Archive for the ‘1959’ Category

Saturday Singles Nos. 153, 154 & 155

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 17, 2009

Preparing Wednesday’s post, I heard something in the Walkabouts’ “Murdering Stone” that linked it to two much older songs, one a country rock touchstone and the other a classic tale lodged firmly in country music. I’m still not entirely certain what it was I heard (beyond the obvious preoccupation with mortality) that linked the Walkbouts’ 1993 song with Mason Proffit’s “Two Hangmen” and with “The Long Black Veil,” a tune recorded by a long list of performers. The more I’ve thought about it over the last two days, however, the more I think that those songs share a thread of some sort that runs from 1959, when Lefty Frizzell recorded a hit version of “The Long Black Veil” through 1969, when “Two Hangmen” was released on Mason Proffit’s Wanted, into 1993, when “Murdering Stone” provided what I hear as the center of New West Motel.

I imagine if I ponder the question some more, I’ll find links to earlier songs and other songs in the country and country rock idioms. Or I might find that the chain, whatever it means, stops – or, more aptly, begins – at “The Long Black Veil.” As I mentioned Wednesday, the song was written for Lefty Frizzell by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, and Frizzell’s 1959 recording of it went to No. 6 on the Billboard country chart. Since then, the song has been a staple of the country repertoire and a fixture as well in the country rock and Americana songbooks.

Greil Marcus, in his book Mystery Train (subtitled Images of America in Rock ’N’ Roll Music), calls “The Long Black Veil “a modern country tune in the guise of an old Kentucky murder ballad.” One can infer from his writing that he believes the theme of the song – a theme that he says is woven deep into all of Music From Big Pink, The Band’s debut album on which the song appears – is “obligation: a kind of secret theme at the heart of both words and music. What do men and women owe each other? How do they keep faith? How far can that faith be pushed before it breaks?”

He continues: “Certainly ‘Long Black Veil,’ the only song on the album written neither by the Band nor Bob Dylan, takes obligation as far as it can go. A murder has been committed; a man is singled out from the crowd as a culprit, but he will not give up his alibi, because he’s ‘been in the arms of my best friend’s wife.’ She keeps silent as well. The singer, the man accused, owes something to his lover, something to his friend, and something to his community, to justice; the woman won’t injure her husband by revealing the secret, and she keeps faith with her lover as he goes to the gallows – allowing him to die with his friendship intact, and then forever haunting his grave.”

Marcus goes on to note that one of the song’s writers, Danny Dill, later told country music historian Dorothy Horstman that the song was inspired by bits and pieces: by “The Lady In Black” who appeared annually at the grave of silent film idol Rudolph Valentino; by the song, “God Walks These Hills With Me,” written by Red Foley; and by an old news item about the unsolved murder of a priest in New Jersey, killed with more than fifty witnesses under the town hall light.

On the most simple level, “The Long Black Veil” is a story song, the tale of a secret threatened by coincidence and kept through sacrifice. It doesn’t take a lot of listening, though, to find Marcus’ theme of obligation, an obligation extended to tragedy and stoic heroism in the song through the keeping of commitments both implicit and explicit.

I found Lefty Frizzell’s version on an LP titled Lefty Frizzell’s Greatest Hits, and an online discography verified that the version on the LP is the same recording that was issued as a single in 1959. The Johnny Cash version was ripped from his 1965 LP Orange Blossom Special, and The Band’s version comes from the remastered CD, released in 2000, of 1968’s Music From Big Pink.

Here, then, are your Saturday Singles:

“The Long Black Veil” by Lefty Frizzell, Columbia 41384 [1959]
“The Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash from Orange Blossom Special [1965]
“Long Black Veil” by The Band from Music From Big Pink [1968]

The Strains of the Westerns

May 27, 2022

Originally posted September 25, 2009

Last weekend, poking around in one of the nooks and crannies where I occasionally find old music on the ’Net – I’m not sure which one it was – I came across a collection of themes from television westerns. And I began to run through them, listening to each one a few seconds at a time: lots of orchestral music, a lot of French horns, some guitars, and every once in a while, a stentorian voice telling us grandly the name of the show that we’d be about to watch, were we somehow transported back to 1957 or 1961 or 1965.

It was great fun, and I soon got lost in clicking from one western theme to the next, until the unmistakable strains – well, at least to those of us who grew up during the late 1950s and early 1960s – of the “Theme from Gunsmoke” came out of the speakers.

“What are you watching?” asked the Texas Gal from the next room.

“I’m listening to western themes.”

“Geez, I thought it was something on television that was using that music,” she said. “It sounded like an odd show, and then I recognized that last one.”

She said her dad had watched Gunsmoke for years. I told her that just the first instant of the theme flipped me back in time more than forty years: I had a quick memory of my father sitting in his coral-colored rocker – it was reupholstered in orange sometime in the mid-1960s, which helps me date this image at least a little – his eyes locked on our old Zenith television and the tales of Dodge City it brought into our living room. It would have been a Saturday evening, I believe. Not much kept Dad from Gunsmoke; the only thing that I think would have made him miss a week’s episode would be a St. Cloud State men’s basketball game, either on the radio or across the river on campus.

I kept clicking through the long list of theme songs. A few of them triggered similar memories: family time on Sunday evenings, watching Bonanza, or maybe seeing Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Gates on Rawhide early on a Friday evening as I waited for something I really liked. (A look at the prime time schedules offered at the Classic TV Database tells me that Rawhide was on CBS and I was likely waiting for The Flintstones on ABC.)

None of the others, however, brought me anything quite so vivid as did the “Theme from Gunsmoke,” so that’s a good place to start today’s music.

A Six-Pack of Western Themes
“Boot Hill/Theme from Gunsmoke” [ca. 1967]
“Bonanza” [ca. 1959]
“High Chaparral” [1967]
“A Man Called Shenandoah” [1965]
“Rawhide” [1959]
“The Rifleman” [1958]

Bonus Track
“Bonanza” [Original version, 1959]

Gunsmoke, which ran for twenty seasons, tweaked its theme numerous times. The sweeping main theme had also been used for the radio version of the show, which ran from 1951 to 1962. (The television version ran from 1955 through 1975.) The version here begins with a musical cue that was titled “Boot Hill” and accompanied the opening shot of the show: a view of a gunslinger framed by Marshall Matt Dillon’s boots. After Dillon dispatches the gunslinger, the announcer tells us what we’re watching, and then comes the main theme. According to an entry at ClassicThemes.com, “Boot Hill” was written by Fred Steiner and the main theme – known when the show was on radio as “The Old Trail” – was written by Rex Koury. Just based on the sound and a few dim memories, I’m guessing that this version of “Boot Hill/Theme from Gunsmoke” dates from the mid-1960s.

The theme to Bonanza was written by Jay Livingston & Ray Evans. The version I have here sounds like the one I heard almost every Sunday evening from about 1960 on, but there were enough tweaks through the years – the show ran from 1959 into 1973 – that I cannot be sure. The first version of the theme song, offered here as a bonus track, features Lorne Greene taking the vocal. I’ve read – I cannot remember where – that the vocal version was used for only one week, with the more familiar instrumental taking its place for the show’s second broadcast. (It’s entirely possible – and maybe more likely – that the song was replaced after the show’s first season. In either case, the version with the vocal was short-lived.) For me, the theme to Bonanza was one of the more memorable television themes, right from the ascending guitar lick.

