05.30.2019
George McCrae
Rock Your Baby

I was shocked to learn, just last year, that Yo La Tengo's modern classic "You Can Have It All" is in fact a cover of an old 70s soul/disco song. I suppose it makes some sense; doing tasteful covers of record-bin classics is a longstanding part of Yo La Tengo's modus operandi, and the song always had a sprightly bounce that stood out on that album. Anyway, I found the original on YouTube, enjoyed it, and moved on with my life.

So then at the beginning of this week, I checked on in Stereogum's "Number Ones" article, part of a daily series running down every Billboard #1 single since the 1950s (it's truly a great series, giving new context to songs you've heard thousands of times, and offering some surprises as well. Recommended!), and that day's #1 was "Rock Your Baby", an early proto-disco hit by George McCrae. You've heard the song before, I'm sure, but as I was listening to it, something struck me: it sounded like Yo La Tengo. I mean, it didn't sound like Yo La Tengo—nobody was ever going to think "Rock Your Baby" was a deep cut from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, but it had this droning organ and crude synthetic drum that felt like something Yo La Tengo would do, as if "Rock Your Baby" was a part of their musical DNA, maybe from their youth. Then reading down the article a little, it's mentioned that McCrae is the one that originally recorded "You Can Have It All"! I had no idea that was his song when I made the connection from a different song! But really, something that George McCrae was doing seeped its way into those mad genius Hoboken Gen Xers 15 years later.

Part 3 of this tale is that while I was trying to unravel this "Rock Your Baby"/"You Can Have It All" situation, I found myself really, truly enjoying this record. Disco was just becoming a thing, and this (as you can read in that Stereogum article) was technically the first ever #1 song to be recorded specifically for disco clubs. But it doesn't have that gold-foiled, coked-out jumpsuit vibe that later disco would piledrive into the floor, it has some gentle soul to it. The whole album is a completely enjoyable listen, and I've been putting it on a lot this week. I'm not going to try to push some nonsense "George McCrae was a secret genius" line, because that's not the case—although "You Can Have It All" and "I Get Lifted" (later sampled on "Gin And Juice" and 100 other 90s hip hop tracks) are damn fine pieces of record-making. But this album is just a total pleasant surprise for me, and I'm going to keep coming back to it for a while.

11.21.2019 - by Steve
Junior'sBrooklyn
Cheesecake, brisket, latke

Junior's Bakery and Deli is a Brooklyn institution that I've just assumed—based on its cheesecake's ubiquitous presence in local grocery store aisles and its not one but two Times Square locations, as well as the general Perkins-level sleepiness of its interior that I see through its windows every time I walk by it—is past its expiration date. Comparing it to a place like Katz's, which revels in a dogged, hard-won legitimacy, or Russ & Daughter's and its craft-and-quality-above-all ethos, Junior's simply appears a place that's given up. Or rather, sold out.

I don't know what the going opinion on Junior's is amongst the locals here, but I'm comfortable taking this stand: Hey, Junior's is actually good!

Their cheesecake, obviously, is very good. I don't think that point is too heavily in dispute, even though the grocery store version lacks a little in comparison to the fresh stuff you find at their bakery counter—which is truly and non-hyperbolically the best cheesecake I've ever eaten. But what surprised me is that their actual food, at least what we ordered, is damn respectable! The menu, which I expected to be generic American/Greek diner fare, actually leans much more into the New York Jewish deli world, with pastrami and brisket and matzo ball soup. In fact, the item I ordered, which was featured years ago on the Village Voice's list of 50 Essential New York Dishes, was a monstrosity of a brisket sandwich that uses potato latke as a bun. It was truly obscene. But It was also truly delicious, far better than I feared it might be. Erin felt her matzo ball soup was a little canned tasting, but I honestly think it was better than she made it out to be, and even more enjoyable (really) than the bowl she had from Jack's Wife Frida a few weeks ago. I can't say it was better, quality wise, than Frida's, because it obviously wasn't. But I simply found it more satisfying to eat, which kind of sums up our entire meal. I enjoyed every bit of it.

And now I'm supposed to end this review like every Junior's review probably ends, by saying something like, "But you really go there for the cheesecake!" Which yeah is probably true. But y'know what? I just had such a fine evening from top to bottom at this place, that I'm not going to minimize it with the go-there-for-the-cheesecake bit. Junior's is a joy, and I hope they never actually sell out.

11.13.2019 - by Steve
Luke's Italian BeefChicago
Italian beef

Al's Beef is closed apparently. So I had Luke's instead. It was good.