Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Plumbers Are Here!

Originally posted April 22, 2009

The best laid plans and all that . . .

As I mentioned yesterday, I had planned to pull tracks from six of the records in the unplayed stacks for today’s post. But yesterday afternoon, our landlord called: He’d scheduled the long-awaited work on our water pipes.

So this morning, the cats are sequestered upstairs and the plumbers are pulling down pipes in the basement. We have plenty of bottled water in the fridge. I have my thermos of coffee in the study, and I am – as is my tendency – pretty well distracted.

The morning’s events, did, however, remind me of my one attempt to work with plumbing and similar fixtures. Sometime during the late 1970s, the float and attached mechanism in our toilet tank quit working. Even a relative novice like me could see that it needed to be replaced. Assuming that my ability to diagnose conferred upon me an equal ability to repair, I stopped by the local plumbing store and told the clerk what I’d seen.

He agreed with my diagnosis and showed me some options for replacement of the worn-out parts. I bought the package of stuff that fell into the midrange, and on Saturday morning, carried my minimally stocked toolbox into the bathroom, turned off the water and proceeded to take the offending pieces of equipment out.

And I then realized that to install their replacements, I needed a wrench larger than anything I had in my possession. The lady of the house was watching my progress from out in the corridor, and I could tell from the look on her face that she’d come to the same realization I had: I needed help. “What are we gonna do?” she asked.

I told her what I planned, and she nodded. Then I did what every I’d guess nearly every young homeowner does the first time one of his handyman projects exceeds his grasp: I called Dad. I’m not sure what he was doing on that long-ago Saturday, but without hesitation, he gathered his tools – including the large adjustable wrench – and drove the thirty miles from St. Cloud to Monticello. About twenty minutes after his arrival, the toilet was reassembled and working.

George the Plumber tells me that he and his assistant will finish the work sometime late this afternoon. Water will flow once more. So here’s a selection of songs that fit today’s events:

A Six-Pack of Water and Plumbers
“Wade In The Water” by Ramsey Lewis, Cadet 5541, 1966
“Hot Water” by the Ides of March from Midnight Oil, 1973
“No Water In The Well” by Wishbone Ash from Locked In, 1976
“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell, Stax 116, 1962
“You Left The Water Running” by Maurice & Mac, Checker 1197, 1968
“The Plumber” by the Ovations from Sweet Thing, 1973


I have two versions of the Ramsey Lewis track. In these days of reissues and bonus tracks, I’m not sure that either of the two – one runs 3:36 and the other about 3:46 – is the original Cadet single. I’m posting the track that runs 3:36. (Yah Shure? You got this one covered?) Either way, it’s a delightful track that went to No. 19 in the summer of 1966.

As I clicked from track to track with the word “water” in their titles, I didn’t expect much from either the Ides of March or Wishbone Ash. Both surprised me pleasantly. “Hot Water” turned out to be a mid-tempo rocker that owes maybe a little bit to Bachman-Turner Overdrive; it doesn’t sound a bit like a track from the same band that did the horn-heavy “Vehicle” three years earlier. “No Water In The Well” is much more melodic and atmospheric than the usual work by Wishbone Ash (although that’s true of about half the tracks on Locked In), and the group pulls the song off with more delicacy than I would have anticipated.

The William Bell and Maurice & Mac tracks have been anointed classic soul singles long after the fact and in spite of chart performance. Bell’s single was hardly noticed when it came out: It went only to No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100. But that was a better fate than the one that fell to “You Left The Water Running.” The Checker single didn’t even enter either the Billboard Hot 100 or the magazine’s R&B chart. Writer Dave Marsh notes in The Heart of Rock & Soul that the single did spend three weeks in the lower portions of the Cash Box R&B chart. (Thanks for Caesar Tjalbo for the Maurice & Mac track.)

I know nothing about the Ovations. All-Music Guide says:

“Despite having only one Top Ten R&B hit, the Ovations were a superb Southern soul trio. The original group featured Louis Williams and made some great ballads that were sung so vividly and produced in such raw fashion that they never reached the wider soul market. Though they reached the R&B charts twice during the late ’60s (with ‘It’s Wonderful to Be in Love’ and ‘Me and My Imagination’), the group eventually disbanded. By 1971, a new trio had resurfaced, with former Nightingales Rochester Neal, Bill Davis, and Quincy Billops, Jr. A remake of Sam Cooke’s ‘Having a Party’ in 1973 gave them their lone Top Ten R&B hit.”

Sweet Thing, from which “The Plumber” comes, was recorded in the late 1970s, according to a note at AMG, but I’ve got three tracks from the album (without having any idea where I found them), and I’ve seen a 1973 date for them. Anyone know anything?

William, Friends of Distinction & Hugh

Originally posted April 23, 2009

I thought it might be slim pickings at YouTube for this week’s posts, quite likely because the posts have been slender as well. But I found a few interesting things.

Here’s what looks to be a relatively recent performance by William Bell of “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Seeing the “Soulsville” emblazoned on the drum makes me wonder if the performance didn’t come from a Stax tribute or something like that in Memphis.



I couldn’t find any video of Hugh Masekela performing “Grazing in the Grass,” but here’s the Friends of Distinction during a 1970 television performance. In the spring of 1969, eight months after Masekela’s instrumental version of the song went to No. 1. The Friends’ vocal version got as high as No. 3.



Here’s a nice find: Hugh Masekela and his band performing “Coal Train (Stimela)” at the Artists Against Apartheid’s June 28, 1986, Freedom Beat festival at London’s Clapham Common.



Tomorrow – and I promise! – we’ll do an unplayed records grab bag. I’ll have the Texas Gal pull some LPs at random from the unplayed stacks and we’ll pull a selection from five of those and take a listen to a track from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus. And we’ll see what we can learn.

About “Wade In The Water”
My thanks to Yah Shure for taking time to dig into the differing versions of Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade in the Water.” He left his conclusions in the comments to yesterday’s post. He first said:

“I timed my 45 of ‘Wade In The Water.’ The time listed on the label is 3:05, but the actual run time is 3:16. I don't believe that it's simply an early fade of the album version, but I'll have to dive again to compare the two.”

After investigation, Yah Shure reported:

“Upon further review, the single version of ‘Wade In The Water’ is not an early fade. It contains four seconds’ worth of material that is not on the album/CD version!

“Aside from minor speed variations, both versions are identical up until 2:58 into the recording. At that point, each version utilizes different takes from the recording session. There’s a little piano trill on the 45 that is not on the LP, along with other differences in the piano and brass. This difference lasts only four seconds. Then, at 3:02, both versions once again become identical. The 45 begins its fade at 3:03, and is out completely at 3:16. The LP/CD track finally fades out completely at about 3:47.

“Mix differences such as these are not all that rare between single and album versions. Although they may seem quite minor, they demonstrate the lengths record producers went to in order to get a hit on the radio.”

(That means that one of the two versions I have is evidently the CD/LP track, with the other of them an edit that was given a fade ten seconds earlier. I never know what to do when I come across this stuff. Do I delete the one that’s the anomaly? If it pops up again, will I recall the information Yah Shure sent along? Good questions for which I have no answers.)

Into The Valley Of The Unplayed

Originally posted April 24, 2009

We are in the valley of the unplayed (and to some degree, unloved as well) today.

Last evening, before we sat down to dinner, I asked the Texas Gal to survey three of the four crates on top of the bookcases and pull out six LPs. She did so, handing them to me without looking at them. She had a plan, at least after the first LP: The first one had a gray spine, but all the other jackets after that had an orange spine. So this is music with orange backbones.

(There was one change from the Texas Gal’s selections: The LP of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor was too hacked for me to be happy sharing anything from it. So I called the Texas Gal at work and asked her which orange-spined LP I should select to replace it. The sixteenth, she said. Since there were only six or so LPs left with even partly orange spines, I counted around and around until I came to sixteen. And I pulled the LP out and slid it into Bernstein’s spot. I think Lenny would have liked the song that replaced the fourth movement of the Brahms.)

