May 17 – Turntable Talk 14 : The Original Parodying Al

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 14th instalment…if you’re wondering about past topics, I indexed the first dozen here. For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is Feels Like The First Time. No, no, we’re not going X-rated here, we’re talking about a different kind of first – the first album our guests ever bought.

Today we welcome back John , from The Sound of One Hand Typing. There he typically takes an interesting look at a a song a day, from a range of decades and styles. His first record was:

My Uncle Ed was upgrading his stereo equipment in the early '60's and talked his younger brother (Dad) into buying his old one. Soon we had albums by June Christy, The Dukes of Dixieland, Si Zentner, Jack Jones, Andy Williams, Andre Previn (who played some pretty great jazz piano), and others. 

Mom's Aunt Cash was the person who got my music collection started when she bought me Allan Sherman's album My Son, The Celebrity. I think I had heard it somewhere and said I really liked it, so the next time she made the drive from the South Side, she brought me my very own copy.

If you aren't familiar with Allan, he was a master of the song parody, a sort of late 1950's-early 1960's Weird Al Yankovic. He took familiar songs and wrote lyrics for them that had his fans in stitches. For example, the opening track on “Celebrity” was a parody of the French folk song "Alouette" called "Al 'n Yetta"....

I received a music education by listening to Allan Sherman. Many of the melodies were familiar, or would become familiar in later years. The second track on the album was a trio of songs by George M. Cohan that received the parodist's touch. I was seven. I had no idea who George M. Cohan was, so I asked Dad. "Look it up at school tomorrow, Johnny," he said, so I did. I learned how to read the names of songs' original authors off of the record label, and saw that to of them had been written by Gilbert and Sullivan. I didn't bother asking Dad who they were, I went to the World Book at school and learned about them and the operas they wrote. A character in the song "The Mexican Hat Dance" did "sambas on Homburgs to tunes of Sig Romberg and sometimes the Nutcracker Suite." I could tell that a samba was probably a dance, a Homburg was probably a hat, and Sig Romberg was probably a composer. Looked all of them up, too.

"Harvey And Sheila" was a parody of the Jewish folk song "Hava Nagila," which I was vaguely familiar with because many of my neighbors were Jewish, but there were all kinds of things to learn, namely, what all the acronyms meant...

Cash was so happy that I enjoyed that album that she bought me Sherman's next album, Allan In Wonderland, that had many more song parodies on it, all sung before a live audience, kind of like a laugh track. By far, my favorite on that album was "The Dropouts' March."

So, what happened? The British Invasion. Soon, my Allan Sherman records were gathering dust while Introducing... The Beatles played on heavy rotation at home. He was all but forgotten when he died in 1973. When I heard of his passing, I found My Son, The Celebrity and Allan In Wonderland and put them on heavy rotation. And I laughed like I was seven again.

May 13 – Turntable Talk 14 – Muppets To McCartney & More

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 14th instalment…if you’re wondering about past topics, I indexed the first dozen here. For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is Feels Like The First Time. No, no, we’re not going X-rated here, we’re talking about a different kind of first – the first album our guests ever bought.

Today we have Keith , the Nostalgic Italian. Keith is a great at making the ordinary events in family life seem interesting and often funny, and with a background as a radio DJ on both rock and country stations, you know he’s had quite a few records in his own collection through the years:

It’s time for another round of Turntable Talk. This is the 14th edition hosted by Dave over at A Sound Day. As always he has presented our little group of music lovers with a great topic.

In his instructions he asks:

Do you remember what the first album you bought was? LP? CD? Reel to reel, LOL? Why that one? Do you still have it? Would you want to ? Let your nostalgia run wild! Tell us about that first record you made your own.

Let me start by saying that many of the albums my dad had, eventually wound up as “mine.” When I think back to the albums I remember there are some that I will never forget. To be clear, my dad bought these, but I wound up listening to them. He had many from Roy Orbison, Elvis, Lenny Dee, Herb Alpert, and so many others. The ones that eventually wound up in my room were a bit odd.

First, there was Dumb Ditties. An album of novelty songs put out by K-Tel. What 6 year old kid didn’t like silly songs?

Then there were two albums that had TV themes on them. There were not the original artists, and this was long before TV Toons put out their collections. They were actually pretty cheesy versions that a kid like me knew weren’t quite right, but close enough. They had goofy cartoon drawings of the main characters from the shows on the cover and were done by the Pop Singers and Orchestra. Was that even a real group?!

