Archive for the ‘1978’ Category

Down From The Shelves

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 8, 2009

Once more into the Valley of the Unplayed!

Wondering what marvels – or otherwise – might be found today in the crates atop the bookcases, I reached up and pulled down a clutch of LPs this morning, and then I added one that had recently arrived in the mail. From those, I hoped to find six songs with minimal noise. And that’s what I came up with.

En route, I had to regretfully skip over several LPs that had too much surface noise: Tighten Up by Archie Bell & the Drells; Blues and Bluegrass by Mike Auldridge; Stranger on the Shore by Mr. Acker Bilk; Born Free by Andy Williams; and Golden Hits by Roger Miller. The greatest disappointment in that bunch would have been the Archie Bell & the Drells album, based simply on the expectations raised by the title track, one of the great singles of 1968. I was, in fact, a little relieved when Track Four, “You’re Mine,” turned out to have too much noise, as it was a pretty bad piece of filler. So I happily moved on.

I thought I’d start off with the one record I chose purposefully this morning: Chi Coltrane’s little-known third album, Road to Tomorrow arrived in the mail last week. Not long ago, someone left a note here about it. I did a quick Ebay search and found a copy for sale at a remarkably low price. And a week later, the mail carrier dropped it off.

I’ve listened to only bits and pieces of it, but I’m not impressed. I guess I didn’t expect to be, however, as Coltrane’s second album, Let It Ride, was also mediocre, with only one good track, her version of “Hallelujah” (done earlier by Sweathog and by the Clique). All in all – and I’m not sure why I sometimes dig into an some artists’ catalogs so deeply; I guess I’m hoping to hear something others missed – one can classify Coltrane’s work into three categories: One great single (1972’s “Thunder and Lightning”), her decent take on “Hallelujah” (offered here once before) and the rest.

Anyway, here’s Track Four of Coltrane’s 1977 album, Road to Tomorrow. It’s an okay piece of pop.

“Ooh Baby” by Chi Coltrane from Road to Tomrrow [1977]

One of the media storms of early 1978 concerned the film Pretty Baby, a fictional account of the lives of a photographer and several working girls during 1917 in New Orleans’ Storyville, the city’s red light district. There would have been little ruckus about the film, I imagine, had it not been for the inclusion of several nude scenes featuring the then-twelve-year-old Brooke Shields as the daughter of a prostitute who was, in effect, in training for the life herself.

The film, by Louis Malle, won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. More to the point for our purposes here, the film’s score won an Academy Award in the “Adaptadion Score” category, with its mix of jazz, ragtime and blues echoing the sound of New Orleans in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. I’ve had a copy of the soundtrack sitting around for more than ten years and have never felt compelled to listen to more than a track at a time or so. Maybe I’ll rip the whole thing now that it’s out of the crates.

“Pretty Baby” by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra from the soundtrack to Pretty Baby [1978]

As I’ve noted here before, during 1998 and 1999, I was stockpiling records faster than I could play them. A couple of those showed up in the cluster of LPs I pulled from the crates today, including one that might never have been played by anybody.

When I pulled Patti La Belle’s Winner In You from its jacket and put it onto the turntable, I had to push fairly hard, as if it had never been placed on a spindle before. That, combined with the sheer gloss of the record and the lack of any noise as it played, told me that the record might be utterly new. At any rate, it had not been played often.

I’ve never been much of a Patti La Belle fan. I liked her work with LaBelle in the 1970s. (Who didn’t love “Lady Marmalade” and its lesson in essential French? It went to No. 1.) And I thought “On My Own,” her duet with Michael McDonald (another No. 1 hit), was okay. But for some reason – most likely the simple volume of records I had available to listen to – Winner In You, which included “On My Own,” stayed in the crates. I don’t think it will go back there; I’ll almost certainly listen to it and put it in the regular stacks this week, even if I don’t rip all of it to mp3s. Here’s Track Four:

“Kiss Away The Pain” by Patti La Belle from Winner In You [1986]

About once a year, since we moved to St. Cloud in 2002, the Texas Gal and I head down to the Twin Cities for some major shopping. That means fabric stores for her, bookstores for both of us, and, usually, a couple hours at Cheapo’s on Lake Street for me. During one of those visits, in 2005, I began to remedy a major gap in my collection.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the best-known bands in the Twin Cities area was the Lamont Cranston Band (sometimes styled as the Lamont Cranston Blues Band). I knew of the band although I’d never seen it perform. But amid all the other music to collect and listen to, the hard-driving Lamont Cranston Band never seemed to make it onto my list. During one of our first summers in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I went to see the River Bats, St. Cloud’s team in a summer college baseball league.

