Archive for the ‘1966’ Category

On to YouTube!

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 11, 2009

Looking for a video of Rolf Harris perfoming “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” I found something that, to me, is astounding. It’s a recording – with no video, but that’s okay – of Harris singing his hit song with the Beatles, most likely in 1963. It’s a little ragged, but the best thing is that the lyrics have been changed to reflect the session. Give it a listen:

Here’s a television performance by Dave Dudley of “Six Days On The Road.” It’s from his appearance on the National Life Grand Old Opry on October 28, 1966.

And to close the video portion of today’s post, here’s George Harrison and Leon Russell performing “Beware of Darkness” at 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh:

Bonus Track
In yesterday’s post, I said of Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” that there were probably hundreds of songs in which the narrator realizes how good things were at home “but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s.” Frequent commenters Yah Shure and Oldetymer suggested several songs with similar themes, and Oldetymer added that Hazel Dickens’ “West Virginia My Home” might top Bare’s song for twang.

I don’t have a recording of Dickens performing the song on her own, but I have a version she recorded with her frequent partner, Alice Gerard, from the 1976 album Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard. And it’s pretty down-home.

When I made my comment, I was actually referring to the guitar figure that opened Bare’s record, but Oldetymer has done a service by reminding me of Dickens and her music, which is very much aligned with the sounds and places from which she, and country music, came. When you listen to Dickens, you’re hearing what a great deal of American music sounded like in 1927 when the Carter Family – A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter – made their ways from Maces Spring, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, for their first recording sessions, sessions that are said to have been the birthpoint of country music records.

There is, thus, an entirely different aesthetic to the music Dickens has recorded. (She turned seventy-four earlier this month.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the sound of the past:

Advertisements

More ‘More’ Than You’ve Ever Heard Before

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 26, 2009

The movie, an Italian flick, was supposed to be dark, depraved and disturbing. It might have been so in 1962. Now, forty-seven years later, it’s mostly slow and dull.

The title? Mondo Cane, which translates from the Italian as something like A Dog’s World.

Supposedly a documentary that detailed the oddities, cruelties and perversities of life, Mondo Cane was intended to be controversial, and some of its contents likely were shocking in 1962. I spent a couple hours looking at it over the holiday weekend, and it’s not very shocking at all from the vantage point of 2009.

The movie spent a lot of time in the Pacific, examining what might best be called non-industrial island cultures. While the film purported to be a true reflection of life in those societies, the winking narration – as when a cluster of bare-breasted island girls chase one young man around the island and into the sea, and in a few other instances – left me wondering about the truth of the visuals as well as the truth of the narration.

The broad-brush contrasts the film points out between so-called primitive cultures and Western culture were so ham-handed that I chuckled. Yeah, I know that in some areas of the world snakes and dogs are dinner; and in 1962, one could go to a restaurant in New York City and spend $20 for plate of fried ants, bug larvae and butterfly eggs. The film shows those young island women chasing men into the sea, and a little later shows a cadre of young Australian women running into the sea and pulling men back onto the sand (during lifeguard practice). After seeing footage of dogs in Asia waiting in cages to become dinner, the film takes us to a pet cemetery in southern California, showing the gravestones of pets owned by celebrities of the time, including Vivan Vance (Lucille Ball’s sidekick), Jack Warner, Jr., of Warner Brothers and Julie London.

I think I knew about Mondo Cane when it came out. I would have been nine, and – as I’ve noted before – was even then aware of current events and news that troubled adults. It’s quite likely, I realized this weekend, that my awareness of the film was helped along by parodies of its approach in MAD magazine, which was one of my favorites at the time. It’s not a significant film in any way, but it is interesting. There are, by current standards, several troubling images involving cruelty to animals, but beyond that, little is truly surprising. As a historical document of what Western culture found depraved in 1962, however, it’s an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

The movie did, however, provide one long-lasting piece of popular culture: Its theme, better known these days as “More (Theme to Mondo Cane).” The song, written by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero, was used in the movie as an instrumental under the title “Ti Guarderò Nel Cuore.” Italian lyrics were added by Marcello Ciorciolini, and later, the English lyrics were written by Norman Newell, giving us the song “More (Theme From Mondo Cane)” as we know it.

I would guess that “More” is one of the most covered songs of all time. All-Music Guide lists 1,325 CDs on which there is a recording of a song titled “More.” Some of those would be other compositions, but I’m certain that the vast majority of those recordings are of the song by Ortolani and Oliviero. So let’s take a walk though the garden of “More.”

First, here’s the original:

“Theme from Mondo Cane” by Riz Ortolani & Nino Oliviero [1962]

One version of the song made the Top 40 in the U.S., an instrumental version by a Kai Winding, a composer and bandleader who was born in Denmark but grew up in the U.S. His version of “More” went to No. 8 in the summer of 1963.

