Taking Note

There are a few things that annoy me about SiriusXM–most notably the amount of time spent reminding listeners that there are no commercials and their programmers’ habit of preempting channels for special events (and rearranging the channel lineup with little or no warning).

Even so, as you may have gathered, I like the service. It could improve–less channel segmentation, or at least more channels that cover a range of genres would be nice–but it’s worth the annual subscription.

It’s starting to scare me, though.

Not too long ago, on a cold, gray day when I was more than normally ambivalent about going to work, I got a station break as I backed out of the garage. That ended as just as I shifted into Drive, and I headed up the hill listening to “Mama Told Me Not to Come”. That was followed by “Old Man” and then “Stairway to Heaven”.

At this point, having been informed that I shouldn’t go to work because I was old and going to die, I was seriously considering turning around and going back to bed. Unfortunately, at that point I was halfway across the bridge, where turnaround points are non-existent–and besides, I’d already paid the bridge toll.

So I made the decision to go on, only to be reminded that “People Are Strange”. I could only agree. And change to the 40s channel. Which had, of course, been preempted in favor of “Holiday Traditions”.

I managed to switch to an 80s alternative channel before succumbing to the urge to rip the radio out of the dashboard, but it was a close call.

Despite the warning and the obstacles SiriusXM put in my path, I did make it to work, survived the day, and made it home in one piece, but the next time the radio gives me a warning like that, I think I’ll take its advice. Far easier on the nervous system.

Actually, I should clarify one thing.

My car radio is an older model–I got it at Circuit City, back when there was a Circuit City. So, no touchscreen, no bluetooth, no voice or steering wheel controls. What it does have is a simple segmented LCD panel just wide enough to show eleven characters in all-caps.

So my warning was actually “MAMA TOLD M”, “OLD MAN”, and “STAIRWAY TO”.

Generally not a problem, but it does mean I occasionally get a bit of cognitive dissonance. Did you know The Kinks had a 1966 single called “SUNNY AFTER”? After what? The lyrics don’t give much of a clue.

Then there’s that immortal Stones’ classic “LETS SPEND “. I hadn’t thought the song was quite that explicit about what Mick and Keith were planning.

The real prize, however, was learning that “JEFFERSON A” had a top-ten hit in “WHITE RABBI”. I didn’t know Grace Slick was Jewish…

Despite its limitations, I have no plans to replace the radio with something newer and more capable.

Something else I won’t be getting: Apple’s new AirPods Max* headphones.

* Yes, that is the official name for them. The hazards of applying a single name across a product line. “AirPods”–plural–makes sense for a set of those things you stick in your ears, but rather less so for a single device that covers both ears.

Even if Apple is correct in calling them the greatest auditory experience since “musician” meant “that guy who bangs two sticks together” (I’m paraphrasing their advertising, if you hadn’t guessed.), we can’t lose sight of the fact that, like the rest of the AirPods line, they’re Apple-only.

There’s also–and I can’t believe I’m writing this–the price tag: $550!

That’s more than half the cost of a new M1-based MacBook Air or an iPhone 12.

Reminds me of those legendary restaurants that are so expensive they only need one party of four to pay their rent for the month.

Granted, Apple has always had a reputation for expensive gear, but even by their standards, this is excessive.

If you have to have Apple-made headphones to go with your Apple-made electronics, stick with Beats. Unless you’re in the hundredth of a percent of the population with absolutely perfect hearing you only listen in an acoustically-sealed room, you’re not going to hear the difference.

People Are Strange

People are strange.

And wrong.

A SiriusXM channel is once again the target of my ire. Or, in this case, I should say that the listeners of 60s on 6 are at fault.

I missed it late last year when they ran a poll to collect the “top 600 songs of the 1960s” and I also missed the playthrough of the entire list. But no matter. They re-ran it this past weekend, and as you may have gathered, I have bones to pick.

I realize that with any venture of this sort, inequities are inevitable, but really, this one is so flawed, I have to limit myself to the Top Ten, or this post will be longer than most novels. I mean, really, how can “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” (#96) be more “top” than “White Rabbit” (#97) and “MacArthur Park” (#98)*?

* I almost said “in what universe” but clearly the answer would be “this one”. Ah, the tribulations of an author looking for just the right phrase…

Honestly, I like all three songs (I’ve mentioned before that I have low tastes), but Henry is quite literally a single joke repeated three times–“Second verse, same as the first”–while the other two make the effort to tell a complete story. They’re complete artistic thoughts that attempt to answer the questions they raise. Why does the widow prefer Henrys? Does being Henry the VIII give the singer the option of executing or divorcing his wife not open to the common Brit?

Anyway. The top ten*.

* The full list is online, of course.

