Get to the Wex To See Gray Matters - by Anne Marie

Gotta Get to the Wex to see Gray Matters!

Those of us who live in Columbus (is Buckeyes the only collective word for us?) are so lucky to have such a vibrant music and arts scene providing a giant ever-changing playground for our personal entertainment.

Probably my number one go-to source for entertainment is the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University.  The Wex rocks! Every month when their calendar of upcoming events comes out, I can't possibly fit all the exhibits, films, theatrical and musical acts onto my calendar.

On exhibit now, but only for a few more days, until July 30, is Gray Matters. To me, the title of this exhibit was a little off-putting. It sounded a little boring. Gray matters. Dull, gray matters. Or, possibly worse, boring and cerebral. I already sometimes have difficulty figuring out what the heck some of the art at the Wexner Center even means. I wasn't sure I was up to an exhibit called Gray Matters.  

Luckily, last Thursday night, I threw caution to the wind and visited the exhibit and discovered that I could not have been more wrong! Gray Matters may be an exhibit showcasing 37 women artists who have produced art while limiting themselves to a palette of black, white & gray but the similarity stops there and the art is NOT BORING AT ALL!! I saw everything from paintings and sculpture to a disco ball made up of every known image of a solar eclipse ever recorded by humans to a video set in a morgue where the victim of a suicide and her animated organs and her ghost debate their demise.

Also luckily, there is a small but mighty exhibit guide that is free and readily available in various stands throughout the exhibit. The guide has concise, helpful details about each work. I walked through looking at each work, appreciating it at face value and trying to figure it out on my own. Only then would I read the guide and see how close (or sometimes far off!) my interpretation was from the artist’s reality.

Here are just a few of the pieces that you can experience if you get into the Wex in time to catch this great exhibit.


Lorna Simpson Left, Right, Black America Again (2016)

Lorna Simpson Left, Right, Black America Again (2016)

Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Cast Iron Floor) (2001)

Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Cast Iron Floor) (2001)

Tara Donovan Composition (Cards) 2017

Tara Donovan Composition (Cards) 2017

Each of these was a surprise to me in that there was so much more to them - in either artist intention/representation or technique - than immediately met my eye.

Untitled (Cast Iron Floor) is literally a piece of art on the floor and, unlike other usable pieces of art in the show such as tables, this one does not have a sign asking you not to touch the art. But I was still deferential and walking around rather than over the piece until called out by a burly security guard who instructed me to walk on it, adding that he does every day. I did and it was a strange feeling to trample upon something that an artist had created. It felt solid and I felt grounded while walking around and over it but wasn’t sure I was experiencing quite what the artist intended. Upon consulting the guide, I learned that artist Rachel Whiteread’s casts “materialize negative space...mummifying the air in the room and making it solid, transforming these voids into masses of memory and loss.”  Wow.  That merited another slow walk across while I pondered that some more.

I'll leave it to you to uncover the secrets of the other two - and the remainder of the works - if you make it to the Wexner Center by July 30th. Click here for more details.  #theWex #leapintotheWex #womenattheWex  - Anne Marie


WWE Great Balls of Fire: Jerry Lee Missed Out - by Big Vin Vader

WWE Great Balls of Fire: Jerry Lee Missed Out - follow @bigvinvader

I thought Money in the Bank was a pretty bad show, the most recent example of bad booking and missed opportunities in WWE.  The mere fact that RAW’s follow-up show was named Great Balls of Fire seemed like a major warning that it would be another let-down.  Imagine my shock when the PPV turned out to be a blast from start to finish, unexceptional in most aspects, but completely solid and entertaining with few of the frustrating choices that have marred WWE’s booking lately.  The name was announced months back, and seemingly failed to get a single vote of fan approval.  What followed were about a dozen different logos, speculation regarding the name selection, and involvement from Jerry Lee Lewis’ legal team.  It was about as bizarre as wrestling gets.

But then the build started to get really good, the matches looked promising, and it seemed like there was a chance for GBOF to actually deliver. Not only was the promise of an Iron Man tag match between the Hardys and Sheamus/Cesaro a perfect blow-off to their long-running feud, but the Women’s title match between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks was a fresh match in an era of repeats.  Much as they have their detractors, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman have had several very good matches with one another, and the ambulance stipulation promised some brutal finality.  Best of all, Samoa Joe was presented as a legitimate, threatening challenger to Brock Lesnar’s Universal Title.  The build up to that championship match was one of the most successful things WWE has done in some time, making Joe seem the hardass, main event-level player he has deserved to be for his entire run in the company.  Even with the seeming certainty of Lesnar’s victory, the lead-up was so successfully executed that it seemed a sure-shot crowd pleaser.  Come the night of the show, nearly every match delivered on those initial promises, and even the lesser bouts on the card proved to be far more than satisfactory.

