Ten Fingerprints On My Imagination

31 10 2016

EC, and some bald guy…

I’m always eager to offer opinions on my likes or dislikes in any conversation about music. If you are familiar with me at all, you know that I willing and ready to offer opinions on everything!

My range of musical preferences is wide. I’m a rock guy, especially the 80’s… but I like a lot of different genres from classical to some jazz to oldies to… whatever! But I do draw the line at country music… ugh.

But if asked about my favorite artist, the sun rises and sets on Elvis Costello.

I first heard his music in 1979 when my friend’s sister played the “This Year’s Model” cassette in her car, and I’ve been hooked ever since. No artist speaks to me with a clearer voice. I’ve purchased every record, and have searched and downloaded dozens of rare and live performances over the years. I have seen him live about thirty times, and met him in person at a book signing last year. THAT was a great night…

I love his music and songs, but not every one of them. I don’t think it possible to like everything someone produces over such a long career. I always say that while Elvis has taken his fans on a very varied musical journey for close to forty years, he’s really not concerned much whether we are enjoying the ride. But without exception, every record has some gem that keeps me coming back.


October 17, 2016 – Nashville

Elvis has been on my mind more than usual. I was on a business trip to Nashville recently, and was surprised to find out he was playing at the Ryman Auditorium that very night. All other planned activities ceased, and I was witness to a fabulous night of music. Completely unexpected, completely enjoyable.

Inspired by that night – and just for fun – I thought I would list my Top Ten Elvis Costello songs. I’ve attempted a similar list on this blog, so I will state the same caveat: The criteria is completely subjective. This is MY list. I’d love to hear your comments, and I hope you like my choices. If you don’t, go make your own… So there!

A quick message to fellow EC fanatics… I’m sure you will have additions and subtractions, and hopefully an appreciation of the difficulty producing a top ten list from the roughly one thousand songs that I have on my iPod.

My Top Ten Elvis Costello Songs (So Far):

10. Mystery Dance from My Aim Is True – I’ve attended several shows where this was the opening song. It starts with drums in concert, and guitar on the record. Would any other artist write and perform a song about sexual inexperience with such raw, frenetic energy

9. She from Notting Hill Soundtrack – Yeah, it not written by Elvis so quit yer bitchin’! Costello sometimes tries to round out his sharp edges by slowing things down and speaking with a softer tone. He doesn’t succeed very often, but he does with this beautiful love song. Strong lyrics that he makes his own, sung with so much heart.

8. Man Out Of Time from Imperial Bedroom – I remember Rolling Stone called this record a “masterpiece”. And at that point of his career it was exactly that, but just a small peek into how he would expand his musical reach. This is the best song of the fantastic bunch.

7. Shot With His Own Gun from Trust – In 1980 I traveled to Toronto for the New Wave Festival “Heatwave”. After a long day of great music, I got my first ever live glimpse of Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I’ll never forget the lone spot on Steve Nieve, then the second light on Elvis, and his announcement “Good evening, we are the Clash.” (who had cancelled the week before). After that, the opening bars of this song… I was hooked.


6. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror from Spike – This song is when I figured out that Elvis Costello was more than a singer-songwriter… he was a poet. “One day you’re going to have to face a deep dark truthful mirror. And it’s going to tell you things that I still love you too much to say.” I’m not sure how I missed it for so long… I think the awareness may have coincided with maturity. But that realization of caused me to go back and rediscover so much of the lyrical magic of his catalog.

5. Brilliant Mistake from King Of America – It could be argued that this record was Elvis’ second masterpiece… a great of example of his eagerness to change, to try new things with new musicians. This song always reminded me of his road traveled, and all of us. Beautiful music, heartfelt singing, and pure poetry.

4. Big Tears from This Year’s Model (Bonus), Taking Liberties – I loved this song immediately. The production and mix was so clean, separating the drums and guitar. I loved it even more when I heard that Mick Jones from the Clash played lead guitar. I would have loved to have heard those conversations…

3. I Stand Accused from Get Happy!!Get Happy!! was Elvis’ fourth album in his first three years and contained twenty high energy pop classics… TWENTY!! This became my favorite Costello record, and that ranking still remains. The story goes that the recording sessions were madcap, alcohol-fueled affairs, and this song clearly captures that raw energy and unabashed fun.

