Songs I Love: ‘I Can’t Work No Longer’ (A)/’Tomorrow is a Better Day’ (B)

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Often rabid record collectors will find their recollections on music highjacked by a discussion on their all-time favorite 45s. The sides that can be endlessly spun and always provide that same rush afforded the first listen often don’t so much produce conversation, as they do intense love letters from one individual to another, that if not reciprocated will stop everything dead in their tracks. But then, even on top of those are the 45’s, are those that provide that exhilaration twice, once on the A and once on the B side. Imagine the shock when one of my absolute stunners, the Okeh career of Billy Butler, produces several such dual slabs of magic, with only barely ever denting the charts.

But it was the one hit he did have: Okeh release 7221, a #6 in 1966, that is the point of todays discussion. Continue reading

The Morality of Immorality… and the Immortality of Seinfeld

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This blog has had, from its inception, an open invitation to anyone who would like to have something posted on a relevant topic, to have it presented here. Robert Taylor, a longtime friend, wrote this piece on Seinfeld, in conjuncture with our Seinfeld countdown. It appears unedited, as all guest pieces will.

I am of the “Jerry Generation”. A senior in high-school the same year the show went off the air; my life has been impacted in a real way by the show’s presence. I still own my original copy of the Wizard of Oz-themed send-off issue of Rolling Stone. As some type of bizarre trophy for my decades long love of the show, I proudly still preserve a number of unlabeled VHS tapes which we used to record the episodes we weren’t home to watch. I am of the population who’s use of Seinfeld quotes and references is as normal as saying “Hello” when I leave and “Goodbye” when I arrive…see how I did that? Admittedly, the show’s dialogue and circumstances ring through my mind daily and influentially; almost mantra-like. I often find myself smiling while choosing whether to refrain from alerting friends and co-workers that our current situation (whatever it happens to be) is similar to one that George, Jerry, Elaine or Kramer fumbled through. I point these things out not just to acknowledge that I write this with an everlasting adoration for the show, its actors, characters, and creator (so I confirm some amount of nostalgic-bias) but also to set up my true motive: to contend that TV (and we) will never be the same.

I suppose I should acknowledge that Seinfeld means something very different to me today than when I was glued to its original run in the 90’s. As the silver years have passed, I still softly chuckle at the show’s undeniable physical humor. No less funny now are Elaine’s “kicks”, her exaggerated shoves, her tantalizing head tilts; George’s sweatpants, his Dennis Franz idolization and pre-teen bedroom décor; Kramer’s unceremonious entrances, his spastic collapses, even his eccentric hairdo; Jerry with his sneakers, his knowing smirks, and his propensity to crack mid-scene under the weight of his co-stars’ incredible comedic presence. These are all engrained in the show’s DNA. What has unquestionably surpassed these intricate comedic details though, as my (and I know many others’) personal watch counts of each episode have elevated beyond good taste, is the recognition and appreciation of the show’s commitment to its original rules of humor. In doing so, they not only perfected their satirical (yet irresistible) colliding story-line formula but jolted opened the doors for an entirely new era of TV and put away for the good the notion of taboo network subject matter. Thus the show’s immortality in both quality and influence is indisputable. Continue reading

10. ‘The Wig Master’ (Season 7, episode 129)

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This friend of Susan’s is staying with us for two weeks… Now am I wrong or is that excessive?
Well Bob Sacamano he stayed with me once for a year and a half.

‘The Wig Master’ was, at one time and for a very long time, my all time favorite Seinfeld episode. It’s a point I thought important to make as we enter the Top 10; we’re in pretty rarefied air in terms of quality with nine episodes now placing over it. But then again, we’ve probably been there for some time now…

‘The Wig Master’ is an exemplary example of the wonderful precision Seinfeld so often operated on. It’s a bit different however in how tightly connected everything is at every turn, unlike most Seinfelds that careen in wildly different tangents only to somehow collide at the close. One can think of an episode we just discussed like, say ‘The Marine Biologist’ for a more consistent Seinfeld approach to this plot construction. That episode ties up neatly in the final scene with George telling the story of a whale he’s saved who had become beached due to Kramer’s hitting of golf balls into the ocean (one has humorously found its way into blocking the whale’s blowhole), all the while being in the predicament because he’s had to go with a lie that Jerry started (telling a woman that George is employed as a marine biologist). It’s a remarkably funny story, and presents itself as the punchline to the entire episode; when George produces the golf ball in his hand we laugh because we’ve somehow come all the way around to everything being tied together after existing for the entire running time working in eccentrically separate worlds. That is the modus operandi for most Seinfeld episodes that work in this manner. ‘The Wig Master’ alters this sensibility by offering its various plots as happening very closely related to one another. For this reason it feels incredibly precise, and a very fresh take on the working Seinfeld template.
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14. ‘The Hamptons’ (Season 5, episode 85)

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It’s like I’m Neil Armstrong. I turn around for a sip of Tang and you jump out first.

Season Five’s ‘The Hamptons’ is immediately a pretty recognizably great Seinfeld episode by any measure. Everywhere are there indications that it’s a cut above in its uniqueness; from the tightly compacted narrative involving every member of the group rather then the oft used pairings or singling out, to it creating one of the Series’ defining pop-culture idioms in ‘shrinkage’, and, probably most uniquely, it shows the entire group at leisure. Seinfeld, as I’ve pointed out almost ad nauseam at this point, was a show concerned within the everyday realities and oddities of the average person (err, average urban person more specifically, or even more specifically, an upper west side New Yorker) whether it was a weekend brunch, or an evening date, they were mostly activities purposefully juxtaposed against the working day (or sometimes in Kramer and George’s case, the humor in working so hard to not work).* What then, the episode seems to wonder, would happen if all the humorous anxieties and foolish chicanery were packed up into a weekender and thrown into a car for a jaunt to the otherwise peaceful and calming Hamptons? Even if only for this one weekend?
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Belated Labor Day thoughts

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I was recently prompted to check out the post-Labor Day episode of Sound Opinions, the weekly WBEZ Chicago radio program, which featured Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot playing a small collection of songs inspired by the work holiday. As I’ll exhibit for the entire history of this blog (and one particular post in the very near future) I think liberal perspectives in relation to work and popular music are forever linked, and perhaps it’s the subject I enjoy in pop music more than any other. With that being said, I thought I’d offer a belated Labor Day Mix of my own, and like Sound Opinions, I’ll (unfortunately) limit it to four selections. I’ll call the mix ‘The Honorary Billy Bragg List’ since I chose not to include one of his but think his output in this area is exemplary. Without further ado;
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22. ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ (Season 8, episode 137)

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Well! I can’t spend the rest of my life coming into this stinking apartment every ten minutes to pour over the excruciating minutia of every single daily event…

The central plot thread running through Season 8’s ‘The Bizarro Jerry’ is one of the Series most philosophically and personally complex ones. It centers around Elaine Benes finding herself severing ties with a boyfriend who surprisingly accepts the usually off-the-cuff “let’s be friends” parting with enthusiastically open arms. This on itself isn’t that out of the ordinary; Seinfeld had dealt humorously with the diner/dinner break-up on several occasions, even finding multiple uses for the “it’s not you it’s me…” routine, but here there was somewhat of a twist. Rather than having the scene end there, or even having the episode centered around the revengeful fallout of the breakup (see Season three’s ‘The Truth’ for example), this episode decided upon a more wildly inventive turn.
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