“Bitter-Sweet / Triptych / Casanova” – Roxy Music

The first three songs from side 2 of Roxy Music’s incredible 1974 album “Country Life,” my favorite album from that legendary band.  And with a graphic that is finally safe for work!  Anyone familiar with the “Country Life” album will know why this is significant.  In some ways, “Country Life” is the perfect “desert island disc,” not only for the great music, but … well … the cover.  If you’re alone on a deserted island with no companionship and limited media, this album has what I will call “multiple purposes.”  If you have no idea what I mean, you can do a search on Google Images.  After that, you’re on your own.

“Let it Be” – The Beatles … from the film “Let it Be” (1970) dir. Michael Lindsay-Hogg

From the infamous 1970 Beatles documentary film “Let it Be” is the band performing the title song, done in a much rawer and intimate version than the version we all know and love, pre-Phil Spector “sweetening.” I realize this will sound like a cliche and that the Beatles are the last group of musicians on this planet who deserve belated praise, but this footage of all four Beatles performing this together towards the end of their career … with a very young Billy Preston on keyboards … really takes my breath away. I realize the Beatles, as brilliant as they are, may seem like the most overrated band in history, but it’s moments like this that really make me swallow hard and reassess. They weren’t always brilliant, but they had way more hits than misses. And the sheer quantity of great music made over an 8-year period … a very short period of time … is astonishing. And one more thing … all of these guys were 30 years of age or younger when they finally hung it up.

“Gimme Jackie” from SCTV (1983)

From the 1983-1984 Cinemax-era in SCTV’s history comes their brilliant parody of the infamous Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter” … reimagined as a vehicle for Martin Short’s brilliantly obnoxious albino lounge singer Jackie Rogers Jr. called (what else?) “Gimme Jackie.” Only instead of the Hells Angels wreaking murderous havoc on the crowd, Jackie hires the Shriners … who prove to be an all-too-formidable and frightening security force. Watch closely and you’ll see many striking similarities between Short’s Rogers character and Mike Myers’ Austin Powers character that appeared over 10 years later.

This is a great example of why SCTV was … and still is … one of the most brilliant concepts in the history of world comedy. This was humor for very culturally savvy folks and you either got it immediately or you needed to do your homework. Brilliantly funny stuff.

As a bonus, the first minute and a half features Dave Thomas’s spot-on Mel Gibson impression … when Gibson was still more of a cult actor in Canada and the United States.

“Younger Than That Now” by Jeff Durstewitz and Ruth Williams

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“Younger Than That Now” is a dual memoir by two friends (one from Long Island, the other from Mississippi) who met as teenagers during the late-1960s and carried on a remarkable friendship over 30-plus years, mainly through the lost art of letter writing. I won’t go into detail about how these two very different people became friends, or what they experienced during the period detailed in this book, because the less you know about what happens, the better your experience will be reading “Younger.” (Some well-known people have prominent supporting roles.) What I will say is that the book is a very moving chronicle of how two thoughtful people lived and grew during one of the most tumultuous periods of American history.

I remember hearing about “Younger” when it came out in 2000, but didn’t get around to reading it until recently. I’m glad that I waited, because I’m now only a few years younger than the authors when they wrote this book. I haven’t experienced the same level of ups and downs Durstewitz and Williams have in their lives, but I’ve lived long enough to appreciate the complicated journey from adolescence to middle-age portrayed here. Despite how certain many of us were when we were younger about how things are supposed to work, real life has a funny way of setting us straight. Most people I know who are my age or older have lived lives that have not traveled in straight lines. We’ve experienced ups, downs, curveballs, and detours along the way. If there’s one thing that was more valued by the 1960s generation than by Generation X, Y an everything afterwards, it’s the virtue of having what I call “scar tissue,” meaning the wisdom gained from falling on your face, making mistakes, or receiving what life throws at you despite your best planning. If you’re middle-aged, you know exactly what I’m talking about, though it’s sometimes hard to see in the way that many people in my generation portray themselves in social media … going from “win” to “win” every day. I’m glad that Durstewitz and Williams were as painfully honest about their lives as they were, because it helped me appreciate the complicated path that’s been my life. My life hasn’t always been “fun,” but it hasn’t been boring. And the things that I value in my life mean a lot to me more because of the bumps in the road I encountered, not in spite of it.

