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Baby Baby Baby Baby, Oh-hooh Bahee-bay: You know The Carpenters' hit song "Superstar"? Sure you do -- it's the one with the chorus that begins "Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby." Here's a Karentastic lip-synched version:

Two things I didn't know or even suspect about that song until I happened to be visiting Scott MacMillan's website today:

1) The song -- a Carpenters song, mind you -- is about sex. Actually, about a jilted groupie some time after a one-night stand.

2) Richard Carpenter didn't write it. In fact, the song has a bizarre and even mysterious pedigree.

Richard decided to record the song after he watched it performed in August 1970 on "The Tonight Show" by a mostly unknown singer by the name of Bette Midler. The following clip is not that performance, but an incredible bit of 1973 television in which the Divine Miss M leans into the song's substantial crazy, while Burt Bacharach gives new meaning to the word "coda."

You'll note that in this version, as in the original, there's a straight up desire to "sleep with you again," which Richard Carpenter changed into "be with you again." So where did Bette Midler get the song? Perhaps from Joe "Belushi destroyed me" Cocker, whose Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour was probably the biggest rock & roll circus going through the U.S. in the first half of 1970. One of Cocker's backup singers was a tall, comely young lass named Rita Coolidge. Every night Cocker would let Coolidge come out and sing this "Superstar" song, and her version ended up on the huge live album he released that August.

Where did Rita Coolidge get the song? Well, if you listen to her side of the story (as told during an Orange County performance four years ago), it was she wot wrote the thing, at least the basic idea and opening bits. Basically, she was inspired watching German groupie girls lust for a young guitar God named Eric Clapton. Watch Rita tell the story, then break down in sobs when her fans weirdly give her hundreds of flowers:

If you want to see how she sang it after telling that anecdote, click here. Me? I'd rather post a link to my favorite Rita Coolidge number, which (of course?) was written by Boz Scaggs, and due to the timing of its release (1977) and the warm metallic quality of her voice, is one of those objectively not-great songs which I respond to, Pavlov-like, with tears, or at least something close. (We're not done with the story of "Superstar," btw):

What a babe. Anyhoo, Coolidge didn't get a writing credit on the song (it's "Bramlett/Russell"), and in her story she mentions working on it with a "Bonnie," and also talks of her "favorite band," Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.

Who were Delaney & Bonnie? The late-'60s, early-'70s musical union of Delaney Bramlett and his new wife, the former Bonnie Lynn O'Farrell. One of those talented-and-awful choogly post-Blues Invasion bands that helped bridge the gap between Cream and Loggins & Messina, by way of the Saturday Night Live orchestra. Which is to say, bad white-boy southern-fried boogie, beards aplenty, and the best session musicians in Los Angeles (including Leon Russell, who is the "Russell" half of the "Superstar" songwriting credit). Eric Clapton, who credits Delaney Bramlett with coaxing him into becoming a lead singer (perhaps reason enough St. Peter will not be kind once DB ascends), basically volunteered himself as Delaney & Bonnie's guitarist at the peak of his powers, and borrowed most of their band for his Derek & the Dominoes project. They were exactly the type of people perfectly content to sing pointless, meandering songs with titles like "Poor Elijah":

I will here admit to an open fondness for Bonnie Bramlett, the mystery co-writer of "Superstar," according to both Rita Coolidge and the Coolidge-free songwriting credit. Not only is her thigh-drumming in the previous clip both spot-on and counter-intuitive, not only does she look like Meg Ryan playing Barbarella, but she's got a very nice (if bombastic) singing & harmony voice. Also, she was an East St. Louis gal, the first white member of The Ikettes, and has said it took her to age 20 to finally "realize I was white."

