‘Riding With The Wind . . .’

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 16, 2009

To this day, Jimi Hendrix remains an enigma to me. And that’s my fault, I suppose.

There’s no doubt about his prodigious talent; when one talks about great rock guitarists, his name is – and should be – one of the first to be laid on the table. (I’d also include Eric Clapton and Duane Allman among those first named; maybe Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Who else?) But I never got into Hendrix when he was alive. At the time of his death in September 1970, I was still sifting through music that was much more accessible and less challenging: the Beatles, CSN&Y, Chicago.

And I didn’t really dig into Jimi’s music until I began collecting LPs seriously in the late 1980s. Over the years, I’ve gathered seven Hendrix albums, from 1967’s Are You Experienced? through Experience Hendrix, a 1997 two-LP anthology. (I have a couple of things on CD as well.) So I know the music – and I like most of it – but it never really brought along to me that “wow” factor that other listeners have told me about over the years. That doesn’t negate the brilliance of what Hendrix accomplished in a very short time; all it means is that when I put together a playlist of favorites, there are very few Hendrix songs that would show up: “Red House,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Little Wing” are the most likely.

I suppose that I might have heard Hendrix’ version of “All Along the Watchtower” when it was getting a little bit of airplay in 1968 (it went to No. 20 that autumn). I might have heard some Hendrix as I wandered the residence halls at St. Cloud State during my freshman year. But my first verifiable exposure to Hendrix’ work came in the spring of 1972 through a cover version of his song, “Little Wing.” Derek & the Dominos’ version of “Little Wing” was included on Clapton At His Best, a two-LP set that included highlights of the single Blind Faith album, Clapton’s first solo album and Layla.

That first hearing is probably one of the reasons why “Little Wing” remains one of my favorite Hendrix songs. Beyond familiarity, though, it’s a great song: It’s got a strong melody and chord structure, and the lyrics – enigmatic and evocative – are among the best that Hendrix ever put on paper. Here they are as presented on the inside cover of Axis: Bold As Love:

Well, she’s walking through the clouds,
With a circus mind that’s running wild,
Butterflies and Zebras,
And Moonbeams and fairy tales.
That’s all she ever thinks about.
Riding with the wind.

When I’m sad, she comes to me,
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, she says, it’s alright,
Take anything you want from me,
Anything.
Fly on, little wing.

Of course, given the song’s quality, cover versions of “Little Wing” abound. All-Music Guide lists more than 300 CDs with a recording of the song. Maybe fifty of those include Hendrix’ version and another fifty include Derek & the Dominos version (or versions by Clapton), but that leaves a hefty number of cover versions by other performers. I can’t provide my customary rundown of some of the more interesting names on the AMG list, as the site is being balky this morning.

But here are a few of the cover versions of “Little Wing” I’ve come across over the years.

“Little Wing” by the Corrs from Unplugged [1999]

“Little Wing” by Sanne Salomonsen from In A New York Minute [1998]

“Little Wing” by Toots Thielemans & The London Metropolitan Orchestra from In From the Storm: Music of Jimi Hendrix [1995]

The most familiar name there is no doubt that of the Corrs’, the Irish group that dances a line between Celtic folk and pop.

Salomonsen is a Danish performer who records in both Danish and English. The album, In A New York Minute, was a project that brought Salomonsen together with Danish-American jazz pianist Chris Minh Doky and his quartet for a series of largely improvised sessions. In addition, Doky brought along some friends and colleagues, including among them American alto saxophonist David Sanborn, American trumpeter and flugelhornist Randy Brecker and his brother, saxophonist Michael Brecker, American blues, jazz and rock guitarist Robben Ford and legendary Belgian guitarist and harmonica player Toots Thielemans. The album, which is out of print and quite pricey even used, is well worth a listen. “Little Wing” is one of the better performances.

As I was digging around for information about Salomonsen’s album last evening, I came across that reference to Thielemans, whom I’ve seen called many time the world’s greatest classical harmonica player. And then I found a reference to Thielemans’ own cover of “Little Wing,” which I’d never heard. I managed to find a copy, and I think the album from which it comes – which also includes performances by Buddy Miles, Taj Mahal and other folks – is going to end up on my want list.

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Loan Me A Dime” and my explorations of its genesis. What I didn’t write about at the time was my visceral connection to the song.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I played in a recreational band from about 1993 through 2000, playing a couple parties a year and a few gigs, though mostly playing for the joy of it. We played blues, R&B, vintage rock, jazz – whatever any of our members brought to the table over the years, and, combined, our musical interests ranged far afield.

One of the songs I brought to the band’s attention was “Loan Me A Dime,” as interpreted by Boz Scaggs on his self-titled 1969 debut album. I didn’t sing it; our lead singer was a better blues singer than I am. But we pretty well replicated the instrumental backing brought to the album by the crew at Muscle Shoals, starting with the performances of drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson. For a couple of years, we had a guitar player who’d made the study of Duane Allman’s performances one of the major efforts of his life. And for twenty minutes every couple of weeks – and during every one of our performances – I got to be Barry Beckett.

