Archive for the ‘1969’ Category

Just Some Stuff

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 21, 2009

Some this and that for a Friday morning:

After I wrote about Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut album and its song “Wooden Ships” the other day, frequent commenter Robert noted that I hadn’t answered my own question of how well the album held together as a unit these days.

Well, I did say that the album “still ranks pretty high on my all-time list,” but maybe I should have said more than that. It holds together well, with a laid-back vibe that was echoed, I think, by a lot of the work being done by the musicians who were part of the Lauren Canyon scene in the last years of the 1960s. (That vibe, in my view, laid down a framework for at least one generation of California rock that may have found its most clear expression, if not its peak, with the mid-1970s work of Fleetwood Mac.)

But beyond providing a template for future work, how does Crosby, Stills & Nash work today? I still think it’s one of the great albums, setting out a view of how life felt – at least for a portion of American youth – as the end of the 1960s was coming into view. Beyond the allegories of “Wooden Ships” and “Guinnevere” and the grief/hope duality of “Long Time Gone” (all three of which, interestingly enough, were written or co-written by David Crosby), the songs on Crosby, Stills & Nash are mostly concerned with the personal, not the political. The fences that need mending in “49 Bye-Byes” are on the singer’s own back porch. And, with one exception, the songs – including the three Crosby-penned songs mentioned above – work with each other and fit well against each other. My only quibble, forty years down the road, is the travelogue of “Marrakesh Express,” which doesn’t seem to match the quality or the themes of the other songs.

When one tries to listen with fresh ears, there’s always the chance that something that seemed excellent thirty or forty years ago will seem much less than that now. I’ve had that happen with other albums. But not with this one.

The Texas Gal pointed me to a fascinating website this week that has nothing to do with music. The operator of Forgotten Bookmarks explains:

“I work at a used and rare bookstore, and I buy books from people everyday. These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in those books.”

The bookmarks he or she finds – I can’t find a name on the blog and so have no idea of the gender of the blogger – are pieces of paper with notes on them, old photographs, tickets to events, postcards, actual bookmarks, even – in one case I saw – a letter ending a romance, and on and on. The blogger posts pictures of each bookmark and the book in which it was found, and transcribes any notes or writing from the bookmark. In some cases, the blogger provides some context, as in identifying more completely a politician whose campaign advertisement ended up in a book.

I found it a fascinating site, but then, I like to look at old photos in antique shops, wondering “Who are these people and what were their stories?” I get the same sense at Forgotten Bookmarks, a sense of random bits of life coming to the surface, the mundane becoming mysterious.

[Note from 2022: The website, though still on line, seems to have quit posting new material in September 2020. Note added May 15, 2022.]

I got a note from Blogger yesterday. There was a complaint about one of the songs I shared in my Vinyl Record Day post about my LP log, and the post was removed. I imagine anyone who wanted to read it has already done so, but just to get the post into the blog archives, I’m going to repost it Sunday, without linking to the twelve songs.

I thought about looking at the Billboard Hot 100 for this week in 1970 for today’s music, but I wanted to get the three items above into the blog, so I decided on something else instead. As happens to many folks, I’m certain, every so often I’ll realize that a song is running through my head for no apparent reason. I haven’t heard it on the radio, haven’t looked at the record jacket or the CD case, and haven’t read its title somewhere; it just popped up. When one of those stealth earworms – as I call them – popped up the other week, I jotted the title down, and I continue to do so as they show up. I haven’t caught them all over the past two weeks, but here’s a little bit of what I’ve been hearing in my head lately. (And no, there have been no voices telling me to do things.)

A Six-Pack Running Through My Head
“Smile” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 431 [1962]
“All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople from All the Young Dudes [1972]
“Hallelujah” by the Clique from The Clique [1969]
“It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” by Jim Croce from Life and Times [1973]
“Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” by Robin McNamara from Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me [1970]
“Buckets of Rain” by Bette Midler with Bob Dylan from Songs For the New Depression [1976]

The version of “Smile” I heard in my head wasn’t necessarily Ferrante & Teicher’s version, but that’s the best one I happen to have available. The song was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film, Modern Times. Ferrante and Teicher recorded it in December 1961; in early 1962, the single went to No. 18 on the Easy Listening chart and to No. 91 on the pop chart.

“All the Young Dudes,” written and produced by David Bowie, gave the British glitter-rocking Mott the Hoople its only Top 40 hit. The single – which may have been different than the album version offered here – went to No. 37 in late 1972. In the U.K., the single went to No. 3.

The Clique had recorded and released a number of singles (“Sugar on Sunday” went to No. 22 in the autumn of 1969) before the time came to put an album together, but All-Music Guide notes that the only member of the group to actually be on the album was singer Randy Shaw; producer Gary Zekley brought in studio musicians for everything else. The most interesting track on the album to me is “Hallelujah,” which AMG reviewer Stewart Mason dismisses as a “blatant Blood, Sweat & Tears rip-off.” That’s an apt comparison, I guess, especially as concerns the lead vocal, but the song gets my attention as the source for Sweathog’s 1971 cover, which went to No. 33. (Another cover of the song, which I’ve also posted here in the past, came from Chi Coltrane in 1973.)

