Thursday, March 18, 2010
It was dreary and rainy the other day, and I looked out our front window at the lawn. It’s probably going to need mowing – which our landlord takes care of – this weekend. And the combination of the weather and the wet grass reminded me of part of the summer of 1971, the first half of which I spent as a member of the lawn-mowing crew at St. Cloud State.
There were days, of course, when it rained, and no mowing would get done. But the maintenance department, without question, could always find something for us to do. I recall spending three days that summer in a second-floor hallway in Stewart Hall, armed with chisels and chipping away at old and worn tile on the floor. It was tedious work, made more tolerable by actually being able to talk to one another. When we were out on the lawnmowers, the only people we could talk to was ourselves. (I wrote not long ago about how I addressed that quandary.)
But there, in the hallway, with only occasional supervision – our boss, busy with other stuff, wandered through every hour or so, just to make sure we were making some progress – we could talk as we chipped away. (The tile had likely been in place since Stewart Hall was built in the late 1940s, and in places it had worn away entirely; finding an edge to pry away the bits of tile near those worn spots was a challenge.) Our topics ranged broadly, but music was one we always came back to. During one of those days in the hallway, I recall one of my co-workers and I exchanging views on Ten Years After: He preferred Ssssh, while I held out for Cricklewood Green.
On another rainy day later in the summer, our crew and a few others were dispatched to the new Education Building, which would open for classes that fall quarter. There, in a large room on the second floor, stood at least three hundred file cabinets, still in their boxes. Our work that day would be to get the cabinets out of the boxes and distribute them to the offices that were their intended destinations. While we unboxed the cabinets, someone from one of the painting crews plugged in his radio – the painters were allowed to listen to music as they worked, as long as it wasn’t too loud – and that made the morning more tolerable. I assume the radio was tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities, but the only thing I recall hearing that morning was Peter Nero’s cover of the “Theme to ‘Summer of ’42’,” a record I welcomed, as I’d recently seen the movie.
As the day wore on and the empty file cabinet boxes piled up on the other side of the room, we might have heard some of these:
A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 19, 1971)
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists 50721 (No. 6)
“She’s Not Just Another Woman” by The 8th Day, Invictus 9087 (No. 20)
“Funky Nassau (Part One)” by the Beginning Of The End, Alston 4595 (No. 23)
“Get It On” by Chase, Epic 10738 (No. 50)
“Chicago” by Graham Nash, Atlantic 2804 (No. 61)
“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement, Decca 32818 (No. 91)
The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two Top Ten hits, and what great records they were! “Treat Her Like A Lady” was the first of them, riding that chugging guitar, superb hook and gospelish call-and-response all the way to No. 3. “Too Late To Turn Back Now,” which went to No. 2 during the summer of 1972, was also a good record, but it was smoother and somehow less demanding. If forced to choose, I’d give the decision to “Treat Her Like A Lady” on points, but both sounded great coming out of the car radio. (The group had two other Top 40 hits, “Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)” and “I’m Never Gonna Be Alone Anymore,” neither of which reached the Top Twenty.)
The second of these has to have an odd story behind it, but it’s a story I don’t know, and a quick riffle through my reference books this morning has left me uninformed. “She’s Not Just Another Woman” by the group The 8th Day went to No. 11 during the summer of 1971 and eventually went gold for the Invictus label. A slightly longer version of the same recording – an edit of 3:23 as opposed to the 3:04 of the single edit I present here – showed up, also in 1971, as an album track on Somebody's Been Sleeping in My Bed, the debut album of the wonderfully named group 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), released on the Hot Wax label. Hot Wax and Invictus were sister labels, formed in 1969 by the trio of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland when the three left Motown Records. So the same recording, essentially, was credited to two different groups. It might be that the single edit I offer here is a bastard edit, created after the fact by license for packaging purposes, but either way, it’s still an edit of the same track that shows up on Somebody's Been Sleeping in My Bed, giving us, as I said, the same recording credited to two different groups. Very odd.
I don’t know much about the Beginning of the End, which came from Nassau in the Bahamas, or about its hit, which went to No. 15 that summer. I do have a vague memory of hearing the record as I drove around town one evening in my 1961 Falcon, but that’ all. I’m sure there’s information out there, but not through the usual sources. The only thing All-Music Guide has to say is: “One of the very few soul groups from Nassau, the Beginning of the End had one hit in 1971, the scintillating ‘Funky Nassau.’ They [sic] recorded an album of the same name that year, then dropped out of sight.” Obscure or not, the record was pretty good.
“Get It On” by Chase was one of the great and somewhat forgotten records of the early 1970s. Tough vocals and foundation, great horn accents, the escalating tension and the glorious whirling horn runs: What more do you want? Well, a longer career for Bill Chase and his band; Chase and three members of the band were killed in a plane crash near Jackson, Minnesota, in August 1974. What’s left is the group’s one hit, which went to No. 24 during the summer of 1971, and the three albums, all of which have been released on CD.
Let’s say you asked a fan in 1971: Which of the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is least likely to release an overtly political single? My guess is that most fans would have responded with the name of “Graham Nash.” Not that Nash didn’t care about such things, but on Crosby, Stills & Nash and on Déjà Vu, Nash’s songs were more personal than political: “Marrakesh Express,” “Lady of the Island,” “Teach Your Children, “Our House.” So it was a little surprising when Nash’s solo album, Songs for Beginners, sandwiched its reflections about romance and personal growth (including the luminous “Simple Man”) with two clearly political songs: The opening track, “Military Madness” addresses the issue of the military’s influence on society in a general way (although it begins with a reference to Nash’s birth in Blackpool, England). Conversely, the album’s closing track, “Chicago,” is a more direct political statement, deploring the treatment of Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther party. During Seale’s trial for conspiracy and inciting to riot – charges that developed out of the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – one of Seale’s many outbursts led the judge to order Seale bound and gagged, inspiring Nash’s song. The record went to No. 35.
The Free Movement’s “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” – a good record and a somewhat accurate reflection of the morals and mores of the time as regards fidelity – had been languishing in the bottom section of the Hot 100 for five weeks at this time thirty-eight years ago. The song dropped out of the Hot 100 for two weeks, then re-entered on July 7 and began its long climb that took it eventually to No. 5.
Well, we’re a little past the mid-point of June and right on top of the summer solstice. The actual moment, I learned this morning, will come at 12:45 a.m. tomorrow, so if I stay up past midnight for forty-five minutes, well, I can look at the darkmess outside and say “Somewhere on the other side of the world, the sun has reached its limit.” I doubt I’ll do that. I may be up at that hour, being somewhat of a weekend night-owl – as is the Texas Gal – but I don’t know that I’ll notice the passing of the moment.
But the middle of the month brings with it a regular feature here: A look into the LP log to see what records have made their ways home with me during the month. As usually, we’ll likely stretch this look over two weeks, 1970 to 1989 this week and then picking up from there next week.
My first June records were presents from my[future] brother-in-law for graduating from high school in 1971. Having been well-advised by my sister, he gave me Janis Joplin’s Pearl and the album Ram, which was credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. I still listen fairly frequently to both – on CD/mp3 more often than on vinyl and to Pearl more than to Ram – and that’s something I can’t say about every record I got back in my high school and college years.
In June of 1972, I laid one more brick in my wall of a complete Beatles collection when I picked up the disappointing Yellow Submarine, with its first side presenting “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love” bracketing four Beatles songs that the boys hadn’t bothered to use anywhere else. The second side was orchestral soundtrack work written and orchestrated by George Martin. Also in June of that year, I picked up a two-record set that probably led me to as much good music as any album has: Clapton At His Best, an anthology that led me to dig deeper into Clapton’s solo work as well as into Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos. As I’ve said before, I then followed the path to the music of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and eventually to the Allman Brothers Band (with an assist from others here and there). As I’ve also noted before, if there ever was an album that laid the foundation for my changing from a blank-faced receiver of music into an active, credit-reading and context-seeking listener, it was Clapton At His Best.
By June of 1973, I was being miserly, saving every bit of money I could for my adventure in Denmark, which would begin in September. The only LPs I got that month – in fact, all summer long – were gifts from a friend who was cleaning out his collection. He handed me Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die, a 1970 album whose opening tracks, “Glad/Freedom Rider,” I’d heard frequently while hanging around the college radio station, and the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, an album whose aesthetic I didn’t quite grasp at the time. I enjoyed it, but it would be a few years before I came to the judgment – one I share with many, I think – that Exile on Main Street can legitimately be included in the discussion when one talks about the greatest rock albums of all time.
After that, June fades away for a few years as a month for records. My next June purchases came four years later, in 1977: A new copy of Stage Fright by The Band, replacing a used copy I’d gotten in 1972; Before the Flood, a 1974 live package by Bob Dylan and The Band; and Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. I don’t listen to Stage Fright much anymore. I maybe should; it’s probably better than I remember, even if it isn’t quite as good as Music from Big Pink or The Band. The live double album, even thirty-five years later, still has some power. Of those three albums, however, I most frequently listen to Blood On The Tracks, a still potent album: In a recent Time magazine piece, reviewer Joe Klein called it Dylan’s “mature work of genius.”
