A Memory From The Sledding Hill

Originally posted January 2, 2009

There are, as I’ve discussed before, many songs that take me back to a specific time and place, or remind me of a specific person, or both. That’s true, I’d guess, for anyone who loves music: some records trigger memories. Among such recordings for me are Pink Floyd’s “Us And Them,” which sets me down in the lounge of a youth hostel in Denmark; Orleans’ “Dance With Me,” which puts me in the 1975 version of Atwood Center at St. Cloud State; and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” which tugs me back to my duplex in Minot, North Dakota, on a winter’s night.

There are, I’m certain, hundreds of such songs, and every once in a while, one of them pops up on the radio, the stereo or the RealPlayer and triggers one of those long-ago association for a moment or two. Sometimes, those associations are a little puzzling, as was the case when I was driving to the grocery store the other day.

I was listening, once again, to Kool 108 in the Twin Cities. The station, as it does every year, had played holiday music from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Even if one loves holiday music – and as I’ve noted here, I generally don’t – that’s way too much of a good thing. So I was hungry for oldies on the car radio this week, hungry enough that I even listened to “Help Me, Rhonda” all the way through instead of pushing the button for another station. And I’m glad I hung in there with the Beach Boys, for the following song took me back:

It was early 1970, and Rick and I were at the sledding hill at Riverside Park, no more than a mile from our homes. We had a couple of new saucer sleds and were testing them out on the long hill, enjoying the times we wiped out as much as we enjoyed those times we made it upright to the bottom of the hill. It was a cloudy Sunday, and the light that penetrated the cloud cover was fading; evening was approaching as we hauled ourselves up the hill for the last time that day. And as we got to the top of the hill, from somewhere came the sound of a radio for just a few seconds: Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy.”

I’m not sure where the sound came from. In the parking lot at the top of the hill, a car with its radio on might have had a door open for just a moment, perhaps to admit tired sledders about to head home. That seems likely. But however it happened, we both heard the song as we went up the hill. “Good song,” I said. It was okay, said Rick, not one of his favorites.

And almost thirty-nine years later, as I drove to the store, the strains of “Holly Holy” put me back there again: On that long hill in Riverside Park, cheeks red, glasses splashed with snowflakes, feet cold inside my boots, taking the first steps on the way to home and hot chocolate.

A Six-Pack from January 1970
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond (Uni 55175, No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 of January 3, 1970)

“Evil Woman Don’t Play Your Games With Me” by Crow (Amaret 112, No. 22)

“Let’s Work Together” by Wilbert Harrison (Sue 11, No. 50)

“I’ll Hold Out My Hand” by the Clique (White Whale 333, No. 60)

“Jennifer Tomkins” (sic) by the Street People (Musicor 1365, No. 87)

“Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” by the Delfonics, (Philly Groove 161, No. 122)

A few notes:

“Holly Holy” had just peaked the week before at No. 6, Diamond’s fourth Top Ten hit. I think “Holly Holy” tends to get lost among Diamond’s other hits of the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially falling into the shadow of “Sweet Caroline,” which had gone to No. 4 in the summer and autumn of 1969. But it’s one of my favorites; beyond the memories it spurs, it has a good melody and a great, haunting hook. And the slightly cryptic words sustain the haunted mood.

As I understand it, the Twin Cities group Crow was unhappy with its hit, which had peaked at No. 19. The group’s sound was much more straight-ahead guitar rock, not the horn-band sound one would assume from the single. Lore has it that the group was plenty annoyed with the folks at Amaret for adding the horns to the record. That may be, but I like the single.

Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” was an edit of a longer version that showed up on his 1969 album of the same name. For some reason, the Hot 100 didn’t identify the charting single as Part 1 (Part 2 was on the B-Side), but it’s listed that way in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. The single – the second Top 40 hit in Harrison’s career (“Kansas City” went to No. 1 in 1959) – went to No. 32. Canned Heat’s cover of “Let’s Work Together” went to No. 26 later in 1970.

“I’ll Hold Out My Hand” was one of the Clique’s follow-ups to “Sugar On Sunday,” which had reached No. 22 in 1969. “I’ll Hold Out My Hand” peaked at No. 45 in late December 1969 and then began to slide, leaving the Texas group a one-hit wonder. More interesting to me than either of those records was the group’s version of “Hallelujah,” the song that Sweathog beefed up and took into the charts in 1971. I’ll try to remember to post that sometime soon.

“Jennifer Tomkins” (the title was misspelled “Jennifer Tompkins” in the Hot 100, at least in the online copy I have) edged into the lower levels of the Top 40 in the last half of February 1970, peaking at No. 36. It was only hit for the Street People, which was a studio group that featured Rupert Holmes, who reached the Top 40 with three singles in 1979-80; the best known of those is likely “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” “Jennifer Tomkins” is a pretty slight record, but there’s something about the chorus – “I swear, just ain’t fair. Trouble, trouble everywhere. Oh, Lord, come on down. Got to spread some love around” – that I find sweetly appealing.

The Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” had a long climb ahead. From No. 122 (“Bubbling Under The Hot 100,” as it says), the record made its way to No. 10, the second Top Ten hit for the Philly trio. (“La – La – Means I Love You” had gone to No. 4 in 1968.) The record was one of the most luscious confections put together by Thom Bell – Stan Watson was his co-producer – in a long, long career.

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