Archive for the ‘1974’ Category

Thanksgiving Tales

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 25, 2009

Well, tomorrow morning, like millions of others here in the U.S., the Texas Gal and I – joined by my mother – will head off for Thanksgiving. In our case, we’ll be going to my sister’s home in the Twin Cities suburb of Maple Grove for turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Our contribution will be a plate of deviled eggs, a dish that’s become a holiday tradition for us since the Texas Gal first brought them along in 2000.

We missed Thanksgiving at my sister’s last year due to some health issues. And the plan to return there got me thinking about the various places I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving over the years.

For years – until I was out of  college, I think – we gathered at my grandparents’ home, first on their farm outside the small town of Lamberton, Minnesota, and then at their home in Lamberton itself. Sometime in the mid-1970s, after Grandma passed on, the Thanksgiving celebration shifted to my parents’ home here in St. Cloud. And after about twenty years there, the annual feast shifted venues again, and my sister and brother-in-law have hosted Thanksgiving since then.

Besides last year’s celebration, I can recall two other Thanksgivings that have found me in different places. In 1980, I think it was, the woman who was then my wife had the idea of hosting Thanksgiving in a restored 1860s cabin owned by friends of hers. We prepared the food in our own home and then moved the entire feast about two miles to the cabin. The food was fine, but the cabin was uncomfortably cold despite the presence of a fireplace. It was an interesting experiment, but I’d rather flip it: I’d be interested in using Nineteenth Century recipes and work from a modern kitchen.

The other Thanksgiving that found me in another place was during the time I spent in Denmark. The Danes don’t celebrate the holiday, of course, but my ladyfriend – another American – and I decided to cook a traditional American Thanksgiving meal for my Danish family and a few other students, both American and Danish.

There was no turkey for sale in Fredericia, so we made do with a couple of chickens. Potatoes were easy enough, as was flour for the gravy. Green beans amandine went well enough after a tussle with the Danish language. Not knowing where the nutcracker was, I looked up the word in my Danish/English dictionary and called my Danish mother at her office. Danish uses some sounds that are, well, foreign to English, so it took some time before she understood that I was trying to say nøddeknækker.

Beyond the linguistic difficulties, the main challenge of the day was the pumpkin pie. We could find neither canned pumpkin nor a fresh pumpkin in Fredericia. Luckily, my ladyfriend had made pumpkin pie from scratch with her mother, and she assured me that an orange winter squash would meet our needs. We cleaned it, cut it up and cooked it with the appropriate seasonings and then baked it in a homemade shell. As dinner came to a close that evening, our Danish guests were a bit puzzled by the pie, but our American guests marveled at how close we’d come to the Thanksgiving dessert they’d all had for years.

That may have been my most memorable Thanksgiving ever. Does that mean it was the best? Well, no. As the fourth Thursday of November comes along year after year, each Thanksgiving somehow seems better than the one before it . . . as long as I share that table with my loved ones, especially the Texas Gal.

A Six-Pack of Thanks
“Now Be Thankful” by Fairport Convention, Island WIP 6089 [1970]
“Thank You” by Led Zeppelin from Led Zeppelin II [1969]
“I Thank You” by Mongo Santamaria from All Strung Out [1969]
“Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot from Shadows [1982]
‘Thanks to You” by Jesse Winchester from Humour Me [1988]
“Be Thankful for What You Got (Pt. 1)” by William DeVaughn, Roxbury 0236 [1974]

Of these six, only the Fairport Convention tune really seems to fully address the sentiments of the holiday. The others generally work with only their titles; their content has at best only a glancing connection to the day. But that’s good enough for me.

The Texas Gal and I wish you a joyful Thanksgiving. May you all have many reasons to be thankful.

Six At Random

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 7, 2009

Well, it’s time to open up the RealPlayer, flip the switch on the randomizer and see what we get for a Wednesday morning Six-Pack pulled from the years 1950-1999. (As is my usual practice, I’ll ignore songs that have been shared here recently. And for today, I’ll also ignore utter obscurities.)