“More” by Kai Winding, Verve 10295 [1963]

And then came the flood (though not all covers were titled exactly the same):

“More” by Ferrante & Teicher from Concert for Lovers [1963]

“Theme from Mondo Cane (More)” by Jack Nitschze from The Lonely Surfer [1963]

“More” by John Gary from Catch A Rising Star [1963]

“More” by Vic Dana from More [1963]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Frank Sinatra & Count Basie from It Might As Well Be Swing [1964]

“More” by Billy Vaughn from Blue Velvet [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Liberace from Golden Themes From Hollywood [1964]

“More” by Mantovani from The Incomparable Mantovani and his Orchestra [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Nat King Cole from L-O-V-E [1965]

“More” by Julie London from Our Fair Lady [1965]

“More” by Steve Lawrence, Columbia 42795 [1963]

“More” by Roger Williams from I’ll Remember You [1967]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by the Ray Conniff Singers from Ray Conniff’s World Of Hits [1967]

“More” by Jerry Vale from The Impossible Dream [1967]

“More” by Andy Williams from The Academy Award Winning “Call Me Irresponsible” [1970]

“More” by Jackie Gleason from Today’s Romantic Hits – For Lovers Only [1963]

“More” by Harry Connick, Jr., from Only You [2004]

(I’ve pulled these from various sources; some are mine, some I found elsewhere. Of those I found elsewhere, I’m reasonably sure that the performers are identified correctly. And after spending several hours digging, I’m also reasonably sure that the original release album titles and dates are correct. I have a suspicion that the version by the Ray Conniff singers might have been released on an earlier album, but I can’t verify that.)

Edited slightly and Jackie Gleason release and date verified June 28, 2013. Steve Lawrence release and date verified March 5, 2014.

The Plumbers Are Here!

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 22, 2009

The best laid plans and all that . . .

As I mentioned yesterday, I had planned to pull tracks from six of the records in the unplayed stacks for today’s post. But yesterday afternoon, our landlord called: He’d scheduled the long-awaited work on our water pipes.

So this morning, the cats are sequestered upstairs and the plumbers are pulling down pipes in the basement. We have plenty of bottled water in the fridge. I have my thermos of coffee in the study, and I am – as is my tendency – pretty well distracted.

The morning’s events, did, however, remind me of my one attempt to work with plumbing and similar fixtures. Sometime during the late 1970s, the float and attached mechanism in our toilet tank quit working. Even a relative novice like me could see that it needed to be replaced. Assuming that my ability to diagnose conferred upon me an equal ability to repair, I stopped by the local plumbing store and told the clerk what I’d seen.

He agreed with my diagnosis and showed me some options for replacement of the worn-out parts. I bought the package of stuff that fell into the midrange, and on Saturday morning, carried my minimally stocked toolbox into the bathroom, turned off the water and proceeded to take the offending pieces of equipment out.

And I then realized that to install their replacements, I needed a wrench larger than anything I had in my possession. The lady of the house was watching my progress from out in the corridor, and I could tell from the look on her face that she’d come to the same realization I had: I needed help. “What are we gonna do?” she asked.

I told her what I planned, and she nodded. Then I did what every I’d guess nearly every young homeowner does the first time one of his handyman projects exceeds his grasp: I called Dad. I’m not sure what he was doing on that long-ago Saturday, but without hesitation, he gathered his tools – including the large adjustable wrench – and drove the thirty miles from St. Cloud to Monticello. About twenty minutes after his arrival, the toilet was reassembled and working.

George the Plumber tells me that he and his assistant will finish the work sometime late this afternoon. Water will flow once more. So here’s a selection of songs that fit today’s events:

A Six-Pack of Water and Plumbers
“Wade In The Water” by Ramsey Lewis, Cadet 5541, 1966
“Hot Water” by the Ides of March from Midnight Oil, 1973
“No Water In The Well” by Wishbone Ash from Locked In, 1976
“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell, Stax 116, 1962
“You Left The Water Running” by Maurice & Mac, Checker 1197, 1968
“The Plumber” by the Ovations from Sweet Thing, 1973

I have two versions of the Ramsey Lewis track. In these days of reissues and bonus tracks, I’m not sure that either of the two – one runs 3:36 and the other about 3:46 – is the original Cadet single. I’m posting the track that runs 3:36. (Yah Shure? You got this one covered?) Either way, it’s a delightful track that went to No. 19 in the summer of 1966.*

As I clicked from track to track with the word “water” in their titles, I didn’t expect much from either the Ides of March or Wishbone Ash. Both surprised me pleasantly. “Hot Water” turned out to be a mid-tempo rocker that owes maybe a little bit to Bachman-Turner Overdrive; it doesn’t sound a bit like a track from the same band that did the horn-heavy “Vehicle” three years earlier. “No Water In The Well” is much more melodic and atmospheric than the usual work by Wishbone Ash (although that’s true of about half the tracks on Locked In), and the group pulls the song off with more delicacy than I would have anticipated.

The William Bell and Maurice & Mac tracks have been anointed classic soul singles long after the fact and in spite of chart performance. Bell’s single was hardly noticed when it came out: It went only to No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100. But that was a better fate than the one that fell to “You Left The Water Running.” The Checker single didn’t even enter either the Billboard Hot 100 or the magazine’s R&B chart. Writer Dave Marsh notes in The Heart of Rock & Soul that the single did spend three weeks in the lower portions of the Cash Box R&B chart. (Thanks to Caesar Tjalbo for the Maurice & Mac track.)**

I know nothing about the Ovations. All-Music Guide says: “Despite having only one Top Ten R&B hit, the Ovations were a superb Southern soul trio. The original group featured Louis Williams and made some great ballads that were sung so vividly and produced in such raw fashion that they never reached the wider soul market. Though they reached the R&B charts twice during the late ’60s (with ‘It’s Wonderful to Be in Love’ and ‘Me and My Imagination’), the group eventually disbanded. By 1971, a new trio had resurfaced, with former Nightingales Rochester Neal, Bill Davis, and Quincy Billops, Jr. A remake of Sam Cooke’s ‘Having a Party’ in 1973 gave them their lone Top Ten R&B hit.”

