Eight Mostly At Random

Originally posted July 29, 2009

Like a runaway steamroller that no one wants to challenge – or perhaps more aptly, like the dancing brooms in Fantasia that the apprenticed Mickey Mouse had no idea how to stop – the number of mp3s in the hard drive charged past the 39,000 mark last week, settling last night on 39,156.

So, in the absence of anything more compelling to write about today, I thought I’d take a eight-track walk, mostly random, through the 1960s and 1970s this morning, just to see what we get to listen to. (In this case, “mostly random” means we’ll start off random and I’ll go along with the findings except in the cases of tunes that are less than 1:30 long, that we’ve shared here in the last year, that repeat performers, or that I judge just a little too odd.)

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Mississippi Fred McDowell from Shake ’Em On Down, recorded live in New York City, May 11, 1971. The fascinating thing about McDowell, who often gets lumped in with the blues folks who were “rediscovered” during the 1960s and 1970s, was that he never recorded during the first heyday of the country blues back in the 1920s and 1930s. So when blues hunters – I’ve mentioned it before, but you really could do a lot worse than reading Gayle Dean Wardlow’s Chasin’ That Devil Music to find out what it was like to be a blues hunter – when blues hunters found Fred McDowell on his farm in the 1960s, they found a slide guitar artist who was entirely new to the wider, national audience. While the live performances on Shake ’Em On Down are good, I think McDowell’s 1969 album “I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll” (recorded in Jackson, Mississippi) is his best collection.

“Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals, Philles 112, 1963. As I wrote almost two years ago: “The Crystals, of course, were one of the girl groups produced by Phil Spector. While ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ is not Spector’s masterpiece – I think that title goes to the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ – it’s still a propulsive, fun and highly charged piece of music. And, as almost always with a Spector production, that’s Hal Blaine on the drums.” And as time slides past, I like the saxophone solo – Steve Douglas, I think – more and more each year.

“Thing In ‘E’” by the Savage Resurrection, Mercury 72778 (1968 release), recorded in Hollywood, 1967. The Savage Resurrection came out of the garage rock scene in California’s East Bay, according to the box set Love Is The Song We Sing. After a stint at San Pablo’s Maple Hall, the five-man band was signed by Mercury and recorded what the box set calls “a strong, punkified, psychedelic rock ’n’ roll album.” But the notes go on to say that the band broke up under the pressure of promoting the album on a cross-country tour. “Thing In ‘E’” was the single pulled from the LP.

“In the Long Run” by Curtis Blandon, Wand 11241, 1971. Blandon, notes All-Music Guide, was born and raised in Alabama, leaving the south in the early 1960s to make music in New York City. After a few years of scuffling, Blandon went into the military for two years, after which came a few more years of scuffling from label to label. Eventually, says AMG, Blandon signed with Wand and went to Chicago for some recording sessions produced by Gene Chandler. “In The Long Run” was a product of those sessions and received some local regard but failed to take off nationally. (AMG says those sessions began in 1972, but I’ve seen several other sources that put a date of 1971 on the record, so there’s an error somewhere. I’m leaving it tagged as 1971.) AMG calls it “[a] buoyant, up-tempo soul tune notable for its regal brass arrangement and Blandon’s searing vocals.” I found the track on a British anthology called Deep Beats: Essential 60’s Northern Soul, Vol. 2, sitting sealed in the cheap seats at the Electric Fetus here in St. Cloud.

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni 55265 (from Elton John), 1970. Just the first few notes of the opening riff of “Your Song” is enough to put me back in the multi-purpose room at St. Cloud Tech, the one-time cold lunch room where the authorities installed a jukebox in the autumn of 1970, just as my senior year began. (It was, as I’ve written before, a decision that I think those authorities regretted very soon.) For me, Elton John’s first hit single – with all the romantic notions one could want supplied by Bernie Taupin’s occasionally awkward lyric – is indelibly tied to the memory of a cute sophomore with short blonde hair. While my efforts, alas, did not succeed in turning the young lady’s head, Elton’s single spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 8, and opening the floodgates: Through 1999, Elton John had fifty-eight more Top 40 hits, twenty-seven of them in the Top 10, with nine of them going to No. 1. (This is the version from the Elton John album, which may differ considerably from the single.)

“Santa Claus Retreat” by Hot Tuna from Hoppkorv, 1976. Hot Tuna was the rootsy offshoot from Jefferson Airplane crafted by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady that eventually became a full-time project, touring and releasing albums regularly into the 1990s (with archival and occasional new live releases since then). Hoppkorv, says AMG, marked a shift in the band’s approach, with more covers of vintage material – tunes by Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry – and fewer of Kaukonen’s originals. “Santa Claus Retreat,” however, is one of Kaukonen’s originals, a growling effort that fits without straining into the mid-1970s rock aesthetic.

“Over You” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Columbia 44644, 1968. I’ve always thought that this record is the one amazing anomaly in the Top 40 career of Puckett, who had six Top 40 hits – five of them in the Top 10 – in the less than two years between December 1967 and September 1969. On “Over You,” which rose to No. 7, Puckett shows some vocal finesse. Now, I love the hits “Woman, Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” “Young Girl” and “This Girl Is A Woman Now,” but I think we can all agree that if there were a career achievement award for the best cluster of four leather-lunged performances by a single artist, those four records would win Puckett the title. They’re great radio hits, but they are utterly unsubtle. (And then there’s the creepiness of “Young Girl” by today’s standards, but I’m not sure it’s fair to apply current attitudes to vintage material.) “Over You,” however, has moments when Puckett seems almost thoughtful in his reading of the lyric. The record spent ten weeks in the Top 40 during the autumn of 1968, peaking at No. 7.

“Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain from Mountain Live – The Road Goes Ever On, 1972. In the autumn of 1972, I was still bewildered by the immense variety of music I was going to have to learn about if I ever wanted to be as well-informed about rock and all its relatives as were the folks around the campus radio station. So when my folks let me order five or six LPs from our record club as a birthday present, I stretched out a bit. One of the records I ordered – and I’m not sure why I chose it – was Mountain’s live album. I wasn’t too impressed with the three selections on the first side – “Long Red,” “Waiting To Take You Away” and “Crossroader” – but I found myself falling deeply into the seventeen-minute version of “Nantucket Sleighride,” the title tune from the group’s second album a year earlier. Over the years, as I’ve gone back to the track – on vinyl and now on CD and mp3 – I wonder now and then if I’ll find myself tired of it, but I always enjoy it. (And I guess, as I look at the record jacket this morning, that the Tolkienish drawing and the Elvish runes on the album cover certainly piqued my interest in the album back in 1972.)

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