‘Archived Or Suspended’

July 8, 2022

Originally posted at several boards January 23, 2010

Hi everyone. No Saturday Single today. Or maybe ever again. Echoes In The Wind has been closed by WordPress – “archived or suspended,” in its terms. And it doesn’t appear that WordPress will allow me to register another blog at the moment.

So it might be that, as the Sundays sang not that many years ago, this is where the story ends. I don’t know. I’ve had a good three years, and maybe it’s best to call it quits. Whatever happens, it’s been a joy. Thanks.

A Treasure Lost

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 22, 2010

I’m chiming in a little late on the chorus here, but this week, the music world lost a jewel.

Kate McGarrigle – singer, songwriter and one-half of the McGarrigle sisters – crossed over this week in Montreal, Canada. She was sixty-three and had “clear cell sarcoma, a form of cancer,” said the New York Times. (See the full story here.)

I learned about them in 1989, as I read the first edition I owned of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. The entry for the McGarrigles said simply:

“Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, They suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies could be dazzling.”

That was a little condescending, I thought, but it spurred me to keep an eye out for the McGarrigles’ work as I roamed the record stores. As I found and bought the occasional record and then CD over the years, I found myself appreciating more and more the quiet charm, consistent quality and occasional quirkiness of the sisters’ work.

More people know them, certainly, as writers of songs performed by other people. I would guess that the best-known song Kate McGarrigle wrote was “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino,” which Linda Ronstadt recorded for her 1981 album, Get Closer. (The title tune of Ronstadt’s 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel, was written by Anna McGarrigle.)

One of the lessons that a writer can take from Kate McGarrigle’s work is that pretty much anything could be a topic for a song. Here, along with “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” are “I Eat Dinner,” a sad ode to the numbing sameness of life without romance, and “NaCl,” a sprightly science lesson.

“(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle [1975]

“I Eat Dinner” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Heartbeats Accelerating [1990]

“NaCl” by by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Pronto Monto [1978]

Into The Ultimate Jukebox

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 21, 2010

Behold the jukebox!

Well, there’s no jukebox, not physically. I could, I suppose, find a picture of a gorgeous Wurlitzer and gussy it up somehow, make it sparkle and glint and shine like the great repository of dreams a jukebox can be. But no, not even the gaudiest picture or the shiniest fake would work here.

What we’re opening up today is the jukebox of the mind, the jukebox that I’d have in my living room if my living room were part malt shop, part beer joint, part crash pad and part heaven. It is, if you will, the Ultimate Jukebox. I first mentioned it in early November and since then have been doing the difficult work of eliminating songs from the list. I started by combing year-by-year through my 41,000 or so mp3s, making a raw list of songs to consider. Sometimes, I’d pull a song off the list within minutes or maybe days, but most of the songs I put onto the list stayed there until I had gone through the collection twice.

At that point, there were two hundred and eighty-five songs on the list. My goal was to trim them down to two hundred and begin presenting posts from there. I trimmed and I trimmed. I looked at the list for hours without changing anything. I got down to two hundred and fifty and then two hundred and forty. And I looked on the long list of titles and despaired of what I would have to trim next. And finally, short of my goal, I could trim no more. I got down to two hundred and twenty-eight songs. I did some math. That total would provide me with thirty-eight posts of six records each.

Presented weekly, that would keep me with a guaranteed post at least once a week for most of the coming year. Sign me up.

Dave Marsh wrote in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, that as his project came to a close, he was already weary of people asking him what his top-ranked single was. (It was Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”) But, he said, he would have been thrilled to have someone ask what single No. 1,002 had been. Or so I recall. In the 1999 edition, he says that the most common question he’d gotten since the publication of the original edition had been about single No. 1,002, and those questions irked him. Without going back line by line through the 1989 edition of the book, I can’t cite the page number, but I’m certain that somewhere in that volume, I got the idea that Marsh wanted people to ask about the first record that didn’t make it. And then, when people do just that, it irks him? I guess it’s a reminder to be careful what we wish for. (He adds, because he says he can’t figure out how it got left out of the 1,001 singles in the book, that single No. 1,002 has to be Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.”)

I thought of Marsh wanting to be asked about the records that didn’t quite make it as I was trimming the list for my jukebox. What are some of the records that fell by the wayside?

Here’s a short list. These are not the last cuts by any means. But these were among the finalists that got trimmed before the swimsuit competition. Great records, but not quite as good as the ones that stayed, for whatever reason (and those reasons can include utter whim).