I was aware of High Chaparral, a series based in the Arizona Territory in the 1870s, but I never watched the show, which ran from 1967 into 1971. Its theme was written by well-known television composer and arranger David Rose.

I do not recall “A Man Called Shenandoah,” a series that found Robert Horton playing a Civil War veteran wandering the West in search of his memory. He sang the main theme, to boot. The music for the theme song, obviously, is the old American folk tune “Shenandoah.” I haven’t found any indication so far of who wrote the lyrics.

I remember watching The Rifleman a couple of times, but it was never anything like essential viewing, and the theme doesn’t ring any bells It starts with the rapid firing of the rifle of the title, as did the show. The music was written by Herschel Burke Gilbert, and the lyrics – which you can read here – came from the pen of Alfred Perry.

Frankie Laine’s theme from Rawhide has to be one of the most recognizable of all television themes, never mind westerns. The music came from the pen of Dmitri Tiomkin with words by Nate Washington. It evidently wasn’t, however, the theme that the show started with when it hit the air in 1959. ClassicThemes.com notes that there is a theme credit in the archives for composer Olliver G. Wallace and orchestrator/arranger Paul Van Loan. The website’s editors speculated that the success of Johnny Western’s recording of “The Ballad of Paladin” from the CBS show Have Gun, Will Travel might have spurred the producers of Rawhide to find a song to similarly help brand the show, and the results was the Tiomkin/Washington classic. All-Music Guide says that the song “was a huge pop hit” for Laine, but I wonder about that, as it’s listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Maybe on the country charts. The song did make the Top 40, however, in what I assume was an instrumental version by Link Wray and the Wraymen, reaching No. 23 in early 1959.

Note from 2022: There’s no trace of Laine’s version of “Rawhide” on the country chart, either. Note added May 27, 2022.


Wandering Around

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 17, 2009

Wandering the upper levels of the cable offerings last evening, I happened upon a boxing match on one of the premium channels. I’ve never watched a lot of boxing, but when I come across it by accident, I sometimes watch for a few minutes. I did so last evening, and I got to thinking about a time when boxing was on network television on a regular basis.

The program I recall was The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, airing Friday evenings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or so my memory told me. I didn’t really watch the show, but I sure remembered the theme song. Here’s a long instrumental version of the theme song that’s been used – for some reason – as a background for video of penguins. Here’s the theme – titled “Look Sharp – Be Sharp (Gillette March)” – as recorded in 1954 by the Boston Pops:

So, thinking about The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, I wandered over to Wikipedia, where I read that the show had run on Friday evenings into 1960 on NBC and had then moved to ABC. That made sense: I have vague memories of the show on NBC, but I also remember seeing prime-time boxing on KMSP, which was at the time ABC’s affiliate in the Twin Cities. (Watching shows on KMSP was sometimes an iffy proposition, as the station distinguished itself during the years of roof-top antennas by having the weakest signal of all four commercial stations in the Twin Cities.)

Wandering further into the topic, I checked the 1960-61 prime time TV schedule at Wikipedia and found no listing on ABC for The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Digging around a bit, I learned that ABC moved the show to Saturdays and renamed it Fight of the Week. Having resolved that, I spent some time looking at the prime time television schedules for 1959-60 and 1960-61.

And I found that fascinating, a real memory trip: National Velvet, The Red Skelton Show, Sugarfoot, Hong Kong, 77 Sunset Strip, Law of the Plainsman, Hawaiian Eye and on and on. I don’t recall watching them all, but I remember the titles. Of course, I did see some of those shows. One of my favorites was 77 Sunset Strip, a show about two detectives in Los Angeles that starred, among others, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who went on to star later in the 1960s and 1970s in The F.B.I., and Ed Byrnes, whose hair-combing character, Kookie, inspired the 1959 hit, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” which Byrnes recorded with Connie Stevens. The record went to No. 4. Here are Byrnes and Stevens during an appearance on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show from April 4, 1959 (not American Bandstand, as I originally guessed).

We’ve wandered a little afield here. I’m sure I didn’t see that particular performance, nor did I hear the record until many years later. My interest at the time was the drama – such as it was – on 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958 into 1964. Here’s a version of the theme from the show (I think it’s the original, but I’m not at all certain):

“77 Sunset Strip” written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston [1958]

And then, here’s a selection from 1960, which is the year that The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports moved from NBC to ABC:

A Six-Pack from 1960
“New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1003 [Peak: No. 6]
“Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, Decca 31141 [Peak: No. 1 in 1961]
“Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino, Imperial 5675 [Peak: No. 6]
“Theme from ‘The Apartment’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 231 [Peak: No. 10]
“Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2071 [Peak: No. 1]
“Last Date” by Floyd Cramer, RCA 7775 [Peak: No. 2]

Bonus Track
“A Fool In Love” by Ike & Tina Turner, Sue 730 [No. 20]

Well, throw in some Everly Brothers, a Johnny Horton tune, a Frankie Avalon tune, some Dion & The Belmonts, then add Elvis, Percy Faith and Connie Francis, and you’d have a pretty good idea of how 1960 sounded.

When I pulled the first six tracks to share today, I didn’t realize that all of them were Top Ten records. That tells me that radio listening might not have been as bad in 1960 as I tend to think it was. (I certainly don’t remember what pop radio sounded like in 1960; I turned seven that year, and I don’t recall listening to much of anything at all. So anything I know about music in 1960 – except for piano exercises by John W. Schaum – comes from learning about it long after the fact.) On the other hand, the year also provided listeners with “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dining and “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne, all of which went to No. 1. So call it a mixed bag.

Revised slightly on archival posting.

Saturday Single No. 127

June 20, 2012

I spent a couple evenings this week watching – on DVD – the first three episodes of Mad Men, the drama about a top-tier advertising agency in New York in the late 1950s. The show began its run on cable network AMC two years ago; I’ve always intended to watch it, but never managed to even remember to program the DVR to record the show.

In some ways, though, I think that being able to watch episodes in clusters, rather than a week at a time, is better. The experience, the drama, the focus on the character’s lives is more concentrated. Anyway, I found the first three episodes fascinating and can hardly wait until the second disc of the show arrives in the mail.

Part of that enjoyment and anticipation is for the drama itself. The main characters are interesting, from the somewhat mysterious ad exec Dan Draper, who seems to be the hub of the show, through his various co-workers, some of whom are seemingly destined to be very bad news, to Draper’s family and neighbors on their tree-lined suburban street. One anticipates all sorts of possible story lines. And the writing is generally sharp and sometimes witty. I haven’t yet heard a line that makes me gape at the screen in admiration for the writer, but the quality of the scripts pretty much promises me that I will.

