Saturday, 21 January 2006

Some British Invasion Songs

Last week I watched The Knack...and How to Get It. I plan to write a review of it sometime, not to mention discuss the passing of Tony Franciosa, but tonight finds me with a sore throat and I really don't much feel like writing anything. Anyway, The Knack...and How to Get It has left me in the mood for Swinging London and the music associated with it. I thought I would then give you some links to some of the songs of the era.

"You've Got Your Troubles (I've Got Mine)" by Chad and Jeremy

Discovered by producer John Barry (yes, the John Barry who wrote the James Bond theme), Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde failed to make an impact in their native Britain, only to have a series of hits in the United States. Indeed, they became popular enough to warrant a guest appearance on The Dick Van Dyke Show playing themselves! Their cover of "You've Got Your Troubles (I've Got Mine)," originally a country music tune which was performed by such folks as Buck Owens and Brenda Lee, would become one of their more popular songs. While I can't say I like country music, I like Chad and Jeremy's rendition of the song. The song is interesting in that it deals with an individual who refuses to lend a sympathetic ear because, well, he has lost his lady love too...

"Lady Godiva" by Peter and Gordon

While many of the British invasion groups emerged from working class backgrounds, Peter and Gordon were one that did not. In fact, Peter Asher could only be described as "upper crust." His father was Dr. Richard Asher, the psychiatrist who discovered Munchausen's syndrome. His mother was Margaret Augusta Eliot, who taught classical music at the Guildhall School of Drama and Music. His younger sister is actress Jane Asher (once the fiancee of Paul McCartney). Gordon Waller was born to wealth as well. In fact, the two met at Westminster Boys School. The two would have their first hit with "A World Without Love," a tune by Paul McCartney. The song hit on both sides of the Atlantic and soon they became top sellers in the early days of the British Invasion. "Lady Godiva" was one of final hits and did the best on the charts besides "A World Without Love." I have always loved the song for its sense of humour--a rather wry twist on the Godiva legend. BTW, for those who are not familiar with the British movie ratings system, "Certificate X" refers to the rating given to those movies (mostly horror films in the early days, by the Sixties it was mostly given to movies with, well, sexual content) to which only adults were permitted.

"All Day and All of the Night" by The Kinks

I suppose I don't have to explain who The Kinks are. Although today they are counted among the biggest British Invasion groups, they did not have much success in America after 1965 until the release of "Lola" in 1970. The primary culprit in this was the American Federation of Musicians, who effectively banned The Kinks from performing in the United States after an unfortunate incident on the TV show Hullabaloo. This is sad, given their early success on this side of the pond. Both "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" went to number 7 on the American Billboard charts. "Tired Of Waiting For You (a song I think most people have identified with at one time or another...)" did even better, going to number 6. I rather suspect that if The Kinks had not been banned from performing here, such classics as "Dedicated Follower of Fashion (which only went to number 36)" and "Victoria (which only went to number 62)" may have been huge hits. Anyhow,"All Day and All of the Night" has always been my favourite Kinks song.

"This Boy" by The Beatles

More so than The Kinks, I don't think I have to explain who The Beatles are. "This Boy" has always been one of my favourite Beatles songs. It's a simple, heart broken song of a fellow who has lost his girl and wants her back.

I wish I could provide you with a link to an audio file for "Something to Say" by The Action. Sadly, none exist, perhaps because The Action were one of the best bands to emerge from the United Kingdom in the mid-Sixties that never really saw success. Formed in 1963 as The Boys, the band was renamed The Action in 1965. They were signed to a recording contract by none other than George Martin himself. Sadly, they never had any real hits in either the United States or the United Kingdom. "Something to Say" is from an album called Brain that was unreleased in 1967 and remained so until 1996. The song, which centres on the subject of a man who has, well, something to say to his lady love, sounds very advanced compared to other songs of that era. Currently, Brain is available as Rolled Gold from Reaction. It is certainly worth checking out.

As a side note, while I am in the mood for the music of Swinging London, "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes is going through my head right now. Right era, wrong place, I suppose. LOL. Anyhow, I am off to bed to try to recover. Let's hope hot totties really do help a sore throat...

