Would you repeat that?

In the five-plus years of publishing this blog, I’ve come up with many dozens of themed playlists of songs that cover a broad range of topics or similarities. Some of these have been rather frivolous and inconsequential, but nonetheless mildly interesting.

This week I’m offering one of those. I’ve pored over my research materials and have come up with 16 songs in which the title consists of a word repeated once…or twice. Does it mean anything? Nope — just a fun list of great songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s which share a linguistic quirk.

******************

“Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen, 1963

“It is the best of songs, it is the worst of songs,” summed up rock historian Dave Marsh in writing about this iconic R&B tune. Written and first recorded in 1957 by Richard Berry and The Pharaohs, “Louie Louie” is best known in its garage-band treatment by The Kingsmen in 1963. Incredibly, the FBI investigated whether the lyrics, sung unintelligibly, were obscene, but they were merely about a Jamaican sailor returning home to his girl.

“Sookie, Sookie,” Steppenwolf, 1968

The Urban Dictionary refers to “Sookie” as a derivation of the name Sue or Susan, and also a term of admiration for a sexually attractive woman. Not surprising then, I suppose, for the term to show up in a Sixties rock song lyric. It was written by Don Covay and Stax Records house guitarist Steve Cropper and recorded by Steppenwolf, who used it as the leadoff track on the group’s 1968 debut LP.

“Corrina, Corrina,” Bob Dylan, 1963

The history of this tune is a bit muddy, but it appears to have been written and first recorded by country blues artists Bo Carter in 1928. Since then, it has been covered and reconfigured by dozens of artists in numerous styles, including folk, jazz, blues, rock and even Cajun swing. Bob Dylan recorded his version for his second LP, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” in 1963. Joni Mitchell also covered it in 1988 as “A Bird That Whistles (Corrina Corrina).”

“Darkness, Darkness,” Jesse Colin Young, 1969

First written and recorded by Young when he was still with his Sixties band The Youngbloods, “Darkness, Darkness” emerged as an example of what was known as psychedelic folk. Young re-recorded it in both studio and live versions, but none of these ever made much of an impact commercially. It wasn’t until Robert Plant recorded his rendition on his 2002 album “Dreamland” that the song reached #27 on the US singles chart.

“Marie Marie,” The Blasters, 1981

The Stray Cats may have found the most success from the rockabilly revival of the early ’80s, but it was L.A.’s The Blasters with guitarist brothers Dave and Phil Alvin who offered the best albums and original material. Dave Alvin wrote most of the band’s songs, including “Marie Marie,” which kicks off the group’s second LP (“The Blasters”) in fine fashion. He went solo in 1986, but The Blasters with Phil Alvin continue playing roots rock today.

“Rebel Rebel,” David Bowie, 1974

One of Bowie’s most celebrated anthems from his mid-’70s period is this hard-rocking single from his 1974 LP “Diamond Dogs.” Described as his last glitter/glam rock track, it features Bowie on guitar playing a repetitive Stones-like riff, singing lyrics about a rebellious, nihilistic teen (a “hot tramp,” gender undetermined). It was a Top Five hit in the UK and Europe but stalled at #64 in the US.

“Baby, Baby,” Lazarus, 1973

Dominated by singer-songwriter Bill Hughes and his gorgeous songs, Lazarus was a little-known, mostly acoustic trio from Texas in the early ’70s discovered by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. They released just two albums, but they’re both solid efforts well worth hearing. Their second LP, “A Fool’s Paradise,” includes tracks with more instrumentation that rock out a little more, such as “Baby, Baby.”

“Jelly Jelly,” Allman Brothers Band, 1973

Every Allman Brothers album cooks along on a diet of ferocious uptempo blues with at least one sexy slow blues track to mix things up. There’s “Dreams,” and “Stormy Monday” and “Need Your Love So Bad,” and on their hugely successful 1973 LP “Brothers and Sisters,” that song is “Jelly Jelly,” eight minutes of guitar and piano solos with Gregg Allman’s marvelous voice singing forlornly about sex and mistreatment.

“Neighbor, Neighbor,” ZZ Top, 1971

Spearheaded by Billy Gibbons’ guitar and lead vocals, this Texas-based trio offered an excellent stew of blues, boogie and Southern rock right from their beginning in 1970. On “ZZ Top’s First Album” (1971), Gibbons’ blues tune “Neighbor, Neighbor” bemoans the nosy intrusions and badmouthing of the people next door. The group went on to have many high-charting albums and singles throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

“Tighter, Tighter,” Alive N Kickin’, 1970

In 1969, the Brooklyn sextet known as Alive N Kickin’ befriended Tommy James, who had ridden to glory in 1966 with his huge hit “Hanky Panky.” James had offered to give Alive N Kickin’ a new song called “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” but he liked it so much he kept it for himself and instead wrote and produced “Tighter, Tighter” for them. The track peaked at #7 in the summer of 1970 and was the only success for this “one-hit wonder.”

