Roger "Rog" Bennett co-hosts the wildly popular Men in Blazers podcast and weekly show on the NBC Sports Network. While soccer – particularly the English Premier League – is his one true love, music also holds a special place in his heart and the Liverpool native shares favorites from his youth. (Hosted by Eric J Lawrence)
1. Simon and Garfunkel – I Am a Rock
2. Blondie – Hanging on the Telephone
3. Stevie Wonder – Living For the City
4. Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
5. Lena Horne – Now!
EJL: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with Roger “Rog” Bennett, co- host of the widely popular “Men in Blazers” podcast and weekly show on the NBC sports network.
While soccer, particularly the English Premier league, is his one true love, music also holds a special place in his heart and today we’re here to talk about five songs that have inspired him throughout his life. Roger, thank you so much for joining us.
RB: Eric, I could not be happier to join you.
EJL: Well, what’s the first track you’ve got for us?
RB: I’m going to preface the first track by saying I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity to relive an important time in my life. I grew up in Liverpool, England in the 1980s.
It was a dark time in a changing England. Maggie Thatcher, social unrest, the city was scapegoated, strikes, there were riots. And in Liverpool there were only two things that mattered: one was football, the other was music. And I loved both.
It was the time of Echo and the Bunnymen, Flock of Seagulls, The La’s. Music was a way we all worked out our identity and expressed ourselves.
It was around that time that I really fell in love with America because of a steady diet of Fantasy Island, Heart to Heart, Different Strokes, Miami Vice -- all which made America look like a place that was life lived in Technicolor, whereas I was living in black and white in England.
So for this show I tried to choose five tracks from that formative period that ultimately lured me to the United States like a siren tempting ancient mariners onto the rocks.
EJL: Well, what was the first song that did that for you?
RB: “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel.
From “Sound of Silence”, which was the first album I ever purchased. I was late to the party Eric. I think the disc was released in 1966ish. Ten years later, I happened to chance upon this song playing on the radio. I was six and I fell in love with it immediately.
It was just a loner’s anthem. The song escalates from a slow start into just a crescendo of guitar, and keyboard emotion as the duo just desperately talk about believing in books and poetry in particular, as opposed to people.
And just when they shout that out, “I’ve got my books and poetry to protect me,” I just felt like I’d spent 2mins and 49 seconds with my fingers stuck into an electrical socket.
So, I loved this song. Later in life, when I was 27, I was dating a girl who informed me that the song was intended to be ironic and our relationship ended within a matter of days.
EJL: Ouch. Well here it is, by Simon and Garfunkel with “I Am a Rock”.
*Song: Simon and Garfunkel – I Am a Rock*
EJL: That was “I Am a Rock” from Simon and Garfunkel. What’s the next track you’ve got for us?
RB: "Hanging on the Telephone" by Blondie. Ah, I love this song.
I was nine when “Parallel Lines” came out, which was just about old enough to fall in love with Debbie Harry the second I saw her on the album cover.
She just seemed wonderfully dangerous, the kind of woman I wanted to be with when I was a nine year old. I also loved that they had a drummer called Clem Burke, which just seemed like the most American name.
I was really fascinated already by America, in particular with the Chicago Bears. The beginning of this song reminds me of the pre-Internet days when the only way on a Sunday that I could find out how the Bears were doing was to just ring random numbers in Chicago with my best friend Jamie. We’d ring any number that began in 312 and just ask whoever answered, a random stranger, “How’s the game going?!” And so when I hear the ringtone at the beginning of this song I re-summon that nervous excitement I used to feel.
EJL: Well, here it is, the song that inspired phone pranks from Britain. It’s Blondie with “Hanging on the Telephone”.
*Song: Blondie – Hanging on the Telephone*
EJL: That was Blondie with “Hanging on the Telephone”. What’s the next track you got for us?
RB: Stevie Wonder, “Living for the City”.
EJL: And why this one?
RB: I got to the promised land when I was 15 for the first time. I flew to Chicago and I had one of the best summers of my life staying with my pen pal. In those days you had pen pals. He lived in one of the suburbs, the Northern suburbs that John Hughes made his films in.
This was the summer Stevie Windward “Higher Love”, Belinda Carlisle’s “Mad About You” were both faintly audible all over the North Shore. But musically, the thing I took away from Chicago, was that the kids I was hanging out with were immersed in and loved classic rock and two albums that I still listen to everyday Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On” and Stevie Wonder “Innervisions”.