And among the music used to rev up the crowd was Lamont Cranston’s “Upper Mississippi Shakedown.” Reminded of the band’s artistry, I put several of the group’s albums on my list, and during a 2005 visit to Cheapo’s, I found Up From The Alley. I put it in one of the crates to await its turn, and then I had absolutely forgot that I had it until this morning. A couple of the tracks from the album ended up on a 1993 CD of the band’s best work, including Track Four. But, holding true to the intent of this feature, I ripped the track from the vinyl this morning:

“Oughta Be A Law” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Up From The Alley [1980]

Michael Franks had one quirky near-hit in, I think, 1976 – “Popsicle Toes” – and I have three of his albums: I’ve listened to The Art of Tea and Sleeping Gypsy, but I’ve never pulled Tiger in the Rain, his 1979 album, out of the crates until this morning. And I’ve concluded this morning that the meandering quality that made “Popsicle Toes” seem pleasantly quirky in the mid-1970s now seems wearisome. I can’t fault the musicianship, but nothing about the track I ripped this morning grabs me at all.

“Hideaway” by Michael Franks from Tiger in the Rain [1979]

Quarterflash had one very good hit, “Harden My Heart” in 1981, amid a string of four albums that took the band into 1991. Having listened to a fair amount of the group via mp3s that other bloggers have sent me, nothing from the band’s self-titled debut seemed likely to surprise me. But “Valerie,” the fourth track on the record, did.

“Valerie” was written by Marv Ross, but as sung by his wife, Rindy (who plays the saxophone that gave Quarterflash its distinctive sound), it’s a little eye-opening for 1981: The song is an exploration of a budding same-sex relationship that startled the narrator enough that she passed up the chance for a romance and now seems to regret having done so.

The sound and production are clearly that of the Eighties, but the track has aged well, and Ross’ saxophone solo is a nice way to close.

“Valerie” by Quarterflash from Quarterflash [1981]

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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).

Hot Tuna, The Staples, Patti & Bruce

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 14, 2009

It’s Thursday, and that means some wandering around YouTube.

A Hot Tuna track showed up in yesterday’s random 1975 package. Here’s a video from about 1970 of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady doing a particularly nice version of “Hesitation Blues,” which was the opening track to Hot Tuna’s self-titled album.

There are lots of Staple Singers clips out there, but I did a little digging and found what I think is a gem. It’s a performance from the PBS performance show Soundstage, with Joss Stone and Mavis Staples taking on the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” The show originally aired October 6, 2005.

Here’s a fine live performance of “Because the Night” by Patti Smith. I’m not sure of the date, but I’m going to guess right around 1978, when the Easter album came out.

And I can’t let the week go past without posting at least one performance by Bruce Springsteen; Here’s Bruce and the band performing “Land of Hope and Dreams” on April 19, 1999, in Milan, Italy.

About “Good Lovin’”
I got a nice note from David Y. earlier this week. He said some kind things about the blog and then he commented on my calling Springsteen’s performance of “Good Lovin’” a cover of the Young Rascals, noting that when the Young Rascals recorded the song, they were in fact covering an R&B group. I did some digging, and that’s the case: The Olympics, who are best remembered for 1958’s “Western Movies,” recorded “Good Lovin’” in 1965. Had I known that (and maybe I should have), I think I still would have referred to Springsteen’s performance of the song as a cover of the Young Rascals, as the concert performance replicated the Young Rascals’ recording, right down to the brilliant organ solo, an element that’s missing from the Olympics’ version, which also has a more measured pace.

But listen for yourselves. Thanks to the generosity of Larry at Funky 16 Corners, here’s the original:

“Good Lovin’” by the Olympics, Loma 2013 [1965]

Hoping To Hear One From The List

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 11, 2009

More than a year ago, on the Saturday when I would see Richie Havens in concert, I shared here a list started long ago of specific songs by specific performers that I hoped to see live. While it had never been written down until the day of that post, the list was something I’d started in the spring of 1972. My sister’s 1971 Christmas present to me had been two tickets to any concert I wanted to see in the Twin Cities. Eventually, I chose to go see Joe Cocker at the now-razed Metropolitan Sports Center. (He had two opening acts that evening: Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show and Bobby Whitlock.)

On our drive to the Cities, Rick and I talked, of course, of what we wanted to hear Cocker perform. My main selection was “Delta Lady.” I think he was hoping for “Bird On The Wire.” And we began to talk about what songs we’d like to hear by other performers, were we ever lucky enough to see them in concert. Since then, I’ve kept a list in my memory of such hopes.

As a caveat to the list, I wrote here in January of 2008:

“I should note that there are many other performers I’d like to see, many of them more current than those here on this list. Some that some immediately to mind are Joss Stone, Tift Merritt, Grace Potter & the Nocturals, David Gray, Colin Linden, Ollabelle and the Dixie Chicks. But I have no one song that immediately comes to mind for those acts.”

And then I shared, in no particular order, the song/performer pairings that have been on my list over the years. The notes in parentheses indicate the dates and places where in fact, I heard that entry.