We fast-forward to June 1980: A flea market visit brings me Simon & Garfunkel’s Wednesday Morning, 3 AM and two albums by the Carpenters: Carpenters and A Song For You. Why the latter two? For some names in the credits: drummer Hal Blaine and horn player Jim Horn. I’ve still got all three of the records, but they don’t get much play or much consideration when I ponder which LPs to replicate in my CD collection.
In June of 1981, I was reading Anton Myrer’s novel, The Last Convertible, set in large part during the years between the two world wars. The book contains a long passage about big band music and its joys, with a comparison of the major bands of the time, a comparison that sets the music of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman above the work of all the rest. Interested in knowing more, I went to the sources and bought LPs of the music of those three, Miller, Ellington and Goodman, all titled Pure Gold. The music was good – at times, brilliant – but it wasn’t my era, and the records have gotten only occasional play.
While in graduate school in 1984, one of my duties was working as the Arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, a daily newspaper produced by faculty and students at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. During weeks when there were more new movies than my small staff of reporters could handle, I’d generally fill in and review one. One of those I reviewed was Streets of Fire, the Walter Hill-directed “rock & roll fable” starring Diane Lane and Michael Paré. I liked the movie and went and bought the soundtrack the next day. I still like the soundtrack, more as individual tracks than as a whole. As long as I was in the record shop, I picked up a copy of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a portion of which had been used as a theme for the film The Exorcist ten years earlier. That album doesn’t come off the shelf very often at all.
A year later, June brought me John Fogerty’s Centerfield, new that spring, and Al Stewart’s 1980 effort, 24 Carrots. The former has aged better than the latter. In June of 1987, I picked up Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, Dan Fogelber’s Phoenix, and a used anthology titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N' Roll, the last notable only because in those pre-CD days, anthologies that included the full, original recordings of things like the Orioles’ 1955 hit, “Crying in the Chapel” and Duane Eddy’s 1958 hit, “Rebel Rouser,” to name just two, weren’t nearly as easy to come by as they are today.
A total of thirty-two records came my way in June 1988, as the days of bulk buys at garage sales and flea markets began (along with purchases of shiny new LPs on occasion). The best of the month? Probably the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks: 1964-1971, but that’s an anthology, so that’s maybe not fair. Of the rest, maybe the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty or John Cougar’s Scarecrow, an album that’s not a great record but is a better one than most folks remember.
In June 1989, I was packing to move back to Minnesota from Minot, and I bought only six LPs: Stuff by Peter Frampton, Stevie Nicks, James Taylor, the Cars and Enya, topped off by some Russian liturgical music. (Why that last? I have no idea.) None of those really stand out today, but they went into the boxes with the other records, as I hauled nearly six hundred LPs to Minnesota, having no clue that the years of vinyl madness were about to begin.
So, what track do I share? The best album I’ve mentioned here is likely Blood On The Tracks, and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is, to me, the heart of the record. But that seems too easy, as do selections from a lot of the albums mentioned above. (Others aren’t simply good enough.) So I’ve decided to share a moment: When I first heard Bob Dylan and The Band and their introduction to “Like A Rolling Stone” from Before the Flood, my jaw honestly dropped. The rest of the performance is tough and biting, but the opening moments are the kinds of moments for me that I think every music fan searches for: Something you want to hear again and again and again. So here’s today’s Saturday Single:
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Before the Flood 
8.42 MB mp3 ripped from vinyl at 192 kbps
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
News from Rochester, N.Y., this morning: The Eastman Kodak Co. is retiring Kodachrome. The film will no longer be produced.
According to an Associated Press piece filed this morning, sales of the film – sold by the company for seventy-four years – now account for less than one percent of the company’s total sales of still-picture film. And, notes AP, only one commercial lab in the world – in, oddly enough, Parsons, Kansas – still processes Kodachrome.
The AP reporter, Carolyn Thompson, led the story with, almost inevitably, a reference to Paul Simon: “Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak is taking your Kodachrome away.”
Well, I likely would have done the same. And the news makes life just a little easier for me this morning, as I’ve been trying to figure out how to ease into a six-song random selection from the years 1960-1999. Now I have an obvious place to start:
A Six-Pack of Mostly Random Tunes
“Kodachrome” by Paul Simon, Columbia 45859 
“Down In The Seine” by the Style Council from Our Favourite Shop 
“Alone” by Wishbone Ash from Pilgrimage 
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton, Elektra 45687 
“Comes A Time” by Neil Young from Comes A Time 
“Song For the High Mountain” by Jorma Kaukonen from Jorma 
I imagine the story of “Kodachrome” is available somewhere (and I’ve never really looked), but I’ve wondered occasionally since 1973 about the genesis of the song. What sparked “Kodachrome”? Its infectious melody, sparkling production (at Muscle Shoals) and somewhat off-beat lyrics made it a No. 2 hit in 1973. In some ways, I suppose the song shows that Simon could write a song about anything. In any case, it’s a great piece of pop that became a cultural touchstone, as the lead to the AP story shows.
I continue my explorations of Paul Weller: Our Favourite Shop was the Style Council’s second true album, if I read things right. U.S. releases were slightly different than those in Britain, which makes the whole thing a mess; as an example, Our Favourite Shop was released in the U.S. as Internationalists after the track “Our Favourite Shop” was removed. I imagine there was a reason, but . . . Anyway, “Down In The Seine” seems to be a typical Weller conglomeration: some soul touches, some jazz touches, some odd bits – the accordion – all tossed together. On some tracks, the approach didn’t work very well; in this case, it did.
Every time something pops up on the player from Wishbone Ash’s first three albums – Wishbone Ash, Pilgrimage or Argus – I find myself wishing I’d been a little more adventurous in my listening habits as high school ended and college began. I was on a different listening track entirely, and it was one that served me well, but hearing some Wishbone Ash and a few things in that vein might have served me well. “Alone” is an instrumental that’s a lot more mellow than the rest of Pilgrimage.
A true One-Hit Wonder, Crabby Appleton was a Los Angeles-based group, and its one hit, “Go Back” was actually a pretty good piece of pop-rock when it rolled out of the speakers during the summer of 1970. The single spent five weeks in the Top 40 and went to No. 36, which means that the record rarely pops up on radio, even in the deepest oldies playlists. All that does, from my view, is make the record sound more fresh when it does surface, and I like it a lot. The group also released a self-titled album that featured the single, but the record didn’t sell well. Nor did any of the follow-up singles or the band’s 1971 album, Rotten to the Core, sell very well.
Neil Young has recorded many albums that rank higher in critics’ eyes than does Comes A Time. It’s not a particularly challenging album, for Young or for the listener. And yet, it remains my favorite, and I’m not entirely certain why that is. The one thought I have – and it popped up again the other day when the CD was in the player as I sat nearby with a book – is that throughout the entire album, Young sounds like he’s happy. And that’s a rare sound.
Jorma Kaukonen played guitar for Jefferson Airplane and then, when the Airplane broke up in 1973, focused on solo work and his work with Jack Cassady as Hot Tuna. Jorma was released a year after Hot Tuna broke up and it’s quite a nice album, as I hear it. Critical assessment says it’s not as good as Kaukonen’s work with Cassady or even his earlier solo album, Quah, released in 1974. I’ve always thought, though, that Jorma was the sound of a musician taking a figurative deep breath and exhaling, figuring out where he wants to go next, now that things are quieting down.
Hi. I ran some errands this morning, and my to-do list is approaching an unmanageable length. So here’s an appropriate selection for today. See you tomorrow!
A Six-Pack of Work/Busy
“Working In The Vineyard” by Jesse Winchester from Let The Rough Side Drag 
“The Working Hour” by Tears For Fears from Songs From The Big Chair 
“The Work Song” by Maria Muldaur from Maria Muldaur 
“I’ve Been Working Too Hard” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from Better Days 
“Working On A Groovy Thing” by the 5th Dimension from The Age of Aquarius, 
“Work To Do” by the Average White Band from Average White Band 
I generally don’t spend a lot of time contemplating the 1980s. The years of big hair, thirtysomething and “Greed is good” don’t attract me much. I find myself, as regular readers no doubt figured out early on, much more interested in the 1960s and the 1970s, the years when I did the bulk of my growing up.
I do tend to subscribe to the theory that we never cease growing up. There is always work to be done, and there always will be. For me, some difficult parts of that work came in the 1980s, making some of those years hard. On the other hand, some of the finest years of my life – professionally and personally – came during that decade, so on the plus-minus scale, it’s mostly, I would guess, a wash.
But according to the numbers I shared here a few weeks ago, I’m not all that much interested in the 1980s, as least as far as the music of the decade goes. Here are the numbers of mp3s, sorted by decade since 1950, as I reported a few weeks ago:
There are fewer songs from the 1950s than from any other decade because, turning six just before the decade ended, I remember so little of those years, both in a large sense and musically.
If I were asked what song from the Fifties I remember most from hearing at the time, it would be a tie between Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” (No. 1 for six weeks in 1958) and David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” (No. 1 on three different charts in 1958 as well). Those are fun, which has its place, but not exactly the kind of artistry I like to recognize here.
Leaving the 1950s, then, as something incomplete, the numbers above show an interesting tale: I clearly have much less interest in the 1980s than I do in any of the other decades I remember. And I’m not sure I know why.
