Saturday Single No. 275

Last week, noting that we finally have snow on the ground during this odd winter, I wrote, “Unless there are some utterly unseasonal days ahead of us, I imagine we will have snow on the ground for the next six weeks.”

Well, those unseasonable days have been here, we have more coming this weekend, and the snow won’t last much longer. The average high temperature on a January day in St. Cloud is about 21 degrees Fahrenheit (about -6 degrees Celsius), and the average high temperature here for a February day is 28 (about -2 Celsius). We had a chilly Sunday (a high of 18/-8C), but since then, we’ve been cruising at or above freezing, and this weekend – or so say the prognosticators at WeatherBug – will see us with high temperatures right around 40 (4 C).

As John Lennon says: “Strange days indeed, Momma!”

We have very little snow on the ground right now, which is an odd thing for the beginning of February. That’s a bonus for the squirrels, who don’t have to dig very deep to retrieve edibles buried underground. But in the next three days or so, even that slender barrier of snow will melt away, leaving our squirrel friends even closer to their dinners.

We may yet have a bitter cold snap, and we may yet have snow fall deep enough that my neighbors and I have to shovel the walks rather than let the sun do our work for us. But I’m skeptical. I think this will remain a strange winter until the March solstice. And at that point, I would not be surprised if we find ourselves living through a strange spring.

And here, in search of a single for today, is a random walk after which we – Odd and Pop and I – will select one of these six strange songs:

In 1957, the duo of Mickey & Sylvia had a No. 11 hit with “Love is Strange,” and ten years later, Peaches & Herb took the same song to No. 13. The version that pops up here this morning is the very sweet 1992 cover by Everything But The Girl from the equally likeable album Acoustic.

Next up is “Strange & Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You)” by Matt Hale, the British singer-songwriter who calls himself Aqualung. Originally found as the lead track to Aqualung’s self-titled British debut in 2002, it showed up here in the U.S. on the 2005 album Strange and Beautiful. It’s languorous, hypnotic and lovely.

Our third stop brings us into familiar territory from old times: The Doors’ “People Are Strange” came from the group’s second album, “Strange Days.” The track was released as a single and went to No. 12 in the autumn of 1967. More than forty years later, familiarity with the record allows its music to slide in and out of my ears too easily. But with a little concentration, I can still hear the echo of the record’s oddness – especially the honky-tonk piano solo – that grabbed my attention the first time I heard it in the wayback long ago.

“Strange and Foreign Land” is a track from Fanning the Flames, a 1996 album by Maria Muldaur.  The album, says All-Music Guide, is a musical gumbo that includes blues, gospel, soul and R&B in a combination that – AMG says – Muldaur calls “blusiana.” “Strange and Foreign Land” falls in the gospel column and provides one more bit of proof of something that hasn’t needed proving for a long time: Muldaur can flat-out sing. The album went to No. 14 on the Billboard blues album chart, and it’s worth a listen.

Next up is “Stranger Responds” by Stranger Jones, about whom I know nothing except that he has a website where I must have downloaded some free tracks from his 1999 album Lurks the Shark. Piano-driven (with a heavy back-beat), “Stranger Responds” doesn’t sound like 1999; it has echoes of the late 1960s and the early-1970s. In fact, it puts me in mind in places of the work that Lee Michaels (“Do You Know What I Mean,” “Can I Get A Witness?”) was doing around that time. Jones’ delivery is a bit pinched, and I suppose “Stranger Responds” might be an acquired taste, but I like it.

And then  Leon Russell sings:

How many days has it been since I was born?
How many days till I die?
Do I know any way that I can make you laugh?
Do I only know how to make you cry?

The song is “Stranger in a Strange Land” from Russell’s 1971 album Leon Russell & The Shelter People. Some of the Shelter People were pretty well known. Those on “Stranger” included Don Preston, Carl Radle, Chuck Blackwell and Claudia Lennear; other tracks on the album had work from, among others, Jesse Ed David, Jim Keltner, Barry Beckett and the other guys from Muscle Shoals, Chris Stainton, Jim Price and Jim Gordon. Taking its title from the Robert A. Heinlein novel that was seemingly required reading for any thinking young person in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the song’s lyrics are a little bit of a mish-mash, mixing utopian idealism with existential angst. But it sounds pretty good, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.


One Response to “Saturday Single No. 275”

  1. Paco Malo Says:

    whiteray, I’ve got both the ETBG cover of “Love is Strange” and Leon Russell’s “Stanger in a Stange Land” in my collection. I love both the “Acoustic” album covers you mention and also a great new discovery for me, the bonus track edition of the “Leon Russell and the Shelter People” album. Leon’s bonus track edition includes some marvelous Dylan covers I wouldn’t trade the world for.

    And as for strange weather, it’s been hovering between 60 and 80 degrees all week. It’s 6:30 pm here in the east and I’ve still got the window’s open. “Stange Days”, indeed!

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