Archive for the ‘1968’ Category

A Garden Report

February 21, 2019

Originally posted July 1, 2009

The weather has been cloudy and damp and generally cool.

This is not good for our garden, and the Texas Gal and I are concerned. Like obsessive parents overseeing a child’s progress through third grade, we tend, we cultivate, we encourage and we worry. There are a few other gardens in the area that our landlord sets aside for us and for the tenants of the adjacent apartment building. The other gardeners started their plants about ten days to two weeks earlier than we did. I think they were lucky to avoid a late frost, but there’s no doubt that the tomato plants in the other plots are far bushier than ours.

Some of the twenty or so tomato plants we put in around Memorial Day seem to be thriving, sprouting more branches and leaves as well as incipient fruit. Others seem to be marking time, nurturing one tomato while not growing at all. And there are a few who – if the garden were a classroom – would already be certain to repeat the grade. We have several, I think, failed tomatoes.

The Texas Gal isn’t as ready to give up on the lagging plants as am I. She says they may surprise me yet. And they may. The odds are, however, that we will get no fruit from about half of the tomato plants that we carefully set in and then staked or put into cages.

Elsewhere in the garden, things are greener. We’re going to have more zucchini and yellow squash than we know what to do with. Yah Shure, a prolific gardener himself in St. Paul, said that we will likely have so much zucchini that we’ll be reduced to leaving bags of the vegetables on our neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night, all the time prepared to run. It may come to that. Or we may find a worthy charity that can use our excess vegetables.

That excess could also include – based on the state of the garden this morning – broccoli, white and red cabbage, red leaf lettuce, beets, cucumbers and various peppers, both sweet and hot. The eggplant in the corner, however, seems to have joined about half of the tomatoes on the horticultural critical list.

“Do you think we’re watering the tomatoes too much?” the Texas Gal asked as we made our way back to the house last evening. “Or maybe not enough?” I said I didn’t know; this is my first garden just as it is hers. “Did we plant them in too much shade? Or put too much mulch on them?”

“I don’t know,” I repeated. “For everything I know about gardening, the problem could be aliens coming down at night and sucking the life out of the plants.”

She laughed, which was my hope, as we went inside the house. Still, we have no answers for our impending tomato failure. All we have is questions.

A Six-Pack of Questions
“Questions and Conclusions” by Sweathog from Hallelujah [1971]
“Ask Me No Questions” by B.B. King from Indianola Mississippi Seeds [1970]
“That’s A Good Question” by Peter Kaukonen from Black Kangaroo [1972]
“Questions” by Buffalo Springfield from Last Time Around [1968]
“A Question of Temperature” by the Balloon Farm, Laurie 3405 [1967]
“Questions 67 and 68” by Chicago Transit Authority from Chicago Transit Authority [1969]

After listening twice to “Questions and Conclusions” this morning, I still think Sweathog sounds like a more subtle version of Steppenwolf. It still baffles me that a group with that cool a sound for the times – the late 1960s and early 1970s – had just one hit (“Hallelujah,” which went to only No 33 in December 1971). Lots of competition, I guess. And – as is true for a lot of groups – history is just sometimes asleep at the switch.

“Ask Me No Questions,” like the album it comes from, Indianola Mississippi Seeds, is a relaxed bit of blues, a chance to B.B. King just to do what he does best. The album is also notable for the presence of Carole King on keyboards, Joe Walsh on guitar, Leon Russell on piano (King takes on Leon’s “Hummingbird” to close the album) and back-up singers extraordinaire Clydie King, Merry Clayton and Venetta Fields. It’s worth checking out.

Peter Kaukonen is brother to Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane, and when the Airplane formed its Grunt label, Peter was one of the artists signed. Black Kangaroo is pretty good, very similar to the solo albums brother Jorma would release down the road. “That’s A Good Question” is one of the better tracks, I think, even if the strings do overwhelm the guitar for a few moments.

Buffalo Springfield’s “Questions” sounded fresh when the group’s last album was released. A couple of years later, it sounded like a dress rehearsal. Writer Stephen Stills took much of the song and combined with another, briefer, tune to produce ”Carry On,” the opening track to the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu.