Initially, I was disappointed to see the Cruiserweight match between Neville and Akira Tozawa shunted to the preshow, but quickly regained interest when I realized just how into it the crowd was.  For a division that’s been long-suffering as far as fan interest goes (and certainly hurting from the abrupt release of Austin Aries), this was definitely a welcome sight.  Things didn’t advance much beyond a preshow-caliber level, but it was still a very capable contest from the two incredible cruiserweights.

Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt was a bit of a head scratcher, with the feud itself seeming to come about out of nowhere, but in the capable hands of those two wrestlers it was a solid if unexceptional match.  It was great, however, to see Bray pick up a clean win on PPV after the rocky year he’s had.

Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass was about as exciting in-ring as you’d expect from two such limited performers.  That said, they made the right call in keeping it brief and putting Cass over, and in finally splitting the two up for that matter.

Easily the match of the night was the Tag Team Iron Man Match, with both teams impressing in a hard-fought, genuinely unpredictable contest.  They made great use of the stipulation, with a number of shocking falls, including one for the odd couple in the first twenty seconds of the match.  From there it was hard-hitting action, with several memorable high spots, all leading up to some of the most exciting final moments seen on PPV in some time.  Matt got busted open bad after a dual dive with Jeff, and that hardway blood really contributed to the drama and excitement of the finish.  It was a perfect example of how blood, even accidental, can add to the sport.  Things seemed to be going the Hardys’ way until Cesaro scored a tiebreaker fall in the last thirty seconds.  Jeff caught a quick reversal and went for a desperation pin at the two-second mark and came up just short.  It was gripping stuff, and stole the show.

My personal favorite match, if not the outright best, was the Women’s Title showdown between Sahsa Banks and Alexa Bliss.  More on that one in a minute.

The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose for the IC title was an unexciting prospect, especially given how many times that exact match has been done.  It wasn’t bad, but it was one of the low points of the show, and I struggled to hold interest.  The Miz going over with some interference from his corner was the right call, however, and his reign looks to continue as successfully as it deserves to.

Reigns vs. Strowman had pretty much everything I wanted to see in their blow-off match, and it even came with some surprises.  The strikes looked stiff, and there was a ruthlessness in both men’s offense that took things up another level.  They wasted no time in making their way up the ramp to the titular vehicle and from there the intensity of the brawl only mounted.  Reigns lost the match for himself with a missed spear right into the ambulance, and what followed was some of the most insane, hilarious, and perplexing use of PPV time I’ve seen.  After escaping and subduing Braun into the ambulance himself, Reigns drove off to the backstage area and backed the vehicle into a semi-trailer before fleeing.  After about ten minutes of worked panic, Braun stumbled out (freed by the Dallas fire department and the Jaws of Life) bloodied, and limped off after Reigns.  Even if that was the evilest, most heelish thing Roman could do, he still seems to be a total face somehow.  Interesting.

Lesnar vs. Joe delivered on its promise, and of course offered up nothing in the way of surprises.  Joe looked like an absolute killer, jumping Brock before the bell and slamming him through the Spanish announce table before even a minute had passed.  From there, he dominated, locking in the Coqina Clutch several times and forcing Brock to nearly pass out.  There were some hard strike exchanges, a number of German suplexes, and even more surprising displays of agility from Lesnar.  Sadly, the whole thing only lasted six-and-a-half minutes before Lesnar broke another Clutch to hit a desperation F-5 and retain the Universal Title.  As much as they made Joe look great and cemented his main event status, this one could have gone on longer, if for no other reason than to cast to unpredictability over the seemingly-obvious finish.  Still, it was Brock’s best match this year, and a good showing for Joe in his first one-on-one main event.


The RAW Women’s Title match between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks was my favorite match of the night, and my pick for best following the Iron Man Tag match.  It was one of the best paced matched on the card, and delivered hard-hitting, impressive action for its entirety.  Alexa is one of my favorite wrestlers in either brand’s women’s division, and her ring work continues to improve with each match.  Beyond that, her heel character is one of the most successful and fully-realized regardless of brand or division.  Sasha is a fantastic wrestler and never fails to put on an impressive showing in the ring, but her face character does very little for me (and her trash-talk in the ring is groan-inducing).  Put together to fight for RAW’s top prize, it seemed certain that they’d put on a quality contest.  They definitely delivered, up until the weak count-out finish, and it was a great example of the match quality in the current women’s division.  That all said, I couldn’t help come away with some complaints.

GBOF had seven matches total, eight with the pre-show Cruiserweight Title match, and all but this one were men’s matches.  I realize that the men’s division is still the primary focus for most fans and that’s incredibly clear from the presentation and booking of the product.  The trouble is, as much as the company touts their progressive attitude and reminds us how far women’s wrestling has come in the last decade, things still have a lot of catching up to do.  And don’t forget, just as WWE’s changes come as a result of the attitudes towards women’s wrestling that they helped create years back, so too does the complete change of policy lie in their hands.  While they’re talking about the good they’ve done for women’s wrestling, they still fail to book more than one women’s match for every six men’s matches on a major show.  Occasionally, if we’re lucky, we’ll get two.  Are we to expect that we’ll never reach the day when PPV cards are evenly split between the sexes?

