Archive for the ‘1970’ Category

‘Beware Of Maya . . .’

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 9, 2009

As I look back over my musical life, there are hundreds of places, I suppose, where I learned something new or heard something new that changed the way I hear music. One popped to mind this week. I wrote last weekend about the people I spent time with during my first quarters of college, the Doors fans Dave and Mark and the other fellows and gals who hung around with us. In later years, my college life revolved around Atwood, the student center at St. Cloud State, but – with one significant exception – not during that first year.

It was that exception that I remembered this weekend. As school began in the autumn of 1971, Atwood had been remodeled and expanded, with the new sections being home, on the main floor, to an art gallery, meeting rooms, a small theater and a listening lounge. It was the listening lounge that pulled me to Atwood for a fair amount of my daily free time during that year.

The lounge itself was comfy: there were listening stations with easy chairs and sofas, with beanbags and large pillows. And on the end of the lounge was a small room with maybe fifteen turntables and a wide-ranging record library. A would-be lounger would go to the service window, and the student worker in the small room would take a student ID and a music request and would then hand out a set of headphones. The lounger would choose an open listening station and the worker would head off to cue up the record.

All that remained was to plug in the headphones and listen to the music, maybe while studying, writing a letter, or simply relaxing to the tunes. (I think this is correct; it’s been nearly forty years since I thought of the lounge, and some of the details are fuzzy.)

The lounge’s library numbered, I think, about fifty albums. I recall listening to Shawn Phillips, to Bobby Whitlock, to Derek & the Dominos, to Joe Cocker and to Leon Russell. I recall that listening to Leon Russell & The Shelter People sometime in early 1972 answered a question that had been lingering since Christmas. When I listened to The Concert for Bangladesh, which my folks had given me for Christmas, I was puzzled as to why George Harrison let Leon Russell sing one of the verses of “Beware of Darkness.” Not that Leon’s verse was badly done; I was learning to like the Okie’s idiosyncratic delivery.

But in January or February of 1972, when I stopped by the listening lounge and popped on the headphones for a run through Leon Russell & The Shelter People, I learned that the album included Leon’s version of the song. And his taking a verse at the concert the previous summer made more sense to me.

I don’t think the listening lounge lasted very long. I’m not sure if it was in operation during my second year of college, beginning in the fall of 1972, but I don’t think so. And I know for sure that it was gone by the time I came home from Denmark in the spring of 1974. It was a good idea, but I imagine there were reasons it was discontinued. And of course, these days, it would be unnecessary: We all carry our listening lounges with us in the form of mp3 players.

The memory of the listening lounge, as I noted above, brought back memories this week of “Beware of Darkness,” which at the time was one of my favorite George Harrison songs. (I still like it, but probably not with the fervor of a college freshman.) I wouldn’t want to call it a strange song, but it is unique, its imagery and message being very much of its time and of its composer. So it’s not surprising that there aren’t very many cover versions. All-Music Guide lists about thirty CDs with recordings of the song on it, and a good share of those, of course, are Harrison’s original version or his (and Russell’s) live version at the Concert for Bangladesh.

The slender list of those who’ve covered the song includes Eric Clapton (at the 2002 Concert for George), Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, Marianne Faithful, Joel Harrison, Spock’s Beard and, of course, Leon Russell.

“Beware of Darkness” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People [1970]

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

“So Tired” by the Chambers Brothers from The Time Has Come [1967]
“Sick and Tired” by Chris Kenner, Imperial 5448 [1957]
“So Tired” by Eva from the Vanishing Point soundtrack [1971]
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand [1990]
“Things Get Better” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton [1970]
“Got To Get Better In A Little While” by Derek & The Dominos from Live at the Fillmore [1970 performance, 1994 release]

‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime . . .’

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 2, 2009

At this point – after digging for a few days – two of the few things I am sure of when I think about the original version of the blues tune “Somebody (Loan Me A Dime)” is that I don’t have it and don’t know how it sounds. (Almost five years later, neither of those two facts is true, as noted below.)