All-Music Guide calls the Balloon Farm a “psych-punk quartet,” and that’s sort of what the group’s only hit sounds like. There are a couple of interesting things about the group and the record: First, on the early pressings, evidently, “temperature” was misspelled “tempature.” In the listing here, I’ve gone with the correct spelling, as that’s how the record – which went to No. 37 in the spring of 1968 – is listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. (I think the tag on the mp3 might show the original, incorrect spelling, in which case, listeners can make their own choices. I got the song from the four-CD box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Then, one of the members of the Balloon Farm – and the writer of “A Question of Temperature” – was Mike Appel, who wound up being Bruce Springsteen’s first manager. (He also wrote the Partridge Family hit, “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.”)

I’m not sure how much there is to say about “Question 67 and 68,” pulled from the first album by the group that would end up being called simply Chicago. It’s a great piece of horn-driven rock. My only problem with the song is that in the 1970s, one of the Twin Cities television stations used almost fifty seconds of the song – from the 2:46 mark to the 3:34 mark – as the theme for one of its locally produced television shows. Thus, every time I hear that portion of the song, I’m taken back to late Sunday evenings and the analysis of the most recent Minnesota Vikings game on The Bud Grant Show.

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Dad’s Box Sets

February 21, 2019

Originally posted June 30, 2009

My dad wasn’t a huge music fan. But he enjoyed some music: He had the radio by his workbench – where he spent lots of time until the last few years of his life – tuned, as I’ve said before, to WVAL, the country station based in nearby Sauk Rapids. When my sister and I were young, he invested a fair amount of money in about thirty classical records offered by the Musical Heritage Society, records now on my shelves. (As he predicted forty years ago, I am now glad to have them.) And he bought bits and pieces of odd genres: Hawaiian tunes, the 101 Strings, some Guy Lombardo and other easy listening.

And he seemingly loved the box sets put out by Reader’s Digest. He left me four of them: Soft and Sentimental, Let’s Take A Sentimental Journey, Cocktail Piano Time and Popular Music Hit Parade. The first three are wonderfully programmed, very nice sets that draw mostly on big band music and popular standards, with very few tunes coming from any time after 1960.

A quick look at 1970’s Cocktail Piano Time finds only one tune out of sixty on the five-record set that breaks that 1960 barrier, the Latin-tinged “The Girl From Ipanema.” The 1990 Soft and Sentimental set – all sweet big band stuff – has only one track among its eighty-some that has any echoes of the 1960s or later, and that’s Vaughn Monroe’s “Red Roses For A Blue Lady.” Monroe recorded the tune in 1948, but the song was revived by several performers in the 1960s, most notably Vic Dana, whose version went to No. 10 in 1965.

Then, Let’s Take A Sentimental Journey, a 1970 set, breaks the 1960 barrier for one entire LP titled “The Sounds of Today.” That record includes orchestral versions of “Downtown,” “The Impossible Dream,” “Up Cherry Street,” “I Will Wait For You,” “Scarborough Fair,” “What Now My Love,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Delilah,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Pretty Flamingo” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”

Hmmmm. “Up Cherry Street” is a song evidently best known from a recording by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. The originals of the rest are all very light pop, with the exception of “Delilah,” a lung workout by Tom Jones. The most interesting selections there are “This Little Light of Mine,” which carries to me echoes of Bible camp, and Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo.” That one LP, however, is the only time that the programmers of Let’s Take A Sentimental Journey acknowledge that music survived past 1960. Given the audience for Reader’s Digest records, that’s understandable.

Things were quite a bit different with Popular Music Hit Parade, a 1968 box set that Dad bought pretty much when it came out. I recall sifting through it for things I’d want to listen to. That was, of course, in the days before I was listening to pop and rock; I still, however, wanted more than just sweet strings and vapid voices. There was one side of one record devoted to Dixieland-style jazz. That was okay. Other than that, there was lots of syrup.

Looking at the box set today, more than forty years later, I can see that the Reader’s Digest programmers were trying to be hip: The Popular Music Hit Parade includes such songs as “Java,” “Winchester Cathedral,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “Georgy Girl,” “Up, Up and Away,” “The Look of Love,” “King of the Road,” “My Cup Runneth Over,” “The Sound of Silence” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” There are some interesting choices there, and – having not listened to all of the box set, ever – I wonder how often and how hard some of those renditions would make me wince.