Sweet Thing, from which “The Plumber” comes, was recorded in the late 1970s, according to a note at AMG, but I’ve got three tracks from the album (without having any idea where I found them), and I’ve seen a 1973 date for them. Anyone know anything?

*Yah Shure did in fact come through. His assessment of the versions of “Wade In The Water” is at the bottom of the post here. The version in the original post was not the single; the linked video is. Note added July 1, 2013.

 

** Caesar Tjalbo is still online, but there have been no new posts there for almost two years. Note added June 20, 2012.

Time To Rake Some Leaves

June 1, 2012

Originally posted on April 17, 2009

Our home sits on a fairly large lot, probably the equivalent of half a city block, as a guess. The other day, as I wandered across the lawn, I counted thirty-four oak trees. And there are a few others: one ash tree, some evergreens and two elms that have somehow managed to survive the ravages of Dutch elm disease. And there’s still room for a few shrubs. It’s a pretty good-sized patch of ground for one house in the city.

A couple of weeks ago, after winter retreated and the snow disappeared, the Texas Gal and I looked out at the leaves that had been buried under the snow and the branches that had fallen during the winter. It was quite a mess. And she, with the burden of work and school, and I, with my lame leg, looked at each other. “We need to get some rakes,” she said.

I nodded glumly. For some reason, there are few chores of yard work quite as daunting to me as raking. If I could stand to be in the exhaust fumes, I wouldn’t mind mowing the lawn. (As it happens, though, the fumes from almost any engine put me to sleep.) I won’t mind watering the few flowers we’ll have this summer, and a small vegetable plot, if we decide to invest in some peppers and tomatoes. (Of course, having been apartment dwellers, we’ll need to get gardening tools and a hose. We are lamentably unprepared for tending our garden.)

But the thought of trying to rake a lawn as large as ours filled me with something close to despair. It needed to be done, I agreed. I wondered if we should call our landlord and ask what’s been done in other years. We could, the Texas Gal said. Or we could go ahead and start working, little bits by little bits, and if our landlord showed up to clear the leaves, well, he’d know we had some initiative and that we care about the place.

So one of the tasks scheduled for this weekend is a trip to Handyman’s, our nifty East Side hardware store, for a rake. As it turns out, we won’t have to do the entire lawn. Late the other afternoon, as the Texas Gal came home from work, our landlord pulled up into the driveway with his lawn tractor, and he spent a couple of hours clearing the leaves and branches. The lawn looks pretty good, with the grass beginning to green.

We’ll still need a rake. There are still leaves packed into the flower beds, and there are a few piles of leaves close to the house that we’ll have to deal with. And I imagine we’ll soon make some decisions about what we might want to tend in our garden this summer.

A Six-Pack for Yard & Garden
“Sticks & Stones” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]
“Tall Trees” by Crowded House from Woodface [1991]
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela, Uni 55066 [1968]
“Leaves That Are Green” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence [1966]
“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty from Wildflowers [1994]
“Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James & the Shondells, Roulette 7028 [1968]

“Sticks & Stones” is Cocker’s live cover of the Ray Charles tune from 1960, with Leon Russell and the best big rock band ever assembled racing Cocker to see who can get to the end of the song first.

I’ve heard/read the label “Beatlesque” attached so many times to the 1980s and 1990s work of Crowded House that it’s ceased to mean anything. (I acknowledge that I may have attached said label to said work myself and thus contributed to my own confusion.) If the label is shorthand for “concise, melodic songs that insinuate themselves into the listener’s brain and heart,” then the label-users have it right.

I’ve written before about working at the state trapshoot, sitting in the little concrete hut and putting targets on the machine while listening to the radio. I wasn’t entirely familiar with everything I heard during my first trapshoot in 1968, but the cowbell announcing Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass” soon became a familiar and welcome sound. And I imagine I had a few chances to hear it over the four days I sat there: The record was No. 1 for two weeks in late July, right about the time of the trapshoot.

I’m actually not that big a fan of either the Simon & Garfunkel or Tom Petty tracks offered here. There’s nothing particularly wrong with either song or either record. In the case of “Leaves That Are Green,” I think I overdosed on the song during my early days of listening to Simon & Garfunkel, and in the case of the Petty tune, it came along at a time when I wasn’t listening to his stuff. In addition, both S&G and Petty had so many offerings that were better than these two. But these two had titles that fit into today’s package.