“Golden Years” by David Bowie
“Charity Ball” by Fanny
“Night Train” by James Brown.
“Guinnevere” by Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Season of the Witch” by Donovan
“Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian
“Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
“Convoy” by C.W. McCall
“Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds

The list of those left behind also includes three by Bob Dylan, two by the Beatles, two by The Band and three by the Allman Brothers Band. And on and on and on down the line. Once I had my two hundred twenty-eight, I figured out a way to put them into random groups, and after one adjustment, I had my thirty-eight selections of six. And here’s the opening selection:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 1
“Look Through My Window” by the Mamas & the Papas from Deliver [1967]
“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan from Blood on the Tracks [1975]
“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream [1976]
“Driftwood” by the Moody Blues from Octave [1978]
‘They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart In Seventeen Places [1983]
“I Try” by Macy Gray from On How Life Is [1999]

Whatever one may think of the late John Phillips as a person – and he doesn’t rank highly on that scale in my book – the man could write a gorgeous song. Think of the Mamas and Papas’ catalog: “Go Where You Wanna Go,” “Monday, Monday,” “California Dreamin’,” “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Comng To The Canyon)” and many more. All well-crafted and lovely. And yet, “Look Through My Window” lies atop the heap for me. Why? I guess it seemed to be more reflective than the group’s other hits, with the narrator observing the world from which he is separated – for the time being, anyway. This is, I believe, the album version of the song; the single edit went to No. 24 in the autumn of 1966. Key lines: “We both knew people sometimes change, and lovers sometimes rearrange; and nothing’s quite as sure as change.”

I’ve written at least once before about Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” but I’m not at all sure what I said, and I’m not going to sort through the unarchived files. Suffice it to say that this has to be the sprightliest song about foreseen romantic disaster ever recorded. I mean, he knows she’s going to go, he knows he’s going to be lonely, and he seems to almost be looking forward to it. I guess that’s what happens when times are so good: The inevitable sorrow down the road seems a small price to pay for today’s joy. Key lines: “Flowers on the hillside bloomin’ crazy; crickets talkin’ back and forth rhyme. Blue river runnin’ slow and lazy. I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.”

Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has also been mentioned here at least once. I hold to my original position of a couple of years ago that Lightfoot’s song is one of the relatively few modern examples of folk song as both news and commemoration. When one wanders through the odd, dissonant and sometimes plain creepy songs in Harry Smith’s 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, one finds many examples of folk songs reporting the news of disasters small and large, and one finds many cases, too, of songs devised to keep long-gone events or individuals fresh in memory. Lightfoot’s song did both, telling the tale and commemorating the event so successfully that it’s become a familiar part of the cultural landscape, with the single reaching No. 2 in the autumn of 1976. Key lines: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

When the Moody Blues released Octave in 1978, it had been six years since the release of their last album, 1972’s Seventh Sojourn. I, for one, was ready for some more Moodies. I had a few of the earlier albums and I’d loved Sojourn, so, as soon as it was offered, I ordered Octave from my record club. I guess it disappointed me, as I don’t know the album as well as I do many others, including most of the Moody Blues’ catalog. But “Driftwood” has captivated me from the first time I heard it, with that lonely French horn calling me in for a meditation that seems longer than the listed five minutes and yet doesn’t seem long enough. Key lines: “Time waits for no one at all, no, not even you.”

With its Wall of Sound intro – chimes and all – and its witty video, Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” was one of the light-hearted highlights of pop radio and MTV in late 1983 and early 1984. I was in was in graduate school, and after some years away from pop and rock and certainly Top 40, I found myself surrounded by current music once again, enjoying much of it. A few other tunes from that period will show up in the project later, and several barely missed the cut. But there was never a doubt about “They Don’t Know” making it into the jukebox: Its good humor and its girl-group-reminiscent sound make it one of my favorite records of that time, now more than a quarter-century past. Key lines: “Why should it matter to us if they don’t approve? We should just take our chances while we’ve got nothin’ to lose.”

I wrote the other day about the dismal winter of 1999-2000. One of the things that helped me through that winter, as is true of all of my life, is music. Some of the tunes I listened to during that time, however, have had that season’s despair attached to them. As I wrote a while back, I am to this day unable to listen to Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia without lapsing into sorrow. Macy Gray’s On How Life Is and its single, “I Try” could easily fall into that category, as they’re among the most memorable music from those months. And the topic of “I Try” – a seemingly hopeless connection – seems tailor-made to settle the record into the unhappy file. But for some reason, the song seems to rise above that when I hear it. Maybe it’s Gray’s odd voice. Maybe it’s the very cool backing track. Maybe it’s just time having passed. Or maybe the song tugs at me still, but I recognize its place in this mythical jukebox that is essentially the soundtrack of my life. Whatever the reason, it’s one of three songs I’ve selected from 1999, the most recent year I examined. And it belongs here. Key lines: “I believe that fate has brought us here, and we should be together. But we’re not.”