The last album that my dad bought that wound up in my record collection was the 1977 album of The Muppet Show. It had the theme song, Mah-Nah-Mah-Nah, and plenty of clips of the two old guys heckling the acts. Now as far as the first album I actually bought, my memory is hazy. I know it had to be one of two and I know I would have bought them within a week of each other.

I had a paper route. I remember that you collected whatever your customers owed you for the week, and you paid for your papers. Whatever extra tip money you made was yours. I don’t recall making a lot of money, but it was enough to go up to the toy store to buy Star Wars stuff or to Harmony House to buy an album.

My dad had a couple of the Beatles albums. He had the blue and red greatest hits albums with them looking over the railing.

I loved the Beatles growing up – early Beatles. It took me a while to appreciate the later Beatles stuff. I recall walking into the Harmony House and grabbing either Beatles ’65 OR Beatles VI. I wish I could remember which one was THE first. I know, however, that these two albums were bought almost immediately after I began delivering papers.

Whichever one I bought first, I suppose doesn’t matter. These two albums contain some of my favorite songs by the Fab Four and they were played over and over again.

“This happened once before, when I came to your door. No reply….” A cold open starts Beatles 65. Boom! There’s John. What follows on the album was a variety of musical nuggets that my young ear just loved!beatles 65 keith

The harmonies sounded even better with headphones. “I’m a Loser”, “Baby’s In Black”, “I’ll Be Back”, and “Mr. Moonlight” each had me trying to sing all the different notes. There were great cover songs like “Honey Don’t”, “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”, and “Rock and Roll Music”. Then there was “I’ll Follow the Sun”. Beautifully simple.

Beatles 65 was an album I played from start to finish many times.

As for Beatles VI, there were “skip” songs on this one for me. Skip songs were “You Like Me Too Much”, “Words of Love”, “Tell Me What You See”, and “Every Little Thing”. Why those didn’t do much for me, I can’t say.

I, of course, loved those great cover songs – “Dizzy Miss Lizzie”, “Bad Boy”, and “Kansas City”. I knew all of these songs by their original artists, but came to dig those Beatles versions more.

As a kid, I often found myself drumming my desk in school to the opening of “Look What You’re Doing”. The teachers told me to leave the drumming to Ringo!

The one song that is the stand out for me on the album was “Eight Days a Week”. What a great song. It is one that even non Beatles fans know, love, and sing along to. I could be mistaken on this, but I swear there was no fade in on the album. I remember the first time I played this at a radio station and the fade in happened – it freaked me out. Either way, it is one of their best songs.

My love for the Fab Four started very early in life thanks to the musical influence of my mom and dad (and maybe that Beatles cartoon). That love for them continues to this day. It only makes sense to me that the first album I would buy would be from them! These albums remain as fresh today as they were when they were released – years before I ever got my hands on them.

Thanks again to Dave for inviting me to take part in this feature.  As always, I look forward to reading the other contributions and to next month’s topic.

May 13 – It Was Time For The Excitable Boy To Get Excited

Halloween came early in 1978Warren Zevon‘s classic, “Werewolves of London” peaked at a surprisingly low #21 on Billboard this day 40 years ago. Or given its importance in his career, perhaps for Warren, it was Christmas come early!

Zevon was well-connected and very well-respected in California as a singer/songwriter and pianist and had all the right friends – he hung out with Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac (he at one time roomed with Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham!) James Taylor and Jackson Browne. He was signed to the Asylum label Browne had been the original performer on. But none of it mattered much to the record-buying public, his first album on that label in 1976 (seven years after another unremarkable release on a different label) barely scraped into the top 200 at a time when some of his friends were beginning to dominate American radio. That all changed though with that instantly recognizable piano intro and the catchy song about stylish werewolves who love Chinese food. It became his only American top 40 hit (and a top 20 in Canada) months after Linda Ronstadt had a top 40 hit with “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, a song Warren wrote. And it helped his album Excitable Boy make the top 10 and earn him his only platinum record.

He wrote the song with session guitarist Waddy Wachtel (who plays guitar on the record… Mick Fleetwood is the drummer, John McVie bassist and it was produced by Jackson Browne.) years earlier at the offhand suggestion of their friends the Everly Brothers. It got finished off in the form we know with help of veteran songwriter Leroy Martinell, who said the royalties off it let him buy a place in Italy and spend half the year on the Riviera. Royalties got bumped up even more when Kid Rock sampled the piano for his 2008 hit “All Summer Long.”