A reminder: These are records that have been travelling with me for years, gained in bulk buys, odd gifts, garage sale pickings. In any case, these are records that generally haven’t interested me for one reason or another. Often, I’ll poke my way through one of the crates and see a particular record and think, “I need to listen to that soon.” And then I forget about it. Will I listen to the remainder of these records now that I’ve gotten at least one track down? Maybe.

First out of the crates is an LP that’s actually a replacement for a very poor copy I had earlier. I picked up the first copy in 1990 and replaced it in 1999, when I was bringing home albums at a rate of two a day, according to my LP log. And U2’s War got shuffled into the crates until today.

I’m of several minds about U2. I like most of the early stuff, up to and including Rattle and Hum. The group’s experiments in the 1990s were interesting but not very likeable; their work since then is likeable but not very interesting. Well, the song the group recently performed at the Grammy awards, “Get On Your Boots,” was interesting in a train-wreck sort of way.

For a number of years, U2 was called the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, and for some of that time, that label might actually have been accurate. But accolades like that generally bring along unfortunate consequences: Back in the 1960s, when faced with that label, the Beatles became self-conscious. A few years later, the Rolling Stones became (even more) self-indulgent.

And U2 – especially Bono – became self-important. (My blogging colleague Any Major Dude examined Bono and the band last month and found U2 – and Bono especially – wanting. It’s a good read.)

Anyway, the first LP out of the crates was War, and here – using the selection system offered by Casey at The College Crowd Digs Me in honor of his dad’s long-ago system – is Track Four:

“Like A Song…” by U2 from War, 1983

I like several recordings by Seals and Crofts. The soft-rock duo had an intriguing sound from the time “Summer Breeze” hit the charts in 1972 until sometime in, maybe, 1974. And, along with “Summer Breeze,” there are two Seals and Crofts songs that pull me away to another time: “Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” remain among my favorite records from my college days.

But by 1978, when the duo released Takin’ It Easy (talk about truth in titling!), there was little to separate Seals and Crofts from any other band making softish pop rock, from Pablo Cruise through Firefall to the Little River Band. Their music had turned into audio wallpaper. Track Four on Takin’ It Easy, “You’re The Love,” still spent seven weeks in the Top 40 during the spring and summer of 1978, peaking at No. 18.

“You’re The Love” by Seals and Crofts from Takin’ It Easy, 1978 (Warner Bros. 8551)

The first time I saw Devo was on Saturday Night Live in 1978 or so. The woman of the house and I stared at the television set in amazed bafflement as the band performed “Jocko Homo,” with its chorus that echoed the title of the group’s debut album: “Are we not men? We are Devo.” Not sure if the whole thing was a put-on, we laughed, shaking our heads. And then forgot about it.

Of course, I’ve heard more Devo over the years, though I’ve never dug deeply into the group’s discography. But then New Wave – and Devo was, I think, a milepost for that genre – was never a style I looked into too deeply. (I think there is a copy of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! somewhere around here, but I’m not at all sure.) The third LP the Texas Gal pulled out of the crates last evening was Freedom of Choice, Devo’s third album, from 1980. And coming right after “Whip It” is Track Four, “Snowball.”

“Snowball” by Devo from Freedom of Choice, 1980

This is where the Bernstein should go, with the finale of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor. But, as I noted above, the record looked too battered to provide a clean rip. (A few pops and crackles are not unexpected, but this record was gouged; I may discard it.) And the LP I pulled from the crates to replace it one of those that I know I should have listened to long ago: Heartbeat City by the Cars.

The Cars were called a New Wave band, and maybe that’s accurate, but from where I listen now, the group’s work had a depth in songwriting and musicianship that wasn’t always found in the work of other bands in the genre. Maybe the other leading New Wave bands had those things and I just didn’t hear them. All I know is that I enjoyed what I heard from the Cars over the years enough that I bought the group’s greatest hits album long ago. (And along with my copy of Heartbeat City, I think there’s a copy of Candy-O in the unplayed stacks that I should pull out.) So when I cued up Track Four of Heartbeat City this morning, I was pleased to hear the beautiful and shimmering “Drive.” Sung by the late Benjamin Orr, the single went to No. 3 in the late summer of 1984.

“Drive” by the Cars from Heartbeat City, 1984 (Elektra 69706)

My LP collection long ago ceased to be a reflection of my likes and dislikes. Somewhere in the 1990s, it became something more like an archive. It’s certainly not comprehensive; there are entire genres that are represented barely if at all. But among the nearly 3,000 LPs there are some, that I don’t care for very much, both on the shelves and in the crates where the unplayed LPs wait.

Whitney Houston can sing better than the vast majority of people who have ever tried. The lady has great pipes. She has a shining family legacy of gospel, soul and R&B. And she has sold an incredible number of records. From where I listen, however, she’s spent her career wasting her voice on soulless piffle. (I might exempt “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” from that, but I’ll have to think about it.) Here’s Track Four of her self-titled debut. The single went to No. 1 in 1984.

“Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston from Whitney Houston, 1985 (Arista 9381)

The last of the six orange-spined LPs was a 1980 reissue of a 1963 double-record set collecting the greatest performances of the late Patsy Cline. Released shortly after her death in a plane crash in March 1963, the twenty-four song package probably does a good a job of summing up her career for the casual fan. That pretty well describes me: I know a bit about Cline, and I understand her place in the popularization of country music in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

That popularization, which included the smoothing of the rough edges on country music of the time – the development of the so-called “countrypolitan” sound – put into motion trends in country music that have continued unabated to this day. The result is that, to note one egregious example, the music of Taylor Swift is marketed as country, when it seems to have no real connection at all to that historic genre.

Well, that wasn’t Patsy Cline’s fault. (It’s probably not Taylor Swift’s fault, for that matter.) No matter what the arrangement behind her was, when Patsy Cline began to sing, you knew she was a country artist. Here’s Track Four from The Patsy Cline Story.

“Strange” by Patsy Cline, recorded August 25, 1961 (Decca ED 2719)

I promised the Kiddie Corner Kid that I’d post something from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus album, a self-titled collection of the group’s work that I got in a box of records at a garage sale. (Willmar, as I’ve noted a couple of times, is a city of about 18,000 [according to Wikipedia] that sits about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud.) Looking at the record jacket and at the photos of the two accompanists and the director, using clothing and hair styles to gauge the year, I’m going to guess it’s from the period from 1965 to 1968.

And there was a little bit of a shock when I was looking at those three photos. You see, I knew the woman who was the group’s director. She and her husband – who worked at St. Cloud State – went to our church when I was in high school and college and I think she sang in the choir at the time, as I did. As I glanced over the photos the first time, I thought, “Gee, that looks like Mrs. O-------!” My eyes dropped to the identification beneath the photo, and that’s exactly who it was, identified – as was the custom of the time – as “Mrs. Robert O-------.”

I didn’t know her well: She was an adult and I was not. I don’t recall her first name, though I’m sure I’d recognize it if saw it or heard it. But I recognized her immediately. And I think it’s odd how little bits of our past fly up to touch us, sometimes from the strangest places.

Anyway, the Willmar Boys’ Chorus put together a two-record set sometime during the 1960s, most likely as a souvenir for the kids and their families. (I have a few similar records sitting on the shelves recorded by groups I played.) And here’s Track Four:

“Doctor Foster” (after Handel) from Willmar Boys’ Chorus, about 1965.

Saturday Single No. 149

Originally posted April 25, 2009

I spent a couple evenings this week watching – on DVD – the first three episodes of Mad Men, the drama about a top-tier advertising agency in New York in the late 1950s. The show began its run on cable network AMC two years ago; I’ve always intended to watch it, but never managed to even remember to program the DVR to record the show.

In some ways, though, I think that being able to watch episodes in clusters, rather than a week at a time, is better. The experience, the drama, the focus on the character’s lives is more concentrated. Anyway, I found the first three episodes fascinating and can hardly wait until the second disc of the show arrives in the mail.

Part of that enjoyment and anticipation is for the drama itself. The main characters are interesting, from the somewhat mysterious ad exec Dan Draper, who seems to be the hub of the show, through his various co-workers, some of whom are seemingly destined to be very bad news, to Draper’s family and neighbors on their tree-lined suburban street. One anticipates all sorts of possible story lines. And the writing is generally sharp and sometimes witty. I haven’t yet heard a line that makes me gape at the screen in admiration for the writer, but the quality of the scripts pretty much promises me that I will.