2. How To Be Dumb from Mighty Like A Rose – Supposedly this song is Costello’s final response to the very unflattering book written by Attraction’s bass player Bruce Thomas. Have you ever walked away from an argument thinking you could have done better.. should have accused him of “masquerading as a pale powdered genius”! Elvis was early typecast as the angry, young man… to me, this was only the only song where he deserved that description. Is there such a thing as hateful genius?

1. Peace, Love and Understanding (What’s So Funny’Bout) from Armed Forces – So many reasons why this epic song lands at the top of my list. Yes, it’s a cover of a brilliant lyric by Nick Lowe, but Elvis Costello and the Attractions made it their own and set the stage for their tenure as one of the best touring band in the business. The song is a timeless message of optimism that still works today. The casual fan knows that Elvis closes almost every show with this gem, and I’m sure he wants to leave us with that optimism.

PLU is not just my favorite Elvis Costello song, but my favorite song by any artist. I play it a couple of times a week, especially when I need a little pick-me-up. At a show I raise my arms and jump out of my seat when the opening notes begin, and I dance, sing and pump my fists. Then, toward the end, I get sad because I know it’s the last song of the night. And I’ve shed a tear or two, for the realization that I don’t know when I will get to experience an Elvis show again.

I had the same feeling recently in Nashville, but as always that optimism returned quickly. I hope to spend another night with the King very soon.

>> Check out another one of my Top Ten Lists 


Cool Yule Sounds

24 12 2013

Christmas Song Pics

Have I mentioned that I love, love, love Christmas music?

I also love lists, and I’ve been counting down my personal favorite holiday tunes for my loyal social media peeps for a few weeks.  Here’s my entire list with some elaboration. Some new, some old. Some world standards, some local Philly talent.

And all fun. All mine. Hope you enjoy…

20. “Merry Christmas from the Family” ~ Dixie Chicks – Country music, controversial band, and Rosie O’Donnell. Yeah… Even I’m shaking my head at this one!! But I like it. It’s funny, and it says more about America than any other holiday song. Love it.

19. “Christmas Wrapping” ~ The Waitresses – Some would say one-hit-wonder, but the Waitresses had some great songs in the eighties. The sharp, distinctive voice of Patty Donahue was silenced by cancer during the 1996 holiday season, but the song remains. It was always cool to me that a “new wave” song became such a holiday standard.

18. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” ~ Band Aid – Everyone knows the story of the Boomtown Rat’s Bob Geldof watching a news report in 1984 about the famine in Ethiopia, then phoning Ultravox’s Midge Ure about the idea for the this song and later the Live Aid concerts. Band Aid was a who’s who of British pop music at the time, and the song alone raised millions for African relief. It all worked because this is a really great song and recording. It was the first “cause song” and the process is repeated today.

17. “Step Into Christmas” ~ Elton John – One my earliest remembrances of a cool, rock and roll Christmas song, and it’s Elton at his campy best!  I was, and still am, a big fan. My first concert in 1976, he’s still bringing it…

16. “The Hanukkah Songs” ~ Adam Sandler – All three versions. Funny as hell, and you have to admire the rhyming of harmonica with Natalie Portmanica.

15. “Merry Christmas, Baby” ~ Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – There’s another, more popular Bruce choice, but I like this live recording for it’s bluesy feel, and because it really showcases the band at it’s subtle and powerful best.

14. “Blue Christmas” ~ Elvis Presley – This song was recorded as country western, first in 1948. But Elvis added the bluesy sound in 1957 and like many other songs, made it his own. The only better version belongs to Porky Pig… go find that nugget!

13. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” ~ Olivia Olsen – Co-written by Mariah Carey (seriously?), the seemingly endless cover versions of this song missed my radar until it showed up in the climactic ending of Love Actually, one of my favorite holiday movies. This version rocks, and its sung by an 11 year-old!! Incredible!!

12. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” ~ Leon Redbone and Zoey Dechanel – From the Elf soundtrack. Discounting the comparisons to date rape, the sweet voice of Zoey in sharp contrast to Leon’s ten-packs-a-day, throaty growl. “Gee, your lips look delicious!”

11. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over) ~ John Lennon – No one in my generation preached more about peace on earth… he was a calm voice in tumultuous times. Of my favorites, and it is the simplest and most powerful.

10. “Christmas In America” – Melissa Etheridge – One of our country’s best kept secrets… Etheridge probably never gets her due because of her sexuality, and that’s a shame. This is easily the most powerful song about missing your loved one at the holidays.

9. “Christmas Time Is Here” ~ Vince Guaraldi Trio – Better know as the “Theme from A Charlie Brown Christmas”, it’s instantly recognizable as the soundtrack of a kids holiday experience. Can’t you see Snoopy dancing?

8. “The Chipmunk Song” ~ The Chipmunks – This song brings back more memories of growing up than any other. The Chipmunks were on every kids Christmas playlist back in the day. We had a record player with a detachable speaker lid that my Mom would put out on the front steps, playing Christmas music for the neighborhood. It had a very distinctive smell when the tubes got hot… I’ll never forget it. I’m a kid again…

7. “White Christmas” ~ Bing Crosby, and “The Christmas Song” ~ Nat King Cole – A tie because I wasn’t going to say that I liked one more than the other. Both songs define the word “standard” for holiday music. Everyone sings along. And… I want a white Christmas so badly!!

6. “Christmas Baby” ~ G Love & Special Sauce – I always like to give props to local artists, and these guys are one of my favorites. Some call it “sloppy” blues… but it’s Philly all the way. Give it a listen…

5. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” ~ The Whirling Dervishes – Never mess with a classic, unless you can make it better… and they do! I’m a big fan of cover songs, and this version is cleaner and a brings a lot more energy. It beats the Boris Karloff version we all know and love – and these guys are from NJ!! Enjoy!

4. “Christmas On The Block” – Alan Mann Band – Legend has it that rising Philadelphia rock star Alan Mann heard of a group house for the blind on a street in Upper Darby. Every Christmas, the residents would decorate a tree in front of their house, and neighbors would often say that it was the most beautifully decorated tree on the block. Although they could not see, the residents wanted to give an annual gift to those who could. The story inspired Mann to visit the house and record the song, with the moving chorus sung by second-grade students. This video got plenty of MTV play in 1986, and Mann seemed ready for stardom.

Tragically, Alan Mann died in a house fire in 1987, but his beautiful song lives on. For many of my Philly peeps who made their musical bones in the 80’s, this song IS Christmas.

3. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / Star of Wonder” ~ Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan – Smart, funny lyrics and snappy, inventive sounds have always been the trademark of BNL. They made this classic Christmas carol their own… and the sweet voice of Sarah McLachlan only adds to the brilliance.

2. “Fairytale of New York” ~ The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl – I often say that the Christmas season does not start until I hear “Fairytale of New York”. This is song is classic for me on so many levels… it’s an Irish American love story, with grit and optimism, sadness and joy. Raw power masked by simplicity, it may be the most beautiful, heartfelt song ever written…

“I’ve got a feeling this year’s for me and you. So Happy Christmas, I love you, baby. I can see a better time when all our dreams come true.”

Since 1987, it has been my favorite Christmas song, until…

1. “Great Big Sled” ~ The Killers with Toni Halliday – I’m a big kid. I long for simpler days, when life was not so complicated. As a parent, I watched helplessly as my boys lost their wonder and excitement for Christmas and the joy it brings. We all do, but it certainly happened more quickly for them than me.

This song wants to take me back to that time when I can “roll round like a kid in the snow”… And I really want to go!

To all of my friends… thank you for reading my silly little blog posts this year. Play lots of great music this holiday season, and sing along loudly!

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


8 12 2013

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I’ve been in a bit of a creative slump lately… I’ll boldly call it “writer’s block”. It occured to me that I may benefit from a challenge, by giving my thoughts on a big subject. How about the upcoming holidays?