But what makes Mad Men so interesting to me is the details, the peripheral things that become so crucial in producing a period piece: the scene-setting, costuming, art decoration and set decoration: From the clothing to the cars, from the martini-lubricated dinners in the best restaurants to the cigarettes that fill the air everywhere, from the hi-fi cabinet at the end of Draper’s couch to the jarring sight of a polio-crippled boy lurching through a living room with his crutches and braces, Mad Men gets it right and shows a world of urban gloss and suburban certainty.

And I find it fascinating, on three levels. First, the writer and viewer in me anticipate that neither that gloss nor that certainty will run very deep: I expect shiny surfaces to crack and unexamined beliefs to wither as the first season runs on.

Then, the historian that I am nods at references to events and pop culture, to mentions of new products and long-gone institutions. (I wonder how many viewers knew what an Automat was?) The show’s website says the show begins in 1960, and the entry for the show at Wikipedia says the first episode is set in March of that year. There is talk around the ad agency – but so far no action – of working for Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign. Right Guard show up as the first aerosol spray deodorant, and in the very first episode, Draper is struggling to advertise cigarettes in light of a federal ruling that advertising can no longer say cigarettes have health benefits.

And finally, inside me, the boy who once was stares at the world he once lived in: The mix of stylish tail-finned late model cars and the boxy post-war models that had once seemed so stylish themselves. The snippets of television sound – familiar voices, both dramatic and commercial – one hears occasionally in the background. The casual and unthinking sexism, racism and other types of discrimination. And seemingly a thousand small details, like using an opener on a can of beer. All of it added up to make those three hours this week a visit to that other world, a world that was already beginning to change, mostly in ways that we here – nearly fifty years later – will approve.

As I watched, there came both a sense of foreboding and an odd, almost yearning, sense of something that was not quite grief; call it melancholy. The foreboding was for the characters on the screen, for the writing had done its job: I care about them and wonder what lies in store. The sense of melancholy was, I think, because that world on the screen, the world of tailfins and television shows, of braces and bottle openers, was the world around me when I became self-aware. We all live in different worlds as we age, sequential but different as the years pass. And much of the world of Mad Men is the first world I lived in, and I recall it only a little. Seeing it onscreen this week in its full and foolish glory was like opening a long-lost scrapbook in which I keep those memories.

That scrapbook is not entirely benign: Some of those memories I’d just as soon not have. Others are more pleasant to recall, gentle dispatches from a world that went away long ago.

I’ve been listening to a lot of late 1950s Sinatra this week, and I thought I might find something there, perhaps “Willow, Weep For Me.” But I looked a bit deeper into the digital files and found a Dinah Washington recording from 1959 for today’s Saturday Single.

This Bitter Earth

This bitter earth:
What fruit it bears.
What good is love
That no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose,
What good am I?
Heaven only knows.

This bitter Earth:
Can it be so cold?
Today you’re young,
Too soon you’re old
But while a voice
Within me cries,
I’m sure someone
May answer my call,
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all.

“This Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington, New York City, 1959 (Mercury 71635)

Revised slightly on archival posting.

Grab Bag No. 1

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2008

One of the annual events during my days at Lincoln Elementary School (1958-65) was the school carnival, presented each autumn as – I think – a fund-raiser for the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). The one-evening carnival took place in the gymnasium, with games lining the sides of the gym.

There was the Duck Pond, where hundreds of plastic ducks bobbed in a tank of water; a child would select one duck, and an inscription on the bottom of the duck determined the prize he or she had won. At the fishing pond, little would-be anglers hoisted cane poles with lines and (very safe, probably rubber) hooks over the sides of a covered booth (generally covered with white bed sheets decorated with poster paint, if my memory is accurate), and moms and dads inside the booth would place a small basket holding a prize onto the hook and then tug the line. The little angler would then haul in his or her reward.

At the far end of the gym, on the elevated stage, was the cakewalk. The numerals 1 through 10 were arranged on a circle on the stage floor, and ten entrants claimed a number at the start of the contest. One of the moms would then drop a needle onto a record, and as the music played, the contestants walked through the numbers, in a circle. After a short time, the music stopped, and a number was drawn from a bag. The contestant now standing on that number won a cake, made by some mom in her kitchen and brought proudly to the school for the carnival.

I’m not sure if schools do carnivals anymore; I figure some still have them as a fund-raising activity. But I think it would be the rare public school in the U.S. that would award home-made cakes as a prize. I dunno. Maybe I’m wrong. But the public health (and liability) risks would be enormous, I think, especially considering the vast increase in the types of food allergies and the huge numbers of kids with those allergies in recent years.

The cakewalk was never my favorite game. I know I’ve forgotten what some of the games were; it seems to me the carnival had about ten booths along the sides of the gym, but I remember the grab bag. Simple stuff, of course. You’d thrust your hand into a box filled with little striped bags, each holding a simple prize, and you’d grab one. The prizes were generally little toys and game that were most likely forgotten, lost, discarded or broken in a very short time. But that didn’t diminish the fun.

I resurrected the grab bag this week. I wrote in August about finding in a closet a boxful of 45s I’d more or less forgotten I had. Since settling into the new place, I’ve glanced occasionally at that box, sitting on the floor near the closet door, and I’ve wondered how to integrate those old obscure singles – the vast majority of them are from the years 1958 through 1970, I imagine, and I recognize very few of the titles – into the music shared here.

This week, I thought of the grab bag, and I had the Texas Gal come into the study and pull three singles – any three, I told her – from the box. Good or bad, scratched or not (with the exception of a record truly hacked and unlistenable), I’d listen to them, rip them, do a little research and offer them here. If I remember at all how I got them, I’ll add that, too.

So here’s Grab Bag No. 1

“Molly Dee” by the Kingston Trio (Capitol Custom JB-2782)

“Haul Away” by the Kingston trio (Capitol Custom JB-2783)

(Most likely from 1958, maybe 1959)

The Kingston Trio is described in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll as “a clean-cut, more commercial alternative to the left-tinged folksingers of the late ’50s.” The trio had a No. 1 hit in late 1958 with “Tom Dooley,” a reworking of a traditional folk song from the 1860s. And when the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – now known as the March of Dimes Foundation – needed to rebrand itself in the late 1950s, it turned to the Kingston Trio.

Eh?

Some history: The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was established in 1938, to combat the disease poliomyelitis, also called polio. According to Wikipedia:

“Poliomyelitis was one of the most dreaded illnesses of the 20th century, and had killed or paralyzed thousands of Americans during the first half of the 20th century. Ron Gilreath therefore founded the March of Dimes as the ‘National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis’ on January 3, 1938, during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt himself was paralyzed with what at the time was believed to be polio, though it now seems this diagnosis might have been mistaken. The original purpose of the Foundation was to raise money for polio research and to care for those suffering from the disease. The name emphasized the national, nonpartisan, and public nature of the new organization, as opposed to private foundations established by wealthy families. The effort began with a newspaper appeal, asking everyone in the nation to contribute a dime (10 cents) to fight polio.”

