Saturday Single No. 139

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 4, 2009.

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!

Here’s “Freedom Blues” by Little Richard from the 1970 album The Rill Thing. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Random In The Sixties

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 3, 2009.

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:

1960: 205
1961: 150
1962: 276
1963: 362
1964: 647
1965: 754
1966: 891
1967: 1324
1968: 1886
1969: 2425

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, Capitol 5156
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’ record “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 likely 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.

Peter, Gary, Chubby & Gladys

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 2, 2009.

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 1981 ( not 1989, as in the original post) 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.

A Garden Report

February 21, 2019

Originally posted July 1, 2009

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 [1971]
“Ask Me No Questions” by B.B. King from Indianola Mississippi Seeds [1970]
“That’s A Good Question” by Peter Kaukonen from Black Kangaroo [1972]
“Questions” by Buffalo Springfield from Last Time Around [1968]
“A Question of Temperature” by the Balloon Farm, Laurie 3405 [1967]
“Questions 67 and 68” by Chicago Transit Authority from Chicago Transit Authority [1969]

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.

Dad’s Box Sets

February 21, 2019

Originally posted June 30, 2009

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 1970’s 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 1990 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 originals of 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 from Popular Music Hit Parade:

“Michelle” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

“Yellow Submarine” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

“Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

(The first two of those were ripped from Dad’s vinyl.)

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.)

Lost On Campus

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 29, 2009

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.

The Chatterbox, probably ca. 1960. (SCSU Archives)

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 St. (Oddly, the Exile on Main St. jacket listed the song as “Hip Shake,” but the label on the record had the correct title.)

Saturday Single No. 138

February 11, 2019

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, which turns out to be “Friends” today’s Saturday Single.

The Passing of Michael Jackson

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 26, 2009

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.”

Addendum, February 11, 2019: When this was first posted, some readers thought I was celebrating Jackson’s release from the accusations of sexual misconduct that dogged his final years. I was unclear. My thought was that Jackson was free from a life that was at its base unhappy, and though I failed to say so, I thought then and still think that Jackson’s unhappiness had its foundation in his childhood.

“I Shall Be Released” by Joe Cocker from With A Little Help From My Friends [1969]:

It’s Video Thursday!

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 25, 2009

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, New Jersey, 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.

Into The Eighties

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 24, 2009

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:

1950s: 1,152
1960s: 8,820
1970s: 13,445
1980s: 3,327
1990s: 4,525
2000s: 5,319

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: “Tables 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.