I posted it here just twelve days ago, but here’s Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime” once more. Listen to the piano part Beckett plays, from the slow bluesly stuff in the intro and the body of the song to the exquisite runs and triplets near the end of the song, when all hell is breaking loose.

And then take a moment. Barry Beckett is gone. He crossed over last Wednesday, June 10, at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was sixty-six. Several news reports said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later with thyroid cancer; he also suffered several strokes, including one in February from which he never recovered.

In 1969, Beckett and Hood joined Hawkins and Johnson in forming the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. The four had worked together for Rick Hall at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. Beckett stayed with the Muscle Shoals Sound until 1985, when he left to become an agent and then a music producer on his own.

The list of Beckett’s credits from his long career is remarkable. Starting with his early work with John Hammond, Etta James, Cher and Boz Scaggs and many more, Beckett’s work as a musician and a producer was part of the sound of American music for more than forty years.

I’ve written occasionally about my admiration for the Muscle Shoals crews, especially Beckett, and my love of the music they all created, together at Muscle Shoals and later on. There are plenty of remembrances and eulogies out on the ’Net, and I’m not sure I have any words to add to the discussion today. Probably the best thing I can do to pay my respects to someone whose music influenced me greatly is just to offer some of that music.

Here are a few early things from Muscle Shoals and a bonus track from the first years after Barry Beckett left Muscle Shoals.

A Six-Pack of Barry Beckett
“People Make The World” by Wilson Pickett from Hey Jude, 1969
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters” by Cher from 3614 Jackson Highway, 1969
“I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt, 1972
“Hello My Lover” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972
“Breath” by Johnny Rivers from Road, 1974
“Sailin’” by Kim Carnes from Sailin’, 1976*

Bonus Track
“Damn Your Eyes” by Etta James from Seven Year Itch, 1988*

*(Also produced or co-produced by Barry Beckett)

Saturday Single No. 136

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 13, 2009

I’m not exactly sure when I first heard the record that is today’s Saturday Single.

I used to think I knew: I was certain that the first time I heard Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” was in 1970 while I was in one of the traps at the local gun club, the semi-buried shelters where I spent four days each summer for three years.

I know I heard “Are You Ready?” while toiling at the trap shoot that year. I brought my radio every day, just like most of the other fellows who worked as “setters,” sitting in the dirty trap pits and placing targets on the whirring machines so they could be thrown into the air and then blown apart by shotgun blasts. I have a clear memory of the Pacific Gas & Electric tune coming from the speakers during one of the slow times, after one group of shooters was done and before the shooters in the next group had taken their places.

That gave me time to close my eyes and listen to the up-tempo record, to hear the background singers and the trippy guitar solo. Looking back over the years, as I’ve thought about the song, I’ve been certain that the first time I heard “Are You Ready?” was in that little pit, enduring the dust and grime and isolation for the sake of fifteen dollars a day (which was pretty good cash for a sixteen-year-old kid in 1970).

But that’s probably not the case. As I dug into the record’s history this week, I noticed that “Are You Ready?” entered the Billboard Top 40 on June 13, 1970, thirty-nine years ago next week. A week earlier, thirty-nine years ago today, it sat at No. 43 in the Billboard Hot 100. As much as I was listening to Top 40 at the time, I most likely heard the PG&E record around the beginning of June as it approached the Top 40, certainly by the middle of June, when it was climbing to its peak at No. 14.

And the state trap shoot – the only event I ever worked out at the gun club – would have taken place no earlier than July. So I likely would have heard “Are You Ready?” on my radio at home or in the car before then, and I’m not sure why that particular hearing of that particular record sticks in my mind. I mean, it was a good radio record, but then, so were a lot of tunes at that time. Just to cherry-pick a few from the Top 40 of thirty-nine years ago today:

No. 5: “Love On A Two-Way Street” by the Moments
No. 7: “Make Me Smile” by Chicago
No. 12: “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image
No. 18: “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
No. 20: “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations
No. 25: “Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade
No. 34: “Spirit in the Dark” by Aretha Franklin

Some of the other records surrounding these are a little lame, in retrospect – the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Going, Billy?” limps considerably, as an example – but at the time, I found Top 40 radio speaking to me in every portion of my life. And one of my favorites at the time was, in fact, “Are You Ready?” So whatever the reason, something about that moment, that playing of the record, stuck in my mind.

So when I began collecting vinyl in the late 1980s, one of the songs I wanted to find was Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” But I couldn’t find the record as I remembered it. On the group’s album – also titled Are You Ready? – the track began with a long, slow and overly dramatic introduction: “There’s rumors of war . . . men dying and women crying . . .” Eventually, the track kicked into the up-tempo song I remembered, and that was fine. But it wasn’t what I remembered from the radio.