But what makes Mad Men so interesting to me is the details, the peripheral things that become so crucial in producing a period piece: the scene-setting, costuming, art decoration and set decoration: From the clothing to the cars, from the martini-lubricated dinners in the best restaurants to the cigarettes that fill the air everywhere, from the hi-fi cabinet at the end of Draper’s couch to the jarring sight of a polio-crippled boy lurching through a living room with his crutches and braces, Mad Men gets it right and shows a world of urban gloss and suburban certainty.

And I find it fascinating, on three levels. First, the writer and viewer in me anticipate that neither that gloss nor that certainty will run very deep: I expect shiny surfaces to crack and unexamined beliefs to wither as the first season runs on.

Then, the historian that I am nods at references to events and pop culture, to mentions of new products and long-gone institutions. (I wonder how many viewers knew what an Automat was?) The show’s website says the show begins in 1960, and the entry for the show at Wikipedia says the first episode is set in March of that year. There is talk around the ad agency – but so far no action – of working for Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign. Right Guard show up as the first aerosol spray deodorant, and in the very first episode, Draper is struggling to advertise cigarettes in light of a federal ruling that advertising can no longer say cigarettes have health benefits.

And finally, inside me, the boy who once was stares at the world he once lived in: The mix of stylish tail-finned late model cars and the boxy post-war models that had once seemed so stylish themselves. The snippets of television sound – familiar voices, both dramatic and commercial – one hears occasionally in the background. The casual and unthinking sexism, racism and other types of discrimination. And seemingly a thousand small details, like using an opener on a can of beer. All of it added up to make those three hours this week a visit to that other world, a world that was already beginning to change, mostly in ways that we here – nearly fifty years later – will approve.

As I watched, there came both a sense of foreboding and an odd, almost yearning, sense of grief. The foreboding was for the characters on the screen, for the writing had done its job: I care about them and wonder what lies in store. The grief was, I think, because that world on the screen, the world of tailfins and television shows, of braces and bottle openers, was the world around me when I became self-aware. We all live in different worlds as we age, sequential but different as the years pass. And much of the world of Mad Men is the first world I lived in, and I recall it only a little. Seeing it onscreen this week in its full and foolish glory was like opening a long-lost scrapbook in which I keep those memories.

That scrapbook is not entirely benign: Some of those memories I’d just as soon not have. Others are more pleasant to recall, gentle dispatches from a world that went away long ago.

I’ve been listening to a lot of late 1950s Sinatra this week, and I thought I might find something there, perhaps “Willow, Weep For Me.” But I looked a bit deeper into the digital files and found a Dinah Washington recording from 1959 for today's Saturday Single.

This Bitter Earth

This bitter earth:
What fruit it bears.
What good is love
That no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose,
What good am I?
Heaven only knows.

This bitter Earth:
Can it be so cold?
Today you're young,
Too soon you’re old
But while a voice
Within me cries,
I'm sure someone
May answer my call,
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all.

“This Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington, New York City, 1959 (Mercury 71635)
2.78 MB mp3 at 160 kbps

Waiting By The Whirlpool

Originally posted April 27, 2009

Come the spring of 1969, I was in demand as an athletic manager at St. Cloud Tech. The baseball coach asked if I was interested in helping out his team, and the track manager wondered if I wanted to work with his distance runners.

I was years away from becoming truly interested in baseball, and my sister’s high school boyfriend had run track. I’d enjoyed watching the meets, so I went with track as a manager for the distance runners.

It was a choice I regretted almost immediately. The coaches decided my role as manager that spring was to wait in the training room – tucked to the side of the varsity locker room – and maintain the primitive whirlpool tub for those runners who thought they needed it after finishing their distance runs. Every afternoon during what I remember as a beautiful spring, I sat in the training room and – most of the time – waited.

As the runners came back in, some would settle themselves in the whirlpool tub and others would gather in the training room, and they’d share jest and japes and ribald jokes. Sometimes they included me; sometimes not. I was, after all, only a sophomore.

I didn’t even get to go the meets, as there were always distance runners who were not varsity-level, and they did their practice runs around town as the meets went on. And I was required to have the whirlpool available for them when they finished their practice runs.

As I waited, I read. But sometimes, I’d tire of even that, and I’d sit there in the otherwise empty locker room and training room, wishing I were sitting in a dugout on a ball field somewhere. And I didn’t even have a radio.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, April 26, 1969)
“Do Your Thing” by the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Warner Bros. 7250 (No. 11)
“Hot Smoke and Sassafras” by the Bubble Puppy, Int’l. Artists 128 (No. 28)
“Grazing in the Grass” by the Friends of Distinction, RCA Victor 0107 (No. 36)
“Wishful, Sinful” by the Doors, Elektra 45656 (No. 44)
“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill/ABC 4187 (No. 66)
“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Ronettes, A&M 1040 (No. 108)

The only one of these I recall hearing at the time is the Friends of Distinction record. Having posted Hugh Masekela’s instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass” a little more than a week ago, I couldn’t pass up the chance to offer the Friends’ vocal cover of the tune, which flies off into a much more rapid tempo. I still love the “I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it” bridge. I wonder how many takes it took to nail that? The record was on its way up the chart on April 26, having jumped to No. 36 from No. 65 the week before. It would peak at No. 3.

“Do Your Thing,” which hit its peak in the April 26 chart, is about as funky as Top 40 ever got, I think. Well, maybe Parliament/Funkadelic and James Brown, but “Do Your Thing” is certainly in the conversation. The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band was an eight-man group from the Watts section of Los Angeles brought together by Charles Wright, who hailed from Clarksdale, Mississippi. This was the first of three Top 40 singles for the group; the others – “Love Land” and “Express Yourself,” which went to No. 16 and No. 12, respectively, in 1970 – were credited to Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.

Bubble Puppy was a quartet from Houston, Texas, whose psychedelic garage-rocker “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” had peaked at No. 14 in March and was sliding its way back down the chart. Latter-day explorers into the music of 1969 might expect to find the record to be a slice of sunshine pop based on the group’s cutesy name. Nah. “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” rocks pretty well.

The Doors’ “Wishful, Sinful” is an intriguing listen from this distance, maybe better today than I recall it being. The follow-up to “Touch Me,” which had reached No. 3 in February 1969, “Wishful, Sinful” just missed the Top 40, sitting at No. 44 for two weeks. The next week it was at No. 45 and then it tumbled out of sight. I don’t know that I heard it during the spring of 1969; I recall it more clearly from my first year of college, when one of my friends played the Doors’ The Soft Parade at least daily in his dorm room.

Every once in a while, as the Grass Roots’ songs came out of the radio speakers, I’d wonder: Who are those guys? Even if I’d had the resources – and the inclination – to dig, it would have been hard to know, says All-Music Guide, “because there were at least three different groups involved in the making of the songs identified as being by ‘the Grass Roots.’” You can read at AMG the tangled history of P.F. Sloan, Steve Barri, the Bedouins, the 13th Floor and other musicians that fell in and out of the tale of the Grass Roots. What’s left behind is some of the best pop-rock of the Top 40 era, fourteen Top 40 hits from “Where Were You When I Needed You” (No. 28 in 1966) to “The Runaway” (No. 39 in 1972). The highest charting Grass Roots’ single was “Midnight Confession,” which went to No. 5 in 1968. “The River Is Wide,” which is one of my favorites, was one of the less-successful singles, only reaching No. 31.

I don’t know a lot about “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Ronettes. In the notes to Back to Mono, the 1991 Phil Spector box set, the single is listed as being recorded in February 1969. That’s the last mention of the Ronettes and the last month covered by the box set. (Two singles come after “You Came . . .” in the set: “Black Pearl” and “Love Is All I Have To Give” by Sonny Charles & the Checkmates, but they, too, are listed only as being recorded in February.) The April 26 chart was the fourth and final time that the record was listed in the “Bubbling Under the Hot 100,” and I’m wondering two things: Were the sessions that created the record the last time that Spector worked with the Ronettes? And was this the last appearance of the Ronettes on a Billboard chart? (I would guess caithiseach has the answers, if he’ll be kind enough to share.)

