Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Songs #470 & 471 - It's TWOsday!

It's Guest Blogger night! My old friend Ted Snavely becomes the first guest to take on a TWOsday with his reminiscence of our tie-wearing, record-selling days at something called a "Superstore" on Columbia Ave. (It's a Lowe's now.) Today he lives in Arlington, Virginia, where he continues his very important work in the Sound & Video industry as a colorist, whatever that is. (Just kidding Ted!)

Song #470 of 9999                                    Song #471 of 9999

Title: Mayor of Simpleton                         Title: Veronica
Artist: XTC                                                Artist: Elvis Costello
Year: 1989                                                  Year: 1989
Album: Oranges and Lemons                    Album: Spike


I worked with Frank in a record store (Wall-To-Wall Sound & Video) in 1989 (see Entry #432 for more). We were music snobs and we had to wear ties to sell our wares. We would direct customers to albums they were looking for and, if it was something we didn’t like, it would be with much disdain.

We had a very knowledgeable group of sellers whose only common denominator was (maybe) The Beatles and we would often fight over which CDs we got to open and play in the store. We were only allowed to open a limited number of CDs per month (as it ate into the profits), so we had to be very selective of our choices. Two highly anticipated albums that year that we all agreed on were Elvis Costello’s Spike and XTC’s Oranges & Lemons, which were both opened shortly after they got off the FedEx truck.

XTC was a quirky pop band that grew out of the post-punk new wave era in England in the late 70’s and evolved into a well-crafted songwriting unit. Their previous album was the highly acclaimed Skylarking, a conceptual album of sorts produced by Todd Rundgren, and we were all curious what they would follow it up with. They delivered Oranges & Lemons with cover art by Yellow Submarine artist Heinz Edelmann, which immediately screamed Beatles. The first single was “Mayor of Simpleton” which was a boppy, happy pop masterpiece with an endless supply of overdubs that
never ceases to bring a smile to my face. It remains their highest charting U.S. single.

In 1989 Elvis Costello had just ended his Columbia Records contract and signed with Warner Bros. We knew he wanted to make a big splash on his new label and he did so with Spike. Warner Bros. gave him the budget of a small independent movie and he was able to book four studios with four different groups of musicians to give the album a wide range of feel. During this time he was doing a lot of writing with Paul McCartney and two of the tracks they co-wrote appear on this album. The first single was one of these, “Veronica.” Even though it deals with an Alzheimer’s patient, it is a very upbeat poppy song that supplies happiness to my soul. It also remains to be his highest charting U.S. hit.

Both of these songs remind me of what a well-written, well-produced (but not overproduced) pop song should’ve sounded like in the late 80’s. They remind me that I was not qualified to sell CDs unless I was wearing a tie (still bitter about that). And they remind me of Frank. They live on in my iTunes and on my Pandora station titled “Good Pop.” If Frank has a Pandora station of the same name, I’ll bet you might find them there as well.

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