A Mostly Random Six-Pack from 1950-1999
“Sway” by Alvin Youngblood Hart from Paint It, Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones [1997]
“Wrapped Around” by the Cates Gang from Come Back Home [1973]
“Where Have You Been” by Astrud Gilberto from Now [1972]
“Take It Or Leave It” by Foghat from Fool for the City [1974]
“Hospitals” by Pollution from Pollution II [1972]
“Lady Samantha” by Three Dog Night from Suitable For Framing [1969]

In the late 1990s, the House of Blues restaurant and entertainment chain issued at least three CDs with a simple concept: Have blues artists interpret the songs of major rock performers and songwriters. Paint It, Blue seems to have been the first of them; the two other House of Blues recordings that I have cover the songs of Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, and both date from 1999. I know there are other CDs with the same idea; I’ve seen one for the Beatles’ White Album, but I don’t know if that’s from the House of Blues or from another organization/label. And it seems as if determining the label for these can be somewhat confusing; the fine print on the Paint It, Blue CD case mentions Platinum Entertainment and Polygram Group Distribution, but at All-Music Guide, the labels mentioned are A&M and Ruf.

Lineage and ownership confusion aside, the three CDs I have are very good, and Paint It, Blue is likely the best of the three: Alvin Youngblood Hart and his versions of “Sway” and “Moonlight Mile” sit side-by-side with work from Luther Allison, Johnny Copeland, Junior Wells, Otis Clay, Taj Mahal, Gatemouth Brown and more. In the liner notes, Hart says, “I was a Stones fan during the Mick Taylor era (1969-76). Not to say I’m stuck on Mick Taylor, but the band as a whole was really cooking from Let It Bleed on. And, I used to do ‘Sway’ in a garage band. That’s how we approached it.”

I’ve written about my enjoyment of the Cate Brothers and I’ve shared a couple albums before; the Cates Gang recording here comes from work the brothers did before dropping the “s” and calling themselves simply brothers. This track is from the second of two albums released as the Cates Gang, and like the music that came later, it owes a lot to southern soul and R&B, with a touch of southern rock and – I think – the Everly Brothers stirred into the recipe. I found both Come Back Home and an earlier Cates Gang recording, Wanted, at the excellent blog Skydog’s Elysium.

Part of the attraction of the original version of “The Girl From Ipanema” was the unaffected vocal by Astrud Gilberto, who was either singing professionally for the first time or singing in English for the first time. (I’ve read the story both ways, but I lean toward the first.) The slight tone and the occasional uncertain shadings of pitch enticed one into the Stan Getz/João Gilberto performance. After that debut, Astrud Gilberto made good career out of the breathy vocals and slight tone, but nothing I’ve heard – and I’ve listened to a good portion of her catalog though not all of it – replicates the charm of her first performance. That’s not to say that Astrud Gilberto’s work – the most recent of her eighteen albums listed at AMG was released in 2002 – isn’t enjoyable. It’s just that I find her work – like that of many artists – more suited to hearing in random single doses than in a sustained presence. Of the albums of hers that I have heard, Now ranks pretty well, and “Where Have You Been” was one of four songs on the album that Gilberto penned herself.

Fool for the City was Foghat’s breakthrough album, with the band’s hard-rocking (for the times) boogie bringing home the group’s first Top 40 hit. (“Slow Ride” went to No. 20 in 1976.) Which makes “Take It Or Leave It,” the album’s closer, an enigma. I know it got some radio play (a hunch of mine confirmed by AMG), but until the closing vocal yelps, the song sounds more like something from Pablo Cruise or the Little River Band – both of which were still two or three years away – than something from Foghat. That’s not a slam at “Take It Or Leave It,” which I quite like, or at Pablo Cruise or the Little River Band, both of which I enjoy in measured amounts. It’s just a comment on cognitive dissonance caused by Foghat’s odd stylistic choice.