'We're All Alone'

Originally posted April 28, 2009

Well, I just spent an hour combing through ten different versions of Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone,” the gorgeous song that’s the closer to Scaggs’ 1976 album Silk Degrees.

Feeling a bit like Andy Rooney this morning, I’ll just note that Silk Degrees – though I’ve certainly become accustomed to it – is an odd name for an album. What does it mean? How many degrees are there in silk? I wonder if sometime, somewhere, Boz Scaggs told the story.

Anyway, looking for a cover version to share, I just listened to the original version of “We’re All Alone” and nine covers. And none of them really blew me away. One of the things that I did find interesting when I began to look for covers through All-Music Guide was the evident popularity of the song in the Pacific Rim. I found versions by Japanese singers, by singers from the Philippines and by a Hawaii-based duo named Cecilio & Kapono, and I saw listings at AMG for more versions of the tune from that area of the world.

Unhappily, none of those versions seemed to add anything to the song, and that’s too bad. The song is one of those that can get inside my head and whirl around for an hour or so, one of the most tolerable of earworms. I almost certainly heard the song for the first time not long after Silk Degrees was released in 1976, when I was living in the cold house on the North Side of St. Cloud, about two blocks from both the rail yards and a neighborhood beer joint called the Black Door Club.

(The owner of the bar said the name didn’t signify anything: “When I bought the place,” he told a few of us over a pitcher of Grain Belt one Saturday afternoon, “the door was painted black. I thought that was strange, but I wasn’t gonna repaint it. And then I was tryin’ to come up with a name for the place, and the best I could do was the Black Door Club.”)

Anyway, one of my three roommates in the autumn of 1976 brought home Silk Degrees and began playing it – a lot. At least daily for three weeks, he dropped it on the stereo in the living room or the stereo in his room. It didn’t take long before I knew the record very, very well. Kevin moved out at the end of fall quarter and headed off into adult life, taking the record with him. At that time, I didn’t have a list of music I wanted to collect. When I felt like getting something new, I headed to Musicland or Shopko and rifled through the bins, or else I headed to Axis downtown and looked through the used records, and I bought whatever I found. I imagine if I’d run across a copy of Silk Degrees, I would have bought it.

But my album log says that I didn’t bring Silk Degrees home until December 1, 1977. I remember buying the record as a celebration. That day had seen the publication of the first edition of the Monticello Times with my byline in it. And when I played the record in my small apartment that evening, I realized how much I had missed hearing it. Oh, I’d heard the singles, of course: “Lowdown” had spent fifteen weeks in the Top 40 in the late summer and fall of 1976, reaching No. 3, and “Lido Shuffle” had peaked at No. 11 during a nine-week stay in the Top 40 during the spring of 1977, and both continued to get some airplay. (The first chart single from the album, “It’s Over,” had gone to No. 38 in the spring before I moved to the north side; a fourth single, “What Can I Say,” failed to reach the Top 40.)

It was sweet that evening to hear my own copy of the album. And over the years, it’s an album I go back to time and again. In fact, in a post here in June 2007, I put Silk Degrees on a list of my thirteen favorite albums. Lists like that are often fluid, and if I did a similar list now without referring to the earlier list, there would likely be some changes. But Silk Degrees would stay there, I’m sure.

Is “We’re All Alone” the best track on the record? Maybe. Beyond the singles, which are almost too familiar to assess, I like “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?” and “Harbor Lights.” But I keep coming back to “We’re All Alone” as my favorite on the record.

Scaggs’ version of “We’re All Alone,”, even though it’s the original, likely isn’t the best known: Rita Coolidge’s cover of the song went to No. 7 in the latter months of 1977, but I’ve never cared much for Coolidge’s version. Others who have covered the song – according to All-Music Guide – include Joe Augustine, Acker Bilk, the Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawaii, Linda Eder, Lesley Gore, Engelbert Humperdinck, Bob James, Steve Lawrence, Johnny Mathis, Reba McIntire, Natalia, Newton, the Romantic Strings, Lars Roos, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Frankie Valli, the Ventures, the Walker Brothers and the West Coast All-Stars.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard eight covers of the song, and none of them blew me away. But two of them, I thought, were pretty good. The Three Degrees, the Philadelphia R&B trio that showed up on MFSB’s “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia” (No. 1 in 1974) and had a good career on its own (“When Will I See You Again” went to No. 2 in 1974), covered the song for its 1977 album Standing Up For Love. And Pieces Of A Dream, a long-lived Philadelphia jazz/R&B group, covered “We’re All Alone” on its 1994 album Goodbye Manhattan.

“We’re All Alone” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees (1976)

“We’re All Alone” by the Three Degrees from Standing Up For Love (1977)

“We’re All Alone” by Pieces Of A Dream from Goodbye Manhattan (1994)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On The Reading Table

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it moreso for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise!, 1981
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You, 1981
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment, 1987
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun, 1987
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe, 1987

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

Jeff Healey, Earth Wind & Fire, Bubble Puppy & The Doors

Originally posted April 30, 2009

One of the things that made Jeff Healey such a powerful guitar player was his lap-style playing, which – if not unique – was at least a rare technique. Here’s a clip of Healey and his band performing Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By” during a March 26, 1995, performance at the Sudbahnhof in Frankfurt, Germany.



There are few things that go together better than funky music and excessive 1980’s style costumes. Here’s the video – the height of style and technique then and wonderfully cheesy today – that was released in 1981 for Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.”



I can’t post it here, but here’s a link to a very nice performance by Boz Scaggs of “We’re All Alone.” It’s from 2004 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francsicso. (The recording cuts off too soon, but it’s still a great performance.)

Here’s a video posted to the Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass.” There’s nothing new there musically, but you can see some record covers, posters and photos of the band.



Then, here’s a live soundstage performance by the Doors of “Wishful Sinful.” Based on the Doors’ appearances, this dates from sometime in 1970, probably around the time the band was working on L.A. Woman.



Tomorrow, I’ll probably do something to mark May Day again. Exactly what that’s going to be I don’t know right now, but this time, it will at least be on the right day.

Anyone Dancing Or Marching For May Day?

Originally posted May 1, 2009

It’s May Day again (and this year, I got the day right, at least.)

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here. I recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times. How lively is the international labor movement these days, especially taking into account the sad state of the international economy? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered. As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that “[t]he earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.
Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 (1969)
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (1967)
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings (1970)
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web (1972)
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia (1998)

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

As to the songs themselves, how could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

“May Be A Price To Pay” is the opening track to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project Alan Parsons released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the group’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release on album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to All-Music Guide, “Julie Felix isn't too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she's been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hill of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia (Shakespeare’s, I presume) through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.

Saturday Single No. 150

Originally posted May 2, 2009

Back on a November Saturday, stumped for a recording to share, I walked to the main record stacks and pulled out the first record – alphabetically – about which I knew little. That’s how a song by Barbi Benton – late 1960s and early 1970s Playboy fixture and (thanks, jb) regular on television’s Hee-Haw came to grace this corner of blogworld.

Stuck again this morning, I went to the shelves and began poking. I have three tall shelf sets with five shelves each. In them, one finds most of the pop, rock, folk and R&B, running from ABBA in the upper left to Warren Zevon in the lower left (with the Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Band elsewhere on their own shelves). So I went to the third shelf in the middle stack, the center of the collection, as it were, to see what I could find.

Larry Long has been writing, recording and singing for years. His discography at All-Music Guide begins with 1988’s live album, It Takes A Lot Of People . . . and runs through 2000’s Well May The World Go. The record I pulled from the shelf was from 1981: Living In A Rich Man’s World, evidently Long’s first album.

On the insert that contains extensive credits and notes, Long writes:

Living In A Rich Man’s World was conceived the summer of 1979 when two friends, Louis and Francine, told me it was time to record an album. After the seed was planted I traveled to Colby, Kansas[,] to harvest wheat with a combine crew. The harvest took my camera, guitar and self from Buckburnett, Texas[,] to Scranton, North Dakota.