“Bye Bye Love” from “All That Jazz” (1979) dir. Bob Fosse

Like “Pink Floyd The Wall,” “All That Jazz” is one of those simultaneously brilliant and infuriatingly narcissistic autobiographies that many artists create to expose themselves to the world, warts and all.  Except … is this really the darkest pit of their ugly soul these artists are exposing?  Or is it a ruse to keep people off the scent of their true self … a self so horrible that they feel the need to throw out some “bad” stuff in order to win praise for “bravery”? Who knows?

The sequence linked here is the last 18+ minutes of the film … an extended sequence with a “Broadway” version of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” that is simultaneously nauseating and dazzling.  Nauseating because it’s a “Broadway” version of the Everly Brothers … dazzling because it’s one of the most brilliant artistic talents of the last century at his best.   This is a sequence you’ll either love or hate.  I want to hate this in the worst way, but … I totally love it.  It’s tacky, tasteless, and over-the-top, but I think it was meant to be all of these things.  Love it or hate it, you have to admire the balls-to-the-wall energy and chutzpah on display here.  And the part near the end where the Fosse surrogate, Joe Gideon (brilliantly played by Roy Scheider), hugs his tearful daughter on his way to death’s door always makes me cry.  It’s the one extremely real moment in an otherwise fanciful sequence and it hits like a motherf–ker!

“I Got Nothin'” – Iggy Pop and James Williamson

“I Got Nothin’” was originally composed and performed during the end of the Stooges’ (early 1970s version) tenure in 1974 (it appears on their infamous live album “Metallic K.O.”)  It was re-recorded by Iggy Pop and James Williamson in 1975 for a series of demos that was later released in 1977 as the “Kill City” album.  The songs were originally supposed to function as a demo to get Iggy a new recording deal after the demise of the Stooges and a recent stay in a metal hospital.  In fact, these demos were recorded during weekend passes from Iggy’s mental hospital. A record deal based on these songs didn’t happen at the time, but after Iggy found some success with his official late 1970s comeback with David Bowie, Bomp Records offered some money to remix and overdub the original tracks, releasing the final product as “Kill City.”

This is my favorite song off the album and it’s one of Iggy’s best.  Despite it’s very raw sound, it sounds like it wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street.”  A very nice mix of hard rock, punk, and blues and a very underrated song in Iggy’s oeuvre.  Used to great effect during a disturbing scene in Penelope Spheeris’s 1985 serial killer melodrama “The Boys Next Door.”

“I Got a Name” – Jim Croce … from “Django Unchained” (2012)

One of the best scenes from Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” contains no action and no dialogue.  It’s just a simple montage of Jamie Foxx’s and Christoph Waltz’s characters riding horses set to Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name.”  A big part of my love for this scene is due to the Croce song, one of my favorites from listening to AM-radio in the 1970s. 

“Jump Into the Fire” – Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson’s hard rock showstopper from 1971’s “Nilsson Schmillson” album.  “Fire’s” most famous appearance was as the main musical piece during the extended paranoid climax of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster-film classic “Goodfellas.”  Apparently Scorsese’s first choice for this scene was the Rolling Stones’ 1983 rocker “She Was Hot,” but since Scorsese has a strict policy of only using music that was recorded during the period he’s depicting or earlier (the scene in question took place in 1980), he went with Nilsson’s song instead.  I have to say this is a much better choice as it is a lot more ominous sounding.  And seriously, could you imagine that final climactic scene with any other music than “Fire”?  A great song for being paranoid.  And as they say, paranoia is just reality on a finer scale.

“Shoot out the Lights” – X

X covers Richard Thompson’s classic 1982 song about a lone assassin.  From the mid-1990s Richard Thompson-tribute album “Beat the Retreat.”  Some blistering electric guitar on this one, as well as some nice harmonizing by John Doe and Exene Cervenka.  Seriously, if you’re a fan of X and/or Thompson, you really need to check this out.