Like many of my generation, I first came across the tune through Boz Scaggs, who recorded a lengthy version of it for his self-titled debut album in 1969. One of the highlights of not just the album but of Scaggs’ long career, the twelve-and-a-half-minute track features some jaw-dropping extended solos from Duane Allman, backed by some of the best work ever done by the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the horns of Joe Arnold, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and James Mitchell.

As with many things in my musical life, I first heard Scaggs’ version of the tune during my stay in Denmark, and over the years, I heard the track again and again on my own stereo systems at home. But when I went to the record jackets – checking both the Duane Allman Anthology notes and then the Boz Scaggs jacket – all I could learn was that the tune was written by one Fenton Robinson. My interest during the 1970s in the song’s provenance was casual. Not recognizing Robinson’s name, I let the matter drop.

(At least by the time I looked, the name of the composer was correct. On early printings of Boz Scaggs, the song was credited to Scaggs himself. Whether that was Scaggs’ decision or the work of someone at Atlantic Records, I do not know. But by the time I bought my copy of the Allman anthology in late 1974, the song was credited to Robinson. A case could be made for Scaggs to take a half-credit along with Robinson, as Scaggs did modify the song’s structure: instead of the standard 4/4 rhythm, Scaggs started his version in a slow 6/8 time, shifting to 4/4 time about midway through and then closing the song with a manic section in 2/4 time. But no such split credit exists; the CD version of Boz Scaggs, first released in 1990, lists only Robinson as the composer.)

I’ve learned since that Robinson – who died in 1997 at the age of 62 – originally wrote and recorded the song for the Palos label in 1967. As is pretty standard with bluesmen, he re-recorded it several times after that, and those versions are the ones that are generally available these days. I haven’t dug too deeply in the past few weeks to see if I can find the version recorded for Palos; if I found it, I’d want to buy it, and the last thing I need to do right now is add another line to the want list.

(I have since found the Palos version, and here’s “Loan Me A Dime” as Robinson originally recorded it.)

The tune is indexed at All-Music Guide as both “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” and “Loan Me A Dime.” Scaggs’ name is among the most prominent of those who covered Robinson’s tune. Among the other names listed at All-Music Guide are Mike Bloomfield, Rick Derringer, J.B. Hutto, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson, Johnny Laws, Mighty Joe Young, Buster Benton, and the Disciples of Grace.

I have two recordings of the song by Robinson from the 1970s. The first is from a series of sessions Robinson did during the early Seventies for Sound Stage 7 Records in Nashville and Memphis (released on CD in 1993 as Mellow Fellow, Volume 41 of the Charly Blues Masterworks series). For some reason, according to AMG, the Sound Stage 7 producers took the guitar out of Robinson’s hands during the sessions in Nashville and let others play guitar. I don’t much care for the result, but I’ll post it anyway.

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson, Nashville [1970]

The second version by Robinson is the title track of a 1974 album on Alligator Records. On this one, Robinson plays guitar as well as sings, and the result, to my ears, is much better. (My thanks to The Roadhouse for this one.)

“Somebody Loan Me A Dime” by Fenton Robinson from Somebody Loan Me A Dime [1974]

And then, here’s Scaggs’ 1969 version from his self-titled debut album:

(Notes added May 25, 2014.)

Ten From The Seventies

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 27, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at some of the numbers surrounding the mp3 collection, so I thought I’d do that today. (Actually, I did a post of that sort in February, but it disappeared that day; those things do happen from time to time.)

As of this morning, the collection (I’d considered calling it a “library,” but that sounds a bit, well, pretentious) contains 37,849 mp3s. The earliest recorded is “Poor Mourner,” performed by the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet in Philadelphia on November 29, 1902. I have a number of things recorded (or at least released) this year, the most recent purchase being Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life, which I got early this month (and quite enjoy).

