Archive for the ‘Ral Donner’ Tag

Desert Island Files   Leave a comment

March 1, 2018

Many of us have taken a vacation camping in a redwood forest or along one of California’s great coastal parks; perhaps you’ve been to a riverfront, lakefront, or oceanfront hotel or inn. Maybe there was an island vacation you never forgot or dreamed of exploring. Sitting in a remote location under the influence of amazing scenery can lead us to think about the ultimate getaway, or at least my idea of the ultimate getaway: a desert island. A vacation for a week or two is one thing. The idea of a permanent island getaway isn’t for everyone but the imagery is alluring to many. I recall sitting at a bar overlooking the Caribbean in 1975 thinking I could live here. I had the same feeling a few years later in Hawaii. Great idea. Then reality smacked me along side the head and I got back to thinking about earning a living.

Over the years the idea was refreshed when I started reading about people who had compiled their list of desert island discs. In the glory days of vinyl singles and LP records the idea of hauling a collection of 500, 2000 or more vinyl records of any size became IMG_0443obviously impractical. At one or two LP records per pound, we were charged with thinking about just the records we couldn’t live without. This was no abstract stream of consciousness. Even the idea of 100 albums or singles or both was a bit daunting when you had to think about the turntable, speakers, amplifier, needle and cartridge, cables, electricity, and the shipping weight. As I said, daunting. Nevertheless I thought about a list, my list, which brings me to a somewhat (I hope) interactive idea. From time to time I’ll be writing about tracks or complete albums or both that will be on my Desert Island Disc list (or perhaps Desert Island “digital file” list). I’ll keep adding to my list and, I encourage you to email a track, or an album, or both and I’ll publish them, as appropriate. Yes, you must tell me why, but be brief. And when I publish yours, I’ll only use your initials and town, as in “DS/Gualala”. So here goes.

• 1950s: Marty Robbins was born in Arizona but staked his claim in Nashville. One of his biggest hits was “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation”, which spent 26 weeks on the charts, peaking at #2. Many of his songs were often stories, like “Big Iron” and “Ballad of the Alamo”. A third story/song was a 1959 single titled “El Paso”, about a cowboy—presumably white—who falls in love with a Mexican girl, Felina. He gets in a gunfight over Felina and, to get to the point, the gunfight ends badly. If it sounds corny, it is. And wonderfully so. El Paso spent 22 weeks on the charts and peaked at #1.

• 1960s: Ral Donner’s career was probably doomed from the start. He sounded way too much like Elvis and recorded for a small label (Gone Records). Donner did achieve a measure of success getting five singles to chart on Billboard’s Hot-100 chart. His biggest hit was “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Until You Lose It)” which peaked at #4. However, my favorite was 1961’s “She’s Everything”. The session was easily described as modest. Best guess is guitar, organ, bass, drums, and a couple of male background singers. The lyrics have the singer telling his first love that his current love is “everything I wanted you to be”, hence the title.

• 1970s: B.W. Stevenson had a total of four singles make the Hot-100. Two of them got my attention. “Shambala” and “My Maria” in 1973. The first single was covered by Three Dog Night and essentially killed the Stevenson version which peaked at #66. However, “My Maria”, release about two months later, rose all the way to #9, spending nine weeks on the charts. “My Maria” was catchy from the opening riff, and then nails it with a falsetto as he sings “Maria” during the bridge.

• 1980s: My 1980s pick is an unusual recording. It combines a hit act—The Pet Shop Boys—with a pop music legend, Dusty Springfield. Pet Shop Boys had launched their chart success with “West End Girls” in 1986. But it was the decision, two years later, to bring Springfield in to sing the bridge that I absolutely loved. The “boy’s” lament is sung by the band:

You always wanted a lover
I only wanted a job
I’ve always worked for a living
How am I gonna get through?
How am I gonna get through?
To which Springfield responds,
Since you went away
I’ve been hanging around
I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down
You went away, it should make me feel better but I don’t know
How I’m gonna get through?
(What have I, what have I,
what have I done to deserve this?)
How I’m gonna get through?

It’s absolutely great 80s pop music, but these two artists working together create a fabulous (and memorable) track. “What Have I Done To Deserve This” peaked at #2 in 1987.

1990s: I can easily select “Good Riddance” (Time Of Your Life), a 1997 release by Green Day. Their success on the charts, on tour, and even on Broadway is well documented. But this one song—which was heard on the final episode of Seinfeld (and I believe it also found its way onto a final-season episode of Murphy Brown) is great pop-music songwriting, and a brilliant sad and yet hopeful boy-to-girl song. The lyrics are simple, poignant, emotional, and complete:

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.
So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

The song and recording are about moving on and it’s become a staple of proms across the country. Rolling Stone declared “Good Riddance” one of the “20 Best Graduation Songs of the Last 20 Years”.