Life and Times was Jim Croce’s second major label album, coming out on ABC in January 1973. “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” is the album’s closer, a December-themed song about wanting to give things another try. I’m not sure why the song popped into my head the other day; the earworm was more understandable in December 1974, shortly after I got the album, when I was headed to have a cup of coffee and conversation with a young woman I’d once known well. As it turned out, it did have to be that way, but I still like the song anyway.

The Robin McNamara track is the title track of what seems to be his only album. “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” was released as a single on Steed, the label owned by legendary songwriter and producer Jeff Barry, who co-wrote the song with McNamara and Jim Cretecos. The single went to No. 11 during the summer of 1970 and was the only hit for McNamara, who was a member of the original cast of the musical Hair. (His fellow cast members helped out, says AMG, evidently providing backing vocals.)

I imagine that the version of “Buckets of Rain” that ran through my head was based on the original, from Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. But I recently came across Midler’s version of the song, after looking for it sporadically for a few years – my thanks to Willard at Never Get Out Of The Boat – and its rarity seemed to make it a good choice for this slot. As is most often the case when Mr. Dylan shows up to sing along, it’s very apparent he’s in the room.

‘If You Smile At Me . . .’

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 18, 2009

While driving across town on an errand last week, I heard the oldies station play “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first, self-titled album. As I listened, I realized that I hadn’t heard the song for a while. After a few moments, I realized as well that it had been even longer – much longer – since I’d listened to the entire album. I’ve written here before about forgetting about albums as meaningful collections of songs because I so often run the RealPlayer on random, and thus get only one piece of an album at a time. And I wondered to myself how well Crosby, Stills & Nash holds up as an album.

So that evening, I listened to Crosby, Stills & Nash from beginning to end, just to see how it sounds as a united piece of work these days. It still ranks pretty high on my all-time list, but I was chagrined to realize that I’d forgotten the running order of the album. As David Crosby’s “Guinnevere” faded away, I couldn’t recall what came next, and hearing “You Don’t Have To Cry” startled me; it sounded somehow wrong. The surprise pointed out to me how much my listening has shifted away from albums to random single tracks over the past ten years.

As I have for years, I found the album’s most interesting song to be “Wooden Ships.”  It’s not the best song on the album; I’d have to give that nod to either “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” or “Long Time Gone.” But it’s always fascinated me with its post-apocalyptic vision of survivors fleeing in the wooden ships on the water.

Beyond the recording itself, there are a couple of interesting things about “Wooden Ships.” The writing credit on the CSN album lists Crosby and Stills, but there was a third writer. Crosby himself tells the tale, as All-Music Guide relates:

“According to Crosby’s liner notes in the four-disc career retrospective Crosby, Stills & Nash [Box Set] (1991), the song was ‘written in the main cabin of my boat, the Mayan. I had the music already [and] Paul Kanter [sic] wrote two verses, Stephen wrote one and I added the bits at both ends.’ He also explains the cryptic lyrics such as ‘silver people on the shoreline’ – which are those left behind in their nuclear radiation suits. Crosby concludes that the authors ‘imagined ourselves as the few survivors, escaping on a boat to create a new civilization.’”

I’m not sure who’s responsible for the spelling error in that paragraph, but the third writer was Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane. And “Wooden Ships” was included on the Airplane’s 1969 release Volunteers. (The writing credit there is “Crosby-Kantner-Stills.”)

Wikipedia helps clarify things: “Kantner could not be credited as one of the joint authors-composers on the original release of Crosby, Stills & Nash due to legal issues, but he is thus credited on the 2006 re-release. The song was also released by Jefferson Airplane the same year on the album Volunteers. Both versions are considered to be original versions of the song, although they differ slightly in wording and melody.”

(Wikipedia also notes that co-writer Stills’ interpretation of the song differs from Crosby’s, saying “Stills has stated at music festivals that the song is in fact about the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. Though the obscure lyrics do not refer specifically to the events of the war, the story of the song can be interpreted as the meeting of two deserters or non-Jewish individuals who are fleeing Europe to avoid starvation or participation in anti-Semitic violence. In this context, the ‘silver people on the shoreline’ may refer to Nazi soldiers. The lyrics ‘Horror grips us as we watch you die / All we can do is echo your anguished cries, / Stare as all human feelings die’ could indicate that the characters in the song are observing a horrific slaughter yet can do nothing to prevent it.”)

Anyway, if both versions are considered original, then neither is a cover? Well, okay. But one of them was released first. Which one was it?

Crosby, Stills & Nash was released on May 29, 1969, according to AMG. Finding a release date for Volunteers is a bit murkier. The album’s page at AMG has a release date of November 1969, but the AMG page about the song “Wooden Ships” says the two albums were “issued within months of each other in the spring of ’69.” I’d lean toward a November release for Volunteers, as the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums has the album hitting the chart in late November. (The album spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 13. Crosby, Stills & Nash reached the album chart in the first week of July 1969 and spent forty weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 6.)

[Note from 2022: Wikipedia has a U.S. release date of November 2, 1969, for Volunteers.]

There aren’t a lot of covers of the song; AMG lists a total of ninety-three CDs that contain a version of the song, and the vast majority of those are by CSN or Jefferson Airplane or combinations of members of those groups. Others listed as having recorded the song are: Animal Bag, The Browne Sisters & George Cavanaugh, Matthew Cook, the De Capo Players, the Future Sound of London, Andy Guzie, Chris Harwood, Lana Lane, Jennifer Matthews, the Rochford Jazz Ensemble, Son of Adam, II Big and Zion I.