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

The Golden Globe Awards 2006

I have got to say this up front. I have never taken the Golden Globes too seriously. For one thing, the awards aren't given by the industry itself, as the Oscars are. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association are simply a small band of journalists (only about 80 to 90 in all) who report entertainment news. I then fail to see what makes the Golden Globes more special than other awards given by, for lack of a better term, industry outsiders, such as the New York Critics Circle or the American Film Institute. For another thing, the Golden Globes seem nearly as well known for their scandals as they do their awards. The best known of these occurred in 1982 when Pia Zadora, hardly know for her acting talent, beat out Kathleen Turner and Elizabeth McGovern for the "Most Promising New Star" award. It turns out that her husband, billionaire Meshulam Riklis, had wined and dined members of the Foreign Press at one of his posh hotels. In the end the scandal cost the Golden Globes its contract with CBS and it was off the broadcast networks for 14 years. A similar scandal broke out when Scent of a Woman was given the Best Drama Award in 1992 after Universal has given the Foreign Press members a weekend in Paris. Is it any wonder that people sometimes joke about buying a Golden Globe?

That having been said, over the years the Golden Globes have become the second biggest awards ceremony of the year, second only to the Oscars. It is then difficult to ignore them or disregard them. For better or worse, they are regarded as being able to shape opinion and even have an impact on the Oscars themselves, and the Emmy awards as well.

So what about this year's Globes? Well, I only have one thing to say up front--Peter Jackson was robbed. I know Brokeback Mountain maight be a good film. Gods know, I am a fan of Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon count among my favourite films). But I cannot see Brokeback Mountain, or any other film released this year, being better than King Kong. Not only did Peter Jackson lose the best director award to Lee, but King Kong was only nominated in one other category--best score. It should have been nominated for Best Drama, Best Screenplay, and Naomi Watts should have been nominated for the award for Best Actress in a Drama. Nominated, Hell, it should have won all of them....

Of course, it seems to me that in several instances this year the acor, actress, TV show or movie that should have won a Golden Globe did not. Not only should Terry O'Quinn have ben nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for Lost, he should have won. Since that didn't happen, Jeremy Piven should have received it for his role as the smarmy agent on Entourage. Instead, Paul Newman took it for his role in Empire Falls.

At least I can see an argument for Newman winning the Best Supporting Actor Award. I have a bit of trouble understanding how Geena Davis could beat out Polly Walker for the award for Best Actress in a Television Series--Drama. From what I have seen, Davis is hardly convincing as the President on Commander in Chief; in fact, to me she seems hopelessly miscast. On the other hand, Polly Walker was pefect as niece of Casear and mother of Octavius, Atia. She should have won. Finally, I was very disappointed that Desperate Housewives beat out Entourage for Best Television Series-Comedy. HBO's Entourage is easily the best comedy to air in years, literally a breath of fresh air from the standard fare of the broadcast networks.

I don't want people thinking I am displeased with all of the awards given at the Golden Globes last night. Given the fact that King Kong wasn't even nominated, I am not unhappy that Brokeback Mountain won the Best Motion Picture--Drama award, although I could see arguments made that it should have gone to Good Night and Good Luck. I am very happy that Walk the Line took the award for Best Motion Picture--Comedy (although my Anglophilia inclines me to think Mrs. Henderson Presents and Pride and Prejudice could have worthy as well). I am also happy that Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon won the actor awards for that same movie. I do wish Matthew Fox could have won the award for Best Actor in a Television Series--Drama for Lost, but I have been a fan of Hugh Laurie for years (he was fantastic in Jeeves and Wooster) and it was good to see him win for House.

I suppose one could argue that none of this matters. Over the years the Golden Globes have been so beset by scandal that I am not sure winning one is that great an honour. The fact remains, however, that the Globes do seem to have an impact on both the Oscars and the Emmies. With that being the case, it does seem to matter as to who wins. And, as is often the case with awards, I sometimes agree with the choices and I sometimes disagree with them.

Monday, 16 January 2006

Returnable Soda Bottles

Growing I remember one feature that practically every grocery store shared in common. Every one of them had a bin (usually more than one) for soda bottles returned for their deposit. In those days the bottles were made of glass and they were recycled. When one was finished with a carton of soda, he or she would simply return the bottles to the grocery store, who would then send them off to the bottlers to be reused. When I was really young I think one received a nickel per bottle for the deposit. I think later this may have risen to a dime. Of course, glass soda bottles seem to be a thing of the past. They have long since been replaced by non-returnable plastic bottles and aluminium cans.