“Teacher Teacher,” Nick Lowe/Rockpile, 1980 #51

The British pop/rock band Rockpile featured Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, both talented singer/songwriter/guitarists with their own solo record deals, and some of what would have been Rockpile tracks were released as solo hits instead (“Girls Talk” by Edmunds and “Cruel to Be Kind” by Lowe). “Teacher Teacher,” an Edmunds tune, was a minor hit (#51) from Rockpile’s 1980 LP, “Seconds of Pleasure.”

“Monday, Monday,” The Mamas and The Papas, 1966

Papa John Phillips, who helped lead the way in adapting folk music to the rock scene, wrote and arranged most of the Mamas & Papas catalog. He claimed he came up with “Monday, Monday” in about 20 minutes one gray and rainy Monday morning, with lyrics that reinforce the near-universal feeling of dread we feel as another work week begins. It was the quartet’s only #1 single, although “California Dreamin'” was their true signature song.

“My, My, Hey, Hey,” Neil Young, 1979

Here’s a title with two words repeated. In 1979, Young was wondering about his own relevance in a music scene then dominated by punk and New Wave sounds. His album “Rust Never Sleeps” emphatically shows his transition from acoustic music to something more ragged and harsh, and the contrast in styles is most evident in the opening and closing tracks, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”

******************

To round out this playlist, I’ve include three songs that have titles with one word used three times:

“Run Run Run,” Jo Jo Gunne, 1972

Singer Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes had been key members of Spirit (“I Got a Line on You,” “Mr. Skin,” “Nature’s Way”) before they left to form Jo Jo Gunne in 1972. Their first album had a modest hit (#27) that year with Ferguson’s “Run Run Run,” but their two subsequent albums went nowhere. Ferguson had an even bigger hit once he went solo, reaching #9 on the charts in 1977 with “Thunder Island.”

“Hi, Hi, Hi,” Paul McCartney and Wings, 1972

In the first few years following the breakup of The Beatles, it was hard to predict what McCartney would do next. He flip-flopped from disposable little ditties to serious rock, from nursery rhymes to controversial topics. The latter showed up in the form of the politically charged “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and the sex-and-drugs romp “Hi Hi Hi” (which should have been titled “High High High”).

“Gone, Gone, Gone,” Bad Company, 1979

From their explosive debut in 1974 until their breakup in 1983, Bad Company was one of England’s most successful bands on US charts. The distinctive vocals of Paul Rodgers and sturdy guitar work from Mick Ralphs served them well on 12-15 singles and album tracks that became FM radio staples. From 1979’s “Desolation Angels” comes bassist Boz Burrell’s great rocker “Gone, Gone Gone,” about a girlfriend’s departure.

*********************

Honorable mention:

Jenny, Jenny,” Little Richard, 1957; “Release, Release,” Yes, 1978; “Mony Mony,” Tommy James and The Shondells, 1968; “Talk Talk,” Talk Talk, 1982; “Mary, Mary,” The Monkees, 1966; “Sugar Sugar,” The Archies, 1969; “Cherry Cherry,” Neil Diamond, 1966; “Star Star,” The Rolling Stones, 1973.

Turn! Turn! Turn!,” The Byrds, 1965; “Say Say Say,” Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, 1983; “Stop Stop Stop,” The Hollies, 1965; “Cold Cold Cold,” Little Feat, 1974; “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” The Ohio Express, 1968; “Baby, Baby, Baby,” Aretha Franklin, 1967; “Fun, Fun, Fun,” The Beach Boys, 1964.

*****************

We should be grateful for The Dead

Periodically, I use this space to pay homage to artists whom I believe are worthy of focused attention — artists with an extraordinary, influential, consistently excellent body of work and/or a compelling story to tell.  In this essay, I delve into the work of one of rock music’s most legendary bands that emerged from San Francisco in the ’60s and seemed to tour almost non-stop for nearly thirty years, playing for arguably the most fanatical base any rock band has ever known:  The Grateful Dead.

********************

Twenty-five years ago this week, the great Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack at the age of 53.  It brought to an end not only the life of a magnificent guitarist, songwriter and images-286spiritual figurehead but also his band.  So crucial was Garcia to The Grateful Dead’s sound and vibe that the remaining members concurred they really couldn’t go on without him.