Remember when a young Elvis Costello drunkenly called James Brown a "jive-ass nigger" and Ray Charles a "blind, ignorant nigger" in Ohio nearly 30 years ago? That was Bonnie Bramlett who was there on the scene, and, well, let's let the Fleetwood Mac website tell the story:

In 1979, it was well publicized that Bonnie Bramlett was verbally assaulted by a drunk Elvis Costello over some derogatory comments towards Ray Charles and the status of black music in America; she subsequently punched him and was sentenced to some jail time.
If you're gonna do time, make it for slapping the shit out of a snotty Elvis Costello after he trashes his betters. Here's how Bonnie recalled it in a charming and highly recommended 2000 interview:
I slapped his face good. He was being disrespectful and out of line, stupid and drunk. It was my press conference and he was saying "nigger" all over the place. For the first time in twenty years, we had brought these Cubans here, who are now some of the best jazz musicians here. We took them to New York to be reunited with their family and the revolution had broken out in Cuba. Here's Elvis Costello going to call them a nigger. Please. Come on. Anyway we had a big confrontation and everybody in the press was there, Chet Flippo and his wife. If I had hired a press agent I couldn't have gotten more press out of it. You have not seen a lot of interviews on me talking about it, but just to get it out of the way. It would be a crying shame for someone as talented as Elvis Costello to go down in history as the one who got the crap slapped out him by Bonnie Bramlett. I would like to do a duet. I challenge him to come sing with me, you little butt-head, come live here in this country you said you hated. We can do a duet of "Peace, Love and Understanding."
Class. Here's another intriguing bit from that interview:
Who discovered you?
We were discovered by Gram Parsons in a club. He introduced us to our management and brought George Harrison to hear us and he turned us on to Eric Clapton. Gram was real country too. That was the Palomino thing. Delaney was the King of the Palomino Club, not Elvis. Not only did he look absolutely phenomenal, but he sang circles around Elvis.
Can you elaborate on Gram, his name keeps coming up?
He is probably here cheering me on to get this album done. He is my bud, buddy, buddy, buddy. I knew nothing about famous white people. When I came to California I knew who B.B. King was, and Eric Clapton did not impress me. I was raised by Albert King for crying out loud. I know Albert King, hello.
The first recorded version of what most of us know as a pretty, heart-rending if typically sterile Carpenters tune was actually a 1969 Delaney & Bonnie B-side, sung by Bonnie, with the name of Groupie (Superstar). Since then it's been covered by artists from Cher to The Ventures to Luther Vandross. Here's Luther:

And oh yeah -- Sonic Youth.

Bonnie Bramlett's website is here; she's still singing and acting. I'm glad to have gotten to know her.

02/10/2007 11:42 PM  |  Comment (25)

John McCain: You Cannot Support the Troops Unless You Agree With the Prosecution of the War:

Four fun inescapable conclusions flow from that point:

1) Joel Stein, apparently, was right all along.

2) By that logic, John McCain wouldn't have supported himself if given the chance in the 1960s, because he was bitterly opposed to the White House's prosecution of the Vietnam War. So opposed, in fact, that, well, let's let the Straight-Talker talk!

Long after the war, I once rashly remarked that the entire senior command of the armed forces had a duty, which they shirked, to resign in protest over Washington's management of the war, knowing it as they did to be grievously flawed. Obviously, my father was implicitly included in my indictment.
Kinda sheds some new light on McCain's weird trashing of Gen. Casey, don't it?

3) By that same logic, John McCain didn't support our reeling U.S. troops in Somalia in 1993:

On October 14, 1993, eleven days after the ambush of our rangers in Mogadishu, I offered an amendment on the Senate floor restricting funds for American forces in Somalis to the purpose of their "prompt and orderly withdrawal."
Note that this is quite a good deal more severe than a non-binding resolution -- those are the purse-strings, bay-bee.

4) Nor did John McCain support the troops -- at least according to McCain's logic in the clip above -- in September 1983:

I am not calling for an immediate withdrawal of our forces. What I desire is as rapid a withdrawal as possible.

I do not foresee obtainable objectives in Lebanon. I believe the longer we stay, the more difficult it will be to leave, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of our withdrawal.

In fairness to Senator Serge, he regrets actions 2 through 4. He has since come to learn that the only way you can ever really support our troops is to agree with each and every one of the Commander in Chief's lousy decisions, including (especially?) the ones that make troops dead, for the very important strategic reason that Failure Is Not an Option, at least until that moment when it is.