I used to think it was the music: arena rock and synthpop and drum machines and dancepop are what come to mind. I know I wasn’t listening to much pop music when the decade started. As I spent time on various college campuses through the decade, as a grad student, a writer and a teacher, I heard more current music than I had in a while. I liked some of it, and as I dig further into that lost decade these days, I find I like more of the music than I would have expected. (That means that on another day down the road, when I run the numbers, that imbalance may have diminished a bit.) So it might not have been the synthpop and the drum machines and the dance pop. (Arena rock remains less than attractive.)
I called the 1980s a lost decade just above. That might be a bit harsh, but it’s not far from the truth. I didn’t care for a lot of what I saw happening in public affairs or in popular culture, so I think that for chunks of the decade, I just checked out – from music, from most television, from film, from current fiction and nonfiction and from current events (with the exception of those that immediately affected how I was earning my living at the time as a reporter, a public relations writer or a teacher). And at the same time, I was looking for a place to roost, moving from Monticello, Minnesota, to Columbia, Missouri, and back to Monticello. From there, I spent a summer in St. Cloud, then moved to Minot, North Dakota, for two years, and finally ended the decade in Anoka, Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis.
And here’s a random selection from each year of that decade of drifting:
1980: “One Love” by Sniff ’N’ The Tears from The Game’s Up
1981: “The Innocent Age” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age
1982: “Table Turning” by Modern English from After the Snow
1983: “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” by Bob Dylan, New York City, April 23
1984: “None But The Brave” by Bruce Springsteen, Born In The U.S.A. sessions, New York City
1985: “Minutes to Memories” by John Cougar Mellencamp from Scarecrow
1986: “Love You ’til The Day I Die” by Crowded House from Crowded House
1987: “Isolation” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart
1988: “Let The Rain Come Down On Me” by Toni Childs from Union
1989: “The Last Worthless Evening” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence
That’s kind of an interesting mix. I do have a few thoughts:
As much as I like most of Fogelberg’s work, and as beautiful as I thought The Innocent Age was when it came out, its lush orchestration is sounding more and more overblown as the years pass.
The Dylan track is an early version of “Tight Connection To My Heart,” which showed up on Empire Burlesque in 1985; you can find this version on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3. It’s interesting to compare the two and get a look at Dylan’s creative process, looking at what he retained and what he changed. The Springsteen track is from the third CD of The Essential Bruce Springsteen. It sounds more relaxed – but no less muscular – than the songs that made it on to Born In The U.S.A., if that makes any sense.
The Crowded House tune is a lot more, well, angular than the stuff I know best by the band. I have a soft spot for “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” but the lushness of that ballad wasn’t a fully accurate picture of the band, either. The truth was, I guess, in the middle.
I’ve never known Sniff ’N’ The Tears’ work well, so we’ll let “One Love” pass. As to the Modern English track, “Table Turning” is kind of just there, with nothing – to my ears – that differentiates it from a thousand other songs from the same period. It certainly pales next to the same album’s gorgeous “I Melt With You.”
The Toni Childs’ track is from a cryptic album I’ve loved since 1988. The Mellencamp and Cocker can go without any comment. I do wish that a different Henley tune from The End of the Innocence had popped up. From the first time I heard “Heart of the Matter,” I’ve thought that Henley asked the key question about the 1980s:
“How can love survive in such a graceless age?”
Well, love did survive, of course, as did I and most of us who were around for those years. But they truly were, in so many ways, graceless. As do most years, however, they at least left some good music behind.
As long as I mentioned Modern English and “I Melt With You” yesterday, I thought I’d look for the original video. I think this is it.
Here’s a live performance of “None But The Brave” by Bruce Springsteen with the Max Weinberg 7. It took place at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park, N.J., on December 7, 2003.
And continuing to be fortunate, I found a live performance of “I’ve Been Working Too Hard” – with side excursions into “Little Queenie” and “Can I Get A Witness” – by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from a 1992 concert at the Music Hall in Cologne, Germany.
And here’s a Farm Aid ’86 performance of “Comes A Time” by Neil Young with harmony vocals from – I believe – the late Nicolette Larson.
As for tomorrow, I’ve got a couple of Jim Horn albums in the pile to rip, and a few other things that might be interesting. I’ve also got a little bit of an itch to see what was going on in, oh, 1961 or 1962 around this time of year. I’ll figure it out tomorrow morning.
The unexpected death yesterday of Michael Jackson prompts some thoughts: The Texas Gal and I have never been huge fans of either Jackson himself or of his childhood family group, the Jackson 5. And yet, I find five LPs on the shelves this morning – three solo works and two from the Jackson 5. And we have Thriller on CD as well as a Jackson 5 hits compilation.
That’s a pretty good chunk of music, considering that we both agreed as we watched yesterday’s news that we’d never been anything more than casual fans. That’s one small indication that Michael Jackson’s figurative shadow was large.
Here’s another, larger, indication of the same thing: News theory notes that the more newsworthy the event, the more prevalent will be the impulse among people to pass the word along to friends and strangers alike. Back in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded during my second day of work at St. Cloud State. I remember passing the news on to my new boss and to a couple of people whom I did not know in the snack bar at Atwood; and as I ate there, I saw other folks doing the same thing: “Have you heard?” or variations thereof, repeated over and over.
So it’s telling that the first thing I did yesterday when I read online the news of Michael Jackson’s passing was to pick up the phone and call the Texas Gal at her office. I missed her; she was already on her way home. And the first thing she said to me when she came in was, “Have you heard? Michael Jackson died.”
Beyond that, what’s the impact of Michael Jackson’s death? For his family and friends, it’s a tragedy, obviously. For his ardent fans, it’s a great loss.
For the music world? I’d say it’s a loss of a great memory, not of a current giant. When I think of him, I see three Michael Jacksons in my mind: First, there was the powerhouse child belting out “ABC” and other hits. Then came the sly and lithe entertainer of “Thriller” and vampires, of “Billie Jean” and the moonwalk. Those two Michaels, especially the second, ruled and changed pop music. But finally, there was the seemingly confused and unhappy man of the years since, oh, 1990 or so. Others more attuned to his music may have a different take, but to me, it’s been close to twenty years since Michael Jackson was musically relevant.
I may be wrong about that judgment, but that doesn’t diminish the tabloid tragedies that we’ve all seen played out in print, on television and online during these latter years. And altogether, the fact that he was once the best in the world at what he did – truly the King of Pop – and that he lost that stature at least partly through his own seeming inability to cope is sad enough.
I’ll let others deal at length with Michael Jackson’s musical legacy, and there will be plenty who will do that. For now, I’ll just note that the first thought that entered my head when I heard that Michael Jackson had died was, “Well, he’s free now.”
“I Shall Be Released” by Joe Cocker from With A Little Help From My Friends 
6.45 MP mp3 at 192 kbps
Last Saturday, we looked at the June log of record purchases up through 1989, when I was about to leave Minot, North Dakota, after two years. The following June found me living in a small town about thirty miles outside of Wichita, Kansas, which turned out to be a city that did have, I discovered, some good used record stores.
And there were lots of garage sales.
The haul in June 1990 included LPs by the Average White Band, Long John Baldry, Phil Collins, Eric Carmen, Burton Cummings, Neil Diamond, Leon & Mary Russell, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Vassar Clements, Edith Piaf, Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, Sandy Denny, the Dream Academy, Levon Helm and Roxy Music. There were also some compilations and a few soundtracks made up of pop rock performance (American Gigolo was one of them). The best of the haul was likely Helm’s American Son album, although Sandy Denny’s Like An Old Fashioned Waltz is a treat, too.
And there was one major purchase. While at a garage sale somewhere southwest of Wichita, I bought a small record cabinet for $10 and got as well the seven classical albums and a few other things that were in the cabinet. I don’t have a lot of classical – at least not in comparison to other genres – but this haul included some very nice stuff: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished), and a record that included orchestral versions of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances and Brahms’ Hungarian dances.
By the time of June 1991, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, for the second time, working on a project that would complete my master’s degree and having dinner a couple of times a week in a Lebanese restaurant. I was a little too busy interviewing folks and writing to do much bargain hunting. But I found records by Steve Winwood, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin and the genius of Chess Records, Willie Dixon. None of those finds really stand out, although the best of them is likely Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints.
I was still settling into my apartment on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis – where I would stay for seven years – when June rolled around in 1992. I hadn’t yet become a super-regular at Cheapo’s, just five blocks away, so I would guess the few albums I got that month came from garage sales. I found LPs by Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Phil Ochs, Joe South, the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, Don Henley, Little Feat, Van Morrison, the Platters and Bob Seger. I also found a copy in very good condition of a 1983 reissue of Phil Spector’s Christmas album from 1963. The best of the bunch? Probably Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken. Van Morrison’s Hard Nose the Highway was probably the least impressive.
Oddly enough, in June of 1993, I bought no records. I somewhat made up for that lapse the next year when I brought home eighteen LPs in June. The best? Probably Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room or Rick Nelson’s Garden Party. The worst? Either Bawdy Songs Goes To College by Oscar Brand & Dave Sear (1955), or Bawdy Barracks Ballads by the Four Sergeants (1958). (I’d forgotten about those two LPs until this morning; I may have to pull them out soon to see if they qualify for an extended Jukebox Trainwreck.)