The occasionally cryptic lyric of “Crimson and Clover” fit in perfectly in the late 1960s and is still kind of goofily fun today. The record was one of several big hits for James and the Shondells (“Hanky Panky,” “ Mony Mony,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” as well as “Draggin’ the Line” for James on his own), and it spent a couple weeks at No. 1 in February 1969. Beyond the lyric, some of the record’s other vestiges of the time, like the phasing, might not have aged as well. Still, as I said, it’s fun.

Reposts
Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars [1977]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1978]
American Son by Levon Helm [1980]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1982]
Original post here.

Otis, Neil & Gypsy

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 9, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Here’s a clip of Otis Redding performing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” during the 1966 Stax-Volt European Tour. (The individual who posted the clip asked the question: “Did he cover the song from the Rolling Stones or did they cover it from him?” The correct answer, of course, is that the Stones wrote it and recorded it and Otis didn’t just cover it. He took it right away from them. But then, he did that with a lot of songs.)

Here’s one of the better performances of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that I passed by on Tuesday: Neil Young at the 1992 concert celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Bob Dylan’s first album.

Video deleted.

I was hoping to find something by Gypsy, whose self-titled debut album I reposted this week. What showed up is a video that uses the album’s opening track, “Gypsy Queen, Part 1,” behind a collection of archival film and photos showing the group during 1970 or so. The quality and coherence of some of the visuals is questionable, but it’s still a pretty cool package.

And here are a few more reposts:

New Routes by Lulu [1970]
Original post here.

Melody Fair by Lulu [1970]
Original post here.

Ambergris by Ambergris [1970]
Original post here.

With Friends and Neighbors by Alex Taylor [1971]
Original post here.

Tales From The Stage

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 8, 2009

As seventh grade entered its home stretch in early 1966, I tried out for the school play. I’m not sure what prompted me to do so, but I ended up with a role in a comedy titled No More Homework!

I recall almost nothing about the play’s plot. I do recall the names of a few of my fellow cast members. And I remember very clearly that I played the role of Faversham Lightly, Jr., a less-than-dedicated student whose main pleasure was sleep. In the play’s first act, Faversham goes into the supply closet in search of something, and a ruckus in the hallway draws the attention of the faculty, the staff and the audience. Some hilarity and mild suspense ensues.

Near the end of the third act, the suspense leads one of the faculty members to gingerly enter the supply closet. And she runs from the closet back into the office, screaming about a ghost. At which point, young Faversham emerges rubbing his eyes, having slept away the day (and the entire second act, if I am recalling this correctly). Faversham’s sleepy reappearance from the closet got the largest laugh each of the two nights we presented the play.

There’s nothing quite like drawing laughter and applause when one is being purposefully funny. It’s intoxicating and addictive. So through ninth grade, I was a regular on stage at South Junior High. I had a bit role in the next year’s production, a musical entitled Plenty of Money, and as a ninth-grader, I had the comedy lead in On With The Show, a musical that takes place in a circus. I made the local daily, as the St. Cloud Times ran a picture of me being terrified at the sight of Tina the Snake Charmer’s pet.

The production being a musical, I even had a song to perform solo. I still remember most of the words to “Let Me Live the Life of a Clown.” (There are those, I imagine, who would claim that I’ve met that goal, albeit not in the sense the song had in mind, with floppy shoes and a big red nose.)

And then, it was over. During high school, I moved my extracurricular efforts to the locker room as an athletic manager. About half-way through my senior year, encouraged by friends who were auditioning, I did try out for a role in a Woody Allen play, Don’t Drink the Water, and I was cast as the comedy lead. The director and the wrestling coach were both cooperative, each allowing me an occasional absence so I could take part in both activities at the same time. And I enjoyed the rehearsals and the two or three performances. But the rush wasn’t there.

And even though the roles I had as a senior and in ninth grade were larger and more challenging, I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a louder round of laughter and applause than I did when Faversham Lightly, Jr., stumbled sleepily back on stage in the spring of 1966.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, April 9, 1966)

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by Otis Redding, Volt 132 (No. 34)

“I Hear Trumpets Blow” by the Tokens, B.T. Puppy 518 (No. 36)

“The Rains Came” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe 8314 (No. 52)

“Rhapsody in the Rain” by Lou Christie, MGM 13473 (No. 55)

“Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” by Edwin Starr, Ric-Tic 109 (No. 62)

“Dirty Water” by the Standells, Tower 185 (No. 120)

By using horns in place of Keith Richards’ thick guitar lick, Otis Redding turns “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into an R&B anthem and almost steals the song away from the Rolling Stones. Redding’s version had peaked at No. 31 – his second Top 40 hit – and was heading back down the chart by the second week of April; he’d have eight more Top 40 hits, four of them coming after his death in a December 1967 plane crash.

“I Hear Trumpets Blow” is an odd single, one that I’d not been familiar with until recently. The Tokens had reached No. 1 in 1961 with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but the best they could do five years later with “Trumpets” was No. 30. It turned out to be the only hit the Tokens had on their own record label, B.T. Puppy. They returned to the Top 40 in the spring of 1967 with “Portrait of My Love,” which went to No. 36, and three of the four Tokens formed Cross Country and took a cover of “In The Midnight Hour” to No. 30 in 1973. (As long as I’m sort of on the topic, my blogging colleague Any Major Dude recently posted a fascinating account of the long and sometimes unsavory history of the “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Check it out.)