There’s a deep talent pool for each division in the company, and obviously not everyone can get extensive TV time or even deserves to be pushed to the top or upper-middle of the card.  But there’s no reason at all that the entire women’s midcard should be relegated to SmackDown and RAW while there are plenty of men’s filler matches slipped onto every PPV show.  Even before the brand split last year, the women’s division has been built around a few select women, namely Sahsa Banks, Charlotte, and Bayley (Becky Lynch fell to the wayside very quickly, unfortunately).  Since the brand split, others such as Alexa Bliss and Naomi have been given chances to shine and win titles.  But the problem is that there hasn’t been a whole hell of a lot of opportunity for the rest of the division.  There are occasional flirtations with main event status (as long as we remember that such status for the women falls behind even the men’s midcard status) for some of the others in the division, but they never seem to last.

There are so many great athletes in each brand’s division, and they can’t be said to be anything other than held back.  Whatever happened to Emma’s triumphant return?  Remember when Natalya’s heel turn seemed like a big deal?  What the hell have they been doing with Becky Lynch since she lost the title?  And how often do we see them in anything other than watered down, commercial-interrupted television matches?  Even if the matches were high-quality things would be different, as they’re all capable of putting on impressive showings, but the visibility and chances for advancement just don’t seem to be existent.  We aren’t going to see many serious contenders or plausible storylines until more time is given over to the women’s division.  Of course, this is no easy feat with five hours of regular cable television already feeling overstuffed with filler.  That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for either the athletes themselves, creative, or even the fans to get invested in matters.

But it’s still possible, as the final RAW, SmackDown, and NXT episodes of June revealed.  A women’s number one contender gauntlet match headlined RAW, the rematch of the beyond-frustrating women’s MITB match did the same on SmackDown, and Nikki Cross challenged Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship in a Last Man Standing match on that program’s main event.  It was the first time that the women’s division had headlined all three shows in the same week, and of course WWE took every opportunity to announce that fact and gain press attention.  Why not just let that become a regular thing and not have to trumpet your own booking?  And why wasn’t there more backlash asking why it took so long when it seemed a pretty simple decision to make?  Regardless of all that, it was good to see this finally happen, and the matches themselves naturally were no slouches.  The NXT title match in particular was one of the best television matches I’ve seen in months, even topping most of the recent PPVs in terms of sheer excitement and quality.  So nobody should have any doubt that the women should be presented as stars and performers every bit the equal of the males on the roster, it’s just that the big event feel of this occurrence makes it seem like just an exception to the rule.

That being said, there are some positives to look forward to.  First and Foremost is the Mae Young Classic set to air this summer.  Pulling talent from a diverse range of indie promotions, similar to last year’s Cruiserweight Classic and this January’s UK Championship Tournament, the all-female event has generated a great deal of buzz already.  Given the overwhelming success of those two events, from both critical and artistic perspectives, the MYC looks to be a surefire winner, and at the very least will give a few dozen deserving wrestlers better exposure.  Not to continue with the negativity, since I’m really excited for the tournament, have been since it was first mentioned as a possibility last year, but there’s still the issue of exposure.  The CWC was one of the best-received programs on the WWE Network last year, and the UK tournament/division have produced some of the company’s best matches of 2017.  Despite all of that, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t feel the cruiserweights have been mishandled in the months since.  205 Live is a forgotten B-show, and the in-ring aspect that wowed fans previously has been severely watered down on the main roster.  And the UK division is simply a side function of NXT, leaving those great workers even less exposure within their respective division than either SD or RAW’s women’s divisions.

There’s no question that participating in the tournament will boost the stock of nearly every female wrestler who participates in it, but what after that?  Will there be a sub-women’s division centered around the trophy/belt or whatever prize is reserved for the victor?  Or will the upper-tier participants be inserted into the already-underrepresented women’s divisions on the main roster and NXT?  These questions will certainly be answered before long, and it really shouldn’t be anything other than exciting as more details of the tournament emerge.  It just seems like we’ll have to wait and see where things go, which is unfortunately what’s been happening all along.

Big Vin Vader covers WWE for Pencilstorm. Follow on twitter @bigvinvader

Baby Driver: A Movie for Music Freaks - by "Wild Jon" Peterson

A MUSIC FREAKS DREAM MOVIE!  I’m not big on the “Action Film” genre.  I mean, I love “Die Hard” and “True Lies” as much as everyone because those films are the ‘gold standard’ with dynamic character relationships and great dialogue.  

But you’ll never catch me at a ‘Fast & Furious’ or Mission Impossible franchise movie, nor did I even see ‘The Italian Job.’ Crash & Bang means nothing to me without a killer plot, great acting and the right amounts of romance and comic relief.