“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (October 4, 1973, Århus, Denmark)
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (July 1989, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Yesterday” by Paul McCartney (September 2002, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Layla” by Eric Clapton
“American Pie” by Don McLean (Early 1987, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
“That’s The Way God Planned It” by Billy Preston (Spring 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Imagine” by John Lennnon (No longer possible)
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Angel of Harlem” by U2
“The Weight” by The Band (Summer 1994, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood
“Love at the Five and Dime” by Nanci Griffith
“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Summer 1974, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker (April 1972, Bloomington, Minnesota)
“She Was Waiting . . .” by Shawn Phillips (Early 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Done Too Soon” by Neil Diamond (September 1971, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King (August 1995, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Follow” by Richie Havens

When I shared that list, I was hopeful that I’d be able to enter a date and place for Havens’ “Follow.” But faced with a vast catalog from more than forty years of recording, Havens bypassed “Follow” in the course of a remarkable concert. Was I disappointed? Only a small bit.

Come sometime this evening, I should be able to add a date and place after “Born To Run” in the list above: The Texas Gal and I have tickets to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tonight at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. We’re pretty high up – in the highest section of the arena, I think – but we’re on the side of the stage and in the front row of our section. We’ll be pretty much directly across the arena from where we sat when we saw Paul McCartney, and those were pretty good seats.

So here, in anticipation, is a selection of five covers of Springsteen songs and his own idiosyncratic alternate take on “Born To Run.”

A Six-Pack of Springsteen Covers (Almost)
“Atlantic City” by The Band from Jericho [1993]
“Because The Night” by the Patti Smith Group from Easter [1978]
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by the Hollies from Another Night [1975]
“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from This Time It’s For Real [1977]
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication [1981]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen (live) from Chimes of Freedom [1988]

In The Valley Of The Unplayed

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 24, 2009

We are in the valley of the unplayed (and to some degree, unloved as well) today.

Last evening, before we sat down to dinner, I asked the Texas Gal to survey three of the four crates on top of the bookcases and pull out six LPs. She did so, handing them to me without looking at them. She had a plan, at least after the first LP: The first one had a gray spine, but all the other jackets after that had an orange spine. So this is music with orange backbones.

(There was one change from the Texas Gal’s selections: The LP of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor was too hacked for me to be happy sharing anything from it. So I called the Texas Gal at work and asked her which orange-spined LP I should select to replace it. The sixteenth, she said. Since there were only six or so LPs left with even partly orange spines, I counted around and around until I came to sixteen. And I pulled the LP out and slid it into Bernstein’s spot. I think Lenny would have liked the song that replaced the fourth movement of the Brahms.)

A reminder: These are records that have been travelling with me for years, gained in bulk buys, odd gifts, garage sale pickings. In any case, these are records that generally haven’t interested me for one reason or another. Often, I’ll poke my way through one of the crates and see a particular record and think, “I need to listen to that soon.” And then I forget about it. Will I listen to the remainder of these records now that I’ve gotten at least one track down? Maybe.

First out of the crates is an LP that’s actually a replacement for a very poor copy I had earlier. I picked up the first copy in 1990 and replaced it in 1999, when I was bringing home albums at a rate of two a day, according to my LP log. And U2’s War got shuffled into the crates until today.

I’m of several minds about U2. I like most of the early stuff, up to and including Rattle and Hum. The group’s experiments in the 1990s were interesting but not very likeable; their work since then is likeable but not very interesting. Well, the song the group recently performed at the Grammy awards, “Get On Your Boots,” was interesting in a train-wreck sort of way. For a number of years, U2 was called the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, and for some of that time, that label might actually have been accurate. But accolades like that generally bring along unfortunate consequences: Back in the 1960s, when faced with that label, the Beatles became self-conscious. A few years later, the Rolling Stones became (even more) self-indulgent.

And U2 – especially Bono – became self-important. (My blogging colleague Any Major Dude examined Bono and the band last month and found U2 – and Bono especially – wanting. It’s a good read.)

Anyway, the first LP out of the crates was War, and here – using the selection system offered by Casey at The College Crowd Digs Me in honor of his dad’s long-ago system – is Track Four:

“Like A Song…” by U2 from War, 1983

I like several recordings by Seals and Crofts. The soft-rock duo had an intriguing sound from the time “Summer Breeze” hit the charts in 1972 until sometime in, maybe, 1974. And, along with “Summer Breeze,” there are two Seals and Crofts songs that pull me away to another time: “Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” remain among my favorite records from my college days.

But by 1978, when the duo released Takin’ It Easy (talk about truth in titling!), there was little to separate Seals and Crofts from any other band making softish pop rock, from Pablo Cruise through Firefall to the Little River Band. Their music had turned into audio wallpaper. Track Four on Takin’ It Easy, “You’re The Love,” still spent seven weeks in the Top 40 during the spring and summer of 1978, peaking at No. 18.

“You’re The Love” by Seals and Crofts from Takin’ It Easy, 1978 (Warner Bros. 8551)

The first time I saw Devo was on Saturday Night Live in 1978 or so. The woman of the house and I stared at the television set in amazed bafflement as the band performed “Jocko Homo,” with its chorus that echoed the title of the group’s debut album: “Are we not men? We are Devo.” Not sure if the whole thing was a put-on, we laughed, shaking our heads. And then forgot about it.