Beyond the fact that I enjoy the music, anything I know about the group Pollution comes from another great blog Play It Again, Max. One thing I did note, after reading Max’s comments about the band and digging a little further, is that among the players credited on both Pollution and Pollution II was Terry Furlong on guitar. Furlong is better known perhaps for his work with the Grass Roots, but he’s recognized in these precincts as a member of Blue Rose, a group for which I have some affection, based on my all-too-brief acquaintance with bass and guitar player Dave Thomson.

“Lady Samantha” is an album track from Three Dog Night’s second album, Suitable For Framing, a record that went to No. 16 on the album chart and threw off three Top 40 singles: “Easy To Be Hard,” “Eli’s Coming” and “Celebrate.” The intriguing thing about the song “Lady Samantha” is that it was an early piece of work by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, with John’s version released as a single in the U.K., says Wikipedia, six months before the release of John’s first album, Empty Sky. (John’s version of the song was also released twice as a single in the U.S., but failed to chart both times, Wikipedia adds, noting that the recording surfaced as a bonus track on a 1995 CD release of Empty Sky.) AMG says – if I read an amazingly awkward sentence correctly – that “Lady Samantha” was a hit for Three Dog Night, but the record is not listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, so I suspect an error. It might have been a good single although the three hits that came from Suitable For Framing were pretty darn good themselves.

Three Months Of Music!

May 18, 2022

Originally posted August 31, 2009

I added a bit of music to the player this weekend, pulling in some CD and vinyl rips of my own, adding some that were passed on to me by friends, and gathering a few from some blogs and boards. And when I was done tinkering with the tags and loaded the new tunes into the player, I saw that the music in the player now has a running time of 2,501 hours, twenty-four minutes and one second.

That means that if I started playing mp3s right now – at 6:58 a.m. Central Daylight Time on August 31, I wouldn’t have to repeat one until 11:22 a.m. Central Standard Time on December 13.

If I played them in order of running time, I’d start out with a question from the HAL 9000 computer in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?” And I’d finish my listening with a beginning-to-end playing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon from 1973.

If I were to play the mp3s in alphabetical order by title, I’d start out with several songs whose titles include quotation marks, with the first one being “?” from the self-titled 1968 album by the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. After about eleven minutes – and four more tracks whose titles are encased in quotation marks – I’d switch punctuation marks and hear “#1 With a Heartache” by Barbi Benton. Just more than a hundred and four days from now, I’d close my listening with “Zydeco Ya Ya” by the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo from its 1994 album Tools of the Trade.

And if I were to sort the files alphabetically by performer, my first tune would be “Frequent Flyer” by A Camp, a side project started in 1997 by the Cardigans’ Nina Persson and Atomic Swing’s Niclas Frisk and then completed and released in 2001 with additional work from Shudder to Think’s Nathan Larson and Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. My listening would end with “Legs,” the 1984 record from ZZ Top.

But all of those are too monumental to think about, so for this morning’s listening, I’m just going to let the RealPlayer choose six songs, mostly randomly, from the years 1950-1999 (with the caveat that if a song is a little too odd or something that’s been posted here recently, I’ll pass it by). Here goes:

A Random Six-Pack For Monday
“Touch and Gone” by Gary Wright, Warner Bros. 8494 [1978]
“Baby’s Not Home” by Mickey Newbury from I Came To Hear The Music [1974]
“You’re the Boss” by B.B. King and Ruth Brown from Blues Summit [1993]
“How Many More Years” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess 1479 [1951]
“Behind the Mask” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask [1990]
“R U 4 Real” by Dr. John from Desitively Bonnaroo [1974]

Gary Wright’s early 1978 single, “Touch and Gone,” was more up-tempo than the two 1976 singles that had both reached No. 2 in the U.S. – “Dream Weaver” and “Love Is Alive” – but it had the same sort of synthesizer fills and flourishes that had set those two singles apart from the rest of what we were hearing at the time. Maybe the synth fills were becoming old hat, or maybe listeners didn’t think they worked in an up-tempo setting. Maybe listeners were bored with the one-time member of Spooky Tooth. Or maybe it just wasn’t a very good single. (That last gets my vote.) Whatever the reason, “Touch and Gone” only found its way to No. 73.