Before they gradually fell out of use, glass soda bottles had a long history. In the early days soda generally had to be served by the fountain for lack of any satisfactory way of storing it in bottles. This changed as the 19th century passed on. In 1857 Henry Putman invented a wire clamp retainer for bottles stoppered with corks. This was followed by various improvements until 1879 when Chicago bottler Charles G. Hutchinson developed a spring-type internal bottle that became the most common means of sealing soda bottles. It was Hutchinson's invention that gave soda one of its names--when a Hutchinson bottle was opened, it made an audible "pop."

It was late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century that two advancements occurred which would revolutionise the bottling industry. The first was machine shop operator William Painter's invention of the crown-cork bottle seal in 1891. It very swiftly replaced the Hutchinson method of sealing bottles and became the industry standard for the remainder of the history of the glass soda bottle. The second advancement was Michael J. Owens' invention of the automatic glass bottle blowing machine. This allowed companies to mass produce glass bottles on a scale unmatched before. It was probably inevitable that soda would be bottled.

Indeed, even as Asa Candler was developing Coca-Cola, soda was being sold in bottles, even though it often went bad . Coca-Cola itself was put into bottles as early as 1888. This early bottling of the Real Thing stopped when Asa Candler felt the results were less than satisfactory. By 1899, however, with the invention of the crown cork bottle seal, soda could easily be bottled without any undesirable results. Perhaps because of this, it was in that year that two Chattanooga lawyers, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead, approached Asa Candler about bottling Coca-Cola. Sceptical at first, Candler gave them the bottling rights.

From the earliest days in which bottling soda became practical, the bottles were returnable. Besides being environmentally sound, this setup made plain business sense. By reusing bottles, the soda bottlers kept costs down in that they had to manufacture fewer new bottles. It must also be pointed out that this was not unique to the soda industry. Milk and even beer was sold in returnable bottles which could be returned for a deposit.

Inevitably, various brands of soda would develop their own unique designs in bottles. By far the most famous of these designs is the hobbleskirt or contour Coca-Cola bottle. The design was developed by machinist Earl Dean of Indiana, who thought he was designing the bottle after a cola leaf. Turned to the wrong page of the encyclopedia, he actually used a cacao leaf to develop the bottle's design! Other soda companies would develop their own unique bottle designs. Both Double Cola and Pepsi used a swirl design on their bottles. Many of the root beer makers made bottles that looked like, well, beer bottles...

From the beginning there were problems with the returnable bottle. Quite simply, people weren't always inclined to return the empties. As late as 1933 Coca-Cola felt the need to distribute coupons for a free six pack to grocers to be given to every customer who returned empties. Apparently many did not like the inconvenience of having return bottles. Despite this, it would be some time before non-returnable bottles and cans would replace the returnable bottle.

It was in 1935 that Owens-Illnois introduced the non-returnable bottle. It was embraced immediately by beer manufacturers, although soda makers were a bit more hesitant. It was not until 1964 that Pepsi Cola announced it was developing a non-returnable bottle. Other soda makers would eventually follow suit. With environmental awareness growing in the Sixties, the nonreturnable bottles were not a hit with everyone. In 1970 protestors dumped a number of nonreturnable bottles in front of Coke's headquarters in Atlanta. The early Seventies would also see the first bottle deposit legislation introduced in many states.

Despite the environmental concerns, it would seem the nonreturnable bottle was here to stay. The earliest bottles were made of glass, but in 1970 soda would be sold in plastic bottles for the first time. By 1978 even Coca-Cola would be available in plastic. Nineteen seventy-three would see the development of the Polyethylene Terephthalate or "PET" bottle. This would become the industry standard still used today. As time wore on, both returnable and nonreturnable glass bottles would be replaced by the nonreturnable plastic bottles.

Of course, the returnable glass bottle did not just meet with competiton from nonreturnable bottles. There was also the can. Cans were considered for use with soda as early as 1930, although the very nature of soda presented problems. For one thing, the cans had to be strong enough to handle the pressures created by carbonated drinks. For another, the acidic nature of many soft drinks could result in dissolving steel or tin into the drink. This would give any soda sold in cans a very short shelf life. Regardless, by 1938 Cliquot Club ginger ale was sold in cans. Problems with leakage and the flavour put an end to sales. Coca-Cola tested selling Coke in cans in 1940, although it would be 1955 before they would regularly start selling the drink in cans and then only overseas. On the other hand, Pepsi-Cola started selling sodas in cans as early as 1948. Of the major cola manufacturers, however, it was Royal Crown who embraced the can wholeheartedly. With their success, Coke and Pepsi followed suit. By 1961 canned soft drinks were even/ being sold in vending machines. The success of the can would be cemented in 1963 when Reynolds Metals introduced the aluminium can. More simply and cheaply made, it became the industry standard.