A Slight Delay

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 20, 2010

I was going to start the series of posts about the Ultimate Jukebox today, but some overnight events have forced me to delay for a day. But when we get to tomorrow, we’ll talk about the project and share the first tunes from that idea.

In the meantime, I beg your patience, and I’ve decided to share three of the tunes that came close but in the end did not make it in the final list for the Ultimate Jukebox. So these are among the runners-up, if you will. And still great songs and records in their own right.

“Crossroads” by Don McLean from American Pie [1971]
“Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited, Brunswick 55391 [1968]
“Silver Spring” by Fleetwood Mac, Warner Bros. 8034 [1977]

See you tomorrow!

Into Early 1970 Again

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 16, 2010

Well, we’re going to talk about the second week in January 1970 again, if you don’t mind.

Yesterday, when I looked at the January 16, 1970, survey from San Diego’s KCBQ, I mentioned that the surveys from the Twin Cities’ KDWB that I used to examine at The Oldies Loon were no longer available.

Well, that’s not precisely true. Jeff, our pal at AM then FM, emailed me last evening, telling me he was getting to the surveys just fine. I tried again, and I can get to the KDWB page there that lists the years. From then on, it’s iffy; no page that has in its URL a tilde – the little mark that looks like this: “~” – will come up in my browser, and most of the annual pages for KDWB’s surveys fall there (as do many other pages on the website). I use IE Explorer, but I tried Firefox, too, with no joy. And it’s not just my computer; we tried to get to those pages using the Texas Gal’s laptop, and all Vista would tell us is that there might be a firewall in the way.

I emailed the folks at The Oldies Loon, and we’ll see if they have anything to say. If any readers have any ideas as to what’s going on, suggestions for solutions would be helpful. Come Monday, if I haven’t figured anything out, I might give a call to Dale the Computer Guy down on Wilson Avenue and see if he knows anything.

In the meantime, however, Jeff was kind enough to send along, as part of our Friday evening email exchange, the KDWB “6+30” for the week of January 12, 1970. The top fifteen on KDWB was significantly different than the top fifteen from KCBQ that I looked at yesterday. Here’s what we were listening to most frequently in the Upper Midwest that week:

“La La If I Had You” by Bobby Sherman
“Venus” by the Shocking Blue
“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“Leavin’ On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Jam Up, Jelly Tight” by Tommy Roe
“Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by the Supremes
“Midnight Cowboy” by Ferrante & Teicher
“Don’t Cry Daddy” by Elvis Presley
“Early In The Morning” by Vanity Fare
“Jingle Jangle” by the Archies
“Brand New Me” by Dusty Springfield

More than half of the records in the top fifteen of KDWB’s survey were absent from the San Diego list I posted yesterday: Those are the records by Bobby Sherman, Neil Diamond, Steam, Tommy Roe, Stevie Wonder, Ferrante & Teicher, Vanity Fare and the Archies.

(The artists in KCQB’s top fifteen who were absent from KDWB’s top fifteen were: The Jackson 5, R.B. Greaves, the Plastic Ono Band, the Originals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Tee Set, Jay & the Americans and The Band. The Jackson 5, Greaves, CCR and The Band show up lower down on the KDWB survey; the others are completely absent.)

To be honest, the KCBQ top fifteen is a more listenable set of songs than the stuff I was hearing most frequently on KDWB. Along with the continued presence of the Elvis tune and “Raindrops,” there are three major ouches in KDWB’s top fifteen: First of all, Bobby Sherman at No. 1 is a concept that stretches my mind a great deal. Secondly, I’ve never been quite as tickled as other folks by the winking naughtiness of “Jam Up, Jelly Tight.” Third, anything beyond “Sugar, Sugar” is just a little too much of the Archies for me.

Nevertheless, there are some treasures in KDWB’s top fifteen that weren’t getting the same kind of airplay in San Diego. (I know, the dates aren’t quite the same, but they’re close enough for anything that’s not rocket science or accounting.) Those treasures – and here we come to the sticky matter of individual taste or lack of the same – are “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” “Holly Holy,” “Midnight Cowboy” and the utterly luminous “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday”

It seems that for most folks, the Stevie Wonder songs that stand out in this time period are “For Once In My Life” and “My Cherie Amour,” and those are both beautiful songs that made for beautiful records. But neither of them ever touched me the way “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” did at the time. I’ve never quite understood why, and I’m not sure I could, or even want to, figure it out now. Whatever the reasons were, I imagine they’re lost in time, but it was the song that was piercing my heart forty years ago, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

“Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder [1969]

In Early 1970

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 15, 2010

After running some errands this morning and despite having a more full agenda than most days this afternoon, I wanted to stop by and at least offer something here today.