During the late 1980s and on into the 1990s, I looked on occasion for the original. I checked out stacks of 45s at used record shops, and I grabbed every anthology I found that listed “Are You Ready?” as one of its tracks. Same thing, every time: the long version with a running time of 5:49.

Now, it’s not like finding the original “Are You Ready?” was all-consuming. It was a search that popped up now and then, and the popups came less and less frequently as time went on. A couple of weeks ago, however, caithiseach and I were talking about long-sought records, and I mentioned “Are You Ready?” and its two versions. He said he thought he had the short version, the one that got radio play, on a 45. So he brought it over the other day, and – to the dismay of both of us – it turned out to be the long version.

Casting about to determine if the short version had ever been released commercially or if it had been distributed only to radio stations, we looked on Ebay. I’d looked there at other times, but one never knows. And there we found a listing for a white-label Columbia single of “Are You Ready?” with a running time of 2:40. The price wasn’t much – $5.99 plus shipping – but there are times when patience is in short supply.

“You know who might have that?” I asked caithiseach.

He nodded. “Yah Shure,” he said.

So we sent a note to our pal Yah Shure, explaining our quest of the moment. That evening, an mp3 rip of the short version of “Are You Ready?” arrived via email.

Yah Shure wrote: “Oh yeah… ‘Are You Ready?’  That one ranked right up there with People’s ‘I Love You’ in terms of getting a much l-o-n-g-e-r 45 than what was played on the radio, with an equally s-l-o-w-w-w-w and seemingly endless intro to boot.”

He confirmed our suspicions that the DJ 45 was, in 1970, the only source of the radio edit. His copy, he said, came from “the long-out-of-print 1996 Dick Bartley Presents Collector’s Essentials: The ’70s CD on Varèse Sarabande.  This is the same CD that contained the single version of ‘One Fine Morning’ . . . It also included the DJ 45 edit of ‘Beach Baby’ by First Class, as well as the edited side of the short/long ‘Radar Love’ DJ 45.  Oh, and the 45 version of Potliquor’s ‘Cheer,’ too.  No wonder this CD now commands $30-plus on the used market.”

I may have to save my shekels and look for that CD eventually. For now, though, I’m thankful to Yah Shure for the mp3. And here’s how “Are You Ready?” sounded coming out of the radio speakers in 1970, today’s Saturday Single:

Revised slightly on archival posting.

A Radio Tale

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 12, 2009

It’s one of two things: Either I have the worst summer cold on record (okay, it would technically be a late spring cold), or something in our yard has developed a new and extremely allergenic pollen. Whichever it is I have been sneezing and sniffling for the last couple of days, and my head feels as if someone has stuffed wet rags inside it.

I don’t much care which of the two is the truth (or if in fact, the truth is a third option I’ve not considered). I just want it to stop. For one thing, it makes it hard to think. And if I can’t think, I can’t write, at least not without more of a struggle than usual. So I’m going to take the easy way out today. Yah Shure, caithiseach and I had a tri-cornered round of correspondence this week, sharing a few tunes and our thoughts on those tunes. Along the way, Yah Shure provided me with a single edit of one of my favorite 1970 records, an edit I’d likely not heard in thirty years.

That will show up here tomorrow as a Saturday Single.

He also tossed our way an interesting single from his years as a DJ at St. Cloud’s WJON, the radio station just down Lincoln Avenue from our place. That single’s tale begins, loosely, with memories from his time at WMMR, a student radio station at the University of Minnesota that had much the same purpose as did KVSC at St. Cloud State. I’ll let Yah Shure tell the tale from there.

My music director predecessor at the U’s WMMR was in town last weekend.  Of course, we had to dig out some of the Wimmer goodies from the late ’60s and beyond.  He mentioned a song I’d missed, which was the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest winner, “Ding-A-Dong” by Teach-In.  I downloaded it for a listen, and having discovered that the act was from the Netherlands, I countered with another Dutch tune he’d never heard.  And so begins the story:

“Late At Night” by Maywood had been a number one hit in the Netherlands in July of 1980 on EMI Records.  It took its dear, sweet time before finally washing ashore here, via the tiny L.A.-based Cream label.  To the best of my knowledge, Cream Records never had a hit, although the group Snail put out a decent album and single.  The label’s logo resembled a collision between a “got milk?” ad gone awry and the Sherwin-Williams logo.  Yes, it’s that awful.  Have a look.

Cream Records logo

Maywood consisted of two sisters from Harlingen: Alie and Edith de Vries (aka Alice May and Caren Wood) and their sound was right up ABBA Avenue.  The “Late At Night” single arrived at WJON on March 30, 1981, and the then-chief announcer promptly tossed it into the reject pile.