(Wikipedia also notes that the “March of Dimes” got its name from entertainer Eddy Cantor, who used that title because of its similarity to the then-popular The March of Time newsreels. I also learned that Roosvelt’s connection to the March of Dimes was one of the factors behind his portrait’s being placed on the U.S. dime after his death in 1945. Another factor was that through 1945, the front of the dime showed an allegorical portrait of Liberty; no earlier president’s portrait would need to be replaced to put FDR’s portrait on the dime.)

The National Foundation’s March of Dimes was successful: By 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk had discovered an immunization for polio that was safe and effective. The goal of the March of Dimes had been achieved, and the National Foundation reorganized, deciding, Wikipedia says, “in 1958 to use its charitable infrastructure to serve mothers and babies with a new mission: to prevent premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality.”

Among the ways the foundation chose to promote its reorganization was to release a record by the Kingston Trio. On the Capitol Custom label – the trio recorded for Capitol Records – the record shows the logo of the National Foundation with the inscription above proclaiming “The New March of Dimes.” (The actual logo has the word “New” outlined with a small box rather than italicized, which to me is an odd bit of design. I italicized the word in the sentence above to show the effect I assume was intended by placing the word in the box.)

Beyond that, on both sides of the record, the legend on the lower part of the label, above the song title, says: “The Kingston Trio sings for the New March of Dimes. (Their italics, not mine.)

So how good is the record?

It’s standard Kingston Trio fare, I guess. Both songs were pulled from the trio’s 1959 album Here We Go Again! and have nautical themes; “Molly Dee” is a sailor’s girl far away, and “Haul Away” tells the tale of a rough voyage. Oddly, on the 45, “Haul Away” is credited to the pen of trio member Dave Guard, but in the album listing at All-Music Guide, it’s listed as a traditional song. Almost as interesting is the fact that “Molly Dee” was written by John Stewart, who would replace Guard in the trio in 1961. (Another oddity is that each side of the record was assigned its own catalog number: “Molly Dee” is Capitol Custom JB-2782, and “Haul Away” is JB-2783.)*

Red Johnson – “I’d Rain All Over You / Anything But Me” (Hep 2939, 1966)

I’m pretty sure this was a record I got from Leo Rau, the guy who lived across the alley from us when I was a kid who operated – among other things – a chain of juke boxes. As related here some time ago, on occasional Mr. Rau would hand me a box full of 45s. This is one of those that didn’t get used as a target for my BB gun.

It’s pretty basic country: A couple of songs from a lovelorn narrator backed by basic instrumentation that includes some twangy guitar, lap steel (I think) and a bit of fiddle. Johnson wrote “I’d Rain All Over You” with Ann Wordelman and wrote “Anything But Me” with Bud Auge. The record is pleasant listening for those who appreciate mid-sixties country (and I do like both sides as a bit of history) but the more interesting part was the record label. The 45 was released by Hep, a label based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As I ripped the record, I could only assume that it was from the mid-1960s. That was based on the sound of the music, the cartoonish hepcat used as a logo (I have to get a scanner!) and my supposition, bolstered by Hep’s being a Minnesota label, that this was a record I got from Leo Rau.

Googling “Hep 2939” and “Red Johnson” got me little but listings of the record for sale. (It appears to run for about $15 in very good condition; mine would grade out as at least that well.) So I Googled “Red Johnson” along with “Rain All Over You” and I found Red’s website.

It turns out that Red was a northern Minnesota boy, graduated from Detroit Lakes High School. (Detroit Lakes is about two-hundred miles northwest of Minneapolis, about forty-five miles from North Dakota.)

On his site, Red writes:“In 1964, along with Bud Auge, I wrote and recorded ‘There’s A Grand Ol Opry Show Playing Somewhere’ on a small label (Hep) I was part owner of, and the song was picked up by Capitol Records and eventually ended up in The World Of Country Music album Capitol released. About the same time Dave Dudley[,] who is a friend of mine, released a song called ‘Six Days On The Road’” and he and I and Bud Auge . . . wrote a song called ‘Taxi Cab Driver’ and Dave recorded it in his “Six Days” album [Songs About the Working Man] for Mercury Records.”

And on another page, listing current CDs available, “I’d Rain All Over You” was listed as one of the songs on Red’s The Local Entertainer CD. I had the right Red Johnson, but I still didn’t have a release year for the single. So I emailed him.

This morning, Red answered: “I keep getting pleasant surprises and you are one of them. Those songs were recorded in 1966 at Columbia Studios, Nashville, and produced by Buddy Killen of Tree International, now Sony. Two other songs were done at that session. They were ‘Hidden Feelings’ and ‘Big Brave Me.’ Lloyd Green played steel. A guy by the name of Earl Sinks did harmony, and I can’t really remember who else was in the session. It was the follow-up session to my ‘There’s a Grand Ol Opry Show Playing Somewhere,’ [that] I had on Capitol Records in ’64.”

He added, “Please keep in touch.” I most likely will.

The Impalas – “Sandy Went Away / Oh, What A Fool” (Cub 9033, 1959)

This single, I believe, was one of those that my sister brought home from the record store in one of those – how appropriate! – grab bags. You’d lay down maybe eighty-nine cents and get ten singles packed into a plastic bag. None of them were hits, at least not big hits, but some of the records might have come from well-known performers, or maybe one-hit wonders. And the records in the grab bags were evidence of recording sessions gone awry for one reason or another.

The Impalas were a doo-wop group from Brooklyn – one of the few interracial doo-wop groups, according to All-Music Guide – that had a hit in 1958 with “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home).” It was actually a pretty decent record, assuming that the mp3 I have of it – from an anthology – is a recording of the original single. But what appears to be an Impalas’ follow-up (“Sorry” was Cub 9022, the record in question today, “Sandy Went Away/Oh, What A Fool,” was Cub 9033) isn’t such a great record.

On the Impala’s hit, the lead vocalist’s pitch was uncertain at a few moments, but the doo-wop arrangement obscured that to a degree. On the ballad “Sandy Went Away,” there’s no doo-wop, only some choral parts going “ahhhh” in the background, and that can’t hide a horribly out-of-tune lead vocal. “Oh, What A Fool” has a livelier backing but still, the lead vocalist’s pitch is off the mark. (There’s little information out there about the Impalas; my guess is that after the hit, there were personnel changes, and the Impalas who sang “Sorry” aren’t on this shabby little record.)

So, that’s Grab Bag No. 1: Two decent records and one flop. I’m not sure how frequently it will appear, but the Grab Bag will be back.

*Those numbers were not catalog numbers, as I assumed. In a comment left at the post, reader and friend Yah Shure said, “Capitol Custom did not always assign release numbers. On your Kingston Trio record, the printed numbers are simply the matrix numbers, hence the different numbers listed for each side.”

Disorder In The Center

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 8, 2008

On the far wall, the big shelves wait for the LPs, all of which are still in boxes that form Mount Vinyl in the middle of the living room. On the near wall, the electronics are all hooked up: computer, USB turntable, television, telephone, CD player with futuristic speakers and wireless headphones.

But in the center of the room that we call my study: Oh disorder!

Somehow, two of the large fans we used in the apartment – it was on the southwest corner of the building with no shade, and the air conditioner, a wall unit, was horribly unsuited to cool anything but the living room – two of those fans have wandered into this room. We shouldn’t need them any longer except in a Saharan heat wave, as the house has central air and is shaded by about twenty large trees, most of them oak.

