I Swear I Heard It On The Jukebox

Originally posted June 27, 2008

The image of a young folks’ hangout, a place of Cokes and laughter and a jukebox, is a central icon of American mythology, a scene generally based in the 1950s. One thinks of Arnold’s in the faux Fifties of television’s Happy Days or of the less bubbly but more realistic teen hangout – if it had a name, I don’t recall it – in John Farris’ disturbing 1959 novel, Harrison High. (Never heard of it? It seems to be forgotten these days. It’s worth a look.)

The only place I ever spent a great deal of time where there was a jukebox was Atwood Center at St. Cloud State. One of the main rooms in the snack bar area downstairs had one of the machines against the wall, and that happened to be the room in which we gathered, those twenty or so of us who made up The Table, to spend those portions of the day not devoted to the classroom. The jukebox wasn’t in constant play, but often enough, someone would wander over and drop in a quarter or two.

Accordingly, there are some songs and voices that are tied to Atwood Center and its jukebox, sounds I either heard for the first time there or else heard so frequently there that they became meshed with my memories of the place. Every once in a while, on the radio or from the computer, a song comes along whose first notes whirl me some thirty-five years back and a little more than a mile west of here, and in my mind, I’m once more in a place of coffee cups and notebooks, the occasional romance, and plenty of laughter for jests both silly and ribald.

What records put me there?

Shawn Phillips’ “We” is one of them, a record on which the Texas singer lets loose his amazing falsetto; I fed the jukebox frequently for that one, and I recall one of my tablemates shaking her head in admiration and murmuring, “He just soars, doesn’t he?” I also spent a few quarters to hear Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello,” the flipside to his single, “Tangled Up In Blue.”

Another B side that got a fair amount of play in Atwood was the live performance of “I Saw Her Standing There” by John Lennon and Elton John, the flipside to Elton’s hit single, “Philadelphia Freedom. There was Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” a weeper that eased my way through the first major break-up of my life. We all rolled our eyes at the silliness of Reunion’s novelty, “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me),” with its rapid-fire selected history of rock & roll: “B. B. Bumble and the Stingers, Mott the Hoople, Ray Charles Singers . . .” But we kept playing it.

And as I finished my college days in 1977, it was occasionally to the accompaniment of “Smoke From A Distant Fire,” the single hit from the Sanford/Townsend Band.

Then there was Phoebe Snow. Her 1975 hit “Poetry Man” was a favorite down in the snack bar (and not only with those of us at The Table; that was a record that was frequently in play from other folks’ quarters, too). Her voice propelled “Gone At Last,” a Paul Simon record on which she shared billing later in 1975. And from everything I can find on the ’Net or in my library, I am in error, but I swear I heard Snow’s brilliant 1976 version of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” come from the jukebox. (I know I heard it on the radio as an album track, but my memory of hearing the song on the jukebox must be wrong, as I can find no trace of the song being released on a single. Anyone out there know anything?)

Error or not, Snow’s version of the Lennon-McCartney tune is brilliant, and it was the centerpiece of her sparkling 1976 album, It Looks Like Snow. (A digression here: On the record jacket, the name “Phoebe” is inserted from above, in a hand-written font, between the words “Like” and “Snow.” As a result, I’ve seen the album called It Looks Like Snow, It Looks Like Phoebe Snow or even It Looks Like (Phoebe) Snow. I’ve opted for the first.)

I wasn’t the only one who thought the album was a good one. Here’s part of the review from All-Music Guide:

“David Rubinson’s production of Phoebe Snow on the 1976 release It Looks Like Snow is an overpowering collection of pop-jazz-funk-folk that puts this amazing vocalist’s talents in a beautiful light. Whether it’s the Bowen/Bond/Hazel blues classic ‘Shakey Ground,’ which Elton John, Etta James, and so many others have explored, or her exquisite interpretation of the Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down,’ there is no doubt the material here should have ruled on the airwaves the year after her Top Five smash, ‘Poetry Man.’ How could Columbia Records not have this material saturating radio across America is the question . . . The singer’s solo composition ‘Drink Up the Melody (Bite the Dust, Blues)’ has her dipping into Maria Muldaur territory, and a duet between the two divas here would’ve been sensational. ‘My Faith Is Blind,’ soaked in gospel introspection, takes the album to another level with its soul searching and sense of spiritual discovery. It Looks Like Snow is a major work from a fabulous performer traversing styles and genres with ease and elegance.”

I really can’t add anything to that except to say that It Looks Like Snow is one of those records I’ve always enjoyed, no matter what my mood might be.

Musicians on the record were: Sonny Burke and David Pomeranz on keyboards; James Gadson, Ed Greene and Harvey Mason on drums; Reggie McBride and Chuck Domanico on bass; David Bromberg, Steve Burgh, Ray Parker, Jr., Greg Poree and Snow herself on guitar; Andy Narell on steel drums; Kurt McGettrick, Mel Martin, Hadley Caliman, Bob Yance and the Golden Age Jazz Band on horns; and Snow, Phil Kearns and the Waters Family (Orrin, Maxine and Julia) on background vocals.

Tracks:
Autobiography (Shine, Shine)
Teach Me Tonight
Stand Up On The Rock
In My Girlish Days
Mercy On Those
Don’t Let Me Down
Drink Up The Melody (Bite The Dust, Blues)
Fat Chance
My Faith Is Blind
Shakey Ground

Phoebe Snow – It Looks Like Snow (1976)

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One Response to “I Swear I Heard It On The Jukebox”

  1. Already On My Turntable « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] listen to a lot of Top 40. At school, in the student union, we’d sometimes plug quarters into the jukebox and hear current singles, but that – and brief bits of driving – were my only exposure to […]

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