So there you go. Five tracks that are on my Desert Island list. Give them a listen. One or more may end up on your list as well. After all, whether dreamily looking out over the Mendocino Coast, or on your own desert island, music is a part of our lives, and I highly recommend that any of these tracks be placed in your luggage.

David Steffen

©2018 David Steffen


Tomorrow’s Memory Lane: Re-Enjoying Music and Music History   Leave a comment

The Highs and Lows: Part 1

August 27, 2015

When it comes to memorable music, we all have reference points in our personal music history. It’s when the melody or the lyrics or both touch us in unexpected ways, and stay with us. Trying to identify the “discovery moment” is an exercise in acute or selective memory. For example, to this day I know exactly where I was the day JFK was shot* (acute). I cannot, however, say with any certainty where I was when I first heard Ral Donner’s 1962 recording of “She’s Everything”, (a favorite of mine) other than I lived in Milwaukee and heard it on Top-40 radio (selective).

Those familiar with the analytical device known as the Bell Curve, understand that it’s a useful tool in the study of statistics, buying habits, trends, and new technologies. The concept can also be applied to my rambling narrative about how we embed our favorite recordings into our long-term memories. Our favorite songs don’t arrive en masse at birth,BELLC SWFTP nor do favorites always arrive chronologically. We often hear recordings that are new to us but in reality have been around for years. Regardless, each is added to an ever-growing collection of our favorite music as we grow to maturity. However, whether noticed or not, our readily available collection shrinks as we age, hence the Bell Curve imagery. The “missing” music doesn’t necessarily disappear, but rather favorites can recede from our memory until some outside stimulus awakens them.

Some of my favorite records—those that I use as touchstones—were, in fact, recordings I discovered after the fact; not when first released but well after a record’s introduction and immediate or ultimate success. Part of this was chance, as we all had a limited amount of time to listen to the radio and weren’t always listening exactly when the new hit was being played. One of the great things about recordings is that there is no expiration date on discovery, so we have the luxury of discovering music over days, weeks, months, years, or longer. Today’s millennial generation of music lovers is, to a large degree, a generation driven by social media. Instead of taking days, weeks, or months, their “discovery” can be in minutes or hours. The bottom line for all music lovers is that each discovery is the recognition of a personal, emotional preference, as in “I like that”, or “it speaks to me”. When we first hear the music is no less important than how we connect with any particular recording.

Jesse Lee Restaurant

Alice (back) David, Norman, Lee

Before the age of ten, while my mother, father, sister, brother, and I were still together as a family, we drove almost every summer from our home in Milwaukee to visit family in either New York, or Florida, or Texas. It was during a 1958 visit that one of my earliest rock ‘n’ roll memories was created. Of course there was music in the Chevy station wagon during the drive. The real memory, however, was in Dallas, where my grandfather Jesse owned a little diner on the fringe of downtown. From our booth I could see right into the kitchen and observe Alice, Jesse’s cook creating her memorable meals for the regular crowd of local Texans; and for a ten-year old from Milwaukee.

About the same time that Alice placed our lunch in front of us (roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy for me), Jesse’s jukebox kicked in playing “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley. One of the most played records of 1957, it didn’t matter that the record had been out for a year, had already been up and down the charts, and had gone through my 10-year old brain hundreds of times before that day at the diner. From that moment and continuing today, I connect “All Shook Up” to the taste of Alice’s roast beef, and that’s a pleasant memory.

The “connectors” of music to our brain—our personal pleasure or pain receptors—are always waiting to be triggered by some moment, some memory. Whether you create a list with pen and paper or on your computer, or you decide to reorganize your iPod playlist, the point is simple: music is indispensable in our lives. It can evoke roast beef or roses; it can be Elvis or the Eagles; Beethoven or Billy Joel; or it can be Dallas or Milwaukee. It’s where we were then, and where we are now. At the very least, music is a regular accent to what goes on around us, in the foreground or as a backdrop. At its very best, our memorable music is a soundtrack to the events of our lives, from cradle to grave. We can’t relive our lives, and we can’t dwell on what’s past. But, we are absolutely allowed to let that smile cross our faces and embrace the music we’ve loved. Don’t wonder why the music stays with us. Just be grateful that it does.

David Steffen

© 2015 David Steffen



“Tomorrow’s Memory Lane”, is from a song by Henry Gross***:

We were talking about the old days, Down on Flatbush Avenue

From the leathers and the ducktails, To the jet black pointed shoes

Just a singing ‘Hold On, I’m a Coming’ ’til our voices gave way

Just a singing ‘Hold On, I’m a Coming’ and God bless Sam & Dave

I know what a flash it is going back to where we came

But there ain’t no use in getting all hung up trying to live on Memory Lane.


Note: An edited version of this post is available in the September issue of The Lighthouse Peddler.

Posted August 27, 2015 by Jazzdavid in History, Media, Music History

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