‘Hallelujah! It’s A Car From Idaho!’

Originally posted April 25, 2008

Sometime this weekend, I’m going to have dig out the largest screwdriver I own and change the license plates on the Sentra. Its registration runs out at the end of April and – just as it does for every car in the state every seven years – the state of Minnesota sent us not only those little adhesive tabs but also new license plates.

That means a new plate number, too, one more number to memorize or at least recognize for those occasions when I’ve forgotten where I’ve parked the car and the lot is full of small blue vehicles. I’m not sure why we can’t keep the same number when we change plates. Drivers in other states do, I think.

We ordered the new plates online, and we thought for about three seconds about getting one of the special plates that the state offers. There are two versions of the plates that promote preservation of natural resources – one with a deer on it and one showing a loon (which is the one I would have selected) – and one plate designed to support the troops. A greater number of specialty plates are available for those who go to the various offices around the state: Among them are license plates showing the logos of more than twenty different colleges and universities in Minnesota.

If we’d bought our new plates in an office instead of online, I might have considered the St. Cloud State plate. The logo on the plate, however – showing the letters SCS inside a larger U – is the old logo. About twenty years ago, famed hockey coach Herb Brooks headed the Huskies’ program for a year, and he brought with him a logo that – as I understand it – had been used by an amateur hockey team in St. Cloud. Not long after the SCS hockey team began using it on its sweaters, all of the university’s athletic teams adopted it. Eventually, it became the official logo for the entire university; owing a great deal to the Montreal Canadiens, it’s the ST inside the C shown here.*

The thought of license plates reminded me today of a pastime I had when I was in my middle teens. Every January 1st, I’d pull out from a folder a blank map showing the continental United States with all the states outlined. Below the map, in what would have been the Gulf of Mexico, I’d carefully inscribe the names of Alaska and Hawaii and draw small boxes next to those names. And on an upper corner I’d write the new year, 1968 or whatever. And I’d be ready to look for out-of-state license plates.

As I saw plates from each state, I’d take colored markers and fill in that state on the map. Things were generally pretty slow for the first four months of the year, but Minnesota is a pretty good vacation state, so as the weather heated up, I’d be able to fill in more and more states. My rules were simple but firm: It had to be an out-of-state plate. So I could not fill in Minnesota unless I’d traveled out of the state and seen a Minnesota plate there. Most years I’d get out of the state at least once, usually to Wisconsin, twice in those years to Canada, so I think there was only one year out of those four or five years when I had to leave my home state blank.

Most of the map was filled every year. A couple of states were pretty rare to see: I was able to mark off the box for Hawaii only once, and I only saw two cars from Idaho, ever. My memory tells me that Delaware was also a pretty rare sight. If nothing else, the hobby kept me alert as we drove, whether it was the relatively brief trips we occasionally took to the Twin Cities or the one long vacation trip we took from Minnesota to Pennsylvania and back in 1968. (I didn’t keep track of Canadian provinces, but I generally saw most of those during a year; Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were toughies.)

Why would I bother? Well, I’m one of those folks who have a strong impulse to collect and catalog information, whatever information that might be. Back then, it was license plates on a map. (And Cadillacs; for some reason, there was a four-year period when I counted every Cadillac I saw during the year, too. This was when Cadillacs had a distinctive design and were clearly different from every other car on the American road. One year I saw more 2,500 of them, and a year later, I quit counting. ) I’m what one might call a record-keeper, I guess. I have boxes of notebooks containing the results of thousands of table-top baseball and hockey games. I have large computer files detailing the records and CDs that I’ve bought over the years.

So for a few years, I kept track of license plates. I never saw the plates of all fifty states in one year. The year I saw the Hawaii plate was one of those years when I did not see a car from Idaho. I imagine – being the packrat that I am – that those four or five maps are packed away in one of the boxes in my closet. I got rid of a lot of unnecessary stuff a couple of years ago, but I would imagine I kept the maps, as they take up little space.

I recall one of my better years was 1971. I’m not sure why, as I took no major trips. I do remember one trip toward the end of the year. My fellow college freshmen Dave and Rick (not the one from across the street) had stayed in town during quarter break, and the three of us took off one late afternoon for one of the Twin Cities suburbs, one that was home to the gal with whom Dave had been spending a lot of time.

