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America’s Greatest Music: Beyond The Sea, etc. December 25, 2013

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Bobby-Darin-Thats-AllThe past five days mark of the 55th Anniversary of some of the best records made over that span of time.  Starting on Dec. 19 1958, Bobby Darin and the in-house orchestra at Atco Records (a pop subsidiary label of Atlantic), conducted by Richard Weiss, cut the tracks for the album that arguably would define his career:  “That’s All.”

By this time, Darin had already established himself in the teen market with hits such as “Splish Splash” (1957) and “Queen of the Hop” (1958) and “Dream Lover” (1959), but everyone thought he was crazy when we wanted to cut an album for the adult market.  Nevertheless, the Atco executives green-lit the project, and in late December of ’58, these key tracks were cut, starting with what would become the biggest record of 1959, “Mack the Knife.”

Recorded on Dec. 19, 1958, this song was written by Bertholt Brecht for his famous “Threepenny Opera” (little known fact:  it was originally written in German) 30 years earlier, and Louis Armstrong had already given a bit of new life to the song with a hit of it in 1956.  But no matter who came before or later (Dean Martin did a live performance of it in ’59), Darin clearly owns the song with this definitive version, which remains an all-time classic to this day.

That same recording date, Darin also cut “That’s the Way Love Is,” which is also a fine record, and one that does an excellent job of nailing the feeling one feels when a guy has that one special woman in his life and how strangely all that works.

In between this aforementioned span of time, he also cut two other dynamite records, both being strong, jazzy versions of the standards “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” and “I’ll Remember April,” which are great for getting you up in the morning.

But the session was capped off with another definite pop record of the 1950s, and of Darin ‘s career:  “Beyond the Sea.”  The song was first recorded as “La Mer” by Charles Trenet in 1946, but Darin sang it to the English lyrics we all know and love today.  If ever somebody dear to you has been situated overseas, this song is the ultimate morale-booster, and it was recorded on Christmas Eve of 1958, 55 years ago today.

Oh, and the title cut was, ironically, the last track on this album: it’s arrangement is, er, rather unique compared to the more traditional arrangements of this particular standard.

The 2013-2014 NCAA Bowl Games: The Good, The Bad, and the Intriguing December 21, 2013

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OkStMizzou2010

Oklahoma State and Missouri used to play each other routinely as conference foes, even as recently as 2009. Since Mizzou skipped the Big XII for the SEC, however, that routine came to an abrupt end. Now, they are to meet each other again in the Cotton Bowl.

Ticket to die for:  Could it be any more obvious?  No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 6)

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (two good ones) No. 20 Fresno State vs. No. 25 USC in the Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21), and Boise State vs. Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24)

Best non-Big Six matchup: Utah State vs. No. 23 Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 26)

Upset alert:  No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 4 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1)

Must win: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl (Jan. 3)

Think there’s enough Crimson?  No. 11 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2)

Old Rivals Reunite:  No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Missouri in the Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3)

Offensive explosion:  No. 14 Arizona State vs. Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30)

Defensive struggle: Middle Tennessee vs. Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 30)

Great game no one is talking about:  BYU vs. Washington in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 27)

Home Field Advantage:  Louisiana-Lafayette @ Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 21)

Could be bad for the home team:  No. 10 Oregon vs. Texas in the Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Brady Hoke of Michigan vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28)

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 15 Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1)

Why are they playing?  UNLV vs. North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Jan. 1)

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo vs. San Diego State in the Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 21)

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Vanderbilt vs. Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl (Jan. 4)

College Football Week 15 Awards December 9, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 15] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Lucky guy: George O’Leary, Central Florida

Poor guy: June Jones, SMU

Desperately seeking a clue: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Joey Jones, South Alabama

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

Desperately seeking … anything:  Willie Taggart, South Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Florida State (defeated Duke 45-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Northern Illinois (lost to Bowling Green 47-20)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Duke (lost to Florida State 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Bowling Green (defeated NU 47-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  UConn (defeated Memphis 45-10)

