape in the world to put you back together instantly. Anybody who can digest rejection and pass it right away WASN’T THAT INTERESTED TO BEGIN WITH!

So, how do you cope? How do you make your decision?

You put on a record. You get up your gumption. And with the music inside you, you make your move. The lyrics are your mantra, if you sing them over and over in your head, you’ll be your best self.

But sometimes that’s not good enough.

"Strapped For Cash"
Fountains Of Wayne

Well it was Saturday night, I was sitting in the kitchen
Checking out the women on Spanish television

Did you ever find yourself lingering on Telemundo, or Univision? They’re talking a mile a minute, you can’t understand a word, but they’re so PASSIONATE! It’s intriguing. There’s an excitement, a drama absent from American soaps. You want to jet inside the box and participate, see what’s HAPPENING!

The women are so DIFFERENT! Didn’t they get the MEMO? They’re supposed to have tiny butts, and no thighs. And their hair shouldn’t be all teased-up, and they should wear less makeup.

Oh, you don’t watch for long, but while you do, you’re intrigued.

Got a call from Paul who was just let out of prison
He said hey listen, there’s something I’m missing
I said I’m on it, honest, it’s on its way
You’re gonna get your money in a couple of days, okay?

It’s like a Steely Dan song, maybe "Don’t Take Me Alive", but it’s thirty years later, and there’s an irreverence Fagen and Becker never possessed. It’s the same Jewish irreverence, but being more highly educated, having gone to Williams, Adam Schlesinger and his cohort Chris Collingwood can slum it a bit more, they don’t have to prove their erudition, their intelligence.

Then again, they are. Adam and Chris are not playing by the rules. There’s no moon in June, the lyrics aren’t vapid, they assume the listener THINKS!

But who catches the lyrics ANYWAY?

Well, you somehow can’t help yourself with a Fountains Of Wayne song. They’re living musicals. It’s like the band is performing in your living room, telling its story. And you want to hear it.

So what happened after Paul called?

So I headed out west to invest in the races
All the goddamn horses kept falling on their faces
Didn’t fare much better at the Taj Mahal
Chalk it up to bad luck and free alcohol
And now I’m laying low, you know I’m trying to stall
But I don’t know how much longer I can dodge the calls

This is a MOVIE! The first act took place at the protagonist’s home. He was just wasting time, watching TV, daydreaming. And a phone call changed his life.

He had to take action .

You can see him at the Taj Mahal. A hack would have said "casino", since potential customers in Timbuktu would not be familiar with the Atlantic City gambling emporium, but Fountains of Wayne is not making its music for EVERYBODY, but those on a similar wavelength, from a similar background. Context is everything.

And then comes the final act:

Six bodybuilders pulled up in a Pinto
Next thing I know they’re coming through the window
Hate to keep you waiting, I know times are hard
Now would you prefer a Visa or a MasterCard?

It makes a difference it’s a Pinto. It adds levity. And the schlemiel, just before he’s gonna have the shit beaten out of him, offers up his credit card, not knowing this is a cash-only world. We all know people like this, who tell the cops they have all this cash in their pockets because they’re meeting their connection to make a dope deal (a true story, I know someone who actually told the cops this).

Not everybody is partying with Paris and Lindsay, playing on a world stage. Most people can walk through life without obstruction, no one cares what they’re doing. This general public needs more than the part anthem "Sexy Back". What if you’re too anxious to go to the club? "Sexy Back" sounds like shit alone in your room. Where’s the music that speaks to YOU?

Yeah, where IS this music? The stuff that makes you feel good even though you’re not rich or beautiful?

And how do you get exposed to the music of this stripe that DOES exist?

You’re not going to hear it on your iPod. That device only plays what you already know. No, you need someone to introduce you to new stuff.

I had a hard time digesting this new Fountains Of Wayne album. But Mike Marrone, on XM’s Loft, extracted the one track that reached me. Hearing it in the parking lot at Ralphs, I was immediately hooked.

"Love Is The Only Way In"
Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Strasburg turned me on to Robert Randolph. He delivered a burned CD to me in the hall of the St. Regis in Aspen must have been six plus years ago.

People like Strasburg don’t give a shit about CD sales. They only care about grosses. Used to be the agent and the promoter were at the asshole end of the business. Just fielding, just delivering live the priorities of the major label. But suddenly those priorities could no longer sell tickets. And there was a parallel scene. It started with the Dead, then the Allman Brothers took up the torch. And Phish and the Dave Matthews Band carried the flag forward. It was about playing more than records. It was about going to the shows and being carried away by the music, not the PRODUCTION!

It wasn’t a once a year event. It wasn’t Madonna backed up with dancers and vocals on hard drive. It was a bunch of twenty and thirtysomething musicians. Wearing onstage the same duds they inhabited offstage. They took the stage and plugged into their amps. And music started to come out. They didn’t start with their big hit. They didn’t HAVE a hit. They were reinventing it every night. Trying to create a unique experience, that satiated both them AND their audience. Otherwise it’s boring! Isn’t playing the same songs in the same order over and over again boring? Isn’t that more akin to theatre than music?

But this scene. The mainstream press didn’t get it. After all, these acts, except for ultimately Dave Matthews, they didn’t sell any RECORDS! Therefore, they couldn’t be that GOOD!

But tell those who went to see these acts live. Those still going to Bonnaroo. They’re POSSESSED! There’s a joy at the show that is the ESSENCE of the music experience.

I saw Robert Randolph on the Grammys. How is that supposed to translate? Has music EVER been good on TV? Especially played in a barn with a million other genres? Well, maybe the Beatles were great on Ed Sullivan, but it was something new, it wasn’t an awards show circle jerk.

And I saw Robert Randolph gigging with the Allmans at the Beacon last year. Truly good. But that was the Allmans’ gig.

Late Wednesday night, I was driving in my car, pressing the buttons on my XM radio, and I came across this record on XM’s Cafe.

I found myself shimmying and shaking in the seat of my Saabaru. When I got to my destination I couldn’t turn the radio off. I couldn’t get Strasburg out of my brain, how he was RIGHT!

I was in the groove.

You can’t break music like this on television. Certainly not on Top Forty radio. Call-out research can’t quantify it, it’s not something intellectual, but something you FEEL!

Shit like this gives me hope, makes me want to go to the gig. Because it’s about the music, the experience. That’s the way it used to be. You were INVOLVED!

But now all the old systems have broken down, we’re rebuilding. And we’ve got to start with not how you look, not whether you fit the slot, the niche, the potential marketing possibilities, but the MUSIC!

You’ve got to concentrate on the music. It’s got to reach people in their heads and hearts. And if it does, you’re on the road, to success, to riches.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.