(I should note that “The Sound of Silence” and “Blowin’ In The Wind,” along with “If I Had A Hammer,” “500 Miles,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” and “This Land Is Your Land” were on an LP side titled “The Sounds of Nashville.” Huh?)

It’s always a distant reach – with generally unhappy results – when members of one generation try to be au courant with the fashions, fads, couture, music or anything else of another, younger, generation. And the Reader’s Digest folks were trying hard. As they selected songs for Popular Music Hit Parade, they did not ignore the most popular band in the world. Here are three tracks from Popular Music Hit Parade:

“Michelle” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

“Yellow Submarine” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

“Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Hank Levine Singers & Orchestra [1968]

(The first two of those were ripped from Dad’s vinyl.)

Now, I need your help: Do these three tracks merit inclusion in our Train Wreck Jukebox? I tend to think at least one of them does, but I want some guidance. Let me know, please. (At the same time, if there are any of the other tunes I’ve mentioned here that you would like to hear and judge, leave a note.)

PG&E, Fats, Stevie Ray & Jimi

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 18, 2009

I found an interesting clip of Pacific Gas & Electric performing a long version of “Are You Ready.” It sounds like a live performance – I miss the background singers – but there’s no sign of an audience, not even any audience sounds at the end of the performance. Still, it’s a decent performance from – according to the video poster – 1970.

Here’s a concert performance of “Walking To New Orleans” from Fats Domino. Based on the few visual clues available, I’d put this in the 1990s, maybe a bit earlier. Does anyone know? From what I can tell on later examination, the performance was in 1985.

I found a clip of Stevie Ray Vaughan doing an instrumental version of “Little Wing” in what appears to be a European open-air venue around, maybe, 1985. He moves into a cover of “Third Stone From The Sun” before the clip ends.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s a YouTube posting with only still pictures. But that’s okay, the audio is Jimi Hendrix’ performance of “Little Wing” (with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums) during the second show at San Francisco’s Winterland on October 12, 1968.

Video deleted.

A while back, I posted a single track from the self-titled 1974 album by Isis, which was kind of a female version of Earth, Wind & Fire. I’ve been thinking about posting the full album, but I’ve learned that it’s now available on CD, which is good news. It’s an import, yeah, with the corresponding price, but still, it’s out there.

Slightly revised on archival posting.

Memorial Day, 2009

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 25, 2009

It’s another Memorial Day, another day to reflect. We’ve been told that some of our soldiers will this year begin to come home. Let’s hope that’s true. We’ve also been told that more of our soldiers are required to fight elsewhere. Let’s hope that’s for a brief time. These are the same songs as last year and the year before; if that’s a disappointment, I’m sorry. These are the songs that remind me of those whom we are supposed to remember today.

“Requiem for the Masses” by the Association, Warner Bros. single 7074 [1967]

“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” by Phil Ochs from Rehearsals For Retirement [1969]

“War” by Edwin Starr, Gordy single 7101 [1970]

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Peter, Paul & Mary from Peter, Paul & Mary [1962]

“One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)” by Coven, Warner Bros. single 7509 [1971]

“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie from It’s My Way! [1964]

“Masters of War” by Bob Dylan from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan [1962]

“Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon), Apple single 1809 [1969]

“2+2=?” by the Bob Seger System from Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man [1968]

“Handsome Johnny” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag [1967]

“Bring The Boys Home” by Freda Payne, Invictus single 909 [1971]

“All The Young Women” by the Cuff Links from Tracy [1970]

“Bring ’Em Home” by Bruce Springsteen from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) [live, most likely in Detroit, 2006]

As I’ve noted the past two years, times have changed enough since Freda Payne, the Cuff Links and Peter, Paul & Mary recorded their songs that we now need to also bring the girls home, and we need to grieve as well with all the young men who have lost loved ones.

A Summertime Plot

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 20, 2009

Well, we’re armed and ready to garden.

