Archive for the ‘1963’ Category

‘The Snow’s Coming Down . . .’

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 23, 2009

We may be snowed in for Christmas.

For the past few days, the National Weather Service has been warning of a winter storm heading our direction, and this morning’s forecast predicts snow accumulations of fifteen to eighteen inches between tonight and Friday evening, with – says the weather service – accumulations of twenty or more inches becoming likely in some locations.

It seems to me that it’s been a while since we had a good-sized winter storm and blizzard around here. We’ve had a few heavy snows in the past few years, but the one heading our way sounds like the biggest in a while. We’ll see as things develop if it rivals the Super Bowl Blizzard of January 1975 or the series of storms we call the Halloween Storm of 1991.

In any event, if the forecast is correct, we’re likely not going to my sister’s on Friday for Christmas. She’s talked about postponing the family celebration until Saturday, and that might work, if the fellow who plows our driveway – I’m going to guess it’s about two hundred feet long – gets around to our place in time. If he doesn’t, well, we’ll hunker down and make the best of it.

That would make this Christmas a rarity, though. From many annual celebrations down on the farm at Lamberton and then at my grandparents’ new home in town through years of gatherings at the house on Kilian Boulevard in St. Cloud and recently at my sister’s home in Maple Grove, I’ve been away from my family for Christmas only a very few times. One was in 1973, when I celebrated the holiday with my Danish family in Fredericia. Another was in 1999, when I was dealing with an illness and was unable to travel. And then last year, for health reasons, the Texas Gal and I stayed in St. Cloud for the holiday.

It won’t be a tragedy if we’re unable to leave St. Cloud or even leave our home on Friday morning. It will be an unhappy inconvenience. Life intrudes on our plans every once in a while, and as long as we have warm shelter and our health, a snowstorm is a mild intrusion. And just in case it happens, we’re making a few plans: Soon after I finish this post, I’ll head out to the nearby grocery and pick up some treats and the makings of a modest holiday dinner for the two of us.

Those who’ve read this blog for some time know that I’m not big on Christmas music. In fact, there are only three holiday recordings I ever share here, and I do so every year. One of those has been the video of Darlene Love’s annual performance of the Wall of Sound classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s television show.

I decided this year to go back to the original. So this morning, I pulled out my copy of the Phil Spector box set, Back to Mono, which includes a copy of his 1963 album, A Christmas Gift For You. Here then, from near-mint vinyl, is the first of three Christmas songs I’ll offer this season: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love from A Christmas Gift For You [1963]

Mary Travers, R.I.P.

May 27, 2022

Originally posted September 17, 2009

From today’s online edition of the New York Times:

Mary Travers, whose ringing, earnest vocals with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary made songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” enduring anthems of the 1960s protest movement, died on Wednesday at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 72 and lived in Redding, Conn.

The cause was complications from chemotherapy associated with a bone-marrow transplant she had several years ago after developing leukemia, said Heather Lylis, a spokeswoman.

Ms. Travers brought a powerful voice and an unfeigned urgency to music that resonated with mainstream listeners. With her straight blond hair and willowy figure and two bearded guitar players by her side, she looked exactly like what she was, a Greenwich Villager directly from the clubs and the coffeehouses that nourished the folk-music revival.

I recall vague bits and pieces of the career of Peter, Paul & Mary: The folk revival of the early 1960s, it’s always seemed to me, rested firmly on the shoulders of the trio brought together by manager Albert Grossman. That’s probably not entirely fair to groups like the Kingston Trio, the Highwaymen and a few others, but it’s not far off the mark to say that once PP&M came along, their visual and musical impact pushed the other folk performers of the day to no better than second place.

In personal terms, I can measure their impact by the simple fact that in 1963 or so, I knew who they were. I saw them on television at times, and I was aware – coming at the fact from the news end rather than the music end; as I’ve said before, I’ve always been a news junkie – that they were active in the Civil Rights movement: The trio performed “If I Had A Hammer” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” during the 1963 March on Washington.