The country-folk waltz of Mickey Newbury’s “Baby’s Not Home” fits neatly into much of what Newbury did during his long career. (Newbury passed on in 2002.) It’s country, though not nearly so countrified as some of the more lush recordings Newbury released on I Came To Hear The Music as well as on other albums. It’s full of regret, an emotion that seems to run deeply through almost everything of Newbury’s I’ve ever heard. And it’s got a little bit of a surprise ending; Newbury may not have actually used a lot of surprise endings, but for some reason, his doing so here is entirely congruent with my sense of his music and might even been seen as emotionally manipulative. All that aside, “Baby’s Not Here” and the album it came from are good pieces of work. Nevertheless – like much that Newbury did during his life – they got very little notice.

“You’re the Boss,” the sassy duet by B.B. King and Ruth Brown (“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and other 1950s R&B hits), is among the highlights of King’s 1993 CD. The song itself has an interesting lineage. It was written by the peerless team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and was first recorded – if I read my sources correctly – as a duet between Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret in 1963 for use in the 1964 film Viva Las Vegas. For whatever reason, the song wasn’t included in the movie and went unreleased for a few years.  The first sign at All-Music Guide of the recording showing up is on a 1971 Presley compilation titled Collector’s Gold, and from the snippet offered there, it sounds as if Elvis and Ann-Margret did a pretty sassy version of the song, too.

There’s nothing that’s gonna wake you up more on a Monday morning than a good tough blues from Howlin’ Wolf, and “How Many More Years” fills the bill.

I’ve dissed Behind the Mask here before, and it’s true that highlights were relatively few on the first album Fleetwood Mac put together after Lindsey Buckingham left the group (with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito joining). But to me, Christine McVie’s title tune is one of those highlights, with its haunted sound built atop the always stellar foundation of John McVie’s bass and Mick Fleetwood’s drumming. The wordless male chorus at the end might be a bit too forward in the mix, though.

All-Music Guide doesn’t think much of Dr. John’s Desitively Bonnaroo: “When you latch onto a hit formula, don’t mess with it, and that is just what the doctor ordered with Desitively Bonnaroo. With installment number three of Dr. John’s funky New Orleans-styled rock & roll, trying to strike gold again proved elusive. There wasn’t the big hit single this time around to help boost sales, and the tunes were starting to sound a little too familiar. While not a carbon copy of his previous releases, Desitively Bonnaroo was a disappointment to his fans. Good as it was, it was the end of an era for Dr. John and his type of music.” Well, maybe so, but when the good doctor’s tunes pop up one at a time, as they do on random play, they’re still pretty funky and a whole lot of fun.

I Was Right . . . and I Was Wrong
I said Friday during my discussion of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time” that I knew from looking at a photo of the record label that the 45 ran less than three minutes, a statement I amended when Yah Shure said that the record ran 3:06. It turns out I was right and wrong at the same time. I sent Yah Shure a copy of the 45 label I’d looked at, and I got a note in reply on Saturday:

“The label on my stock copy of ‘Long Long Time’ looks like the scan you’d sent and also states 2:59, but the actual length is 3:06.  For disc jockey purposes, 2:59 would be about right.  Never trust the printed times on 45 labels, though.  Record companies routinely misstated the times in order to get records added to the playlists of those stations that refused to play anything over, say, three minutes.