The Texas Gal stopped by at the end of her lunch break the other day to drop off the results of her trip to the garden store: chicken wire, wooden stakes, a hoe, a metal rake, some pruning shears and a hose. Add that to a few garden tools we bought about a week earlier, and we should be set for implements.

So we spent an hour that evening attaching chicken wire to the stakes and marking off a roughly twelve-foot square in the garden plot in the side yard (available for use, as well, to the folks in the adjacent apartments, where we used to live). The fence is less than artistic, but it marks our plot adequately, and it should keep all but the most persistent rabbits away from our vegetables this summer.

So what are we going to grow? That’s been partly determined by the packets of seeds the Texas Gal got free at her workplace. Her goal for the coming weekend is to get seeds planted for several varieties of vegetables: We’ll certainly plant yellow squash and zucchini, some cucumbers, some beets, maybe some cabbage and likely some tomatoes. We’ll probably get a couple of pots to grow some parsley and some catnip, and there is a small strip of garden between the house and the sidewalk where we’ll plant – more as ornaments than as consumables – green kale and red lettuce.

In addition, we’re planning to head out to one of the garden tents at either the grocery store or the discount store down the street and get some plants to set in: more tomatoes (in case the seeds don’t go well) and some peppers – green and chocolate for sure, maybe yellow and possibly some jalapeño. And I’m thinking about growing some eggplant, although the Texas Gal is skeptical, having never eaten it before.

I wonder if we’re not being a little too ambitious, given that this is our first time around the vegetable patch. We’ll likely find out as mid-summer approaches, when watering and weeding may be the last things we want to do on a hot evening or humid Saturday. If all goes well, though, we’ll have the pleasure and satisfaction of home-grown salads and stir-fry and more.

I might – and I emphasize “might” – even eat some beets.

A Six-Pack of Gardens

“Here In The Garden, Parts 1 & 2” by Gypsy from In The Garden [1971]
“Johnny’s Garden” by Manassas from Manassas [1972]
“Safe In My Garden” by the Mamas & the Papas from The Papas And The Mamas [1968]
“A Wednesday In Your Garden” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul [1969]
“Come Into The Garden” by Chimera from Chimera [1969]
“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen from Greatest Hits [1995]

Probably the least-known of these groups is Chimera, whose self-titled album was recorded in 1969. The record, featuring two female vocalists and a few British folk and rock notables, went unreleased for many years. You’ll find a slight history of Chimera and an affectionate assessment of its only album at Time Has Told Me, one of the great blogs for out-of-print rarities, many of them in the line of British psych-folk, as is Chimera’s work.

The tale of Gypsy, a Minnesota band that began as the Underbeats, showed up here in the early days. In The Garden was the group’s second album. (I noticed this morning, as I was going through earlier writings and my files, that I keep changing the year In The Garden was released, citing either 1971 or 1972. While the LP and its jacket seem not to have a date anywhere, All-Music Guide says the record came out in 1971. So I’ll go with that.)

I’m never sure, as long as we’re talking about indecision, whether to classify Manassas as a Stephen Stills album or as an album by the group Manassas. My sense of the album is that it was a Stills solo project that shifted in the process to a full band identity, but I’m not sure. I’ve tagged it as a Stephen Stills album because that’s what the record jacket and the CD cover say. I could easily go the other way, as AMG does, saying “Formed in 1971 from the sessions for what was going to be Stills’ third solo album, the chemistry of the musicians he gathered was so intense that before long they were a full-fledged band.” Either way, it’s still good tunes.

The tracks by the Mamas and the Papas and by the Guess Who are album tracks whose sounds fit into the groups’ canons without many surprises. Listening this morning, I realized once again how main Papa John Phillips and producer Lou Adler worked painstakingly on every detail, even on album tracks, creating a lush pop-folk sound that still sounds effortless today. The Guess Who track sounds like no other band, as well, but I’m not sure that “effortless” is the word I’d use for “A Wednesday In Your Garden” or in fact for many of the Guess Who’s recordings. Thinking about it, I always got the sense that Burton Cummings was working too hard at being a rock star. I may be forgetting one or three, but the only Guess Who record I can think of at the moment that sounded light and effortless at any point was “Undun.”

