Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Music: In Search of the Lost Corpse

By Guest Blogger Steve Liskow

For me, summer music still means rock, and I still consider summer 1966 the peak of the rock/pop era. AM singles were still the order of the day, and lots of them appeared that year from artists we would learn to love.

That summer, I worked nights in a sheet metal plant that disrupted radio signals so badly that we could only listen to a local station that played the same dozen singles over and over from midnight to dawn, broken up by reading the news and weather.

Now that I often use song titles as mystery/crime titles, I realize for the first time just how many of them came from 1966. Spring brought the Rascals, and two sure-fire best-seller titles, which I don’t think anyone has used yet: “You Better Run” and “Come On Up.” It also brought us Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Kicks,” which had the first guitar riff I learned to play when I bought a guitar later that year. They followed with “Hungry,” and that great crushing bass line should have worked for a vampire story, too, but was 30 years too soon. I don’t think anyone has written a mystery about a robbery at a food bank, either.

The Beatles released Revolver (A perfect title). The LP featured the great gloomy chamber mystery “Eleanor Rigby” and titles like “For No One” and “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which Lee Child should have snapped up years ago. Aftermath is the Rolling Stones’ first great collection of all original material, and the American version offered “Paint It Black,” a light-hearted funeral story. The British version gave us “Under My Thumb,” “Out of Time,” “High and Dry,” and “Take It or Leave It,” all of which scream to be plotted.

So does the first—and only—Standells record to get airplay in Michigan. “Dirty Water” mentions the Charles River in Boston, even though the band was from LA. What could make that water dirty…or bloody?

By summer’s end, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels gave us “Devil With A Blue Dress,” and Walter Mosley recognized the possibilities in that one for his Easy Rawlins series.

For obscure stuff, later to be God of All DEE-troit Bob Seger and the Last Heard offered “East Side Story,” a concise little ditty—only two minutes—about a poverty-stricken teen who is killed trying to commit a robbery. The chords sound like Van Morrison’s “Gloria” with enough fuzz on the guitar to make a shag rug. Great song that nobody else seems to remember.

Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs hit big with a great stalker song that I still have penciled into my unsold series: “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Finally, in the summer of 1966, Tommy James & The Shondells had their first massive hit, and over a dozen books (one labeled as a mystery) use the title already, which means someone else thinks the way I do.

“Hanky Panky.”

STEVE LISKOW won the 2009 Black Orchid Novella Award for “Stranglehold,” which appeared in the summer issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Who Wrote The Book of Death? is his first published novel. Currently, he is trying to sell a PI series featuring the characters in “Stranglehold.” His Web mistress daughter is Captain of the Queen City Cherry Bombs, so he is also writing a mystery that involves Roller Derby.


Gina said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Steve.
I remember Gloria [G-L-O-R-I-A]. It's one of those songs you can hear 20 times in a row and still sing along - like Louie, Louie.

PatRemick said...

Thanks for paying us a visit, Steve! All those song titles brought back loooottts of memories. But it never before occurred to me that they could be applied to murder mysteries!

Joyce said...

Welcome, Steve! Fascinating post. I have to admit I've never heard of some of those songs, but like Gina, I do recall Gloria, and now it's going to be running through my head all day!

The Hanky Panky came out when I was about 8 years old. When my younger sister and I went to a cousin's wedding reception that summer we kept nagging the band to play it (we must have been SO annoying). They finally did and we were big hits on the dance floor.

I think it's SO cool that your daughter is on a roller derby team!

E. B. Davis said...

Now Steve, Brian Jones didn’t die until 1969, so don’t fudge with an old Stones fan like me. But how about Archie Bell and the Drells, “Tightening Up” for a horror/torture piece? The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” fits many genres. Hasn’t “Nowhere Man” been used? Certainly, “Paperback Writer” is appropriate. Going further back, “Mack the Knife” has a nice treacherous ring. Either of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer,” or “Wanted Dead or Alive” is good. Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like A Man” has definite subgenre possibilities. “Spooky” and “Stormy” by the Classics IV would be great titles for paranormal books, as would Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “The House Is A Rockin.’” Deep Purple’s “Hush” provides an eerie tone. This could end up being an all-day project. Thanks for the laugh.

Gina said...

How about "Smoke on the Water" for an arson story?

Jennie Bentley said...

I'm not going to say how old I was in 1966, but it wasn't old enough to listen to music. I remember, vaguely, the mid-70s, though. And I do love book titles that are song titles. I once thought I might write a book called A Fine Romance, although nothing ever came of it. Gershwin and Kern and Porter had some lovely titles, if you want to go back that far. And classic country, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams Sr. and those guys, did too. And then there's Irish folk music. All of it depending on the type of book you want to write, of course. Great post, Steve! Welcome to the Stiffs!

Patg said...

Hi Steve,
Welcome, welcome. I loved all those musical references, and I do remember Hanky Panky and Little Red Riding Hood.

Gina said...

OK. I give up. If nobody else is going to mention it I will: Did anybody else notice that "In Search of the Lost Corpse" is a take-off on the Moody Blues LP "In Search of the Lost Chord"? [Or was that "cord"? - all my stuff from that era burned up in a 1994 house fire.] That is what you intended, wasn't it, Steve?

Steve Liskow said...

You're right, Gina. I was riffing on the Moody Blues (you win the Tin-Plated Aardvark).

As for other titles, I have a four-page list on my hard drive, over 200 titles, that doesn't even scratch the surface. I used several for my article in First Draft last winter.

And that's just titles. Some songs have great evocative lines, too. Maybe that's another topic for down the road. ;-)

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