“In radio, the problem with misstated label times came when it was time to cart the record up for airplay.  Since typical cart lengths for music purposes ran in half-minute increments (2:30, 3:00, 3:30, etc.) trying to fit what was actually a 3:05 45 labeled as “2:55” onto a three-minute cart often became an exercise in cursing out the record label in question, when the ruse wasn’t discovered until after three-plus minutes of production room time had already ticked off of the clock.  That meant having to re-erase the too-short cart, finding a suitable longer one, erasing it, re-cueing the record, and . . . take two.”

Sorry, Not Today

May 17, 2022

Originally posted August 26, 2009

A Six-Pack of Tomorrows
“Today Was Tomorrow Yesterday” by the Staple Singers from “City in the Sky” [1974]
“Tomorrow’s Going To Be A Brighter Day” by Jim Croce from “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” [1972]
“Getting Ready For Tomorrow” by Johnny Rivers from “Changes” [1966]
“Tomorrow Never Comes” by Big Head Todd & the Monsters from “Sister Sweetly” [1993]
“After Tomorrow” by Darden Smith from “Darden Smith” [1998]
“Beginning Tomorrow” by Toni Brown & Terry Garthwaite from “The Joy” [1977]

‘Take Me To The River . . .’

May 17, 2022

Originally posted August 25, 2009

This will be brief, but I wanted to begin to look at some of the recordings readers have mentioned since I asked for thoughts on the best cover versions.

One band I’ve never really gotten is Talking Heads. I’ve listened to them, and I acknowledge the influence the group has had. I’ve admired the song-writing of David Byrne and the musicianship of the group. But I’ve never much enjoyed the group’s work.

On one level, that’s fine. When I’m selecting a CD or an LP to play in the background while I read or do the dishes, limiting myself to things I like – which actually cover a pretty broad spectrum – is fine. But on the level of understanding the evolution of rock and pop music through the years, it doesn’t matter if I like the band. If I’m going to understand what happened in pop/rock music between 1977 and 1988 – the years that Talking Heads was active – I need to listen to enough of the group’s music to understand how the group fits in the continuum that runs from Jackie Brentson’s “Rocket 88” in 1951 all the way to whatever will be considered significant in years to come from 2009.

I’m not there yet.

Nevertheless, I do recognize the Talking Heads’ talent, as I said above, and the group’s own evolution, going from – as All-Music Guide said – the “nervous energy, detached emotion, and subdued minimalism” of Talking Heads:77 to recording “everything from art-funk to polyrhythmic worldbeat explorations and simple, melodic guitar pop.”

More Songs About Buildings and Food, released in 1978, was the group’s second album, and among the songs was the group’s cover of “Take Me to the River,” written by Al Green and Mabon “Teenie” Hodges for Green’s 1974 album, “Al Green Explores Your Mind.” The Talking Heads’ version was released as a single and went to No. 26 on the Billboard Top 40.

Through 2003 – the point at which my Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits ends – the Talking Heads’ version of the song is the only one to make the Top 40. But there have been plenty of groups and artists who’ve covered the song. The list includes Paul Anka, Canned Heat, Exile, Bryan Ferry, Foghat, the Grateful Dead, Levon Helm, Etta James with the Memphis Horns, Syl Johnson, Tom Jones, Annie Lennox, Delbert McClinton, Ellen McIlwaine, Mitch Ryder, Shalamar, Jabbo Smith, Tom Tom Club and Steve Winwood.

Here are the original by Al Green and the versions by the Talking Heads, Delbert McClinton and Foghat.

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind [1974]

“Take Me to the River” by Foghat from Night Shift [1976]

“Take Me to the River” by the Talking Heads from More Songs About Buildings and Food [1978]

“Take Me to the River” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind [1980]

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.)

‘Things’

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 5, 2009

A long-time friend stopped by for dinner the other evening. We talked about our cats (five between the two households) and about K’s work in online education – she teaches students all over the world from her home in Nevada. We talked about our families and about the Texas Gal’s current college coursework. We talked a bit about books, and we shared the nuggets of news that folks do when they’re catching up.