“Secret Garden” was one of three new tracks Bruce Springsteen recorded with the E Street Band for release on his greatest hits album in 1995. The other new recordings were “Blood Brothers” and “This Hard Land.” Also on the album was “Murder Incorporated,” a 1982 recording with the band that had never been released. Of the four, “Secret Garden” is my favorite.

Note: While I still love “Secret Garden,” I have to admit that in the past four years I’ve come to admire and enjoy “This Hard Land” more. While the former is a beautiful love song that could only have come from Springsteen’s pen, “This Hard Land” is a heartland plaint that clearly shows the connection between Springsteen and the music of Woody Guthrie, the fiction of John Steinbeck and the photography of Walker Evans. It might be worth noting that “This Hard Land” was recorded in January 1995, just a few months before Springsteen began recording The Ghost of Tom Joad, his minimalist album that focused on similar themes as “This Hard Land.” Note added June 28, 2013.

It’s Grab Bag Time!

October 3, 2012

Orignally posted May 15, 2009

A mid-May Friday seems like a good time to dig into the box of unsorted 45s and find some that aren’t too hacked up. So today’s a Grab Bag day.

In 1962, a singer named Tony Dale released “Bambinello,” a piece of standard pop with an annoying little organ part and an overmiked background chorus. He’s singing to an Italian girl, but in that case – and linguists, please weigh in here – shouldn’t it be “Bambinella”? There’s nothing really astounding about the record; it’s pretty standard pop for the time. The flip side, “Honey Bun,” is more of the same, but at least without the organ part.

Not a lot of information can be gleaned from the record label: “Bambinello” was written by a duo with the last names of Douglas and Laney and was published by Veronique Music. “Honey Bun” was written by Douglas and Laney with someone named Pastor and was published by Douglas Davilio Music.

There’s really nothing about the record out on the ’Net, just a few copies offered for sale and one entry in a discography. The record came out on the Rendezvous label, which, according to BSN Publications, was home to a band that included the great Earl Palmer on drums. Based on the description of the label’s logo, it’s the same record label, but there’s no mention of Tony Dale at BSN.

“Bambinello” and “Honey Bun” by Tony Dale, Rendezvous Records 184 [1962]

Another record that’s hard to find information about was recorded on the Hy Sign label by a singer named Marvin Kerry. “Sha-Marie” is a pretty nifty Cajun tune with some nice fiddle, and the flip side, “Beyond The Moon,” is pretty standard country with some nice weepy guitar and a vocal that’s pretty restrained. Hy Sign was located in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I did some digging at Rockin’ Country Style but couldn’t find much mention of the record beyond the fact that it’s been included on several anthologies released in the Netherlands and in England. Let’s see what the label tells us: “Sha-Marie” was written by B. Darnell and B. Hall and published by Central Songs, while “Beyond The Moon” came from the pen of Hap Martin and was published by La Dee Music. Both tracks were produced by Dee Marais.

A note at The Soul of the Net tells me that Hy Sign was a side project of Dee Marais’ in the early 1970s, when he was the owner of Murco Records, which seems to have focused on soul and R&B. I can find references to a few other releases on Hy Sign but nothing about Marvin Kerry’s single. My last shot, I figured, was to call the phone number for Hy Sign printed on the record label. As I expected, the number is no longer in service. At this point, I’m not even sure about the date of the record except for the one reference to the early 1970s. So I’m just tagging it “ca. 1970.”

“Sha-Marie” and “Beyond The Moon” by Marvin Kerry, Hy Sign 1111 [ca. 1970]

Things got a little easier after that. In 1968, trumpeter Harry James released an album titled Harry James & His Western Friends. Here’s the review from All-Music Guide:

