Music Thursdays with Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele: Jock jams

April 5, 2012

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Baseball season is upon us, and in honor of America’s pastime, Eight Forty-Eight brings you a special sports edition of Music Thursdays. During the show, Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer will explain how the word “jazz” travelled from the West Coast to Chicago 100 years ago (hint: it has something to do with baseball). But also, Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele share their favorite "jock jams."

Tony Sarabia:

Hopefully our picks today have a better chance of winning you over than the Cubs nabbing a World Series win in 2012.

My five picks cover most major sports, with one that many frown upon because of its explicit connection to gambling. So let’s start there.

I’ve never been to a horse race despite the Chicago area having had at one time or another, a number of race tracks. Here, racing and gambling play a big role in one of my favorite movies: Guys and Dolls.

I’ve only recently seen a stage version (one of my sons played Sky Masterson and blew me away with his rendition of "Luck Be A Lady"). Anyway, the opening scene shows the hustle and bustle of New York City as small time gambler Rusty Charlie absent mindedly walks into traffic as he reads his racing form. He comes to a rest at a newsstand where thru song, he argues over the best pick for that day’s race with his cohorts Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Johnny Shouthstreet.

The Frank Loesser song is known as "Horse Right Here" and "Fugue for Tinhorns" and the melody will stick in your head all day but that’s okay; it’s a lovely classic of a tune.

Soccer and forro are next with "O Rei Pele" which in English roughly translates as "O King Pele." Even you possess less than a passing interest in the soccer aka futbol, you’re probably familiar with the name Pele who is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for scoring the most goals in soccer history.

The song by Jackson do Pandiero is in the forro musical style. Forro is from the country’s Northeast of Brazil and has hints of Zydeco, ska and polka. Here you here the classic forro instruments: accordion, triangle and pandeiro.

Next up is a protest song by the master of protest songs: Bob Dylan. Dylan takes on wrongful conviction and racism with the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Carter was a professional middleweight boxer in the mid '60s before being hauled off to prison for a triple murder he and a friend were accused of committing.

Carter was convicted twice despite shoddy evidence. In 1985, Hurricane Carter was finally released on appeal and for a time served as the head of a Canadian group advocating for the wrongfully convicted. Today he’s a motivational speaker. "Hurricane" appears on Dylan’s 1975 album Desire and features the mournful violin playing by Scarlet Rivera.

Okay, time for some 1970s humor courtesy of Cheech and Chong. "Basketball Jones" is from the duo’s Los Cochinos, and a is soul doo-wop song with the protagonist singing in an exaggerated Curtis Mayfield style about his love, no addiction to basketball. Yes, it’s dated. But it does have a groove and it brings back memories of sitting on my older cousin’s basement listening to this album and rolling on the floor to the sophomoric humor.

Well I guess since baseball is the inspiration for this week’s Music Thursday episode I should give a nod to the sport. Here’s some real soul and R&B; it’s music that my cousins and I simply referred to as jams when we were kids.

Here, we get Philly Soul, Gamble and Huff style from The Intruders as they use the game to sing about love. While not as big of a hit as their "Cowboys to Girls," "Love (Is Like A) Baseball Game" did make the Billboard Top 40 in 1968.

Richard Steele:     

Dr. John is a music legend from New Orleans who is steeped in the music traditions of his hometown. His soulful vocals and funky piano work have added flavor to many genres of music, from blues to jazz and from R&B to zydeco. This recording is from the Ken Burns Baseball documentary on PBS. I doubt if you’ll ever hear a more soulful version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Mel & Tim were cousins who moved to Chicago from Holly Springs, Miss., and decided to pursue a music career. They recorded their first hit in 1969 after being discovered by Gene Chandler (his classic R&B recording was the “Duke of Earl”). Mel & Tim’s recording of “Backfield In Motion” reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B Chart and eventually became a million seller, earning them a gold record.         

Alan Barcus, a songwriter, composer, pianist and very successful jingle writer originally from LaPorte, Ind., wrote this Wrigley field “love song” called “You’re My Cubs.” This is from a locally produced CD called Chicago! My Kind of Songs, which contained a collection of songs about our fair city. The CD was produced in 1993 by Paul Gallis, an extraordinary record promoter who recently passed away.    

Dave Frishberg is a jazz pianist, composer and lyricist. The New York Times wrote, “In the pop and jazz sphere, the level of craftsmanship in Mr. Frishberg’s songs is equaled only by that of Stephen Sondheim.” Two of his most well-known pieces are “Peel Me a Grape” and “My Attorney Bernie.” He also collects old baseball books and magazines. This tune, “The Underdog,” certainly could apply to our Cubbies.       

The Dick Marx Orchestra was well-known on the Chicago music scene. He recorded the song, “Here Come the Hawks,” to honor the Chicago Blackhawks. It became a standard part of Hawks games. His son, Richard Marx, became one of Chicago’s outstanding contemporary recording artists, composers and music producers. Richard co-wrote the song “Dance With My Father” with Luther Vandross and got a Grammy for his effort.   

Natalie Cole, the daughter of the late, great Nat King Cole, recorded “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” for Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary on PBS. The song was first recorded in 1949 by Buddy Johnson. It did fairly well on the music charts, but later that same year, Count Basie re-recorded it and his version became a baseball classic.