Saturday Singles Nos. 166 & 167

Originally posted December 19, 2009

Among the first things I did when I moved to Minot, North Dakota, in the late summer of 1987 was to buy three large bookcases for my study. I actually used them for books for a couple of years. By the time I moved to Pleasant Avenue in South Minneapolis in 1992, about one-third of the big cases had been taken over by records. And during my last couple of years there, about once every couple months I’d empty one of the upper compartments of its books or knickknacks and rearrange the vinyl to give it more room.

But there were always more records sitting in crates on the floor, waiting for a place on the shelves. When I moved from Pleasant Avenue to Bossen Terrace, further south in Minneapolis in 1999, I devoted all of the large bookshelf space to LPs. The books and knickknacks went elsewhere in what was a smaller apartment.

This week’s post is the last month-by-month of the exploration of how the records came to take over the bookcases. Last week, I looked at December’s LP acquisitions from 1964 or so through 1989. This week, we carry on.

By December of 1990, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, having spent earlier portions of the year in Anoka, Minnesota, and Conway Springs, Kansas. And only two albums came my way that month, Rescue by Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers and The Legendary Christine Perfect Album, a record of bluesy rock first released in England in 1970 as simply Christine Perfect and then released in 1976 under the longer name in the U.S. after Christine Perfect became Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.

The following summer, I moved back to Minnesota, and as I settled into my new reporting job, I pretty much took the autumn of 1991 and the winter of 1991-92 off from buying almost anything, including LPs. When the spring came, I’d moved from the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Park to Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where there were garage sales, thrift stores and six or seven used record shops, including Cheapo’s. My buying was sporadic for a while, but it began to accelerate.

The seven albums I picked up in December 1992 are an odd lot: A live John Lennon LP, two records of Beethoven compositions, albums by Jonathan Edwards, the Singing Nun and Anne-Charlotte Harvey (the last a collection of Swedish-American folksongs titled Memories of Snoose Boulevard) and the marvelous 1972 three-record celebration of folk and country music by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and friends titled Will The Circle Be Unbroken. (A few of the friends: Mother Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Vassar Clements and Norman Blake.)

I took the last months of 1993 off from buying records and resumed as 1994 dawned. In December of 1994, I was digging into the catalogs of singer-songwriters, grabbing albums by Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Hoyt Axton and Wendy Waldman. I also got a copy of Dobie Gray’s Hey Dixie, which has a country/soul sense to it, making it an interesting listen.

The haul in December of 1995 was slight, only two records. But they were pretty good: George Harrison’s Cloud Nine from a few years earlier and the newly released Bruce Springsteen album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. A year later, in December 1996, I brought home records by Lulu, Tower of Power, Bob Seger, Joe South and Tracy Chapman as well as a compilation of recordings by Gary U.S. Bonds and Chubby Checker, and Anthology 3, the third three-record volume in the Beatles’ massive series.

The rate of purchases was accelerating, as I was devoting more and more free time to record research and to crate-digging at about five or six used record stores. In the last month of 1997, I brought home ten albums, including work by Gypsy, Junior Walker and the All-Stars, Hootie & the Blowfish, Major Harris, Alberta Hunter, Love, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Jackie Wilson and Neil Young. Still, the best album of that month was an anthology, Volume 5 of Atlantic Records’ history of its rhythm & blues efforts, covering the years 1962 to 1966.

In 1998 and 1999, I went mad. During those two years, I brought home a total of 1,056 records, an average of more than ten a week. I was well above average in December of 1998, when I brought home ninety-eight LPs. (Thirty-seven of those came in one morning, when – as I’ve mentioned before – a friendly clerk at a nearby thrift store called me on a Saturday and told me that someone had just dropped off eight boxes of mint-condition LPs, mostly vintage blues and R&B.) Some of the more interesting names on that month’s records: Mavis Staples, Richie Havens, Ike & Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Graham Central Station, Z.Z. Hill, Cold Blood, Lou Ann Barton, B.B. King, Moby Grape, Johnny Ray and Etta James. The best of that month’s huge haul?  Maybe Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, maybe Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ in the Moonlight, maybe Muddy Water’s Hard Again, or maybe any one of ten or so other LPs. It was a great month.

December of 1999 was a little less busy, with thirty-six LPs coming into my new digs on Bossen Terrace in far south Minneapolis. Among the names on the jackets were Leonard Cohen, Bob Seger, Mike Nesmith, Otis Redding, Chicago, the Rascals, Jimmie Spheeris, Robert Cray, the Youngbloods, the Byrds, Mason Profitt, Lou Rawls and Shawn Phillips. The best of the month? Maybe Little Milton’s Moving to the Country or Al Green Explores Your Mind or possibly the Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain, an album for which I have an odd affection.

That was the peak of my vinyl period, 1999. In December 2000, I brought three records home: El Chicano’s Cinco, Muddy Waters’ King Bee and the soundtrack to The Great Gatsby. In 2001, I collected four LPs: A bootleg of a 1970 performance at the Hollywood Bowl by The Band, a Christmas anthology and albums by the Blasters and Terence Trent D’Arby.

Three years passed. During a holiday visit to Texas in 2004, a friend of the Texas Gal gave us a box of LPs, bringing that December’s total to twenty-five. Among the artists whose work was in the box were: Amy Grant, the English Beat, the 4 Seasons, Madness, Melissa Manchester, Romeo Void, Sting and Carly Simon. The best of that month? Probably Warren Zevon’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School.

I picked up two records at a thrift store in December 2005, and bought two records – getting Chi Coltrane’s Let It Ride by mail and the Looking Glass’ Subway Serenade at an antique store – in December 2007. And there the tale of Decembers ends.

So what do I share from all of this? I think one song each from two of the giants of Chicago blues is a good direction to go. So here are your Saturday Singles:

“Smokestack Lightnin’” by Howlin’ Wolf from Moanin’ in the Moonlight [1958]

(Likely recorded in 1956; released as Chess 1618)

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters with Johnny Winter from Hard Again [1977]

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