No LPs in June 1995. A year later, ten albums came home, including work by Judy Collins, Mike Post, Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, John Denver, Foreigner and Blood, Sweat & Tears. To me, the best is an idiosyncratic choice of Denver’s Whose Garden Was This? while the least valuable was Riperton’s Love Lives Forever.
More than twenty LPs came home with me in June 1997. My favorites were the two Bobby Whitlock albums, his self-titled release and Raw Velvet, both from 1972. I also liked Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Peter Gabriel’s So. I regret spending even a little bit of money at a garage sale for three albums by Renaissance. By the next June, in 1998, I was deep into my routine of thrice-weekly visits to Cheapo’s, and I brought home forty-nine albums. The best of them? Easily the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono, but I have great affection as well for Stephen Stills’ Manassas, Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Richie Havens’ Mixed Bag and the live collection, The Fillmore: The Last Days. The least of them? Most likely Ronnie Spector’s Siren, Joe Cocker’s Civilized Man and a record of Russian folk by singer Channa Bucherskaia.
By June 1999, I was preparing to move further south in Minneapolis, but that didn’t stop my visits to Cheapo’s. I would just have to find more boxes for the move, as I brought home seventy-three LPs that month. The best were probably two self-titled albums, Tom Jans and The Wild Tchoupitoulas. Much of the month’s haul was a little obscure or at least items from deeper in groups’ and artists’ catalogs than I’d dug before. I was also looking for hits collections by groups and artists I’d ignored before, so the weakest album of the month was likely the greatest hits collection from the Classics IV. (I’m not sure that five records in the Top 40 are enough to make a hits collection viable; one of those hits – “What Am I Crying For?” – isn’t even included on the LP.)
And when I moved away from Cheapo’s (and not coincidentally got my first CD player about the same time), the pace of record buying diminished greatly. I bought five records in June 2000: LPs by Head East, Lou Ann Barton, Cris Williamson, Laura Nyro and Pablo Cruise. The Lou Ann Barton album, Forbidden Tones, is a 1980s mess, so the best of that bunch is likely Head East’s Flat As A Pancake (a favorite of the Texas Gal, whom I’d met earlier that year).
I hit a few garage sales and thrift stores in June 2001, as well as buying a few records online: I got Smith’s Minus-Plus and two Gayle McCormick solo albums for the Texas Gal, a couple of Frank Sinatra 1950s LPs, and some work by Aretha Franklin, Delbert McClinton, Tony Joe White, Mary Hopkin and Johnny Rivers. Nothing really stands out, though if I’m in the right mood, the Sinatras are nice. A year later, I bought a couple of boxes of records at garage sales and came home with twenty-six LPs. The best were likely Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key Of Life and Delaney & Bonnie’s Home. The least interesting were Today – My Way by Nancy Wilson and the Chad Mitchell Trio’s Typical American Boys.
Another box at a garage sale in June 2003 brought me records by Al Hirt, Al Martino, Doc Severinsen, the Stanley Brothers and a 1976 self-titled album by a lesbian duo called Jade & Sarsaparilla. I also got the Undisputed Truth’s self-titled 1971 debut, which was the best in the box. And my last June acquisitions came two years ago, with records by blues/folk artist Mike Auldridge, Neil Diamond, Spanky & Our Gang and – from my pal Mitch – an early album by Duane & Gregg Allman (on which Gregg’s name is misspelled).
Many of the albums mentioned here are records I’ve already shared. Of those I have not, my favorite is likely Sandy Denny’s 1973 album, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. So here’s Track Four, today’s Saturday Single.
“Friends” by Sandy Denny from Like An Old Fashioned Waltz 
4.76 MB mp3 ripped from vinyl at 192 kbps
Friday, March 12, 2010
I was seven or eight years old when I had my first great adventure on the campus of St. Cloud State College (as it was titled then). If I were eight at the time, then it took place in mid-summer of 1961, and from this long distance, that’s close enough for our purposes.
I wrote a little earlier this summer about attending summer classes at the Campus Lab School at St. Cloud State, spending mornings there so the college’s education students had someone to teach as they pursued their college degrees. If I recall correctly, on most days, my dad would be waiting when I left the school, and I’d ride home with him in his beloved ’52 Ford. Then came the day of the all-college picnic.
Think about this for a moment, as this is – at least for me – a quintessential 1960s event: A summertime picnic on the lawn, open to all students, all faculty and staff members, and all of their family members. The college was, of course, a much smaller place than is today’s sprawling institution, and then, summertime enrollment is always less than during other quarters. But still, a college-wide picnic! Barbecued chicken and beans and cole slaw for how many? Maybe five hundred people? It was a tradition that wouldn’t last much longer, as I don’t recall such picnics taking place during the summers I was a student on campus.
It was a different era, of course, one of freshman beanies and letter sweaters, with the young men mostly wearing dress slacks or khakis and the young women almost always wearing dresses, kind of like Faber College in Animal House (without the fascists or the slobs). I recall during one of those annual picnics looking across the street at a battered wooden building. It housed the campus bookstore and a student hangout called the Chatterbox. I asked a family friend, one of my dad’s student workers, what it was like inside, and he said it was crowded and noisy. He said they sold burgers and fries and coffee and malts. It was an honest-to-god malt shop! Except for the coffee, it sounded pretty good to a preteen whiteray, and I asked him if he’d take me in there someday. He shook his head no. A few years later the Chatterbox was gone, razed to make way for the new student center.
Anyway, on the day of the all-college picnic in 1961, I was supposed to meet my mom outside the Campus Lab School and we’d walk the three or so blocks or so to the picnic. I went out the door where I usually found Dad in his car. No Mom. I waited a few minutes, wondering what to do. And when she hadn’t shown up in ten minutes, I set out across campus, heading for Dad’s office. I wasn’t at all sure of the campus’ geography, but I knew Dad’s office was in the basement of the library, and if I could find the library, then I was in good shape.
So every once in a while, I asked a passing student where the library was. The college men chuckled at me, and one asked if I were going to do research for a term paper. The college women told each other I was cute, and a couple of them wanted to know if I wanted them to take me to the library. No, I said, I could find it myself, as long as I had good directions. And I did find it. And I found the stairs down to Dad’s office. The door was locked and the dark basement corridor was a little spooky.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but sitting in a dark basement corridor was kind of scary, and it wasn’t getting me any chicken. I clambered up the stairs, and went to the picnic. And that’s where I found my folks, who were of course, quite worried. (Though perhaps not as worried as parents in similar circumstances might be today; although a good portion of today’s horrors also existed back then, they were not placed nearly so firmly on our minds’ center stage then as they are today.) My mom told me she’d waited at the front door of the lab school for a fair amount of time; I told her dad had been picking me up at the side door.
And after a few minutes more of discussion, we got in line and filled our plates.
A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 26, 1961)
“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1008 (No. 1)
“Every Beat of My Heart” by the Pips, Vee-Jay 386 (No. 8)
“Peanut Butter” by the Marathons, Arvee 5027 (No. 23)
“Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 824 (No. 62)
“Theme from ‘Goodbye Again’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 319 (No. 85)
“Rainin’ In My Heart” by Slim Harpo, Excello 2194 (No. 99)
A couple of these are pretty well known: “Quarter to Three” and “Let’s Twist Again” are staples on any self-respecting oldies radio station, and they deserve to be so (although Checker’s original “The Twist” is a better single than “Let’s Twist Again”). Both of them, at the right moments, can get you out on the dance floor, and thus, they remain among the best that not only 1961 had to offer, but the entire era post-Holly and pre-Beatles. “Quarter to Three” spent two weeks at No. 1, and “Let’s Twist Again” peaked at No. 8 later in the summer.
Speaking of that era of American pop, the one that began with the plane crash in Iowa and ended with the Beatles playing on Ed Sullivan’s show: I’ve seen that era written off entirely. Now, it’s true there was a lot of bad pop and faux R&B being played on radio and racked in the stores – Fabian, anyone? – but there was still more good music than a lot of post-Sixties critics have recalled over the years. Some of the other records on that week’s Hot 100, stuff that I could have shared, were: “Tossin’ and Turnin’” by Bobby Lewis, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “Hello Walls” by Faron Young, “Cupid” by San Cooke, “I Like It Like That (Part 1)” by Chris Kenner and “Mama Said” by the Shirelles. And that’s just a quick glance.
Now, there’s no doubt that pop music slumped a little in those years, but my point is that it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be.
There’s a riddle surrounding “Every Beat of My Heart.” It’s listed twice on the Hot 100 for this week: Vee-Jay has a release credited only to the Pips (before Gladys Knight got top billing) at No. 8, and it’s also listed at No. 60 as a release on Fury Records, credited to Gladys Knight and the Pips. From everything I know, I have the Vee-Jay release here, but if anyone out there knows any better, let me know, please. According to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, the Vee-Jay version peaked at No. 6, while the Fury version failed to make the Top 40.