“The Rains Came” is another record that I’d not known until recently. The name of the Sir Douglas Quintet might have fooled a few listeners into thinking the group was part of the British Invasion, but – to a discriminating listener – the music is nothing but Tex-Mex, with that organ part chirping all the way through. Leader Doug Sahm and his pals took “The Rains Came” as high as No. 31, the group’s second of three hits. “She’s About A Mover” went to No. 13 a year earlier, and “Mendocino would reach No. 27 in the spring of 1969.

The version of “Rhapsody in the Rain” offered here is the original version, the one that got parents and radio stations all heated up in the spring of 1966. Harry Young, who wrote the liner notes of Lou Christie’s greatest hits album, Enlightningment, says: “‘Rhapsody in the Rain’ . . . had the honor of being banned. Why? Because, as WLS Program Director Gene Taylor put it in Time magazine, ‘There was no question about what the lyrics and the beat implied – sexual intercourse in a car, making love to the rhythm of the windshield wipers.’” Young adds, “The lyrics only said ‘We were making out in the rain’ and ‘Our love went much too far.’ Nevertheless, the ‘dirty’ lyrics were changed to ‘We fell in love in the rain’ and ‘Our love came like a falling star.’” Young also noted that the bowdlerized version of the single was slower and lower-pitched. The record, which would become Christie’s fourth Top 40 hit, was heading up the chart in the second week of April and would eventually peak at No. 16.

“Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” didn’t quite get Edwin Starr into the Top 40; the record had peaked at No. 48 a couple of weeks earlier. Writer Dave Marsh called “Stop Her On Sight” “one of the best non-Motown Motown discs ever cut.” Marsh also says that even though Starr’s first hits came on Ric-Tic – a “minor league” Detroit label – “every inflection established that Motown was embedded in the grooves of [Starr’s] destiny.” In just a few years, Starr’s Motown work would hit the Top Ten, with “Twenty-Five Miles” reaching No. 6 in 1969 and “War” topping the chart for three weeks in 1970.

There are only a few things to note about the Standells’ “Dirty Water.” First, it had a long climb ahead of it, as it eventually reached No. 11. And then, it’s got one of the great – and sometimes overlooked – opening riffs in rock history, and it’s a great record beyond that riff. Finally, a record this good has to be in the running for the title of greatest one-hit wonder of all time. Maybe not the top spot – I’d have to think about it – but in the running.

‘If You See Saint Annie . . .’

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 7, 2009

The RealPlayer was chugging along on random last evening as I caught up on several editions of Rolling Stone, laughing ruefully at Matt Taibbi’s tales of greed on Wall Street and wondering if I should take Taylor Swift seriously, when a very soft version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” began to play. I put the magazine down and checked out the music.

(A little later, when I got back to my reading, I was still laughing at Taibbi’s work but decided to pass on Taylor Swift, a decision helped by her rather lame performance the evening before during a country music awards show. But that’s just me, and I’m neither the correct age nor the correct gender to be part of Ms. Swift’s target audience. From what I’ve read, it sounds as if Ms. Swift has her head on pretty straight, and I admire that, even if I don’t invest myself in her music.)

Anyway, when I got to the RealPlayer, the music turned out to be an album track from a very obscure group called West, a late 1960s group that – from what I read at All-Music Guide – had a hard time deciding on a musical identity. Shimmering folk-rock, sweet sunshine pop and a few other hard-to-describe styles crowded together in the grooves of West’s records, the website indicated. I listened to a few more tracks by the group and decided it wasn’t interesting enough to dig into actively. But it was inoffensive enough to be good background music, so I didn’t delete it. (And I have no idea where I found it. I’m guessing it came to me sometime in late 2006, during the first weeks after I discovered music blogs, a time when I was trying to be the Download King of the Universe.)

Hearing the song did remind me, though, of the late winter and early spring of 1972. As I mentioned once before, I think, I’d bought my first Bob Dylan album during that late winter, shelling out a little bit of cash for the newly released Greatest Hits, Volume II. Among the Dylan personas that I discovered there was the surrealist wordsmith who crafted “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” The emerging writer inside me fell in love with that stuff, and I spent hours listening to those two songs – I loved the entire album, but those two tracks especially – over and over.

As I went about my days, I’d ponder their lyrical construction and find myself murmuring lines under my breath. It’s quite likely that some of my fellow students at St. Cloud State thought me a little odd as I walked along, muttering, “I cannot move; my fingers are all in a knot,” with my head bobbing as if I were hearing voices. (And I was, of course, hearing a voice: Dylan’s.) My own lyrics changed, becoming more surreal and sprinkled with obscure references.

It would be nice to say that I continued to explore Dylan’s work at the time. But I didn’t. I was still catching up on all the pop and rock music I’d missed during earlier years, and the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell/Delaney Bramlett/Bobby Whitlock/Eric Clapton axis of sounds was beginning to fascinate me. I still listened to Top 40, and in all those places, I found so much to explore that – with a few exceptions like Blood on the Tracks – Dylan didn’t come close to the center of my musical universe again for years. (When he did, in 1987, it was in a flood, as – with the help of a lady friend – I put together a complete collection of Dylan on the Columbia, Asylum and Island labels by the summer of 1990.)

