Happy 50th birthday, Headquarters!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

Released 22 May 1967, Headquarters was The Monkees’ third studio album, and their first with almost complete creative control. The few outside musicians were properly credited, as were the professional songwriters.

Though The Monkees began life as a TV show band, assembled from four guys chosen via auditions, they rebelled against their handlers and became a real band. It was also beshert, destiny, that those four guys were chosen out of everyone who auditioned, and that they meshed together so well.

HQ immediately reached #1, but was dethroned by the most overrated album of all time a mere week later. It stayed at #2 for the next 11 weeks. HQ also reached #1 in Canada and the U.K. In Norway and Finland, it charted at #2.

Track listing, with stars by the 2007 bonus tracks:

“You Told Me” (Nez)
“I’ll Spend My Life with You” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart)
“Forget That Girl” (Douglas Farthing Hatlelid)
“Band 6” (mostly instrumental)
“You Just May Be the One” (Nez, with a chorus line some people have famously misheard as “Oh, Nimbus” instead of “All men must”)
“Shades of Gray” (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil)
“I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind” (Boyce and Hart)
“For Pete’s Sake” (Peter and Joey Richards; used as the closing theme for the second season of the TV show)
“Mr. Webster” (Boyce and Hart; reminds me very much of “Richard Cory” on Sounds of Silence)
“Sunny Girlfriend” (Nez)
“Zilch” (a fun nonsense number that’s a group effort)
“No Time” (Hank Cicalo)
“Early Morning Blues and Greens” (Diane Hildebrand and Jack Keller)
“Randy Scouse Git” (Famously written by Micky about his wild, exciting experience in London and meeting his first wife. The title translates as “Horny Liverpudlian Jerk,” and was hence retitled “Alternate Title” in the U.K.)
“All of Your Toys” (Bill Martin)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (Nez)*
“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” (Neil Diamond)*
“She Hangs Out” (Jeff Barry)*
“Love to Love” (Neil Diamond)*
“You Can’t Tie a Mustang Down” (Jeff Barry)*
“If I Learned to Play the Violin” (Joey Levine and Artie Resnick)*
“99 Pounds” (Jeff Barry)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (single version)*
“Randy Scouse Git” (alternate version)*
“Tema Dei Monkees” (Boyce and Hart)*
“All of Your Toys” (early mono mix)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (second version)*
“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” (mono single remix)*
“She Hangs Out” (mono single mix)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (mono single mix)*
“Nine Times Blue” (Nez; demo version)*
“She’ll Be There” (Sharon Sheeley; acoustic duet)*
“Midnight Train” (Micky; demo version)*
“Peter Gunn’s Gun” (Henry Mancini; jam session)*
“Jericho” (studio dialogue, arranged by Peter)*
“Pillow Time” (Janelle Scott and Matt Willis; demo version)*

I absolutely adore this album, and easily give it 5 stars. The bonus tracks on the most updated reissue are also awesome, though I personally feel like they go on too long and start detracting from the listening experience. The last few bonus tracks are kind of like the endless jam sessions on the third LP of ATMP, where I’d constantly wonder, “Isn’t this over yet?” It would feel less bloated with less bonus tracks, and the rest saved for a boxed set or disc of rarities or outtakes.

HQ is definitely one of the key albums to get acquainted with if you’re just getting into The Monkees!

Vintage soldier photos with a twist

Due to my move and the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, I’ll once again only be posting on Sunday and Monday of this week. To mark Memorial Day, here are some vintage photos of soldiers you may not have seen before.

A U.S. Army medic in WWII takes some time to help civilian children.

A U.S. Army medic (45th Infantry Division) and a captured Wehrmacht medic work together on a wounded Wehrmacht soldier, Anzio, Italy, 6 February 1944

U.S. Army medic treating a wounded Waffen SS soldier, 1944

1 July 1944, U.S. Army medics helping a wounded dog found in the rubble of Carentan, France

Some medics (like my character Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov of the Canadian Army) were trained as vets instead of people doctors, so why shouldn’t some human doctors sometimes switch their focus too?

1944, medics’ station

1943, wounded soldiers being evacuated sans ambulance

A Wehrmacht soldier with a soft spot for kittens

A cat hissing at a Wehrmacht soldier

A little boy saying goodbye to his father during WWII

WWI medics helping a wounded dog

He was caught and relieved of his post shortly afterwards, his ultimate fate unknown. It’s hard to believe the Berlin Wall really existed in my own lifetime and that there used to be two Germanys, since there’s been one unified Germany for 75% of my life so far!

