Monthly Archives: June 2012

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Image Sources: Minor League Ballparks and Ballpark Review

This week I will be returning to northern Florida for the first time since September 12, 1986, my 14th birthday and the day we moved back home to Maine. What do I remember over the last quarter century? What is going through my mind? Let’s find out…

It was truly a dump even then, seventeen years before it would finally be put out of its dated misery. But in 1983, to a ten-year-old kid from Maine who had never even seen a minor league game, Sam. W. Wolfson Park, home of the Jacksonville Suns, was magic.

My dad took my brother and me to a few games over the 1982 season, and our connection to the game, the park and each other solidified every time. I inherited my love of baseball from my dad, naturally. He is pure Brooklyn. Dad was crushed when the Dodgers left in 1958, and fell in love again when the Mets were born in 1962. I grew up loving the Red Sox, Mets and Brooklyn Dodgers, in that order.

In a time when Astroturf and heinous multipurpose stadiums ruled the game, Wolfson Park was a last-gasp of old-school glory, with real grass (!), brick and beam, portal windows and a wheezy organ. I can still taste the hot dogs and smell the fresh breeze, which was tinted with the St. John’s River and the stink of burnt coffee from the nearby Maxwell House roasting plant.

And the park carried shared history. Mets greats Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver pitched here!

In 1982/1983, Jacksonville was a AA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, so we saw plenty of current and soon-to-be major leaguers, including pitchers Danny Jackson, Mark Gubicza and Brett Saberhagen. TV had not fully saturated the game at this level, so it was still magical to sit close enough to actually see major league ballplayers, to see their expressions and mannerisms, to hear them talk, to BE there.

Nothing, however, was ever as magical than the night of March 9th, 1983, when the Yankees came to town.

My grandmother lived in Brooklyn until 1981, and when we went down to visit during the Saturday Night Fever ‘70s, the Mets were nowhere. The Yankees were burning up The Bronx (which was literally burning!), and my brother and I were enraptured, though we were both die-hard New England Red Sox fans. (My brother Eric was born while my parents lived in Carteret, New Jersey, but I don’t hold that against him.) In the ’70s and early ‘80s, we fell under the spell of the Billy Martin/Dave Winfield/Graig Nettles Yankees.

And those Yankees were playing an exhibition game against Jacksonville University at Wolfson Park, and we were going.

I don’t remember much of the game, other than we were somehow allowed to sit ON THE FIELD, and that my bro and I sat, in our Rawlings baseball pants, on the chalk of the third base line, a few hundred feet from our idol Nettles at third. Billy Martin probably got ejected, and he probably kicked some dirt on the way for show. Dave Winfield (George Steinbrenner sarcastically called him “Mr. May” in comparison to “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson. Steinbrenner – the Man Who Wrecked The Yankees – is dead, and I still have my Winfield model glove. It’s a minor last laugh, but nevertheless.) probably went on a tear. And that rookie at first, kid named Mattingly, probably looked pretty good. But I remember we sat ON THE FIELD behind Nettles, gloves in hand, and worshiped the ground the New York Yankees walked on, even as we sat on the same ground.

My bro and I made it on to the cover of the 1983 Suns yearbook, pictured from behind sitting on the third base line. And somewhere I probably still have the t-shirt: grey with a black ringer and silk-screened with the ticket from that game and the caption, “The Night The Lights Went On: In Jacksonville” (the game was a benefit to raise funds for lights for the JU field).

I despise the New York Yankees organization, and the greed and arrogance that allowed them to tear down the magnificent Yankee Stadium, co-opt a public park on which to build a new faux-Yankee Stadium with $1,250 (PER GAME) seats, a concrete moat surrounding those seats and $35 parking with no refunds for rain-outs. I am a die-hard Red Sox fan, and thanks to my dad I still love the Mets. And I am a practical nostalgist: I love old-fashioned and retro, but not at the expense of comfort and practicality. Wolfson Park Jacksonville was dated twenty years before it finally fell, and good riddance.

But damn, I wish I could revisit that night at that great old ballpark with those damn Yankees all over again.



Image Source: Michelle F. on Foursquare

I have a foot in sand at the edge of the water. I feel the suck as the wave laps and pulls back out to the deep. The sand is wet but firm, cool after the sun has started its descent. Green lights slowly flicker on the distant pier, and the sound of gulls and breakers is all-encompassing and all-compelling. The day-job is non-existent and my blood pressure is flatline.