Despite the advent of the nonreturnable bottle and canned soda, returnables did not disappear overnight. Instead, it seems to me that they gradually fell out of use. Gradually shoppers decided they preferred the convenience of nonreturnable bottles and cans to the returnable bottles which they would have had to pack back to the grocery store. Grocers also found that they preferred not having to deal with the returnable bottles. Without them there would be no need of large bins that took up space. As the Eighties progressed, the nonreturnable bottles gradually disappeared from store shelves until they simply were no more.

Personally, I miss the old returnable soda bottles. First, it seems to me that they were more environmentally sound than disposable plastic bottles. Many municipalities and states do not have bottle deposit laws and, as a result, plastic bottles usually find their way into landfills rather than recycling centres. Aluminium cans are a bit more environmentally sound, in that there are scrap metal dealers and recycling centres that pay for them. Quite simply, without the sort of encouragement that the depost on returnable bottles offered, I think many people will simply toss their old soda containers in the trash.

Second, I have always thought that soda tasted better in glass. Perhaps this simply my imagination, but to me Coke, Dr. Pepper, and even 7-Up tastes differently when in it is in plastic or aluminium. Glass would then be a preferable container for soft drinks as far as I am concerned. Finally, I must admit that from an aesthetic point of view, the glass bottles were more appealing. True, Coca-Cola has developed a plastic version of its classic contour bottle, but it just doesn't seem to look as good to me as the old glass bottles.

At any rate, I don't think nonreturnable glass bottles are going to return any time soon. For better or worse, they are a thing of the past. Like many things they have given way to the so-called convenience of plastic and aluminium. I seriously doubt people any time soon are going to decide that they once more want to lug a carton of glass bottles to the grocery store in order to receive the deposit upon them.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

The 88

When it comes to music, Los Angeles is known for many things. There are the post-punk bands, the hair bands, salsa artists, its own brand of rap music (which sounds the same as New York rap to me--like noise...), and a number of other artists in various musical genres. One thing it has not been known for is power pop. It should come as a surprise, then, that one of the best new power pop bands come from, well, LA. The 88 is a breath of fresh from many of the bands to emerge from the left hand coast.

Indeed, they sound more like they came from London or Manchester circa 1965 than they do Los Angeles circa 2005. They look the part as well, dressed in retro suits and thin ties (their look sort of remind me of Ray Brooks'character in The Knack..and How to Get It or, for that matter, the look of The Crazy 88s from Kill Bill, which might explain their name...). The 88 make songs that are bouncy, breezy, and rich with melodies. They effortlessly blend sounds from such diverse British Invasion bands as The Kinks, The Who, The Hollies, and, of course, The Beatles, with a touch of American power pop bands Big Star and Cheap Trick thrown in for good measure. After the angst and anger of so many post punk groups, alternative bands, and the Goth movement, The 88 are truly a breath of fresh air.

The 88 made their debut in 2003 with Kind of Light. With their new album, Over and Over, I am guessing that they are poised for superstardom. While their songs are bouncy and breezy in the way the Britpop bands were circa 1965, they definitely have a good variety in subject matter. "All 'Cause of You" is their token love song, sounding like The Kinks with someone other than Ray Davies singing lead. "Hide Another Mistake" sounds like a paen to theft, growing older, or both. "Nobody Cares," an acidic commentary on life, has a sound like The Who circa 1966. "Battle Scar" centres on a woman who has constantly wronged by men. All through the album there are sounds reminiscent of the era in which Beatlemania was born. This isn't to say that The 88 draw all their inspration from Swinging London era British bands. There is a touch of The Beach Boys, Ziggy Stardust, and Radiohead to their sound as well.

With bands like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, and Interpol around, it seemed to me that power pop is undergoing a renaissance. With The 88, I have to say I am certain of it. Perhaps finally these kids today will stop listening to hip hop (Los Angeles, New York, it all sounds the same to me...) and start listening to music again. They could do a lot worse than listening to The 88.