I don’t think we ever had any of the group’s LPs in the house. For some reason, we had the sheet music to “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” in our pile of songbooks and songs; it was likely my sister’s. And I knew “Lemon Tree,” the song that brought Peter, Paul & Mary their first hit (No. 35 during the summer of 1962), but I knew it from the version by Trini Lopez. Still, their music was somehow part of the background as I grew up.

The last of their twelve Top 40 hits came along not long after radio and I became friends: “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” which had been on 1967’s Album 1700, went to No. 1 and was inescapable during the autumn and early winter of 1969. (Their other Top Ten hits were “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song),” “Puff (The Magic Dragon),” “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” all in 1963, and the winking “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” in 1967.) And I remember all of those, even if I wasn’t paying much attention for a large part of the time.

Beyond the music, the trio had a cultural impact, too: The sight of the mustaches and goatees on Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey and of Travers’ long and straight blonde hair brought to the mainstream a safe version of the style of the bohemian folk and beat movements of the 1950s. Though some in the folk movement criticized Peter, Paul & Mary for, essentially, having sold out, their style bridged a gap and made folk music palatable and accessible to a broader audience.

And one gets the impression that the message in the music was the important point, at least most of the time. Along with a couple of other tracks on Album 1700, “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” was fairly inconsequential with its sly lyrical and aural references to the Mamas and the Papas. (There’s an interesting linkage there, as the Mamas and the Papas were also seen by some as having sold out, performing radio-friendly folk-pop while wearing hippie fashions.) But most of the trio’s music was thoughtful as well as listenable.

Perhaps the last word here about the importance of the message in the music should go to Travers herself. In its online edition today, the New York Daily News quoted Travers from an undated interview:

“I’m not sure I want to be singing ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ when I’m 75 . . . But I know I’ll still be singing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’”

A Six-Pack of Peter, Paul & Mary
“If I Had A Hammer” from Peter, Paul & Mary [1962]
“500 Miles” from Peter, Paul & Mary [1962]
“Hush-A-Bye” from In The Wind [1963]
“No Other Name” from Album 1700 [1967]
“The Song Is Love” from Album 1700 [1967]
“All My Trials” from In The Wind [1963]

The Beatles, Gene & Elvis

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 3, 2009

Well, there are a large number of videos of “Long Tall Sally” available at YouTube. One of the most interesting – despite the annoying slow-motion segment in the middle – is this one of the Beatles performing live on television, either in the UK or perhaps in Australia or New Zealand (going only by the hostess’ accent, which I can’t place). The performance dates from 1963 or 1964, I would guess; it could be narrowed down more if one were so inclined by the fact that Ringo appears to have a mustache. (If this is from the Australian tour during the summer of 1964, then it’s from June 14 or later: Ringo was hospitalized with tonsillitis when the other three Beatles left Britain at the beginning of the tour. Jimmy Nicol filled in on drums until Ringo could rejoin the band in Melbourne.)

Video unavailable

Here’s some footage of Gene Vincent – generally forgotten these days but a pretty big name in the late 1950s – performing “Long Tall Sally” in Belgium on October 10, 1963. The performance last about two minutes; the remainder of the clip is comments in French from, I assume, some of those who saw Vincent’s performance. I’m sure the comments are fascinating, but my schoolboy facility in French long ago dwindled away, so I have no idea what those young folk are saying.

Video unavailable

Here’s Elvis Presley’s version of the song, packaged with photos of Presley. The recording dates from September 2, 1956.

Video unavailable

After learning of its existence as I wrote Tuesday’s post, I’m trying to find either audio or video of Roger Whittaker’s performance of “Long Tall Sally.” I’ve seen references to it online that imply that it’s, well, unique. According to All-Music Guide, it’s included on a DVD of a concert performance. I’ll keep looking.