Of course, I’ve heard more Devo over the years, though I’ve never dug deeply into the group’s discography. But then New Wave – and Devo was, I think, a milepost for that genre – was never a style I looked into too deeply. (I think there is a copy of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! somewhere around here, but I’m not at all sure.) The third LP the Texas Gal pulled out of the crates last evening was Freedom of Choice, Devo’s third album, from 1980. And coming right after “Whip It” is Track Four, “Snowball.”

“Snowball” by Devo from Freedom of Choice, 1980

This is where the Bernstein should go, with the finale of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor. But, as I noted above, the record looked too battered to provide a clean rip. (A few pops and crackles are not unexpected, but this record was gouged; I may discard it.) And the LP I pulled from the crates to replace it one of those that I know I should have listened to long ago: Heartbeat City by the Cars.

The Cars were called a New Wave band, and maybe that’s accurate, but from where I listen now, the group’s work had a depth in songwriting and musicianship that wasn’t always found in the work of other bands in the genre. Maybe the other leading New Wave bands had those things and I just didn’t hear them. All I know is that I enjoyed what I heard from the Cars over the years enough that I bought the group’s greatest hits album long ago. (And along with my copy of Heartbeat City, I think there’s a copy of Candy-O in the unplayed stacks that I should pull out.) So when I cued up Track Four of Heartbeat City this morning, I was pleased to hear the beautiful and shimmering “Drive.” Sung by the late Benjamin Orr, the single went to No. 3 in the late summer of 1984.*

“Drive” by the Cars from Heartbeat City, 1984 (Elektra 69706)

My LP collection long ago ceased to be a reflection of my likes and dislikes. Somewhere in the 1990s, it became something more like an archive. It’s certainly not comprehensive; there are entire genres that are represented barely if at all. But among the nearly 3,000 LPs there are some, that I don’t care for very much, both on the shelves and in the crates where the unplayed LPs wait.

Whitney Houston can sing better than the vast majority of people who have ever tried. The lady has great pipes. She has a shining family legacy of gospel, soul and R&B. And she has sold an incredible number of records. From where I listen, however, she’s spent her career wasting her voice on soulless piffle. (I might exempt “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” from that, but I’ll have to think about it.) Here’s Track Four of her self-titled debut. The single went to No. 1 in 1984.

“Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston from Whitney Houston, 1985 (Arista 9381)

The last of the six orange-spined LPs was a 1980 reissue of a 1963 double-record set collecting the greatest performances of the late Patsy Cline. Released shortly after her death in a plane crash in March 1963, the twenty-four song package probably does a good a job of summing up her career for the casual fan. That pretty well describes me: I know a bit about Cline, and I understand her place in the popularization of country music in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

That popularization, which included the smoothing of the rough edges on country music of the time – the development of the so-called “countrypolitan” sound – put into motion trends in country music that have continued unabated to this day. The result is that, to note one egregious example, the music of Taylor Swift is marketed as country, when it seems to have no real connection at all to that historic genre.

Well, that wasn’t Patsy Cline’s fault. (It’s probably not Taylor Swift’s fault, for that matter.) No matter what the arrangement behind her was, when Patsy Cline began to sing, you knew she was a country artist. Here’s Track Four from The Patsy Cline Story.

“Strange” by Patsy Cline, recorded August 25, 1961 (Decca ED 2719)

I promised the Kiddie Corner Kid that I’d post something from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus album, a self-titled collection of the group’s work that I got in a box of records at a garage sale. (Willmar, as I’ve noted a couple of times, is a city of about 18,000 [according to Wikipedia] that sits about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud.) Looking at the record jacket and at the photos of the two accompanists and the director, using clothing and hair styles to gauge the year, I’m going to guess it’s from the period from 1965 to 1968.

And there was a little bit of a shock when I was looking at those three photos. You see, I knew the woman who was the group’s director. She and her husband – who worked at St. Cloud State – went to our church when I was in high school and college and I think she sang in the choir at the time, as I did. As I glanced over the photos the first time, I thought, “Gee, that looks like Mrs. O——-!” My eyes dropped to the identification beneath the photo, and that’s exactly who it was, identified – as was the custom of the time – as “Mrs. Robert O——-.”

I didn’t know her well: She was an adult and I was not. I don’t recall her first name, though I’m sure I’d recognize it if saw it or heard it. But I recognized her immediately. And I think it’s odd how little bits of our past fly up to touch us, sometimes from the strangest places.**

Anyway, the Willmar Boys’ Chorus put together a two-record set sometime during the 1960s, most likely as a souvenir for the kids and their families. (I have a few similar records sitting on the shelves recorded by groups in which I played.) And here’s Track Four:

“Doctor Foster” (after Handel) from Willmar Boys’ Chorus, about 1965.