You-know-who regularly trolled the vinyl graveyard, and that “An EMI-Holland Recording” notation on the bottom of the Cream label warranted an immediate audition.  I thought the record was perfect for WJON, where all things ABBA and Boney M had worked wonders for several years.  But those days had been under a different PD/MD, who knew the market well.  I did manage to play “Late At Night” once on WJON as part of a special show, along with a handful of other new releases with a bit of a retro feel that were not headed for the regular playlist.  It turned out to be my swan song to St. Cloud, as I departed for Oklahoma City a few days later.

Needless to say, Cream Records couldn’t deliver the goods.  Even if WJON had added the record, it would have almost certainly been for naught.  As I’d learned during my days at Heilicher Brothers, the independent distributors rarely took chances on new, unproven labels.  They’d been stiffed too many times in the past when it came to getting credit for unsold returns from such fly-by-night outfits, so they wouldn’t even consider buying any product.  That, in turn, meant no stock in the stores, and no sales meant no airplay.  What a shame.  “Late At Night” was a great record and catchy as hell.  Most of Maywood’s EMI output is no longer in print.

And here’s the record: “Late At Night” by Maywood, Cream 8142 [1981]

The studio version of “Late At Night” is blocked in the U.S. by YouTube, but here’s Maywood performing the song on Dutch television:

(I’m not sure if I need to, but I’ll note for anyone who needs it that PD/MD is, I believe, radio shorthand for Program Director/Music Director.)

On to YouTube!

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 11, 2009

Looking for a video of Rolf Harris perfoming “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” I found something that, to me, is astounding. It’s a recording – with no video, but that’s okay – of Harris singing his hit song with the Beatles, most likely in 1963. It’s a little ragged, but the best thing is that the lyrics have been changed to reflect the session. Give it a listen:

Here’s a television performance by Dave Dudley of “Six Days On The Road.” It’s from his appearance on the National Life Grand Old Opry on October 28, 1966.

And to close the video portion of today’s post, here’s George Harrison and Leon Russell performing “Beware of Darkness” at 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh:

Bonus Track
In yesterday’s post, I said of Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” that there were probably hundreds of songs in which the narrator realizes how good things were at home “but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s.” Frequent commenters Yah Shure and Oldetymer suggested several songs with similar themes, and Oldetymer added that Hazel Dickens’ “West Virginia My Home” might top Bare’s song for twang.

I don’t have a recording of Dickens performing the song on her own, but I have a version she recorded with her frequent partner, Alice Gerard, from the 1976 album Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard. And it’s pretty down-home.

When I made my comment, I was actually referring to the guitar figure that opened Bare’s record, but Oldetymer has done a service by reminding me of Dickens and her music, which is very much aligned with the sounds and places from which she, and country music, came. When you listen to Dickens, you’re hearing what a great deal of American music sounded like in 1927 when the Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter – made their ways from Maces Spring, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, for their first recording sessions, sessions that are said to have been the birthpoint of country music records.

There is, thus, an entirely different aesthetic to the music Dickens has recorded. (She turned seventy-four earlier this month.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sound of the past:

Summer Enrichment

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 10, 2009

Summertime in the early and mid-1960s wasn’t just for fun. There was school, too. Every summer, from the time I was six until I was, oh, fourteen, I went to summer school to learn about stuff I didn’t get a chance to learn about during the school year.

Sometimes that was okay, as those things went. I remember taking Spanish for a couple of summers. (The only thing that has stayed with me is “Hola, Paco! Que tal?” I think that translates loosely into “How goes it, Joe?” and is a fairly useless bit of knowledge.) I took a class in World War II history and a couple of drama workshops. Those came during the last few years of summer school, when I was in junior high school. My first summer school experiences came on the campus at St. Cloud State.

There was, at the time, an elementary school on campus, the Campus Laboratory School, which the School of Education used to help train teachers. Like the public schools, the Lab School’s academic year ended in spring, but the college had classes year-round. So in order to have elementary students for the college education students to teach, the Campus Lab ran summer school programs. And I was one of the laboratory subjects for a couple of summers very early during my elementary school days. I remember very little of the subjects we covered during those eight week-sessions. But I remember the oddness of being in a different school, with different types of furnishings than we had at Lincoln Elementary (which reflected, though I did not know this, a different and more experimental approach to education than was used in the public schools). The Campus Lab School seemed like an alien environment, fascinating but unsettling as well.

I also recall a portion of two summers spent in classes at Washington Elementary, on the city’s south side. These particular summer gatherings were called “enrichment” programs and took place, I think, during the summers after fourth and fifth grades, in 1963 and 1964. Just a few kids from each of the city’s elementary schools – those judged to have the most academic potential – were pulled into the program each summer. (Not being certain of current educational lingo, I imagine we’d be called “gifted” these days.) During one of those two summers, our class studied the state of Alaska: its history, culture, geography, the whole works. Among our projects during the summer was to build – with flexible wood strips for the frame, covered with white paper – an igloo.