On Summers Gone

May 13, 2022

Originally posted July 31, 2009

I’ve been trying for an hour now to write something meaningful about how it felt to be a kid in summertime. And I’m not sure that what I remember is really how it felt. There is a tendency, a temptation, to put a nostalgic and meaningful glaze on all the memories and perceptions of childhood and youth (a temptation I frequently find difficult to resist), as if the only purpose of being a child in the 1960s was to provide memories for us in later life.

That’s not how it was, of course. We didn’t run through our summer days constantly thinking how fine our memories of those days would someday be. Oh, there were times, special days, when the thought came: I hope I remember this forever. And I do remember thinking that at times, but sadly and ironically, I don’t recall in any of those cases what it was that I hoped to remember.

I do remember games: We boys – with a few girls, now and then – would play workup baseball in the street during the day and into the late afternoon. After dinner, as the evening approached, all of us – boys and girls alike – would play games like “Kick the Can,” a hide-and-seek type game. We played across a territory that ranged widely around the neighborhood, with some yards in play and others – generally those of folks who had no kids – not in play. That would go on until the very last light of the day was fading and the streetlights came on. Then, in ones and twos, kids would make their ways home.

At other times, we – generally Rick and I – might make our way to the grocery store half a block away on Fifth Avenue. We’d dither over the best investment for our pennies and nickels, maybe buy some Dubble Bubble or Sour Grapes bubble gum. Or maybe we’d buy one of those balsa wood gliders that – with luck – flew loops in the backyard air without getting stuck in the trees.

We were unconcerned, for the most part, with the events and realities of life beyond Kilian Boulevard and the southeast side. I, being who I’ve always been, followed the news at least a little, but the accounts I read of the civil rights movement, and of war and unrest in a place called Vietnam, didn’t touch us. Not then, in the first half of the 1960s.

We got older, and one by one, the older kids quit playing the summer games we’d always played. And one summer, sometime in the latter half of the 1960s, Rick and I were the older kids, and the younger kids were playing their own games. With a figurative shrug, we went off and did something else.

Many things about those summertimes are hazy, with specific memories replaced by generalities. But one thing I know: As I made my way from being one of the little kids to being one of the older kids, I was aware of summertime music. I remember how it seemed like the volume was turned up during those three months. Even in the very early years, I heard music during summer that I evidently chose to ignore the rest of the year.

Some Summertime Hits From Motown
 “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas, Gordy 7022 (No. 4, 1963)
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 3, 1971)
“Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations, Gordy 7054 (No. 13, 1966)
“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54151 (No. 2, 1967)
“It’s the Same Old Song” by the Four Tops, Motown 1081 (No. 5, 1965)
 “I’ll Keep Holding On” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54116 (No. 34, 1965)
“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown 1032 (No. 9, 1962)
“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5, Motown 116 (No. 1, 1970)
“Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes, Motown 1051 (No. 1, 1964)
“The Tracks Of My Tears” by the Miracles, Tamla 54118 (No. 16, 1965)

When selecting from the massive Motown/Gordy/Tamla catalog, it’s comforting to have a few rules in place. Given my framework here of choosing only songs that entered the Top 40 in June, July or August, as well as choosing one song per performer/group, I thought I did pretty well.

Many of these, of course, came out in the years before I paid much attention to rock, pop or R&B, but Motown’s best work – like a lot of the great music of the time – was part of the environment. Wherever we went, there were radios, and wherever radios were, you heard the tunes of the time. I’m not saying I heard all of these when they were on the radio regularly, but I know I heard most of them, and for today, that’s close enough.

Eight Mostly At Random

May 12, 2022

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.)

One Random Shot

January 19, 2022

For a quick visit this morning – the Texas Gal and I have errands to do and I have things to get to before that – I’m going to look for one track from iTunes. I’m going to sort the tracks by length, set the cursor at the shortest track – Al Shaver, long-time play-by-play guy for the long-gone Minnesota North Stars calling out “He shoots! He scores!” in one second – and click ten times.