*I am clearly not certain about the Cars. Several times during more than five years of blogging, I have called the Cars’ music “brittle and fussy.” (That’s a description I also frequently lay on Roxy Music.) In this piece, however, I note that I “I enjoyed what I heard from the Cars over the years enough that I bought the group’s greatest hits album long ago.” I suppose that all those two widely separated opinions mean is that there are times – and I think they are rare – when I enjoy the Cars’ music. (“Drive” is an exception, being a track I enjoy anytime it comes my way.) Note added June 20, 2012.

**In the way these things go, I recalled the lady’s first name very soon after this post went up. It was Ruth. Note added June 20, 2012.

Fun With Sedatives

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 25, 2009

A couple of years ago, I began having some difficulty getting to sleep. Every ten weeks or so, I’d have four or five consecutive nights where sleep eluded me until three or four o’clock in the morning. Tired of having my body clock miscalibrated and wanting to be awake during the same hours as the Texas Gal, I went to Dr. Julie. She recommended Ambien, which I take to this day.

I’ve read – as I’m sure my readers have – about folks under the influence of Ambien wandering away from home, driving vehicles, or cooking and eating meals without recalling anything. I’ve had no difficulty with those things or anything like that . . . until Monday evening.

Generally, I take my pill about forty minutes before I retire, than play a few computer games and call it a night. But just after eleven o’clock Monday, with the Ambien beginning to do its work, I stopped by The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, the blog where my pal jb hangs his hat. I downloaded his offering of the day, “Annabella,” a more-or-less lost single from Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds. And I left a comment.

I only vaguely remember doing that. I do remember having difficulty typing, my fingers feeling as if they were as large – and as responsive – as bratwursts. In the morning, with those vague memories circling, I went to see what I had written at jb’s blog.

I found:

“‘Annabella’ is a fine song, but this is — unaccountably — my first hearing of. That means that the nearly four-decade headstart the other hits have takes effect. I likely would have loved “Annabella” had I heard it regularly way back. But I didn’t, and ‘Don’t Pull Your Love’ stays in the top spot in my utterly figurative radio statiom. [sic] Nice look at a group that tends to get ignored.”

Relieved that it wasn’t utter gibberish, I sent a note to jb, telling him of my Ambien-influenced adventure. He replied, noting that I’d used “some interesting sentence structure.” He concluded: “Lucidity is often overrated anyhow.”

I haven’t yet gone back to “Annabella” to see if it sounds as good as I thought it did.

A Six-Pack of Sleep
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand, 1990
“Sleeping in the Ground” by Blind Faith, unreleased, 1969
“Sleep” by Crack the Sky from Crack the Sky, 1975
“Sleep Baby Jane” by Over The Rhine from Eve, 1994
“Talking In Your Sleep” by Crystal Gayle, United Artists 1214, 1978
“Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” by Jackson Browne from The Pretender, 1976

I listened to a lot of Suzanne Vega’s work when she first came to attention in the late 1980s, especially her Solitude Standing album. I’ve kind of lost track of her in the past few years, but I still like her early stuff. “Tired of Sleeping,” with its plucked strings (mandolin, I think) and its organ, has a rootsier sound than a lot of Vega’s stuff. The lyrics are precise and literate, as always, and the vocals are a little austere and somehow distant, which makes for a nice contrast.

“Sleeping in the Ground” is from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads box set and comes from the Blind Faith sessions, with Steve Winwood handling the vocal. From time to time, Clapton returns to the song, credited on Crossroads to Sam Myers. (I’d check it on All-Music Guide, but that site seems to be having problems today.) Clapton and Winwood are on tour this spring and summer, and I wonder if “Sleeping on the Ground” is on the set list.

“Sleep” is the epic closing track on the self-titled debut album by Crack the Sky, a group described at Wikipedia as a “progressive rock band” (though who knows what that really means). The group, which came out of West Virginia, has continued to record, says Wikipedia, albeit with some changes in personnel. I’ve not listened to a lot of the group’s work, but from what I have heard, I hear bits of Styx and Journey and, I think, Jefferson Airplane.

Over the Rhine is a Cincinnati-based group that I came across through the budget stacks at a St. Paul bookstore, finding a copy of the group’s Good Dog, Bad Dog, which I enjoyed a lot. The group – essentially the husband-and-wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, backed by whoever they happen to find, I guess – continues to release albums, the most recent being The Trumpet Child, which was independently released. “Sleep Baby Jane” has the dreamy and disturbing sense that seems to pervade a lot of the group’s work.

“Talking In Your Sleep” is no doubt pretty familiar to most readers, and it marks the second time Crystal Gayle has showed up here in less than a week. Even after nearly thirty years, I remain astounded at the purity of Gayle’s voice. “Talking In Your Sleep” went to No. 18 on the pop chart and was No. 1 for two weeks on the country chart in 1978.

Jackson Browne’s The Pretender haunts me still, from the opening strains of “The Fuse” through the end of the title tune. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” precedes “The Pretender” and remains sweet and sad as it tells of those moments we all have one night or another: “Sometimes I lie awake and night and wonder . . .”