So I was reluctant when my friend and fellow movie, music & TV super fan Karena Liakos came to me singing the praises of one of the Summer’s big action films, BABY DRIVER.  But the hook for me that piqued my interest was how much she was singing the praises of the music soundtrack and how it “cut to the beat” of the action in both a thematic and very cinematic way!

I knew that Edgar Wright was a talented young director from 2004’s killer zombie send-up SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but I never was expecting something like this.  It scores on every level (Action, Comedy and Romance) in a big way!

The plot is fairly simple… a young guy  (Ansel Elgort) is the ‘wheel man’ driver for white collar crime boss (Kevin Spacey) who hooks him up with various gangsters (Jon Hamm and Jamie Fox) who perform dramatic stick-up robberies while he (The “Baby Driver”) zooms, bobs and weaves the getaway car through the streets of Atlanta, GA.  

Lots of directors have used music as a “foreground” element: most notably by George Lucas in “American Graffiti” and “Goodfellas” (or any film) by Martin Scorsese.

The unique angle here is that our leading man (“Baby”) does virtually everything in life hooked up to is I-POD’s Earbuds.  Entire songs often play throughout the film in real time, as he skips, dances, drives around and falls in love.  

And the sound mix in the theater mimics how he is hearing the music,  If a character pulls out Baby’s IPOD ear bud, then the right channel drops out of the main speakers and is heard as tinn-y  ambient sound, mimicking Baby’s “first person” perspective.

The plot reason for all this? He was in a car accident as a child that resulted in severe tinnitus.  So he needs music to mask the hum & pink noise in his ears/head.

A complete song list and link (with corresponding plot action) is provided below.  But the highlights for me included:

  • “Baby” dancing around the city to Bob & Earl's “Harlem Shuffle” while lyrical references and street life action are perfectly synced to the song.  A/V Synergy and visual choreography!

  • A gangster tries to make a prick out of Baby for listening to music during a robbery prep meeting while “Baby” is listening to Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers.  The thug even reads the song title “Egyptian Reggae” from his IPOD screen to embarrass him.

  • The instrumental “Let’s Go Away For A While” from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds LP plays as he admirers a pretty young waitress. (That title is thematic in foreshadowing their dreams of escape.)

  • The waitress is singing Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y” as she works.  “Baby” doesn’t know the tune, asks her the name of the artist, and then runs out to local record store to buy it.

  • The waitress “Deborah” and “Baby” discuss human names in song titles. She knows “Debra” by Beck, but he teaches her “Debora” by T-Rex.  Being a dumb millennial who knows nothing about Marc Bolan and only sees the artist name on his small IPOD screen, Baby doesn't see the ‘dash’ in T-REX and tells the waitress that the musician’s name is “TREX”

  • Then there is the GETAWAY MUSIC, including “Neat, Neat, Neat” by The Damned, “Brighton Rock” by Queen, and “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.

  • Of course, the film ends with the obligatory “Baby Driver” by Simon & Garfunkel.


Another use of ‘foreground music’ in the plot revolves around the fact that Baby carries around a tiny handheld recorder, catching snatches and snippets of character dialogue from everyday life, and then runs home to digitalize and manipulate it into mix tapes with looping, drum machines, etc.  This becomes a critical part of the film’s climax when Kevin Spacey finds out that he has been taping him.

A 95% ROTTEN TOMATOES rating says it all… as everything about this film is firing on all pistons.  This great action film is also a great comedy and romance movie!   It was written and directed by Edgar Wright, who also had a lot to do with the soundtrack selections (think of how Quentin Tarantino hand-picked every song in “Pulp Fiction").  With superb cinematography from Bill Pope and great ensemble cast, this movie not only has vehicular mayhem, but is also a MUSIC FREAK’S DREAM!


Beginnings: My First Ten Records - by John Potwora

Confucius says: If someone tells you their first-ever record purchase was Einstürzende Neubauten, unfriend them immediately- he or she is a bald-faced liar.

For those of you who share my love for - no - obsession with music, it probably isn't necessary for me to describe the infatuation that first takes hold of one's consciousness, and then diabolically sets about invading your living space.  Besides, mere words fail to describe the mania that drives a kid to blow his weekly allowance on singles and albums, never mind the thousands of hours of half-assed research one must conduct in order to discern treasure from tripe - particularly back in the days before Google could save intrepid explorers from a misguided purchase. Yes, millenials - me and my comrades-in-arms sometimes found it necessary to roll the proverbial dice merely on the promise of a garish twelve-inch square, hoping its cryptic contents might justify repeated visits to Mom and Dad's faux walnut cabinet, more precisely named a JC Penney Penncrest stereo phonograph.

