The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s major thoroughbred horse race. Held since 1861, on the first Tuesday in November, it’s billed as The race that stops a nation. It’s the richest and most prestigious “two-mile” handicap, and one of the richest turf races, in the world. So, it was inevitable that this week’s theme would tie in with this iconic Australian event. GAMBLING, therefore, it was. We contemplated the repercussions of hedging your bets, whether it was on the ponies, at the poker table or simply as a result of playing that universal game of chance, love.
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullets opened the show with their highly energetic live rendition of RAMBLIN’ GAMBLIN’ MAN. We followed with a request from regular listener, Andy, who wanted to hear Ry Cooder’s I GOT MINE. It’s from the Chicken Skin Music album and, apparently it’s an old pop song from the minstrel and medicine show tradition. Cooder says that he learned this version from renowned Blues artist Pink Anderson, who followed tent shows in his early years.
Another regular contributor to the show, Robyn, asked for jazz-rock group Steely Dan’s DO IT AGAIN. The track features on their debut 1972 album Can’t Buy A Thrill and is the first in popular music to include an organ solo. Here they are live on the Midnight Special 1973:
Now if you want to hear a song or two about gambling guilt then you can’t go past the Blues. Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ONCE WAS A GAMBLER featured on the Crazy Heart soundtrack and it was a terrific suggestion from Des. And just to prove that gambling is not just a man’s preoccupation, pioneering singer and guitarist Memphis Minnie bemoaned the life of a GAMBLING WOMAN.
Could Lady GaGa be today’s version of Memphis Minnie? For all of you out there who may doubt this performer’s artistry, check out her acoustic and live version of POKER FACE on BBC Radio. Any doubts about her talent should now be dismissed, surely.
Ska revival band, The Specials, have to be one of the coolest bands on earth. Formed in 1977 and still going strong after a lengthy break between 1981 and 2008, we played their cover of the Pioneers race-track tune, LONGSHOT KICK DE BUCKET. Here they are in 1979:
Another of my fave bands is Wilco and they gave us their gambling track, CASINO QUEEN. Wendy contacted us and requested THE JOKER from The Steve Miller Band. Great choice. Here they are live on the Jools Holland show. Even Cee Lo Green was loving this peformance. Cool pink suit too, Cee Lo!
Big Audio Dynamite was formed in 1984 by the ex-guitarist and singer of The Clash, Mick Jones. The band was notable for their effective mixture of varied musical styles incorporating elements of punk rock, dance, hip-hop, reggae and funk. Here they are with THE BOTTOM LINE.
Melissa contacted me to say that she loves Ray Charles. Who doesn’t? He is a music legend. Frank Sinatra called Ray “the only real genius in show-business”. His song BLACKJACK was a perfect song for this week’s theme. A little less known is blues and sould singer Little Johnny Taylor. He recorded throughout the 60’s and 70’s and performed live throughout the 80’s and 90’s. His song YOU WIN, I LOSE is another of those tunes about hedging your bets on love and it’s a beauty.
Closer to home, The Little River Band have a number of tracks that suit this week’s topic but none better than LONESOME LOSER. And if you’re looking for some bellylaughs, then Melbourne group, Mic Conway and the National Junk Band’s RACE CALL OF LIFE TO DEATH should do the trick. It’s on their Corporate Chook album. As they so cleverly point out, our whole life is a gamble so we may as well just go for it!
The Animals’ HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN was a shoo-in, of course. As was The Rolling Stones with TUMBLING DICE, from their Exile on Main Street album.
I bet by now you were wondering whether I would play the absolutely predictable THE GAMBLER by Kenny Rogers?” Well, of course, yes. I have no shame. This is an absolute classic and couldn’t possibly be omitted: “You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
And talking of classics…..
Big Joe Turner was an American Blues “shouter” who came to fame in the 1950’s with his pioneering rock and roll recordings, particularly Shake Rattle & Roll. His unique voice was well served on our featured song this week, LIFE IS LIKE A CARD GAME.
The Band’s song about the dangers of drinking and gambling, UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK, features on their second self-titled album and was released as a single in 1969. They also perform the song on the live concert film The Last Waltz:
The hero of UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK gets into all kinds of trouble essentially because he’s looking for love. The great T-Bone Walker, the first Blues artist to use an electric guitar, also knows all about love gone wrong on LOVE IS JUST A GAMBLE. We followed with the legendary Stanley Brothers who contributed their thoughts on the matter with a great piece of bluegrass called IF I LOSE.
The Jerry Garcia Band performed DEAL live at Shoreline Ampitheatre California on September 1, 1990. A Grateful Dead concert was to have occurred at the venue on this date but was cancelled due to the untimely death of Dead keyboard player Brent Mydland. That one was for Hudson who follows The Theme Park with an excellent BayFM program, Post Modern Backlash.