Found In The Unplayed Stacks

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 9, 2009

At a guess, I’ve listened to eight-five to ninety percent of the LPs that reside in my study. Those I’ve not yet put on the turntable fall into two categories: Records that were my dad’s – mostly classical with an added mélange of show tunes, Swedish folk music and a few odd things – and records that I bought mostly at garage sales that got put into a pile and never got taken out.

Those garage sale records sit in bins atop the main stacks here, and I rarely find a reason to go digging to see what’s there. So let’s take a look:

In the first bin, I see, among others, Chilliwack, Bob James, Steve Forbert, Carly Simon, the Electric Light Orchestra, Asia, Devo, W.C. Fields, Weird Al Yankovic, Amy Grant and the soundtrack to the 1962 film Cleopatra (starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison). The second bin brings us a selection that includes Prince, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Anthony, Archie Bell & the Drells, Tina Turner, Patsy Cline, Richard Harris, Madonna and the Looking Glass. And in the third bin, our trove includes Whitney Houston, the Willmar Boys Chorus, Head East, Artur Rubenstein, Culture Club, Al Martino, Chester Thompson (and the Pop Sound of the Great Organ, says the jacket), Sandler & Young and the soundtrack to the 1962 film How The West Was Won.

Despite temptations, I selected none of those records for this morning’s frolic. I chose instead six other albums for today’s music. None of them, alas, were quite as odd as the Willmar Boys Chorus. Willmar – pronounced WILL-mer – is a city of 18,000 or so that lies about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud; I got the two-record set of that city’s boys chorus at a garage sale here in St. Cloud about five years ago. (Chester Thompson’s album came in the same haul.) The Willmar record could have popped up; I simply went to the stacks and pulled six records out at random.

Having pulled the LPs, I let the records make my selection for me: Using a method I got from Casey at The College Crowd Digs Me, I ripped the fourth track of each record. So what did we get this morning?

A Six-Pack From The Unplayed Stacks
“You Never Miss A Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)” by Crystal Gayle from Crystal [1976]
“Marcie” by the Four Seasons from Rag Doll [1964]
“Love & Emotion” by Gino Vannelli from Brother To Brother [1978]
“My Heart Echoes” by Kitty Wells from Heartbreak U.S.A. [1962]
“Headlines” by Melissa Manchester from Help Is On The Way [1976]
“Killer Queen” by Queen, Elektra 45223 [1975]

This is not entirely awful. It doesn’t thrill me, but neither did I wince. Probably the best thing here is “Killer Queen.” As it came from Queen’s Greatest Hits album, I went ahead and tagged it with its catalog number as a single. The record went to No. 12 in the spring of 1975, the first of fourteen hits for the group. (“Bohemian Rhapsody” counts as two hits, as it went to No. 9 in 1976 and then – after its inclusion in the movie Wayne’s World – to No. 2 in 1992.)

Other than “Killer Queen,” nothing here really stands out. Maybe the Crystal Gayle tune, which might have been a single. It’s pretty decent late-Seventies country. The Kitty Wells’ tune, on the other hand, is a good example of the blanding of country that took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the mass chorus and the less-than-downhome piano licks. (Though I do not have session information for the Kitty Wells album, I’d bet that the piano was manned by Floyd Cramer.)

The Gino Vanelli track is all right, inoffensive but bland, and the Four Seasons’ “Marcie” is a typical Bob Crewe Half-Wall of Sound production, and it’s okay for an album track. Then there’s “Headlines.” I never was a huge Melissa Manchester fan, although I did like her first hit, 1975’s “Midnight Blue.” But “Headlines” – which Manchester wrote – is a very strange song. A few more listens, and it might fall for me into the category of odd songs by so-so performers that I like nevertheless.

As I was ripping these albums and writing this post, I was under great temptation. So I yielded. Here’s a bonus:

“Ebb Tide” by Chester Thompson from The Pop Sound of the Great Organ. [Prob. 1964]

There are some clicks in this rip, but I decided it was odd enough of a track to put up with them. The record, says the notes on the jacket, was the first ever recorded on the giant Wurlitzer organ in Plaza Studios above New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. There’s no issue date on the record, but a reference to “Java” and “More” as “instrumentals of the past year” puts the record almost certainly in 1964.

I departed from vinyl and from the Track Four method for today’s second bonus. I pulled Alfred Newman’s soundtrack for How The West Was Won from the bins and slipped it on the turntable just to get an idea what kind of shape it’s in. And there was just too much noise to work with the record. But the film’s overture blew me away.

An overture, you ask? Yes, films that wanted to be taken seriously offered overtures before the show started, just as Broadway musicals did (and perhaps still do?). Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia are two other films I recall that had overtures. (Anybody recall any others?)

So what grabbed me about this overture? It’s just odd and amazing in its choral approach: At first it sounds almost like a Soviet choral piece celebrating the glory of labor, and then it becomes more American, if still a little odd. It’s a track very much of its time, and though I remember it only vaguely, I wanted to share it. So I went and found a digital copy. Thus, here’s the overture to How The West Was Won, featuring the MGM Studio Orchestra along with the Ken Darby Singers and Dave Guard & The Whiskeyhill Singers.