Regarding “Peanut Butter,” writer Dave Marsh notes the strange tale: The Olympics and their producers, Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith, sold the single to Argo, a subsidiary of Chicago’s Chess Records. But as the group was still under contract to Los Angeles-based Arvee, the record was credited to the Marathons, a not-too-subtle change from the Olympics. And the song had a strong resemblance to the Olympics’ 1960 hit, “(Baby) Hully Gully.” So, without too much ado, the record wound up on the Arvee label anyway, and went to No. 20. Now, the tale is told quite a bit differently by Joel Whitburn in The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Whitburn says that with the Olympics on tour, Arvee brought in the Vibrations to record “Peanut Butter.” But the Vibrations were under contract to Chess/Checker, which stopped the Arvee release and then had the Vibrations record a version of the song for Argo, the Chess subsidiary. At which point, Arvee brought in another group – evidently neither the Olympics nor the Vibrations – to record “Peanut Butter” yet again. That third release, I guess, is what is offered here. And none of that matters when the lead singer calls out “Scarf now!”
The Ferrante & Teicher record was in its third week in the Hot 100 this week. It would linger in the lower levels one more week before falling off the chart. And in August, the piano duo would have their first Top 40 hit with the “Theme from The Apartment,” which would peak at No. 10.
“Rainin’ In My Heart” would eventually rise from the depths of the Hot 100 to become one of two Top 40 hits by Slim Harpo, whose real name was James Moore. “Rainin’ In My Heart” would rise to No. 34, and five years later, his “Baby Scratch My Back” would go to No. 16. Those were Harpo’s only Top 40 hits, but he may be better known for two songs covered by the Rolling Stones: “I’m A King Bee,” which was on the album The Rolling Stones in 1964 (and was covered by many others as well, including Muddy Waters), and “Shake Your Hips,” which wound up on 1972’s Exile on Main Street. (Oddly, the Exile on Main Street jacket listed the song as “Hip Shake,” but the label on the record had the correct title.)
My dad wasn’t a huge music fan. But he enjoyed some music: He had the radio by his workbench – where he spent lots of time until the last few years of his life – tuned, as I’ve said before, to WVAL, the country station based in nearby Sauk Rapids. When my sister and I were young, he invested a fair amount of money in about thirty classical records offered by the Musical Heritage Society, records now on my shelves. (As he predicted forty years ago, I am now glad to have them,) And he bought bits and pieces of odd genres: Hawaiian tunes, the 101 Strings, some Guy Lombardo and other easy listening.
And he seemingly loved the box sets put out by Reader’s Digest. He left me four of them: Soft and Sentimental, Let’s Take A Sentimental Journey, Cocktail Piano Time and Popular Music Hit Parade. The first three are wonderfully programmed, very nice sets that draw mostly on big band music and popular standards, with very few tunes coming from any time after 1960.
A quick look at Cocktail Piano Time finds only one tune out of sixty on the five-record set that breaks that 1960 barrier, the Latin-tinged “The Girl From Ipanema.” The Soft and Sentimental set – all sweet big band stuff – has only one track among its eighty-some that has any echoes of the 1960s or later, and that’s Vaughn Monroe’s “Red Roses For A Blue Lady.” Monroe recorded the tune in 1948, but the song was revived by several performers in the 1960s, most notably Vic Dana, whose version went to No. 10 in 1965.
Then, Let’s Take A Sentimental Journey, a 1970 set, breaks the 1960 barrier for one entire LP titled “The Sounds of Today.” That record includes orchestral versions of “Downtown,” “The Impossible Dream,” “Up Cherry Street,” “I Will Wait For You,” “Scarborough Fair,” “What Now My Love,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Delilah,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Pretty Flamingo” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”
Hmmmm. “Up Cherry Street” is a song evidently best known from a recording by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. The rest are all very light pop, with the exception of “Delilah,” a lung workout by Tom Jones. The most interesting selections there are “This Little Light of Mine,” which carries to me echoes of Bible camp, and Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo.” That one LP, however, is the only time that the programmers of Let’s Take A Sentimental Journey acknowledge that music survived past 1960. Given the audience for Reader’s Digest records, that’s understandable.
Things were quite a bit different with Popular Music Hit Parade, a 1968 box set that Dad bought pretty much when it came out. I recall sifting through it for things I’d want to listen to. That was, of course, in the days before I was listening to pop and rock; I still, however, wanted more than just sweet strings and vapid voices. There was one side of one record devoted to Dixieland-style jazz. That was okay. Other than that, there was lots of syrup.
Looking at the box set today, more than forty years later, I can see that the Reader’s Digest programmers were trying to be hip: The Popular Music Hit Parade includes such songs as “Java,” “Winchester Cathedral,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “Georgy Girl,” “Up, Up and Away,” “The Look of Love,” “King of the Road,” “My Cup Runneth Over,” “The Sound of Silence” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” There are some interesting choices there, and – having not listened to all of the box set, ever, I wonder how often and how hard some of those renditions would make me wince.
(I should note that “The Sound of Silence” and “Blowin’ In The Wind,” along with “If I Had A Hammer,” “500 Miles,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” and “This Land Is Your Land” were on an LP side titled “The Sounds of Nashville.” Huh?)
It’s always a distant reach – with generally unhappy results – when members of one generation try to be au courant with the fashions, fads, couture, music or anything else of another, younger, generation. And the Reader’s Digest folks were trying hard. As they selected songs for Popular Music Hit Parade, they did not ignore the most popular band in the world. Here are three tracks ripped this morning from Popular Music Hit Parade:
“Michelle” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra 
“Yellow Submarine” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra 
“Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra 
Now, I need your help: Do these three tracks merit inclusion in our Train Wreck Jukebox? I tend to think at least one of them does, but I want some guidance. Let me know, please. (At the same time, if there are any of the other tunes I’ve mentioned here that you would like to hear and judge, leave a note.)
Friday, March 5, 2010
The weather has been cloudy and damp and generally cool.
This is not good for our garden, and the Texas Gal and I are concerned. Like obsessive parents overseeing a child’s progress through third grade, we tend, we cultivate, we encourage and we worry. There are a few other gardens in the area that our landlord sets aside for us and for the tenants of the adjacent apartment building. The other gardeners started their plants about ten days to two weeks earlier than we did. I think they were lucky to avoid a late frost, but there’s no doubt that the tomato plants in the other plots are far bushier than ours.
Some of the twenty or so tomato plants we put in around Memorial Day seem to be thriving, sprouting more branches and leaves as well as incipient fruit. Others seem to be marking time, nurturing one tomato while not growing at all. And there are a few who – if the garden were a classroom – would already be certain to repeat the grade. We have several, I think, failed tomatoes.
The Texas Gal isn’t as ready to give up on the lagging plants as am I. She says they may surprise me yet. And they may. The odds are, however, that we will get no fruit from about half of the tomato plants that we carefully set in and then staked or put into cages.
Elsewhere in the garden, things are greener. We’re going to have more zucchini and yellow squash than we know what to do with. Yah Shure, a prolific gardener himself in St. Paul, said that we will likely have so much zucchini that we’ll be reduced to leaving bags of the vegetables on our neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night, all the time prepared to run. It may come to that. Or we may find a worthy charity that can use our excess vegetables.
That excess could also include – based on the state of the garden this morning – broccoli, white and red cabbage, red leaf lettuce, beets, cucumbers and various peppers, both sweet and hot. The eggplant in the corner, however, seems to have joined about half of the tomatoes on the horticultural critical list.
“Do you think we’re watering the tomatoes too much?” the Texas Gal asked as we made our way back to the house last evening. “Or maybe not enough?” I said I didn’t know; this is my first garden just as it is hers. “Did we plant them in too much shade? Or put too much mulch on them?”
“I don’t know,” I repeated. “For everything I know about gardening, the problem could be aliens coming down at night and sucking the life out of the plants.”
She laughed, which was my hope, as we went inside the house. Still, we have no answers for our impending tomato failure. All we have is questions.
A Six-Pack of Questions
“Questions and Conclusions” by Sweathog from Hallelujah 
“Ask Me No Questions” by B.B. King from Indianola Mississippi Seeds 
“That’s A Good Question” by Peter Kaukonen from Black Kangaroo 
“Questions” by Buffalo Springfield from Last Time Around 
“A Question of Temperature” by the Balloon Farm, Laurie 3405 
“Questions 67 and 68” by Chicago Transit Authority from Chicago Transit Authority 
After listening twice to “Questions and Conclusions” this morning, I still think Sweathog sounds like a more subtle version of Steppenwolf. It still baffles me that a group with that cool a sound for the times – the late 1960s and early 1970s – had just one hit (“Hallelujah,” which went to only No 33 in December 1971). Lots of competition, I guess. And – as is true for a lot of groups – history is just sometimes asleep at the switch.
“Ask Me No Questions,” like the album it comes from, Indianola Mississippi Seeds, is a relaxed bit of blues, a chance to B.B. King just to do what he does best. The album is also notable for the presence of Carole King on keyboards, Joe Walsh on guitar, Leon Russell on piano (King takes on Leon’s “Hummingbird” to close the album) and back-up singers extraordinaire Clydie King, Merry Clayton and Venetta Fields. It’s worth checking out.