There is, in one of the boxes of stuff I’ve carried with me over the years, a newspaper clipping with a picture of that summer school class posing by its igloo. There, at the right end of the front row, with brutally short hair and a pair of new black-rimmed glasses, is a little whiteray.

Fourth Grade Summer Enrichment Class at Washington Elementary, St. Cloud, Summer 1963.

The kids around me from St. Cloud’s other schools were still no more than friendly strangers, but a couple of years ago, I looked at the picture for the first time in years, and I realized that almost all of those kids were the ones that populated my classes in high school, in the college prep program. We were our grade’s version, God help us, of the best and the brightest. That doesn’t alter the fact that I looked like a dork.

As I said, I think that was in either 1963 or 1964. So here are some tunes from early June in the first of those two years.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 15, 1963)
“It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72119 (No. 2)
“Come And Get These Memories” by Martha & the Vandellas, Gordy 7014 (No. 32)
“Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” by Rolf Harris, Epic 9596 (No. 58)
“Six Days On The Road” by Dave Dudley, Golden Wing 3020 (No. 75)
“Detroit City” by Bobby Bare, RCA 8183 (No. 87)
“Needles and Pins” by Jackie DeShannon, Liberty 55563 (No. 114)

One of these six was omnipresent enough for me to remember hearing it frequently, though I was not a pop-radio listener, and another of them was quirky enough for me to recall it. The single that was everywhere was, of course, Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which had spent the previous two weeks at No. 1. (Oddly enough, the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart.) How omnipresent was it? Well, my sister rarely bought current singles. When seventeen-year-old Lesley Gore’s first single hit, however, my sister went out and got herself a copy of it. But it wasn’t just our house: The record had such an amazingly simple and effective hook – “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.” – that it couldn’t help but insinuate itself into the broader grown-up culture that existed parallel to teen culture of the time. To put it more simply, even adults knew the record, and that was a rare thing at that time.

The other of these six that I recall hearing was the silly “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Aussie Rolf Harris. Being nine and unaware of Aussie usage, however, I struggled with the meaning of the title. Why did the singer want himself tied down? Like a kangaroo? As catchy as the song was, it didn’t make any sense to me. I just didn’t understand the song (and that was certainly not the last time that’s happened over the years). Harris’ record eventually climbed into the Top 40 and stayed there for nine weeks, peaking at No. 3. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, and that makes me wonder when the AC chart started. I’d always thought it was far more recent than that. (Someone out there knows the answer, I’m sure.)

“Come And Get These Memories” was the first hit for Martha Reeves and her girls, who ended up having twelve records reach the Top 40 between 1963 and 1967. During the second week of June, “Memories” was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 29 a week earlier. The record was well-done but sounded pretty much the same as a lot of girl group records, to my ears. That would change for Martha and the Vandellas with their next hit, as “Heat Wave” exploded out of the speakers and into the Top Ten in August.

I’ve shared Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” here before, but it was a year and a half ago, and that’s an eternity in blogtime. At that time, I decided that Dudley’s hit was likely the most influential record ever recorded in Minnesota, and nothing I’ve heard or read since then has changed that view. The record spent just four weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 32, but it went to No. 2 on the country chart and – as I noted in the earlier post – was the granddaddy of a whole lot of songs about truckers and their rigs. (Does that mean that without “Six Days,” there might have been no “Convoy” in 1975? I tend to think so.)

Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” which is about as country as they came in 1963, is another song that falls neatly into a genre. I imagine you could call it the “Wizard of Oz” or “There’s No Place Like Home” genre. In Bare’s song, it’s the story of the boy who left home for better things in the city and found out, sadly, that home is better. There are, I imagine, hundreds of such songs (nominations, anyone?), but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s. The song, written by Mel Tillis, was first titled “I Wanna Go Home,” and was a No. 18 hit on the country chart for Billy Grammer in early 1963. Bare’s retitled version went to No. 6 on the country chart and peaked at No. 16 on the pop chart.

“Needles and Pins” is far better known as a record by the Searchers (No. 13 in the spring of 1964), but Jackie DeShannon was – according to Wikipedia – the first to record the song, written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono. DeShannon’s version peaked at No. 84, but Wikipedia notes that it reached the top of the charts in English Canada, going to No. 1 on the chart issued by Toronto radio station CHUM. While the Searchers might have had the hit (as did Tom Petty with Stevie Nicks in 1986), I’ve always liked DeShannon’s version a little bit more, with its very obvious Wall of Sound influence.

Revised slightly and picture added March 30, 2015.

‘Beware Of Maya . . .’

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 9, 2009

As I look back over my musical life, there are hundreds of places, I suppose, where I learned something new or heard something new that changed the way I hear music. One popped to mind this week. I wrote last weekend about the people I spent time with during my first quarters of college, the Doors fans Dave and Mark and the other fellows and gals who hung around with us. In later years, my college life revolved around Atwood, the student center at St. Cloud State, but – with one significant exception – not during that first year.