Audiences loved the song so much that Zevon spoofed it in an episode of Larry Sanders Show, relating to Sanders’ sidekick how much he hated playing that song and being pleased to showcase some other work… which of course led Sanders to tell him to play “Werewolves”. Critics as usual loved it; Rolling Stone didn’t specifically write about the song in their review of his album but called Excitable Boy the “Best American album since Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run” and added that the decade had introduced “three major” American acts to that point- Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and Zevon.

Although it was only a reasonably big hit at the time, its stature has grown through the years so much that Zevon, who passed away in 2003, is still a household name and the song quite possibly may be among the top 20 most played songs from the ’70s on “oldies” radio. But he still doesn’t seem to get a lot of respect in the business; this year he was on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame list of nominees, but despite strong support in public voting, he didn’t make the cut while acts like DJ Kool Herc and Willie Nelson (undoubtedly a beloved superstar, but “rock & roll”?) did.

By the way, if you were wondering- Lon Chaney was one of Hollywood’s earliest stars, being in B&W classics like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and his son, Lon Chaney Jr., followed in his footsteps, starring in various horror movies including one in which he played “the wolfman”.

May 6 – His Fans Might See Him As A Giant

He may not be a giant in the business, but he’s had quite a career. Happy birthday, John Flansburgh! The They Might Be Giants main man (the one with glasses in the picture) turns 63 today.

Flansburgh and the other half of that band, John Linnell, grew up together in Massachusetts, and wrote some songs together as teens, but didn’t get together in a band until they both moved to New York City after school in 1982. Fittingly quirky for a band that’s been defined as that more than anything else, their first show was a Sandanista rally in New York in ’82, when they played as El Grupo De Rock and Roll. They changed their name to They Might Be Giants, taking their name from a George C. Scott movie, and eventually signed a small record deal in 1986, when they put out their debut. Flansburgh typically plays guitar and bass, while Linnell does keyboards and at times horns and accordions, with them sharing the vocals. More recently they’ve added a three man backing section. By the end of the decade, they’d grown bigger and scored a deal with Elektra Records, resulting in their third album, Flood, which went platinum in the U.S. with reviews noting they were a “quirky cult band” (Chicago Tribune) and “”quirky artiness…unabashed geekiness” (allmusic.) The album gave us their two songs nearest hit singles, “Birdhouse in your Soul”, a British top 10 hit and a major hit on North American alt rock charts, and the yes, quirky, “Istanbul not Constantinople”. As always, fun, odd lyrics were the telltale signs, making comparisons to Canada’s Barenaked Ladies back then seem apt. A comparison that is heightened for two more reasons – kids and TV.

Like the BNL, They May Be Giants may have been heard more on TV than radio through the years through doing the theme song to a popular sitcom. For the Giants, that was Malcolm in the Middle, and the song “Boss of Me”, which was a top 30 hit in the UK and won them a Grammy at home. And just like the fellows to the north, after awhile They Might Be Giants began a “side project” doing kids records. Their first such album, NO!, in 2002, went to #1 on U.S. Childrens’ charts. Yeah, we didn’t know they had a chart for kids records either! Since then they’ve done three more to the delight of preschoolers everywhere, and did music for the TV show Blue’s Clues.

Flansburgh said it happened rather randomly. “We had no ambitions to get into the world of children’s music. We were offered a side deal (to do such an album)” and he liked “breaking free of that gravitational pull of rock critics and radio programmers.” Besides he was tiring of “the write/record/tour cycle” that had been their life for a decade and a half.

The band is still active – they in fact have quite an American tour lined up this summer, which has apparently sold out in all venues –   and has recorded 23 studio albums to date. Where does he find the energy? “I believe it can be found at the bottom of a very large cup of coffee,” he told NBC.

Flansburgh will presumably be celebrating his day with his wife Robin Goldwasser, a writer who sometimes sings as well, occasionally performing with her husband’s band.

March 17 – St. Patty’s Favorite Band Sing About Noah’s Fave Animal

Seeing as how it’s St. Patrick’s Day, why not have a listen to a “spot of the Irish”? And although we’ve looked plenty of times at acts like U2, the Cranberries and Sinead O’Connor here, none of them go so far as to reference their homeland in their name. Enter the Irish Rovers. Who, oddly enough were from Canada. Anyway, on this day in 1968 they were sitting at #3 on that country’s most influential singles chart of the day, the CHUM chart, with a song that would become their trademark and an American hit as well – “The Unicorn.”