Of all the covers of “Wooden Ships,” only two of them are listed from the years before 2000: Animal Bag’s cover, which was on a 1994 release titled Offering and about which I otherwise know nothing, and Chris Harwood’s version, which was on her 1970 album, Nice to Meet Miss Christine. Reviews of Harwood’s album – and of her version of “Wooden Ships” – are spotty. But it’s always interesting to hear another singer’s take on a song. (My thanks to Lizardson at Time Has Told Me.)

[Note from 2022: The website Second Hand Songs lists seventeen covers of “Wooden Ships,” though few of the artists listed in the preceding paragraph are mentioned there. Seven of those covers are dated before the year 2000. Artists mentioned at SHS include Christine Harwood, Lana Lane and the Ides of March. Notes added May 15, 2022.]

So here are the two original versions of “Wooden Ships” (that still sounds odd to me) along with Harwood’s cover from 1970 and, as a bonus, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s performance of the song at Woodstock in the early morning hours forty years ago today.

“Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969

“Wooden Ships” by Jefferson Airplane from Volunteers, 1969

“Wooden Ships” by Chris Harwood from Nice to Meet Miss Christine, 1970

“Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Woodstock, August 18, 1969

The Great Covers List
There was quite a nice response to my post a week ago when I asked which recordings would wind up in a list of best cover versions of all time. We got a couple of fifteen-song lists and a few other comments; the resulting collection of songs would make up a couple of very good CDs. And I’m going to add five recordings to the list as my nominees:

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Helpless” from She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina, 1971
Johnny Winters’ “Highway 61” from Second Winter, 1969.
Ike & Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” Liberty 56216, 1971
Joe Cocker’s “Cry Me A River” from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, 1970
The Band’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” from Cahoots, 1971

What cover versions grab you? Leave a note, and in a few weeks, I’ll likely start digging into them.

Not Today

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 17, 2009

Sorry, but whatever it is I’m going to do this week, you’ll have to wait for it. I hope to be here tomorrow with some cover versions to add to our discussion of last week.

A Six-Pack of Waiting
“Wait and See” by Fats Domino, Imperial 5467 [1957]
“Waiting” by Santana from Santana [1969]
“Waitin’ For Me At The River” by Potliquor from Louisiana Rock and Roll [1973]
“There’s Always Someone Waiting” by the Average White Band from Average White Band [1974]
“Wait” by Steve Forbert from Jackrabbit Slim [1979]
“Waiting for the Miracle” by Leonard Cohen from The Future [1992]

Keeping Track: The LP Log

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 12, 2009

Some time during the past year, I mentioned for the first time that I’ve kept track of when I’ve acquired my LPs and that I have a log for them that goes back to 1964. A few people asked me to write about the log, and I don’t think there’s a better time to do so than on Vinyl Record Day.

I remember when I thought for the first time that I should keep track of when I got my records: It was during the summer of 1970, when I bought my copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After I played the record, I thought to myself that I needed to find a way to keep track. So I pulled the out the plain white sleeve and wrote in pen at the very top (on the side margin actually, which is at the top when the sleeve is turned sideways) “June 1970.”

Then I went to the box where my sister and I kept our rock and pop records and did the same for the six of those records that were mine: Sonny & Cher’s Look At Us; Beatles ’65; Herman’s Hermits’ On Tour; the 5th Dimension’s Age of Aquarius; the Beatles’ Let It Be; and Chicago’s silver album from 1970.

Details stick with me: To mark my records on that first day, I used a red pen that happened to be sitting near the stereo in the basement rec room. It was a pen labeled “Property of the State of Minnesota” and no doubt came home from the college in my dad’s pocket one day. I used that same pen for about three years, I think, then switched to blue or black ink, whatever was handy.

For some reason, I only jotted down the month and year I’d gotten the records. And I only marked the rock, pop and soul records. I owned others, kept in a separate cabinet: Records by Al Hirt and the Tijuana Brass, some soundtracks and similar music, and some odd things. I didn’t pull those out and write months and years on them. It didn’t seem important at the time.

“Stardust” by Al Hirt from That Honey Horn Sound [1965]

“Carmen” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass from Herb Alpert’s Ninth [1967]

If I’d wanted to record the actual dates when I’d acquired those first six rock, pop and R&B records, I could have dated four of them with precision. The only two albums for which I would not have known a date were those by the 5th Dimension and by Chicago. But those acquisitions were recent enough on that summer day that I knew the months. As to the others: I knew for certain that Beatles ’65 came to my sister and me for Christmas 1965. [Actually, it was most likely Christmas 1964, just about the time the record was released. Note added January 23, 2014.]  I bought Let It Be on the day it was released, May 18, 1970. I got the Herman’s Hermits and Sonny & Cher albums from my sister for my birthday and for Christmas in 1965; I liked the records okay, but Sonny & Cher and Herman’s Hermits weren’t, you know, Al Hirt and Herb Alpert.

“It’s Gonna Rain” by Sonny & Cher from Look At Us [1965]

“Don’t Try To Hurt Me” by Herman’s Hermits from On Tour [1965]

As it turned out, marking those seven records with that red pen on that afternoon began a journey that finds me today with a database that has information about 2,893 LPs. Like all things concerning my record collection, it’s not something I planned to do. I just kept on keeping track when I purchased or received records, from that summer afternoon in 1970 onward.