Peter Kaukonen is brother to Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane, and when the Airplane formed its Grunt label, Peter was one of the artists signed. Black Kangaroo is pretty good, very similar to the solo albums brother Jorma would release down the road. “That’s A Good Question” is one of the better tracks, I think, even if the strings do overwhelm the guitar for a few moments.
Buffalo Springfield’s “Questions” sounded fresh when the group’s last album was released. A couple of years later, it sounded like a dress rehearsal. Writer Stephen Stills took much of the song and combined with another, briefer, tune to produce ”Carry On,” the opening track to the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu.
All-Music Guide calls the Balloon Farm a “psych-punk quartet,” and that’s sort of what the group’s only hit sounds like. There are a couple of interesting things about the group and the record: First, on the early pressings, evidently, “temperature” was misspelled “tempature.” In the listing here, I’ve gone with the correct spelling, as that’s how the record – which went to No. 37 in the spring of 1968 – is listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. (I think the tag on the mp3 might show the original, incorrect spelling, in which case, listeners can make their own choices.) I got the song from the four-CD box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Then, one of the members of the Balloon Farm – and the writer of “A Question of Temperature” – was Mike Appel, who wound up being Bruce Springsteen’s first manager. (He also wrote the Partridge Family hit, “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.”)
I’m not sure how much there is to say about “Question 67 and 68,” pulled from the first album by the group that would end up being called simply Chicago. It’s a great piece of horn-driven rock. My only problem with the song is that in the 1970s, one of the Twin Cities television stations used almost fifty seconds of the song – from the 2:46 mark to the 3:34 mark – as the theme for one of its locally produced television shows. Thus, every time I hear that portion of the song, I’m taken back to late Sunday evenings and the analysis of the most recent Minnesota Vikings game on The Bud Grant Show.
Talking a walk around YouTube this morning, I found a few things of interest.
Here’s Peter Kaukonen with a nifty rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” from what looks to be a relatively recent performance at the B.B. King Blues Bar & Grill in New York City.
Here’s Gary U.S. Bonds in what appears to be a 1989 television performance of the Bruce Springsteen-penned “This Little Girl Is Mine.”
I also found a video, evidently from 1961 (with subtitles added later), of Chubby Checker singing and dancing his way through “Let’s Twist Again.”
And finally, with a performance of “Every Beat Of My Heart” followed by “So Sad The Song,” here are Gladys Knight and the Pips during a 1977 performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
I think that tomorrow, we’ll pull one random song from every year of the 1960s, just as we’ve recently done for the 1970s and the 1980s. But we’ll see what might otherwise pop up between now and tomorrow morning.
The other day, when pondering the years between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival in the United States of the Beatles (1959-64), I wrote “ . . . it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be,” which is probably as good an example as you’ll ever find of praising with faint damns. That praise should have been louder.
(A confession: I borrowed that phrase – “praising with faint damns” – after recalling it this morning and then finding out it came from a 1980 headline in Time magazine, though I suppose it might have originated earlier. I only wish I were that clever.)
A reader dropped a note about those years, 1959 to 1964, reminding me of a genre I’d not mentioned: rock instrumentals, leading to surf instrumentals. He didn’t mention any performers’ names, but he didn’t have to; as I read his note, I thought instantly of the Ventures and of Dick Dale. And if I wanted to think a little harder, I could come up with many others. And in the course of thinking about that era over the past few days, I realized that I’d given short shrift – actually no shrift at all – to the wonderful era of American pop that sprang from the Brill Building and places like it. And that includes the early work of Phil Spector and his acolytes.
Add in the early stirrings of Motown and Stax, and it was a far better era than I often think it was.
And there lies the key word: “think.” I don’t remember that era, at least not musically. From the time the Beatles arrived here in the U.S. in early 1964, rock and pop surrounded me. As I’ve said before, I didn’t really listen to Top 40 at the time, but my sister, my peers and their siblings did. From 1964 onward, the sounds of pop and rock and soul and R&B were an inescapable portion of my environment, even if I didn’t pay much attention.
So when I think about, say, “This Diamond Ring” (which popped up in today’s random selection), I remember hearing it. I remember kids dancing to it at South Junior High. I recall who liked it and who didn’t. I was there. But when – to pull one out of the hat – the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (the No. 2 record for the entire year of 1961) shows up, it’s different. I know I’ve read a fair amount about the song: I think it’s a Gerry Goffin/Carole King song. (It is, but I had to grab a reference book to make sure of it, and to make certain I had his first name right.) I know that Dave Marsh wrote an interesting essay about the record in The Heart of Rock & Soul, which I probably would refer to if I wrote about the record. But I don’t know how it felt to hear it coming out of the radio as I hung out in Rick’s basement or in our kitchen or in my bedroom. I wasn’t there.
When I began digging into record collecting, I unintentionally set 1964 as my starting date for pop and rock, because that’s what I remembered. When I got interested in blues, I dug back through the early 1960s and into the 1950s and the years before that. Then I started digging into early rock & roll, the 1950s stuff that evolved from R&B and its cousin, the jump blues. And then I followed rock & roll along the evolutionary path as far as Buddy Holly and 1959. Most of what I have from the years from 1959 to 1964 is blues, deep R&B and instrumental pop, things that didn’t frequently make the Top 40.
The same thing happened when I got my first modern computer in early 2000 and began to collect mp3s. I was aware that I was ignoring much of the popular music from those five years as I borrowed CDs from the library and from friends and ripped them to put into my collection. As I began that collection, I had, of course, no inkling that I would eventually be writing a blog about (mostly) music from the 1960s and the 1970s. Would I have altered my collecting patterns had I known?
Maybe not. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly thirty months now, and I still don’t have a great deal of pop-rock and popular R&B from those years. I’ve got some, and I’ll likely get more. But I doubt if it’s ever going to be a time period whose Top 40 music I love the way I do the music of the years that follow it. And I doubt I’ll ever be as comfortable writing about the Top 40 music of those early years as I am writing about the sounds of the years that came after. I wasn’t there.
The numbers of mp3s I currently have from the years of the 1960s tell the tale a lot more succinctly:
A Random Selection from the 1960s
1960: “Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown 1003
1961: “Spoonful” by Etta James & Harvey Fuqua, Chess 1771
1962: “In My Time of Dyin’” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan
1963: “Beyond the Surf” by Jack Nitzsche from The Lonely Surfer
1964: “Java Jones” by Donna Lynn from Java Jones/My Boyfriend Got A Beatle Haircut
1965: “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Liberty 55756
1966: “(I’m A) Road Runner” by Junior Walker & the All Stars, Soul 35015
1967: “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by the Hombres, Verve Forecast 5058
1968: “Try a Little Tenderness” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4177
1969: “Rag Mama Rag” (alternate vocal take) from The Band
“Bye Bye Baby” was obviously one of Mary Wells’ very early singles. It didn’t dent the Top 40, but in August of 1961, her single “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” [Motown 1011], went to No. 33. After that, she had eleven more singles in the Top 40, including the classic “My Guy,” which spent two weeks at No. 1 in 1964. “Bye Bye Baby” is a good single, especially in the last thirty seconds, when Wells takes off.
“Spoonful,” a cover of Willie Dixon’s great blues done so memorably by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 [Chess 1762], features a great performance by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, but listen to the backing track. It’s like 1950s R&B combined with the horns from an early 1960’s Frank Sinatra session. I find the horn arrangement to be very distracting. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the history of the R&B charts, so I don’t know how well the record did. It’s interesting, but man, those horns do bother me.
The Dylan track is from his first album, when he was still trying to be Woody Guthrie. Neither the record nor the jacket credited the songwriter, with the liner notes saying that the first time Dylan sang “In My Time of Dyin’” was during the recording session. The index at All-Music Guide generally lists the tune as “traditional,” although a CD titled Inside The Blues by Mare Edstrom lists Blind Willie Johnson as the songwriter. I’d be interested to know more about that. In any event, Dylan rapidly outgrew his Guthrie disguise, and Bob Dylan was Dylan’s last album of mostly covers until 1970’s odd Self Portrait.
Speaking of surf music, as I did above, “Beyond The Surf” is a superb track from Jack Nitzsche’s only solo album. I don’t know if the album’s jacket listed the credits, as I got this through an mp3 exchange, but I’d put good money on the drummer being Hal Blaine. Nitzsche, of course, was part of Phil Spector’s crew, and he worked as a session player, producer and general expert with multitudes of pop and rock musicians over the course of a forty-year career.
Until I ran into it a couple years ago at The Record Robot, I had no idea there had ever been a vocal version of Allen Toussaint’s tune “Java.” The tune was a Top 10 hit as an instrumental in early 1964 for Al Hirt; it went to No. 4. As for Donna Lynn, the only things I know about her, I learned when The Record Robot shared her album: “She was in a Broadway show with Maureen O’Hara called ‘Christine’, and was then, for some reason chosen to be the face, voice and name behind these novelty songs. All by the age of 14.”
Of the four singles that cover the years 1965-1968 in this list, probably the best is the Junior Walker, which went to No. 20, the fourth in a series of twelve Top 40 singles. “(I’m A) Road Runner” is good, but I’m not sure Walker ever did better than 1965’s “Shotgun,” his first hit.