The only thing that makes the trip notable was that it was the first time I’d driven to the Twin Cities. We got there safely, spent some time driving around, Rick and I in the front seat yakking about sports and music while the happy couple sat in the back seat. An hour or two later, we dropped the young lady at her home, and headed back to St. Cloud, grabbing a burger on the way and arriving sometime near midnight. And I remember that during that drive home, we heard Sweathog’s “Hallelujah” come from the radio. It had just begun to get airplay, and the three of us liked what we heard.

The song would climb only to No. 33 in a four-week stay in the Top 40 and quickly passed from our memories. I never went out and looked for Hallelujah, the group’s 1972 album, or for the 1970 self-titled release. To be honest, I forgot about Sweathog for a good, long while. Then, about a year ago, when I was poking through my records for things to rip, I came across the Columbia sampler The Music People, one of the samplers in my collection about which I wrote not long ago.

And there was Sweathog and “Hallelujah,” a song I’d not heard for years, although I’ve thought since then that it would be a great addition to the playlist of any oldies station. So I ripped the song and dropped it into the mp3 collection, and a week or so later, having actually looked for it, I found a rip of the entire Hallelujah album, which has never been released on CD. (My thanks for Bob H. at GF.)

I should note an error I made along the way when discussing “Hallelujah.” When I posted Chi Coltrane’s cover of the song a while back, I said that Sweathog’s recording was the original. I’ve since learned that the song was originally recorded by the Sixties sunshine pop group The Clique, which included the song on its only album, a self-titled 1969 release.

Also a while back, I made a reference to Sweathog as kind of a Steppenwolf Lite. As I listen to Hallelujah, I’m thinking that might not be quite right. The group rocks, certainly, and the sound is very clearly that of the late 1960s and early 1970s with some highly charged guitar. But on a number of tracks, piano and organ are very prominent in the mix, and there are a lot of horns in the background throughout. The sound is a little more complex than a Steppenwolf clone would present.

My favorites? The title track, of course, remains a good piece of radio rock. (I’ve included the single edit in the zip file.) The group’s cover of the Joe Cocker-Chris Stainton tune “Change In Louise” (titled “Ride Louise Ride” for some reason) has a kind of gospel groove to it and moves along well. “Questions and Conclusions” shows that two-keyboard effect nicely. “Working My Way Back Home” is one of those back-to-the-land songs that were seemingly required during those times, but it’s a pretty good song.

What doesn’t work? Well, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice” sounds like a Led Zeppelin outtake, only with vocals by Styx. “In the Wee Wee Hours of the Night” is a pedestrian blues that has an odd horn part popping in (as well as the vinyl rip’s only skip, which – unavoidable as these things can be – doesn’t help). And even though Sweathog covers “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo,” the group doesn’t perform the song nearly as well as did Johnny Winter in 1970 nor as well as the song’s writer, Rick Derringer, would in another couple of years.

So it’s not great art, but it’s fun music, for the most part. I should note that I’ve seen both 1971 and 1972 as the release date for the album. I used 1971 when I tagged the mp3s, but I think now that 1972 is accurate. Sorry.

Tracks:
Road to Mexico
Ride Louise Ride
Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo
Questions and Conclusions
Things Yet to Come
Rejoice Rejoice Rejoice
Hallelujah
Darker Side
Working My Way Back Home
In the Wee Wee Hours of the Night
Rock and Roll Revival
Hallelujah (single edit)

Sweathog – Hallelujah [1972]

*Had I purchased a St. Cloud State University plate at the time this post was originally written, it likely would have displayed the current logo shown above. I believe now that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website was out of date and was showing the older version of the SCSU plate. Note added June 24, 2011.

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2 Responses to “‘Hallelujah! It’s A Car From Idaho!’”

  1. Saturday Single No. 71 « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] I wrote a little while back about my college buddies and I hearing Sweathog’s “Hallelujah” as we drove back from the Twin Cities one night in late 1971, I got to thinking about nighttime […]

  2. A Field Of 43s (And One 44) « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] plate on the car in front of me. It was an Idaho plate. About three years ago, I wrote about my one-time hobby of keeping track each year of the out-of-state license plates I saw, and I noted that the two […]

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