My wife and I share the sunset (from the wrong coast, of course) and the knowledge of years and experience. We are on Crescent Beach in St. Augustine, just south of my formative years in Jacksonville, on our ninth anniversary getaway trip. We have a 7:30 reservation for a Spanish/Cuban bacchanal at the Columbia Restaurant in St. Augustine, but right now we’re lingering, taking in the moment, hoping to throw this unforgettable moment to the sand and hold it in place forever.

We were wed in Seattle, where my wife is from, on June 21, 2003, and returned to our Maine home after a one-night honeymoon at Mount Rainier (where we spent the night in separate twin beds). On our first anniversary we happened to be visiting a friend in Brooklyn, and we spent the day at Coney Island and then bar-hopping across the East Village and Brooklyn. Precedent set, we decided to be Somewhere Else for every anniversary. This plan has brought us to coastal Maine, Montreal, Washington D.C., San Diego and back to New York. And now, back to Florida.

The above scene is how I envision our ninth anniversary unfolding as I write this on the Sunday before. It’s a moment that we’ll remember forever for us. And it’s also a triumph for me as I continue the re-write of my life. Eight years removed from the sands of Brooklyn, I am now toe-deep in the sands of my past, reclaiming the trauma of my pre-teen years and reclaiming this patch of earth for us.

However today unfolds, I am eternally fortunate to be spending it with my soul-partner and best friend. Happy ninth, love. The best is yet to come.



Step right up, son! Image Source: Jacksonville Business Journal

This week I will be returning to northern Florida for the first time since September 12, 1986, my 14th birthday and the day we moved back home to Maine. What do I remember over the last quarter century? What is going through my mind? Let’s find out…

In 1984, in Jacksonville, FL, USA, I was bussed. After two years at Beauclerc Elementary, which was in my neighborhood, I was bussed completely across Jacksonville, largest city in the country in terms of square mileage, to a predominantly black school in a predominantly black neighborhood.

I walked into this situation without a hint of prejudice, and today I tell the tale without a hint of prejudice. Race has nothing to do with my thoughts then or now, and if I bandy about keywords that are racially charged in 2012, well, that was just what we knew in 1984.

But Goddamn, it was a weird situation.

I mean, bussing happened in Boston in the ‘70s, right? We were over that shit by ’84, right?

I’m not sure why I was bussed. Maybe some pencil-pusher in the Duval County School District dropped a cigarette ash on a demographic report and missed a figure. Maybe they just threw a dart or played eenie-meenie. Who knows how bureaucracy really works? But so it was determined that I would be bussed, 45 minutes each way, for sixth grade.

I was joined by a few friends from Beauclerc, so I had some solidarity. And the bus ride, if long, was pleasurable. The driver always played the radio loud, so my commute was filled with Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” and Diana Ross’s “I’m Missing You” and Don Henley’s “Sunset Grill” and U.T.F.O.’s “The Real Roxanne” (yes, it was played on commercial radio).

Crossing the Mathews Bridge and taking the Arlington Expressway meant plenty of bumps, and I always sat in the back hoping to hit the ceiling. I think it actually happened once, although I don’t quite remember (maybe there is a correlation here).

And when we finally arrived, the school had its moments. I remember getting together an air-band performance of Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” for a talent show. I had warning track power at recess, and I pulled off a few nifty doubles. And at some point the school day ended every day.

But I remember “my man” Cedric and my “friend” Chad most.

I often “loaned” Cedric my lunch money, and once loaned him my new Casio computer watch. I would get that one back in pieces and – you won’t believe this – I would never get my lunch loans back. But Cedric had a way of smoothing things over. “We tight!” he would say, and I would believe it. “You mah man!” Cedric would tell me, and I’d buy it. I heard him call me a “dumbass honky motherfucker” behind my back a few times, but no matter: we tight! Right?

Chad was a pure St. John’s River redneck, well-versed in Hank Jr. and Charlie Daniels lyrics and the content of Guns & Ammo and Field & Stream. We were never all that tight, and even less so after the day he produced a pair of handcuffs on the bus, hooked my right arm up to a seat and punched me until my arm was completely numb and lifeless. Why did he do that? Who the hell knows. The bus driver actually saw this attack and let Chad off the bus early – somewhere in ghetto downtown Jacksonville. I have no idea what happened to him from there, but the way my arm was feeling, I didn’t much care.