This year, 2010, turns out to be the fortieth anniversary of one of the more important years in my musical life. For all of 1970, I listened intently to Top 40 radio, and that’s the only year about which I can say that. My Top 40 habit came upon me, as I’ve written here before, during the summer of 1969 (and as I write that, my internal jukebox starts playing Bryan Adams), and by the latter months of 1971, I was listening more and more to the album rock played at night on KVSC-FM, St. Cloud State’s student station.

But for all of 1970, I tuned my radio to either KDWB in the Twin Cities or – in the evenings – to WJON just across the railroad tracks from Kilian Boulvard and, later in the evenings, to WLS in Chicago. And by the time that year began, with four months of listening tucked away, I knew when a record was new to the playlist. I was no longer – for the most part – trying to sort out what was current and what had been current six months or a year or eighteen months earlier. That meant I had a cogent answer available if the locker room jabber turned to music and one of the guys asked me, “Whaddaya think of the new Temptations single?”

Being able to know, in that case, that he was referring to “Psychedelic Shack” instead of “I Can’t Get Next To You” meant there was one more way for me to seem like I belonged in high school society. Or, alternatively, it meant that there was one less way for me to seem like a dork.

Anyway, I look these days at various radio stations’ playlists and surveys from forty years ago, and I see, for the most part, old friends. Even if I were alone more than I might have wanted – a condition not uncommon for those who are sixteen, I think – I had the radio. I won’t say that I recognize all the titles I see on every survey; but I recognize the vast majority of them, and I think that if I were to hear the records, I’d recall most of those whose titles are not familiar.

All of that serves as an introduction to the first of what I hope will be regular looks throughout this year at radio surveys from 1970. We’ll start with the “$ilver Dollar $urvey” for the week of January 16, 1970 from KCBQ in San Diego, California. Why KCBQ? Because I was unable to find surveys for this week from either KDWB or WDGY, the Twin Cities Top 40 stations of the day. (The KDWB surveys used to be available at The Oldies Loon, but no longer; the only WDGY survey available there from January 1970 is from a week earlier.) Given that, San Diego seemed like a fine place to start.

Here’s the top fifteen in that $ilver Dollar $urvey:

“Venus” by the Shocking Blue
“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5
“Take A Letter Maria” by R.B. Greaves
“Cold Turkey” by the Plastic Ono Band
“Baby I’m For Real” by the Originals
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by the Supremes
“Don’t Cry Daddy” by Elvis Presley
“Brand New Me” by Dusty Springfield
“Leavin’ On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Ma Belle Amie” by the Tee Set
“Walkin’ In The Rain” by Jay & The Americans
“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band

That’s a pretty good – and very familiar – hour of listening. A couple of those records – the Elvis title in particular, as well as the Jay & The Americans tune – didn’t really speak to me, and years after having last heard it regularly, I’m still tired of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.” But several of those fifteen – the joyously excessive “Whole Lotta Love,” the R.B. Greaves tune and “Up On Cripple Creek” – remain among my favorites.

I should also note I have some affection for “Ma Belle Amie,” which gave listeners a useful French phrase for saying goodbye. (A young lady headed to a different high school for senior year actually wrote that French sentence, word for word, in my annual in May 1970. The next time I saw her was twenty years later in the role of Trudy Chelgren, one of the waitresses in the iconic coffee shop in Twin Peaks.)

The only record among KCBQ’s top fifteen from forty years ago that I didn’t immediately recall was the Originals’ “Baby I’m For Real.” Whether it got much airplay in the Twin Cities, I don’t know. All I can say is that I found the WDGY survey for the previous week, and “Baby I’m For Real” is not listed.

The Originals were part of the Motown organization, according to All-Music Guide, and after some records that didn’t hit all that well, reached the top of the R&B chart in 1970 with “Baby I’m For Real.” The record, produced by Marvin Gaye and co-written by Gaye and his then-wife, Anna, was the first of two Top 40 hits for the group, peaking at No. 14. (“The Bells” went to No. 12 in the early spring of 1970.)

Even though I didn’t recognize the title, it turned out I had the record on vinyl on a Time/Life anthology, and I did indeed dimly recall it. To my ear, it sounds more like something that would’ve come out of Philadelphia than Detroit, but it’s a sweet piece of modernized doo-wop.

“Baby I’m For Real” by the Originals, Soul 35066 [1969]

Note: I’ve corrected some title errors in the KCBQ survey. “Whole Lotta Love,” for instance, was offered as “Whole Lotta Lovin’.”

‘And Watch The River Flow . . .’