I’m sure that there would be no argument if I asserted that Jimmie Rodgers is the godfather of Country music. His deceptively simple delivery of a song like GAMBLING ROOM BLUES, with his distinctive yodelling added for good measure, is just so evocative. He performed in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Big jump to 1979, (a very good year btw), with The Clash and THE CARD CHEAT from their 3rd album, London Calling.
Tim Freedman of Australian group The Whitlams knows a thing or two about telling a story in song. And, as we headed for Theme Park’s finishing post, what better way to comment on this country’s obsession with gambling than to play The Whitlams’ BLOW UP THE POKIES? Here’s Tim on the SBS program Insight explaining the meaning of the song and doing a beautiful solo performance.
Just to lift the mood, our closing double appealed to the rock chick in me: Everclear with BLACKJACK and the one and only AC/DC with a song that has a couple of versions, and is rife with double meaning. Of course I choose to interpret THE JACK as being about gambling. What they’re gambling on, of course, is up for discussion.
Thanks too to Melissa, Robyn, Des, Andy & Wendy for your suggestions for this week’s show. Much appreciated.
Next week’s theme, is on NIGHT which has been inspired by last week’s RECLAIM THE NIGHT women’s march. I’d like to thank all the women, young and old, who marched together in Byron Bay, and the men who supported us. It was inspirational, empowering and a heap of fun. If you weren’t there, make sure that you get involved next year. Violence against women is prevalent and shoudn’t be accepted. (End of community service announcement!)
Here’s this week’s complete playlist:
Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – Live Bullet, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band
I Got Mine – Chicken Skin Music, Ry Cooder
Do It Again – Can’t Buy A Thrill, Steely Dan
Once Was A Gambler – The Best Of Lightning Hopkins, Lightnin’ Hopkins
Gambling Woman – High Rollers – Vintage Gambling, Memphis Minnie
Poker Face – The Fame, Lady Gaga
Longshot Kick De Bucket – 1992 – Live: Too Much Too Young, The Specials
Casino Queen – A.M., Wilco
The Joker – Groovin’ 70’s [Disc 10], The Steve Miller Band
The Bottom Line – Planet BAD: Greatest Hits, Big Audio Dynamite
Blackjack – Pure Genius, Ray Charles
You Win, I Lose – Mo’ Mod Jazz, Little Johnny Taylor
Lonesome Loser – Greatest Hits, Little River Band
Race Call Of Life To Death – Corporate Chook, Mic Conway’s National Junk Band
House Of The Rising Sun – Time Life: Sound Of The Sixties, The Animals
Tumbling Dice – Exile On Main Street, The Rolling Stones
The Gambler – Greatest Hits, Kenny Rogers
Viva Las Vegas – Command Performances: The Essential Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley
Life Is Like A Card Game – High Rollers – Vintage Gambling, Big Joe Turner
Up On Cripple Creek – Anthology, Vol. 1, The Band
Love Is Just A Gamble – 50s R&B Classics, T-Bone Walker
If I Lose – Theme Time Radio Hour, The Stanley Brothers
Deal – Garcia, Jerry Garcia
Gambling Bar Room Blues – High Rollers – Vintage Gambling, Jimmie Rodgers
The Card Cheat – London Calling, The Clash
Blow Up The Pokies – Take 40 Australia, The Whitlams
Blackjack – Slow Motion Daydream, Everclear
The Jack – High Voltage, AC/DC
One of the things that I appreciate about the arts in general, and music in particular, is that it can be a way to make sense of the world or to at least see it from a different perspective. There are plenty of songs that lead us to believe that the future is problematic, even unbearable. But this week, we looked at tunes that make you believe that there’s a rainbow hiding behind every storm cloud. Yes, a show for all you optimists out there: Two hours of anthems dedicated to the power of positive thinking. Thanks to Suzie for suggesting the theme and to everyone who contributed to the songlist, especially Kira from Lennox Head who outdid herself with at least half a dozen tracks for consideration. Obviously, the subject hit a chord with a lot of you!
Optimism is, however, in the ears of the beholder: songs that delight one listener will make another cringe. Still, only a boring old fart could fail to be enthused by our opening track: ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. I loved the use of this song in the BBC series THE SINGING DETECTIVE, written by Harold Pinter and starring Michael Gambon, so here’s the clip for you to enjoy too:
Next it was Curtis Mayfield with his irresistible MOVE ON UP. The crucial thing about this song is that Mayfield is a realist, aware that life is full of “complications” but radiating hope anyway. There’s more qualified optimism in Desmond Dekker’s honey-sweet version of YOU CAN GET IT IF YOU REALLY WANT. According to Desmond, as long as you put in the hard yakka success is assured. Excellent advice.
Anyone who doubts the power of love to improve life should listen to Little Milton singing WE’RE GONNA MAKE IT. He and his lover are so poor they can’t even “spare a roach a crumb”, but, he promises, together they will pull through.
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, on the other hand, are bitter and alone but still they have found a way to look towards the future with optimism. They are dedicated to being DIGNIFIED AND OLD. Heartwarming stuff.
Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, ONE FINE DAY, sung by The Chiffons, is a declaration of teen devotion that pins all its hope on a philandering lover waking up to himself and coming back home. I think today’s psycho-babble would describe that as being in denial. So, just in case we forget that the wrong partner can make your life miserable, we followed with the Altered Images track I COULD BE HAPPY – a passionate, bubbly wish for escape. And talking of escapism, we followed with Joe Smooth’s early house hit PROMISED LAND. And then it was the great voice of Esther Phillips singing her 1975 Disco version of WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES.
Bluegrass boys Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs have faith in the idea that heaven will eventually give them relief from the world’s sorrows. The song? SO HAPPY I’LL BE. And just to put things in perspective, we followed with a song from my favourite Monty Python film, LIFE OF BRIAN. Recalling the Monty Python crew singing ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE, as they hang on their respective crucifixes puts a smile on this lapsed Catholic’s face every time I hear it. And I dare you not to whistle along!
The New Radicals tune YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE embodies the idea that simple pleasures put whatever problems we are having into perspective. “Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you”. I loved OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY from the one and only Blossom Dearie who sadly passed away in February this year. The good news? She was 84 and leaves us a legacy of wonderful music.
And talking of wonderful music, the very optimistic song BLUE SKIES was written in 1926 by Irving Berlin and has been recorded by many, many artists. One of my own favourites, that made the list this week, is by Willie Nelson. And then it was this week’s Roy Orbison track: Roy’s so euphoric about love that he’s going to give his girl anything she wants. The song – YOU GOT IT.
Byron Bluesfest favourite, Seasick Steve, followed with HAPPY MAN. That’s Ruby Turner helping out with the duet and K.T. Tunstall on rhythm guitar. But here’s a question for you – is the title of his album “I Started Out With Nothin and I’ve Still Got Most of it Left” optimistic? Hmmmm.
Johnny Nash’s I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW is, much like Irving Berlin’S BLUE SKIES, a song that uses the useful image of the clear sky to evoke a positive outlook. Nash’s passionate vocals make a powerful statement and its little wonder that many consider this one of the greatest hit singles of all time. This clip where Nash performs on the Midnight Special in 1973 is worth including, just so you can check out the leather outfit.
The Staples Singers sang their classic track, I’LL TAKE YOU THERE. Its pure joy as Mavis Staples sings of her hope for a better world. And if you ever doubted that a song could be both spiritual and sexy, well this is your answer.
Australian, and North Coaster, Pete Murray gave us OPPORTUNITY – another song that encourages us to look at all the good things that life has to offer. “Life is short but you’re here to flower”.
A couple of tracks followed that took us all back in time: The Turtles with HAPPY TOGETHER, another song that uses the blue sky as a metaphor for a hopeful future and the Grateful Dead with a song about surviving life’s setbacks. Written by Jerry Garcia, TOUCH OF GREY was the bands biggest commercial hit. And if you are a deadhead you should tune into BayFM between 10pm and midnight Tuesdays when the Ice Cream Kid takes you on the Long Strange Trip. It’s all about the Grateful Dead and their ongoing influence.
A nice surprise was XTC with I’M STUPIDLY HAPPY. It’s great when a writer who’s associated with heavier themes can also, so easily, write of the giddy feeling of love and how it can put everything else into perspective. How cute is that line: “All the lights of the cars in the town form the strings of a big guitar/I’m the giant who’ll play you a tune from wherever you are.” Ohhhhhh. See, frontman Andy Partridge did have a soft spot after all.
So what’s the dominant message from today’s show on Optimism? LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED. And, of course, we had to play the Beatles very optimistic track of the same name to reinforce the notion.
Here’s this week’s complete playlist:
Accentuate the Positive – Bing Crosby/Andrews Sisters
Move on up – Curtis Mayfield
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Desmond Dekker & The Aces
One Fine Day – The Chiffons
Dignified And Old – Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers
We’re Gonna Make It – Little Milton
I Could Be Happy – Altered Images
Promised Land – Joe Smooth
What A Difference A Day Makes – Esther Phillips
So Happy I’ll Be – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
Always Look On the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python
At Last – Etta James
Strength, Courage & Wisdom – India Arie
Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
I Believe I’m Gonna Make It – Joe Tex
You Get What You Give – New Radicals
Inspiration Information – Shuggie Otis
Shiny Happy People – R.E.M.
Our Love Is Here To Stay – Blossom Dearie
Blue Skies – Willie Nelson
You Got It – Roy Orbison
Happy Man – Seasick Steve
I’ll Take You There – Staple Singers
I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash
Opportunity – Pete Murray
Happy Together – The Turtles
Touch of Grey – Grateful Dead
Don’t Stop – Fleetwood Mac
Stupidly Happy – XTC
All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
Next week: Days of the Week
Listen to Lyn McCarthy at the Theme Park, Tuesdays 2-4pm, (Sydney time), on BayFM 99.9. Also streaming at http://www.bayfm.org