I look back now at my early acquisitions and I’m reminded of my own case of Beatlemania, a malady that came upon me in 1970. (That was six years later than the rest of America, and I’ve been running behind ever since. Well, not really, but it sometimes feels like that.) I decided sometime during the summer of 1970 that I was going to acquire all eighteen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple by the time my pal Rick started his senior year of high school in September 1972. (I didn’t know that I’d set myself an impossible task: There were only seventeen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple at the time; A Hard Day’s Night was released on United Artists, but never mind.)

So I look at the log for 1970, 1971 and 1972, and I see many Beatles albums: In the last few months of 1970, I bought Hey Jude on a shopping trip to the Twin Cities, I got Revolver for my birthday and a buddy in school gave me his slightly used copy of Magical Mystery Tour, and on and on. By the time Rick and I – with our friend, Gary – headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in August 1972, I had one Beatles record to go to complete the collection. I bought A Hard Day’s Night in Winnipeg, less than a month before Rick began his senior year.

(That was not quite so, as I misread lines in the database, an error that I noted in a later post; I bought Beatles VI in Winnipeg and completed my collection with the purchase not long afterward of A Hard Day’s Night.)

If I got records as gifts, I also jotted on the sleeve or on the jacket (oh, the record jackets I’ve written on over the years!) the name of the person who gave me the record. That’s why, when it actually came time to create a database of my records, I could include a “From” column. Probably the oddest notation in that column is my note for Rubber Soul. One morning in January 1972, I got to talking about music with the guy next to me in Math 121. I mentioned my Beatles quest, and he asked if I had Rubber Soul. I didn’t. The next day, he brought me his slightly used copy of Rubber Soul. The day after that, evidently, he dropped Math 121, because I never saw him again. I think his name was Jerry, so on the record and in the database, the notation reads “Jerry in math class (?)”

Another album that I had to guess about came from a discard pile at KVSC, St. Cloud State’s student-run radio station. I took it home and I played it once, I know, and I must not have been impressed, for I put it in the cabinet with my soundtracks and other non-rock stuff. That’s where I found it sometime during the 1990s, when I cleaned out the last of my records and junk from the house on Kilian Boulevard. While I was compiling the database, I came to that one record, Mark Turnbull’s Portrait of the Young Artist, and found that there was no date written on it. I do, however, remember claiming it from the discard pile. And I know that once the 1971-72 academic year ended, I spent almost no time at the radio station. So I got the record sometime between December 1971 and May 1972. I called it February 1972.

Around the same time, in early 1972, I happened upon two albums that led me down roads of exploration, and by looking at the entries in the log, one can see the number of artists and types of music I was listening to grow and grow. One of those albums was the compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, and the other was an album titled Joe Cocker!

“Family Circles (Portrait of the Young Artist)” by Mark Turnbull from Portrait of the Young Artist [1968]

“Darling Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker! [1969]

With Mr. Turnbull’s album being one of the rare exceptions, I continued to record the month of acquisition for my records. When it came time years later to enter their dates into the database, all I had to work with was the month. So I used the first of the month, called it an estimated date and put the entry in italics: August 1, 1972. If I knew the exact date because of Christmas or a birthday or some other reason, I used regular type. That vagueness became unnecessary for records I got after September 13, 1974. Before heading out to a party that evening (who knows why I remember some of this stuff!), I went downtown, most likely to the shop called Axis, and bought a new copy of Duane Allman: An Anthology, and for some reason, I wrote down the exact date, as I would do from then on.

Sometimes I’ve missed. When I was entering all of this data into the computer in early 2002 – a task that took me about ten days, working on it about six hours a day – I found a few other records besides the Mark Turnbull album for which I had no date. Those I had to estimate, looking for a price tag if I bought it used (which would tell me where I bought it, and thus give me a timeframe based on when I frequented that store) or relying on my memory if I bought it new. I may be in error on some of those.

And remember the Al Hirt and Tijuana Brass records, along with the other stuff that predated my rock and pop days? When it came time to enter those, I had to do some estimating, too. One of them, I could date exactly: I got Hirt’s Honey in the Horn for my eleventh birthday. The others, well, I did the best I could.

And I would guess, looking at the database today, that I have exact dates for at least ninety percent of the records in the collection. And when I run through the database chronologically, the dates in italics become more and more rare and begin to stand out in that column as the years roll by. One of those later dates is for a copy – still sealed – of Harry Chapin’s last album, Sequel, purchased sometime during the autumn of 1990 at a record store in a mall on the west edge of Columbia, Missouri. (I kid you not; I remember this stuff.) I won’t open the record, but the songs on Sequel were re-released in 1987 on an album called Remember When the Music. I gave Sequel an estimated date of October 1, 1990.

Not far from Sequel in the log is the self-titled 1977 album by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff, which I bought a few weeks later at that same store in the west side mall.

“I Miss America” by Harry Chapin from Remember When the Music [1987]
(Originally released on Sequel [1980])

“Someone To Lay Down Beside Me” by Karla Bonoff from Karla Bonoff [1977]

One of the things I did when I compiled the database in 2002 was to look at information in the albums’ notes. I made a note when the album included guest performances or other stars joining in. When I made an entry for a compilation, I put the names of the most prominent artists in the notes column. I also kept track of some sidemen and studio musicians, like the folks who played with Delaney & Bonnie (and Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton and George Harrison) and the Swampers from Muscle Shoals. As I’ve mentioned before, when I shop, I look for those names and a few others in album credits, and when I find those names, I generally take the album home.

