Idle Hands & A Green Mini-bat

Originally posted August 28, 2009

As I’ve noted before, we have numerous oak trees on our lot. Which means, come this time of the summer, we have acorns. Lots of acorns. Almost every time the Texas Gal and I are outside for more than a moment – tending the garden, lugging in groceries or even sitting in the lawn chairs – we’re likely these days to be clonked on the head by a falling acorn. The lawn is covered with the nuts. If we’d intended to raise acorns, we’d have a bumper crop.

We had four oak trees in the backyard at Kilian Boulevard when I was a kid, and acorns were frequently thick on the lawn there. They’d start falling in mid-August, and we’d wait until late September before we spent a Saturday raking and bagging them. So they were thick on the ground during one August that I recall.

Sometime earlier that month – I think it was 1970, when I was sixteen – Dad had seen a green stick at the base of the driveway one evening. After parking, he investigated and found one of those foot-long baseball bats given away as souvenirs: A miniature Louisville Slugger. For some reason, it was green.

He figured a kid lost it somehow, perhaps having it fall out of a bicycle basket.  But which kid? No way to know. So he dropped it on the small table in our back porch and thought no more of it.

During one of the next few early evenings, I found myself with an empty hour or two. I sat on the lawn near one of the oaks, watching whatever traffic there was on Eighth Street or Kilian. Bored, I picked up a stick that had fallen from one of the oaks and swung it like a bat. Then I picked up an acorn, tossed it into the air and flailed at it with the stick. The acorn flew into the street. I thought for a moment, then went inside and grabbed the green Louisville Slugger. Back at my place on the lawn, I began flipping acorns in the air and whacking them with the bat.

As with anything, practice improved my performance: I fouled off a few, hit some grounders and easy pop-ups, and then began reaching the street regularly. Then, using an uppercut, I began to launch acorns across the street and into the yard of August and Rose, an older couple. (It was Rose who had started me collecting coins a few years earlier.) I sat there for an hour or so, happily whacking acorns, and did the same during a couple of other slow evenings during the rest of that summer. It filled some time, and it also got some acorns off the lawn, meaning there would be – by a small degree, to be sure – fewer acorns to rake when the time for that chore arrived.

September came, and school started. We spent a couple of Saturdays raking and bagging acorns and leaves. Sometime during that winter, the green minibat was tossed into a box in the closet and forgotten.

One afternoon during the following spring, August was out watering his garden when Dad drove up and parked. Dad walked across the street and spent a few minutes chatting with August, as neighbors do. Sometime during dinner, Dad mentioned August and his garden and lawn. It was all good, Dad said, “but he said, ‘You know, I don’t have any oak trees in my yard, and I can’t figure out how come I have so many oak seedlings over by the street.’” Looking at me, my dad added, “I just told him that seeds can travel in a lot of different ways.”

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, Aug. 29, 1970)
“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 [No. 19]
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” by the Temptations, Gordy 7099 [No. 30]
“The Sly, Slick, and the Wicked” by the Lost Generation, Brunswick 55436 [No. 37]
“Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol 4826 (The mp3 is from the CD rerelease of Silk Purse.) [No. 61]
“Funk #49” by the James Gang, ABC11272 [No. 79]
“As the Years Go By” by Mashmakan, Epic10634 [No. 97]

“Hand Me Down World” was the Guess Who’s first chart hit after Randy Bachman left the group, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, and to my ears, Bachman’s departure marked the end of the classic Guess Who era. From April of 1969 through April 1970, the group had five records in the Top 40, with four of those reaching the Top Ten and one spending three weeks at No. 1. Those five were “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Undun,” “No Time” and “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight.” (“American Woman” is listed as having reached No. 1, while “No Sugar Tonight” is not given an individual rank. It is, however, listed as having been in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks. Confusing.) Then Bachman left and – although the band had seven more Top 40 hits, with “Share the Land” and “Clap for the Wolfman” reaching the Top Ten – the stew just wasn’t as tasty. Still, “Hand Me Down World” is a pretty good single if not up to the quality of the string that came during that one year. It peaked at No. 17, but given the richness of the band’s catalog, it seems to be a bit forgotten by the programmers of the oldies stations.

About “Ball of Confusion,” All-Music Guide says: “Another excellent track in a brilliant run of Norman Whitfield-produced and -written, Sly Stone-inspired Temptations records from the late ’60s/early ’70s, ‘Ball of Confusion’ was one of the only Motown ‘protest’ records. The beguiling lyrics illustrate a tense America at the dawn of the 1970s, and include attacks on the Vietnam War, a corrupt government, drug addiction, and spirituality. It hit the nail on the head, much like P.F. Sloan’s excellent ‘Eve of Destruction’ in 1965. Musically, it’s an excellent funk record of the period, with some fabulous bass playing and a blaring horn arrangement. Of course, the Temptations’ gospel-inspired vocal trade-offs make the overall record even more powerful, and it has dated extremely well.” The record spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 3.

I don’t recall hearing the Lost Generation’s “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” during the summer of 1970, but it might have been one of those records that did very well in other places – I would guess that Chicago, the Lost Generation’s hometown, would have been one of those – and not so well in the Minnesota market. Or maybe I just missed it. The record sounds very much like the Chi-Lites (with the exception of a few production tricks, like the echo), and that’s not at all surprising, considering that both groups recorded for Brunswick. “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” was the Lost Generation’s only appearance in the Top 40. The record peaked at No. 30.

The first three chords of “Long Long Time” still, after thirty-nine years, make me draw a sharp breath of hurt. They always have, since long before I knew the sad tale told by the song’s words. Once I knew the words, I suppose I might have assigned their meaning to a young woman of my acquaintance. Whoever she was, she’s long gone from my life, but the emotional wallop of the song – especially those first three chords – has stayed with me. Meaning that Ronstadt’s performance of Gary White’s song is about as good as it gets. The record spent seven weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 25.

I have a suspicion that the James Gang’s “Funk #49” found airplay in 1970 based on some other chart than the Hot 100, because it remains one of the most identifiable tunes of that time with some unforgettable riffs. The single spent ten weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 59.

I know very little about Mashmakan, a group from Quebec, Canada, except for this record. Even that knowledge is lately found: When I saw the group’s name in a Hot 100 chart a while back, I noted my lack of knowledge about the record and the group, and one of my blogging friends sent me the mp3. It’s an odd, clunky record with an over-earnest lyric, and I am pretty sure I never heard it back when it was on the charts. It was in the Top 40 for four weeks and peaked at No. 31.

Afternote:
Despite my efforts, these may not be the versions of these records that went out on 45s. Take “Long Long Time” as an example. I don’t have the 45, but I’ve seen a fuzzy picture of the label and know that the record lasted just less than three minutes. The version on the album Silk Purse, as listed at AMG, runs 4:18. The version on the Silk Purse portion of the two-CD set The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, runs 4:22, and my only vinyl version, from Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits [1976], runs 4:21. That’s also the length – 4:21 – of the track as included on Different Drum, a 1974 anthology of previously released work. I know that the version of “Long Long Time” here is from the Capitol Years CD, and not knowing what else to do, I’ve tagged it as coming from Silk Purse, as it’s included in the version of Silk Purse in that two-CD package.

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