It was that exception that I remembered this weekend. As school began in the autumn of 1971, Atwood had been remodeled and expanded, with the new sections being home, on the main floor, to an art gallery, meeting rooms, a small theater and a listening lounge. It was the listening lounge that pulled me to Atwood for a fair amount of my daily free time during that year.

The lounge itself was comfy: there were listening stations with easy chairs and sofas, with beanbags and large pillows. And on the end of the lounge was a small room with maybe fifteen turntables and a wide-ranging record library. A would-be lounger would go to the service window, and the student worker in the small room would take a student ID and a music request and would then hand out a set of headphones. The lounger would choose an open listening station and the worker would head off to cue up the record.

All that remained was to plug in the headphones and listen to the music, maybe while studying, writing a letter, or simply relaxing to the tunes. (I think this is correct; it’s been nearly forty years since I thought of the lounge, and some of the details are fuzzy.)

The lounge’s library numbered, I think, about fifty albums. I recall listening to Shawn Phillips, to Bobby Whitlock, to Derek & the Dominos, to Joe Cocker and to Leon Russell. I recall that listening to Leon Russell & The Shelter People sometime in early 1972 answered a question that had been lingering since Christmas. When I listened to The Concert for Bangladesh, which my folks had given me for Christmas, I was puzzled as to why George Harrison let Leon Russell sing one of the verses of “Beware of Darkness.” Not that Leon’s verse was badly done; I was learning to like the Okie’s idiosyncratic delivery.

But in January or February of 1972, when I stopped by the listening lounge and popped on the headphones for a run through Leon Russell & The Shelter People, I learned that the album included Leon’s version of the song. And his taking a verse at the concert the previous summer made more sense to me.

I don’t think the listening lounge lasted very long. I’m not sure if it was in operation during my second year of college, beginning in the fall of 1972, but I don’t think so. And I know for sure that it was gone by the time I came home from Denmark in the spring of 1974. It was a good idea, but I imagine there were reasons it was discontinued. And of course, these days, it would be unnecessary: We all carry our listening lounges with us in the form of mp3 players.

The memory of the listening lounge, as I noted above, brought back memories this week of “Beware of Darkness,” which at the time was one of my favorite George Harrison songs. (I still like it, but probably not with the fervor of a college freshman.) I wouldn’t want to call it a strange song, but it is unique, its imagery and message being very much of its time and of its composer. So it’s not surprising that there aren’t very many cover versions. All-Music Guide lists about thirty CDs with recordings of the song on it, and a good share of those, of course, are Harrison’s original version or his (and Russell’s) live version at the Concert for Bangladesh.

The slender list of those who’ve covered the song includes Eric Clapton (at the 2002 Concert for George), Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, Marianne Faithful, Joel Harrison, Spock’s Beard and, of course, Leon Russell.

“Beware of Darkness” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People [1970]

Down From The Shelves

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 8, 2009

Once more into the Valley of the Unplayed!

Wondering what marvels – or otherwise – might be found today in the crates atop the bookcases, I reached up and pulled down a clutch of LPs this morning, and then I added one that had recently arrived in the mail. From those, I hoped to find six songs with minimal noise. And that’s what I came up with.

En route, I had to regretfully skip over several LPs that had too much surface noise: Tighten Up by Archie Bell & the Drells; Blues and Bluegrass by Mike Auldridge; Stranger on the Shore by Mr. Acker Bilk; Born Free by Andy Williams; and Golden Hits by Roger Miller. The greatest disappointment in that bunch would have been the Archie Bell & the Drells album, based simply on the expectations raised by the title track, one of the great singles of 1968. I was, in fact, a little relieved when Track Four, “You’re Mine,” turned out to have too much noise, as it was a pretty bad piece of filler. So I happily moved on.

I thought I’d start off with the one record I chose purposefully this morning: Chi Coltrane’s little-known third album, Road to Tomorrow arrived in the mail last week. Not long ago, someone left a note here about it. I did a quick Ebay search and found a copy for sale at a remarkably low price. And a week later, the mail carrier dropped it off.

I’ve listened to only bits and pieces of it, but I’m not impressed. I guess I didn’t expect to be, however, as Coltrane’s second album, Let It Ride, was also mediocre, with only one good track, her version of “Hallelujah” (done earlier by Sweathog and by the Clique). All in all – and I’m not sure why I sometimes dig into an some artists’ catalogs so deeply; I guess I’m hoping to hear something others missed – one can classify Coltrane’s work into three categories: One great single (1972’s “Thunder and Lightning”), her decent take on “Hallelujah” (offered here once before) and the rest.

Anyway, here’s Track Four of Coltrane’s 1977 album, Road to Tomorrow. It’s an okay piece of pop.