One of those albums, one that I found at Cheapo’s in Minneapolis in 2003, raises a question: Who is Lori Jacobs? The liner notes to her 1973 album, Free, tell us that she “lives in Michigan and performs nightly at the Ann Arbor Road House. She used to be a teacher and she used to be married.” And then the notes talk about how her songs “tell the story of a newly-awakened [sic] lady, her loves and sorrows.”

What the notes don’t tell us is how a woman whose credits seem to be that she performs nightly in a lounge in Ann Arbor, Michigan, managed to record her album with the Swampers at Muscle Shoals. They’re all there: Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. Joining in the fun were Clayton Ivey, Harrison Calloway and Harvey Thompson, who worked at Rick Hall’s FAME studios after Beckett et al. went on their own. Rick Ruskin, a pretty well-known guitarist from Michigan, joins in. And among the folks who came out to sing background on one of Jacobs’ songs were Clydie King and Venetta Fields. Who is this woman?

Jacobs, of course, was one only one of the many musicians who made pilgrimages to the studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Muscle Shoals. Not many were as seemingly obscure as Jacobs, but my notes point out another singer-songwriter who worked with the Swampers but who’s also spent some time in the shadows.

“Free” by Lori Jacobs from Free [1973]

“Come On Down” by Wendy Waldman from Gypsy Symphony [1974]

(I have a sealed copy of Free which I plan to break open and rip to mp3s one of these days. When I do, I’ll share the entire album here. This mp3 came from the copy I bought in 2003, which has some severe scratches.)

I spend more time these days wandering through the database looking for errors than I do keeping the log up to date. I just don’t buy a lot of LPs anymore. There are only two places to get good-quality records in St. Cloud, and the stock in those stores doesn’t turn over often enough for me to spend much time digging through the records. When I do go through the bins, I’ll grab something if I recognize it from my want list and it’s fairly rare. I also go to garage sales on a regular basis; that’s how I found Chipmunk Rock, from which I shared “Whip It” a while back.

And of course, I use the database frequently for posts here, running through each month’s acquisitions down the years. Once I do that for all twelve months, I’ll have to be a lot more creative when it comes to finding posts for Saturdays.

Digging through the database for this post has reminded me of records I have that I’ve not listened to for a while. Like the Sonny & Cher album, which likely hasn’t been played since, oh, 1968. And Mark Turnbull’s album, which probably hasn’t been played since 1972.

And there are treasures in even the most recent entries. One of the few records I acquired during 2008 was Leo Kottke’s Circle ’Round the Sun, a gift from Mitch Lopate, whose name has popped up here occasionally. There are also treasures less sublime.

“Long Way Up The River” by Leo Kottke from Circle ’Round the Sun [1970]

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by the Chipmunks from Chipmunk Rock [1982]

(All mp3s for this post were ripped from vinyl, so there are some bits of noise now and then.)

At The Ballpark Long Ago

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 3, 2009

I went to a baseball game forty years ago today. How do I know?

Because I saw something that day at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium that’s been etched in my memory ever since.

It was a Sunday, and I went to the ball game through a trip sponsored by St. Cloud State. I was fifteen, and my folks – Dad, of course, taught at the college – paid my way and sent me off on the bus to the Cities. It wasn’t the first Minnesota Twins game I’d gone to, but I hadn’t been to many of them. And I’d never gone to one essentially unsupervised. Yeah, there were adults on the bus, but none of them were going to keep track of me. I was basically on my own, and that made me feel pretty good.

And the game promised to be something special, as well. The Twins were playing the Baltimore Orioles, and both teams were in first place as the last two months of the season got underway. That season, 1969, was the first year that the two major leagues were split into divisions, with the division winners set to face each other in playoffs after the regular season. So the series between the Twins and the Orioles was a preview of a likely post-season series.

There was an added attraction: The Orioles’ starting pitcher that Sunday, Dave McNally, had won fifteen games without a loss that season. If he won that Sunday’s game, he’d set a new American League record for consecutive victories at the start of a season. (He was tied at 15-0 with Johnny Allen, who’d pitched for Cleveland in 1937.)

In addition, by winning his sixteenth game in a row, McNally would tie an American League record, set by Walter Johnson in 1912 and tied by Smokey Joe Wood later that same season, as well as by Lefty Grove in 1931 and by Schoolboy Rowe in 1934. (The streaks by Johnson, Wood, Grove and Rowe had come after they’d lost games in those seasons.)

So McNally was trying to become the first American League pitcher to ever have a record of 16-0. (He’d then set his sights on Rube Marquard of the National League Giants, who in 1912 won his first nineteen decisions.)

I wasn’t yet an avid baseball fan, but I was learning. I knew as we drove from St. Cloud that morning about McNally and his chance for history. I also knew that the Twins and the Orioles were two very good baseball teams. A look at the box score from that day’s game reveals the name of four members of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew of the Twins and Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson of the Orioles. (There are also some names in the box score of at least two Twins who also deserve to be in the Hall: Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. Other Orioles? Probably not.)

[Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022. Note added May 13, 2022.]