But through those years, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” has remained a favorite of mine, one that often pops into my head with its jangly piano intro. There are more than a hundred CDs in the market with a version of the song, according to AMG, and there are others that list the song under a variation of the title. (As an example, Judy Collins called it simply “Tom Thumb’s Blues” on her In My Life album in 1966). Some of the performers listed as having recorded the song are: Jaime Brockett, Dave’s True Story, Bryan Ferry, the Grateful Dead, Robyn Hitchcock, Jimmy LaFave, Gordon Lightfoot, Barry McGuire, Medicine Head, Linda Ronstadt, Nina Simone, the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Sting Cheese Incident, the Walking Wounded, Jennifer Warnes and Neil Young.

Here’s the version by West that started this post, a recent version by Dylan contemporary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and a live version by Dylan and The Band recorded in Liverpool in 1966. (I’ve posted that last version once before; that post is here.)

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by West from West [1968]

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott from the soundtrack to I’m Not There [2007]
(Thanks to Jeff at AM then FM for this one.)

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan & The Band, Liverpool, England, May 14, 1966

Reposts
Gypsy, Part One, by Gypsy (1970)
Gypsy, Part Two by Gypsy (1970)
In The Garden by Gypsy (1971)
Original post here.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

Using Up One Of His Nine Lives

February 15, 2012

Originally posted March 2, 2009

It was late last evening, and I was doing some final tinkering with a few albums of mp3s I’d found online. Taking a break, I wandered up to the loft, where the Texas Gal was exploring the capabilities of her new laptop.

As I came up the stairs, Cubbie Cooper, our youngest cat – not quite a year old – was playing with something atop one of the bookcases that serve as a banister/wall near the stairway. Without the bookcases and a dresser at right angles to the bookcases, there would simply be a hole in the floor. As I walked past, Cubbie jumped for the dresser, crossing open space. He nearly missed, one leg kicking in mid-air as he righted himself on the dresser.

I picked him up as I walked past. “One of these days, Cubbie,” I said, as I headed to the desk where the Texas Gal sat, “you’re gonna miss and you’re gonna fall onto the stairs.”

I handed him to the Texas Gal as he purred. “He does it all the time,” she said. “Nothing we can do about it but hope that he stays lucky.”

I scratched Cubbie’s ears as we reviewed the schedule for the coming week, then set him on the floor and went back to the study and the mp3s. A few minutes later, I heard a scuffling sound, a thump-rattle and then bump, bump, bump. I turned around in time to see Cubbie walking slowly out of the stairway door, shaking his head.

“What was that?” asked the Texas Gal from the loft.

“Cubbie, I think,” I answered, following the little guy into the dining room. He sat there, looking around as if he weren’t sure where he was. I picked him up and he gave a pitiful “Rowr?” And his nose was bleeding. He had indeed tumbled off the dresser and into the stairwell.

We carried him into the bathroom, cleaned his nose and watched him for a few minutes. He let us touch his face without complaint, which told us he’d not broken any facial bones, and he let us hold open his mouth to check for blood. There was none, though his nose continued to bleed for a few minutes.

We decided that – in the absence of any obvious injury – all we could do was keep an eye on him and check him carefully in the morning. So we settled him in the cat bed, where he hunkered down, still shaking his head a little. By the time we retired for the night, he was dozing, although his cheek was slightly swollen.

This morning, when I headed to the kitchen, Cubbie was right there with Clarence and Oscar, eager for breakfast. His cheek is still a little swollen, but other than that, he seems to be okay. I have no idea how many of his proverbial nine lives he used up in his seven months of life before we got him, but I’m darned sure that one of them was charged to his account last evening.

A Six-Pack of Cats

“This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra from Dirty Boogie  [1998]

“Crosseyed Cat” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again [1977]

“Black Cat” by Magic Carpet from Magic Carpet [1972]

“The Cat Woman” by the Marketts from Batman Theme [1966]

“Cat Fever” by Fanny from Charity Ball [1971]

“Long-Tail Cat” by Gator Creek from Gator Creek [1970]

“This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof” was recorded and released in the middle of the 1990s swing/jump blues revival led in large part by Brian Setzer, one-time member – fittingly enough – of the Stray Cats. Setzer’s swing/jump blues work seems to have aged fairly well, and maybe that’s because Setzer’s work was performed with more of a straight face and with less of a smirk and a wink than that of other swing revival performers (the Cherry Popping Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy come easily to mind).

Muddy Waters’ Hard Again album was one of the last few albums Waters recorded in his long and stellar career. Produced by Johnny Winter, the album was a return to classic form for Waters. All-Music Guide notes: “Waters is not only at the top of his game, but is having the time of his life while he’s at it. The bits of studio chatter that close ‘Mannish Boy’ and open ‘Bus Driver’ show him to be relaxed and obviously excited about the proceedings. Part of this has to be because the record sounds so good. Winter has gone for an extremely bare production style, clearly aiming to capture Waters in conversation with a band in what sounds like a single studio room. This means that sometimes the songs threaten to explode in chaos as two or three musicians begin soloing simultaneously. Such messiness is actually perfect in keeping with the raw nature of this music; you simply couldn’t have it any other way.”