Just the story telling of this song it blew me away when I was a kid, it still does. I think it’s sadly more relevant than ever. The part of the song where the tune breaks down and the protagonist is wrongly arrested and then sentenced to ten years in prison and then Stevie just kicks back in with his voice so defiant, wronged yet noble, with that line “His hair is long/his feet are hard and gritty” it’s possibly my favorite moment in any of these five songs.
EJL: How can you compare Liverpool with Chicago?
RB: Oh, that’s a great question. The myth of Liverpool and the myth of the Liverpool Jewish community is that everyone left Ukraine or Russia or somewhere on a boat and they all wanted to get to America to make their fortune.
And the myth of the Liverpool Jewish Community is everybody who ended up there is a descendent of someone with a very low diminished IQ who, when they saw the one tall building on the Liverpool skyline, thought they were in New York, when the boat re-fueled in Liverpool, and they got off. So my grandfather was a kosher butcher, his dad had arrived and his dad thought he was going to go to Chicago and ended up instead in Liverpool. There’s a deep emotional connect to me and when I finally did move to America, I moved to Chicago, and I felt like I was finally home.
EJL: Well, here’s a great city song from Stevie Wonder, “Living for the City”.
*Song: Stevie Wonder – Living For The City*
EJL: That was “Living for the City” from Stevie Wonder selected, by our guest Rog Bennett. What’s the next track you got for us?
RB: The greatest song of all time, “Fast Car”, Tracy Chapman.
There are very few songs that I fall in love with the very first time I hear them and “Fast Car” was one of those. Tracy, if I can call her that, Tracy Chapman, I’m not on first name terms with her. She was just this anti-charismatic folk singer; and that haunting voice, and her propensity to write tunes about human misery, hopelessness, cracks in the social fabric, loneliness and suffering…let’s just say there was something about that that spoke to me.
I have to say, I support a Football Club called Everton. They’re a proud club, yet their history has been one a little bit light. To this day when Everton lose – which, sadly, for the past couple of seasons they’ve done an awful lot – right when the game ends I play “Fast Car” after the final whistle. A song about teen dreams, shattering realities, parental alcoholism, deadbeat dads, bleak futures and it’s an instant reminder that even though everything feels terrible, because the team I love have lost, nothing in life is sadder than a Tracy Chapman song and no matter how much you’re suffering,Tracy is suffering far worse.
*Song: Tracy Chapman – Fast Car*
EJL: It’s Tracy Chapman with “Fast Car” as selected by our guest. What’s the final track you have for us?
RB: Lena Horne. The great Lena Horne, with her song “Now”.
EJL: This is taking it back a different direction.
RB: I thought I’d finish with something that I came across a little earlier in life. It’s a beautiful way to button the collection. As I said I grew up in Liverpool, Jewish bloke, an outsider in a city that was made to feel like a city of outsiders by the rest of England. And one of the places that I found perhaps the most interesting expression of American Jewishness was in my parents’ vinyl record collection. You know, they had the records that every Jewish home had; the holy trinity of Streisand, Diamond, Manilow.
But they also had some of the more exotic sounds which came to my young ear, an album “Bagels and Bongos” by a musician Irving Fields. Connie Francis, a Catholic singing an album called “Jewish Favorites”. And then one of the songs that I loved back then was this one, “Now” by Lena Horne.
The great Harlem born, Hollywood star turned social activist that came out in the midst of the civil rights era when Horne wanted to shape her career in a different direction by making a public statement as an activist. And she spoke to Adolph Green, Betty Comden, the great Jule Styne, Broadway veterans all and they came up with the lyrics for “Now”, which is a rant against civil rights.
Styne decided to put it to the otherwise joyous tune of “Hava Nagila” which your listeners may hear in the background, and to hear Lena Horne sing the lines “Everyone should love his brother/People all should love each other/Just don’t take it literal mister/No one wants to grab your sister.” When I used to listen to them as a kid, those lyrics, that message, a message that really meant something sung to the official tune of every shmaltzy bar mitzvah I attended that didn’t mean anything, it just made America feel like a land that was all the more remarkable.
EJL: Well, here it is, Lena Horne with “Now”.
*Song: Lena Horne – Now*
EJL: Well Rog, thank you so much for joining us here at KCRW.com.
RB: It is an absolute pleasure, thank you Eric.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to kCRW.com/guestDJproject.