We’ll see what we get.

We wander through some Beatles – “Cry, Baby, Cry” and “She Said, She Said” – and some Bread: “Baby, I’m-A Want You.” We get K.C. & The Sunshine Band (“That’s The Way I Like It”) and Eric Bibb (“Diamond Days”). And I click too fast to catch some of them.

But we end up on “South Street” by the Orlons from 1963. From Philadelphia, the group had a pretty good run for about a year in 1962-63 and then hung in there for a couple more years with declining success.

“South Street” was one of their big ones, coming out in early 1963 and going to No. 3 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the magazine’s R&B chart. The summer before, “The Wah-Watusi” did a little better on the pop chart, getting to No. 2, but it only got to No. 5 on the R&B chart, so it’s hard to say which of the Orlons’ hits was their biggest.

I’d go with “South Street,” if only because, for years, I mis-heard the first line. The line actually goes “Where do all the hippest meet?” But for a long, long time, ending today, I thought the Orlons were popping through a crease in the time/space continuum and singing about hippies.

Saturday Single No. 767

December 25, 2021

It’s early, just a little before 7 a.m. as I write this. I heard cats slinking about the house and instead of mushing up my pillow and trying to go back to sleep, I decided to go ahead and give them their breakfast.

As they ate and I made a cup of coffee, I recalled that on Christmas mornings long ago, it was about this time that I’d awake at my grandfather’s house and quietly make my way downstairs to see what Santa – I never really believed in Santa, but it was a nice story – had left in my Christmas stocking.

And I thought about the passage of time, as I often do anyway, remembering the eight-year-old me who found a Danish troll in his stocking sixty years ago and the slightly older me who found a copy of Ian Fleming’s Dr. No in that same stocking about five years later. That decorated stocking – along with the one my sister made for the Texas Gal about twenty years ago – is in one of the boxes in the garage; for about fifteen years now, the Texas Gal and I have found gift bags at my sister’s fireplace instead of stockings.

There were none last year, when we sheltered in place. This year, our gift bags are waiting for us on our living room table; leery of the larger gathering my sister has planned for today, we made a masked midweek trip to drop off gifts and brought back this year’s gift bags from Santa.

So, for the second year in a row, the Texas Gal and I will be spending Christmas by ourselves, That’s okay. Yeah, I’ll miss seeing my niece and her family, but I’ve been battling an (non-Covid) infection for about a month, and there’s no point in risking my health or the health of the others. So when the Texas Gal gets up in a little while, we’ll go through our “stockings,” scratch off the lottery tickets that are sure to be part of our booty, then have a late breakfast and prepare for a quiet day.

We have only two things planned. We’ll have a dinner of King Ranch casserole, a favorite dish of mine since the Texas Gal brought it along with her when she came into my life almost twenty-two years ago. And we’ll find a streaming service that’s showing the 1969 film Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. I mentioned to her yesterday that I’ve never seen the whole thing, having fallen asleep in a theater in Winnipeg, Manitoba, during a long-ago high school choir trip and having never bothered to find the movie to see what I missed. She said she wouldn’t mind seeing the movie again.

It’s not the holiday we had planned, but – like many around the world – it’s the holiday we’ve got. I imagine it’s the same for whoever stops by here: For the second holiday season in a row, things are out of whack.

All I can say is that, whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope you can celebrate it with people you love in a place you call home.

And here’s Darlene Love with the original version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from Phil Spector’s 1963 album A Christmas Gift For You. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘If Tonight Was Not A Crooked Trail . . .’

November 9, 2021

There’s a little note on top of the file in which I write this blog. It’s been there a while, three years maybe. Long enough, anyway, that my eyes tend to slide right past it when I open the file to write a post.

It says, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

I assume it’s a reminder for me to write about the Bob Dylan song, not just a pithy bit of wisdom meant to help me focus on today’s tasks. I further assume the post I had in mind when I typed that potentially enigmatic title – it’s in quote marks, so it has to be a title – was a brief examination of covers of the Dylan song. If so, it’s an example of poor institutional memory, since I did a post like that in 2013.