Dang, they’re good: Florida State

Dang, they’re bad:  South Florida

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Texas
Can the season end?  Memphis

Can the season never endMichigan State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Auburn 59, No. 5 Missouri 42

Play this again, too:  Louisville 31, Cincinnati 24, OT

Never play this again: No. 1 Florida State 45, Duke 7

What? UConn 45, Memphis 10

HuhNo. 17 Oklahoma 33, No. 6 Oklahoma State 24

Are you kidding me?  Bowling Green 47, No. 16 Northern Illinois 20
Oh – my – GodNo. 11 Michigan State 34, No. 2 Ohio State 24

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  none, except for Army vs. Navy in Philadelphia:  God bless our troops!

America’s Greatest Music: I’ll Be Seeing You December 4, 2013

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“I’ll Be Seeing You” qualifies as one of the lower-echelon selections within the Great American Songbook.  That said, it stands out uniquely for the reason that it originated from one Broadway show but later became the namesake in a movie several years later.

Written by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal in 1938 and first performed that same year, it soon became a jazz standard and has been recorded by many notable artists over the course of the decades.  The show for which it was written was “Right This Way”, but six years later it was the title song in the 1944 film “I’ll Be Seeing You” starring Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten.

Billie Holiday recorded a version of the song the same year the aforementioned film was released.  Other artists, in no particular chronological order, who have covered the song include Bing Crosby (same year as Billie Holiday’s version), Anne Murray, Jo Stafford and Carmen McRae (both 1958), The Five Satins (1959), Brenda Lee (1962), Ray Charles (1967), Barry Manilow (1991), Etta James (1994), Rod Stewart (2002), Linda Ronstadt (2004), not to mention Jimmy Durante, Liza Minnelli, Mel Tormé, Michael Bublé, the Skyliners, even Queen Latifah, and a host of others.

But the one that clearly stands above the rest is definitely the Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey version from 1940.  A simple listen will verify this:

Not surprisingly, during World War II this song became an anthem for those who were serving overseas, what with its strongly emotional power, a power that Frank and Tommy capture very subtly in their landmark 1940 recording.

Steve Sarkisian to USC December 3, 2013

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Steve SarkisianThe latest news has it that Steve Sarkisian has been named the next head coach at the University of Southern California.  When one considers that the available pool of good coaches is very limited right now (what with relatively few firings and hirings at this time) and most of the best coaches are already ensconced in good programs (Saban at Alabama, Meyer at Ohio State, etc.), this was an excellent hire.

Granted, many were advocating for the permanent hire of Ed Orgeron.  But as well as he has done in the moment, one must ask, could he sustain the positive trend long-term?  His track record might not suggest that.  Plus, we have seen the temp-to-permanent hire scenario before in major college football, and it usually does not turn out that well.  Remember Bobby Williams at Michigan State?  After Nick Saban left for the LSU job, Williams led the Spartans to victory over a formidable Florida Gators squad in the 1999-2000 Citrus Bowl.  Everybody immediately allowed for themselves to be prisoners of the moment and made Williams the permanent head coach at MSU after that.  Part of the rationale was how much the players loved the guy.  Bad idea.  Coaches like Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban are not loved by their players, but those coaches get results from the team.  Meanwhile, the program at MSU eroded after three full seasons under Williams’ leadership.  Orgeron currently enjoys similar popularity with the players at USC.  While this produces short-term gains, it will take somebody who is a bit more of a taskmaster to make sure that these positive trends can be sustained.

But what about Kevin Sumlin as a possibility?  Yes, Coach Sumlin has become a rather hot commodity over the past year or two, but his one weakness is that, while his offenses have considerable fire power, his defenses, well, not so much, and USC prides itself on not only being “Tailback U,” but also having tough “D”’s that shut down the pass-happy intra-conference opposition.  Could Coach Sumlin sustain that reputation, given his track record with weaker defenses in the recent pass?  At this point, it does not appear as though he couch.