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 13, 2010

It was around this time in 1972 that I bought my first Bob Dylan album. I’d heard Dylan plenty of times before, certainly: Just in the couple of years since I’d started listening to the radio, he’d had a Top Ten hit with “Lay, Lady, Lay” during the summer of 1969 and then reached the Top 40 in late 1971 with “George Jackson.” And I’d likely heard John Wesley Harding on one evening or another, hanging out at Rick’s. And that doesn’t count the other times I heard his songs just as part of the music around me before I really started paying attention.

But on a January day, I bought Dylan’s music for the first time. I actually bought two albums that day. Rick’s birthday was coming up soon, and he wanted Nashville Skyline. So I grabbed that at Musicland and then pawed through the rest of the Dylan records. I found a copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II and scanned the jacket. A pretty good mix. So brought it home with me, and as I wrapped Rick’s gift, I dropped my new record on the stereo.

And the first track was happily familiar: A rolling roadhouse piano accompanied by a twanging guitar announced the presence of “Watching The River Flow,” a song that had been released as a single during 1971. (It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 41.) The rolling piano made it clear that the record had been recorded under the influence of Leon Russell, who in the first years of the Seventies was about as hot any performer ever was, sitting in on God knows how many major recording sessions, spearheading Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in early 1970, playing at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971 and seeing two of his own albums – Leon Russell & The Shelter People and Carney – hit the Top 40.

So the first sounds I heard from the first Dylan album I owned were and still are tasty ones. The track – which Russell co-produced with Bob Johnston – popped up the other night on the RealPlayer as I was reading, and the guitar and piano riff captured my attention just as quickly and fully as it had thirty-eight years ago. I nodded along through Dylan’s tale of countryside ennui and laziness, and then wondered, as I frequently do, who had covered the song and if I had any of those covers.

I dug into those questions the next morning. And I found that “Watching The River Flow” has not had a large number of cover versions released.

As “Watching The River Flow,” All-Music Guide finds a total of sixty-one recordings on CD, including Dylan’s work. (The song’s title is sometimes listed on LPs and CDs as “Watchin’ The River Flow,” but some of those variants are included in the database under the correct title; whether all of them are, I don’t know. I’d dig deeper, but AMG’s search function seems balky this morning.) Among those have recorded the song are the Asylum Street Spankers, the Boogie Woogie Company, Robert Crotty, Chris Farlowe, the Gadd Gang, Steve Gibbons, the Heart of Gold Band, Gordon Johnson, Ollie Mitchell, Zoot Money, the Porch Rockers, Earl Scruggs, Steve Wynn and Pete York.

I have four cover versions of the song, by Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Steve Forbert and the Minnesota-based bluesy Lamont Cranston Band. None of the four really quite get to the level of the original. Russell recorded his version for a 1999 project called Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan that’s actually pretty good. Russell’s cover is one of the few on the CD that doesn’t seem to work; it’s just a little too relaxed.

Joe Cocker’s version was part of his 1978 album Luxury You Can Afford, and bears witness to Cocker’s difficulties at the time. Like the rest of the album – and like a few other albums through the mid- to late 1970s and beyond – the recording seems to lack focus. It’s not awful, just not as striking as Cocker’s earlier work was (and as his work has at times been since 1987 or so).

Forbert recorded his version as “Watchin’ The River Flow” for a project titled I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road. The CD and its predecessor were collections of Americana-tinged recordings put together for their association – or potential association, as seems to be the case with Forbert’s contribution – with Interstate 10, which crosses the United States’ southern tier. (The highway begins in Jacksonville, Florida, then parallels the coast of the Gulf of Mexico before crossing Texas and the desert southwest and ending in Los Angeles, California.) Forbert’s version is pretty good; I like it best of the four covers I’m offering here.

The Lamont Cranston Band’s cover of “Watchin’ The River Flow” is a live version recorded in December 1980 at the Cabooze bar in Minneapolis. It was included on a 1981 LP titled Bar Wars that was released mostly in the Twin Cities area, I assume. While I like some of what the band does with the song, I think it’s just a little too fast. But that’s me.

Here, then, are the original and four covers:

“Watching The River Flow” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II [1971]
“Watching The River Flow” by Joe Cocker from Luxury You Can Afford [1978]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Bar Wars [1981]
“Watching The River Flow” by Leon Russell from Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan [1999]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by Steve Forbert from I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road [2001]

Saturday Single No. 170

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 9, 2010

I’ve noted before that, for me, winter brings with it a tinge of melancholy. Nowadays, we call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, I guess. When November comes and the daylight gets noticeably shorter, I pull inside a little bit, become somewhat morose. By the time of the winter solstice, when our daily ration of daylight is at its least, I can struggle.