Along with the fans, as I scan the pile of miscellaneous stuff that has migrated here in the past six days, I can see a small plastic table, about ten feet of coaxial cable the cable guy didn’t need, a box of board games (Up Words, several versions of Monopoly, two versions of Risk, the Settlers of Catan – our favorite – and more), a book bag, two belts, a blue three-ring binder (with no paper in it), two trays with bottles of prescription medicine from the past six years, two folders of lyrics and verse dating back to 1970, another folder filled with special editions of Sports Illustrated dating back to 1979 and a partially inflated Hutch brand football called The Gripper with a facsimile signature from Roger Staubach.

And that’s just the stuff I can see in a glance before I get to the boxes of books. It looks like a random junkyard to me.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard (1950-1999), Vol. 6
“Come Together” by the Beatles from Abbey Road, 1969

“Friar’s Point” by Susan Tedeschi from Just Won’t Burn, 1998

“Two Faced Man” by Gary Wright from Footprint, 1971

“The Madman And The Angel” by Drnwyn from Gypsies In The Mist, 1978

“Blind Willy” by Herbie Mann from Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, 1970

“I’m A Drifter” by Martin & Neil from Tear Down The Walls, 1964

“Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41339, 1959

“Golf Girl” by Caravan from In The Land of Grey and Pink, 1971

“The Road” by Chicago from Chicago, 1970

“Sit and Wonder” by Dave Mason and Cass Elliot from Dave Mason & Cass Elliot, 1971

“I’m Not Living Here” by Sagittarius from Present Tense, 1967

“Four Walls” by Eddie Holman from I Love You, 1970

“Seven Day Fool” by Etta James, Argo single 5402, 1961

A few notes:

Susan Tedeschi is an excellent blues guitarist and singer who has made a string of fine albums, starting with Just Won’t Burn. “Friar’s Point” is a tour through blues country: Friars Point itself is a small Mississippi town right on the Mississippi River in Delta Country. Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” mentioned the small town: “I got womens in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee/But my Friars Point rider, now, hops all over me.” The town is also famous as the home of the park bench where a young Muddy Waters is said to have seen and heard Johnson play guitar. Intimidated, the tale goes, Waters quietly walked away. Tedeschi’s song name-checks Johnson, Irma Thomas, B.B. King, Magic Sam and Waters himself as it takes us from the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans, Memphis and Chicago. The town’s name is “Friars Point,” with no apostrophe; Tedeschi’s song is titled, according to All-Music Guide and other sources, “Friar’s Point.” Why? I have no idea. Nor do I have any information about the surprise ending of the mp3; I got the file from a friend and don’t have access to the original CD this morning.

There’s not a lot of information out there about Drnwyn, at least not that I’ve found. A note at the blog Jezus Rocks classifies the group as Christian Folk/Psychedelic/Rock, and I guess that fits as well as anything, although it sounds more like 1969 than 1978 to me. I found the album online in my early days of haunting music blogs, but I do not recall where. The same note at Jezus Rocks tells of a 2006 CD reissue, but copies of that seem scarce, based on a quick look.

The Herbie Mann track is from an LP I ripped and posted here almost a year and a half ago. Amazingly, the link for the album is still good. You can find the original post here.

The Neil of Martin & Neil was the late Fred Neil, reclusive singer and writer of, among others, “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “The Dolphins.” Martin was Vince Martin, and the two men’s talents – augmented by some work on bass by Felix Pappalardi and on harmonica by John Sebastian – made for a good album.

“The Road” is the second track from the album now known as Chicago II, the one with the silver cover that was called simply Chicago when it was released in 1970 and then again years later when it was released on CD.

A Baker’s Dozen of caithiseach’s Favorites

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 24, 2008

(Our guest poster today is caithiseach, who generally hangs his hat at The Great Vinyl Meltdown.)

It must have been the frozen custard cake. We were eating it when whiteray asked me what my favorite single was. I thought for far too long, then I gave him an answer. A day later, with the custard still in his system, he invited me to guest-blog this Baker’s Dozen of my favorite singles. I could not pass up the opportunity to write in this blog, the first music blog I ever read, and the inspiration for my own blog, which deals with quirky old 45s I collected when I was a kid.

Today I have been set a different task: to write about songs that you probably know. I had made my job somewhat easier by adding a marker to the digital filenames of my favorite Hot 100 hits. So I sorted out the favorites, some 400 of them. Then, in order not to think too much or too long, I culled any song I thought might be one of my thirteen favorites. I may have missed some really good songs that I didn’t mark, and surely I am skipping some superb singles that I don’t own or have not digitized, but I used the Force and let it tell me what to do with the material at hand.

One thing I looked for was songs that truly were singles. Crisp story lines, nicely rounded finishes, no sense that the song was hacked out of a larger work, the way a Pink Floyd single would be. I see an artistry in a perfect single that matches the magic of an excellent short story. It’s satisfying in itself, not incomplete and co-dependent like a chapter in a novel. As Oliver Wendell Holmes might have said, I know a real single when I hear one.

By accident I pulled out exactly forty finalists, which suits my way of thinking about music – in terms of countdowns. When I was ten, I started counting down my ten favorite hits, playing them in my mind when I mowed the lawn each Saturday. That short music chart had as much fluidity as a Billboard chart, but it also had a consistency that reflected the amount of thought I put into it. I remember such momentous decisions as replacing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at No.1 with “The Love You Save.”

Today’s Top Thirteen doesn’t have a lot in common with my final lawn-mowing Top Ten, because I stopped mowing the family lawn around 1982, when I graduated from college. But several songs from that era slipped into the forty candidates for this Baker’s Dozen, and I’m pleased that I still like the songs I enjoyed in my teen years. It would be awful to have outgrown myself completely.

I also started doing the DJ countdown thing on my record player when I was about eight. With just one turntable, that made for a lot of chatter between songs. That’s what you’ll get here; I’m going to explain my choices, rather than give valuable information about the artists, as whiteray does. And I’ll go bottom to top, so here goes:

13. “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond [Bang 578, 1970]

As much as I like other early Diamond hits, this song about betrayal and the response to it stuck with me as a clean discussion of the topic, with no self-pity to muck it up. The delicious Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich production, with the acoustic guitar accented by somber horns, meshed perfectly with the message.

12. “Shattered Glass” by Laura Branigan [Atlantic 89245, 1987]

This cut climbed only to No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100. What puts it here is ninety percent appreciation and ten percent desire to share a song you probably have never heard. I was rolling into Bloomington, Indiana after a very long drive, and I got stuck at a very long light at two a.m. This song, new to me then, came on the radio, and I cranked it to stay awake. My car was rocking on its springs already when Laura hit the climax notes of the chorus. The tsunami of sound left my brain unable to process all of the sound in real time. If you play this song loudly enough, her voice at that point will leave an impression on you that will never fade.

