Cruising for new life on the pop charts
Never mind whether or not this is the year of Dreamgirls. I mean, forget the musical if you can — it's not possible here in Los Angeles, where it's taken over the town — although dreams never go out of style. What I want to know is what category does it fit in? New music? Reissued with a twist? Covers? And, for old folks who remember 1982, was the original sort of a reissue? (It is the story of Motown, after all.) Or just a memory — fond or otherwise? (See the movie if you don't know what I'm talking about.)
In any case, my year-end begins and ends with "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" — Jennifer Holliday's 1982 original kicks off my Top 10 chart, and Jennifer Hudson's take on the tune, from the just-released movie, closes it. It's a great song: Holliday's version is simply out of this world, but that's only a small part of why I love it so much. The real reason is the killer, utterly surreal ending, when both women are pouring it out, singing, "And you, you, you, you're gonna love me, yeah!"
Ask yourself, what's wrong here? For instance, in Dreamgirls, do you think she succeeds in making her man love her? Of course she doesn't. Do the Iraqi people love the US Armed Forces just because George Bush wants them to? Life doesn't work that way.
So while my wife apparently loves me, for reasons I do not understand, what I spent the entire year doing was trying to get my daily parade of hits to do the same — to find new music that reached out and grabbed me, knocked me on my ass, obsessed me to the point where I drove down Sunset Boulevard with my iPod blowing out my eardrums, feeling like I was 16 again. It didn't happen. I gave Snow Patrol more than the time of day. I fell in (and out) of love with Gnarls Barkley. I dove headlong into Jay-Z. I downloaded more singles from iTunes than you can possibly imagine, and I'll say this for all of them: not bad.
Still, the most important aspect of a year in music is finding the center of gravity — one's personal ground zero — and proceeding from there. And in years past that's meant locating a scene, a band, or an album that somehow says it all. Not this year, not for me. As far as I'm concerned, music 2006 was anchored by a parade of fabulous reissues and by one live performance — in Bangkok, Thailand, no less. It was so stunning that I need only think of it to feel good all over.
On Aug. 1, many thousands of miles from home, former Guardian music critic, boho baseball commissar, and one-time coolest guy in San Francisco Mike McGuirk cut loose with a karaoke version of Procol Harem's "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Not only did he stun the house, he finished by pouring a pitcher of beer over a noisy limey sitting at the bar. And he lived to tell the tale.
I know that to be true, because a week later I had a two-hour visit with McGuirk, whom I picked up at LAX and drove to a strip mall in nearby Ladera Heights. We traded stories until I ran out and he had the floor all to himself. He spoke of life in Southeast Asia, about being mistaken for Superman — black frames being what they are in a land where all white guys look alike — and about the pain and glory of leaving it all behind. McGuirk, when all was said and done, radiated a glow that I could only dream about. If that ain't rock ’n' roll, I don't know what is.
See you next year — and hang on to your hat; things look like they could get rough. SFBG
TOMMY TOMPKINS'S TOP 10
(1) Jennifer Holiday, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," Dreamgirls (1982 Original Broadcast Cast) (Decca US)
(2) Byrds, There Is a Season (Legacy)
(3) Various artists, What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967–<\d>1977) (Rhino)
(4) Clash, The Singles (Legacy)
(5) Various artists, American Music: The Hightone Records Story (Hightone)
(6) Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, This Is a Journey ... into Time (Liaison/Raw Venture)
(7) Pretenders, Pirate Radio (Rhino)
(8) Waylon Jennings, Nashville Rebel (RCA)
(9) Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Legends of Country Music: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (Legacy)
(10) Jennifer Hudson, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," Dreamgirls (Music from the Motion Picture) (Sony)