1984 was the year of George Orwell, Reagan’s trouncing of Mondale, Ethiopian famine, Maine Girl Joan Benoit ruling the LA Olympics, Bhopal, Bernie Goetz, the launch of the CD player, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, the last Van Halen album, the rise of Mötley Crüe and hints and intimations from major underground bands such as The Dead Kennedys and R.E.M. It was also the year I was bussed, and the year I really learned all about what it meant to trust another human, no matter their color.



This is what it felt like. Image Source: Skill Guru

This week I will be returning to northern Florida for the first time since September 12, 1986, my 14th birthday and the day we moved back home to Maine. What do I remember over the last quarter century? What is going through my mind? Let’s find out…

My first day in 4th Grade at Beauclerc Elementary, Jacksonville, FL, instilled in me a sense of terror and dread that I carry to this day.

I was The New Kid, a strange outlander from Maine, of all places. (“Do y’all have snow up there all the time?” “Do y’all live in igloos?”) It was difficult being so recently removed from all my friends and all that was familiar from my life in Brunswick, but I would find a few friends in short order.

But I will never fully recover from the horror that was Ms. Jelks.

Ms. Jelks was morbidly obese and ebony, with shimmering curls hanging into her eyes. I can see her yet, sitting on her desk, cross-legged and leaning right slightly, as if she was so exhausted that she wanted to lie on the desk, but was too exhausted to get her legs up all the way. The next year, when The Empire Strikes Back came out, I saw Jabba the Hut on the screen and immediately thought of her.

And her personality wasn’t much better.

She didn’t waste any time establishing the lay of the land. Not long after the bell rang, on my first morning in my new school in my new home, my new teacher was informing her class, “now class, you done heard that Headmaster Blah-blah’s paddlin’ arm been broke, but I’m here to tell you that his arm done been healed over the summer, an’ that paddlin’ arm is ready to go!” She paused for a second, and then repeated, “Ready to go!”, as if any of us really needed emphasis. I, a ten-year-old from a progressive Yankee enclave, had never heard of anything so draconian as corporal punishment in school, and the idea of a fully-healed and ready to go! paddlin’ arm made my butt-cheeks clench.

And then class began.

Memory lies, and memory moves the goal posts around, so I’m not sure if this was on my first day, or later. It definitely feels like it was the first day. It was at least my first week. At any rate, the equation on the board was 9 x 8. I was called forth to solve it, and I stood before the board in terror.

And I froze.

I stood there, in mortified silence, hearing the snickers of the class growing louder and louder. I stood there, trembling and trying desperately not to cry, feeling the raging disapproval in Ms. Jelk’s icy gaze. I wasn’t a dumb kid, but I was perhaps a bit slow with math (a safe bet, since I failed pre-algebra twice in high school), and I just couldn’t get 9 x 8 on a dime.

The seconds seemed like years in my head, and the snickers grew into a full-on William Tell Overture of laughs, cat-calls and withering scorn. Eventually Ms. Jelks put me out of my misery. Did she kindly help me out? Did she offer a hint, pat me on the shoulder and applaud me for trying? Nah.

“It’s seventy-two, now Sit! Down!

I slinked back to my seat, feeling the tears at least welling up. I don’t know if I actually let loose with a gusher, but it felt like I did. Needless to say, I can answer 9 x 8 on a dime to this day (with a shudder), even if I may not be sure why one gets 72 from 9 x 8. But why bother with such piddly details as process and meaning?

My first day and week, and Ms. Jelks had broken my confidence and left me a shell-shocked wreck, paranoid of getting paddled for my next incorrect answer and even more paranoid waiting for my next public humiliation. My spiritual de-pantsing would continue with great speed over the next four years, but this was the epicenter. My new life in Florida was off and running!



This is where it all began. Image Source: Zillow

This week I will be returning to northern Florida for the first time since September 12, 1986, my 14th birthday and the day we moved back home to Maine. What do I remember over the last quarter century? What is going through my mind? Let’s find out…

My dad was a travel agent in Brunswick, Maine. At some point in 1982, before I turned ten, it was announced that he got a job in Jacksonville, Florida. We had visited Orlando and Disney World plenty of times thanks to his work, but now we were moving to Jacksonville, a mere two-hour drive from Orlando. Okay, then.