“When I returned home several months later with 2,000 slides, 100 hours of taped interviews and half a dozen new songs, the seed had taken root. It was time to record.”

And Long’s album, Living In A Rich Man’s World, is a musical documentary of the times of working men and women ca. 1979. I’ve played the record before. I know that because the record was in the stacks and not in the crates. But I’m thinking that maybe when I played it, I just heard it instead of listening to it. There is a subtle difference. Or maybe I’m hearing things differently these days because I might share them with the small portion of the world that stops by here.

But Long’s album began to dig its hooks in me this morning, with its populism, its hopefulness and its musicianship. I’ve going to have to drop it on the turntable soon and rip every one of its twelve songs. I’ve done two this morning.

Long is a local fellow, a Minnesotan at least, maybe even from St. Cloud. The jacket and notes tell me that the album was recorded in the Twin Cities, and the credits list many names that I recognize from the Twin Cities. It was released by Waterfront Records, a label based in Sauk Rapids, a smaller town just north of St. Cloud’s East Side. Some of the photos of folks on the back of the jacket – the collage includes photos of Long, his friends and some of the regular folks about whom Long sings on the record – are listed as having been taken in St. Cloud.

I don’t know that I’d heard about him before I found the record (at the Electric Fetus in downtown St. Cloud, according to the price tag). If I did, I wasn’t paying attention, and based on what I heard this morning, I should have.

The tracks I pulled from the record this morning are “Gotta Have Money To Make Money” and the title track, “Living In A Rich Man’s World.” Normally, I would have used the Track Four method to select tracks from an unknown album, but both of these are Track Five, one from each side. Why? Because in the credits for both of these tracks, I saw the name of drummer Bob Vandell, a well regarded Twin Cities musician who used to play the tympani behind me in the orchestra at St. Cloud Tech.

Other musicians on “Gotta Have Money To Make Money” are: Larry Long, vocals and guitar; Peter Watercott, fiddle; Prudence Johnson, harmony vocals; Billy Peterson, acoustic bass; and Butch Thompson, clarinet. Others on “Living In A Rich Man’s World” are: Larry Long, vocals and guitar; Pete Watercott, fiddle; Prudence Johnson, harmony vocals; John Hammond, electric guitar; and Sid Gasner, electric bass. (And no, I do not know if that John Hammond is the well-known John Hammond.)

So here’s Larry Long and this week’s Saturday Singles:

“Gotta Have Money To Make Money” by Larry Long from Living In A Rich Man’s World (1981)
2.99 MB mp3 ripped from vinyl at 192 kbps

“Living In A Rich Man’s World” by Larry Long from Living In A Rich Man’s World (1981)
5.68 MB mp3 ripped from vinyl at 192 kbps

Note
While I was writing this, I wandered over to Amazon and learned that Living In A Rich Man’s World was released on CD in 1995 with six additional tracks. That CD should be here within a week or so, and as it’s out of print, I’ll likely (depending on sound quality) share the whole thing here.

Thirty-Nine Years

Originally posted May 4, 2009

Allison Krause
Jeffrey Miller
Sandra Scheuer
William Schroeder

“Ohio” by Neil Young, live at Toronto’s Massey Hall, January 19, 1971
5.04 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

'Us & Them' & Time & Place

Originally posted May 5, 2009

I’ve written in passing at various times about what I call “time and place” songs, songs that are so interlaced in memory that just hearing a few notes pulls me back elsewhere and elsewhen.

I think anyone who loves music has a number of songs that do that. Some of the moments my songs take me to are significant. Others are not, and I think one of the joys of time and place songs is that they remind me of the little bits of everyday life, things that would otherwise go unmarked. One that comes to mind as I write is from 1966: Rick and I were locking our bikes to the rack outside a long-gone St. Cloud discount store called Tempo when we heard the strains of the Seeker’s “Georgy Girl” coming from somewhere. For better or worse, whenever I’ve heard the song for many years, I’m back on St. Germain in the west end of downtown going to Tempo for some reason.

Probably the most potent time and place song for me is Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them,’ from Dark Side of the Moon. As soon as I hear the first notes of the long slow introduction, I’m gone. And as the introduction flows into Dick Parry’s sweet and sad saxophone solo, I’m standing in a doorway between the small lobby and the lounge at the youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark, so many years ago. A few feet away stands the kiosk where three of our college gals earn a little spending money, selling the rest of us soda, beer, cigarettes and some snacks.

In the other direction, in the lounge, some of the kids are sitting in low-slung chairs near the fireplace, which is never used. They’re studying or reading letters from home or maybe writing their own letters back. Over by the window, a bunch of the guys are playing poker for matchsticks, and right near them, a couple more are hanging around the pinball machine. Just a normal evening in an extraordinary time.

And as the song moves on, I have the choice of digging further into the memories or pulling back and listening in the here and now. The memories are sweet, but my here and now is good, too. Either way, “Us and Them” always has that little tug, whenever I hear it. And I imagine that’s why it’s one of my favorite songs.

All-Music Guide lists just more than a hundred CDs that contain a version of “Us and Them.” Not all of those listings are of the song written by Roger Waters and Richard Wright. I’d estimate that about ninety percent are, though. And of those listings, twenty-two are recordings by Pink Floyd itself.

So that leaves about seventy listings of covers of “Us and Them,” including versions done by Between the Buried and Me, the East Star All-Stars, Ron Jones, David Ari Leon, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, German singer Nena, Out of Phase, Sarah Slean, Jeff Scott Soto, the Squirrels, Supermayor, Switch, Walt Wagner, John Wetton and Holly Wilson.

Two names intrigue me in that list: Nena and Holly Wilson. Nena, because her recording of “Us and Them” is the closer to a double album of covers, one CD of German songs and one CD in English of some of the more interesting songs of the rock era. Along with “Us and Them,” Nena tackled “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “After the Goldrush,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and a few more. I’m not sure I’d listen often to the German songs, but I might like the second CD of the set pretty well.

Then, there’s Holly Wilson. I know pretty much nothing about her, just that she’s a singer who likes to record songs in bossa nova style. For some reason, I’ve recently been digging into albums released during the bossa nova craze of the early 1960s, trying to decide which of the classic albums I want to add to my CD collection. In doing so, I’ve come across some interesting performers and performances. Wilson has recorded four themed albums of covers in bossa nova style in recent years, including Genesis en Bossa Nova in 2005, Queen en Bossa Nova in 2006 and Frank Sinatra en Bossa Nova in 2007. And there was the album I found, Pink Floyd en Bossa Nova, also from 2006.

The CD seems , oddly, to hold up pretty well, though at first there is a little bit of cognitive dissonance in hearing, say, the gloom of “Brain Damage” performed as a sprightly dance tune.
Seven of the ten tracks on Wilson’s Pink Floyd CD are pulled from Dark Side of the Moon, and Wilson’s interpretations of them and of the other three tracks – “Another Brick In The Wall,” Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Wish You Were Here” – make for interesting listening. One of the reasons I think the album works is that Wilson and her producers – whoever they were – made good use of electronic sounds as well as standard instrumentation. And Wilson sings them well, though she might overuse the breathy half-spoken approach a little too much.

I don’t post much that’s been released after 1999, but this was too interesting a cover to let it go.
“Us and Them” by Holly Wilson from Pink Floyd en Bossa Nova (2006) [Buy it here.]
10.11 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

Tuesday Extra
As the Texas Gal and I wandered through some garage sales Saturday, I kept my eyes open for LPs. And at one sale on the south side of the city, I found a crate full. Lots of country, some Christmas albums, a little bit of rock and pop (things I already have) and one interesting find in near mint condition.

It’s a 1982 album by a group that had eight Top 40 hits between 1958 and 1962. The covers range from “Leader of the Pack” to “Take A Chance On Me” and beyond, with the most surprising being the track I’m sharing today. I’m not going to tell you the name of the group. You’ll have to download the track to find that out. And I’m using Boxnet for this particular mp3 so you can listen to it right away.