11. “No Matter What” by Badfinger [Apple 1822, 1970]

The story of Pete Ham and Tom Evans is tragic, and their band’s output was inconsistent, but they worked magic several times, most notably here. I am a sucker for songs that go silent abruptly and use a drumbeat to pull the music back in. I love the guitar work. I don’t tire of listening to Pete Ham singing. It’s a song about hanging in there. I wish people had hounded these two guys less relentlessly.

10. “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons [Warner/Curb 8168, 1976]

Three of my forty finalists were on the same chart in March-April 1976, and two of them are in the final thirteen. This song’s bass line has whiteray’s blessing as perhaps the best bass line ever, and that is what drew me to the song in the first place. An amazing piano part carries the song into the second vocal phrase, where the bass kicks in, and Gerri Polci’s turn as lead vocalist gives welcome respite from Frankie Valli. Apart from the message that not learning a lover’s name is an okay thing, the song chronicles a wondrous event without getting tacky. And you should fiddle with your graphic equalizer and isolate that bass line. Mmmmm.

9. “Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown [Atlantic 1125, 1957]

The year of 1957 was very good for me, musically. I wasn’t born yet, but Pérez Prado recorded “Why Wait” then (had it been an A side, it would be No. 2 here), and Ruth Brown gave us this bright shuffle that rolls along like a diesel engine with a hundred cars behind it. Any song that starts with a long, growly sax note gets my vote, and this one boasts the “No Matter What” silence as well. It would be a good song with anyone else singing it, but no one could put joy into a vocal the way Ruth Brown did.

8. “No One Is to Blame” by Howard Jones [Elektra 69549, 1986]

Almost an answer to No. 4 below, now that I think about it, I found this song heartbreaking at a time when I was heartbroken. Singing about the unattainable, Jones doesn’t get all of the words right, says I, but the melody, his soulful delivery, the percussion – it works for me in inexplicable ways.

7. “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies [Calendar 1008, 1969]

We’re getting to writhe-on-the-floor-in-ecstasy territory now, at least in the case of the upbeat songs. I blogged about this song, which was my one source of joy in 1969, a year that beat me to a pulp. I admire Jeff Barry beyond words, and if you forget the reasons why this song is so gentle, you’ll be able to appreciate the genius he injected into every beat.

6. “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones [London 910, 1969]

Charting simultaneously with “Sugar, Sugar,” this song gave my appreciation of music new range. Until then, I was too young for the Stones, but I figured them out here. The recurrent caithiseach theme of a horn section helps to reel me in, but I also love suspended fourths in any song, and the unified vision the guitars give to the subject matter round it all out. I always think about this being Brian Jones’ last work, and it tears me up.

5. “Misty” by Johnny Mathis [Columbia 41483, 1959]

The song is amazingly evocative poetry, and this arrangement, with artfully understated vocals, is the only version anyone needs to hear. Even so, I didn’t become familiar with “Misty” until 1984, when I waited table at the Raging Bull, a fine-dining establishment in Merrillville, Indiana, that provided music by pianist-singer Tony Liggins. He turned me on to the song, then I found the Mathis version on a Time-Life CD of 1959 hits. From there, the recording crept into my mind to the point that, after a bit of meditation, it wound up at No. 5 here.

4. “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez [A&M 1737, 1975]

As much as I enjoy her singing tunes by The Band, and as much as I could enjoy her singing almost any song, Joan accomplished something here that almost defies description, so forgive me if I fail you: She should be as bitter as Alanis Morrissette in these lyrics, but she is so graceful with her condemnation of Dylan that she soars above the situation and avoids sounding like a bitch. Start there, and add a chord progression that is as memorable (and inspired) as what Hoagy Carmichael came up with for “Stardust.” But “Stardust” does not have the eerie, haunting resonance of this song, of course. I don’t know how she could use any major chords in this song, but she chose exactly the right ones, at the right moments. I would crawl to where she is to thank her for the song, if I thought I could get past her bodyguards.

3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen [Elektra 45297, 1976]

I can explain this one. Freddie Mercury trusted his audience to be able to handle big words and big sounds. I enjoyed his work when he was alive, and I ache to have him back now that he’s gone. As a polar opposite to its fellow 1976 chart hit “December, 1963,” this song provided gravity without being maudlin or unlistenable in its pomposity. I think the song must have been a lot of fun to write and record, and I have always found it fun to listen to. My big problem with it came when my sister borrowed my single and scratched it in such a way that you could hear the entire song except for the gong, which is where it skipped. Thanks, Lisa.

2. “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA [Atlantic 3457, 1978]

In 1977-78, on Friday nights I watched Midnight Special. About two a.m., a truck would drop off Saturday newspapers for me to deliver. If I felt like it, I delivered the papers after the show rather than get up four hours later to do my job. Apart from almost getting shot once, it worked out fine. And one morning, I delivered my seventy-five papers with one song stuck in my head. Wolfman Jack had just played a string of ABBA promo clips, and he ended with their “new single,” which was three months away from its U.S. release. I had never heard an intro like the one to “Take a Chance on Me”: an a cappella female lead with male chant underpinning? Then the synth comes in, and finally the song explodes. A sweet message of at-some-point-to-be-requited love, the song is boundlessly cheery but not cloying. Another time, I was sitting in a disco in Salzburg, Austria, drinking expensive imported beer (Budweiser, their only beverage). The dance floor was empty. The DJ tossed on this song, the locals screamed, and before the chant started, there were a hundred couples grinding away. As they say, two hundred Austrians can’t be wrong.

1. “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals [Philles 106, 1962]

The vocalists are actually Darlene Love and the Blossoms. Phil Spector needed a Crystals record, and they weren’t available, and a voice is just a musical instrument, right? Well, I don’t think so. Gene Pitney’s composition captured the tug-of-war between leather-clad surly teens and frightened parents, with a girl’s arms as the rope, as succinctly as could be done. The girl’s choice is clear, which makes the song scarier for “adults” and an anthem for teens who want to push the envelope. Spector recorded some of his other songs very well, but this one includes a wistful piano, hot horns, a tasteful sax solo – and Darlene Love. She appeals to me more than any other Spector girl singer, and she took control of this song to a degree the actual Crystals might not have attained. From the time I became well-aware of this song, around 1970, it has ranged from first to third on my list of favorites. It’s time I admitted to myself that I don’t think any juxtaposition of lyrics, melody, vocals and arrangement tops this one.

Thanks, whiteray, for giving me this chance to think about the concept, and for the space to publish it. Thanks to you for reading what I wrote.

Some of the other songs I considered were:

“Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith

“What’s a Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You)” by Timi Yuro

“Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph

“Washington Square” by the Village Stompers

“Java” by Al Hirt

“Downtown” by Petula Clark

“Bus Stop” by the Hollies

“Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat

“Cecelia” by Simon & Garfunkel

“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5

“Be My Baby” by Andy Kim

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon

“The World Is a Ghetto” by War

“ I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by ABBA

“ Just Between You and Me” by April Wine

“Rosanna” by Toto

“Hello” by Lionel Richie

“Cherry Bomb” by John Cougar Mellencamp

A Friday Walk Through The Junkyard

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 14, 2008

My to-do list has gotten longer as the week has progressed. Tomorrow is the annual tabletop hockey competition here, and I have much left to accomplish. I do have some interesting albums to rip: I’ve gotten five fairly rare albums in the mail in recent weeks, with another – the Blue Rose album I mentioned Wednesday – on the way.