The Irish Rovers formed in Toronto but had its roots firmly in Eire. It was initially almost entirely comprised of guys who’d been born there but moved to Canada while young (although the original lineup did include one Scottish ex-pat for variety.) Chief among them ere the Millars, brothers George and Will and a cousin, Joe. Their mom suggested the name, taken from an Irish legend about a ship called the Irish Rover. It fit them well since the lads played essentially traditional sounding but lively Irish folk music, using mostly acoustic instruments like guitars, mandolins, fiddles and of course, accordions.

Their reputation as a fun live act grew in Canada through the ’60s and they landed a deal with Decca Records. Their lucky charm, as it were, which led them to a pot o’ gold was finding this song written by Shel Silverstein. Silverstein was a multi-talented Chicago man who was a frustrated baseball hopeful. He said, as a teen in the ’40s “I’d much rather have been a good baseball player…but, I couldn’t play ball. Luckily the girls didn’t want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and write.” And that he could do well. He soon became a popular creator of comics (notably for Playboy) and writer of poems and children’s stories. One of which was “The Unicorn”. He also dabbled in music, and wrote other songs that became hits including “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash and today’s other feature bit , by Dr. Hook.

The Unicorn” was a semi-humorous, semi-sad poem about the Bible story of Noah’s ark. As Shel figured, God told Noah “go build me a floatin’ zoo” and to be sure to get two of every animal before the rains set in. But alas, the unicorns, “loveliest of all” the animals were too foolish to get on the ship, preferring to play and splash in the growing puddles. Eventually Noah had to sail off without them – hence today “you won’t see no unicorn.”

Although ostensibly less-Irish than most of their material (typical of their other songs on the album was one called “Pat of Mullingar”) it was their ticket to stardom. The fun-sounding ditty with the sing-along chorus appealed to kids and adults and sounded folkie enough to make inroads with the Greenwhich Village crowds. Soon they were appearing on American TV shows like the Smothers Brothers and the song took off and was certified gold there. By 1971, they had their own Canadian variety TV show (which was shown in quite a few foreign markets including Ireland) which attracted guests of the caliber of Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

The Unicorn” went to #7 in the U.S., #4 nationwide in Canada and #5 in Ireland, their only hit there. Eventually it would sell an incredible eight million copies. Since then they’ve only had one more notable hit, “Wasn’t that a Party” in 1980, but they’ve kept on roving and singing, putting out an album as recently as last year and remain a fairly popular live act. More remarkably, George Millar is still one of them and a son of a different Millar, Ian is in them. All of which has the Irish Emigration Museum have an exhibit featuring them as one of “Ireland’s greatest exports.”

January 7 – Checking If That Store Needs Some Fixin’ With The Milkmen

This was the day the modern rock charts got a little levity in 1989; the Dead Milkmen entered it for the first time with “Punk Rock Girl” a song that eventually would go to #11 on Billboard‘s alternative chart and be a mainstay on American college radio and Toronto’s CFNY at the end of the decade.

Formed in Philadelphia in 1979, the Milkmen (who took their name from a character in a Toni Morrison novel) were always something of the class clowns of the alt rock community, writing songs with names like “Bitchin’ Camaro” and “Jellyfish Heaven”. They’d gained some success a year or two earlier with “Instant Club Hit” which spoofed trendy club-going kids with lines like “80 pounds of makeup on your art school skin/ 80 points of IQ located within!” . For “Punk Rock Girl”, they said they wanted to write a “punk rock nursery rhyme”; they succeeded and managed to put in a reference to another quirky underground artist, Mojo Nixon (‘if you ain’t got Mojo Nixon, then your store needs some fixin’!”)

With album titles like Not Richard But Dick and Big Lizard in My Backyard! one might gather that they always liked to have a bit of fun with it all. The band called it quits in ’95 due to laggins sales and tendinitis in bassist Dave Schulthise’s hand. However, they reunited for a new album in 2011 and have sporadically played together since.

December 4 – An Enigma Wrapped In A Moustache

“One of a kind” is an over-used phrase, but in this case it applied. One of the most unique and colorful characters in modern music left us this day in 1993. Frank Zappa died of cancer at age 52.