“Overture: I’m Bound For The Promised Land/Shenandoah/Endless Prairie/Ox Driver” from the soundtrack to How The West Was Won [1962]

‘Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears . . .’

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 12, 2009

I wrote the other day about scanning the daily obituaries and on occasion seeing a name that spurs a memory or a thought. It happened again over the weekend while I was browsing news online.

I read in a news account that William Zantzinger, who had died at the age of sixty-nine, was buried Friday, January 10, in Maryland. And as I read, I heard in my head Bob Dylan’s flat early-Sixties voice:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

That’s the opening verse of Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” released in 1964 on The Times They Are A-Changin’. The song tells the 1963 tale of what happened when Carroll, a fifty-one-year-old African-American barmaid, died of a stroke a few hours after Zantzinger, who was twenty-four and white, stuck Carroll with his cane when she displeased him during a charity ball at Baltimore’s Emerson Hotel.

The Los Angeles Times has a good account of the events of that evening, of the trial for manslaughter that followed, and of the rest of Zantzinger’s life. (While writing the song, Dylan dropped the “t” from Zantzinger’s name, possibly for legal reasons.)*

“Hattie Carroll” is not one of Dylan’s songs I know well. I knew it well enough to recognize Zantzinger’s name and recall most of the first verse, but it’s not one I’ve dug into very deeply, not the way I’ve examined songs of his that came along later. Add to that the fact that – to me – The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the Dylan album that is stuck most in the time it was released, and one finds a song that has remained if not anonymous, then at least a little bit hidden.

But “Hattie Carroll” is worth a listen, especially when one considers that there’s probably not a better example of pure folk music – as defined by one very formal standard – in Dylan’s oeuvre. At a time when thousands of pieces of up-to-date information are available to us with flicks of our wrists and clicks of our fingers, it’s worth pondering for a moment that, not all that long ago, as these things are measured, significant or just fascinating events once were defined and remembered in large part through song.

And that’s what Dylan did when he wrote “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Acting as reporter and commentator, Dylan uses his song to tell us the news. One doesn’t have to work too hard to imagine how William Zantzinger felt about being immortalized in song; the Los Angeles Times piece I linked to earlier touches lightly on that. But I do wonder how Hattie Carroll would have felt about it.

I have three recordings of the song in my library: The original recording by Dylan from 1964; the version he performed during the tour of the Rolling Thunder Review in 1975, and a version released by Steve Howe, who is most likely best known for his work as a member of Yes and Asia. The track comes from Portraits of Bob Dylan, a 1999 collection of twelve Dylan tunes performed by Howe with a few other folks.

Howe’s version of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” – the place where we’ll start today’s otherwise random ten songs – has Howe on Spanish, electrical and steel guitars as well as on mandolin and keyboards. Geoff Downes is on keyboards as well, with Anna Palm on violin, Nathalie Manser on cello and Dean Dyson handling the vocal.

Ten (Almost) At Random, 1950-1999
“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” by Steve Howe et al. from Portraits of Bob Dylan, 1999

“Big River” by Delbert McClinton from Second Wind, 1978

“How Can You Keep Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)” by Ry Cooder from Into the Purple Valley, 1971

“Shot of Rhythm & Blues” by Arthur Alexander, Dot 16309, 1962

“I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” by the Groop from The Groop, 1969

“If You’ve Got A Daughter” by Sailcat from Motorcycle Mama, 1972

“Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2781, 1971

“Anything” by the Vejetables, Autumn 15, 1965

“Glad I Knew You Well” by Livingston Taylor from Life Is Good, 1988

“I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” by the Glass Bottle, Avco Embassy 4575, 1971

A few notes:

Into the Purple Valley was Ry Cooder’s second solo album, and it settles neatly into a tour of the music of the Dust Bowl era, with Cooder showing his well documented artistry on almost any stringed instrument. In addition, he finds the centers of songs that were more than thirty years old at the time of recording, songs of dislocation, struggle and fear that might not seem so out of place in these disquieting times of our own.

Arthur Alexander was a country-soul artist from Alabama who left behind a fairly substantial collection of singles and LPs recorded between 1960 and his death in 1993. The most frequent mention of his name these days, though, is likely for his recording the original version of “Anna,” which the Beatles covered in their early years. (The Beatles’ cover version was released on an 1964 EP in Britain; in the U.S., it was originally released on Vee Jay’s Introducing the Beatles in 1963 and later on the 1965 Capitol LP release, The Early Beatles.)

There are evidently two groups that were called The Groop in the 1960s. This one is the Los Angeles-based group, not the earlier assembly from Australia that went to England. The L.A.-based Groop is credited with recording two songs that were included in the soundtrack to the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy as well as recording one album. “I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” comes from that 1969 self-titled effort. I looked for Curt Boettcher’s name on the credits; it’s not there, but whoever produced the record listened to a lot of Boettcher’s work, I think. The track offered here sounds a lot like the Association.

