If (A Musical Story)

a2z_logo_final_social-620x324If, if, if. If only WXPN, a supremo radio station in Philadelphia, hadn’t come up with the idea to play almost 6,000 songs in strict alphabetical order, based on their titles, then I’d never have been flailing around helplessly in the monstrously deep rabbit holes that abound within my cranium. But XPN did, starting at 6:00 AM on November 30 with The Jackson Five’s smash hit ABC (click here to listen), and proceeding around the clock for what seemed like forever. The station finally closed the lid on the affair mid-day on December 17 after airing a song that just about nobody knows, ZZ Top Goes To Egypt (click here), by a band that just about nobody knows, Camper Van Beethoven. A tune with a title that begins with a double Z . . . who’d have thought that an animal like that exists? Leave it to the music worshippers slash obsessives at WXPN to come up with a stunning conclusion to the marathon.

And talk about obsessives. Me, I thought I was done with being one of them. Over the last few decades I’d shed a good ninety percent of my excessive tendencies. Still, backtracking happens, and I found myself being swallowed whole by what XPN was up to. Yeah, I got so involved with the A-to-Z my bodily systems started backfiring. For days I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. Even worse, I didn’t watch my favorite episodes of Duck Dynasty and The Real Housewives Of Atlanta over and over on demand. And not just because I was hopelessly involved in listening to that avalanche of music. Uh-uh. I also had been captured by letters, words, the whole alphabet thing. I was beaming in hard on alphabetic considerations of song titles. Pathetic, man.

I’d never before given more than a cursory thought to the words that song titles begin with or to the patterns that the titles form. Who knew that tons of titles begin with Just, for example? Or that there might be any titles starting with X (such as X Offender, by Blondie). Or that some letters (e.g. T, S and I) are the first letters of an astounding number of song names. Or that one artist (David Bowie) might show up with back-to-back songs (Fascination and Fashion), so tightly are their names alphabetically related.

“What’s going to follow Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot?” I frantically wondered during December 3rd’s early moments, unable to come up with the fairly obvious answer that soon hit the air: Dancing Days by Led Zeppelin. And I frantically wondered about countless other minutia throughout the A-to-Z, following along online as XPN posted each addition to its playlist (click here to see the playlist). Letters! Words! Sequences! My geeky and anal ponderings were getting the best of me. I needed relief, blessed relief. Who or what might be my savior?

“Snap out of it, you fool!” my wife Sandy commanded me, eight days into XPN’s extravaganza, as she dumped a pitcher of cold water onto my head. I was seated on the living room sofa, ears glued to the radio. “Thanks, Sandy, I needed that,” I said as the refreshing liquid ran lovingly from my head to my toes. I rose, gave Sandy a well-deserved hug and walked across the floor to turn off the radio. Over the following days I continued to listen to XPN, but in reasonable servings.

I guzzled many hundreds of the thousands of songs that spewed from WXPN’s studios during the festival. Great music abounded, yet one song more than any other brought me up short and went straight to my heart. It’s an oldie that most folks know. And, for reasons unknown, I heard it — no, felt it — much more powerfully than ever I had before.

Many sublime songs (Love Train; I Love Music . . . ) flowed from the minds and pens of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, but did any equal or surpass If You Don’t Know Me By Now? No way. Gamble and Huff, two of the progenitors of The Sound Of Philadelphia that soulfully and majestically conquered the world in the 1970s, surely realized that they had created a diamond when the writing sessions for that number reached their end. What a song, its finest version being the 1972 original by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. It’s a manifesto about the need for trust and honesty and, more than anything, a declaration of true love. You quiver when Teddy Pendergrass, lead singer for HM&TBN, unleashes pleas robed in frustration. When the rest of the group fills in all the blanks with angelic vocals that cushion and counterbalance Teddy’s hot emotions, you levitate and maybe find a few tears drizzling down your cheeks.

Sandy doesn’t know this yet, but one evening soon I’m going to dial up If You Don’t Know Me By Now’s number, turn the volume to a gentle but firm level and swirl with her around our living room. The song is in waltz time, and even a four-left-footed sloth like me can handle a waltz. Here, then, is the best song I know of whose name begins with If.

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39 thoughts on “If (A Musical Story)

  1. ghostof82 January 4, 2017 / 12:24 am

    I had the Philadelphia 10-disc boxset for my birthday a few years back, some amazing gems in that set. No-one makes music like that anymore. Must dig that box out and give those discs a spin again, thanks for giving me the nudge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger January 4, 2017 / 9:04 am

      Hi.
      Like you say, so many great songs were written and recorded in Philadelphia in the 1960s/70s/80s. A real goldmine.