Which might help explain my early foray into delinquency: "Why," I reasoned, "risk another barely listenable recording, evidently captured somewhere in Hamburg by a handheld reel-to-reel recorder stashed deep inside a down pillow, when they might be procured, completely free of cost, from the 'oldies' bin?" (A lesson misconstrued via a recent purchase by my older sister, Laurie.) Yes, I must confess that my quivering armpit once secured a small stack of discs while Mom was blissfully scanning racks of geometrically-adorned blouses in some distant corner of Sears. Which, judging from my American Graffiti induced selections, was entirely appropriate behavior from a latter-day Potsie.

Please don't assume I condone this sort of thing - in fact, I feel pangs of guilt as I recollect my eventual mastery of this technique years later as a misguided, hormone-frenzied teenager who pillaged the hundreds of floor-level boxes of 45's at a certain collectors' record shop on Chicago's South Side. Believe me when I say that life itself soon meted out a surplus of punishment for these transgressions, some of which can only be characterized as the product of a perverse and ingeniously twisted empyrean mind. Or perhaps my Catholic upbringing has implanted a skewed sense of imperfect justice. Either way, I digress.

Anyway, when not spiriting ill-gotten gains from local ledgers, I would seek sound (and unsound) advice from my more seasoned and battle-tested friends. For instance, I had recalled being transfixed by a certain clip from a TV commercial for a now-forgotten K-Tel compilation of "British Invasion" tunes. At that time, my pleas for a seemingly impulsive want had fallen on weary, dismissive ears. But now, armed with strategically withheld lunch money, I was more than ready to take the plunge. Between munches of anemic cafeteria pizza, my friend Tom tried to identify the source of my three-chord hum, assuring me that "Smoke On the Water" was the ticket. Even then I had an inkling that Deep Purple were anything but Ed Sullivan fodder. Nonetheless, I duly paid the extra bus fair for a side trip to Record Town at the Evergreen Park Shopping Mall. Blackmore and company soon became a staple on my ridiculously outsized Panasonic boom box (eight...count 'em, eight D-cells), although the riddle remained unsolved.

Undaunted, a second query yielded the title, "Cocaine." Again, this didn't quite add up, as I had difficulty imagining four moptops gleefully lip-synching their way through an ode to blow, but anything was still possible to this impressionable, wide-eyed pop culture junkie. And so, book bag slung over one shoulder, I embarked on another pilgrimage to Mecca. This time, however, there was little serendipity, and I reluctantly returned to my lunchroom oracle. His final deduction was "Sunshine of Your Love", which at least netted a stunner of an album - one that inspired a further addition to my burgeoning stash of wax, Cream's "Wheels of Fire" twofer. (Thankfully, this hit-or-miss methodology eventually led to the Kinks' katalog, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

Returning to the main subject at hand, 1976 was the start of my proper musical awakening. I can state this with complete confidence because I recently set about compiling a list of my first dozen or so records, and each pressing dates from this banner year. Keep in mind that this second grader was pretty well insulated from edgier contemporary sounds, and, although punk rock was raising eyebrows outside of my suburban Cheektowaga, New York enclave, it would be several years before my second awakening. I would more than make up for any lost time.

The best way to reconnect with this auditory jigsaw puzzle is to actually sit down and LISTEN to the original recordings, rapid-fire. The experience was overwhelming, unlocking feelings and impressions I had tucked away long ago, ensconced somewhere between Gold Key comic books and my first crush (both orange and Jacqueline: Christ, I had it bad for Jacqueline).

 So let's do this.

 1) The Bay City Rollers "Saturday Night" (45 rpm)

Bubble gum rock of the first order. Choco 'Lite candy bars and RC Cola. An opening that grabs you by your khaki, elastic-band cargo shorts and won't let go. Then that fuzztone lick kicks in, and you're launched like a Smash-Up Derby. The whole thing is a sing-along dum-dum that's over too soon, guaranteeing endless replays, or at least until the Donald Duck tonearm turns the grooves white.

I have vague memories of Laurie jumping up and down screaming like a Salem waif as these tartaned teens (was that a Dick Clark special?) flashed across our brand-new Zenith color TV, the one that could have passed for a simulated wood-grained shipping container. They were supposed to be the next Beatles, but vanished quicker than pink & blue cotton candy at Fantasy Island Amusement Park (Grand Island, New York). Listen here!

 2) Barry Manilow "Weekend in New England" (45 rpm)

Oh, stop. Sure, I'll admit I was reluctant to 'fess up to this one, but then YouTube graciously served up this guilty pleasure, no questions asked. And now I remember why I earnestly and unapologetically asked for a copy of this slick ballad, and why Mom and I would sit on the living room sofa together and sing the closing strains of..."Again...Again...". When was the last time you actually listened to it? Go ahead, I won't tell.

Barry doesn't make you wait even one minute for the giant hook, rolling and crashing a'la Paul & Artie's magnum opus, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." And's over. Between him and the Rollers, things must have been pretty flush over at Arista Records. And I'll boldly state right here that McCartney was probably wishing he were still able to write songs like this.