As we were dipping into dessert, K began to look around the dining room/library, then craned her neck to peer into the living room. “Where are they?” she asked.

I was puzzled. “Where are what?”

“The penguins.”

I laughed. For years, I collected penguins, mostly ceramic, and at one point – when I lived in Minot, North Dakota – had a collection of about twenty-five, maybe thirty. I also had penguin bathroom accessories – wastebasket, shower curtain and soap dish – and there were other penguin things around my home.

It was an accidental collection. In 1976 or so, I was sharing pictures from my time in Denmark with my then-fiancée’s family. One of the pictures was of a fountain on the pedestrian mall in downtown Fredericia, a fountain decorated with statues of penguins. My future mother-in-law thought it was odd that I’d take a picture of something so prosaic; from then on, during nearly every visit to her home before and during my marriage to her daughter, she gave me a ceramic penguin figurine or something with penguins on it. The collection grew, and other folks – family and friends – gave me occasional gifts of penguin stuff.

I liked my penguins, and I happily displayed them in two homes in Monticello and then in my apartment in Minot, after the marriage had ended with a sigh of exhaustion. I think that’s where K saw them, during one of her visits to Minot. I might also have had them on display in my next place, in Anoka, Minnesota, where she was a regular dinner guest.

But the penguins are no longer on display. I’m not even sure where the collection is, whether it’s in a box nested in another box on the shelves in the basement or whether I gave them away sometime in the past twenty years. I still have a few penguinish things: A stapler, four newer figurines on the mantel, a sweet powder blue Pittsburgh Penguins cap and a few other items here and there. But my days of collecting all things penguin are gone. I do wonder a little bit about the whereabouts of the ceramic penguins. Some of them were quite nice, and I imagine some had some value as collectibles. But I honestly don’t remember what I did with them.

They were, after all, just things. Nice things, yes, but just things. And as I thought about my penguins this week, I also thought – and not for the first time – about how we here in the U.S. have let our things become so important to us. We collect, accumulate and want more things, whether they’re automobiles, backyard decks, bracelets, books, cookware sets, CDs, sweaters, power boats, coffee-makers or any of the other desirable bits and pieces with which we seem to clutter our lives.

Clutter? Yeah, sometimes – a lot of the time – I think so. We’re not rich, the Texas Gal and I. But we sometimes look around our home and realize how much stuff we have, stuff that decorates our lives and makes them more pleasant. It’s nice to have those things, but in the end, they’re not essential. They’re things. I sometimes think that we can examine our priorities by thinking about what we would make sure to take out of our homes if they were on fire.

Even during the times I had them on display, my penguin figurines would have been far down that list. What’s at the top of the list? Obviously, the Texas Gal and the three cats come first. Then the box that contains documents like our birth certificates, marriage license and so on. Then would come our financial records, which we’ve made easily accessible and portable. Then, if there were time, the Texas Gal would probably grab as many of our photos as she could, and I’d grab my journal from my year in Denmark and my external hard drive, where I keep my writing projects (as well as my mp3s). In a fire, I think we’d be lucky to get that much. And if all we got out was ourselves and the cats, well, the rest of it – all of it, no matter how dear some of it may be to us – is just things.

Are those things irreplaceable? Some of them truly are, and we would grieve those losses. But in the end, we’d be safe and whole and they’re just things.

A Six-Pack Of Things
“A Thing Going On” by J.J. Cale from Grasshopper [1982]
“You’re The Best Thing” by the Style Council from Cafe Bleu [1984]
“All These Things We Dream” by the Living Daylights from The Living Daylights [1996]
“Bags and Things” by Dennis Lambert from Bags and Things [1972]
“Things Yet To Come” by Sweathog from Sweathog [1971]
“If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” by the Staple Singers from City in the Sky [1974]

All I’m going to say about these songs today is that, even though a couple of them are by lesser-known artists, they’re all worth hearing.