“Ooh Baby” by Chi Coltrane from Road to Tomrrow [1977]

One of the media storms of early 1978 concerned the film Pretty Baby, a fictional account of the lives of a photographer and several working girls during 1917 in New Orleans’ Storyville, the city’s red light district. There would have been little ruckus about the film, I imagine, had it not been for the inclusion of several nude scenes featuring the then-twelve-year-old Brooke Shields as the daughter of a prostitute who was, in effect, in training for the life herself.

The film, by Louis Malle, won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. More to the point for our purposes here, the film’s score won an Academy Award in the “Adaptadion Score” category, with its mix of jazz, ragtime and blues echoing the sound of New Orleans in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. I’ve had a copy of the soundtrack sitting around for more than ten years and have never felt compelled to listen to more than a track at a time or so. Maybe I’ll rip the whole thing now that it’s out of the crates.

“Pretty Baby” by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra from the soundtrack to Pretty Baby [1978]

As I’ve noted here before, during 1998 and 1999, I was stockpiling records faster than I could play them. A couple of those showed up in the cluster of LPs I pulled from the crates today, including one that might never have been played by anybody.

When I pulled Patti La Belle’s Winner In You from its jacket and put it onto the turntable, I had to push fairly hard, as if it had never been placed on a spindle before. That, combined with the sheer gloss of the record and the lack of any noise as it played, told me that the record might be utterly new. At any rate, it had not been played often.

I’ve never been much of a Patti La Belle fan. I liked her work with LaBelle in the 1970s. (Who didn’t love “Lady Marmalade” and its lesson in essential French? It went to No. 1.) And I thought “On My Own,” her duet with Michael McDonald (another No. 1 hit), was okay. But for some reason – most likely the simple volume of records I had available to listen to – Winner In You, which included “On My Own,” stayed in the crates. I don’t think it will go back there; I’ll almost certainly listen to it and put it in the regular stacks this week, even if I don’t rip all of it to mp3s. Here’s Track Four:

“Kiss Away The Pain” by Patti La Belle from Winner In You [1986]

About once a year, since we moved to St. Cloud in 2002, the Texas Gal and I head down to the Twin Cities for some major shopping. That means fabric stores for her, bookstores for both of us, and, usually, a couple hours at Cheapo’s on Lake Street for me. During one of those visits, in 2005, I began to remedy a major gap in my collection.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the best-known bands in the Twin Cities area was the Lamont Cranston Band (sometimes styled as the Lamont Cranston Blues Band). I knew of the band although I’d never seen it perform. But amid all the other music to collect and listen to, the hard-driving Lamont Cranston Band never seemed to make it onto my list. During one of our first summers in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I went to see the River Bats, St. Cloud’s team in a summer college baseball league.

And among the music used to rev up the crowd was Lamont Cranston’s “Upper Mississippi Shakedown.” Reminded of the band’s artistry, I put several of the group’s albums on my list, and during a 2005 visit to Cheapo’s, I found Up From The Alley. I put it in one of the crates to await its turn, and then I had absolutely forgot that I had it until this morning. A couple of the tracks from the album ended up on a 1993 CD of the band’s best work, including Track Four. But, holding true to the intent of this feature, I ripped the track from the vinyl this morning:

“Oughta Be A Law” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Up From The Alley [1980]

Michael Franks had one quirky near-hit in, I think, 1976 – “Popsicle Toes” – and I have three of his albums: I’ve listened to The Art of Tea and Sleeping Gypsy, but I’ve never pulled Tiger in the Rain, his 1979 album, out of the crates until this morning. And I’ve concluded this morning that the meandering quality that made “Popsicle Toes” seem pleasantly quirky in the mid-1970s now seems wearisome. I can’t fault the musicianship, but nothing about the track I ripped this morning grabs me at all.

“Hideaway” by Michael Franks from Tiger in the Rain [1979]

Quarterflash had one very good hit, “Harden My Heart” in 1981, amid a string of four albums that took the band into 1991. Having listened to a fair amount of the group via mp3s that other bloggers have sent me, nothing from the band’s self-titled debut seemed likely to surprise me. But “Valerie,” the fourth track on the record, did.

“Valerie” was written by Marv Ross, but as sung by his wife, Rindy (who plays the saxophone that gave Quarterflash its distinctive sound), it’s a little eye-opening for 1981: The song is an exploration of a budding same-sex relationship that startled the narrator enough that she passed up the chance for a romance and now seems to regret having done so.

The sound and production are clearly that of the Eighties, but the track has aged well, and Ross’ saxophone solo is a nice way to close.

“Valerie” by Quarterflash from Quarterflash [1981]

Saturday Single No. 135

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 6, 2009

I’ve written here before about my ambivalence toward the Doors. There are times when I think the group might come close to meriting the hosannas that have been sent its way over the past forty years, and there are times when I revert to my long-term judgment that Jim Morrison and his pals made up the most over-rated band in the history of rock.