I had a good seat, about fifteen rows above the third-base dugout, the Orioles’ dugout. And it was a tight game, as might have been expected. As the Twins came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, they trailed 1-0, and McNally had given up just four hits. But in that bottom of the seventh inning, the Twins managed two hits, and then a walk loaded the bases. Rich Reese came to the plate, pinch-hitting for Twins pitcher Kaat. I don’t remember how many pitches McNally threw to Reese, but the last one was decisive: Reese launched the ball over the right-field fence for a grand-slam home run. The Twins had a 4-1 lead, and McNally’s first loss was in sight.

McNally stayed in the game, which I find odd, both in memory and in baseball strategy. (I’m referring as I write this to a box score available at Baseball-Reference.com, an invaluable site, and I find that some details of the game have become fuzzy for me. But my main point, which I’ll actually address in a bit, remains clear.) In the top of the eighth inning, the Orioles closed the gap to 4-2, and McNally went back to the mound to pitch to the Twins in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Twins scored another run, and that was when Orioles manager Earl Weaver came on the field to take McNally out of the game.

The stadium was noisy as the Twins took that 5-2 lead and as Weaver came out of the third-base dugout, right in front of me. The noise lessened a bit as Weaver walked to the mound and took the baseball from McNally. And as McNally headed toward the dugout, his head down and his perfect season gone, two remarkable things happened:

First, the Minnesota fans – more than forty thousand were there that Sunday – stood and applauded. I’ve since learned, of course, that most sports fans in most cities acknowledge historic performances by opposing players, but this was the first time I’d seen that happen, and it made an impression on me. But that was only the first remarkable thing.

McNally crossed the third-base line as the crowd applauded him. He raised his head, and – in a gesture that’s remained vivid in my memory for forty years – took off his cap and tipped it to the fans in the stadium. If there were ever an object lesson in sportsmanship and grace, it came in that moment from Dave McNally.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, August 9, 1969)
“My Pledge of Love” by the Joe Jeffrey Group, Wand 11200 [No. 16]
“Choice of Colors” by the Impressions, Curtom 1943 [No. 24]
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen, Capitol 2482 [No. 44]
“Muddy River” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial 6638 [No. 45]
“Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2648 [No. 59]
“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” the Honey Cone, Hot Wax 6901 [No. 62]

Joe Jeffrey, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was from Buffalo, New York. There’s a bit more information at All-Music Guide, which notes that the singer, who was born Joe Stafford but changed his name (evidently to avoid confusion with Jo Stafford, even though Jo Stafford sang pop and was female) was a regular in clubs in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. “My Pledge of Love” was the only one of Jeffrey’s four singles on Wand to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 14.

As the late 1960s rolled on, Curtis Mayfield of the Impressions was becoming more and more explicit in his songwriting about the racial divide in the United States. “Choice of Colors” may have been the furthest extension of that progression. Listening to it today, I find it remarkable that the song did as well as it did, peaking at No. 21 on the pop chart and reaching No. 1 on the R&B chart. The record is a remarkably frank piece of work.

“Hurt So Bad” was the Lettermen’s remake of the 1965 hit by Little Anthony & the Imperials, which went to No. 10. The Lettermen’s version was more lightweight than Little Anthony’s; it peaked at No. 12 as it floated from radio speakers during the late summer and early autumn of 1969, speaking directly to the life and heart of at least one young listener in the Midwest. It was the Lettermen’s final Top 40 hit.

Johnny Rivers’ “Muddy River” was pulled from his remarkable album Slim Slo Slider, and it’s surprising to me that it didn’t do better than it did. Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” a single that’s high on my all-time list, had gone to No. 14 as 1967 turned into 1968, and “Muddy River,” while not quite of that quality, was a good single. But “Muddy River” sat at No. 45 for one more week and then jumped to No. 41 for a week before falling back down the chart. Rivers wouldn’t hit the Top 40 again until 1972 with “Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu,” which went to No. 6.

Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Joe” didn’t reach the Top 40, but it did prove once again that Pickett could to justice to pretty much any song. The record peaked at No. 59 on the pop chart, and went to No. 29 on the R&B chart. It’s also notable for the presence of Duane Allman on guitar. (If you listened to the mp3 before reading this, it’s likely you knew – or at least suspected – that already.)

“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” is one of the delightful confections with a groove that Honey Cone and the other members of the Invictus stable turned out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Formed by the one-time Motown team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Invictus and Hot Wax were also home to Freda Payne, Laura Lee, the Chairmen of the Board and others. “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” was, says Wikipedia, Honey Cone’s first single. It peaked at No. 62 on the pop chart and made it to No. 26 on the R&B chart. The group eventually had four Top 40 hits, including “Want Ads,” which went to No. 1 in 1971.

Mississippi Fred, Jimi & Jack & Jorma

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 20, 2009

So what does YouTube have for us with at least a tenuous connection to the things we’ve done here recently?

Well, here’s Mississippi Fred McDowell with a typically good performance of “Goin’ Down to the River” on what appears to be a back porch-like set in some television studio somewhere. I’d guess late 1950s to early 1960s on this one, mostly because of the black and white visuals. The song, “Goin’ Down to the River,” was a McDowell original, and it shows up on some albums recorded in the 1960s. The person who posted this at YouTube didn’t leave a lot of information about this clip, and it would be nice to know some more. On the other hand, the music speaks for itself. [A little digging on reposting reveals that the performance likely was on a German television show in 1965. Note added May 12, 2022.]