“Whip It” (By Alvin & The Chipmunks)
3.6 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

A Serenade On The Field Trip Bus

Originally posted May 6, 2009

On a cool, rainy day in the spring of 1968, the fifty or so students in the two ninth-grade biology classes from St. Cloud’s South Junior High scrambled onto a bus. Joined by a few teachers – I’ve never for one moment envied teachers who have to supervise field trips – we headed out of St. Cloud.

I’m no longer entirely clear on our destinations that day. I think we drove through the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, parts of which are about thirty miles from St. Cloud. I recall getting out of the bus every now and then to look at trees and underbrush and look for evidence of small animals. We had a picnic lunch, if my memory is right, served by class moms in the yard of a classmate’s farm home. And we visited a tree farm near the end of the day.

It was at the tree farm that someone took pictures of the group, which was large enough that it took three shots to get us all. The photographer overlapped the three shots, so if one wanted to, one could overlap the three prints and have a wide-screen image, as it were, showing all of us at once. (These days, that could be done with digital tools and only a little bit of effort. Forty-one years ago, it would have required a bit of darkroom legerdemain.) The best thing I remember about the picture, though, was that one of our teachers, Mr. Lemke, hoisted one of the girls, Patty, onto his shoulders for the picture. They stood at the back of the group on the left, and when the photographer had finished with that side of the group, Mr. Lemke walked behind the group and stood with Patty on his shoulders on the right side of the group. That bit of mischief allowed Mr. Lemke and Patty to seemingly be in two places at once.

On the way back to St. Cloud, one of our classmates astounded all of us by sliding his arm around the girl he’d evidently been dating for a while. Back then, at the ages of fourteen and fifteen, that was an amazingly bold public display of affection. The girls sitting around the couple spent the last five or so minutes of the ride back to school serenading the two of them and the rest of us with a lively version of “Somebody To Love,” the Jefferson Airplane hit from the year before.

The girls might have been singing just because there was no radio playing, but I don’t think so. Had there been a radio on the bus, though, here’s some of what we might have heard.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, May 4, 1968)
“Sweet Inspiration” by the Sweet Inspirations, Atlantic 2476 (No. 18)
“Soul Serenade” by Willie Mitchell, Hi 2140 (No. 30)
“I Will Always Think About You” by the New Colony Six, Mercury 72775 (No. 44)
“I’m Sorry” by the Delfonics, Philly Groove 151 (No. 77)
“I Love You” by People, Capitol 2708 (No. 85)
“Brooklyn Roads” by Neil Diamond, Uni 55065 (No. 124)

Even though they recorded a series of solid soul/R&B albums on their own – seven between 1967 and 1979 for the CCM, Atlantic, Stax and RSO labels – the Sweet Inspirations were likely better known as one of the top groups of background vocalists in the mid- to late 1960s. According to All-Music Guide: “The group evolved from the ’50s gospel group the Drinkard Singers. At various points soul singers Doris Troy, Judy Clay, Dionne Warwick, and sister Dee Dee Warwick were members. By the time they began to record on their own in 1967, their leader was Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney), and the women were renamed the Sweet Inspirations.” Singing along with Houston on “Sweet Inspiration” – taken from the group’s first album – are Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell and Myrna Smith. This week marked the record’s peak position, No. 18, nine weeks after the record first entered the Hot 100. Over the next three weeks, the record would slide to No. 32 and then drop out of the Hot 100 entirely. “Sweet Inspiration” would be the group’s only Top 40 hit.

“Soul Serenade,” which peaked at No. 23 the week after this chart came out, was Willie Mitchell’s second Top 40 hit; “20-75” had gone to No. 31 in 1964. Mitchell’s finest time was still to come, as he spent the last years of the 1960s building a stable of performers, the greatest of whom was Al Green, and refining a sound as recognizable as any in pop music. That Hi Sound, behind O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and especially Al Green, became an inescapable part of the soundtrack of the Seventies.

The New Colony Six was a soft-rock sextet from Chicago that had two Top 40 hits in 1968 and 1969. “I Will Always Think About You” peaked at No. 22 in the first week of June 1968, and “Things I’d Like To Say” went to No. 16 not quite a year later. The group, as a couple of college friends always told me, was much more popular in its home territory: “I Will Always Think About You” was No. 1 at Chicago’s WLS for one week in March of 1968 and ranked No. 31 in the station’s ranking of the year’s top singles.

“I’m Sorry” was the immediate follow-up to the Delfonics’ “La-La - Means I Love You,” which had gone to No. 4 and was ranked at No. 26 when “I’m Sorry” entered the Hot 100. It strikes me that issuing a follow-up single – even a single as good as “I’m Sorry – while the group’s first single is still ranked that highly is being a little hasty. Maybe not; I’ve never been an A&R guy. At any rate, “I’m Sorry” didn’t have the impact “La - La” did: It got as high as No. 42, where it stayed for three weeks before tumbling out of the Hot 100. The Delfonics would reach the Top 40 three more times in 1968 and 1969 before getting back to the Top 10 in 1970 with the luminous “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).”

“I Love You” was the second Capitol single by People, a sextet from San Jose, California. According to the notes to the four-CD set Love Is The Song We Sing, after the group’s first single went nowhere, “the band took an obscure Zombies flipside and smothered it in Vanilla Fudge.” The single – one of my favorites from that era – went to No. 14 in June 1968 and was the group’s only Top 40 single.

Here’s what Neil Diamond says about “Brooklyn Roads” in the notes to his In My Lifetime box set: “I had just signed with MCA Records and wanted to stretch my creative wings. This is the most literal and personal story I had written up to that point. ‘Brooklyn Roads’ told of my youth and my aspirations. I loved the freedom of being able to write something without the charts in mind.” A week after “bubbling under” at No. 124, “Brooklyn Roads” slid into the Hot 100, eventually making it to No. 58.

People, The Seekers, CSNY & Alvin & The Chipmunks

Originally posted May 7, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Here’s what appears to be a video produced for the People single “I Love You” upon its release in 1968.



I mentioned the Seekers the other day. As I was digging around this morning, I found a clip of “I’ll Never Find Another You” as performed at the group’s July 7, 1968, farewell concert in London.



Here’s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performing “Ohio” sometime during the group’s 1974 tour. It’s pretty much as I remember it from the group’s stop at the St. Paul Civic Center that summer.

Video deleted

Finally, here’s Alvin & the Chipmunks singing “Bad Day,” accompanied by some stills from the 2007 movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks.



Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a look at Jubilation, the third and final CD released in the 1990s by The Band.

A Sad Springtime Scene

Originally posted May 8, 2009

Early this morning, the Texas Gal called me to the dining room window. “Look at the end of the driveway” she said, pointing.

And there, not far from the sidewalk and moving parallel to Lincoln Avenue – a fairly busy street – was a mama duck followed by her ducklings. We couldn’t tell how many there were as they pushed through the grass to keep up with her, but all of them were making pretty good time across the lawn toward Thirteenth Avenue, which is a less busy street.

I wandered outside and down near the edge of the lawn, just to see which way she’d take her brood. My guess was that she’d eventually have to cross Lincoln and, after that, the railroad tracks: About a half-mile up, there’s a large drainage pond in front of the public works building on the far side of the tracks from us.

Mama and her ducklings stepped down from the curb into the street as a car sailed past. I looked both ways and saw no traffic coming, and Mama scooted across the street, her brown and gold fluffballs following. I counted nine of them. Once across the street, Mama hopped up onto the cure and into the taller grass. The ducklings tried to follow. The last one in line jumped up, fell and flipped on his back. He (it could have been a she, I know) lay there thrashing his wings, unable to get up.

I’d not intended to interfere when I went down to watch, but I couldn’t stand to see him like that. I dashed across the street and lifted him up to the grass. As I did, the other eight ducklings headed left, along the gutter, parallel with mama’s path on the grass above. And they were heading straight toward a storm sewer grate. I got five of them before they fell in; three tumbled into the water some feet below. I looked down into the grate and could not see them in the dimness. But I could hear them.

And Mama would not leave. She was confused: She could hear her lost ducklings chirping from below the street, but she could not find them. She waddled back and forth, past the grating in the street, pausing every once in a while to keep her other ducklings in a group in the taller grass. Eventually, the mama duck stopped pacing and stood guard on the curb above the grate, her remaining six ducklings huddled around her. I watched for a few moments, then sadly walked back across the street and up to the house where the Texas Gal was waiting.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten involved,” she said.