The Beatles got two tracks into the top ten, “Yesterday” (#10) and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (#8). There are nineteen other Beatles’ numbers scattered through the list–not a unreasonable number for the most influential band of the decade. But “top” is not “important”. I may shake my head in sorrow, but I won’t complain out loud.

I also won’t complain about the inclusion of “My Girl” (#9). The Temptations are certainly worthy of a top ten slot, and “My Girl” is certainly one of their better cuts.

But really? “Downtown” at Number Seven? Yes, Petula Clark probably had to be in there somewhere, but how does that particular song make it that far up the list? “Don’t Sleep In the Subway” only hit Number 321 and her second highest placement–“I Know a Place”–is well back at Number 179. (Petula’s also the only woman to crack the top ten. Even the great Patsy Cline only made it to Number 13 with “Crazy”.)

Moving on.

“Cara Mia” from Jay & The Americans? What were the voters thinking? I know, I know: they weren’t.

The Beach Boys’ kick off the top five with “California Girls”. They also had twenty other tunes on the full list. Personally, I’d have picked “Surfer Girl” (#200) over “California Girls”, but I’m mostly okay with this one.

“Oh Pretty Woman”. No top list would be complete without Roy Orbison and this is his best-known work, if not his best musically. But “top” isn’t “best” either. And Roy did have seven other songs on the list.

Number Three is “The House of the Rising Sun”. Great song. Great car singalong. But, third toppest song of the 1960s? I haz a dubious.

“Satisfaction”. Um. Big hit, though I prefer Devo’s cover. And the Stones did put a total of ten tracks in this top 600. But their next best showing was “Get Off My Cloud” at Number 138. That’s quite the drop off–nearly as dramatic as Petula Clark’s. Still, it is the Stones. Give it the benefit of the doubt.

Which brings us to Number One. The toppest of the top. The absolute musical pinnacle of the decade. Who is it? Not Elvis (twelve songs on this list, peaking at Number 21 with “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”).

Brace yourselves.

“Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers.
Seriously.

This is a miscarriage of justice on a par with the 2000 Presidential Election. I suspect somebody was stuffing the ballot box.

But then again, maybe it’s perfectly legitimate. Nobody who survived the election in 2016 can say voters always make the right choice. Not with a straight face anyway.

People are strange. (Oh, and “People Are Strange” didn’t make the list. The Doors only got one song into the Top 600: “Light My Fire” at Number 50. Go figure.)

Goin’ Back

I’ve been listening to the Fifties channel on SiriusXM lately.

Yes, the decade when the saxophone was a legitimate rock and roll instrument. Because really it was a decade in transition. Swing was on the way out, but rock and roll wouldn’t take over the world until the Sixties. There were plenty of cuts that could have been either rock or swing (in fact, there were more than a few early rock releases that had been swing hits.) And, of course, there was a giant market for sentimental pablum*.

* Let’s be clear: every decade has a giant market for sentimental pablum. It’s just that the definition of both “sentimental” and “pablum” changes. But I digress.

Which, of course, meant there was also a market for that unholy (ahem) hybrid known as the religious love song.

Brace yourself and allow me to direct your attention to “One Hundred Pounds of Clay” which is my candidate for The Song Most Likely to Make You Cringe Harder Every Time You Hear It.

I’ve had a lot of practice cringing over this song lately. Specifically, it’s come onto the radio three times in my last four hours of listening–that was spread over two days, so it’s not like you’re guaranteed to hear it if you listen for an hour and a quarter. But still: heavy rotation.

Anyway, I’m not nominating it because of the religious content. Not my cup of fur, but there’s been plenty of good religious music.

Nor is it because the song suggests that women’s only purpose is to be sexual. I beg your pardon? The BBC banned the song for that reason, but I don’t hear that at all.

There’s a sexual element, yes, but the only way I can interpret this song is that women’s only purpose is to shine by her man’s light. That charming only “love, worship, and obey” thing. Take the guy out of the picture, and the gal goes poof as well.

Say, Mike Pence was born in 1959, which means he’d have been two years old when this piece of tripe was at the top of the charts. Psychological scarring anybody?

(The really vexing thing about the song is that it didn’t come out until 1961. Why is it even on the 50s channel? It’s not that Gene McDaniels’ career started in the 50s. Well, his career did, but he didn’t start recording until the 60s. But I digress again.)

So, yes, I do cringe or change the channel–usually both–when it comes on. But there’s enough good stuff on the station to make up for it most of the time.

And, by “good stuff” I mean plenty of silliness and fluff to help you forget that you’re living in trying times, with just enough seriously solid material mixed in to keep you grounded.

Who Put the Bop” (Also from 1961. Win some, lose some.)

Summertime Blues

Only You” (Or darn near anything else The Platters did.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you rush out and subscribe to SiriusXM to get “’50s on 5”. But if you’ve already got the service, give it a listen.

But keep a finger near the power switch, just in case…