In boxing and pro wrestling, the “mid-card” is the slate of competitors who aren’t the superstar headliners. They may be talented and even accomplished, but they spend most of their time a notch below the main events. In the storied history of Rock and Roll, one of the most successful mid-card pop bands of the British Invasion era was Tommy James & the Shondells, a band from Niles, MI.
For about five years starting in the mid ‘60s with their chart-topper “Hanky Panky,” a garage-Pop ditty very much in the spirit of the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” the band produced a succession of FM Radio stalwarts that remain in rotation today, including the smoky and sensual “Crimson & Clover” (later covered by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts); a second “Louie Louie” descendant called “Mony Mony” (later covered by Billy Idol); the testosterone-injected bubble-gum Pop track “I Think We’re Alone Now” (later covered by '80s teen-Pop sensation Tiffany); and the psychedelic blue-eyed soul of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (recently used to great effect in the TV series Breaking Bad). [James also had a hit with the folksy-funky “Draggin’ the Line” as a solo artist in 1971].
You would probably have to wait a little bit to see their name appear on most folks’ lists of the greatest groups of the ‘60s, but few bands managed to put together as impressive a collection of durable, radio-friendly songs. It’s Tommy James’ birthday today, so celebrate by taking your MP3 player, pressing the "shuffle" button, and sharing the first 10 songs you hear...
One of the great errors perpetrated by Ken Burns’ (in)famous PBS Jazz series lies in how it dissed the future. According to the documentary’s small group of talking heads assembled to explain to the audience what’s relevant and what isn’t, all the great, important Jazz happened between 1920 (the height of Louis Armstrong) and 1960 (the height of Miles Davis). The stuff that happened later, the stuff that doesn’t sound like Satchmo and goes off on as-yet uncharted musical adventures, is just so much noise.
This attitude has permeated through to the casual music fan to the point where Jazz is considered a dead language. Which is a shame, because the art form continues to thrive in the 21st century, especially in Chicago, home of a huge amount of gifted musicians fiercely expressing themselves. One of the most recent examples is the Dave McDonnell group, featuring Midwestern Jazz heavyweights Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone, Joshua Abrams (of Natural Information Society) on bass, and Quin Kirchner (of Wild Belle and NOMO) on drums. With McDonnell’s sax leading the way, the music is very much of the here and now – if it doesn’t sound like the past, that’s very much the point.
Tracks from The Dave McDonnell Group’s new album Eidetic, released on Whistler Records, are now playing in rotation and by request on CHIRP Radio.
Prince was (it’s tough to not type “is”) more than an electrifying artist and performer. He elevated music to a new level. He defied what a musician, performer, and person could be. As our finest ruler in music royalty (and oddly fitting that he takes the spotlight from an actual monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. On her 90th birthday nonetheless.), he could do anything. He played encores well over an hour after the show ended. He made everyone attempt to call him The Artist Formerly Known as Prince for nearly a decade. Hell, he appeared on Muppets Tonight as a singing farmer and on New Girl as himself, poking fun of his persona (“Oh, how rude of me, I haven’t given you enough time to freak now. You may do so now.”).
Here are five of his songs performed by six artists...
"Kiss" by Tom Jones/Richard Thompson
Prince was practically a genre. Just about everyone has covered a song of his either on record, on stage, during karaoke, or during a jam session with friends. Two British artists on each end of the musical spectrum and with illustrious careers of their own bring their own swagger to one of the most iconic songs in pop music.
Jones, no stranger to combining sex appeal with his vocal performances, originally began performing “Kiss” during a Vegas residency shortly after “Kiss” debuted in 1986. Avant-garde group the Art of Noise saw Jones live and wanted to collaborate with the man behind “It’s Not Unusual”, “She’s A Lady”, and the delightfully campy and raunchy “Sex Bomb.” That combo resulted in Jones’ first foray on MTV and a Top 40 hit in the US and a Top 10 in his native UK. Thompson, the folksy singer-songwriter extraordinaire best known for “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, delivers a boldly confident performance of “Kiss” in front of a live audience, which was later featured in his album 1000 Years of Popular Music.