I don’t recall being upset or excited. I don’t really remember any of the dirty business of moving, saying goodbye to friends, or any of the rest. I vaguely remember a Paul Arpin moving truck and boxes, but that’s about it. My dad preceded us down, and one day we just stepped into our new apartment, which was already furnished with two metal wire chairs, the same chairs as the Regency Square Mall Food Court in Jacksonville, where I had just discovered the joy of Chick-fil-a Waffle Fries. My dad, the bachelor.

We had Apartment 5G of The Gloucester Apartments, at 4915 Baymeadows Road. The complex has since been converted into condos, and apparently a previous management company is wanted in Florida, Ohio, New York and Nevada for such fun and games as fraud, embezzlement, absconding of funds and breach of contract. But, of course, that was long after my time.

My dad picked up my mother, brother and myself at Jacksonville International, and we drove to the complex in our silver-and-rust with black vinyl interior 1979 Ford Fairmont station wagon. The buildings of The Gloucester were a strange mix of Tudor and southern Colonial: Olde English font on the sign at the front of the complex, more pine trees than palm trees, gabled roofs with dormer windows, brick with shutters and coach lanterns. The effect was a bewildering middle finger to the endless waves of palm-tree-shrouded Spanish plaster and stucco that washed over the rest of the neighborhood.

I remember walking in the bare living room, saying,”well, there’s not much to it”, and we were home.

My favorite parts of my new home presented themselves immediately. The pool was great, and the pool was right next to the tennis court. And in the dark, Astroturf carpeted hallway between the pool and the rental office was a vending machine with Mr. Pibb, which didn’t exist in Maine. It was love at first taste, which was like Dr. Pepper on crack.

And, perhaps best of all, we had that newfangled Ted Turner Broadcasting Network, TBS, which brought us Atlanta Braves baseball EVERY night. As soon as the daily thunderstorms cleared out, it was Joe Torre’s Braves, with Dale Murphy and Claudell Washington in the outfield, Bob Horner and Chris Chambliss at the corners, Phil Niekro, Al Hrabosky (the Mad Hungarian) and Steve Bedrosian on the hill and Bruce Benedict and the immortal Biff Pocoroba behind the plate, Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren with the play-by-play. I was a die-hard Red Sox fan from New England, but the 1982 National League West winning Braves became my second team.

The humidity was heavy, and the neighborhood reeked of sulfuric water from sprinklers on every lawn. But at the close of summer 1982, I was settling into my new home, happy to have Chick-fil-a, Mr. Pibb, a pool and tennis court and a ballgame on the tube every night. It was an easy transition.

Things would change when school started…



This is the fifth installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts across these essays. Such is life and rock ‘n

Goal Post Shift 1: Arthur Brown is not dead. But, c’mon, FLAMING HELMET.

Arthur Brown was born into his Crazy World June 24, 1944, in Whitby, Yorkshire. His 1968 debut, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, actually made the Top 10, and the single “Fire” reached #1 in the UK and #2 in the States. (The record was produced by Pete Townshend, whom we last ran into with his other Who side project, Thunderclap Newman. 1968 was a fruitful year!)

So Arthur Brown had the look, establishing the horror-kabuki theme that would be co-opted by Alice Cooper and KISS (who are, in my humble opinion, a bunch of disco-sucking hacks in comparison). But he also had a brilliant falsetto and scream, and a tight band (Fire! Horn kicks!) with brilliant organ. You can hear the Arthur Brown sound in heavy metal contemporaries Deep Purple and Uriah Heap. A million records sold and a million points of influence on future progeny. Not bad.

So what became of Arthur Brown? A little of this, a little of that. He formed a band called Kingdom Come in the early ‘70s, put out a few solo records, played The Priest in the film version of The Who’s “Tommy”, moved to Texas and earned a masters in counseling, worked as a painter and carpenter, moved back to the UK and recorded spoken word albums, formed an acoustic band, re-formed Kingdom Come…

And did I mention FLAMING HELMET?



This is the fourth installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts across these essays. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.

It’s a song that should induce a sugary coma (nylon-string guitars + xylophone + strings + oboe and…shudder…soprano sax solo? Sap overkill!). It’s a song that should carry the nauseating tinge of a prom theme (if the theme of your prom was Getting Your Ass Dumped, that is). It’s a song that should collapse under its own weight and pretension. But it doesn’t. Denis Yost’s voice prevents The Classics IV’s “Traces” from becoming too maudlin.

