Originally posted August 21, 2009:
Some this and that for a Friday morning:
After I wrote about Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut album and its song “Wooden Ships” the other day, frequent commenter Robert noted that I hadn’t answered my own question of how well the album held together as a unit these days.
Well, I did say that the album “still ranks pretty high on my all-time list,” but maybe I should have said more than that. It holds together well, with a laid-back vibe that was echoed, I think, by a lot of the work being done by the musicians who were part of the Lauren Canyon scene in the last years of the 1960s. (That vibe, in my view, laid down a framework for at least one generation of California rock that may have found its most clear expression, if not its peak, with the mid-1970s work of Fleetwood Mac.)
But beyond providing a template for future work, how does Crosby, Stills & Nash work today? I still think it’s one of the great albums, setting out a view of how life felt – at least for a portion of American youth – as the end of the 1960s was coming into view. Beyond the allegories of “Wooden Ships” and “Guinnevere” and the grief/hope duality of “Long Time Gone” (all three of which, interestingly enough, were written or co-written by David Crosby), the songs on Crosby, Stills & Nash are mostly concerned with the personal, not the political. The fences that need mending in “49 Bye-Byes” are on the singer’s own back porch. And, with one exception, the songs – including the three Crosby-penned songs mentioned above – work with each other and fit well against each other. My only quibble, forty years down the road, is the travelogue of “Marrakesh Express,” which doesn’t seem to match the quality or the themes of the other songs.
When one tries to listen with fresh ears, there’s always the chance that something that seemed excellent thirty or forty years ago will seem much less than that now. I’ve had that happen with other albums. But not with this one.
The Texas Gal pointed me to a fascinating website this week that has nothing to do with music. The operator of Forgotten Bookmarks explains:
“I work at a used and rare bookstore, and I buy books from people everyday. These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in those books.”
The bookmarks he or she finds – I can’t find a name on the blog and so have no idea of the gender of the blogger – are pieces of paper with notes on them, old photographs, tickets to events, postcards, actual bookmarks, even – in one case I saw – a letter ending a romance, and on and on. The blogger posts pictures of each bookmark and the book in which it was found, and transcribes any notes or writing from the bookmark. In some cases, the blogger provides some context, as in identifying more completely a politician whose campaign advertisement ended up in a book.
I found it a fascinating site, but then, I like to look at old photos in antique shops, wondering “Who are these people and what were their stories?” I get the same sense at Forgotten Bookmarks, a sense of random bits of life coming to the surface, the mundane becoming mysterious.
I got a note from Blogger yesterday. There was a complaint about one of the songs I shared in my Vinyl Record Day post about my LP log, and the post was removed. I imagine anyone who wanted to read it has already done so, but just to get the post into the blog archives, I’m going to repost it Sunday, without linking to the twelve songs.
I thought about looking at the Billboard Hot 100 for this week in 1970 for today’s music, but I wanted to get the three items above into the blog, so I decided on something else instead. As happens to many folks, I’m certain, every so often I’ll realize that a song is running through my head for no apparent reason. I haven’t heard it on the radio, haven’t looked at the record jacket or the CD case, and haven’t read its title somewhere; it just popped up. When one of those stealth earworms – as I call them – popped up the other week, I jotted the title down, and I continue to do so as they show up. I haven’t caught them all over the past two weeks, but here’s a little bit of what I’ve been hearing in my head lately. (And no, there have been no voices telling me to do things.)
A Six-Pack Running Through My Head
“Smile” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 431 
“All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople from All the Young Dudes 
“Hallelujah” by the Clique from The Clique 
“It Doesn't Have to Be That Way” by Jim Croce from Life and Times 
“Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” by Robin McNamara from Lay a Little Lovin' on Me 
“Buckets of Rain” by Bette Midler with Bob Dylan from Songs For the New Depression 
The version of “Smile” I heard in my head wasn’t necessarily Ferrante & Teicher’s version, but that’s the best one I happen to have available. The song was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film, Modern Times. Ferrante and Teicher recorded it in December 1961; in early 1962, the single went to No. 18 on the Easy Listening chart and to No. 91 on the pop chart.
“All the Young Dudes,” written and produced by David Bowie, gave the British glitter-rocking Mott the Hoople its only Top 40 hit. The single – which may have been different than the album version offered here – went to No. 37 in late 1972. In the U.K., the single went to No. 3.
The Clique had recorded and released a number of singles (“Sugar on Sunday” went to No. 22 in the autumn of 1969) before the time came to put an album together, but All-Music Guide notes that the only member of the group to actually be on the album was singer Randy Shaw; producer Gary Zekley brought in studio musicians for everything else. The most interesting track on the album to me is “Hallelujah,” which AMG reviewer Stewart Mason dismisses as a “blatant Blood, Sweat & Tears rip-off.” That’s an apt comparison, I guess, especially as concerns the lead vocal, but the song gets my attention as the source for Sweathog’s 1971 cover, which went to No. 33. (Another cover of the song, which I’ve also posted here in the past, came from Chi Coltrane in 1973.)
Life and Times was Jim Croce’s second major label album, coming out on ABC in January 1973. “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” is the album’s closer, a December-themed song about wanting to give things another try. I’m not sure why the song popped into my head the other day; the earworm was more understandable in December 1974, shortly after I got the album, when I was headed to have a cup of coffee and conversation with a young woman I’d once known well. As it turned out, it did have to be that way, but I still like the song anyway.
The Robin McNamara track is the title track of what seems to be his only album. “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” was released as a single on Steed, the label owned by legendary songwriter and producer Jeff Barry, who co-wrote the song with McNamara and Jim Cretecos. The single went to No. 11 during the summer of 1970 and was the only hit for McNamara, who was a member of the original cast of the musical Hair. (His fellow cast members helped out, says AMG, evidently providing backing vocals.)
I imagine that the version of “Buckets of Rain” that ran through my head was based on the original, from Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. But I recently came across Midler’s version of the song, after looking for it sporadically for a few years – my thanks to Willard at Never Get Out Of The Boat – and its rarity seemed to make it a good choice for this slot. As is most often the case when Mr. Dylan shows up to sing along, it’s very apparent he’s in the room.