But that was eight years ago, and my rereading of the post tells me that the Dylan version I would have liked to share wasn’t available in good form at YouTube. (The audio was fine, but the visuals were portions of a show about zombies, which never made sense to me.) So, let’s just review some of the versions of the song I have here in my files.

We start with four versions by Dylan himself: One from around 1962, maybe 1963, included in the 2010 Bootleg Series release The Witmark Demos; one from a 1963 solo performance at New York City’s Town Hall (that would be the first official release of the song, coming out on Dylan’s second greatest hits collection in 1972); and two versions with a band from the 2021 Bootleg Series release 1970.

Here’s that 1963 performance as released on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, this time without zombies.

Other artists jumped on it right away, of course, with Ian & Sylvia being the first, releasing it in July 1963 on their Four Strong Winds album. That one’s here, as are a few other covers from the Sixties by Odetta (1965), Elvis Presley (1966), the Pozo-Seco Singers (1966), Glenn Yarbrough (the first version I ever heard, from 1967), Dion (in a medley with Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” 1968), an obscure group named Street (which included the Dylan song in a medley with a stentorian version of George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” in 1968), and by the country-rock duo of Levitt & McClure (1969).

My favorite of those is likely the Yarbrough simply because I heard it first, but I’m certain I long ago featured that one here. After that, I like the version by the Pozo-Seco Singers from their 1966 album Time. There are other, later, versions of the song, but we’ll close things today with the Pozo-Seco Singers.

‘Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me . . .’

October 22, 2021

It was ninety-three years ago today in Atlanta, on October 22, 1928 – according to the notes to the CD The Essential Jimmie Rodgers – that the Singing Brakeman recorded a song that I’d guess is one of his best-known: “Waiting For A Train.” The recording was released the following February as Bluebird 5163.

I imagine that my first exposure to the tune came with Boz Scaggs’ version, found on his 1969 self-titled album recorded in Muscle Shoals, a track highlighted by Duane Allman’s sweet work on dobro. (Also on the album, of course, is the epic “Loan Me A Dime,” which features Allman’s ferocious slide work.) I got the album in the spring of 1989, but I imagine I’d heard Scagg’s version of the tune long before, though I have no idea when.

Scaggs’ version is just one of more than eighty covers of the tune listed at Second Hand Songs. Three versions are listed from 1929, by Riley Puckett, by Ed (Jake) West, and by Carson Robison and Frank Luther, who recorded as the Jimson Brothers.

The most recent version of “Waiting For A Train” listed at the site was by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. They recorded the song in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, the same room where Robert Johnson recorded twenty-three tracks during three sessions in November 1936. Bragg and Henry released their version in 2016 on the album Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad.

There was a surprise, though, waiting for me at Second Hand Songs. Listed with the versions of “Waiting For A Train” were thirteen versions of the song “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” with the words credited to Mississippi John Hurt. The website says that Hurt first recorded the song in 1966, a take that was included on the posthumous 1972 album Last Sessions.

I’ve noted here before that Second Hand Songs is a good place to start but not always complete. That’s the case here, as in the digital stacks here I find a version of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” that Hurt recorded in 1963 for the Library of Congress. That version was first released in 1982 on an album titled Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 2 and has been released on several anthologies since (as has the 1966 version) as shown by the photo in the video below.

Whichever came first, it’s a surprise and a delight to hear the same melody as Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train” used as the basis for an entirely different song (as was frequently the case in the folk and blues tradition).

Random In The Sixties

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 3, 2009.

The other day, when pondering the years between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival in the United States of the Beatles (1959-64), I wrote “ . . . it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be,” which is probably as good an example as you’ll ever find of praising with faint damns. That praise should have been louder.