‘Businessmen, They Drink My Wine . . .’

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 28, 2009

One frequently hears, in discussions of diverse topics, that “Context is everything.”

An aside: Where did that little epigram come from? A Google search for “context is everything” brings back about 151,000 results, and none of the first forty or so of those seems to indicate the original source. Even Wikipedia is no help. I have a sense that a search for the lodestone of “context is everything” would result in an academic and historical argument like the one discussing whether the Americanism “OK” descended from the Germanic/Dutch expression “Oll Korrect” or the nickname of President Martin Van Buren, which was “Old Kinderhook.” And a lengthy discussion of that question should certainly be followed by a deep consideration of why I remember that kind of stuff to begin with. We now return you to our regularly scheduled post.

Well, context isn’t everything. A diamond remains a diamond wherever it’s cast. Intellectual hogwash remains just that no matter how it’s packaged or prettied up. But when we turn to individual pieces of music, then context can matter a great deal. The setting in which we hear a specific piece of music – whether that’s our physical environment or simply the order of a certain set of songs – can create a long-lasting sense of any particular piece.

I’ve written fairly frequently about so-called “Time and Place” songs, pieces that usher us back to dates and locales generally long gone. Those can be fascinating, but just as interesting to me this morning is the musical neighborhood a song can find itself in through album contents and running order.

Why that? And why today? Because I heard Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” coming out of the speakers this morning. A track on his 1967 album John Wesley Harding, the song – like the album itself – is presented barebones and spare: just guitar, bass, drums, harmonica and vocals. And when heard as a part of that album, when heard between the songs “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” and “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” one hears “Watchtower” as part of a meditation. At least that’s what I hear now, because the first time I heard Dylan’s version of “Watchtower,” it was bracketed by two very different songs.

The 1972 release Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II was a great album, pulling together hits, album tracks, live tracks and some unreleased stuff onto two LPs. It was my first Dylan album, and served as a good introduction. (I’d previously heard Dylan’s stuff in various places, of course, but until I heard the tunes he performed at the Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971, I’d never really listened.) By pulling songs from the context of their original albums, however, the folks at Columbia (with Dylan’s assistance or at least acquiescence) altered the impact and even the meaning of those recordings. “All Along The Watchtower” was placed between the folky “She Belongs To Me” and the rollicking “The Mighty Quinn.”

In the company of those good but ultimately less complex compositions, I heard “All Along The Watchtower” as a snippet of some kind of medieval tale that Dylan hadn’t bothered to finish. Separated from the songs that bracketed it on John Wesley Harding, “Watchtower” seemed unformed, and I shrugged. Years later, when I heard it as part of John Wesley Harding (I’ve always been years behind in my listening and thinking about music; I expect to understand the Nineties in about ten years), the ambiguous ending seemed correct, not unfinished:

All along the watch tower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wild cat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

The more I listen to John Wesley Harding, the more I believe that it’s a meditation on the pairings of ambiguity and fate, and faith and redemption. And I am certain that hearing “All Along The Watchtower” for the first time in a setting not the original made me listen to it and its companions more closely when I heard the original years later. In this case, then, context mattered a great deal.

(All-Music Guide lists more than four hundred CDs that contain a recording of “All Along The Watchtower.” I have seventeen different versions. It’s hard to do better than the original, but here are two versions that I find can also bear repeated listening.) [A better gauge of covers is now available at Second Hand Songs, which informs us that as of 2022, there have been 198 versions of the song recorded. Note added May 12, 2022.]

