Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cruise Control

Sometimes, one needs to separate the wheat from the chaff. Weed the garden, you might say. Thin the herd, as it were. Sadly, this must even be done with fellow smooth groovers. Because, let's face it, there are lots and lots of poseurs out there when it comes to Johnny-come-lately yacht rockers. You know the type. They found a skipper hat at Target, bought the biggest Wayfarers they could find, picked up a sky blue turtleneck at the hipster vintage shop, stole their dad's Loggins & Messina 8-track and all the sudden they're Captain Stubing. Trust me, brothers, I wish I had a dime for each of these nimrods who show up dockside thinking sailing is going to take them away to where they always heard it could be only to find themselves puking before we pass the jetty.

So I developed a sure-fire test to determine whether or not an individual is a genuine smooth rock connoisseur. It comes in the form of a single question: "You dig Pablo Cruise?" If they reply "Why yes, I have all his records," I make them walk the plank. As you, fellow traveler, are undoubtedly aware, Pablo Cruise is not a he. Like Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd before them, Pablo Cruise is one of those bands that sounds like a dude's name, but actually is not a dude. They know that naming a band after yourself is for dickweeds.

I realize the quality of this video is not the best. But the power of performance triumphs here. As does the power of poofy hair. And I do believe those are some Mork suspenders I see there. Ok, so maybe it's a mystical combination of all those things. I'm not a musician, so I can't claim to know the secret sauce that makes PC's licks so delicious.

What I do know is I can hear a few of you candy-asses out there firing up your hate mail machines right now. "But Tuuuug, that ain't smooooth muuuusic." I hear your voice in my head like a whiny 7-year-old boy whose daddy refused to buy him a My Little Pony at Woolworth's. I suppose you don't think Boz Scaggs is smooth then, because "What'cha Gonna Do?" has a nearly identical beat and tempo to "Lowdown." Get your kid to beat match it. He'll deem it hip and ironic, play the mashup at the next party he goes to, get laid because of it and then laugh at you for doubting Exhibit A's lack of resemblance to Exhibit B. Then what'cha gonna do? Come whining back to Tug is what. "I'm sooooo sorry, Tug." But by then it will be too late. I will have sailed away, you will be sans pony, and your kid will be laughing at you behind your back. So trust me on this one. I mean, they've got "cruise" right there in the name and a logo straight out of a 1977 Ocean Pacific catalog.

Understand this before you send your "this ain't smooth" screed: Smooth can be funky. Funk can be smoothie. The two are not mutually exclusive. The age old "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter" vs. "you got your peanut butter in my chocolate" argument has long since been decided, brother. They are two great tastes that taste great together. Or is it great taste and less filling?

Pablo Cruise will be performing with the Beach Boys at the L.A. County Fair on September 5th.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Midnight Special Special

I know it's difficult for those of you born in the current epoch to wrap your heads around the concept that, once upon a time, there was no interwebs and there were only 5 channels on the toob. Sadly, this is indeed the case. Back in TeeVee's Mesozoic era, there was a little program that came on Friday after Johnny Carsonsaurus called The Midnight Special. This is notable because A) it was on Friday nights, which meant you could spark up a doobie because you didn't have to be at work in the morning and B) each week featured 90 minutes of bands playing their music live, which is notable because 1) in the days before MTVsapiens appeared on the veldt, it was next to impossible to see a band unless they came to your town and 2) most of the shows on at the time that did feature music (I'm looking at you, Solid Gold) had the bands lip-synching to backing tracks. So, The Midnight Special was special.

Thankfully, Youtube has become a veritable repository of some of these now historic performances so that I and my fellow Homo Oldfarticus tribe members can scratch our butts and complain about how television sets aren't square anymore. With your indulgence, I'd like to show off a bit of what I turned up during a cursory trawl through the Midnight Special archives section of the Youtube digital time capsule museum.