The Wilson Pickett recording is one of those that I got in the Philadelphia box set I mentioned the other day. Pulled from the LP Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia, the single went to No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 17 on the pop chart.

The Vejetables’ single comes from the other box set I mentioned the other day, the one that focuses on the music of the San Francisco area from 1965 to 1970. It’s relatively trippy folk rock.

The Glass Bottle’s single is a one-hit wonder by a group from New Jersey, and a wondrous one at that. A sweet artifact from my first autumn in college, the song – produced, oddly enough, by novelty artist Dickie Goodman – went to No. 36 during a three-week stay in the Top 40. I have a sense that the record – as familiar as it is to me – did better than that in Minnesota.

*The Los Angeles Times piece about Zantzinger has since been deleted. Note added November 16, 2011.

Peace, In All Its Forms

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 23, 2008

Peace, In All Its Forms
“We Got to Have Peace” by Curtis Mayfield from Roots, 1971

“Peaceful in My Soul” by Jackie DeShannon from Jackie, 1972

“Give Peace A Chance” by Joe Cocker (Leon Russell on piano) from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, 1970

“Peace of Mind” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

“Peace Begins Within” by Mylon Lefevre from Mylon, 1970

“I Wish You Peace” by the Eagles from One Of These Nights, 1975

Who Might Rank Among Them?

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 19, 2008

I got my new copy of Rolling Stone yesterday, the one that trumpets on its cover the listing inside of the one hundred greatest singers of all time. The cover also bears a picture of Aretha Franklin, who took the top spot on that list of singers.

Now, I love lists of stuff, especially lists relating to music. And Rolling Stone does a lot of them. I could walk across the study and pull from the bookshelf about fifteen editions of the magazine from the last twenty or so years that have a list ranking something in rock ’n’ roll history, whether it’s albums or songs or singles or guitarists or what-have-you. And this list – greatest singers – seems to be a suitable topic.

I haven’t waded my way through the entire one hundred names yet; I’ve read the foreword of the section, looked at the list of the folks who voted and read the entries on the first five singers: Aretha, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and John Lennon. That’s a pretty impressive top five. Maybe not quite as powerful but still impressive were the names of the folks who wrote the short essays about that top five: Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and Jackson Browne. I am looking forward, sometime later today, to sitting down with the magazine and digging into the remaining ninety-five singers on the list.

I suppose I should look ahead and note here which singers rounded out the Top Ten: Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. I could make a number of observations, but I’ll keep still on most of them until I’ve absorbed the entire list. I will make one comment.

The list of voters – made up of musicians, journalists and critics – seems to have been pretty well spread among the generations and sub-genres of rock music. In other words, there was no overloading on any one era or style. And those various voters decided that the ten greatest singers in rock history are seven dead guys and two men and one woman whose greatest work was turned was turned out between thirty and forty years ago. (Some might argue that Dylan’s recent work is among his best; it might be, but still, that hardly dents the point I’m about to make.)

What the Rolling Stone voters are telling us is that not one of the ten greatest singers in rock ’n’ roll history has started his or her career in the years since, oh, 1964 (the year that Redding released his debut album). That’s a remarkable statement, and it’s one for which I don’t seem to have a response. (I’ve been staring at the screen and keyboard for about five minutes trying to find words; they’re not there.)

Now, I love the music of the Sixties and the Seventies. Anyone who stops by here knows that, and it’s an understandable passion: That music is the music of my childhood, youth and young adulthood. But those decades are not the sole source of good music by talented artists. And I think the best thing about lists like the one in the current Rolling Stone is that they start discussions. So I’m going to throw out a question and (with luck and some effort from my readers) we’ll start a discussion here. That question:

Who is the best rock (in all its forms) singer to start his or her career, oh, let’s say, after 1970, and where would that person fall among the top ten anointed by Rolling Stone?

Just so you don’t have go back and pick them out, here are the names of those ten singers again:

Aretha Franklin
Ray Charles
Elvis Presley
Sam Cooke
John Lennon
Marvin Gaye
Bob Dylan
Otis Redding
Stevie Wonder
James Brown

And to accompany that, we’ll do a random six-pack of tunes from artists who came along after 1970:

“Rain” by Terence Trent D’Arby from Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, 1987. (Debut album)

“Late In My Bed” by Elizabeth Barraclough from Elizabeth Barraclough, 1978. (Debut album)

“That’s What They Say” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988. (Debut album)

“All I Want Is You” by Roxy Music from Country Life, 1974. (Debut album in 1972)

“Fadeaway” by the BoDeans from Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, 1986. (Debut album)

“Roman” by the Church from Heyday, 1986. (Debut album in 1981)

I don’t think that any of the lead singers there will challenge for that Top Ten list, but Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music might belong in the Top Fifty or so. That’s beside the point, though. This was a random selection of songs.

Again, what I do want to know from readers is: Who, from the artists who came along post-1970, could reasonably be considered for that top ten? Lemme know!