In the listings for “All Along The Watchtower,” I found this performance by Jimi Hendrix at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. According to Wikipedia, Hendrix performed during the early hours of August 31, 1970, less than three weeks before his death.

Video unavailable

Here’s a clip showing Jack Casaday and Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna performing “Mann’s Fate,” a Kaukonen original that was on Hot Tuna’s first, self-titled album in 1970. The performance came from a PBS show called Folk Guitar that was produced in San Francisco and hosted by a woman named Laura Davis, from what I’ve been able to find out. Based on Casaday’s clothing, I’d place this one in the very early 1970s. [ The performance is from 1969. Note added May 12, 2022.]

And that will do it for today. Still in the plans is a six-pack from a single label, which I think I’ll do tomorrow, and Motown – suggested earlier – sounds like a good choice. We’ll see what sits in the files.

‘One Small Step . . .’

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 20, 2009

Like almost everyone else in the United States – and like so many elsewhere around the Earth, for that matter – I was watching television forty years ago this evening.

My folks, my sister and I gathered in the living room, gazing at our old Zenith, and watched Neil Armstrong descend the Eagle’s ladder and then take that first step onto the surface of the moon. And we continued to watch as he was joined by Buzz Aldrin and the two of them placed a U.S. flag and then gathered samples of lunar rocks to bring back to Earth.

I admit to being puzzled by the missing “a” from Armstrong’s ceremonial first words on the moon: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” But in the years since, he’s said that he intended to say it and he thought he said it, so that’s fine. Given the weight of the occasion (and granting him the missing “a”), I thought his first words were well thought out and appropriate. But they were ceremonial, and thus were missing the visceral truth of Aldrin’s first words when he left the Eagle and joined Armstrong on the lunar surface: “Magnificent desolation!”

We watched until the two astronauts went back into the Eagle after something like two hours exploring the lunar surface that evening. None of us said much in the living room that night, and I don’t know what my folks thought as they watched men bounce around on the surface of the Moon. I remembered President John Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to the nation to land a man on the moon and bring him home, and it seems to me – I was maybe eight at the time the challenge was laid down and fifteen when the Eagle landed on the Moon – that I took the existence and success of a lunar expedition as a given. (History and chance have since taught me, of course, that so many things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. Then.)

But I wonder now what my parents felt and thought, both having been born less than half a century earlier in homes – like many of those in the United States at the time – that had no electricity. Did they marvel at the sight of men on another world? Or did they take it as a given, another accomplishment checked off the list in a world that supplied marvels one after the other? I don’t know.

I know I was fascinated by the landing and all the things that surrounded it. There was a Gulf service station not far from Tech High School, about a mile west of the Mississippi River. And during that summer, Gulf Oil was handing out sheets of heavy die-cut paper. By carefully punching out the die-cut pieces and then folding and inserting tabs into slots, one could make his or her own lunar module. Most of the kids I knew had picked up at least one, and each spent an hour or so carefully constructing the fragile model. I wound up with three of the paper models on a shelf in my bedroom. Even after the mission of Apollo 11 was finished successfully, I’d look at those fragile models and think of the real fragile and ungainly Eagle landing on the moon and then returning Armstrong and Aldrin to the Columbia and Michael Collins, in orbit around the moon.

Though I might not have put it into these words back then, I think what I was pondering was the slender margin of error that those three astronauts had successfully ridden, from the launch of the Saturn 5 rocket through the trip to the Moon and back to the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Everything had to go just right, and it did. I think I was trying to figure out what that could teach me that I could apply to my life. And I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten there.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending July 23, 1969)
“In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans, RCA Victor 0174 (No. 1)
“Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” by Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys, Polydor 14002 (No. 25)
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods, RCA Victor 9752 (No. 44)
“On Campus” by Dickie Goodman, Cotique 158 (No. 51)
“Tell All The People” by the Doors, Elektra 45663 (No. 58)
“Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” by Lou Rawls, Capitol 2550 (No. 87)

The first single is either a listener’s worst earworm or a delightful piece of bad science fiction. Either way, it was inescapable during the summer of 1969, vibrating out of tinny speakers and car radios at least twice an hour, or so it seemed. A bit of research a while back by a blogger whose stuff I read regularly – I believe it was my colleague jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – revealed that Zager & Evans hold the title of the greatest one-hit wonder of all time: “In the Year 2525” was in the Billboard Top 40 for twelve weeks, with an amazing six weeks spent at No. 1. This is one of those records that one either loves like a first-born child or hates like mold. I was a science fiction geek in 1969, so I never tired of hearing it come out of the speaker. In fact, this record might have been one of those that drew me toward Top 40 music during that summer when I was exploring new sounds.

“Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” by Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys is another one-hit wonder, this one from a band that’s kind of slipped through the cracks of time. I knew nothing at all about Cat Mother and the boys a year ago, and I still know very little (though I like what I have heard, mostly through the graces of Chuntao at Rare MP3 Music). The medley, which was the opening track of the band’s first album, The Street Giveth…and the Street Taketh Away, spent six weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 21. The group released three more albums, closing down the presses after Cat Mother in 1976. “Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” pulls fragments from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins/Elvis Presley and Buddy Knox in a little more than three minutes, kind of a whirling history of a portion of 1950s rock ’n’ roll.