      Like

  2. cincinnatibabyhead January 4, 2017 / 1:25 am

    Do radio stations still do this? CB is out of touch (Not news). Had a guy up in my neck of the woods who did the same thing. Every Friday or Saturday night. It took him years. Great piece Neil. I’d like to see a play list of that endeavor. It was shows like this that CB discovered bands like ‘Camper Van’. Patti Smith ‘Dancing Barefoot’, can’t lose. Good luck on the dance with Sandy. The song will do all the work.

    Liked by 1 person

      • cincinnatibabyhead January 4, 2017 / 12:31 pm

        Thanks for that Neil. Just opened it up and seen Captain Beefheart ‘Zig Zag Wanderer’ on the list. If CB ever heard that coming out of the box he’d would freeze on the spot and wonder if the world was finally getting in tune. CB will spend some time on the list, thanks again. Might even tune into that station for a try. (Ads and yaking usually scare me off).

        Like

  3. aladec January 4, 2017 / 8:09 am

    Nice article. I have an obsession with a C/W station on TV. Blows my mind when they decide every 6 months to change the loop

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Joyce Hamilton January 4, 2017 / 8:27 am

    Love song If…….would love to see a video of you waltzing with Sandy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger January 4, 2017 / 9:02 am

      Hi Joyce. Maybe I’ll make a video of Sandy and me dancing, and put it up on this blog (but, don’t hold your breath!)

      Like

  5. Still the Lucky Few January 4, 2017 / 11:32 pm

    I’ve never heard of such a bad case of binge listening! Music can do that to you. But it sounds as if you are all better now.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ken Dowell January 5, 2017 / 12:57 pm

    I also listen to XPN. I have an Internet radio and it’s one of my presents.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sherri Fox January 5, 2017 / 5:27 pm

    Lots of ifs in l-IF-e & tons of ands but only a few really good butts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. dcw0731 January 6, 2017 / 12:21 am

    Can see why you were so involved in listening to the A-Z list. I’m only at C reviewing the songs and I’m blown away by the selections.

    Liked by 1 person

      • dcw0731 January 6, 2017 / 2:06 pm

        I found it interesting that they don’t have Free Bird but they have Sweet Home Alabama. Also interesting how they play Velvet Underground but no Lou Reed versions of the songs. And last if you made it through to S you could get your Beach Boys fix when they played Surfin’ Safari, Surf’s Up and Surfin’ USA back to back to back

        Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger January 6, 2017 / 4:23 pm

      Hi, Kathy.
      Nah, I was just kidding around. I don’t watch a whole lot of TV these days. There’s a million good programs on, more than there ever was, and I should start watching some of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Martin January 6, 2017 / 7:13 pm

    What a great post. Also a timely reminder of the power of radio. CDs and downloads Nd on deman is great but you need that thing where someone plays something nd makes you think “Yes! That was great, I’ve gotta listen to that again”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The Antipodean Blatherer January 6, 2017 / 10:27 pm

    I think I’ll show this list – and link – to my partner, he gets into investigating lists of music, and it sounds like it covers a wide range of genres. I think it’s kind of great that we are capable of getting so obsessed by music, as you did with this program. Life would be a little bit less interesting if we didn’t have the capability to get so excited by such small things. Glad you got so much out of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Aunt Beulah January 8, 2017 / 8:00 pm

    You’ve probably noticed by now that music isn’t as high on my list of things I can’t live without as it is on yours, but it’s there. And I swear, Neil, every so often you write something that sends me on a thinking, remembering and listening spree that bumps it up a bit, as you did with this post. It still hasn’t passed theater, but if I keep reading your blog, it could.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger January 8, 2017 / 10:28 pm

      Hi, Janet. Thanks a lot for keeping up with my musical adventures. And a very Happy New Year to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. andrewcferguson January 9, 2017 / 4:12 pm

    Great piece Neil. I can totally see how using a simple device like alphabetical order could create some very interesting patterns of music. I totally need to find a way to listen to more radio than I do – at the moment, it’s more or less limited to the witless ramblings of DJs on one of our local pop stations in the swimming pool changing rooms. As ever, you’ve inspired me to do more!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. everythingsundry January 10, 2017 / 12:55 pm

    Loved this essay! It brought back memories of all the days and nights I spent listening to the radio…. Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Rick Williams PGA January 25, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    That whole XPN thing was RIDICULOUSLY GOOD!!!

    My buddy P would text me randomly with just the song title or band. “What the hell letter are they in now?”..

    BTW, they picked a great song to end on, and I’m a huge Camper fan. ll & lll is an excellent album 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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