What about other candidates, say, James Franklin, whose name was bandied about as a possibility?  A fine choice, especially given what he has accomplished at Vanderbilt under very restrictive circumstances with which the rest of the teams in the SEC do not have to contend.  Still, he has one glaring weakness:  he has no west coast ties.  In the world of college football recruiting, this is vital.  A great deal of recruiting has to do with knowing the high school coaches in the key recruiting areas.   Franklin knows none.

But “Sark” knows plenty.  He knew them as a high-ranking assistant at USC under Pete Carroll, and he still knows them while trying to recruit the players for Washington.  In that important respect, this shall be a seamless transition for him.  Instead of recruiting key players in the talent hotbed that is California, he shall do so wearing  Cardinal-and-Gold polo shirt as opposed to a Purple-and-Gold one.  Moreover, his experience with the program gives him intimate knowledge of organizational culture, making him a good company fit.  This is thus a good hire for the Trojans in any important respect.

To be sure, the gain for USC is a major loss for Washington, where Sarkisian had a good thing going.  But as great as things were with the Huskies, the USC job is rated by coaches and others “in the know” as one of the three absolute best coaching jobs in all of college football, along with Texas and Georgia (yes, Georgia).  In other words, if the Trojans come calling, unless you are coaching at one of those two schools, you are a fool to pass up this golden opportunity.  Sorry about the setback for UW, but good for Sark, and good for USC.

College Football Week 14 Awards December 1, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Poor guy: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking a clue: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tom O’Brien, Penn State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Desperately seeking … anything:  Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ball State (defeated Miami, Ohio 55-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Northern Illinois (defeated Western Michigan only 33-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: New Mexico (lost to Boise State 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  South Florida (lost to Central Florida 23-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas (defeated Texas Tech 41-16)

Dang, they’re good: Florida State

Dang, they’re bad:  Idaho

Did the season start?  Rutgers
Can the season end?  Purdue

Can the season never endAuburn

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

Take a look at this again, while you’re at it:  No. 13 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35

Never play this again: Ball State 55, Miami (Ohio) 14

What? San Jose State 62, No. 16 Fresno State 52

HuhPenn State 37, No. 15 Wisconsin 24

Are you kidding me?  No. 10 South Carolina 31, No. 6 Clemson 17
Oh – my – GodNo. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 14, pre-week 15)
Ticket to die for:  No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 5 Missouri in the SEC Championship game

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)

Best non-Big Six matchup: LA-Lafayette @ South Alabama

Upset alert:  No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Ohio State in the B1G Championship game

Must win: No. 18 Oklahoma @ No. 7 Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: Texas @ No. 9 Baylor (Thurs.)

Defensive struggle: Memphis @ UConn

Great game no one is talking about: Bowling Green vs. No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game, Fri.

Intriguing coaching matchup: George O’Leary of UCF vs. June Jones of SMU

Who’s bringing the body bags?  No. 20 Duke vs. No. 1 Florida State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Memphis @ UConn

They shoot horses, don’t they?  South Florida @ Rutgers

Week 14 in review:

Wow.  Many end-of-year (or NEARLY end-of-year) weekends that bill themselves as “Rivalry Week” rarely live up to the hype.  Much of the time, the rivalry games end up as rather one-sided affairs.  Not this time, though.  Take the Ohio State-Michigan game, for example.  On paper, it should not have been anything of a contest at all.  But the Wolverines showed up in this game as they had not done so all year.  Sure, they looked formidable against Notre Dame early in the season, but they brought their game to a whole level above that in giving the Buckeyes the biggest fight of the season.  It was fitting that they saved their best game for their last of the season, and against their sworn enemy from Columbus.  In the end, a one-point margin of victory helped preserve the Buckeyes’ undefeated season and a shot at the BCS title game.