Dennis Yost (died of respiratory failure on December 7, 2008, two years after suffering severe brain trauma after a fall) was The Classics IV’s drummer when they were a Jacksonville cover band, but he had a great set of pipes. They started playing the circuit, moved to Atlanta, signed with Capitol and then Imperial Records, and had a #3 hit in 1968 with “Spooky.” One year later, “Traces” did even better, hitting #2. Love is kind of crazy, indeed.

If “Spooky” was pure ‘60s garage rock, then “Traces” was pure anytime angst. The (mostly) wonderfully metaphoric lyrics of “Traces” tell of a man sifting through the ashes of a relationship, resigned but hopeful of a reconnection. Yost could hit any sort of emotional tone with his voice, and there is an edge in his vocals, a toughness that does not belie self-defeat. This is what saves the song from emotional collapse.

Breakup songs are often too overwrought to bear. “Traces” is not. It is a breakup song that defies the traditional oh-woe-is-me mode, leaving the listener with the faint hope of a do-over. This is the stuff of AM Radio Gold (and of great prom dances, no matter the prom theme).



This is the third installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts across these essays. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.

Goal Post Shift 1: Big Star never got anywhere near a hit. Big Star’s singer/guitarist Alex Chilton did have a #1 – “The Letter” – with his previous band, The Box Tops, for four weeks in the summer of 1967, when he was sixteen (with a much older voice). But the closest Big Star got to the charts during their existence from 1971 – 1974 was nowhere, and the closest they got to public acclaim was in 1998, when the song “In the Street” was appropriated as the theme song of “That 70s Show.”

But, as was said of The Velvet Underground, nobody bought their records, but everybody who did started a band. The shimmering British Invasion-meets-The Byrds jangle-pop sound of Big Star was a seminal and oft-cited influence on The Replacements, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, R.E.M. and countless other bands who shaped the underground and mainstream landscape of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The legacy of Big Star is indirect, but it is incalculable.

Chilton (died of a heart attack on March 17, 2010, at age 59), guitarist Chris Bell (died in an auto accident on December 27, 1978, at age 27), Bassist Andy Hummel (died of cancer on July 19, 2010, at age 59) and drummer Jody Stephens (still alive!) gravitated toward each other around the axis of Ardent Studios in Memphis. While recording, the band often made snack runs at a Big Star Market near Ardent, and they co-opted the name.

The first record, hopefully titled #1 Record, was released on the legendary Memphis label Stax in June 1972, to rave reviews. Slight problem, though: Stax had major issues with promotion and distribution, thus the few people who actually heard the record had a hard time finding it. This would lead to major internal band frustrations, drug abuse, literal in-fighting and lineup changes.

The second record, again hopefully titled Radio City, was released on Stax, which was now controlled by Columbia Records, in January 1974, to rave reviews. Slight problem, though: Columbia refused to distribute the record, and it only sold around 20,000 copies. This would lead to major internal band frustrations, drug abuse, literal in-fighting and lineup changes.

The third record, unofficially titled Third/Sister Lovers was recorded by the only remaining members, Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, in 1975. There was no record label interest, so the album was shelved and Big Star broke up. Alex Chilton moved around the country, played occasionally and worked as a dishwasher.

BUT. By 1978, things were happening. #1 Record/Radio City was released as a double album in the UK, and soon after Third/Sister Lovers was released in the UK and the US. More ears found their way to Big Star, setting the stage for the ‘80s and ‘90s, and allowing Big Star to spend those decades sharing stages with their progeny.

R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck said in 1991, “We’ve sort of flirted with greatness, but we’ve yet to make a record as good as Revolver or Highway 61 Revisited or Exile on Main Street or Big Star’s Third.” Big Star, mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles, Dylan and The Stones, by one of the hottest musicians in the country at the time.

Paul Westerberg literally sang their praises, on the track “Alex Chilton” on The Replacements 1987 album Pleased To Meet Me. “I never travel far without a little Big Star.”

Countless other examples can be cited, but really it’s about the breathtakingly beautiful music. Alex Chilton did have a hit once. But “September Gurls” should have been a hit. And now, thanks to the slow-to-develop legacy of Big Star, this pop gem is widely available, as it should have been all along.



This is the second installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts across these essays. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.

Pete Townshend’s chauffeur. A postal worker fond of 1920s roadhouse piano. A teenage guitar prodigy. Put ‘em together and what have you got? Thunderclap Newman and the psychedelic perfection that is the 1969 song “Something In The Air.”