“Captain Trips,” they called him, an obvious reference to his experiences with LSD and other psychedelics, and also his position at the helm of his group, steering them along on their long, strange trip from ragged blues outfit to one of rock music’s most traveled, storied bands.

images-279Funny thing, though:  While I admire their musical chops and what they were able to achieve in their three decades in the business, I would say I’ve been no more than a modest fan of The Dead over the years.  I own the two marvelous LPs from 1970, “Workingman’s Dead” images-280and “American Beauty”; the awesome triple album, “Europe ’72”; and their surprising commercial comeback in 1987, “In the Dark.”  But if I were to list my favorite rock artists, I don’t think The Dead would make the Top 30.

Part of the reason, I think, is that I feel like I’m not really part of the one-of-a-kind bond the band shared with its core audience.  I feel like an outsider, even though I’m sympathetic to the sweet devotion, sharing and general kindness that were the hallmarks of the relationship between the band and its fans, who are lovingly referred to as Deadheads.  I feel as if I missed that era.

images-285I’ve always found it fascinating that Garcia, considered one of the most expressive electric guitarists in rock history, began his musical journey as a banjo player in a jug band in the early ’60s.  He loved bluegrass, “old-time” music and country, but he also enjoyed blues and rock ‘n’ roll, so in 1965, he liked the idea of forming an electric band with his friends Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, guitarist Bob Weir, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and bassist Phil Lesh.

In the “anything goes” San Francisco community of the mid-to-late 1960s, The Dead thrived on, and fed off of, the free-thinking mindset of the music lovers who attended their shows.  The band had been involved in the notorious Acid Tests sponsored by counterculture author Ken Kesey and his “merry pranksters,” where everyone was eager

images-273

The Dead at a free concert in Haight-Ashbury

to experiment with mind-expanding psychedelic drugs, mostly LSD.  The Dead’s music provided an ideal background, and became a sort of soundtrack to the trips (good and bad) everyone was taking.

The band existed as a fun-spirited collective, always in partnership with the audience.  In the early days, they dedicated their time and talents, often for free, to their community, offering food, lodging, music, even health care to those who needed it.  It has been said that the band performed more free concerts than any band in the history of music.

Garcia was always saying trippy things like, “I think every human being should be a

images-284

Garcia with Bob Weir

conscious tool of the universe.  That’s why I think it’s important to get high.  I’m not talking about getting zonked out, I mean being fully conscious.  I think of The Dead as being a crossroads or a pointer sign, and what we’re pointing to is that there’s a lot of universe available, a whole lot of experience available over here.  We’re a signpost to new space, and that’s the function we should be filling in society.  In our own little society, that’s what we do, even though in the popular world, we’re just a rock and roll band.”

It’s fairly amazing, therefore, that a staid, mainstream recording company like Warner Brothers would sign a band like the Grateful Dead to its label.  And sure enough, the Unknown-492band’s first three albums — “Grateful Dead,” “Anthem of the Sun” and the puzzling palindrome “Aoxomoxoa” — were about as uncommercial as you could get.  When Warners asked for a single they could promote on the radio, they responded with “Dark Star,” a valiant attempt at a sing-songy tune that degenerated into loose instrumental noodling that simply didn’t go over outside the Bay Area.

But here’s the thing:  That “loose instrumental noodling” was exactly what the band did in their live performances, and the fans ate it up.  Indeed, “Dark Star” in its original format lasted just 2:42, but on “Live/Dead,” the song and the jam that ensued from it went on for 23 minutes.  (You can hear both versions on the Spotify playlist below.). As Lesh once said, “Recording albums in the studio felt artificial.  The end result felt like making ads for the band.  We always just wanted to play live, to images-275experience that collective improvisation together with the audience.  That was the fundamental thing for us.”

And that’s why The Dead released more live albums than studio albums over the course of their career.  And that’s why they began a tradition of recording just about every show they ever did.  And that’s why fans who attended dozens, even hundreds of Dead performances took to making their own bootleg recordings, eventually spurred on by the band, who cheerfully permitted the practice.

It’s astounding to me that there have been nearly three hundred live albums officially released through the band’s own label or on Rhino Records.  Any but the most ardent fans would find this excessive, even overwhelming, but Deadheads get off on picking out subtle differences in the way the band performed a given song, the way Garcia might shape his solos, the interchange between the drummers, the impact of the vocal images-281harmonies, the exceptional bass playing that seemed to connect it all.

