Rainy Day Make-Work

Originally posted June 19, 2009

It was dreary and rainy the other day, and I looked out our front window at the lawn. It’s probably going to need mowing – which our landlord takes care of – this weekend. And the combination of the weather and the wet grass reminded me of part of the summer of 1971, the first half of which I spent as a member of the lawn-mowing crew at St. Cloud State.

There were days, of course, when it rained, and no mowing would get done. But the maintenance department, without question, could always find something for us to do. I recall spending three days that summer in a second-floor hallway in Stewart Hall, armed with chisels and chipping away at old and worn tile on the floor. It was tedious work, made more tolerable by actually being able to talk to one another. When we were out on the lawnmowers, the only people we could talk to was ourselves. (I wrote not long ago about how I addressed that quandary.)

But there, in the hallway, with only occasional supervision – our boss, busy with other stuff, wandered through every hour or so, just to make sure we were making some progress – we could talk as we chipped away. (The tile had likely been in place since Stewart Hall was built in the late 1940s, and in places it had worn away entirely; finding an edge to pry away the bits of tile near those worn spots was a challenge.) Our topics ranged broadly, but music was one we always came back to. During one of those days in the hallway, I recall one of my co-workers and I exchanging views on Ten Years After: He preferred Ssssh, while I held out for Cricklewood Green.

On another rainy day later in the summer, our crew and a few others were dispatched to the new Education Building, which would open for classes that fall quarter. There, in a large room on the second floor, stood at least three hundred file cabinets, still in their boxes. Our work that day would be to get the cabinets out of the boxes and distribute them to the offices that were their intended destinations. While we unboxed the cabinets, someone from one of the painting crews plugged in his radio – the painters were allowed to listen to music as they worked, as long as it wasn’t too loud – and that made the morning more tolerable. I assume the radio was tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities, but the only thing I recall hearing that morning was Peter Nero’s cover of the “Theme to ‘Summer of ’42’,” a record I welcomed, as I’d recently seen the movie.

As the day wore on and the empty file cabinet boxes piled up on the other side of the room, we might have heard some of these:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 19, 1971)
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists 50721 (No. 6)
“She’s Not Just Another Woman” by The 8th Day, Invictus 9087 (No. 20)
“Funky Nassau (Part One)” by the Beginning Of The End, Alston 4595 (No. 23)
“Get It On” by Chase, Epic 10738 (No. 50)
“Chicago” by Graham Nash, Atlantic 2804 (No. 61)
“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement, Decca 32818 (No. 91)

The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two Top Ten hits, and what great records they were! “Treat Her Like A Lady” was the first of them, riding that chugging guitar, superb hook and gospelish call-and-response all the way to No. 3. “Too Late To Turn Back Now,” which went to No. 2 during the summer of 1972, was also a good record, but it was smoother and somehow less demanding. If forced to choose, I’d give the decision to “Treat Her Like A Lady” on points, but both sounded great coming out of the car radio. (The group had two other Top 40 hits, “Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)” and “I’m Never Gonna Be Alone Anymore,” neither of which reached the Top Twenty.)

The second of these has to have an odd story behind it, but it’s a story I don’t know, and a quick riffle through my reference books this morning has left me uninformed. “She’s Not Just Another Woman” by the group The 8th Day went to No. 11 during the summer of 1971 and eventually went gold for the Invictus label. A slightly longer version of the same recording – an edit of 3:23 as opposed to the 3:04 of the single edit I present here – showed up, also in 1971, as an album track on Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, the debut album of the wonderfully named group 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), released on the Hot Wax label. Hot Wax and Invictus were sister labels, formed in 1969 by the trio of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland when the three left Motown Records. So the same recording, essentially, was credited to two different groups. It might be that the single edit I offer here is a bastard edit, created after the fact by license for packaging purposes, but either way, it’s still an edit of the same track that shows up on Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, giving us, as I said, the same recording credited to two different groups. Very odd.

I don’t know much about the Beginning of the End, which came from Nassau in the Bahamas, or about its hit, which went to No. 15 that summer. I do have a vague memory of hearing the record as I drove around town one evening in my 1961 Falcon, but that’s all. I’m sure there’s information out there, but not through the usual sources. The only thing All-Music Guide has to say is: “One of the very few soul groups from Nassau, the Beginning of the End had one hit in 1971, the scintillating ‘Funky Nassau.’ They [sic] recorded an album of the same name that year, then dropped out of sight.” Obscure or not, the record was pretty good.

“Get It On” by Chase was one of the great and somewhat forgotten records of the early 1970s. Tough vocals and foundation, great horn accents, the escalating tension and the glorious whirling horn runs: What more do you want? Well, a longer career for Bill Chase and his band; Chase and three members of the band were killed in a plane crash near Jackson, Minnesota, in August 1974. What’s left is the group’s one hit, which went to No. 24 during the summer of 1971, and the three albums, all of which have been released on CD.

Let’s say you asked a fan in 1971: Which of the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is least likely to release an overtly political single? My guess is that most fans would have responded with the name of “Graham Nash.” Not that Nash didn’t care about such things, but on Crosby, Stills & Nash and on Déjà Vu, Nash’s songs were more personal than political: “Marrakesh Express,” “Lady of the Island,” “Teach Your Children, “Our House.” So it was a little surprising when Nash’s solo album, Songs for Beginners, sandwiched its reflections about romance and personal growth (including the luminous “Simple Man”) with two clearly political songs: The opening track, “Military Madness” addresses the issue of the military’s influence on society in a general way (although it begins with a reference to Nash’s birth in Blackpool, England). Conversely, the album’s closing track, “Chicago,” is a more direct political statement, deploring the treatment of Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther party. During Seale’s trial for conspiracy and inciting to riot – charges that developed out of the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – one of Seale’s many outbursts led the judge to order Seale bound and gagged, inspiring Nash’s song. The record went to No. 35.

The Free Movement’s “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” – a good record and a somewhat accurate reflection of the morals and mores of the time as regards fidelity – had been languishing in the bottom section of the Hot 100 for five weeks at this time thirty-eight years ago. The song dropped out of the Hot 100 for two weeks, then re-entered on July 7 and began its long climb that took it eventually to No. 5.

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