There’s no real antidote, except for the lengthening of daylight hours that begins with that solstice. From that day on, as we finish December and head around the curve of the new year, each day’s light is longer than the previous day’s. The increase comes maybe a minute at a time, so it takes maybe a month or so before one really notices that the light arrives earlier in the mornings and hangs around longer in the evenings. The gloom can linger until those daily minutes add up.

But there are things that help. One is the general busyness of the last half of November and all of December, during the time when we’re heading into winter. Keeping busy does distract one, and even though the holiday season is now done, I still have plenty of tasks and pastimes to keep me occupied. Another help is that, come January, we tend to have more sunny days. It’s cold, certainly, but the month generally brings more sun than did the two previous months. And we have windows enough in the house to be able to let the sunshine in when those sunny days arrive.

And if those things aren’t enough, all I have to do to tamp down my current gloom is to remember how it was ten years ago this winter. I was unemployed, dealing with a chronic ailment difficult to diagnose and difficult to understand. I had not yet acquired a ’Net-worthy computer, so I did not yet have access to the various on-line communities of folks that now enrich my life. Friends called and visited, of course, but I still spent a lot of time alone. And my apartment was on the northeast corner of the building, which meant that for a good stretch of weeks, I had direct sunshine through my eastern window for only a few minutes a day. It was a hard time.

Remembering that time helps me recognize that, even with my regular wintertime blues, the life I have now is so much richer than the one I was leading then, what with the love of my Texas Gal, the friendship of those I’ve met through this blog and other venues online, and, yes, creature comforts as simple as windows on the south side of the house. Even in the short light of winter, life is sweet.

I really hadn’t intended to write about that time of ten years ago, but I was going through songs with the word “cold” in their titles this morning – it’s still seventeen degrees below zero at half-past nine – and came across a song that reminded me how I felt that winter. And it’s good to recall that, because remembering where we’ve been can only help us see more clearly where we are.

So, with that in mind, here’s your Saturday Single:

“Cold Winter’s Day” by the BoDeans from Go Slow Down [1993]

In Early ’72

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 8, 2010

When I think of the first weeks of 1972, no huge or poignant memory comes to mind. I was beginning my second quarter of college; the most important thing I’d learned during my first quarter was that I was going to have to study if I wanted to improve on my 1.67 GPA. This wasn’t high school and I was going to have to work at it

I’ve always been grateful that my parents were both educators and understood the value of letting me find my own way through the thickets of college. After that disastrous first quarter, I began to learn how to study, and my GPA rose rapidly over the next three years. Had I come from a smaller town and/or from a family not so certain about the value of education, that wasted first quarter could easily have resulted in my heading back to Long Prairie or a similar small town and a job at the local gas station or grocery store.

But I, as the saying goes, began to apply myself as 1972 began. I paid attention in class and took better notes, and I made sure I read what I was assigned to read. When classes were done for the day, I swept the stairs and classroom floors in the Business Building for two hours. And I spent more time hanging around the campus radio station.

I’d gotten an AM-FM radio for Christmas, and my attachment to Top 40 and to AM radio began to fade. I began to dig into the albums I heard at the campus radio station and that I heard from other FM stations as I explored that side of the radio universe. I still listened to Top 40 on occasion, but not nearly as often as I had during previous years. Still, the music was all around, and almost everything in the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending January 8, 1972, is familiar, if not exactly loved:

“Brand New Key” by Melanie
“American Pie” by Don McLean
“Family Affair” by Sly & The Family Stone
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson
“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by the New Seekers
“Cherish” by David Cassidy
“Hey Girl/I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond

And there was some interesting stuff a little further down the chart, too:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 8, 1972)
“Hey Big Brother” by Rare Earth [No. 22]
“Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” by the Temptations [No. 39]
“Without You” by Nilsson [No. 54]
“Pretty As You Feel” by Jefferson Airplane [No. 60]
“After All This Time” by Merry Clayton [No. 71]
“Get Up and Get Down” by the Dramatics [No. 78]

I really only recall two of these, which I think is more an indication of my slide toward album rock during the 1971-72 college year than it is a comment on the tunes. On the other hand, the two that I do recall are two of the three that found their ways into the Top 40: The Rare Earth and Nilsson singles. I’m sure I heard the Temptations’ record, but it doesn’t seem to have penetrated. I might have heard the Merry Clayton recording as an album track at the college radio station, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear the Jefferson Airplane or Dramatics singles until years later.