But time is short today, so instead of trying to rush one of those albums along and botching it, I thought I’d take one of my regular random walks through the junkyard and see what we find from the years 1951-2000.

“Fridgidaire Woman” by Son Seals from Living In The Danger Zone, 1991

“Screamer for Phlyses” by Shawn Phillips from Contribution, 1970

“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco single 6147, 1959

“Sad, Sad Day” by Muddy Waters from King Bee, 1981

“Corrina” by King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar from Official Music, 1970

“Wild Horses” by Leon Russell from Stop All That Jazz, 1974

“Little Girl” by Redbone from Redbone, 1970

“Pleasure” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from The Great Conspiracy, 1968

“Make Love To You” by the Stills-Young Band from Long May You Run, 1976

“The Working Man” by Creedence Clearwater Revival from Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968

“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by the Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin, RCA single 14214, 1985

“Let Your Lovelight Shine” by the Buddy Miles Express from Expressway To Your Skull, 1968

“Don’t Make Promises” by the Beau Brummels, Warner Bros. single 7014, 1967

“Heavy Church” by Three Dog Night from Naturally, 1970

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione from Feels So Good, 1977

A few notes:

Every three years or so from 1973 through 2000, blues fans could count on a release from Son Seals, an Arkansas-born blues guitarist discovered in a Chicago nightspot by Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer. “Frigidaire Woman” comes from Living In The Danger Zone, which, in terms of quality, falls right in the middle of Seals’ nine-album series of works. Seals – who died in 2003 – never made a bad album; his best was most likely Midnight Son from 1976.

I heard “Mack the Knife” the other day as I pulled into the supermarket a parking lot. I waited to leave the car until the song ended, thinking, “I need to get that song into the blog,” and now, the universe has done that for me. The song originated in The Threepenny Opera, a 1928 piece of musical theater by writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. The story of Macheath and his murderous ways was eventually translated to film in the 1950s and continues to be presented on occasion as live theater. Darin’s swinging version of the show’s opening number contrasts greatly with the staid and stiff version I heard when I listened to a recording of the opera. Louis Armstrong recorded a similar version of the tune, but it was Darin’s version that was the hit, going to No. 1 for nine weeks in the autumn of 1959. (Darin’s version – as did Armstrong’s before it – name-checks “Miss Lotte Lenya” during the final verses. In the mid- to late Sixties, when I heard the song, I was confused, as I knew Lotte Lenya only as the haggard and unappealing actress who’d played Soviet agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Lotte Lenya had been Kurt Weill’s wife, had acted in various stagings of The Threepenny Opera and had earned a Tony award for one of them, in the mid-1950s.)

King Bee, produced by Johnny Winter, was – from what I can tell – the last album in the long career of Muddy Waters. For the most part, the album is new versions of Waters’ work on the Chess label (including “Sad, Sad Day”), but the album is still a pretty good way to spend some time.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was a Los Angeles-based psychedelic band, and The Great Conspiracy was the group’s second album. Some of the songs on the record stretch out a little into some trippy mid-Sixties noodling and jamming. “Pleasure” isn’t one of those; it’s a fairly concise song that’s typical of second-level psychedelic pop rock. Good for what it is.

Pretty much right from the start, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a great band. The misfortune that John Fogerty and his bandmates had to face was that, at the time, bands that recorded long, trippy songs full of obscure allusions sold lots of records and were taken seriously, while bands that recorded good three-minute singles were relegated to a less-serious room, kind of like eating at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving. But listening to CCR’s records today, even the stuff that wasn’t released as singles has aged an awful lot better than the work of a lot of those groups that were taken so seriously four decades ago. (Yeah, CCR stretched out sometimes, as on its version of “Suzy Q.” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” But those are the group’s less successful efforts, I think; the group’s strength was the three-minute single, and CCR did that about as well as anyone ever has. My favorite happens to be “Green River.”)

I think the 1985 collaboration between the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin tends to get lost in the memory of the Eighties as a decade of synths, drum machines and big hair (and the Eighties were all that). But “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” truly cooks. And it’s probably Aretha’s last great record.

I mentioned the other day the breadth of writers from which Three Dog Night got its material. “Heavy Church,” a record I’ve always liked a lot, ever since I got Naturally as a Christmas gift in 1971, was written by Alan O’Day, with whom I had a brief correspondence about “Rock & Roll Heaven” a while back. O’Day’s own version showed up on his 1973 album, Caress Me Pretty Music.

Chuck Mangione had a No. 4 hit in early 1978 with a single edit of “Feels So Good.” This is the nine-minute album version.

We Write What We Know

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 28, 2007

It was a year ago this week that I got my USB turntable, which means I’ve been involved in this blogging adventure for almost a year now. For about a month after I got the turntable and was happily ripping vinyl to mp3s, I was posting the results only at two bulletin boards I frequent. At the same time, however, I was digging deeper into the music blogs I knew about, and began to think . . .

For a month, I looked carefully at the blogs I visited regularly, trying to figure out if I could find a niche that was uninhabited and assessing how I should present my own commentary. I decided that when I posted full albums, they were going to be almost always out of print or at least hard to get, and when I posted collections of singles, they would mostly be from the years before 1990.

But what was I going to write about? I’ve taught some writing – mostly in the venue of teaching journalism – and I’ve had several friends who have taught college composition and creative writing. And for most of the students involved, the first instruction is to write what you know. And in the context of music, what I knew was what I liked, how the music I liked came to be, and how it was that I came to know about that music in the first place. And that’s what I wrote about, in contexts as varied as the music I listen to.

I wondered sometimes if there was too much of me in my posts, but a comment I received one day from JB, the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, helped me clarify things. JB said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that when he began his blog, he thought that there would be posts so personal that no one save himself would be interested in them. He soon found, he said, that it’s impossible to handicap readers in blogworld: frequently, the posts he thought would be ignored generated traffic and comments, and the posts that he thought would be hot stuff weren’t. He basically told me: Do what you do and let others sort it out.

So I did. And I found myself having more fun than at almost any time in my life.

So, my thanks to JB, and to the other bloggers in my links list, who share their lives and their music in various proportions. With only a few days left in 2007, I’m looking forward to 2008 and to sharing more music. One of my hopes for the year is to get an external hard drive for my music, so I have room to expand and no longer have to go though the process, every six months or so, of deleting about 10,000 MB of music after burning it onto CDs, just to keep a comfortable amount of free space on my internal hard drive.

(One of those humorous laws of human behavior – I forget which one it is – notes that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. I guess that’s true. I guess whiteray’s corollary to that law says: Music always expands to fill the space allotted to it. And thank goodness it does!)