“All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Before The Flood [1974]

“All Along The Watchtower” by Affinity from Affinity [1970]

Saturday Single No. 142

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 25, 2009

I’ve gone to two high school reunions since walking out the doors of St. Cloud Tech in 1971: The ten-year and the twenty-year. Both came in two parts, with a get-together over beer on a Friday evening and more formal dinner followed by a dance on Saturday evening. I was underwhelmed at the first reunion in 1981; there weren’t a lot of folks I wanted to see – high school had been a generally solitary time – and my then-wife didn’t want to be there, anyway. The twenty-year reunion in 1991 was more fun for a few reasons: We gathered together with the Class of ’71 from St. Cloud Apollo – our senior year had been its first year of existence, and we’d all been together at Tech for two years before that – for both evenings instead of just the first. I was single, and it seemed we’d all grown up a little more (or perhaps it was I who had matured). Still, I didn’t stay in touch with anyone. The reunion was fun, as I said, but that was all.

I’ve never been back to a high school reunion since. Will I go when we mark forty years in 2011? I’m not sure, but I doubt it. Nor have I ever been to a true college reunion; given the size of St. Cloud State at the time I graduated – about 12,000 students – a true class reunion is unlikely. Reunions generally fall to groups that had common majors, and I’ve pretty much ignored those, too.

But there are two reunions I will never miss, as long as I am healthy enough to get there: a get-together of those who worked for the Monticello Times during the more than thirty years my friend and mentor DQ was the editor and then publisher of the paper, and a gathering of the more than one hundred friends with whom I spent my junior year, the 1973-74 college year, in Fredericia, Denmark.

I knew from emails sent out this spring that DQ and his wife, who currently live in Portland, Oregon, would be in Minnesota during July, and that plans were taking shape for a picnic get-together. I also knew that this spring was the thirty-fifth anniversary of my return to Minnesota from Denmark; we’d gathered in 1994, 1999 and 2004, so I was certain we’d gather again this summer.

I worried a fair amount that both gatherings would be scheduled the same day, and I would have to choose one of the two. Or – depending on location – I could split my time between the two, satisfying no one, including myself.

Happily, the two events were set on Saturdays two weeks apart. On July 11, the Texas Gal and I drove the thirty miles to Monticello and spent several hours with the newspaper’s alumni. I know most of them by name, but I worked with only about a third of them, as I left the newspaper in 1983 and then Monticello in 1987. But there still are bonds: Through our boss and friend, DQ; through our experiences in living in and reporting on the same small town; and through our love of newspapering. Most of the newsfolk from the Times have moved on over the years to other facets of the communications field, but at heart, we’re all still reporters, as we realize when we get together.

As satisfying as that gathering was, it’s today’s reunion that I’ll probably find more moving: The Denmark folk will gather for a picnic in the Twin Cities suburb of Ramsey this afternoon. I would guess that about half of the hundred or so who remain – some have passed on during these thirty-five years – will be there. Many of them live elsewhere and likely won’t be present. But almost all will be accounted for: Since our string of reunions began in 1994, we’ve learned the whereabouts or the fates of all but four of those who were together in Fredericia.

We’ll take over the lawn of one of our gals, share a potluck picnic and plenty of beer. (I’ll likely contribute a six-pack of a pretty good red ale from St. Paul’s Summit brewery.) There will be laughter, as we tell and hear once more the tales of our times together (with some of the tales having become taller over the years). There may be a few tears for the friends we’ve lost, one of them as recently as last November.

My dad once told me, when I asked why he got together annually with his Army buddies, that when one shares a unique and intense experience with a small group of people, as he did with his Army Air Corps unit during World War II, bonds form that outlast time. I can’t think of a better definition for the time I spent in Denmark than “a unique and intense experience with a small group of people.” So this afternoon, we’ll share that again, as we share the news of our lives, lives that have been built on the foundations of what we learned about the world and about ourselves so long ago.

I’ve long said that my time in Denmark was the most important time in my life, and that my years at the Monticello Times were the second-most important. I no longer believe that. The most important time of my life is now, these days and years that I share with my Texas Gal. But those times – and the people I shared them with – helped create who I am today. So here’s a song for all of those who shared those early years with me, both in Fredericia and in Monticello, today’s Saturday Single.

“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Planet Waves [1974]