02/06/2007 11:47 PM  |  Comment (6)

Among the Worst Things Ever

Blame Steve Smith.

02/06/2007 10:53 PM  |  Comment (5)

Five-Word Movie Review, Music and Lyrics: Chick flick sinks pop romp.

02/06/2007 10:32 PM  |  Comment (1)

Top 10 Seasons by an Angels Reliever: Most recent installment in this never-ending series here. But first a mini-announcement that should gladden the hearts of you non-baseball fans out there: This will probably be the last time I drown the real estate here with a big pile of obscure baseball numbers. Soon, Ben Sullivan willing, I'm going to create a new website to store that stuff, and launch a fab new project that I hope to announce by the time Spring Training rolls around. I'll still tease some of the new postings here, but otherwise get back to the business of taunting ol' Walnuts McCain, retrieving the missing two years from the archives, updating the frozen-in-amber blogroll that was yanked back to 2004 without my consent, etc.

Meanwhile, your top 10 seasons by a reliever:

1) Ken Tatum, 1969
 7 2 45 33 22  86.3  51  65 39 1.04  6.78 1.36 257 20.4        29
2) Bob Lee, 1965
 9 7 69 50 23 131.3  95  89 42 1.04  6.10 1.92 177 20.2  X
3) Bob Lee, 1964
 6 5 64 39 19 137.0  87 111 58 1.06  7.29 1.51 218 20.1 
4) Donnie Moore, 1985
 8 8 65 57 31 103.0  91  72 21 1.09  6.20 1.92 214 19.9  X  7   6
5) Bryan Harvey, 1991
 2 4 67 63 46  78.7  51 101 17 0.86 11.56 1.60 256 17.8  X  5
6) Minnie Rojas, 1967
12 9 72 53 27 121.7 106  83 38 1.18  6.14 2.52 125 16.0        24
7) Francisco Rodriguez, 2006
 2 3 69 58 47  73.0  52  98 28 1.10 12.08 1.73 254 14.7     4
8) Francisco Rodriguez, 2004
 4 1 69 29 12  84.0  51 123 33 1.00 13.18 1.82 252 14.7  X  4
9) Dave LaRoche, 1978
10 9 59 46 25  95.7  73  70 48 1.27  6.59 2.82 129 14.2        25
10) Troy Percival, 2001
 4 2 57 50 39  57.7  39  71 18 0.99 11.08 2.65 179 14.1  X

And the winner is: A 25-year-old rookie whose chart-topping season didn't even begin until the end of May 1969 when he was called up to the Big Show. Tatum, a second-round pick from three years earlier who mostly started in the minors, allowed just one run in his first 18 appearances, and was made closer within his first two weeks, replacing 46-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm. In a six-week stretch in August and September he gave up two runs in 38 innings. He only gave up one home run all year, zero unearned runs, finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, and 29th for MVP.

How weird is it to have a rookie closer, let alone one who does really well? For the Angels in the 1960s, it was routine. Number three on this list of all-time best seasons as an Angel reliever is Bob Lee's rookie year of 1964. Which, in turn, followed Julio Navarro's solid rookie season as a closer in 1963 (2.89 ERA in 90 IP, 12 saves), and preceded by two years Minnie Rojas' fine rookie campaign in 1966 (2.88 ERA, 10 saves), in which the 32-year-old rookie wrested the closer's job in June from a graying ... Bob Lee! So that's four times in seven seasons that the Angels featured a rookie closer who pitched extremely well.