The Youngbloods’ “Get Together” had originally been released in 1967 and had risen to only No. 62 in the Billboard Hot 100 before being re-released in 1969 with a different catalog number. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that in 1969, the record “was popularized as the theme for the National Conference of Christians and Jews.” Whatever the reason, the record got as high as No. 5 the second time around, spending twelve weeks in the Top 40. Without digging too deeply into the timing, it seems to me that the record’s peak came in the autumn: its strains carry with them the sense of moonrise and the crackling dance of leaves falling from the oaks in the back yard.

With “On Campus,” Dickie Goodman struck again with his cut-in comedy formula. This one isn’t as witty as some of his other topical takes from over the years, but it wasn’t as lame as “Batman and His Grandmother” (which was the only one I ever bought).  The record didn’t make the Top 40. Goodman’s previous Top 40 hit had been 1957’s “Santa and the Satellite” and his next would be 1974’s “Energy Crisis ’74.” It didn’t miss by much, though: “On Campus” peaked at No. 45 during an eight-week stay in the Hot 100.

The version of “Tell All The People” I’m offering here is from the album The Soft Parade, and given the Doors’ and Elektra’s propensity for issuing widely different mixes on their 45s, I have no confidence at all that it’s the version that folks heard occasionally on their radios during the summer of 1969. I find it interesting for the use of horns, and for the fact that the writing credit for the single went solely to Robby Krieger; the Doors’ albums to that point had credited all songwriting to the group as an entity. One bit of speculation I saw (and I do not recall where I read it) suggested that Jim Morrison was unwilling to attach his name to a lyric that told listeners to “get your guns.” The record moved up one more spot to No. 58 during the last week of July, hovered there for another week and then fell out of the Hot 100 entirely.

I don’t have a lot to say about Lou Rawls’ “Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” but only because any comment I make is superfluous: It’s a great record by one of the great singers of all time. The record peaked at No. 18 in late September of 1969, the third of six Top 40 hits Rawls would have in his career.

Johnny Rivers, Jim Webb & Balloons?

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 10, 2009

I got an interesting note yesterday. It turns out that the writer, Ted, had happened upon my corner of blogworld during the course of some research. He said he’s part of a small group that shares information, speculation and commentary about music.

One of the recent topics was a 5th Dimension song:

“I did ‘Up, Up and Away’ the other day, talking a little bit about Jim Webb writing ‘Up, Up and Away’ at the request of Johnny Rivers for the 5th Dimension.   One commenter . . . indicated that he had once heard that Johnny Rivers might have been involved in a balloon movie – which was never made but may have influenced his conversation with Jim Webb – or alternatively that Jim Webb may have been commissioned directly to write a balloon song for this movie that never happened.”

And Ted said he’s wandered around the Web and couldn’t find anything that pertained to “Up-Up and Away” and actual ballooning. He asked me if I knew anything about it. I replied, saying that I’d never heard that tale. “That doesn’t mean it’s not true,” I said. “I just don’t have it in the memory banks.”

And I told Ted that I’d ask my readers – who, I told him, “know far more than I do by myself” – if any of them had any information about Jim Webb, Johnny Rivers, a ballooning movie and the song “Up-Up and Away.” So, does anyone know anything about that?

And while you ponder that, here’s a mostly random selection of early 5th Dimension tunes. (In this case, “mostly random” means that I selected the starting tune and the ending tune and switched the order of the random selections in between.)

A Six-Pack of the 5th Dimension
“Up-Up and Away” from Up, Up And Away [1967]
“California Soul” from Stoned Soul Picnic [1968]
“The Magic Garden” from The Magic Garden [1967]
“Hideaway” from The Age of Aquarius [1969]
“Good News” from Stoned Soul Picnic [1968]
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” from The Age of Aquarius [1969]

Elton, Roger & The New Vaudeville Band

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 9, 2009

Still feeling silly after yesterday’s post, I submerged myself in videos at YouTube. And there I found an old and somewhat visually deficient clip of Aretha Franklin performing “You and Me” on an episode of The Flip Wilson Show. The show ran from 1970 into 1974, but I think it’s a good bet that the episode in question comes from late 1970 or early 1971, right about the time “Border Song (Holy Moses/You and Me” showed up in the lower level of the Top 40 charts (No. 37).

Video unavailable

Here’s an interesting video set: Two performances of “King of the Road” by Roger Miller. One, says the person who posted the video, came from a 1969 lip-synch appearance on Music Scene, and the other, a 1964 performance, was on what the poster called “TNT.” British shows? Contrasting the two visuals is pretty entertaining, and in the 1969 clip, Miller does some nifty shuffling as he heads back down the blue road at the end of the tune.

Video unavailable

Readers might recall my noting Tuesday that when “Winchester Cathedral” became a hit in late 1966, originator Geoff Stephens had to put together a group to be the New Vaudeville Band. Well, here’s a look at the group he put together, lip-syching “Peek-A-Boo” and “Winchester Cathedral” on The Hollywood Palace. The YouTube poster says the clip is from 1966. “Peek-A-Boo” reached its peak position –No. 72 – on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of March of 1967.Whenever it was, the fellows look pretty bored with the proceedings. (And yes, I believe that is Kate Smith introducing the boys.)

That’s it for today. I’m not at all sure what’s going to be in this space tomorrow – I have several ideas, one of which may blossom – but there will be something here. Thanks for stopping by.

Random In The Sixties

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 3, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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