(A confession: I borrowed that phrase – “praising with faint damns” – after recalling it this morning and then finding out it came from a 1980 headline in Time magazine, though I suppose it might have originated earlier. I only wish I were that clever.)

A reader dropped a note about those years, 1959 to 1964, reminding me of a genre I’d not mentioned: rock instrumentals, leading to surf instrumentals. He didn’t mention any performers’ names, but he didn’t have to; as I read his note, I thought instantly of the Ventures and of Dick Dale. And if I wanted to think a little harder, I could come up with many others. And in the course of thinking about that era over the past few days, I realized that I’d given short shrift – actually no shrift at all – to the wonderful era of American pop that sprang from the Brill Building and places like it. And that includes the early work of Phil Spector and his acolytes.

Add in the early stirrings of Motown and Stax, and it was a far better era than I often think it was.

And there lies the key word: “think.” I don’t remember that era, at least not musically. From the time the Beatles arrived here in the U.S. in early 1964, rock and pop surrounded me. As I’ve said before, I didn’t really listen to Top 40 at the time, but my sister, my peers and their siblings did. From 1964 onward, the sounds of pop and rock and soul and R&B were an inescapable portion of my environment, even if I didn’t pay much attention.

So when I think about, say, “This Diamond Ring” (which popped up in today’s random selection), I remember hearing it. I remember kids dancing to it at South Junior High. I recall who liked it and who didn’t. I was there. But when – to pull one out of the hat – the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (the No. 2 record for the entire year of 1961) shows up, it’s different. I know I’ve read a fair amount about the song: I think it’s a Gerry Goffin/Carole King song. (It is, but I had to grab a reference book to make sure of it, and to make certain I had his first name right.) I know that Dave Marsh wrote an interesting essay about the record in The Heart of Rock & Soul, which I probably would refer to if I wrote about the record. But I don’t know how it felt to hear it coming out of the radio as I hung out in Rick’s basement or in our kitchen or in my bedroom. I wasn’t there.

When I began digging into record collecting, I unintentionally set 1964 as my starting date for pop and rock, because that’s what I remembered. When I got interested in blues, I dug back through the early 1960s and into the 1950s and the years before that. Then I started digging into early rock & roll, the 1950s stuff that evolved from R&B and its cousin, the jump blues. And then I followed rock & roll along the evolutionary path as far as Buddy Holly and 1959. Most of what I have from the years from 1959 to 1964 is blues, deep R&B and instrumental pop, things that didn’t frequently make the Top 40.

The same thing happened when I got my first modern computer in early 2000 and began to collect mp3s. I was aware that I was ignoring much of the popular music from those five years as I borrowed CDs from the library and from friends and ripped them to put into my collection. As I began that collection, I had, of course, no inkling that I would eventually be writing a blog about (mostly) music from the 1960s and the 1970s. Would I have altered my collecting patterns had I known?

Maybe not. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly thirty months now, and I still don’t have a great deal of pop-rock and popular R&B from those years. I’ve got some, and I’ll likely get more. But I doubt if it’s ever going to be a time period whose Top 40 music I love the way I do the music of the years that follow it. And I doubt I’ll ever be as comfortable writing about the Top 40 music of those early years as I am writing about the sounds of the years that came after. I wasn’t there.

The numbers of mp3s I currently have from the years of the 1960s tell the tale a lot more succinctly:

1960: 205
1961: 150
1962: 276
1963: 362
1964: 647
1965: 754
1966: 891
1967: 1324
1968: 1886
1969: 2425

A Random Selection from the 1960s
1960: “Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown 1003
1961: “Spoonful” by Etta James & Harvey Fuqua, Chess 1771
1962: “In My Time of Dyin’” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan
1963: “Beyond the Surf” by Jack Nitzsche from The Lonely Surfer
1964: “Java Jones” by Donna Lynn, Capitol 5156
1965:  “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Liberty 55756
1966: “(I’m A) Road Runner” by Junior Walker & the All Stars, Soul 35015
1967: “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by the Hombres, Verve Forecast 5058
1968: “Try a Little Tenderness” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4177
1969: “Rag Mama Rag” (alternate vocal take) from The Band

“Bye Bye Baby” was obviously one of Mary Wells’ very early singles. It didn’t dent the Top 40, but in August of 1961, her single “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” [Motown 1011], went to No. 33. After that, she had eleven more singles in the Top 40, including the classic “My Guy,” which spent two weeks at No. 1 in 1964. “Bye Bye Baby” is a good single, especially in the last thirty seconds, when Wells takes off.