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part III

There’s nothing better than good old-fashioned time in a writer’s journey. We become better writers with the passage of time, and learn what our weaknesses are and how to edit our work. Excellent, experienced critique partners and the most esteemed editor in the world telling us such-and-such is awkward phrasing, an overused word, cluttery chat, overwrought prose, or infodumpy dialogue won’t mean anything if it doesn’t click in our brains. We have to see it for ourselves, not merely be told it’s a problem. Only then can we begin to understand how to improve.

Thus, I noticed a number of shortcomings while editing the second edition of Little Ragdoll. In addition to what I’ve previously mentioned, I also found:

1. Rehashing established information. We already know, for example, everything good Allen has done for Lenore since he gave her a safe place to stay when she was a 15-year-old runaway. Why be reminded of the main points every time Lenore reflects on or talks about their history together?

We also already know all the good things Father and Mrs. Murphy up in Yorkville have done for Lucine and Emeline, and how they adopted oldest sister Gemma’s birth son Giovanni after she divorced her abusive, unwanted husband and started over. There’s no need to be reminded again and again.

2. Pointless, cluttery chat adding nothing to the scene, or coming across like me putting my own viewpoints into characters’ mouths. At one point, Allen is talking about how his parents were very upset when Giovanni was adopted and taken out of their clutches, since they’d been planning to sell him for at least $1,000 on the baby black market. There’s no need to point that out when we already know how black-hearted they are and why Allen doesn’t want them coming anywhere near his kids.

In another scene, when Ernestine, Julie, and the three oldest Ryan siblings are comforting Adicia after her black-hearted, unmotherly mother coerced her into sacrificing her virginity to save her mother from returning to prison, Ernestine and Girl/Deirdre get into a discussion about the repackaging of Beatles’ albums. Though Adicia snaps at them to have this conversation later, and they apologize, it’s still really inappropriate they began discussing that during such an emotional time.

3. If a character is meant as an intellectual or someone very political, make sure that naturally flows with the overall direction of a scene or dialogue. Emeline just wouldn’t be the same Emeline if she didn’t constantly bubble over with chatter about books, philosophy, music, Eastern religions, and vegetarianism. Likewise, Girl/Deirdre, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Ernestine wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t so tuned into politics and social issues. They have to be discussing that for a reason, not out of the blue.

4. Some dialogues and passages don’t lose anything, and are made stronger, by cutting out the fat. This goes for removing overwrought prose, too many details, unnecessary lines, rehashing established information, and polemics which sound more like the author trying to work one’s opinions in than a character naturally expressing such thoughts.

In the scene of Ernestine and the Ryans riding up to Hudson Falls from Poughkeepsie for Thanksgiving 1972, I cut out everything Deirdre said about a certain topic. Now, Adicia begs to talk about something else after she feels Deirdre’s scathing critique of this subject is finished. I similarly cut out the dialogue Ernestine and Deirdre have when revisiting this subject during baking on Christmas Eve.

5. When a story is set during a very political time, conversations of a political nature are kind of inevitable. The first time the subject of the Vietnam War is broached, it leads into Lenore hoping Allen isn’t drafted, and then turns into the girls planning what Lenore will get Allen for his upcoming 21st birthday and trying to get Lenore to admit she has a crush on Allen.

Chapter 37, “The Year the World Went Up in Flames,” is about 1968, and so it naturally follows there will be discussions about things like the presidential election, RFK’s assassination, the feminist protests by the Miss America pageant, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Were I only starting over with this story today, I’d write certain things differently, maybe change wraparound narrative passages into active scenes. Part I in particular might be drastically different. But this is how the story came together, and I can’t alter everything in the impossible quest for perfection.

Happy 50th birthday to A Quick One!

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Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use doctrine

Released 9 December 1966, A Quick One was The Who’s sophomore album. From my experience in the fan community, this seems to be one of those things which is largely judged differently along sex-based lines. A lot of guys tend to hate it or think it’s junky bubblegum, while female fans are more forgiving and are even known to like it more than a little.

This isn’t one of the greatest albums of all time, but it’s not the worst either. It’s a typical 1966 album, in that there are a few hits and radio favorites padded out with a bunch of filler. For the most part, I find the filler fun and cute. One guy on the old album reviews section of thewho.net claimed he wanted to throw up every time he played it. As I said in my own review, why would someone play any album he hates so much it makes him want to throw up?