 3) The Beatles "Got to Get You Into My Life" (45 rpm)

 Speaking of Macca...

My first Fab Four platter, complete with green monochromatic picture sleeve. This was hyped at the time to be the "new" Beatles single, never mind that it had been tucked away on Revolver some ten years earlier. It got tons of airplay, and was directly responsible for renewed mid-70s Beatlemania.

I don't usually go for horns in my rock and roll (save Chicago), but brass propels this thing like the morning sun on the first day of Summer vacation. "Yeahs" have morphed into "Oohs," and George's stripped-down guitar lick is as urgent as Paul's full-throated "Got to get you into my life!" Oh hell yes. And a certain seven year-old has got to sneak the Sunday paper bra ads into his room for further study.

 4) Rhythm Heritage "Theme from S.W.A.T." (45 rpm)

My second most-favorite TV show theme song next to Rockford Files. Outside of the inevitable weekly drug raid, its theme was the only real reason for watching this Aaron Spelling potboiler. Everyone else must have reached the same conclusion because once an extended version was made available on disc, ABC dropped the series.

This pseudo disco rocker was the closest I'd ever gotten to funk. More happily, I've also somehow avoided any scrapes with federal law enforcement.

Fun fact: If you listen closely, you can hear an SRT van's tires screeching at the end of the bass breakdown. Or perhaps it’s Evel Knievel at Wembley. Listen here!

 5) Bill Haley and the Comets “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” (45 rpm)

It’s impossible to underestimate the impact television, and its inexorable link with music, had on my generation. Forty-somethings can still hum the theme songs of Welcome Back, Kotter (another early addition to my cache of seven inchers that escaped this list in an attempt to avoid redundancy), The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Barney Miller, All in the Family, and The Greatest American Hero. Before Happy Days became a bastardized hybrid of authentic Fifties nostalgia and oddly Seventies feathered hair, Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” fittingly served as the sitcom’s opener.

Even today it’s easy to see how the Comets whipped a crowd of Krauts into a violent frenzy at the Berlin Sportpalast. This exhilarating, crystal clear blast of rock ‘n’ roll still leaves me in awe, with Danny Cedrone’s supernatural  guitar solo, accompanied by Billy Gussak’s perfectly-timed snare drum and cymbal wallops. White lightning in a bottle. Performances like this aren’t so much planned as they are divinely inspired. And how, exactly, does one sit down and compose a song like this? Simple, but far from stupid; dynamic, yet uncontrived. Somewhere in Gonesville the planets were perfectly aligned when these heretofore unglorified shitkickers reinvented an entire genre, thus kicking AM radio’s posterior for all of posterity.

Side note: Contrary to what Bowser and Sha Na Na might have led unsuspecting teens to believe, their duck-tailed forbears most assuredly did NOT wear gold lamé jumpsuits. At least not out in public.

 6) The Surfaris “Wipe Out” (45 rpm)

Gene Krupa did it a generation or two earlier with his work on Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Here, however, is the disc that created vanloads of drummers, for better or worse, beginning in 1963. My parents had a copy of the Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run” long player, but even that precursor to surf-rock paled in comparison to the raw power of this platter, featuring the stick work of one Ron Wilson (no relation to Brian, Dennis and Carl). Again, how are these things written? It is difficult to imagine the rock lexicon bereft of this immortal drum roll: it needed to be created, and so it was. And God saw all that He had made, and it was very good, daddy-o.

Make no mistake, this is pure garage rock. And, as mind-blowing as the drum breaks are, they’re only a springboard (no pun intended) for a nearly unhinged guitar solo. It still knocks me out.

 7) The Coasters “Yakety Yak” (45 rpm)

It’s one thing to sing Barry Manilow duets with your young son, and quite another to risk allowing subversive thoughts to creep into his formative consciousness, which is why Mom wasn’t all too thrilled with the lyrical content of this Coasters classic. But the shuffle rhythm was irresistible, and besides, the real fun wasn’t so much in singing the seditious “yakety yak” as it was in trying to properly mimic the baritone repartee, “Don’t talk back.”

Mom’s fears weren’t totally unfounded, as “Yakety Yak” would coincidentally find its way on to her wise-ass kid’s turntable from time to time, usually following a well-deserved scolding.

Trivia: King Curtis provided the iconic alto sax solo on “Yakety Yak”.

 8) The Playmates “Beep Beep” (45 rpm)

Largely forgotten today, this nugget enjoyed a modest revival via “golden oldies” radio stations, and regular spins on the Doctor Demento Show. Given my growing obsession with Dad’s old Spike Jones records, it is no wonder why this novelty number held special appeal. Accentuated with rhythmic toots on a bicycle horn, the musical narrative describes an apparent road race between a Nash Rambler and Cadillac.

The gag, of course, is that the contest is one-sided: the Cadillac driver is only trying to catch up to the Nash Rambler to ask how to get his car out of second gear. Ha.