Even discounting the memories of a junior high dance, “This Diamond Ring” still has a geeky charm. Being the son of Jerry Lewis without question eased the road for Gary Lewis on his way to a No. 1 hit. Forty-some years later, though, the record still sounds good coming out of a radio speaker once in a while. It can, however, be an earworm of the highest rank.
The Hombres’ “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” has to be one of the oddest singles of an era that had many. It was the Memphis-based group’s only hit, going to No. 12 in the autumn of 1967. Still weird but also still fun.
There are Otis Redding fans who still cringe at the thought of Three Dog Night covering “Try A Little Tenderness.” I agree that Redding’s version is far superior. It also did a little better in the charts: Otis’ version went to No. 25 in 1967, while TDN’s version reached No. 29. My thought has always been: If hearing Three Dog Night’s version and some ensuing disparaging comments from R&B lovers got even one kid to go find Redding’s version – and I know that it did just that for at least one kid – then it’s okay. So just call TDN’s version a gateway record. (Incidentally, Redding’s version was a cover, too; the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the song was a No. 6 hit for Ted Lewis in 1933.)
The alternate version of “Rag Mama Rag” was included on an expanded CD edition of The Band. It’s kind of fun to hear something so familiar sound so different.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
I’m pretty much taking Independence Day off, but here’s a little nugget. Some of the lyrics in the verses are a bit dated, but the chorus lays it out:
“I got my duty: rock and roll,
“Now everybody, everybody, everyone's gotta be free!”
“Freedom Blues” by Little Richard from The Rill Thing 
I’ve written a bit about cars here: the 1961 Falcon I called Farley, the first car I owned part of and the one that took Rick, Gary and me to Winnipeg in 1972; my dad’s 1952 Ford, and a few others. (I have yet to tell the tale of Toby the Toyota; someday, perhaps.)
Something this weekend reminded me, however, not so much of cars but of driver’s education, that horrible process required before I could sit behind the wheel of any car on my own. I took the course forty years ago this summer, in 1969.
I was not a good driving student. I got flustered easily. That made my behind-the-wheel training – driving around St. Cloud in an auto owned by the school district and very clearly marked “Student Driver” – a less-than-pleasant experience (for me and, I assume, for my instructor as well). Every Wednesday evening, for five or so weeks, two other students and I would take turns driving around the city, turning, merging, driving down ramps and trying to master parallel parking. I was expert at none of those things.
I did get practice between those weekly sessions. On weekends and during other evenings, my dad would get in the passenger seat beside me in our 1964 Ford, and we’d head out across the railroad tracks to a triangular course he’d determined a few years earlier when my sister was learning to drive. I’d drive along the roads, practicing accelerating and braking – I can still hear Dad holler “brake-brake-brake-brake-brake!” – and turning. After a few times around the triangle, he’d have me turn into a driveway and back out the other way, so I could practice left turns instead of right turns.
It’s funny: I hadn’t thought for years of the triangle route we drove during those evenings. But the lot on which we now live borders two of those three streets. I can see one of them from my study window. And I marvel, forty years later, at my dad’s ability to ride along as I slowly learned to drive and to be comfortable doing so. His patience was, I now know, remarkable. Around the triangle we went, time and time again, and he may have been as frustrated as I was, but he was always willing.
I passed the driver’s education course that summer, the summer before I turned sixteen. Shortly after my birthday, I went downtown, not far from the courthouse, and took my driver’s test. I passed the written test but failed the road test – mostly, I think, because I was nervous. I finally passed on the fifth try, just after I turned seventeen. And a little more than a year later, my long procession of cars began with Farley, that 1961 Falcon.
A Six-Pack of Cars
“Back Seat of My Car” by Percy Thrillington from Thrillington 
“Stolen Car” by Bruce Springsteen from The River 
“Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” by Billy Ocean, Jive 9678 
“Car On A Hill” by Joni Mitchell from Court and Spark 
“She Has Funny Cars” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow 
“Strangers In A Car” by Marc Cohn from Marc Cohn 
Some folks who stop by here will recognize the name of Percy Thrillington. I think his self-titled 1977 album was the only one he released under that name. It’s an instrumental version of Ram, the 1971 album by Paul and Linda McCartney. Now, why the world needed an instrumental version of Ram is an open question. The answer resides in mind of Mr. Thrillingon, who is far better known around the world as Paul McCartney himself. Released with little note six years after it was recorded, the album is quite valuable in the collector’s market; the CD, released and then deleted shortly afterward, is also a collector’s item.
“Stolen Car” is another one of Springsteen’s tales of regular folks caught in lives gone off-track. I wonder sometimes if all those tales in song – “Hungry Heart” comes to mind soonest, but there are many of them in Springsteen’s catalog – are metaphors for a culture that lost its way some years ago and continues to wander astray, or are they just story songs. I’m sure Springsteen’s been asked, and I don’t know what his answer has been or would be. I’d say they’re both metaphor and story, but that’s just me.
I still like the Billy Ocean single, but not nearly as much as I did twenty years ago. Its production sounds dated and over-bearing. But it’s still catchy, with a still-great hook. The record was the last of Ocean’s six Top Ten hits, spending two weeks at No. 1.
“Car On A Hill” is one of those songscapes that Joni Mitchell has put together so expertly during her career, but especially during the early 1970s. With a swooping and slightly cluttered instrumental break, the song sets a mood more than tells a story. As I listened to it again this morning, the words “watercolor landscape” kept coming back to me, and that’s as good a description as any today. The only other thing I can say is that this morning, “Car On A Hill” sounds like 1974 felt.
The drumbeats and then the guitar figure that open Jefferson Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars” put me squarely in the basement rec room in the house I grew up in. Surrealistic Pillow was one of the few albums my sister owned during those years, and I have no idea how often she played it. I played the record a lot, however, and it became one of my favorites. I’m a little amused by how mellow the entire album seems now; at the time, it seemed like a sonic explosion.
“Strangers In A Car” has one of the more disconcerting opening verses I can remember. I know the song is a commentary on isolation, but this morning, at least, I was unable to pay much attention to the rest of the song after listening closely to the first verse:
There's a stranger in a car
Driving down your street,
Acts like he knows who you are.
Slaps his hand on the empty seat and says,
“Are you gonna get in
Or are you gonna stay out?”
Just a stranger in a car.
Might be the one they told you about.
It had been a while since I’d thought much about it, and it left me shaking my head. Are the times that different? Or would the song have been that disconcerting in 1991? I don’t know.
Last week, as I was digging through my dad’s records, I shared cover versions of three Beatles songs pulled from the 1968 Reader’s Digest box set Popular Music Hit Parade. I was sure that one of the three – versions of “Michelle,” “Yellow Submarine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Hank Levine Singers and Orchestra – would qualify as the fourth entrant in our Train Wreck Jukebox. (The fifth, if one counts the instrumental B-side of the Swingers’ Bay-Hay Bee Doll.) I invited comments from readers.
As it turned out, only two readers weighed in, but they were long-time visitors Yah Shure and Oldetymer (whose handle I misspelled the other day. Sorry!). And they were in agreement that Levine’s treatment of “Yellow Submarine” was, in fact, a train wreck. I concurred. As I told Yah Shure in a note, not even a dissent written by Antonin Scalia (the best writer on the U.S. Supreme Court, though I rarely agree with his views) would save the track.
I also listed a few of the other covers included in Popular Music Hit Parade, noting that, having never listened to the entire set, I had no idea how difficult they might be to hear. Oldetymer said he wouldn’t mind hearing a few. So we’re going to dig into some 1960s pop hits and the Reader’s Digest covers of them this morning. And we may find a train wreck or two.
The fourth Top 40 hit of Roger Miller’s career was the first one not tabbed a novelty hit by the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Miller’s previous entries in the Top 40 had been “Dang Me” (No. 7) and “Chug-A-Lug (No. 9) in 1964 and “Do-Wacka-Do” (No. 31) in 1965. I’m not entirely sure I’d classify “Dang Me” as a novelty hit; that seems a bit unfair to Miller and the record. In any event, his fourth hit, which reached the Top 40 in February of 1965, was the enduring “King of the Road,” with its wryly happy celebration of the hobo life.
“King of the Road” by Roger Miller, Smash 1965 
Our Reader’s Digest cover version sounded promising when I cued it up, but I’ll let you decide its fate:
“King of the Road” by Nashville Sounds & Jerry Reed (Guitar) 
Next comes an odd record that was seemingly inescapable for a few weeks. In fact, for one evening, it was literally inescapable. Drawing for some reason on the style of Rudy Vallee’s hits in the 1920s, “Winchester Cathedral” jumped up the charts in November of 1966 and spent three weeks at No. 1. The song was credited to the New Vaudeville Band, which, according to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, didn’t truly exist until after the record went to No. 1. The record was essentially the creation of British songwriter and producer Geoff Stephens, who – after the record hit – scrambled to put together a group of musicians to be the New Vaudeville Band. It didn’t help. “Winchester Cathedral” was the group’s only hit.
And the evening when the record was inescapable? It was New Year’s Eve 1966. As was our custom at the time, Rick and I spent the evening at his place, playing pool and board games and just hanging around. At the same time, one of Rick’s sisters had friends over, as well, and from the record player in those precincts came the strains, repeatedly, of “Winchester Cathedral.”