My apologies for being so, so late… I’m aware that I should have been in full Christmas mode in September when the first decorations hit the stores. Beach balls to Christmas balls, in the blink of an eye…

But please read on without apprehension.  You will never get “bah-humbugs” from me. I’m a big fan of the yule. That said… there are things I love so much, and things I don’t love so much.

White Stuff – In fifty-two opportunities, I don’t think I’ve experienced a White Christmas. So a big snowstorm is not only desired, it’s due! I love my family and friends very much, and look forward to the gatherings we have and attend on Christmas Eve and Day. But the thought of being holed up in my own house… with the family, food, presents, music, tree… mmmmm good!! Come on.. just once!!!

Simply, Having… – One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is the music. I love the old standards by Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, and the newer standards by The Killers and The Pogues (if you don’t know the raw passion of “Fairytale of New York”, you are missing out). So many new songs come out this time of year, a lot for free through iTunes and other places on the World Wide Web. A few are great (“Christmas, Baby” by G Love, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Barenaked Ladies), and some are so stunningly awful they defy description. Each year I add to my already great playlist of holiday music… and just play it all day. Love, love, love!

No Complaints – Definitely something I can do without this time of year – the complainers! You know them… someone who just can’t put aside the vitriol for a few days. We all have that ornery uncle who is sick of the commercialism of what is supposed to be a sacred holiday. Or the jackwagon complaining about the long checkout lines in stores. Or my favorite… the good Catholic who can’t stand that mass is so crowded on Christmas, and not so much on Sundays.

Life is too short, my friends. There is no reason to be angry in a season dedicated to peace and love… or any other time. So Uncle Ornery… don’t worry about gifts this year. Be cheerful instead, and that can be everyone’s gift. And Jackwagon… Shop online! And Good Catholic… I feel your pain because I used to be you. I use to go to church every week, now I don’t for whatever reason. So excuse me this year if I sit in the wrong seat, or say the wrong thing. Just like everyone else, I’m just doing my best.


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Nostalgia – Each year we get a real tree. I love the smell and the difference the new tree brings each year. We have accumulated a vast assortment of ornaments over the years… Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, Union, ManU, The Masters, etc. Can you tell we like sports? We also have “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments for both boys. We have dog stuff for Stan, and quite a few Irish themed thangs. Add some beads and garland, and it’s a pretty damn good tree!!

Growing up, my family had a silver aluminum tree with one red ball on each branch. And a color light wheel that I was responsible for assembling. We also had an oval track under the tree, with a big Lionel train set. Not exactly “Christmas on Walton Mountain”, but it was all I knew as a kid. One of these years… I’d like to rock the silver again.

Have A Happy Happy – My parents used to bring a cake to our Christmas Eve party, inscribed “Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus”. Both Mom and Dad are gone now, so we haven’t had it since 2007. We were never concerned that the presence of this cake would offend any non-Christians at our party, and it never did. So I’m continuously humored at the need for political correctness, that we must use the word “holiday” instead of Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. I’m equally bemused by the “let’s put the Christ back in Christmas” cries that have become so common.

This year I will wish all of you… a very “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”, and I will not feel at all slighted if I don’t get those exact words back. I’m a Christian, so I say it this exact, very specific way. Your best wishes may be expressed to me differently based on your ethnicity or creed. So please don’t take offense to my words, as they are only given in kindness. And in return, please wish me an enthusiastic “Happy Hanukkah”, or joyous “Happy Kwanzaa”, or shoot me that generic “Happy Holidays”. I’ll appreciate the blessing bestowed.

Tis’ The Season – Finally… I am not the easiest person to gift. Holidays are tough for my loved ones because I am so difficult in this respect. I’m fortunate that I have very few wants or needs… I pretty much have all the music I want, I’m clearly not a slave to fashion, and buying me a book doesn’t work because I’m a techno-god and use my iPad. Gift cards are always good, but some people feel a sense of defeat giving them, like they aren’t a real gift.

I am truly blessed, but many are not. If you want to bestow upon me, please make a donation to your favorite charity… whatever it is. I thank you.

Peace and Love. From mine, to yours.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.