Most of the music comes from the 1960s and 1970s, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who stops by here. Here’s a breakdown by decade from the middle of the Twentieth Century onward:

1950s: 1,152
1960s: 8,820
1970s: 13,445
1980s: 3,327
1990s: 4,525
2000s: 5,319

As I expected – and said above – the 1960s and the 1970s dominate, because that’s where my musical heart and major interests lie. And I have demonstrably less interest in the 1980s than in the music that’s come along since, which is no surprise. Taking things a step further, I thought it might be instructive – or at least interesting – to pull the Seventies apart and see how each year is represented in the collection:

1970: 2,627
1971: 2,513
1972: 2,175
1973: 1,556
1974: 1,107
1975: 1,038
1976: 802
1977: 674
1978: 528
1979: 425

Well, that’s about how I thought it would curve. Maybe I’ll look at other decades in the future. But for now, here’s one recording from each year of the 1970s, selected more or less randomly.

Ten From The Seventies
1970: “Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty
1971: “Finish Me Off” by the Soul Children from Best of Two Worlds
1972: “By Today” by Batdorf & Rodney from Batdorf & Rodney
1973: “Come Strollin’ Now” by Danny Kortchmar from Kootch
1974: “Ramona” by the Stampeders from New Day
1975: “Get Dancin’” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony from Disco Baby
1976: “I Got Mine” by Ry Cooder from Chicken Skin Music
1977: “People With Feeling” by the Three Degrees from Standing Up For Love
1978: “Rover” by Jethro Tull from Heavy Horses
1979: “One Way Or Another” by Blondie, Chrysalis 2336

The best known of those, likely, are the two that bookend the group: the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” and the Blondie single.

The Soul Children have popped up here from time to time. “Finish Me Off” is a great vocal workout by a group that I think was in the shadows as Memphis-based Stax began to fade in the early 1970s.

Batdorf & Rodney was a singer-songwriter duo that had a couple of good but not great albums during the years when there were similar duos on every record label and in every barroom. Batdorf & Rodney wasn’t among the best of them, but neither was the duo among the worst.

Danny Kortchmar was one of the more prolific session guitarists of the 1970s; his list of credits is impressive. For his 1973 solo album, he pulled together a number of the other top session musicians, including Craig Doerge on keyboards and horn player Jim Horn. (I think that’s Horn on the extended solo in “Come Strollin’ Now,” but it could be Doug Richardson.)

The Stampeders of “Ramona” are the same Stampeders who did “Sweet City Woman,” a No. 8 hit in 1971. The banjo is gone, and so is the quirky charm that it lent to the group’s sound. “Ramona” sounds like the work of any other mid-Seventies band. Oh, well.

Two of these are aimed at getting us out of our chairs and onto the dance floor. The Van McCoy track does a better job of that than does the track by the Three Degrees, maybe because McCoy has no other aim than to get us dancing. The Three Degrees, on the other hand, were trying to put across a serious message in the lyrics. By that era of the Seventies, though, it was pretty much about the boogie, not the words.

The Ry Cooder is your basic Ry Cooder track: rootsy and a little sardonic and fun. This one comes from one of his better – and most varied – albums. The Jethro Tull track comes from an album I tend to forget about when I consider the group. And every time I’m reminded of it, I remember that Heavy Horses has aged better, it seems, than most things in the Tull catalog, certainly better than Aqualung (which I love anyway).

More ‘More’ Than You’ve Ever Heard Before

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 26, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, here’s the original:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“More” by Vic Dana from More [1963]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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]

‘Dance Into May!’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 1, 2009

It’s May Day again (and this year, I got the day right, at least.)

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here. I recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times.  How lively is the international labor movement these days, especially taking into account the sad state of the international economy? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered. As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that “[t]he earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.

Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 [1969]
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her [1967]
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card [1980]
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings [1970]
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web [1972]
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia [1998]

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

As to the songs themselves, how could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from the Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

“May Be A Price To Pay” is the opening track to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project Alan Parsons released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the group’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release one album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to All-Music Guide, “Julie Felix isn’t too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she’s been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hill of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.

Jeff, EW&F, Boz, Bubble Puppy & The Doors

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 30, 2009

One of the things that made Jeff Healey such a powerful guitar player was his lap-style playing, which – if not unique – was at least a rare technique. Here’s a clip of Healey and his band performing Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By” during a March 26, 1995, performance at the Sudbahnhof in Frankfurt, Germany.

Video deleted.

There are few things that go together better than funky music and excessive 1980’s style costumes. Here’s the video – the height of style and technique then and wonderfully cheesy today – that was released in 1981 for Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.”

I can’t post it here, but here’s a link to a very nice performance by Boz Scaggs of “We’re All Alone.” It’s from 2004 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francsicso. (The recording cuts off too soon, but it’s still a great performance.) (Video deleted as of June 20, 2012.)

Here’s a video posted to the Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass.” There’s nothing new there musically, but you can see some record covers, posters and photos of the band.

Then, here’s a live soundstage performance by the Doors of “Wishful Sinful.” Based on the Doors’ appearances, this dates from sometime in 1970, probably around the time the band was working on L.A. Woman.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably do something to mark May Day again. Exactly what that’s going to be I don’t know right now, but this time, it will at least be on the right day.

William, Friends Of Distinction & Hugh

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 23, 2009

I thought it might be slim pickings at YouTube for this week’s posts, quite likely because the posts have been slender as well. But I found a few interesting things.

Here’s what looks to be a relatively recent performance by William Bell of “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Seeing the “Soulsville” emblazoned on the drum makes me wonder if the performance didn’t come from a Stax tribute or something like that in Memphis.

I couldn’t find any video of Hugh Masekela performing “Grazing in the Grass,” but here’s the Friends of Distinction during a 1970 television performance. In the spring of 1969, eight months after Masekela’s instrumental version of the song went to No. 1. The Friends’ vocal version got as high as No. 3.

Video deleted.

Here’s a nice find: Hugh Masekela and his band performing “Coal Train (Stimela)” at the Artists Against Apartheid’s June 28, 1986, Freedom Beat festival at London’s Clapham Common.

Tomorrow – and I promise! – we’ll do an unplayed records grab bag. I’ll have the Texas Gal pull some LPs at random from the unplayed stacks and we’ll pull a selection from five of those and take a listen to a track from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus. And we’ll see what we can learn.

About “Wade In The Water”
My thanks to Yah Shure for taking time to dig into the differing versions of Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade in the Water.” He left his conclusions in the comments to yesterday’s post. He first said:

“I timed my 45 of ‘Wade In The Water.’ The time listed on the label is 3:05, but the actual run time is 3:16. I don’t believe that it’s simply an early fade of the album version, but I’ll have to dive again to compare the two.”

After investigation, Yah Shure reported:

“Upon further review, the single version of ‘Wade In The Water’ is not an early fade. It contains four seconds’ worth of material that is not on the album/CD version!

“Aside from minor speed variations, both versions are identical up until 2:58 into the recording. At that point, each version utilizes different takes from the recording session. There’s a little piano trill on the 45 that is not on the LP, along with other differences in the piano and brass. This difference lasts only four seconds. Then, at 3:02, both versions once again become identical. The 45 begins its fade at 3:03, and is out completely at 3:16. The LP/CD track finally fades out completely at about 3:47.

“Mix differences such as these are not all that rare between single and album versions. Although they may seem quite minor, they demonstrate the lengths record producers went to in order to get a hit on the radio.”

(That means that one of the two versions I have is evidently the CD/LP track, with the other of them an edit that was given a fade ten seconds earlier. I never know what to do when I come across this stuff. Do I delete the one that’s the anomaly? If it pops up again, will I recall the information Yah Shure sent along? Good questions for which I have no answers.)