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.)