Magic Carpet was a 1970s band that found its niche by using sitar, Indian percussion and gentle folk-rock instrumentation to back folk songs reminiscent of, if nowhere near as good as, Joni Mitchell’s work. Taken one song at a time, amid other and better work, Magic Carpet’s only album is kind of fun. On its own, it becomes repetitive and, frankly, wearisome.

“The Cat Woman” might or might not have been drawn from a musical theme used on the Batman television show. I honestly don’t know if there’s any connection at all, beyond the title, to the character played on the television show by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether. I tend to think not (but I easily could be wrong). The track showed up on the Batman Theme album released by the Marketts in the midst of the Batman craze in 1966.

Fanny, of course, was one of the first all-female bands. “Cat Fever” is from Charity Ball, the second of the group’s three albums, and rocks pretty well.

Readers may recall that not long ago, I posted a so-so version of “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Gator Creek, a group whose lead singer was a young Kenny Loggins. “Long-Tail Cat” comes from the same album and is interesting because it’s an early version of a song that would end up a few years later on 1972’s Loggins & Messina. The arrangements are about the same, though the Gator Creek version is more robust and Loggins’ vocal performance is better on the latter version.

Edited slightly on July 8, 2013.

Now, By Request, ‘Born Free’

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 25, 2009

It might have been for her birthday, or it might have been for Christmas, but sometime around 1963 or 64, when she was in her early teens, my sister got a transistor radio. It was, I think, a Zenith, Dreamsicle orange with a silver speaker, tucked inside a black leather carrying case.

I don’t think she used it much. Somehow, it ended up on my father’s nightstand, and there it stayed for as long as I can remember, turned on only in the late minutes of every evening, as we prepared to retire for the night.

There were, as I’ve mentioned, two radio stations in St. Cloud at the time. Well, two on the AM band. There was an FM station that played what was termed “beautiful music,” lot of Mantovani and Leroy Anderson, and that might have suited Dad. He might also have liked to tune the radio to WVAL out of Sauk Rapids, the small town on the northeast edge of St. Cloud, but WVAL’s signal – and its traditional country music – went off the air at sunset. And the transistor radio only got the AM band, so that left Dad with two choices for evening listening: WJON and KFAM.

I’ve written about WJON several times here. It was the station located in a small building just down the block and across the railroad tracks from our house. KFAM was across town on the south side, in another small building that was home to its studios and those of its FM sister station, the home of the beautiful music. Both stations offered the usual mid-1960s mix of community service radio chatter and – for most of the broadcast day – traditional pop. In the evenings, the two stations switched to Top 40 for a couple of hours. At nine o’clock, KFAM went back to its standards. (WJON did so, too, for a while, but then in the late 1960s began to explore rock more deeply in the later hours, which was pretty adventurous for St. Cloud.)

Anyway, as things closed down for the evening at our home on Kilian Boulevard, Dad would flip on the radio and then pick up his book or his magazine and read for a few minutes. If it were a few minutes before nine, he’d have to put up with some Top 40 for a while before KFAM rejoined the adult world at nine o’clock. And in the mid-1960s, nine o’clock during the school year meant lights out for my sister and me. That might stretch some in the summertime, during vacations and on weekends, but something had to be pretty special for a school night exception.

One of those came sometime in 1966. I can’t say that it happened in February, but I know it was in 1966, not long after the film Born Free was released. Being a soundtrack fan, I was thrilled when I learned that the film’s score was by John Barry, who also scored the early James Bond films (and many other films as well, in a long and lustrous career). And two or three times, as we prepared to retire, I heard the vocal version of “Born Free” – by British singer Matt Monro – come from the radio on Dad’s nightstand. I wanted, however, to hear the instrumental version.

So one evening, I called KFAM and asked the DJ there to play “Born Free” for me. He said he would, but it would have to wait until after nine o’clock. “We’re playing rock ’n’ roll right now,” he said. “But as soon as we’re done with that,” he promised.

And I sat on my bed in my pajamas, the transistor radio in my hands. Mom and Dad and my sister gathered round, and at nine, after the top of the hour station identification, I heard John Barry’s instrumental version of “Born Free,” my first radio request.

As I said, I don’t know that this happened in February. It seems in memory that it was cold outside, and it also seems in memory that the “Born Free” evening took place while I was in seventh grade, during the 1965-66 school year. So it very well might have been February.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 26, 1966

“The Cheater” by Bob Kuban and the In-Men, Musicland 20,001 (No. 20)
“Lies” by the Knickerbockers, Challenge 59321 (No. 34)
“Baby Scratch My Back” by Slim Harpo, Excello 2273 (No. 41)
“One More Heartache” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54129 (No. 69)
“Moulty” by the Barbarians, Laurie 3326 (No. 100)
“A Public Execution” by Mouse, Fraternity 956 (No. 132)

Bonus Track
“Born Free (Main Title)” by John Barry from the Born Free soundtrack (1966)

I was still a few years away from listening to Top 40, but for those who were fans, early 1966 was a pretty rich time. Flip the switch on your transistor and tune in your local Top 40 station, and you were likely to hear something you liked pretty quickly.