“There are storm drains everywhere,” I said. “And other risks.” She nodded.

I came back into the house, wondering if I’d made things worse. And I don’t know. As I watched from the dining room window, the Texas Gal stopped her car next to the storm drain on Lincoln and got out. I couldn’t tell what she was doing. She called after she got to work.

“I saw her standing on the curb,” she told me, “and I thought that if I could get her to move far enough away so she couldn’t hear the ones in the drain, she might move on.” So she’d moved slowly toward the mama duck and her ducklings, gently guiding them on a path toward the public works building down the street and across the tracks. The diminished family did move on, the Texas Gal said.

I called the city’s public works department and told them what I’d seen, and the man I talked to said he’d get word to the folks who handled such events. “I don’t know what their policy is,” he told me, “but I’ll get word to the right people.”

I don’t have much hope for the three that fell, but I sure hope that Mama Duck and her remaining six babies got to the pond at the public works building.

The Band: Jubilation
The first thing one notices about Jubilation, the 1998 CD that turned out to be the last album in The Band’s long history, is the sound of old: fiddles, snare drums, accordion and – perhaps the most important – voices that sound weary or at least long-used. Is this rock ’n’ roll? Americana? Looking back from eleven years after the CD came out and nearly ten years since the death of Rick Danko, the label doesn’t really matter. It comes to mind that this is how music – in a lot of ways – sounded in small American communities before we all listened to the radio and the stereo and our mp3 players.

The Band was always a little out of step with the rest of the musical world, its five original members comprising a band of brothers who all stepped to the rhythm of Thoreau’s distant drummer. On the cover of their second album, The Band, the photo of the five of them – Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson – looks as if it comes from a Civil War history or an account of desperate men on the American frontier of about the same time. And their music – from Music From Big Pink in 1968 through Jubilation – was the same: Out of touch (sometimes less so, sometimes more) with the trends and styles of the day and utterly in touch with something deeper in the American soul.

Yes, I know the original group was made up of four Canadians and one U.S. citizen; but, to take care of the linguistic point first: Canada is a part of North America. Beyond that, for all our differences – and there are some significant ones – the rural portions of English Canada are not that far different from the rural portions of the southern U.S., and the experiences of those communities as they grew were not that dissimilar. I’ve read over the years some accounts of growing up in rural Canada shared by Danko and Richard Manuel that sound very much – in terms of community and music – like tales from Levon Helm’s South. If those experiences had been too much unlike, then Robbie Robertson could never have written the songs for the group’s first incarnation as well as he did, as many of the songs were inspired by Helm’s tales of his native South.

To underline that, consider what All-Music Guide says about the area of Ontario where Danko was born and raised. It is, AMG says, “populated by a large number of families descended from expatriate Southerners from the United States, and the echoes of Southern culture ran through the music and language in the area, with a special emphasis on country music.”

Well, not to belabor the point, but The Band always sounded unlike any other group, and the roots of its music were found in rural Canada as well as in the rural U.S. And Jubilation is not far at all from those roots. As writer Greil Marcus says in the notes to the CD: “[T]he rickety feeling of the faster rhythms, the way voices curl together around lines than can carry no date (‘Ain’t that somethin’/The big doghouse thumpin’’) is at once old and unheard, a sound that only has to be heard for the first time to feel as if it’s being remembered.”

It’s obvious that I like Jubilation. I’ve enjoyed every one of The Band’s albums since I first heard The Band nearly forty years ago. (Well, I don’t listen to Cahoots a lot.) It’s a relaxed album, easy to listen to and easy to like. The highlights? Well, I particularly like the opener, “Book Faded Brown” and two others: “Last Train To Memphis” and “Kentucky Downpour.” And there’s only one track on the CD that doesn’t work so well for me: “Spirit of the Dance” seems somehow trite.

One of the things notable about Jubilation is that much of the material is written – or at least co-written – by members of The Band. The only tracks that are covers are Paul Jost’s “Book Faded Brown,” John Hiatt’s “Bound by Love” and Allen Toussaint’s “You See Me.” The other eight tracks have at least one and sometimes more members of the group credited as writers (sometimes writing with folks from outside the group).

Two famous friends show up during the proceedings: Eric Clapton adds his guitar to “Last Train to Memphis,” and Hiatt takes a vocal turn on his own “Bound by Love.”

Finally, one notable track is “White Cadillac,” which is subtitled “Ode to Ronnie Hawkins,” the rockabilly singer with whom the original members of The Band got their start so many years ago.

Tracks
Book Faded Brown
Don’t Wait
Last Train to Memphis
High Cotton
Kentucky Downpour
Bound by Love
White Cadillac
If I Should Fail
Spirit of the Dance
You See Me
French Girls

Jubilation by The Band
58.98 MB zipfile, mp3s at 192 kbps

Saturday Single No. 151

Originally posted May 9, 2009

Today is one of the most-observed unofficial holidays of the year here in Minnesota: It’s the fishing opener!

Earlier this morning, as Friday changed into Saturday, the season opened across Minnesota’s 13,000 or so lakes. (Our license plates say “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but I don’t know if that’s Nordic modesty or if somebody miscounted the first time and the folks who came along after the second, more accurate count, said, “Close enough.”) That meant that Thursday and Friday, the highways leading from the Twin Cities to the northern part of the state showed a constant stream of traffic.

I’ve never done a fishing opener. Fishing has never been a pastime that’s attracted me much. But for about four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I went fishing once a year with my pal Larry. He and I met in late 1978 at a gathering of journalists; he was the editor of a weekly newspaper published in Isle, Minnesota, on the southeast corner of Mille Lacs Lake, one of Minnesota’s larger lakes and one of its most prime fishing spots. We saw each other regularly at our monthly meetings in St. Cloud, and after one of them, he invited me up for a day of fishing. So, one summer Saturday in ’79, I packed my rudimentary fishing gear – one rod and reel and a woefully stocked tackle box – into the car and headed north to Wahkon, the small town just outside of Isle, where Larry lived with his wife and young daughters.

He and I spent the day in his boat on Mille Lacs, trying to catch either walleye or northern. We got some sunfish and crappies, two smaller fish that are good eating (but tedious because of all the small bones). Sometime late in the afternoon, I lost a lure when it got caught on something underwater and my line broke. Larry offered to let me use one of the many he had in his deluxe tackle box. I declined, and spent the little that remained of the afternoon sipping beer, smoking cigarettes and talking with Larry about life and lures.

That afternoon started a tradition: Once a summer for the next four years, I’d head north. In the next year, Larry got a job editing a newspaper in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, another hundred miles further north, and the day trips became a weekend trip to visit Larry and Joyce and the girls. We’d spend Friday evening playing board games or just catching up with each other, and Saturday found Larry and me out on a couple of different lakes, usually Lake Pokegema south of Grand Rapids in the morning and then, in the afternoon, Trout Lake, just south of the nearby small town of Coleraine. I’d fish until I lost a lure, which was my signal to sit back, pop a beer and enjoy the day out on the boat.

Larry was a far more committed angler than I was. During those years in Isle and Grand Rapids, he’d slip away from the office whenever he could find time, taking his boat out on Mille Lacs in the first years I knew him and then out on Pokegama or one of the many other lakes in the Grand Rapids area in those later years. An editor in both cities, he christened his fishing boat Assignment so that if someone called for him at his office, his secretary could honestly say, “I’m sorry, but Larry’s out on Assignment.”

During one of my visits, probably in 1982, I even caught a small northern. Somewhere in my boxes is a picture of me holding my catch. (I think it’s 1982 because I got the Yellowstone baseball cap I’m wearing in the picture during a trip west in 1981.) Larry did much better than I at fishing: pretty much every year, we headed back to his house with a good catch of walleyes, northern and smaller fish. I usually had a package of frozen fish to take home with me the next morning.