Here are fifteen random stops from the years 1950-1999:

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard
“Traveling Blues” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Think It Over” by Buddy Holly from The Buddy Holly Story, 1959

“ABC” by the Jackson Five, Motown single 1163, 1970

“Run Through The Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 641, 1970

“Payday” by Mississippi Heat from Handyman, 1999

“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes from Havin’ A Party With Southside Johnny, 1979

“Don’t Take Away My Heaven” by Aaron Neville from The Grand Tour, 1993

“Day is Done” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. single 7279, 1969

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence, 1966

“Another Lonesome Morning” by the Cox Family from Beyond the City, 1995

“Prayer in Open D” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Let Love Carry You Along” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Cocaine” by J.J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976

“The Rumor” by The Band from Rock of Ages, 1972

“Nitty Gritty Mississippi” by Jim Dickinson from the Crossroads soundtrack, 1986

A few notes on the songs and the artists:

I’ve mentioned Spencer Bohren here before. He’s good, if not all that well-known, and if you like rootsy music – generally far more rootsy than today’s offering of his work – you’d be doing yourself a huge favor if checked him out. Here’s his website.

Mississippi Heat is a group formed in the Chicago in 1992 with the aim of resurrecting the sounds of 1950s Chicago-style blues. Handyman is the fourth of eight albums the group has issued, and it’s representative of the group’s efforts, which are always listenable and sometimes inspired.

Because of their common place of origin and some common personnel, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will forever be linked in the minds of casual listeners with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. All-Music Guide notes that Johnny and the Jukes are more of a “white R&B horn band in the Memphis Stax Records tradition” than anything like the Boss and his band. Still, the influences are there, especially when Springsteen so frequently provided production assistance and material. The track offered here, for instance, came from the pens of Springsteen and one-time Asbury Juke Steve VanZandt.

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is one of the lesser tracks on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence album, an album put together rapidly in the wake of the radio success of the duo’s single, “The Sound of Silence.” Lesser track or not, it’s still one of my favorite tracks on the album, along with “A Most Peculiar Man” and the lovely “Kathy’s Song.”

The Cox Family hails from Louisiana and has been performing since 1976. In 1990, the group came to the attention of Alison Krauss, who brought the group to Rounder Records, for whom the Cox Family recorded a couple of albums. One of those was Beyond the City, with its combination of neo-folk and progressive bluegrass elements. “Another Lonesome Morning” is pretty representative.

When one hears in these days “Cocaine,” J.J, Cale’s cryptic ode to excess, one realizes how greatly the world has changed in twenty-eight years. A great riff, a great song, yet utterly out of synch with the times, one would think. Oh, the activity is still out there, sure, but we act like we don’t notice, and we don’t sing about it anymore. To steal a line from the late – and mourned – Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moving

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2007

Although many people in the U.S. and the rest of the world that observes Christmas are now at their destinations, I’d wager that nearly as many are still in motion, heading toward their holiday celebrations with that odd mixture of anticipation, anxiety and exasperation that holiday travel brings.

When I was a kid, our holiday traveling was simple: driving about a hundred and thirty miles from St. Cloud to my grandfather’s farm near the small southwest Minnesota town of Lamberton. Some years, we’d go down to the farm a week or so before Christmas, and then – during my teen years and later – we’d head down on Christmas Eve.

Either way, we marked Christmas Eve with a dinner of creamed lutefisk over potatoes. Lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish, one that tends to put off those not raised in the Nordic tradition. It begins with dried whitefish that is then rehydrated in solutions of first, cold water; second, water and lye; and third, cold water again. The rehydrated fish is then baked, flaked and stirred into a cream sauce and served over potatoes. The aroma of lutefisk baking is pungent and distinctive; it is also for me the scent of Christmas Eve at Lamberton. If I ever smell it again, I will in an instant be in that farmhouse two miles outside of town where I spent my first eighteen Christmases.

Looking back, although the times we went to the farm in the days before Christmas were fun – there was always something to explore out in the barnyard, and trips into town with Grandpa almost always resulted in a treat of some kind – my memory tends to settle on those years when we made the three-hour trek to Lamberton on Christmas Eve itself. Each of the small cities on our route had its holiday decorations up, brightening the way through town, and along the way – in the cities and out on the farms that we saw across the snowy fields – houses, other buildings and trees were strung with brightly colored lights.

As we drove through the gathering dark of the late December afternoon, we listened – as did nearly all Minnesotans, as I’ve mentioned before – to WCCO, the Minneapolis radio station. With our headlights slicing through the dimness ahead, we’d hear the announcer note, on a regular basis, that military radar had once again observed the presence of a high-flying object setting out from the North Pole. By the mid-1960s, my sister and I no longer believed in a flesh and blood Santa Claus, but I think that we both smiled every year when we heard the radio bulletin. It was part of our Christmas Eve.

And so was movement. We drove through the late afternoon, heading toward lutefisk and then a church service, then gifts, and the next day, a large family dinner. Christmas itself meant resting in a familiar place, but Christmas Eve meant moving, whether it was the motion of a fictional Santa Claus from the North Pole or the motion of the mid-1960s auto carrying me and my sister toward our place of Christmas rest.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moving
“Diamond on the Move” by Pete Rugolo from Music From Richard Diamond, 1959

“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town” by Little Milton from We’re Gonna Make It, 1965

“She’s About A Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe single 8308, 1965

“Move to Japan” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

“I’m Movin’ On” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Train Keep On Movin’” by the 5th Dimension from the Up, Up and Away sessions, 1966 & 1967

“Move ’Em Out” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from D & B Together, 1972

“We Shall Not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples from We’ll Never Turn Back, 2007

“She Moves On’ by Paul Simon from The Rhythm of the Saints, 1989

“You Got To Move” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from One Foot in the Groove, 1997

“Moving” by Howlin’ Wolf from The Back Door Wolf, 1973

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380, 1978

“Something In The Way She Moves” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort from Second Spring, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

“Diamond on the Move” is from an album of music from a late 1950s television show. Richard Diamond, Private Detective was on first CBS and then NBC during the years 1957 to 1960, following a stint on radio from 1949 to 1953. I don’t recall ever seeing the show, but I came across a rip of music from the soundtrack some time ago and thought it was kind of cool.

The Sir Douglas Quintet was the vaguely British-sounding name that producer Huey Meaux gave to Doug Sahm and his band in 1965 in order to compete with the vast number of hits coming into the U.S. from England during what was called the British Invasion. There was nothing of the Mersey River in the work of Texans Sahm and his band; their river was the San Antonio. But the song went to No. 13 and musical polymath Sahm had a long career until his death in 1999.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” comes from one of 2007’s greatest albums, Mavis Staples’ extraordinary tribute to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, We’ll Never Turn Back. With help from the original vocalists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – called in the 1960s the SNCC Freedom Singers – as well as from South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and roots musician extraordinaire Ry Cooder, Staples’ album is both a joy and a moving historical document. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an adaptation of the old song “I Shall Not Be Moved,” which some sources list as traditional but that other sources credit to the Charley Patton, the Delta bluesman of the 1920s and 1930s. I don’t normally post things recorded so recently, but this is too marvelous to pass by.

The Howling Wolf track comes from The Back Door Wolf, the last album the massive bluesman recorded before his death in 1976.