All posts by Billy

Eagles Flying Too Close to the Ground

I love ‘80s music! At least I love what people think of as ‘80s music now. In reality, back in the day, things weren’t all Kajagoogoo and Prince. If you lived in rural America and weren’t fortunate enough to have MTV, here are some grim facts that you had to contend with: Kenny Rogers was one of decade’s most successful pop recording artists. Lionel Richie, post-Commodores, filled the charts with the musical equivalent of scented candles. Jefferson Starship became Starship. Sammy Hagar joined Van Halen. Then there was Air Supply, Foreigner, Christopher Cross, and Tiffany. But nobody did more to sully the ‘80s airwaves than the Eagles, whose 1980 breakup spawned an unfortunate litter of floundering solo projects. Take for instance:

Glenn Frey – “Partytown”

The five-and-dime blues rock in this song is bad enough, but the lyrics are what make the stench unbearable: They go all day and they go all night, They keep on goin’ ’til they get it right, right here in Partytown (yeah yeah), they really party down (yeah yeah). It’s tempting to say that these words sound like they were written by middle-schoolers, but I’ve coached seventh and eighth-grade rock bands and believe me, the songs they write are way better than this. If ever there’s a discussion about the worst song of all time, my vote goes to “Partytown.”

Joe Walsh – “Space Age Whiz Kids”

Generally speaking, I like Joe Walsh. The James Gang—his band from the early ‘70s—is classic rock bliss, and his solo output contains favorites such as “A Life Of Illusion,” and “Life’s Been Good.” He also provided the fuel the Eagles needed to create their very best work. But then there’s “Space Age Whiz Kids,” an odd assortment of synths, vocoders, guitars, and lyrics that feature a heavy ‘get off my lawn’ vibe geared towards the video gaming youth of the day. The video finds Walsh stumbling around an arcade with his bottom lip sticking out and performing robotically in a jumpsuit. He reminds me of Frankenstein: a cobbled-together monster, fearful and confused, lashing out at the bright lights and new sounds that surround him. That pretty much sums up the song itself .

Glenn Frey – “Sexy Girl”

I hate to harp on Glen Frey more than once, but I cannot have a conversation about bad songs without mentioning “Sexy Girl,” let alone a discussion of bad songs by members of the Eagles. This time around, the numbingly cliché lyrics (I love to take her walkin’, And when we started talkin’, I’d tell her she’s the finest I’ve ever seen) are paired with smarmy soft rock, thick with guitars drenched in chorus effect, electronically triggered drums, and nearly everything else that is bad about ‘80s production.

Timothy B. Schmit – “Playin’ It Cool”

“Playin’ It Cool” fits right in with the other pop hits of 1984, and that’s the problem. There’s nothing about this song that says, hey this is Timothy B. Schmit, the bassist from legendary adult contemporary band Poco who went on to provide a solid anchor for the personnel heavy ship that was the Eagles. The song is the very definition of generic. When we finally got MTV out in the boonies, I remember audibly groaning when the clip for “Playin’ It Cool” came on. The video was just as run-of-the-mill as the song itself, and run-of-the-mill didn’t cut it at a time when Animotion and Tears for Fears were possibilities.

Don Felder – “Bad Girls”

The ‘80s started off pretty well for Don Felder. He wrote and recorded the theme song for the film “Heavy Metal,” an animated adaptation of the cult sci-fi graphic novel series. The song “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) is a chunky rocker with a sprinkling of (what were then) modern effects. He must have drawn genuine inspiration from the movie’s dystopian swashbuckling because when he applied the same formula to “Bad Girls” a few years later, the results were anything but inspired. The music is boring, and the tinkly synthesizer is downright annoying. Then there are the lyrics: Oh, so late at night, she comes out lookin’ for trouble, Needs a shot of love, better make it a double, She’s a typical young lady in need to satisfy. With words like these, it’s clear that he and Glenn Frey had been drinking from the same well.

Not all Eagles solo projects tanked in the ‘80s. Don Henley gave us the ubiquitously loved “The Boys of Summer,” and the genuinely weird “Dirty Laundry.” As for the others, well, most artists suffer a mid-to-late career slump, and in the ‘80s, there were a lot of new tricks that old dogs had a hard time learning. So, the gods of rock can surely cut these guys some slack, but at the same time, it’s a shame that their confused, post break-up output took up so much valuable air time during an era when there were not only great bands popping up everywhere but even new sub-genres of rock that deserved and needed the attention far more.

