Editor’s note: Phil Bacharach, Gov. Brad Henry’s press secretary and a regular Gazette contributor, was among a group of panelists chosen to pick potential official state rock songs on which Okies could vote.
Public service can be heady stuff. I’ve worked in state government on and off for a number of years now, but only recently experienced the rarified privilege of serving on a state-empaneled committee tasked with a mission of great importance.
The Oklahoma Official Rock Song Advisory Panel ” a group of six Oklahomans and myself ” met on a hot August morning to create a 10-track ballot to be cast by Oklahomans Internet voting for the state’s official rock ‘n’ roll song.
Why, you might ask, does Oklahoma even need an official rock song?
OFFICIAL FOLK SONG
After all, we already boast an official folk song (Woody Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills”), an official country song (Bob Wills’ “Faded Love”) and an official song-song (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma”), so genre options are running out. More importantly, a statewide vote for the official rock song is part of a larger effort to celebrate the state’s rock legacy ” one that will be commemorated in “Another Hot Oklahoma Night!,” an exhibit opening at the Oklahoma History Center on May 2.
My qualifications for the advisory panel stemmed from experience writing record reviews for the Gazette throughout much of the Nineties. Nevertheless, I was a piker compared to the bona fides of my fellow appointees, which included veteran KOMA-FM 92.5 DJ Ronnie Kaye; Steve Ripley of the Tractors; Lacey Lett, host of KHBZ-FM 94.7’s “Buzz Born and Bred”; Ryan LaCroix, the guy behind OklahomaRock.com; Tulsa Dfest co-founder Angie DeVore-Green; and Rogers State University professor and musicologist Hugh Foley, who served as committee chair.
First, the panel hammered out basic criteria. In general, we concluded, the song selections should be easily identifiable as rock ‘n’ roll, have a significant connection to Oklahoma and be simple enough for an aspiring cover band. We also agreed that no performer would be represented by more than one song, thereby preventing the possibility of a recording artist’s fans canceling out their own votes.
At Ripley’s urging, we clarified that our selections would be based on songs, not specific records. The distinction is important. There is a world of difference, after all, between J.J. Cale’s cool amble on “After Midnight” and Eric Clapton’s better-known, up-tempo cover.
The panel breezed through agreement on a handful of tunes. Some Oklahoma musical luminaries fairly demanded representation: Cale, Hoyt Axton, The Flaming Lips, Leon Russell and Wanda Jackson. Cale’s “After Midnight” made the cut, as did Russell’s “Home Sweet Oklahoma” and Axton’s “Never Been to Spain,” a 1971 hit for Three Dog Night. For Jackson, rockabilly’s first female star, we chose 1960’s “Let’s Have a Party.” Another unanimous selection was the blistering rock of The Call’s 1986 song “Oklahoma.”
Deciding on a Flaming Lips track proved more challenging. The obvious choice was the swoon-worthy “Do You Realize?,” although a few panel members initially worried that its lyrics (“Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?”) were too melancholy for officialdom.
It took hours for to fill the remaining four slots. The Nixons, Dwight Twilley, Moon Martin and Mike Hosty all had their champions, but no single song seemed appropriate.
There were fans of Tulsa’s The Gap Band, but its signature number, “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” would likely be seen as a morbid joke in light of the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing. The panel briefly considered Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” ” the group’s Neal Schon was born in OKC ” but soon concluded that a Journey tune would also be seen as a morbid joke, if for entirely different reasons.
Debate ensued. Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” is vintage rock ‘n’ roll, but Foley successfully argued that Cochran’s Oklahoma ties were slim at best. Others boasted more solid Sooner State roots ” Hanson, B.J. Thomas, Bread, Cross Canadian Ragweed ” but didn’t quite count as rock ‘n’ roll.
NO-BRAINER FOR INCLUSION
Agreement evolved slowly. Eventually we voted to include “Walk Don’t Run,” the iconic surf instrumental by The Ventures, as band members Bob Bogle and Nokie Edwards are Oklahoma natives. The woe-is-me loneliness of “Heartbreak Hotel” might not explicitly characterize the Oklahoma spirit ” let’s hope not, anyway ” but the tune, penned by Oklahoman Mae Axton (Hoyt’s mom), was Elvis Presley’s first mega-hit and a no-brainer for inclusion on the list of 10.
Conversation then turned to Stillwater’s All-American Rejects. While there’s no disputing the group’s meteoric success, some committee members wondered if the band would still be a known quantity 20 years down the line. After all, if this rock-song exercise had been undertaken in 1991, say, would Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” have earned a spot on the list? Even so, we ultimately determined that the buoyant power pop of the Rejects’ “Move Along” did fit the bill.
The final slot went to an up-and-coming Tulsa outfit, John Moreland & The Black Gold Band. The trio’s “Endless Oklahoma Sky,” a hearty slice of Springsteen-styled rock, succinctly crystallizes the travails of struggling musicians.
And that’s it. The Oklahoma Official Rock Song Advisory Panel has spoken. In the end, the official rock tune will be determined by an online vote that started Monday and runs through Nov. 15.
Cast your vote. It’s your civic duty. Seriously. “Phil Bacharach