Hear that sound, fellow travelers? That is the sound of disco clawing its way out of the primordial ooze. Despite notions to the contrary, old Tug here is not allergic to disco. It is a distant, sparklier cousin to smooth music. And on the dance floor, I do partake.

Mother of all that is holy, this is the real deal. Three words for you, brothers: purple velvet overalls. This is celluloid evidence that the great predator MTV did indeed kill music. Steely Dan would have never seen the Top 40 if the Top 40 ever saw them. Behold and let your third eye be squeegeed clean.

I'm pretty sure whatever Steve was on during his appearance on The Midnight Special is now locked away deep in that warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant is stored.

I'm sorry, did you say something? I was distracted by a goddess.

Just in case you might be left with the impression that The Midnight Special featured nothing but middle of the road, boring music, I leave you with this. It may not be smooth, but it is mellow. And an awfully brave thing to devote valuable airtime to back then or now. And just think, he followed Rick James. There may be more choices now than ever when it comes to television, but I can't think of anything as original now as Midnight Special was back then.

My Mane Man

No two ways about it-- Paul Davis is a nice guy. A new age man. Sensitive. Caring. No drama. If you're of the fairer sex, Paul Davis is the kind of man you want. All he wants to do is keep you warm on a cool night. And with all that hair, you'll never catch a chill. It's like having a spare duvet that needs occasional brushing. He just wants to hold you by the fire light. And you know what? If it don't feel right, you can go. With most guys, this would be a passive-agressive threat, but with Paul Davis, it's just a no-pressure offer of potential bliss.

Paul Davis puts the "gentle" in gentleman. It's there in his eyes. It's in his voice. And nothing says "you can trust me, baby" like those luscious locks. His hair is your insurance policy. He knows you might cut it off while he sleeps if he does you wrong. So he won't.

Now, in this next video, Donny Osmond's disco hillbilly cousin says Paul Davis looks like an Allman Brother. He's close only in the sense that Paul Davis is All Man. Personally, I think he looks more like a blonde Rowlf. What's not up for argument is what happens when Paul Davis looks in your eyes.

That's right. When Paul Davis looks in your eyes, he goes crazy. Not the "when I look into your eyes, I want to pull your spleen out through your nostrils" kind of crazy, but the "when I look into your eyes, I don't even feel the piranhas eating my toes off because I'm just so crazy in love that all I can think about is wrapping you up in my hair and keeping you warm by the fire...that is unless it doesn't feel right...if it don't, you can go" kind of crazy.

Unfortunately, Paul Davis had his smooth music license revoked in 1983 when he tried to stay relevant with the misguided "'65 Love Affair." It was a truly wretched piece of music which likely came into being after a spurned lover cut his hair off while he was sleeping. It's the only explanation that makes any sense, though it is purely speculation on my part. But there for a while, Paul Davis was my mane man.

Starbuck Is My Co-pilot

Long before anyone thought of this, this, or this when they heard "Starbuck," any sentient being with an ear for smooth music and thought of this:

Starbuck. The name is evocative of mystery and manliness being crushed together at the atomic level, the way Superman crushed coal into a diamond with his bare hands. I mean, it’s got “star” and “buck” right there. What more could you ask for? It’s such a cool word that it was only a matter of time before some hack sci-fi series with walking toasters, the old dude from Bonanza and a robot bear called “Muffit the Daggit” eventually stole it. Then Satan himself swiped the name for his coffee cartel. But once upon a time, the word was as pure as Bruce Blackman’s signature chapeau blanc.

The name was a genius move when you consider the band’s original name was “Mississippi.” Would you ever pick up a record by a band named “Mississippi?” I wouldn’t pick it up if it was 49 cents in Montgomery Ward’s cutout bin. But Starbuck? Deal me in, croupier.