My Favorite Songs of 2020

I’m a playlist addict. I make playlists for nearly every task that I do. In fact, the making of the playlist often takes longer than whatever task it was meant to accompany. One of my favorite playlist activities is keeping a running tab on new songs I discover. Here is my list thus far for 2020. In most cases these are songs that have been released fairly recently, but the list might also contain an occasional gem from the past!


Shocking (Blue) Discovery

In addition to being the world’s best and most prolific custom song writer, I am also a rabid music connoisseur, and trivia buff. Sometimes I like to post about it!

I proudly consider myself an above average Shocking Blue fan, which is to say that I know their catalog beyond their electrifying 1970 acid-pop-rocker ‘Venus.’ Something I’m less likely to bring up in a bar conversation is my penchant for obscure genres of European disco from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
The prologue to this particular danceable tale is ABBA. They were pretty big in the States, but as far as Europe was concerned, they ruled the planet. They had an impact on non-English speaking nations of the old world that was comparable to what the Beatles had here. Imitators sprung up everywhere, but no single place produced more hopeful statuesque singers of tight harmonies than the Netherlands.


I’m mainly a fan of these bands because of their overblown, glitzy videos, but occasionally some songs transcend the cheese and start to show up on my playlists and I realize that—despite the fact that they were performed by people wearing shiny gold jumpsuits—these are songs that I genuinely like.

An aural epiphany of this kind occurred recently when I fell in love with a song called Neon City by a Dutch band called Mistral. After much googling, I found out that this was a studio project led by Robbie van Leeuwen, formerly of Shocking Blue.
But wait, there’s more.
This particular track features none other than Mariska Veres, Shocking Blues’ iconic lead singer, on vocals.
As a card-carrying music nerd, this is a significant discovery. This project is not mentioned on the Shocking Blue Wikipedia page or that of Mariska Veres. In fact, I had to really dig to find anything about this band or this song that’s written in English.
If you’ve actually read this far, I hope the Gods of Geekdom will send you a miracle (or a post card), but more than that, I hope you like this song. View the videos on the sidebar if you dare!


Songs for the Ultimate Halloween Playlist

So, you love Halloween, you’re having a party, and you’re making a playlist. The Monster Mash kicks things off, I Put a Spell on You fades into Thriller, and then it’s time to call Ghostbusters! In other words, you’ve covered the essentials. But, Halloween only comes once a year, and you want this playlist to be legendary! Time to dig in and find more creepy tunes to keep the coffin’ rockin’! Here’s a list of bewitching songs that will leave you spellbound!

Ghosts in the Graveyard-Prairie Ramblers

This gem from the 1930s tells a tale of supernatural revenge, and things really ramp up when a gravely throated ghost takes over on lead vocals! It’s a great song to kick off your playlist, easing everyone into a fun but spooky mood.

Vampcamp-The Ventures

The only instrumental on our list is a diabolical mix of eerie sound effects and reverb drenched guitar. Many have attempted to combine surf music and horror themes, but nobody has ever delivered like the Ventures did on this classic scorcher. It’s sure to get the ghoulies grooving!

Are You Ready for Freddy?-Fat Boys

Ready for Freddy by the Fat Boys and Nightmare on My Street by D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince both offer opportunities to experience the horrors of Elm Street via old school rap.  They feature crisp, vintage drum machine beats, and funky rhymes that’ll have you trying to break dance before you can say “Don’t Fall Asleep”. Either song would make a great playlist addition, but Ready for Freddy is my favorite, because the Fat Boys give Mr. Krueger a little more space to rock the mic!

Playground Twist- Siouxsie and the Banshees

Siouxsie and the Banshees‘ songs are up-tempo and melodic, but also hypnotic and dark, making them the perfect band for the witching season. With titles  like Spellbound, Staircase Mystery, and even one called Halloween, it’s easy to see why. My Halloween Playlists usually contain about three of their songs, but if I had to choose only one, I’d go with Playground Twist. From the toll of the bell at the beginning, to the creepy kid laughter at the end, this song is a whirlwind tour of your childhood fears that will not disappoint.