“Spoonful,” a cover of Willie Dixon’s great blues done so memorably by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 [Chess 1762], features a great performance by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, but listen to the backing track. It’s like 1950s R&B combined with the horns from an early 1960’s Frank Sinatra session. I find the horn arrangement to be very distracting. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the history of the R&B charts, so I don’t know how well the record did. It’s interesting, but man, those horns do bother me.

The Dylan track is from his first album, when he was still trying to be Woody Guthrie. Neither the record nor the jacket credited the songwriter, with the liner notes saying that the first time Dylan sang “In My Time of Dyin’” was during the recording session. The index at All-Music Guide generally lists the tune as “traditional,” although a CD titled Inside The Blues by Mare Edstrom lists Blind Willie Johnson as the songwriter. I’d be interested to know more about that. In any event, Dylan rapidly outgrew his Guthrie disguise, and Bob Dylan was Dylan’s last album of mostly covers until 1970’s odd Self Portrait.

Speaking of surf music, as I did above, “Beyond The Surf” is a superb track from Jack Nitzsche’s only solo album. I don’t know if the album’s jacket listed the credits, as I got this through an mp3 exchange, but I’d put good money on the drummer being Hal Blaine. Nitzsche, of course, was part of Phil Spector’s crew, and he worked as a session player, producer and general expert with multitudes of pop and rock musicians over the course of a forty-year career.

Until I ran into it a couple years ago at The Record Robot, I had no idea there had ever been a vocal version of Allen Toussaint’s tune “Java.” The tune was a Top 10 hit as an instrumental in early 1964 for Al Hirt; it went to No. 4. As for Donna Lynn, the only things I know about her, I learned when The Record Robot shared her album: “She was in a Broadway show with Maureen O’Hara called ‘Christine’, and was then, for some reason chosen to be the face, voice and name behind these novelty songs. All by the age of 14.”

Of the four singles that cover the years 1965-1968 in this list, probably the best is the Junior Walker, which went to No. 20, the fourth in a series of twelve Top 40 singles. “(I’m A) Road Runner” is good, but I’m not sure Walker ever did better than 1965’s “Shotgun,” his first hit.

Even discounting the memories of a junior high dance, “This Diamond Ring” still has a geeky charm. Being the son of Jerry Lewis without question eased the road for Gary Lewis on his way to a No. 1 hit. Forty-some years later, though, the record still sounds good coming out of a radio speaker once in a while. It can, however, be an earworm of the highest rank.

The Hombres’ record “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” has to be one of the oddest singles of an era that had many. It was the Memphis-based group’s only hit, going to No. 12 in the autumn of 1967. Still weird but also still fun.

There are likely Otis Redding fans who still cringe at the thought of Three Dog Night covering “Try A Little Tenderness.” I agree that Redding’s version is far superior. It also did a little better in the charts: Otis’ version went to No. 25 in 1967, while TDN’s version reached No. 29. My thought has always been: If hearing Three Dog Night’s version and some ensuing disparaging comments from R&B lovers got even one kid to go find Redding’s version – and I know that it did just that for at least one kid – then it’s okay. So just call TDN’s version a gateway record. (Incidentally, Redding’s version was a cover, too; the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the song was a No. 6 hit for Ted Lewis in 1933.)

The alternate version of “Rag Mama Rag” was included on an expanded CD edition of The Band. It’s kind of fun to hear something so familiar sound so different.