Zappa was a unique artist and uniquely difficult to characterize. No wonder, as Song Talk point out, besides his satiric and humorous radio near-hits like “Dancing Fool”, he “also wrote chamber music, orhchestral suites, ballets, jazz compositions, concertos, symphonies and more.” Thus his music has been variously described as “rock”, “jazz”, “comedy”, “psychedelia” and more. As the L.A. Times put it upon his passing, his music was a “frothy stew of ’50s doo-wop, R&B, serious experimental jazz and avant garde classical strains, often heaped high with perverse, often scatalogical lyrics.”

The difficulty pigeon-holing his material is perhaps not surprising since he released some 62 albums during his lifetime, and left behind enough material for several dozen albums to be released posthumously! He said of the craft “music can be anything and everything that a composer can imagine”, and when he got an idea he could translate it to music “any way. I can think of them in my head, I can do it on a keyboard, I can do it on a guitar,I can do it on a marimba.”

A talented guitarist and writer, he’s cited as a major influence by artists as varied as Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Weird Al Yankovic. Surprisingly, he only had one Top 10 album in the UK and none in his own U.S., but is well remembered for quirky songs like “Montana”, “Bobby Brown” ( a major hit in Scandinavia if nowhere else) and “Valley Girl”, the closest thing he had to a hit single domestically. That one, as we remember, harpooned the youth sub-culture that revered shopping and – ohmygawd! – exuded brainlessness featured his own daughter, Moon Unit singing with him.

He’s also remembered for his outspokenness. He testified against Tipper Gore to the U.S. Senate, calling her plan to label records akin to “treating dandruff by decapitation” and was made an ambassador to the west by Czech president Vaclav Hamel, a fan. And who can forget that moustache? There’s even an African spider named for him due to its abdomenol markings which look like Zappa’s lip-warmer! Love him or hate him, Frank was a one of a kind who didn’t care much either way. “I write because I am personally amused by what I do,” he said. “If other people are amused by it, it’s fine. If they’re not, that’s also fine.” Which when you think of it, is probably a fine attitude for any of us.

November 29 – The Ode To The Golden Age Of The Silver Screen

Yesterday we talked about J.Geils Band who hit the charts this week in 1981; if you were wondering, at the time “Physical” by Olivia Newton John had the #1 spot in the U.S. but the Canadian chart-topper was something more unusual – the cinematic “Friends of Mr. Cairo” by Jon and Vangelis.

The duo were Jon Anderson, singer of Yes (although on leave from that band at the time) and composer, keyboardist Vangelis – Evangelos Papathanassiou – best known for his Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire soundtrack that same year. They’d met when Vangelis tried out, unsuccessfully, for Yes some seven years earlier.

The single was the title track to their second album together. The quirky song, edited down from a 12-minute piece on the album, pays homage to the film noirs of the ’30s and ’40s – “Mr. Cairo” was a character in The Maltese Falcon, appropriately enough. It features not only Anderson’s trademark high-pitched voice narrating but a number of his impersonations of old-time movie stars and the sound of an old movie projector running to complete the effect. Apparently, it came about coincidentally. Anderson said in a 2012 interview they “started every song spontaneously. when Vangelis played it, it sounded like an old-style movie” and so he started doing Douglas Fairbanks impressions for a laugh. They found it worked so he kept going with it! The song apparently inspired Michael Jackson to add the Vincent Price bits to “Thriller” a couple of years later and captivated Canuck ears. The single hit #1 there, and the album went platinum, but was only really a big hit elsewhere in Switzerland. In Britain, the title track was ignored but the song “I’ll Find My Way Home” – which allmusic single out as “breathtaking”- was a top 10 hit. Two years later, Anderson would find some American success with his return to Yes and their 90125 album.

October 16 – The Duck Was Big But Lacked Wings

Some people think that pop music jumped the shark with the disco craze in the ’70s. Whether or not that’s correct, disco itself probably jumped the shark on this day in 1976. That was the day that the woefully-unforgettable “Disco Duck” hit #1 on Billboard.

Although disco’s biggest (and perhaps finest) record – Saturday Night Fever – hadn’t yet arrived, disco was all over the radio by the Bicentennial year and soon everyone and his dog – or duck – would be jumping on the bandwagon. The chart hit by Rick Dees & his Cast of Idiots was a prime example. For those too young to remember, it was a rather monotonous disco tune amped up by a chatty Donald Duck-sound-alike. Disney has always been quick to point out that it wasn’t the “real” Donald Duck, but rather Dees friend (or former one… he apparently sued Rick over unpaid royalties not far down the road) Ken Pruitt. Among the cast of “idiots” surprisingly, was Stax Records co-founder Estelle Axton on guitar.