Swamp Witch- Jim Stafford

Here’s a fantastic country-rocker with a witch-positive message. Clever lyrics tell a chilling tale, while otherworldy vocals tickle your ears, adding a heaping helping of awesome to your Halloween soundtrack. With songs like this, it’s no wonder that the mysterious Bobbie Gentry was once married to Mr. Stafford.

 Creep in the Cellar- Butthole Surfers

If you want your playlist to be genuinely scary, look no further than the Butthole Surfers. Their disjointed, distorted, disturbing, and (some would say) disgusting output is not for the faint of heart. Creep in the Cellar falls on the PG-13 end of their catalog, and is one of their more melodic offerings to boot. But, it contains plenty of the band’s signature mind-warping, horrific qualities.


Salem Witch Trials-Kiriae Crucible

How in the hell did I not hear this song until 2019? Despite being covered by the Fleshtones, this garage rock monster by Kiriae Crucible flew beneath my radar, but I’m glad I’ve finally picked up on it. From the weird (theremin?) intro to the tight backing vocals and killer keyboard solo, this song is a total barn burner. And it’s about witches!

Scream and Run Away- The Gothic Archies

If you’re not familiar with Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events books, you’ll get to know plenty about  the villain Count Olaf through this morose little ditty, served up in waltz-time with gloomy baritone vocals and a side of dry accordion. Songwriter Stephen Merritt is best known for his work with the Magnetic Fields, but he and his cohorts in the Gothic Archies knocked it out of the park with Tragic Treasury:Songs from a Series of Unfortunate Events, the collection that Scream and Run Away comes from.  If this song doesn’t do it for you, check out the rest of the record, you’re sure to find something to your liking.


My Wife and My Dead Wife-Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians


This song’s story line bears more than a slight resemblance to the plot of the play/movie Blithe Spirit. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but what I do know is that My Wife and my Dead Wife showcases Robyn Hitchcock‘s oddball pop at its finest. It’s witty, weird, catchy, and more than a little macabre. If one  Robyn Hitchcock song isn’t enough,  check out The Man with the Light bulb Head.


The Evil Wiener Halloween Record

Many years ago, three friends and I embarked on a journey through the a dark rock and roll forest and emerged with six ominous songs. Black cats, poltergeists, devils, she-devils, ogres, and even an ode to the fall season are represented in this theremin heavy Halloween romp. Once you’ve listened to all of the songs, they’re repeated again in an audio drama called “Case of the Haunted Recording Studio.” If you want to know what my musical life outside of Custom Serenade is like, here’s your chance. We’d be grateful if you’d throw us a bone and give this a listen!



About the selection process.

There are lots of songs that kind of/sort of fit in on a Halloween playlist. Many titles contain words like haunted, wolf, vampire, or monster- and there are a blue million songs called Halloween– but many of them lack any eerie qualities and really have no connection to Halloween at all. For example The Ghost in You by the Psychedelic Furs mentions ghosts, and it’s a great song, but it’s more about being in love than being in the graveyard. Other songs are considered Halloweenish by association, for example How Soon is Now by The Smiths was the theme song for a TV show about witches. In reality the song has nothing to do with witches, not even vegetarian ones, so IMO has no business on a Halloween playlist.  Last but not least are the frequent flyers-songs like the ones listed at the beginning of this post that everyone already knows about. In curating this list I took great care to make sure that the songs I recommend contain nothing that isn’t 100% certified spooky content. Also I only used songs that don’t show up that often on other Halloween playlists. I hope that you enjoy this list and that you’ll be able to include some of these songs in your seasonal celebration!

Failed Band Promo Photos 2

There are some unusual ideas about band photos out there. When the ideas work, they can create great publicity for the band- but when the ideas don’t work, they can make for some really fun viewing.  Every Friday I post a promo shot gone wrong on the  Custom Serenade facebook page  and ask friends to come up with a name for the group.  The result is some extremely fun caption creation, and is the highlight of our social media week.  Here is a collection from the past couple of years.



Triskadekaphobia-Kaari Snook


The Claire-alls- Tom Vanaman


Spillage People- Stewart Somer


Ronalds Band-Tom-Vanaman

Mullet Over-Brian Mason



Loozerhosen- Bob Graff


Hail Satins- Pete Conolly





More failed band promo photos

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more failed promo photos, check out this post. If you would like any of these photos removed from this post for any reason, please contact Custom Serenade.