But the truly sad part of this whole thing is that I didn’t understand the punch line. Pop tried to explain it to me, but neither Big Wheels nor Schwinn Stingrays were outfitted with transmissions. It only dawned on me years later in the middle of a driving lesson, as my poor instructor wondered why the hell I was laughing to myself like a maroon. Listen here!

 9) The Beatles "Rock and Roll Music" (2xLP)

Unlike Colorforms and Shrinky Dinks, my parents must have recognized that the "Got to Get You Into My Life" single was holding my attention nearly as much as the Sunday circulars. And so Santa got word that this compilation needed to appear beneath our tree on that storied Christmas morning of '76.

The first pressing of this two-LP set was housed in a silver foil gatefold sleeve. The artist, Ignacio Gomez, must have thought Elvis was the fifth Beatle because he inexplicably inserted images of Marilyn Monroe, a '57 Chevy, and Wurlitzer jukebox. Even the band's moniker was splashed across the front panel in neon lights, leaving one to wonder if Gomez was moonlighting from a gig as Happy Days' set designer. Perhaps the powers that be at Capitol Records were still high on the fumes from John Milner's Deuce Coupe. Whatever. None of this takes anything away from this album's impressive chronology of hits and misses culled from the Fab's miraculous catalogue. A true revelation.

 10) The Beatles "Meet the Beatles" (LP)

It wasn't too long before the "Rock and Roll" sampler helped me realize that I was an "early Beatles" kind of guy. (And, like any red-blooded American, I also preferred loads of reverb.) So "Meet the Beatles" was the logical place to continue my newfound fandom.

Like a mad scientist working in a lab, I obsessively listened to the album, deconstructing its magical formula with the Penncrest's balance control, intently honing in on one channel and then the other. (What the heck was Paul doing to those birds when he "sore them winging"? And why was he on the verge of hysterics during the last verse of "Hold Me Tight"?)

I've since owned many thousands of records, and comparatively few of them warrant this kind of immersion. I guess it was just a stroke of luck that I discovered it so early. It was also a mixed blessing: the bar was set very high, and it seems my relentless pursuit of recorded sound has been an attempt to recapture the euphoria I experienced upon first hearing the Beatles. Take an unequaled mix of youthful energy, chiming chords, seamless harmonies, and dazzling melodies, and add to that my own unspoiled idealism and a spare ten bucks, and you've got the makings for one helluva strange and wonderful adventure.

 John Potwora has a house full of records and plays drums in the semi-legendary power pop band Paranoid Lovesick. He also assailed radio listeners as the bombastic John E. Midnight over WRUW-FM, where he spun obscure Sixties garage rock (and dubious yarns) for several long years.

5150 Never Helped Me With the Ladies, But It Is Still My Favorite Van Halen Record - by Colin Gawel

Part One:

Somewhere along the way, it became very easy to slag Sammy Hagar. Sure, he ventures too close to Bon Jovi territory for comfort. And sure, the whole "Red Rocker," "VOA" and "Mos Tequilla" thing reeks of corporate marketing and Gene Simmons-type condescension but... taken in the context of the times, minor infractions indeed. What's maybe most offensive about Sammy is how successful and well-adjusted he is. It's just plain annoying that one man can have it all and enjoy it so much. But I digress, allow me to take a moment and give Sammy Hagar some credit where credit is long overdue. At least among my peers. A couple pro Hagar thoughts.


- One record EVERYBODY agrees is amazing is the debut Montrose record. Prog-rockers, metal heads, dandy hipsters and punks can all dig on Bad Motor Scooter and Space Station #5. Guess who sang lead and wrote most the lyrics on that? Our pal Sammy. Ever notice Ronnie Montrose never did anything after Sammy took his talents to mountain biking?

- And if you could afford it, Sammy's booze was life-changing. Hell,  I thought gagging and holding your nose was just part of the tequila experience until some folks bought us some Cabo Wabo at a club in Marquette, MI. I remember my first sip like seeing KISS for the first time on the Paul Lynn Halloween special. "Wait a minute, tequila can actually taste good?" ($90 a bottle though)

- Dude could write a mean power-pop hook. Sure, he was dolled up as the Red Rocker, but songs like "I've Done Everything For You," "Two Sides of Love" and "I'll Fall in Love Again" are songs Hall & Oates can only dream of and Nick Lowe surely cranks up with a fat J late at night on occasion. Dig this.. (editor's note: Colin, the next time you mention Nick Lowe and Sammy Hagar in the same breath and/or sentence, sanctions WILL be imposed.)

--- And when, after a decade of struggling to find an audience his career shifted into - ahem - high gear on the strength of "I Can't Drive 55," Sammy left his deal, and took a pay cut to join Van Halen.