Here’s the Top 15 for the last week in February 1966:

“These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra
“Lightnin’ Strikes” by Lou Christie
“The Ballad of the Green Berets” by S/Sgt. Barry Sadler
“Up Tight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder
“My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes
“My Love” by Petula Clark
“Don’t Mess With Bill” by the Marvellettes
“California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Elusive Butterfly” by Bob Lind
“Working My Way Back To You” by the Four Seasons
“Zorba the Greek” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
“Crying Time” by Ray Charles (with the Raeletts)
“Listen People” by Herman’s Hermits
“I Fought the Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four
“Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys

That’s a pretty good hour or so of radio: Some Motown, including some girl group sounds along with one British single, some folk-rock, some traditional pop, a patriotic ballad and an instrumental. I could do without the Bob Lind, and “Barbara Ann” has always struck me as more of a joke than a single, but still, that would be a good chunk of listening.

Further down the list we find our six selections. “The Cheater” is a nice piece of brassy pop from a band based in St. Louis, Missouri. The odd thing about the song – which peaked at No. 12 – is its “life imitates art” denouement, as chronicled by writer Dave Marsh: In 1983, Walter Scott, the In-Men’s lead singer, disappeared. His body was found in 1987; he’d been murdered by his wife and her boyfriend (who’d also evidently killed his own wife in 1983). Investigation revealed that Scott’s wife had been cheating on him for a year or so before he was murdered. “Look out for the cheater!” indeed.

Even forty-three years down the road, I still think the Knickerbockers’ “Lies” is the all-time best Beatles sound-alike. But the guys weren’t even from England. The four Knickerbockers hailed from Bergen, New Jersey. “Lies,” the group’s only Top 40 hit, peaked at No. 20.

Blues tunes popped up every once in a while in the charts, but rarely were they as slinky and sly as Slim Harpo’s “Baby Scratch My Back.” The record was Harpo’s second Top 40 hit, following “Rainin’ In My Heart,” which went to No. 34 in 1961. “Baby Scratch My Back” went to No. 16, and it also spent two weeks at No. 2 on the R&B chart. It’s been covered a fair number of times; the best of those might be by swamp rocker Tony Joe White on his 1969 album, Black & White.

“One More Heartache” was the thirteenth in the long line of forty-one Top 40 hits by Marvin Gaye. A Smokey Robinson production, the single went to No. 29. Writing in the late 1980s, when Gaye’s death was still fresh, Dave Marsh heard something under the surface: “You wanna think this is just a love song, that’s just fine with [Gaye]. But listen deeper and you’ll know better,” Marsh wrote in The Heart of Rock & Soul, where he ranked the single at No. 186 of all time. “It’s a spiritual suicide note from a man who, in a merely halfway sane world, would have had everything to live for and known it.”

Like many listeners, no doubt, I first came across the last two songs in today’s Six-Pack via Nuggets, the 1972 anthology of garage rock and psychedelia from the mid-1960s lovingly put together by Lenny Kaye. Since then, multitudes of albums and CD box sets have replicated and expanded the idea, but the original package – from the sleeve through the liner notes to the music – is one of the best anthologies ever put together. The full title was Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, and current versions include the music from that double LP set as the first CD of a four-disc set. Other sets using the Nuggets title and art style have followed, but – as is true in many disciplines – they’d be hard-pressed to be as good as the original.

As to “Moulty” by the Barbarians, Kaye writes in the Nuggets liner notes: “Regulars on Shindig, stars of the T.A.M.I. Show, the Barbarians came out of New England with “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl” in the fall of 1965. Moulty was their drummer, and the story of how he lost his hand is the story of this record, which only goes to prove the old adage about truth being stranger than fiction. Though I don’t want to start things, there does exist a rumor that Levon and the Hawks (also known as the Band) are backing Mr. M on this cut. At this late date, however, I don’t suppose anybody’s talking.” The single was in the Hot 100 for four weeks, peaking at No. 90, before falling into the obscurity from which Mr. Kaye rescued it.

Even more obscure was “A Public Execution” by Mouse. This time, Kaye writes: “There are some who say that this early 1966 masterpiece does Dylan’s Highway 61 period better than the master himself, and while I wouldn’t want to go that far, it can be admitted that Ronny Weiss, who was Mouse, certainly didn’t miss a trick. From Austin, Texas, he would also lead a group called Mouse and the Traps, that had several singles on Fraternity as well as Bell Records before dissolving away. Recently, Weiss has shown up with fellow Trap Dave Stanley in a lovely soft-country band on RCA named Rio Grande.” “A Public Execution” spent four weeks bubbling under the Hot 100, peaking at No. 121.

Clicking on ‘2’ & ‘11’

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 11, 2009

I’m just not feeling well today, so I won’t be writing anything. I do have an idea for something for tomorrow or Friday about old telephone numbers. (Yeah, it well get us to music.)

But, as usual, I don’t like to leave this space entirely unmelodied. So I’m going to click through some stuff on the player and, working with stuff from 1950-99, post the second and the eleventh random track. (It’s 2/11 today.) So we’ll see what we come up with.

And I’ll be back tomorrow.

“Brownstone” by Glenn Yarbrough from The Lonely Things [1966]

“Please Save Her Life” by Heartsfield from Heartsfield [1973]