“Hey Big Brother” still sounds to me a little bit clunky, as did all of Rare Earth’s singles. That’s not bad, but the records aren’t as smooth as you’d expect from a band that came through the Motown door. (The group had its own Rare Earth label but had been one of the first white acts signed to the Motown label.) But that clunkiness does lend the group’s records an identity. “Hey Big Brother” eventually climbed another three spots to No. 19. There is a labeling anomaly with the record: All the commercial 45 labels I can find online list the time as 2:59, while a label I saw for a DJ promo stereo/mono 45 listed the correct time of 4:45, at least on the stereo side.

A few weeks ago, I tried to rip my vinyl copy of the Temptations’ single, but I thought there might be a skip. I think it was just a funky bit of rhythm, having listened to this copy that I got from another source, a rip of the 1972 album Solid Rock. The record – supposedly a comment from writers Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield on Motown singer David Ruffin, who had left the Temptations a few years earlier – peaked at No. 18.

The late Harry Nilsson was capable of pulling off irony with a straight face, so it’s possible, I suppose, that “Without You” was actually a joke, a commentary on songs of lost love. I’ve never read anywhere that he had any such intentions, but it’s something – given the rest of his career – that I’ve occasionally wondered about. But I don’t think that’s the case. The record – which spent four weeks at No. 1 in February and March of 1972 – is just too damned sad. At least until Nilsson opens up the pipes in the end and blows you away.

All-Music Guide has this to say about Jefferson Airplane’s “Pretty As You Feel,” which was sitting at its peak position of No. 60 as January 8, 1972 came along: “Constructed from a live, in-the-studio jam that features Carlos Santana, ‘Pretty As You Feel’ was then picked up by new Airplane member Joey Covington, who wrote the lyrics. Musically, it’s a soulful exercise in a jazz-inflected strut, with a strong but mellow blues feeling. The lyrics are a take on the stupidity of changing one’s appearance for appearance’s sake – to be, that is, au naturel.” Three weeks later, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100. The jacket of the Bark album and the 45 labels I’ve seen have the record running 4:29, but oddly enough, on the Airplane anthology Flight Log, there is an edit of the song that runs 3:07. I haven’t listened to that piece of vinyl for years; I’ll have to do so soon.

I’ve liked Merry Clayton’s version of Carole King’s “After All This Time” ever since I heard the Merry Clayton album many years ago, wherever that was. But until last evening, when I was digging through the Billboard listings for early 1972, I’d had no idea that it was ever released as a single. It didn’t do well: by January 8, the record had been in the Hot 100 for five weeks and, as it turned out, had reached its peak at No. 71. It tumbled out of the chart during the next three weeks. Listening to it this morning, I still think it’s better than a lot of stuff that prospered on the charts that winter.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Dramatics’ “Get Up and Get Down,” except that it’s got a great groove. Unless you’re in traction or something like that, your head should be bobbing by the time the horns start calling at about the nine-second mark. The record didn’t do well: Its No. 78 ranking in the January 8 Hot 100 was its peak.

(My best guesses – based on comparing running times with those listed on 45 labels I found online – is that these are the recordings that were released as singles. Those I’m most sure of are the ones I’ve tagged with single catalog numbers [in two cases, along with the album from which they were pulled as singles]. The two I’ve tagged with just the album titles, I’m just not certain about.)

Willie Mitchell, RIP
Having mentioned Al Green in the top ten list above, I should note the passing this week of Willie Mitchell, who crafted the Hi Records sound that backed Green and a great number of others on hits and other recordings. While I love the Hi Records sound and acknowledge Mitchell’s huge influence, I’ll let others more qualified than I handle the tributes, starting with Larry at Funky 16 Corners.

Finding Comfort

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 4, 2010

Sometime during the holiday weekend, I stopped at It’s Psych, a music board that generally focuses on the music of the 1960s and 1970s. One of my fellow music fans had posted an interesting question:

“You’ve just had one of those days. You know . . .  On such occasions what album or group of songs do you turn to for comfort or just escape?”

It’s an interesting question. And there were some interesting answers posted before I got there. Among the albums suggested were Beatles For Sale; Tin Tin’s 1970 work, Astral Taxi; Emitt Rhodes’ self-titled album from 1970, and Nick Lowe’s Pure Pop For Now People.

Some singles were mentioned, too. A few of them were “The Letter” by the Box Tops, “Friday On My Mind” by  the Easybeats, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” by Harper’s Bizarre, “Everything Is Sunshine” by the Hollies, “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, “Downtown” by Petula Clark, “Jam Up Jelly Tight” by Tommy Roe, “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede and “Sit Down I Think I Love You” by the Buffalo Springfield.

A couple of readers suggested, without naming albums or individual tracks, music from the Jam, the English Beat, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith.

And one poster said, “And then there is the one song that has almost never failed to cheer me up: “Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles. I have heard it 100’s of times and it rarely fails. In fact the whole Abbey Road album is something of a comfort . . .  Not sure why.”