Let that sink in for a minute. Sammy Hagar walked away from a platinum record to follow a frontman who was considered impossible to follow. In his excellent memoir, RED, Sammy recounts his label boss David Geffen telling him, "Let me get this straight, you are going to break your contract with me, go from getting paid as a solo artist, selling out arenas, to join a band taking the place of David Lee Roth and getting a 1/4 split of everything?" Sammy also went from 100% of publishing to 25% share in V.H. That might be the literal definition of putting your money where your mouth is. Oh, he also insisted the band keep the name Van Halen even though Diamond Dave had left and there was big pressure for a change to be made.  

Sammy said, "I'll give it all up and sign everything away to play in this band. We are that good." David Geffen, for all his faults, deserves credit for basically tearing up Sammy's deal and allowing him to sign with Van Halen and Warner Brothers. Paraphrasing...."I would never stand in the way of an artist who felt that strongly, even though I disagreed. I let him go and asked for one more solo release to complete the deal. I could have held out for a piece of Van Halen, but I didn't." 

OK, before all you Diamond Dave followers start barfing at the thought of Sammy taking over, let's take a long hard look at what Van Halen had become by this time. 

I know it hurts to say it, but V.H. was running on fumes by 1984. Sure, the band could still rock it live, but between the song Jump and Dave doing his Just a Gigolo and California Girls thing and it was getting kinda lame. And when my little sister put up a smiling Eddie Van Halen poster on her wall, Van Halen were officially NOT COOL. I even traded my copy of 1984 for Steve Miller's Greatest Hits with a kid down the street. Sure, I'd miss Drop Dead Legs, but I could watch Van Halen anytime on MTV and The Stake was kind of groovy. 

Doubt me? watch this..

Part Two:

Enter Sammy Hagar the spring before my senior year of high school. I bought my copy of 5150 on both album AND cassette. Why both? Well duh, I had to mow the lawn right when I got home from Buzzard's Nest and I couldn't wait that long to crank up the new tunes. And mind you, at this point in time, earbuds were just a gleam in some future nerd's Dad's eye. I had to CRANK that SONY Walkman past 11 to Pete Townshend headphone levels to hear the music above the noise of our green Lawn Boy. And crank I did. From the first notes of "Good Enough" to the final strains of "Inside," 5150 became the official record of my senior year of high school. If you drove past my Pinto, Summer Nights was coming at you. I wanted the best of both worlds. Whatever those worlds were. Biggie and I even willed 5150 to each other in our senior yearbook. If that's not rock n roll, I don't know what is. Though in full disclosure, despite it's promises, Van Hagar didn't seem to do it for my stalled romantic life. Love never walked in. I only beat out one infield hit to reach "first base" my entire senior year. One goddamn hit. Goes to show a Red Rocker may never be a Gigolo, but as long I had the beer and rock n roll, I could make do without the sex. Though the following Van Hagar records slowly declined in both novelty and quality, I still have a copy of Van Halen 5150 in my 1999 model car today. And yes, it's a cassette. And yes, it's still my favorite Van Halen Record. - Colin G.

Yeah , you heard him, Colin Gawel likes 5150 better than any other Van Halen record. He plays in Watershed and The League Bowlers and founded Pencilstorm while standing behind the counter at Colin's Coffee.  

 Hidden Track: 

Just because 5150 is my favorite Van Halen record doesn't make it the best Van Halen record. I'm just one dude who liked to crank Get Up cruising to his job at Bill Knapps in high school. If forced to argue the best Van Halen records I suppose I would say:

#1 - Van Halen - Groundbreaking, mind-blowing debut. Musicality smashes head on into showmanship. Like Queen on piles of blow.

#2 - Van Halen II - Proves they are no one hit wonder and Dance the Night Away is a pop gem

#3 - 5150 - Replacing a frontman such as David Lee Roth is a historic achievement and the single Why Can't This Be Love is perhaps the strongest single in the Van Halen catalog. 

#4 All the David Lee Roth Van Halen records. Except that new one. And that awful Live in Tokyo disaster. Gawd.

In fact, hold on.... watch this..

In fact, that is so bad, I should have led the story with it. I buried the lead. 

#5 All the other Van Hagar records. I like OU812 and Unlawful fine. Some fat, but some good tunes too. 

#6 That one where the guy from Loverboy sang. Or was it Don Dokken... whatever. 

But forget best. What Van Halen records am I going to play in my driveway today? Right here, right now?  I'm writing this on the 4th of July. Yes, I'm a loser but I just read the excellent Van Halen Rising by Greg Renoff and the less excellent but still fun Running With the Devil by Noel Monk and I've got V.H. on my mind. And the driveway will rock. . 

I am now going to listen to Van Halen in this order. 

5150 and then Van Halen II (light the grill) and then... Diver Down...(put brats on) and then Fair Warning and then Van Halen I (take off burnt brats and throw in the trash, put on more brats) and then that one new song Tattoo and then Hot For Teacher and then Poundcake and the new Cheap Trick record.

Colin Gawel really did write this on the 4th of July. Flag.