29 August 2006

I never missed Glenn A. Baker's Rock'n'Roll Trivia Show

Someone who thought they were emailing Glenn A. Baker has sent me a message from the Contact page at the website. That was a compliment, since I'm a long way from being Rock Brain of Southeastern Queensland, let alone of the Universe.

The evening before, I'd seen Glenn A. Baker on Talking Heads (ABC-TV Internet Archive has the transcript on line, and it's as good a source as any for an outline of his life and career). It was nice to hear his enthusiast's voice again, that friendly treble that sounds as if it's about to break into laughter.

For a couple of years in the late 70s I never missed Glenn A. Baker's Rock'n'Roll Trivia Show. I picked it up from Sydney late on Sunday nights on 2JJ, the ABC's AM station that later went FM and became the national youth network Triple J. I even had a little lapel button that said I NEVER MISS GLENN A. BAKER'S ROCK'N'ROLL TRIVIA SHOW. (It's a historical artefact now, listed at the Powerhouse Museum, though I think mine was an earlier version.)

I found the Trivia Show when I was cruising the dial and heard The Martian Hop, a song I hadn't heard on radio for ages and hadn't really expected to hear at all. I thought, any friend of stuff like that is a friend of mine.

The Trivia Show turned out to be a rich source of lost and obscure pop. The emphasis was often in the Brill Building-girl group-Phil Spector area (Glenn would've been at home at Spectropop), and it could easily have been called the Pop Trivia Show. The celebration of well-crafted pop reminded me Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom (The Story of Pop), that exhilarating guidebook written by another enthusiast, Nik Cohn.

I liked the way Glenn highlighted the work of songwriters, who he believed provided the underlying structure of pop history. On Talking Heads, he spoke about looking at the finer detail on record labels, examining those words...within the brackets, something I'd always done too. One of my aims at the website is to give credit to songwriters, who are often - along with arrangers - the unsung heroes of popular music.

The stroke of genius behind the Trivia Show was the way it blended oldies with current music that fitted the same sensibility. This didn't mean anything as obvious as featuring revivalist bands like Showaddywaddy or Darts (although they would pop up sometimes, as did Glenn's own proteges Ol' 55). It did mean, though, that you could hear Glenn interview Del Shannon one week and Ric Ocasek of the Cars another week.

It meant that when Glenn mentioned the girl group sound he could just as easily play The Cake's sublime Baby That's Me (1967, an oldie I discovered through the Trivia Show) or Kirsty McColl's maddeningly infectious debut single They Don't Know (1979).

Dave Edmunds, who owed heaps to rockabilly and Chuck Berry and Spector, but recast it all for the times, was often on the Trivia Show. I have a feeling one of the first times I heard XTC was on the Trivia Show: could it have been Life Begins At The Hop?

If there was ever some song from the 60s that I longed to hear, I would write a letter, in an envelope with a stamp, to Glenn A. Baker: this was before instant downloads and vast catalogues of reissues ordered on the Net. He would usually play them, usually with enthusiastic approval. I remember him playing my requests for The Righteous Brothers' On This Side Of Goodbye, Leslie Gore's That's The Way Boys Are and Alan Price's I Put A Spell On You. [Listen to Glenn playing my requests at this follow-up post]

Well, oh well, early in 1980 we moved to another town where I could no longer pick up 2JJ on Sunday nights, and that was the end of that. But Glenn A. Baker's Rock'n'Roll Trivia Show, with its building of bridges between old style pop and late-70s New Wave and power pop had been part of my reawakening of interest in current popular music.

Which was nice.


crowbarred said...

Thanks for the kind words on my site the other day. The best thing about people like us is our love for music. No matter what, no matter how...at the end of the day "we are all listeners"
Its only music that we dont see colour with our eyes, but realise we are all the SAME colour on the inside .... red

Slartibartfast said...

That's very enlightening as a thirty-something to read Lyn. I didn't know about his quiz thingy - strange that he's never popped up as a guest on Rockwiz or Spicks n Specks - at least not when I'm tuned in.

I first came across the name Glenn A Baker when he was writing articles for Australian 'Rolling Stone' magazine in the late 1980's. He enlightened me about Radio Birdman, X and Chain among other bands.

I just wonder though, what's with the jaunty hats Glenn? Okay, you're thinning on top, so what? He always wears one. Then again so does Molly Meldrum.. also Santana is never seen without a bandanna.

Nothing wrong with being a baldy from my p.o.v,! But since I have a full head of hair maybe I don't get what they feel.

Lyn Nuttall said...

The hat reminds me of the 1920s, smoking jackets and all that (I think Spike Milligan wore a hat like that as 'Beachcomber').

He explains it in the interview:
"The hat was really because I'm follicly challenged, and I picked up one during travel overseas, and I wore it on television or on the cover of one of my books or something, and people went, 'Hey, that's really good. When you come do my show, can you wear the hat?' So I just started wearing it, and then I started buying more around the world and people would travel and find them, and come home and say, 'I found you this great hat.' So, one way or another, the hat just became part of the persona, I suppose."