I last saw Larry in early 1987, when I took a couple days off from St. Cloud State and spent a long weekend in Grand Rapids. We didn’t go ice fishing. Instead, we went to a couple of hockey games and just sat around the house and caught up on things. That summer, I moved to Minot, and sometime that autumn, Larry left newspapering and moved west to Washington. Letters went back and forth for a few months, and then a letter sat unanswered on someone’s desk (probably mine) for too long, and we lost touch with each other. I heard, but I’ve never confirmed, that sometime in the 1990s, Larry had a heart attack and crossed over.

But wherever he is, I’d like to think that today, the fishing opener, he’s got a line in the water and a beer in one hand, out on Assignment.

Here are two versions of a perfectly appropriate song for Larry, today’s Saturday Singles.

“Fishing Blues” by Henry Thomas, Vocalion 1249 (Chicago, June 13, 1928)
3.73 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

“Fishin’ Blues” by Taj Mahal, from De Ole Folks At Home (Los Angeles, June 27, 1969)
2.87 MB mp3 at 128 kbps

Looking For Another One On The List

Originally posted May 11, 2009

More than a year ago, on the Saturday when I would see Richie Havens in concert, I shared here a list started long ago of specific songs by specific performers that I hoped to see live. While it had never been written down until the day of that post, the list was something I’d started in the spring of 1972. My sister’s 1971 Christmas present to me had been two tickets to any concert I wanted to see in the Twin Cities. Eventually, I chose to go see Joe Cocker at the now-razed Metropolitan Sports Center. (He had two opening acts that evening: Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show and Bobby Whitlock.)

On our drive to the Cities, Rick and I talked, of course, of what we wanted to hear Cocker perform. My main selection was “Delta Lady.” I think he was hoping for “Bird On The Wire.” And we began to talk about what songs we’d like to hear by other performers, were we ever lucky enough to see them in concert. Since then, I’ve kept a list in my memory of such hopes.

As a caveat to the list, I wrote here in January of 2008:

“I should note that there are many other performers I’d like to see, many of them more current than those here on this list. Some that some immediately to mind are Joss Stone, Tift Merritt, Grace Potter & the Nocturals, David Gray, Colin Linden, Ollabelle and the Dixie Chicks. But I have no one song that immediately comes to mind for those acts.”

And then I shared, in no particular order, the song/performer pairings that have been on my list over the years. The notes in parentheses indicate the dates and places where in fact, I heard that entry.

“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (October 4, 1973, Århus, Denmark)
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (July 1989, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Yesterday” by Paul McCartney (September 2002, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Layla” by Eric Clapton
“American Pie” by Don McLean (Early 1987, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
“That’s The Way God Planned It” by Billy Preston (Spring 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Imagine” by John Lennnon (No longer possible)
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Angel of Harlem” by U2
“The Weight” by The Band (Summer 1994, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood
“Love at the Five and Dime” by Nanci Griffith
“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Summer 1974, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker (April 1972, Bloomington, Minnesota)
“She Was Waiting . . .” by Shawn Phillips (Early 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Done Too Soon” by Neil Diamond (September 1971, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King (August 1995, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Follow” by Richie Havens

When I shared that list, I was hopeful that I’d be able to enter a date and place for Havens’ “Follow.” But faced with a vast catalog from more than forty years of recording, Havens bypassed “Follow” in the course of a remarkable concert. Was I disappointed? Only a small bit.

Come sometime this evening, I should be able to add a date and place after “Born To Run” in the list above: The Texas Gal and I have tickets to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tonight at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. We’re pretty high up – in the highest section of the arena, I think – but we’re on the side of the stage and in the front row of our section. We’ll be pretty much directly across the arena from where we sat when we saw Paul McCartney, and those were pretty good seats.

So here, in anticipation, is a selection of five covers of Springsteen songs and his own idiosyncratic alternate take on “Born To Run.”

A Six-Pack of Springsteen Covers (Almost)
“Atlantic City” by The Band from Jericho (1993)
“Because The Night” by the Patti Smith Group from Easter (1978)
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by the Hollies from Another Night (1975)
“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from This Time It's For Real (1977)
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication (1981)
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen (live) from Chimes of Freedom (1988)

An Evening With The Boss

Originally posted May 12, 2009

Well, as I expected, I can cross “Born To Run” off my wish list of live performances. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band used the long-time classic to close the main portion of last night’s concert in St. Paul, with the house lights up and the audience of about 20,000 singing along.

I sang along, too, from our perch in the upper levels, tears in my eyes.

I’m not entirely sure when seeing The Boss in concert went on my wish list of things to do. But I think it happened during my late-1980s stay on the North Dakota prairie, when, for the first time, I began to dig into Springsteen’s music and legacy. So ever since then, I’ve been hoping for a time when means and opportunity would coincide. And they did so last evening.

Like a couple other acts I’ve seen – Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan come to mind – Springsteen has such a vast catalog of songs, accumulated over a recording career that’s not all that short of forty years, that one could go to one of Springsteen’s legendary three-hour shows and still assemble a top-notch concert from songs left out. And with such an absurdity of riches in his catalog, Springsteen must find it difficult to leave some beloved songs in the dressing room night after night.

There were a few whose absence surprised me last evening: “Thunder Road,” “Hungry Heart” and “Glory Days.” Missing the latter didn’t disappoint me, but the other two would’ve been nice. Still, Springsteen and his mates performed twenty-seven songs in a show that lasted nearly three hours, and there were plenty of songs nearly as treasured and just as fun. With two new faces in the line-up – Charlie Giordano now sits at the organ where the late Denny Federici held court for years, and eighteen-year-old Jay Weinberg played the first third of the show on drums before giving way to his father, Max – the show started with, of course, “Badlands.”

From there, the concert was a tour through most of Springsteen’s catalog, with the scheduled songs ranging from “Born To Run” (1975) and “Promised Land” (1978) through three numbers – the epic “Outlaw Pete,” “Kingdom of Days” and the title track – from this year’s Working On A Dream. Perhaps the most moving part of the show was the trio of “Seeds” (released only in a 1985 performance on the 1986 live package), the fiery “Johnny 99” and the haunting “Ghost of Tom Joad.”

There was, of course, fun, too, and plenty of it. I think one of those having the most fun last evening was Springsteen himself, singing, testifying and moving along the lip of the stage and along the rail at the back of the stage. I got the sense, though, that one of the most fun things he did all night was to collect posters with song requests written on them. He spent about three minutes at one point in the show grabbing about fifteen of them. (He also collected a Wisconsin cheesehead and seemed to have no idea what to do with it.) Then he and the band did three of those requested songs: A rousing cover of the Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” which Springsteen said the group had never played, and old friends “Prove It All Night” and “The E Street Shuffle.”

And even as the band left the stage after “Born To Run” and then came back on stage for an encore set, there were surprises to come. The encore set began with the Stephen Foster tune, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and moved on to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Land of Hope and Dreams” (found in the 2000 performance released as Live In New York City), “American Land” and “Bobbie Jean.”

Then, as the crowd roared and the band seemed about to take its last bows, Springsteen saw a green sign in the crowd about twenty feet beyond the stage. He dashed to the lip of the stage and beckoned with his hand, asking the crowd to pass the sign forward. Once he had it in his hand, he showed the sign to the band and then to the camera for the big screens to the side of the stage. The crowd roared.

“C’mon, Steve!” Springsteen called, and standing side-by-side, he and guitarist Steve Van Zandt led the band into a kick-ass rendition of 1973’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”

Then the lights came on for good, and we made our way up the steep stairs, the first steps on our way home. My hands hurt from clapping, and my voice was gone from cheering and singing. My ears were ringing.

And my eyes were still damp.

Here’s last night set list and a couple of treats:

Badlands
Radio Nowhere
Outlaw Pete
No Surrender
Out in the Street
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand (Eddie Floyd)
Good Lovin’ (Young Rascals)
Prove It All Night
E Street Shuffle
Waiting on a Sunny Day
Promised Land
I’m On Fire
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run
Hard Times Come Again No More (Stephen Foster)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Bobbie Jean
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

“Seeds” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
From Live/1975-85 (1986)
7.08 MB mp3 ripped from vinyl at 192 kbps

“Land of Hope and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
From Live In New York City (2001)
12.73 MB mp3 ripped from vinyl at 192 kbps