When I sit down to slice those contradictory views apart to see what I can find inside them, I find that it’s the Doors’ singles that I appreciate, for the most part. And it’s the group’s album work that I find wanting.

As to the singles, back in the summer of 1967, no one – not even a dedicated follower of trumpet music and soundtracks – could escape “Light My Fire.” And that trumpet and soundtrack lover didn’t necessarily want to. What he heard was a record with a great introduction and a generally interesting sound. (As an aside, it’s fascinating to realize that, until I began actively listening to Top 40 music in the fall of 1969, most of the records I recall hearing were summertime records like “Light My Fire.”)

What the rest of the nation heard was something more compelling: “Light My Fire” spent fourteen weeks in the Top 40 and three weeks at No. 1. Three more Doors’ singles came and went without my noticing during the school year of 1967-68; the next summer, during the first state trap shoot I worked, “Hello, I Love You” began to get airplay. I thought it was pretty good. And beyond a brief exposure to a couple tracks off of Morrison Hotel, those were the only bits of the Doors’ canon I knew until my freshman year of college started in the late summer of 1971. Then came the autumn of The Soft Parade.

During the summer, I attended an overnight orientation program aimed at helping new students find their ways around St. Cloud State’s campus. I didn’t need an orientation to learn the campus’ geography: Because my dad worked and taught there, I’d been wandering around the campus for most of my life. But I saw the overnight orientation as a way to meet friends, and in fact, I met the guys who would provide most of my social life for my freshman year. When school started, one of them – Dave – ended up paired with a roommate we’d not met, a guy named Mark.

I never did figure out which one of the two started it, but by the end of the first month of classes, the two guys were in the habit of dropping the Doors’ 1969 album, The Soft Parade, onto the turntable at least twice a day. As I – and other guys and a few gals – hung around a lot, the sounds of that album became a large part of the soundtrack of that first quarter of college. And I found a lot of it to be silly, especially the portion of “The Soft Parade” during which Jim Morrison declaims, “When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer . . . You CANNOT petition the Lord with prayer!” The song that follows is fine, but the introduction is ludicrous.

My initial reactions to “The Soft Parade” were confirmed over the years as I listened to the Doors’ other albums: As an album band, the Doors had been hugely overrated, most on the basis of Morrison’s lengthier pieces filled with mediocre poetry and over-wrought delivery. (I know there may be those out there who will want to shred me for that: Well, shred away. But it won’t change my mind or make Morrison’s long works any better.)

But the more I listened over the years, the more I liked the Doors as a singles band: “Light My Fire,” “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times,” “The Unknown Soldier,” “Hello, I Love You,” “Love Her Madly” and the long but effective “Riders On The Storm” were all good radio listening. And I found that I liked the album Morrison Hotel much better than anything else the group ever put out: Filled with concise songs, from “Roadhouse Blues,” the kick-ass opener, through the ethereal “Blue Sunday” and “Indian Summer” to the grunting and rocking closer, “Maggie McGill,” it was a very good – maybe even great – album.

For good or ill, though, when I hear the Doors mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is The Soft Parade and the sight of my pal Dave posing and lip-synching his way through “Wild Child” or “The Soft Parade.” It’s a tolerable memory, though, because there was one moment of redemption on the album that brought us all the urge to dance and lip-synch.

Thus, in one of those odd convergences of memory and merit, my favorite Doors song is “Touch Me,” which was liked enough elsewhere to rise as high as No. 3 on the Billboard chart. The writer and editor in me still cringes at the grammatical sin in the chorus, where Morrison sings, “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.” (It should be “for you and me.”) And though that still hurts my ears, “Touch Me” is nevertheless today’s Saturday Single.

“Touch Me” by the Doors, Elektra 456646 [1969]
4.4 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

Afternote
When I posted the song this morning, I wasn’t certain that the album mix – which is what I had – was the same as the single mix. Well, it’s not. Yah Shure dropped me an mp3 of the single mix, along with a note:

“The 45 version of ‘Touch Me’ (Elektra 45646) has never been issued on either LP or CD.  It features a completely different mix than the Soft Parade LP version.  Here are the two most obvious distinctions between the 45 and LP mixes:
“1) There is very little bass in the single mix.
“2) At the very end of the song, the ‘stronger than dirt’ Ajax Laundry Detergent jingle is both played and sung on the LP mix.  On the 45, it is played, but not sung.”

Thanks, Yah Shure!

Here’s the single mix:

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

“So Tired” by the Chambers Brothers from The Time Has Come [1967]
“Sick and Tired” by Chris Kenner, Imperial 5448 [1957]
“So Tired” by Eva from the Vanishing Point soundtrack [1971]
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand [1990]
“Things Get Better” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton [1970]
“Got To Get Better In A Little While” by Derek & The Dominos from Live at the Fillmore [1970 performance, 1994 release]