“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band, Fontana 1562 
And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of the song:
“Winchester Cathedral” by Marty Paitch, His Orchestra & Chorus 
One of the cheeriest-sounding pop hits of the mid-1960s was the Seekers’ “Georgy Girl,” with its whistling introduction. The tune was the title song from a film starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason, but one wonders from the first line of the film’s description at the Internet Movie Database just how cheery the movie is: “A homely but vivacious young woman dodges the amorous attentions of her father's middle-aged employer while striving to capture some of the glamorous life of her swinging London roommate.” These days, that sounds like a lawsuit or an addiction – or perhaps both – waiting to happen.
Anyway, the song was quite cheery, and it entered the Top 40 during the last week of 1966, eventually reaching No. 2, the third and final hit for the Seekers. The first two, both in 1965, were “I’ll Never Find Another You,” which went to No. 4, and “A World Of Our Own,” which peaked at No. 19. (Then there was the group called the New Seekers, an offshoot, but that’s a topic for another time.)
“Georgy Girl” by the Seekers, Capitol 5756 
And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover version with a familiar name in the credits:
“Georgy Girl” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra 
I’m not sure how frequently these things happen these days, but every once a while during the 1960s, a record that was clearly designed for the middle of the road would take off and find itself in the Top 40, or maybe even the Top 10. When it happened with a Frank Sinatra song – “Strangers In The Night” (No. 1, 1966), “That’s Life” (No. 4, 1966) and “Something Stupid” (No. 1, 1967, with his daughter, Nancy) were the biggest – that was understandable. But Ed Ames? He was the lead singer of the Ames Brothers, who had ten Top 40 hits between 1954 and 1960, with the biggest of them being “The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane,” which went to No. 3 in 1954. And in 1967, Ames had an unlikely No. 8 hit with a song from the off-Broadway musical I Do, I Do.
“My Cup Runneth Over” by Ed Ames, RCA Victor 9002 
And here’s the Reader’s Digest cover of Ames’ hit:
“My Cup Runneth Over” by Bill Lee with Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra 
So there we have them. Let me know if you think there are any train wrecks in here.
Originally posted July 08, 2009:
A few years ago, I was reading a novel – not a very good one, but the book came recommended by a friend and I persevered – about five or so young women and their lives in the 1970s and beyond. The group of women had a secret, and it had to do with something that took place the night of their graduation from high school in the spring of 1970.
And in one of the early scenes in that book, on that graduation night, two or more of the women heard the sounds of a song from a nearby radio. They heard Janis Joplin singing “Me and Bobby McGee.”
I damn near threw the book across the room. Instead, I just shook my head and read on.
Why was I annoyed? Because “Me and Bobby McGee” – along with the rest of Pearl, the album from which it came – wasn’t recorded until the summer and autumn of 1970. I knew that at the time, but this morning, just to make sure, I went to All-Music Guide. The album, says AMG, was recorded between July and October of 1970 and was released in February of 1971. There’s no date for the single at AMG. Another source, a book called The Great Rock Discography, has both the album and the single being released in January 1971. I’m not sure whether January or February is correct, but either way, it’s 1971, not 1970.
Now, I make mistakes, some of them doozies. (As will be clear later in this post.) But I try my best to nail down historical details when I write, here and elsewhere. And I think any writer dealing at all with historical material – whether it’s five hundred years ago or five years ago – owes it to his or her readers to get it as accurate as possible. I grant you, it’s easier these days to verify when an album was recorded and released than it used to be; a few clicks of the mouse to AMG (which does have some errors but is generally reliable), and there you go. Those types of tools weren't available when the book in question was written, which I would guess was in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
But even if the author of the book in question were writing twenty years ago, in 1989, all he or she – I long ago forgot the author’s name and even the title of the book – would have to do is jot down a note: “Bobby McGee release date?” and head down to the local library to find a copy of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. My first copy, which was published in 1987, was the third edition. And there we’d learn that “Me and Bobby McGee” first reached the Top 40 on February 20, 1971. And that should be enough to tell a writer that hearing “Me and Bobby McGee” coming from a radio in the spring of 1970 would be extremely unlikely. And that, I would think, would be enough for the writer to choose another song.
My point is: Even twenty years ago, it would only have taken a little bit of effort to make that small detail correct, to find a song that would have been likely to be heard on the radio on a graduation night in the spring of 1970. The fact that the writer (and the editors who worked on the book, too; they should not be excused, either!) did not take that effort to check on an easily verifiable historical fact always makes me wonder what other corners the writer cut.
(That’s a far more grievous error to make in non-fiction, of course, and I have seen a few books over the years that have erred in writing about things I know about, generally records, movies and sports events. I usually just grunt in annoyance and read on, wondering what other facts are wrong.)
The long-ago book that misplaced Janis Joplin’s great single came to mind last evening because of a similar error I found, this time by an author who is generally pretty good at such stuff: I was reading the first novella in Dean Koontz’ collection Strange Highways, in which a man gets a second chance at a crucial night in his youth, somehow shifting from 1995 to 1975. As he marvels that Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run is new that year, he also notes that Jim Croce is still alive. Oops. Croce died in the autumn of 1973. Again, I shook my head and moved on, disappointed that a simple detail evidently wasn’t checked.
Maybe I seem old, out-of-date, out of style and crotchety. But details matter. Accuracy matters. So, for that matter, does spelling. And so does grammar. I may someday come back to those latter two things as a topic for a post, but for now, the lecture is over.
In an attempt to connect to the music I’ve selected for today, however, I’m going to touch on one grammatical error that’s horribly common and that makes my ears hurt as much as does the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard (a reference that likely dates me, too). I mentioned it the other day in connection with the Doors’ song “Touch Me.” In that song’s chorus, Jim Morrison sings, in part, “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.” That should be “you and me.” How do we know that? Well, pull out the words “you and” and then see what kind of sentence you have: “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for I.” Oops again.
The BoDeans’ songwriters, Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann, do the same thing in another song I like, “Good Things,” when they wrote “good things for you and I.”
I know that in both of those cases, using “me” would have messed up the rhyme. Too bad, but both choruses needed more work. I also know that there are times when I screw up grammatically. (I still wonder about a sentence the other day when I couldn’t decide whether to use past tense or the subjunctive. [And I can see eyes rolling all over blogword.]) I think I generally do pretty well, though, and I also think that I almost always get “you and me” correct, as do these six songs. (Well, not all of those songs do. I was in a hurry and I screwed up. Oops, indeed.)
A Six-Pack of You and Me
“You and Me (Babe)” by Ringo Starr from Ringo 
“You and Me” by Neil Young from Harvest Moon 
“You and Me” by the Moody Blues from Seventh Sojourn 
“You and Me” by Lighthouse from Thoughts of Movin’ On 
“You and Me” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark 
“You and Me Of The 10,000 Wars” by the Indigo Girls from Nomads, Indians, Saints 
I don’t have a lot to say about any of these. The Ringo Starr track was the last track on Ringo and caps off that very good album pretty well. The Moody Blues’ track is pretty strong musically and has one of the better lines from all the Moodies’ songs of cosmic consciousness: “All we are trying to say is we are all we’ve got.” Neil Young’s “You and Me” is a sweet song that comes from his revisitation of the style and themes of 1972’s Harvest.
The Indigo Girls’ track is, as might be expected, a literate exploration of a relationship’s struggles. Aretha Franklin’s “You and Me” was actually billed as by “Aretha Franklin With The Dixie Flyers.” (Listen for the swooping French horns at the 2:30 mark.) And the Lighthouse selection was on a pretty good record that was a few albums removed from One Fine Morning, which sparked the great single of the same title.
Still feeling silly after yesterday’s post, I submerged myself in videos at YouTube. And there I found an old and somewhat visually deficient clip of Aretha Franklin performing “You and Me” on an episode of The Flip Wilson Show. The show ran from 1970 into 1974, but I think it’s a good bet that the episode in question comes from late 1970 or early 1971, right about the time “Border Song (Holy Moses)/You and Me” showed up in the lower level of the Top 40 charts (No. 37).
Here’s an interesting video set: Two performances of “King of the Road” by Roger Miller. One, says the person who posted the video, came from a 1969 lip-synch appearance on Music Scene, and the other, a 1964 performance, was on what the poster called “TNT.” British shows? Contrasting the two visuals is pretty entertaining, and in the 1969 clip, Miller does some nifty shuffling as he heads back down the blue road at the end of the tune.
Readers might recall my noting Tuesday that when “Winchester Cathedral” became a hit in late 1966, originator Geoff Stephens had to put together a group to be the New Vaudeville Band. Well, here’s a look at the group he put together, lip-syching “Peek-A-Boo” and “Winchester Cathedral” on The Hollywood Palace. The clip is most likely from early 1967; “Peek-A-Boo” reached its peak position –No. 72 – on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of March of that year. Whenever it was, the fellows look pretty bored with the proceedings. (And yes, I believe that is Kate Smith introducing theboys.)
That’s it for today. I’m not at all sure what’s going to be in this space tomorrow – I have several ideas, one of which may blossom – but there will be something here. Thanks for stopping by.