“Big band leader Harry James dons chaps and a ten-gallon hat for this late ’60s foray into the world of country and western music. Other pop acts, including the Norman Luboff Choir and Arthur Fiedler, enjoyed success with choral and orchestral adaptations of western material, so James’ trumpet treatments didn’t come completely out of left field. Credited to Harry James and His Western Friends, the album jettisons James’ big band in favor of an ensemble consisting of the rhythm section from his band and some string players and guitarists. James and his trumpet riff on the melodies of western classics like ‘Cimarron’ and ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds,’ and straight country songs such as ‘Make the World Go Away,’ ‘He’ll Have to Go,’ and ‘Faded Love.’ ‘Mexicali Rose’ and ‘Vaya Con Dios’ add a Tex-Mex flavor, and ‘San Antonio Rose’ swings in the western way. James is a jazz artist, not an easy listening instrumentalist, so he doesn’t stick to the melody – he improvises and explores over the solid foundation of Jimmie Haskell’s workmanlike country-pop charts. The result is a hybrid between Nashville Sound-style country music and trumpet jazz, an intriguing experiment that shows James’ open-mindedness and willingness to stray from the beaten path.”

One of the singles released from the album had “San Antonio Rose” backed with “Cimarron.” I’m not sure which was the A Side, but both tracks are pleasant, falling – as I thought even before reading the AMG review – somewhere between jazz, country and easy listening.

“San Antonio Rose” and “Cimarron” by Harry James and His Western Friends, Dot 16944 [1968]

The fourth playable 45 I grabbed from the box this morning was a single pulled from a soundtrack. I don’t know how many soundtracks and film themes Henry Mancini wrote and recorded in his long career – the listing at All-Music Guide is longer than I want to count this morning – but many of them are memorable and instantly recognizable: “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Dear Heart” and many more.

Then there’s the record I pulled out of the box this morning, credited to Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus: “The Sweetheart Tree” and the “Pie-In-The-Face Polka,” both from the soundtrack to the 1965 film The Great Race. The former is pretty saccharine, even for a mid-1960s soundtrack, and the latter is just goofy. Well, it was a pretty goofy movie, from what I recall, so that fits. And they can’t all be “Moon River,” can they?

“The Sweetheart Tree” and “Pie-In-The-Face Polka” by Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus, from the soundtrack to The Great Race [1965]

People, The Seekers, SCN & Chipmunks

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 7, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Here’s what appears to be a video produced for the People single “I Love You” upon its release in 1968.

I mentioned the Seekers the other day. As I was digging around this morning, I found a clip of “I’ll Never Find Another You” as performed at the group’s July 7, 1968, farewell concert in London.

Here’s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performing “Ohio” sometime during the group’s 1974 tour. It’s pretty much as I remember it from the group’s stop at the St. Paul Civic Center that summer.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s Alvin & the Chipmunks singing “Bad Day,” accompanied by some stills from the 2007 movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a look at Jubilation, the third and final CD released in the 1990s by The Band.

Spring ’68: School Bus Serenade

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 6, 2009

On a cool, rainy day in the spring of 1968, the fifty or so students in the two ninth-grade biology classes from St. Cloud’s South Junior High scrambled onto a bus. Joined by a few teachers – I’ve never for one moment envied teachers who have to supervise field trips – we headed out of St. Cloud.

I’m no longer entirely clear on our destinations that day. I think we drove through the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, parts of which are about thirty miles from St. Cloud. I recall getting out of the bus every now and then to look at trees and underbrush and look for evidence of small animals. We had a picnic lunch, if my memory is right, served by class moms in the yard of a classmate’s farm home. And we visited a tree farm near the end of the day.

It was at the tree farm that someone took pictures of the group, which was large enough that it took three shots to get us all. The photographer overlapped the three shots, so if one wanted to, one could overlap the three prints and have a wide-screen image, as it were, showing all of us at once. (These days, that could be done with digital tools and only a little bit of effort. Forty-one years ago, it would have required a bit of darkroom legerdemain.) The best thing I remember about the picture, though, was that one of our teachers, Mr. Lemke, hoisted one of the girls, Patty, onto his shoulders for the picture. They stood at the back of the group on the left, and when the photographer had finished with that side of the group, Mr. Lemke walked behind the group and stood with Patty on his shoulders on the right side of the group. That bit of mischief allowed Mr. Lemke and Patty to seemingly be in two places at once.

On the way back to St. Cloud, one of our classmates astounded all of us by sliding his arm around the girl he’d evidently been dating for a while. Back then, at the ages of fourteen and fifteen, that was an amazingly bold public display of affection. The girls sitting around the couple spent the last five or so minutes of the ride back to school serenading the two of them and the rest of us with a lively version of “Somebody To Love,” the Jefferson Airplane hit from the year before.