A huge traveling entourage (musicians, road crew, managers and their families!) and a spirit of largesse took its toll on the band’s finances, but somehow they made it work.  “We really weren’t interested in making money,” said Weir.  “We just wanted to play every night.”  A large portion of the money they earned was spent on building an insanely large “wall of sound” system to give their audience the best possible experience of hearing live music.

The band’s lineup changed over the years through death and attrition.  Drummer Mickey Hart was added to give the band a two-drummer approach that served their improvisational format very well.  Robert Hunter and John Barlow, both perceptive lyricists who worked with Garcia and Weir respectively, were considered “non-performing members” who brought a friendly sensibility to the band’s repertoire.  McKernan died of alcoholism in 1973 and

images-274

The Dead with Bob Dylan, 1987

was replaced by Keith Godchaux, whose singing wife Donna became the band’s first and only female member.  They lasted until 1980 when Brent Mydland took over on keyboards, and by the late ’80s, they collaborated with the great Bob Dylan on a few tours.  The talented Bruce Hornsby was an unofficial member of the group for a couple of tours in the early ’90s.

While everyone in The Dead dabbled in drugs, Garcia was of the “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess” philosophy.  This took him toward the darker drugs like heroin, to which he became severely addicted in the ’80s and ’90s.  Eventually it affected his health

images-283

1987 LP

and his energy level, which affected his performances, and the Dead family started gently pushing him toward rehab, which he accepted but only half-heartedly.  He suffered a diabetic coma that frightened him into clean living for a while, but in the end, the drugs had their way with him.

The band may have officially called it quits once he was gone, but the members have reunited periodically for one-off concerts, and various configurations — The Other Ones, Phil Lesh & Friends, Rhythm Devils, even Dead & Company — toured at various times through the 2000s and into the 2010s.  As Lesh put it, “Some music was meant to be heard live, and we were dying to play it.  So we did.”  And of course, the recording of live shows has continued to the present day.

Currently showing on Netflix is “Long Strange Trip,” a remarkable six-part documentary on the Grateful Dead that I highly recommend to anyone even remotely interested in knowing more about this band, its members, its history, its culture, its name.

And what about its name?  How did they come up with that?  It’s an amusing story, well known among fans, but not among the music-loving public at large.

images-282

The Dead as The Warlocks

In 1966, Garcia and company were known as The Warlocks, but when they learned of another band also called The Warlocks (who, by the way, later changed to The Velvet Underground), they knew they needed a new name.  “We were over at Phil’s house one day, and he had this big Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary,” Garcia recalled.  “I opened it at random, and my eyes first fell on ‘Grateful Dead’, those two words juxtaposed.  It was one of those moments, you know, like everything else went blank, and there was GRATEFUL DEAD in big, black letters, such a stunning combination.  So I said, ‘How about Grateful Dead?’ And that was it.”

Not everyone embraced it at first, but once they learned its meaning, they were on board.  The phrase refers to folk tales in which “a dead person, or his angel, shows gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged for their proper burial.”  They found this act of kindness in keeping with their overacting spirit of community.

images-276Stumbling on that phrase in a book was just the sort of cosmic randomness that fascinated Garcia, and it came to dominate how the band would exist throughout its lifetime.  “Every night that we went out on stage, you never knew what might happen,” said Lesh.  “We rarely had a prepared set list.  We just played what felt right at that moment.  God, I just loved that about us.”

An article in a music magazine once stated, “The real medium of rock and roll is records.  Concerts are only repeats of records.”  Lesh noted, “The Dead represent the opposite of that idea.  Our records are definitely not it.  The concerts are it, but we’re not in such images-277total control of our scene that we can say, ‘Tonight’s the night, it’s going to be magic tonight.’  We can only say we’re going to try it again tonight.  Each night was like jumping off a cliff together.”

Dennis McNally, the band’s biographer and publicist, summed up The Dead’s magic this way:  “They are the most American of all bands because each musician that started that band came from a completely different space musically.  You had a bluegrass banjo player on lead guitar, a blues harmonica player on keyboards, a folky rhythm guitarist, an R&B drummer, an avant-garde classical composer picking up the bass, a marching band drummer, and a genius lyricist  — you mix all these streams, dissolve the egos with acid, and stir vigorously.  That’s Grateful Dead music.”

I, for one, am delighted to have their vast recorded repertoire available for my listening pleasure.  You might call me grateful for The Dead.

 

********************

Because of the huge number of live recordings in The Dead’s vault, I found it too much to absorb to determine which tracks belong on a setlist.  Since I am most familiar with the older “Live/Dead” (1969) and “Europe ’72,” the live cuts culled for this Spotify list are from those albums.  Otherwise, you’ll hear my favorite selections from their studio LPs.