On Starbuck’s signature tune, “Moonlight Feels Right,” Bruce Blackman & co serve up more smooth than mere mortals can handle. I’d count the song among the smoothest in the smooth rock oeuvre. The band should have a place on Smooth Rock Mt. Rushmore, but there’s a space constraint issue because there are, like, 27 people in the band. 23 of them play keyboards. And this, fellow traveler, is the secret to Starbuck’s success.

“Moonlight” could not exist as a guitar jam. Try to hear it in your head as a thought-sound experiment. Go ahead. I’ll wait. See? It doesn’t work. The reason this song is so smooth is because it floats on a sweet current of mellow keyboard tones that tickle the smooth receptors in your medulla oblongata. (This statement has not been scientifically verified, but it’s a pretty good theory.)

The coup de grace of “Moonlight” is delivered via Bo Wagner’s majestic marimba solo. You may scoff, but this was a particularly gutsy move. Guitar solos, keyboard solos, bass solos and even drum solos had been done to death by this point in rock history. The marimba solo here is obviously a nod the harpsichord solo from “In My Life” by The Beatles. On the surface, both instruments are foreign words in the rock music language. But it's impossible to imagine either song without its respective odd-man-out instrument. It is rock and roll alchemy that few bands outside The Beatles and Starbuck have figured out.

I’d like take a moment here to point out Bo Wagner’s questionable wardrobe choice in the above video. I realize it was 1976, the bicentennial for the U.S. of A. We were all in a celebratory mood. But I think the open-fronted, navel-exposing, rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit is trying just a little too hard. You’re already playing the marimba, cowboy. The chicks are going to be all over you. No need to dress like Elvis at Canival. I mean, check out Bruce, with his jaunty hat, his sunset orange shirt, and his moon medallion-- a clever yet subtle nod to the title of his hit record. He’s got it right and he knows it. You can tell by the way he laughs near the end of the first two verses.

If I had one complaint with this nearly perfect song, it would be that it’s obviously set in a convertible automobile, not a boat. Bruce is taking his lady down to Chesapeake Bay to plant some wet kisses on her under the moonlight, and it feels right. But wouldn’t it feel righter on a sailboat? I bet you a silver dollar he’s eyeing those boats with envy and he wrote this song knowing it would make him enough bread to buy the biggest boat on the bay.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Little Bertie Told Me

I got into an argument with a fellow smooth rock connoisseur where I claimed Bertie Higgins was "the intellectual's Jimmy Buffett." We'd had enough Coronitas between us to float a Spanish caravel, so perhaps my claim was a bit overstated. First, we both loathe Jimmy Buffett and his panty waste fans. They're worse than Dead Heads by a nautical mile. It's not that there isn't a likable mellowness to his music, but his lyrics make me seasick.

After reformulating my thoughts, I concluded that Bertie Higgins was the gentleman's Jimmy Buffett. His songs are mellow as an evening on Quaaludes and smooth as Coppertone on a 10th grade cheerleader's tummy.

Key Largo was Higgins' hugest hit, and watching the video, it's easy to see why. To paraphrase the lyrics, it has it all: clothes so white you could lose three grams of coke on them, a hot chick, and most importantly, a boat. Then there's Bertie himself. He is that late '70s/early '80s paragon of the ideal man. He can handle the boat, he can handle the hot chick, he definitely knows where to score coke, and he has that sensational, dark and mysterious mane and beard combo. Here's looking at you, Bertie.

Bertie's followup record from 1983, Pirates and Poets, didn't enjoy quite the success that "Key Largo" did. Styles were changing. Manly men like Bertie who referenced Ernest Hemingway and Errol Flynn were shunned in favor of girly men in spandex and make-up who probably never even read "For Whom The Bell Tolls."

Bertie never succumbed to the ridiculous like Jimmy Buffett, choosing the high road and staying sublime. His star may have faded, but at least it was never tarnished by shark fin hats and books Hemingway would have punched out and peed on. Bertie stayed classy and even posts his videos and responds to comments on his own Youtube channel. I like that.