Ken Tatum, too, lost his job the year after his rookie splash, when hitters suddenly woke up in June 1970 and realized he wasn't a 1.00 pitcher. After the team's relatively successful 86-76 season, he was shipped off to Boston with young outfielder Jarvis "no relation" Tatum and banjo-hitting young second baseman Doug Griffin, for Jerry "this dude was an All-Star? Moses, unpromising pitcher Ray Jarvis, and a 26-year-old fellow who had already hit 160 homers in just five big-league seasons, including 36 in the one just previous: Tony Conigliaro. Since it was an Angels trade with the Red Sox, it was a catastrophe -- Conigliaro only hit six more homers in the majors; Moses hit .227 with four homers and was traded, and Jarvis never pitched. Tatum, meanwhile, had two mediocre seasons for the Sox, and was out of baseball by age 31.
Conspicuous absence from the list: Scot Shields, Andy Hassler, Art Fowler, and Mark Eichhorn.
The hell's HE doing here?: Besides Tatum? Bob Lee. But only because most Angel fans don't remember relievers from the 1960s not named "Minnie."
Other weirdnesses: For the first seven years of the Angels' existence, their closers posted ERA+s of 118 or better (meaning, 18% better than league ERA after adjusting for park context). No other expansion team has ever done that. In fact, that seven-year stretch of 118s or better has never again been matched by the Angels, though that will almost certainly change by the end of 2007. Original Angel manager Bill Rigney was great at building the back end of a bullpen, in an era before those roles were as minutely defined as they are today. Take a look at this chart of expansion teams' closer ERA+s over their first seven years on Planet Baseball:

Year 1 191  96 245  84 126 108  93  82 121 145 122 246 121 143
Year 2 132 100 160 102 145 216  93  98 230 103 123 149 159 159
Year 3 118 133 124  81 134 181  83  95 127 103 165 132 154 103
Year 4 218 159 102  77  72  97 200  93 189 124 136 208 115 156
Year 5 177 133 109  93 138 106 143  93 139  97 110 104 104 216
Year 6 123 145  68 144 141 191 177  78 142 181 144 139 105 178
Year 7 125 117  88 112 119  83  97 111 115  91 112 132 125 145
Averag 155 126 128  99 125 140 127  93 138 121 130 159 123 157
Median 132 133 109  93 134 108  97  95 139 103 123 139 121 156
MedAvg 144 130 119  96 130 124 112  94 139 112 127 149 122 157

"MedAvg," obviously, is the number between "Median" and "Average".... You can see here that the Angels had more consistently good performance out of their closers than any expansion team until the Florida Marlins, and then the Arizona Diamondbacks. What makes this fact even more odd, is that the team had flat-out lousy closers and bullpens for most of the Nolan Ryan era. Some day this year I'll study how those bullpens affected The Express' W-L record....
Relief pitchers raised at home, made famous elsewhere: Tom Burgmeier, Pedro Borbon (didn't know that, did you?), Mark Clear, Mike Fetters, Derrick Turnbow.
Old soldiers who came here to die: Basically, almost every Dodger reliever you can think of: Larry Sherry, Ron Perranoski, Orlando Pena, Jim Brewer, Terry Forster, Mark Clear (he came back!), Greg Minton, Mark Eichhorn, Craig Lefferts, Dennis Cook, Rich Rodriguez, Jason Christiansen.
Positional Miscellania: Though Frankie Rodriguez is amply represented on this list, and will likely add to the total if he stays healthy (indeed, he's probably the best bet -- and certainly the only one left besides Troy Glaus -- to be the only Hall of Famer from the 2002 World Champsionship team.... It's extremely rare, almost unheard-of, for World Champs to be HoFer-less), over the past four years Scot Shields has totaled almost as many Win Shares: 46.3, to K-Rod's 49.7. He's certainly the best Angels set-up man in history, though Eichorn was good, Shiggy had his moments, and Stew Cliburn had a monster 1985 (Gene Mauch always built good bullpens for the Angels).

What else? In 2003, the top 5 guys in the bullpen had way more Win Shares than the top 5 starters -- 48.5 to 26.5. In 2000 it was 38.9 to 27.4. Those are the only two seasons in which the top five starters didn't have more. Also, you know the whole vaunted modern Angel talent for assembling quality bullpens out of spare available junk? Well, it started before Scioscia/Stoneman. The team was squeezing life out of such unlikely likes as Mike James and Rich DeLucia as early as 1997. And it's actually been a few years since the organization pulled a Brendan Donnelly out of its hat.

02/04/2007 10:42 AM  |  Comment (15)

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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