It helps to be talented, and it also helps to have good connections. John “Speedy” Keene (died of heart failure, March 2002, at age 55) was a talented singer/drummer/keyboardist around London in the mid ‘60s. He also happened to share a flat with, and drive for, Pete Townshend, and he wrote “Armenia City In The Sky” on The Who Sell Out. Not bad.

Andy “Thunderclap” Newman played Dixieland piano and worked for the General Postal Office. He didn’t want to get into music full-time, because he didn’t want to lose his pension. Townshend and Who producer and manager Kit Lambert cajoled and pleaded, and Andy “Thunderclap” Newman left the Postal Service and his pension behind.

Jimmy McCulloch was sixteen when “Something In The Air” came out. But this young buck Glaswegian was a great guitarist, great enough to play with The Small Faces, Harry Nilsson, Bette Midler and Wings (this just in: Paul McCartney was a pretty fair musician). And he was probably great enough to feel invincible, as he died of heart failure from a heroin overdose at age 26 in 1979.

“Something In The Air” spent all of three weeks at #1 on the UK charts in July 1969. Initially there were no plans for Thunderclap Newman beyond the single, but the success of the single led to some touring before the band ultimately disbanded. It was a flash-in-the-pan song, but it’s afterlife has been remarkable and varied, with appearances in advertisements for the Austin Mini and British Air, television shows such as “My Name is Earl” and films such as “Kingpin” and “Almost Famous.”

It’s just one of those songs: you hear it and you know it, even if you don’t know it. Especially the chorus: “And you know that it’s right”, with those descending arpeggios underneath. It sounds familiar, just tip-of-your-tongue.

And here it is…



This is the first installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.

Goal Post Shift 1: It is rather unfair to classify Bob Welch as a One Hit Wonder (hello, Fleetwood Mac?). But because Welch’s time with The Mac was so brief, 1971-1975, and because his hit(s) preceded the mega-stardom of the Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham Mac of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I think the case can be made.

Goal Post Shift 2: It is also rather unfair to call the Fleetwood Mac version of Bob Welch’s One Mega Solo Hit, “Sentimental Lady”, the definitive version. Tough: in my mind it is.

If you were to call Central Casting searching for a late 1970s rocker, you’d probably get Bob Welch, who tragically died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last week at the age of 65. He just had that look: thinning-up-top-but-poofy-on-the-sides hair, big diva glasses and open collar shirts unbuttoned to the navel. I wouldn’t be surprised if he inspired the look of the record company exec who tried to turn Greg Brady into Johnny Bravo, and I’m sure that Welch inspired Disco Stu on The Simpsons.

Bob Welch wasn’t Kiss/Bowie glam, but he wasn’t the antiseptic brown banality of Jackson Brown, either. He was the perfect middle-ground: pure 1970s big-business corporate rock, edgy, but still safe to take home and leave the record jacket lying on the coffee table.

His signature song “Sentimental Lady” first appeared on the 1972 Fleetwood Mac record Bare Trees (first clip below), and then again five years later, in a re-recorded and re-arranged version, on the Bob Welch solo record French Kiss (second clip below). The later version is most well-known, and is a touchstone of 1970s AM Radio.

But give me the Bare Trees version any day.

The French Kiss version is great, to be sure, with its music box guitar intro and perfect harmonies. But, it’s too perfect. Too straight.

After releasing several poorly-charting rock albums, Welch decided to go mainstream and craft commercial pop songs. French Kiss is the result, and it’s emblematic of the corporate rock genre.

On the Bare Trees version, Welch’s vocals are spirited and buoyant. He stretches and pushes and takes liberties with tone and time. On the French Kiss version, the vocals are perfectly by-the-book, on the staff and on the beat. Nothing wrong with that, but this version just feels flat in comparison to the soaring brilliance of the Mac rendition. The effect is almost like a kid in marching band who gets yelled at for taking liberties with “Tequila”, and then plays it completely down the middle in cowering fear for the rest of the semester. Where’s the fun in that?

Bob Welch’s legacy certainly should be more than One Hit Wonder, and he left the world with several absolutely brilliant songs. Unfortunately, I think he peaked early and never quite recovered, and I think his own version of his own signature song proves that. Much as I love the “definitive” version of “Sentimental Lady”, I have to go with the Mac.