The girls might have been singing just because there was no radio playing, but I don’t think so. Had there been a radio on the bus, though, here’s some of what we might have heard.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, May 4, 1968)
“Sweet Inspiration” by the Sweet Inspirations, Atlantic 2476 (No. 18)
“Soul Serenade” by Willie Mitchell, Hi 2140 (No. 30)
“I Will Always Think About You” by the New Colony Six, Mercury 72775 (No. 44)
“I’m Sorry” by the Delfonics, Philly Groove 151 (No. 77)
“I Love You” by People, Capitol 2708 (No. 85)
“Brooklyn Roads” by Neil Diamond, Uni 55065 (No. 124)

Even though they recorded a series of solid soul/R&B albums on their own – seven between 1967 and 1979 for the CCM, Atlantic, Stax and RSO labels – the Sweet Inspirations were likely better known as one of the top groups of background vocalists in the mid- to late 1960s. According to All-Music Guide: “The group evolved from the ’50s gospel group the Drinkard Singers. At various points soul singers Doris Troy, Judy Clay, Dionne Warwick, and sister Dee Dee Warwick were members. By the time they began to record on their own in 1967, their leader was Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney), and the women were renamed the Sweet Inspirations.” Singing along with Houston on “Sweet Inspiration” – taken from the group’s first album – are Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell and Myrna Smith. This week marked the record’s peak position, No. 18, nine weeks after the record first entered the Hot 100. Over the next three weeks, the record would slide to No. 32 and then drop out of the Hot 100 entirely. “Sweet Inspiration” would be the group’s only Top 40 hit.

“Soul Serenade,” which peaked at No. 23 the week after this chart came out, was Willie Mitchell’s second Top 40 hit; “20-75” had gone to No. 31 in 1964. Mitchell’s finest time was still to come, as he spent the last years of the 1960s building a stable of performers, the greatest of whom was Al Green, and refining a sound as recognizable as any in pop music. That Hi Sound, behind O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and especially Al Green, became an inescapable part of the soundtrack of the Seventies.

The New Colony Six was a soft-rock sextet from Chicago that had two Top 40 hits in 1968 and 1969. “I Will Always Think About You” peaked at No. 22 in the first week of June 1968, and “Things I’d Like To Say” went to No. 16 not quite a year later. The group, as a couple of college friends always told me, was much more popular in its home territory: “I Will Always Think About You” was No. 1 at Chicago’s WLS for one week in March of 1968 and ranked No. 31 in the station’s ranking of the year’s top singles.

“I’m Sorry” was the immediate follow-up to the Delfonics’ “La-La- (Means I Love You),” which had gone to No. 4 and was ranked at No. 26 when “I’m Sorry” entered the Hot 100. It strikes me that issuing a follow-up single – even a single as good as “I’m Sorry” – while the group’s first single is still ranked that highly is being a little hasty. Maybe not; I’ve never been an A&R guy. At any rate, “I’m Sorry” didn’t have the impact “La-La” did: It got as high as No. 42, where it stayed for three weeks before tumbling out of the Hot 100. The Delfonics would reach the Top 40 three more times in 1968 and 1969 before getting back to the Top 10 in 1970 with the luminous “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).”

“I Love You” was the second Capitol single by People, a sextet from San Jose, California. According to the notes to the four-CD set Love Is The Song We Sing, after the group’s first single went nowhere, “the band took an obscure Zombies flipside and smothered it in Vanilla Fudge.” The single – one of my favorites from that era – went to No. 14 in June 1968 and was the group’s only Top 40 single.

Here’s what Neil Diamond says about “Brooklyn Roads” in the notes to his In My Lifetime box set: “I had just signed with MCA Records and wanted to stretch my creative wings. This is the most literal and personal story I had written up to that point. ‘Brooklyn Roads’ told of my youth and my aspirations. I loved the freedom of being able to write something without the charts in mind.” A week after “bubbling under” at No. 124, “Brooklyn Roads” slid into the Hot 100, eventually making it to No. 58.

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.