I felt compelled, of course, to add my nickel’s worth of comment to the thread. I began: “If I’m really in sad shape, I head for my small classical library. I don’t want anything with lyrics on really bad days.”

And that’s true. Among the classical pieces I turn to are Antonín Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From The New World” as well as Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances; Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor; Johann Sebastian Bach’s series of Brandenburg Concerti; Bedrich Smetana’s “Vltava” (also called “The Moldau”); Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and that marvelous warhorse of the classical repertoire, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

There are plenty of other classical pieces and composers whose work I enjoy, but those listed are the ones I turn to for comfort on those days when . . . well, when words bring no solace.

But, I added in my post, “If I’m just a little blue, well, these are some of the old friends” I turn to:

The Band by The Band
Second Contribution by Shawn Phillips
Trouble No More by Darden Smith
Bare Trees by Fleetwood Mac
Tango in the Night by Fleetwood Mac
Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen
Hard Again by Muddy Waters
The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions
All Things Must Pass by George Harrison (“Apple Jam” excluded)
East of Midnight by Gordon Lightfoot
Shadows by Gordon Lightfoot
Naturally by J.J. Cale
pretty much anything by Richie Havens

None of those will be a surprise to anyone who’s spent much time reading this blog over the past few years. (Well, maybe Tango in the Night, which kind of surprised me when it popped into my head as I compiled the list.) There certainly are other albums that would serve the same purpose. But these are the ones that I thought of as I was making the list, and that kind of immediate recall says something to me about these albums’ importance to me.

Most of the specific albums listed there are easily available on CD. Three seem to be out of print: Darden Smith’s Trouble No More and the two Gordon Lightfoot albums. I shared Trouble No More and East of Midnight some time ago (and the time might come for a re-up of those), so today, it’s time to look at Shadows.

Released in 1982, it’s a moody album, right from the blurry and – appropriately – shadowed portrait of Lightfoot on the cover. That portrait sets a tone, and it’s a tone that carries on through the album. Of the eleven songs on the album, nine are invested with sorrow or at least a tinge of melancholy. The only songs that seems anything close to cheerful are the sailing tune “Triangle” and possibly “Blackberry Wine.”

But – and this is the album’s puzzle – the sorrow that pervades the album isn’t filled with grief. Rather, the sense I get from Lightfoot’s lyrics and his performance is a stoic acceptance that sorrow is his rightful companion.

In “Baby Step Back,” he tell us:

Now it looks to me like the same old place
In the sky it looks like rain
The same old town with the same old streets
My address has not changed
You can find me there
With the door shut tight
And the one wish that remains
Baby step back, baby step back
Either step up or step back

And in “I’ll Do Anything,” he sings:

Down in the warm dark part of my heart you stay
I’ve been on my own so long as I stand here today
I’d never leave you
I’d do anything you say
I’ve been around some, walking down on the street
Feeling as low as the shoes on the soles of my feet
Taking dead aim on fortune and fame, you might say
Playing guitar doesn’t make you a star anyway.

Even the love songs on Shadows are subdued. The title track begins:

Let me reach out love and touch you
Let me hold you for a while
I’ve been all around the world
Oh, how I long to see you smile
There’s a shadow on the moon
And the waters here below do not shine the way they should
And I love you, just in case you didn’t know.
Let it go
Let it happen like it happened once before
It’s a wicked wind, and it chills me to the bone
And if you do not believe me, come and gaze upon the shadow at your door.

And my favorite, “Thank You For The Promises,” tells us:

Thank you for the promises we make
I know I can’t complain
I think I did all right
No failures are in sight
Only now and then
I like to reminisce
Do you remember when?
Even if we’re angels we can’t ask
To wander through the past
The future is our goal
The night is black as coal
If I could pay the price
I’d like to love you once
I’d love to love you twice.

Maybe I’m reading too much into some slightly vague lyrics. But the musical mood of the album is somber as well, with lots of minor chords, some atmospheric production touches from Lightfoot and co-producer Ken Friesen, and Lightfoot’s frequently plaintive voice.

So how is it that this is an album that brings me comfort? I’m not sure, what with the sense of sorrow that, to my ears, blankets most of the album. Perhaps that sense, along with the stoicism I mentioned earlier, brought me some time ago to a conclusion I’m only now putting into words: Sorrow is the residue that remains after full grief has gone.

Otherwise, all I can say is that we take our comfort where we find it.

Shadows by Gordon Lightfoot [1982]


14 Karat Gold
In My Fashion
Blackberry Wine
Heaven Help The Devil
Thank You For The Promises
Baby Step Back
All I’m After
I’ll Do Anything
She’s Not The Same