The “Egg Bowl” rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State also lived up to its tradition, in more ways than one.  For starters, it returned to its Thanksgiving Day timeslot for the first time in several years.  For another, the game was close and hard-fought right to the end, with the Bulldogs pulling out the victory they needed to become bowl-eligible.

Duke-North Carolina may be known for its bitter basketball rivalry, but today, the football rivalry was a big deal and a good game.  The Blue Devils ended up winning, narrowly, 27-25, and in so doing they clinched a spot in the ACC Championship game for the first time ever.

Another such game that looked one-sided on paper but in reality was hard-fought to the end was the LSU-Arkansas match-up on Friday.  It seems not to matter how well LSU has done in the year, or how mediocre or play the play of the Razorbacks may be, but the Hogs always seem to bring their “A-game” when they play the Tigers.  Perhaps the trophy for which they play is sufficient motivation, as “The Boot” (it is shaped in the manner of Arkansas and Louisiana together on a map) weighs 175 pounds.

Yes, there were rivalry games that were rather one-sided affairs.  The Florida-Florida State game, usually played in or around the last weekend of the college football season, was almost always the game of the week back in the 1990s.  That started to change a decade ago when FSU’s on-field performance began to deteriorate.  But recently, the Seminoles have made the right moves to return to football factory status, while the Gators’ collective performance has seen much better days.  The outcome of Florida State’s 37-7 win therefore came as no surprise.

Same thing for the Purdue-Indiana game.  While Purdue owns the series by slightly more than a 2-1 margin, today, they did not show it, as the Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 56-36, and four of Purdue’s touchdowns came in the last 20 minutes of the game, leaving the Boiler Faithful to scratch their heads all the more.

Then there was the “Iron Bowl,” that annual storied match-up between Auburn and Alabama, arguably the most intense, heated, and passionate of all the in-state rivalries.  Through much of the season, the game was not on many peoples’ radar screens.  Not after Auburn’s dismal performance last year; not even when the Tigers were slowly getting better and better with each game under new head coach Gus Malzahn.  Yet by game time, they worked their way up to the No. 4 team in the nation, giving the engaged observer pause that this match-up could be one of the most epic in the history of the rivalry.  The game remained close throughout regulation, and technically was tied up at its end, as the last second ticked off during a field goal attempt.  That same attempt came up short; short enough that an Auburn returner was able to field it in the end zone, before promptly running out of it straight up the field.  Wait a minute, the observers were telling themselves, nothing is going to come of this.  Nothing hardly ever does.  Yet the returner kept dodging a few would-be tacklers as he ran along the sideline.  In fact, he continued to run past a few more would-be tacklers before all jerseys of the opposing color were in his proverbial rear view mirror.  Wait, can this actually happen?  OMG, it IS happening!  But this NEVER happens!  And yet it IS!  I am  in shock.

The Iron Bowl, it turned out, was not just an incredible game in this history of this most-storied of rivalries.  THIS was a shot heard ‘round the world, and we are all still in shock from it today.

Still, not a bad turnaround from going winless in the SEC last year to having only one loss this year, even now potentially vying for a shot at the national title.  Guz Malzahn deserves “coach of the year” accolades for that alone.

Oh, and Stanford-Notre Dame turned out to be a very watchable game in its own right.  If that’s not enough, Steve Spurrier proved that he is the man yet again by schooling Dabo Swinney in Columbia, with his South Carolina Gamecocks trouncing the Clemson Tigers 31-17.  Had his squad not blown the game to hot-and-cold Tennessee earlier in the year, they would have punched their ticket to Atlanta to represent the East division in the conference championship game.  Instead, the team that will have that honor will be, inexplicably, Gary Pinkel and the Missouri Tigers.  Such is the world of college football at the end of the 2013 regular season.  What a way to cap things off, and best of all, there is a great after-party next Saturday with more games on the slate!