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

 “Run Run Run” (written by Pete)
“Boris the Spider” (written by John)
“I Need You” (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Whiskey Man” (written by John)
“Heat Wave” (cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song)
“Cobwebs and Strange” (instrumental) (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Don’t Look Away” (written by Pete)
“See My Way” (written by Roger)
“So Sad About Us” (written by Pete)
“A Quick One, While He’s Away” (written by Pete)
“Batman”*
“Bucket T”*
“Barbara Ann”*
“Disguises”* (written by Pete)
“Doctor, Doctor”* (written by John)
“I’ve Been Away”* (written by John)
“In the City”* (written by John and Keith)
“Happy Jack”* (written by Pete)
“Man with the Money”* (cover of an Everly Brothers’ song)
“My Generation/Land of Hope and Glory”* (first part written by Pete; second by Edward Elgar)

As per the custom of the era, the album was repackaged for the American market, and retitled Happy Jack. The U.S. version removed “Heat Wave,” and added “Happy Jack” between “Cobwebs and Strange” and “Don’t Look Away.”

The album failed to chart in the U.S., though it reached #4 in the U.K. The only successful single was “Happy Jack,” which charted at #3 in the U.K. and #24 in the U.S. “Boris the Spider” became one of John’s most popular songs, one of the songs most associated with him. “So Sad About Us” also became very popular, as well as the original closing track.

By 1966 standards, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is a complete anomaly, particularly on an album full of songs ranging from 1:53 to 3:04. It clocks in at 9:10, and, true to what Pete admits is his own pretentious nature, it was billed as a mini-opera. The subject matter is also pretty risqué for 1966, since it’s clearly about an affair and cuckoldry. It consists of six parts:

“Her Man’s Been Gone”
“Crying Town”
“We Have a Remedy”
“Ivor the Engine Driver”
“Soon Be Home”
“You Are Forgiven”

Pete wanted cellos in the concluding section, but since The Who didn’t exactly have the type of budget as The Beatles did, they had to sing “Cello cello cello cello cello cello cello” several times.

The band were under a contractual requirement to write at least two songs each, though Roger only wrote one. Pete was always their predominant songwriter, though John showed a real talent for songwriting already at this early point. I love the dark, twisted humor in his songs. Roger did go on to write some pretty nice songs, but I think we’re all glad he chose to stick primarily to singing.

It’s fun, cute bubblegum pop, not the hard rock The Who became known for, but that just makes it different, not wretched and inferior. Too many so-called fans seem to think they had to sound a certain way for their entire career, instead of God forbid trying out different musical styles and evolving over time. It’s fine to have a personal preference, but not to bash them for failing to measure up to that preference every single time.

WeWriWa—Allen Comforts Adicia

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Since I’ll be starting my Halloween-themed snippets in just two weeks, I decided to move an older post out of my drafts folder instead of starting the next scene in the WIP I’ve been sharing from. That way, I won’t have to break off the forward momentum for an entire month-plus.

This snippet comes from Little Ragdoll, Chapter 38, “The Sacrifice of Adicia,” set in August 1969. Adicia’s mother, who served a few months in prison for embezzlement in 1962, was recently threatened with more jail time if she failed to pay back the remaining money by the end of August.

Mrs. Troy, true to her black-hearted, anti-maternal nature, coerced Adicia into giving up her virginity for the remaining $3,000. In exchange, Adicia was promised a handsome husband with a good job and the ability to graduate high school instead of being forced to drop out at sixteen. By remaining at home till 18, Adicia will also be able to keep protecting her baby sister Justine.

Big brother Allen has just found out what their evil mother did, and is furious. When he goes to see Adicia at their sister Ernestine’s place, he winds up hugging her for the first time.

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Adicia sits up and puts her arms around her brother, sobbing against his chest.  Allen hugs her back, the first time he’s ever hugged any of his sisters.  He still can’t entirely shake his social conditioning about manly versus unmanly behavior, but he’s hardly acting like a pansy by comforting someone he loves.  He hugs her as tightly as he knows how, to make up for all the years he never did it.  Seeing how she only comes up to the middle of his chest makes him painfully aware of how small she is for her age, how much she still resembles a little ragdoll even at fifteen.  She’s not even five feet tall yet.

“I’m not really sure I believe God exists, but onea the things that makes me think he might exist is that I got the best big brother in the world.  Out of all the families in the world, we were chosen for each other.”

Little Ragdoll Cover

I will be having my cover redesigned, though keeping it based on the same reference picture I worked from, and still using lots of dark blue. I don’t regret the experience of having designed two of my own covers, but I quickly came to understand something more professional will sell more copies.