Dees was at the time a 26 year old Floridian working as a well-loved rock DJ in Memphis. He saw the musical trend and in an age when Pet Rocks were a big thing, saw the opportunity to cash in a little. Which he did. The record hit #1 in his country as well as Canada, where it was the third-biggest single of the year. It was one of the unusual records where Billboard and the then-rival publication, Cashbox varied greatly. While the two typically showed up rather similar chart positions and sales ranks, “Disco Duck” barely made the year end top 100 on Billboard but was #4 on Cashbox.

Either way, Dees rode the duck’s tail to fame and fortune, even though it cost him his job. He was forbidden to play his own record on air at the Memphis station, because of potential conflict-of-interest, and while he followed that, he apparently griped too frequently to his listeners that he had a smash hit but was not permitted to spin it.

Management angered and showed him the door; in a few weeks a rival rock station in town hired him and from there he soon moved to what was rumored to be the most profitable radio station in the country, KIIS-FM in L.A. By the mid-’80s he’d started his own syndicated chart hit show to take on Casy Kasem, “Rick Dees Weekly Top 40″, apparently something of a Kasem show with “funny bits,” parodies and in all likelihood, talking ducks. Dees had a gig on TV hosting Solid Gold and is honored in the National Radio Hall of Fame.

A few more notes on his single. It came out on the RSO label, the Bee Gees one that dominated 1977-78. Not surprisingly then, a snippet of the song is heard in the movie Saturday Night Fever, even though it didn’t make the double album soundtrack. Although it did win the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Song, not unhappily (to this listener at least), when the duck flew south it probably took with it listeners craving for spoof, novelty songs. Although the ’70s had its share, and several had hit #1 including “My Dingaling” by Chuck Berry in 1972, Ray Stevens “The Streak” and Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” in ’74 and C.W. McCall’s truckin’ “Convoy” earlier in ’76, “Disco Duck” was the last one of note to top Billboard and his follow-up… “Dis-go-rilla” failed to even make the top 40.

June 26 – Sensible Time For A Little ‘Happy Talk,’ Wot?

In times like these, seems like we could all use a little bit of “Happy Talk.” Today we deliver! Captain Sensible put out his very sensible first solo single, “Happy Talk” on this day in 1982.

So we have a punk rocker with a beret prancing around with a decidedly giddy big Broadway musical number. Nothing unusual here…

Sensible is Ray Burns, the bassist for The Damned, a band some would claim was the first real Brit punk band. Remarkably, only six years prior, they played their first gig in ’76, opening for the Sex Pistols and had arguably the first Brit punk hit record with “New Rose.”

By ’82 though he seemed to be bored with the punk scene and decided to step out on his own with a solo album, Women & Captains First. As allmusic put it, his aim was “to show he could do more than just straight-forward punk rock and there’s no arguing – he succeeded.” With song titles like “Yanks with Guns” and “A Nice Cup Of Tea”, there was little doubting that Sensible had a bit of a wacky side too!

The album didn’t sell in any huge quantities, but garnered decent reviews. Sensible wrote ten of the twelve songs, with only this one – from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical South Pacific – and a 1924 tune called “Nobody’s Sweetheart” being the exceptions. He says he found a copy of South Pacific when looking through his parents’ record collection and recorded it when “exceedingly drunk.” It wasn’t his pick as a single, but again we see how little artists know about their own records appeal! The song went to #1 in the UK, and was the biggest single he ever had, with or without The Damned. Although the single didn’t get noticed much here, the follow-up, the equally quirky “Wot!” got decent video play in Canada and helped the album hit the top 50 year-end charts on Toronto’s CFNY-FM.

Ever the cryptic type who’s hard to get a read on, Sensible formed a political party in Britain in 2006 because watching Tony Blair on TV made him want to “put a brick through” the screen. Not surprisingly, the party was a mix of whimsy (banning idolization of Paris Hilton or the Spice Girls) and serious (they put forward a real and intelligent document on things such as Middle Eastern policy and the Iran war.) He also turned vegetarian in the ’80s and followed up “Wot!” with a single called “Wot! No Meat?”.

Looking at the news today, it’s hard to know what to think of Ray Burns. But it’s not a bad day for some “Happy Talk”. And looking at our political arena, a vote for the Captain might just be “sensible”!