Already On My Turntable

Originally posted March 6, 2009

During my youth and early adulthood, it wasn’t often that I’d hear something playing on the radio and be able to say, “I have that record!”

Once I started listening to Top 40 radio in the late summer and early fall of 1969 – before that, I heard Top 40 all over the place but I never really listened – that happened occasionally. It was most frequent, of course, with the Beatles, especially once I made it my first mission in life to collect everything the Beatles had recorded for Capitol and Apple. I’d hear “Come Together” – or, as happened late one night when I woke up after leaving the radio on, the riff-glorious “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – and know, “That’s from Abbey Road. I have that!”

Beyond the Beatles, though, it wasn’t often that I’d hear a song on Top 40 radio that I had on record. If I did – and this held true for a lot of the Beatles’ catalog as well – it was generally records that the radio stations were playing as oldies. I was usually a few years behind in buying music. (I still am, and I know I’ll never catch up, given the musical riches that exist.)

And during my college years, especially after I came back from my year in Denmark, I didn’t 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 current hits. At home, I listened to radio stations that played deeper tracks, either St. Cloud State’s KVSC or another St. Cloud station, long gone now, its call letters gone for years from my memory. And when I bought music, I was catching up on the catalogs of the Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, Joe Cocker and more, so when I listened to records at home, I’d never hear a song that was getting current radio play.

As time passed and radio stations changed or disappeared, I tuned my radio once more to more popular fare. But my buying habits remained fairly consistent. So I still rarely heard a song on the radio that I had on a record. That’s why I recall a morning in early March 1977 so very clearly. I was about to head to campus for the day (working on that minor in print journalism I mentioned in a recent post). I had the radio on, and as I headed to the desk to turn it off, there came, “Here come those tears again, just when I gettin’ over you . . .”

It was from The Pretender, the first Jackson Browne album I ever bought. And I stopped short, marveling – as I did every time I listened to the album – at how good the song was and marveling, too, at its being released as a single. I listened for a minute or two, then turned off the radio and headed downstairs, pleased with the knowledge that I could hear the song anytime I wanted to.

A Six-Pack of Tears
“Here Come Those Tears Again” by Jackson Brown, Asylum 45397 [1976]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Grover Washington, Jr., from All The King’s Horses [1972]
“96 Tears” by Big Maybelle Smith, Rojac 112 [1967]
“Drown In My Own Tears” by Richie Havens from Richie Havens’ Record [1968]
“River of Tears” by Eric Clapton from Pilgrim [1998]
“Trail of Tears” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers [1974]

“Here Comes Those Tears Again” was Jackson Browne’s second Top 40 single, following “Doctor My Eyes,” which went to No. 8 in 1972. “Tears” spent six weeks in the Top 40 starting in mid-February 1977 and peaked at No. 23. Browne had ten more Top 40 hits from then on, but I don’t know that any of them were better than “Here Come Those Tears Again.” Maybe “Running On Empty,” which came out about a year later. But “Tears,” which was pulled off the album The Pretender, is a great single, helped along by Bonnie Raitt’s work on background vocals and the sweet guitar solo by (surprisingly) John Hall of the band Orleans (who is now, maybe even more surprisingly, a U.S. Congressman from the state of New York).

Some time ago, I shared Roberta Flack’s 1973 version of “No Tears (In The End).” Since then, two other versions have come my way, each released in 1972. I’m not sure which of the two – by Grover Washington, Jr., and by the Friends of Distinction – came first, but they’re both nicely done. Of the two, I prefer Washington’s just a little, but that may come from my fondness for the sound of the saxophone (something I don’t think I’ve addressed specifically here, though it might have been implicit over these last two years). The album the track comes from, All The King’s Horses, does not seem to be available on CD, which is a shame.

Big Maybelle covers ? and the Mysterians? Yeah, blues belter Big Maybelle took on “96 Tears” and earned her final appearance on the R&B charts, though I’m not sure how high the record went.* It was pulled from the album Got a Brand New Bag, a record I would dearly love to hear some day, based on the track listing:

“96 Tears”
“Mellow Yellow”
“That’s Life”
“There Must Be A Word”
“Ellenor Rigby” (sic)
“Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing”
“I Can’t Control Myself”
“Cabaret”
“Black Is Black”
“Coming On Strong”
“The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”
“Turn The World Around The Other Way”

Contemplating Big Maybelle’s takes on some of those titles is like contemplating a – well, I can’t think right now of anything suitably bizarre. “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” undoubtedly the most odd track selection on an oddly programmed album, is a product of the mind of Norman Greenbaum (who reached No. 3 in 1970 with the great “Spirit In The Sky”).

I probably found the Richie Havens track on a blog somewhere; I don’t recall. It’s included on a compilation on the Rhino label called Resume: The Best of Richie Havens. If I’m correct in my conclusions about its origins, the track was originally recorded in 1965 or so and was placed in 1969 on an album called Richie Haven’s Record, which a producer created by adding electric instrumentation to some of Havens’ early acoustic demos without Havens’ input. That LP came out on the Douglas label, a division of Laurie Records. In his autobiography, Havens seems ambivalent about the Douglas album, but he has praise for the Rhino compilation. His performance of Ray Charles’ classic “Drown In My Own Tears” is a good one.

Reviews were decidedly mixed in 1998 when Eric Clapton released Pilgrim. “My Father’s Eyes,” though never officially released as a single, went to No. 16 as an album track. But I think a lot of critics and Clapton fans thought the album was a little lightweight. That was my reaction; there were lots of “nice” tracks on the record but nothing that had much substance. I still look askance at most of the CD, just more than ten years later. But I’ve come to like “River of Tears.”

The Talbot Brothers were the moving force behind the band Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country-rock band that released a clutch of albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (The best of those, but not by much, was likely Wanted!) “Trail of Tears,” a beautiful track, comes from the brothers’ first album after the break-up of Mason Proffitt. That album was either called The Talbot Brothers or Reborn. I’ve seen pictures of record jackets with both titles. Either way, the musicianship is sparkling and the content reflects the brothers’ shift to overtly Christian themes. In the years ahead, the Talbots would be a prime force in what has come to be called Contemporary Christian Music.

*Big Maybelle’s cover of “96 Tears” went to No. 23 on the R&B Chart. Note added March 16, 2012.

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