Archive for the ‘1978’ Category

A Treasure Lost

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 22, 2010

I’m chiming in a little late on the chorus here, but this week, the music world lost a jewel.

Kate McGarrigle – singer, songwriter and one-half of the McGarrigle sisters – crossed over this week in Montreal, Canada. She was sixty-three and had “clear cell sarcoma, a form of cancer,” said the New York Times. (See the full story here.)

I learned about them in 1989, as I read the first edition I owned of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. The entry for the McGarrigles said simply:

“Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, They suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies could be dazzling.”

That was a little condescending, I thought, but it spurred me to keep an eye out for the McGarrigles’ work as I roamed the record stores. As I found and bought the occasional record and then CD over the years, I found myself appreciating more and more the quiet charm, consistent quality and occasional quirkiness of the sisters’ work.

More people know them, certainly, as writers of songs performed by other people. I would guess that the best-known song Kate McGarrigle wrote was “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino,” which Linda Ronstadt recorded for her 1981 album, Get Closer. (The title tune of Ronstadt’s 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel, was written by Anna McGarrigle.)

One of the lessons that a writer can take from Kate McGarrigle’s work is that pretty much anything could be a topic for a song. Here, along with “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” are “I Eat Dinner,” a sad ode to the numbing sameness of life without romance, and “NaCl,” a sprightly science lesson.

“(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle [1975]

“I Eat Dinner” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Heartbeats Accelerating [1990]

“NaCl” by by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Pronto Monto [1978]

Into The Ultimate Jukebox

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 21, 2010

Behold the jukebox!

Well, there’s no jukebox, not physically. I could, I suppose, find a picture of a gorgeous Wurlitzer and gussy it up somehow, make it sparkle and glint and shine like the great repository of dreams a jukebox can be. But no, not even the gaudiest picture or the shiniest fake would work here.

What we’re opening up today is the jukebox of the mind, the jukebox that I’d have in my living room if my living room were part malt shop, part beer joint, part crash pad and part heaven. It is, if you will, the Ultimate Jukebox. I first mentioned it in early November and since then have been doing the difficult work of eliminating songs from the list. I started by combing year-by-year through my 41,000 or so mp3s, making a raw list of songs to consider. Sometimes, I’d pull a song off the list within minutes or maybe days, but most of the songs I put onto the list stayed there until I had gone through the collection twice.

At that point, there were two hundred and eighty-five songs on the list. My goal was to trim them down to two hundred and begin presenting posts from there. I trimmed and I trimmed. I looked at the list for hours without changing anything. I got down to two hundred and fifty and then two hundred and forty. And I looked on the long list of titles and despaired of what I would have to trim next. And finally, short of my goal, I could trim no more. I got down to two hundred and twenty-eight songs. I did some math. That total would provide me with thirty-eight posts of six records each.

Presented weekly, that would keep me with a guaranteed post at least once a week for most of the coming year. Sign me up.

Dave Marsh wrote in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, that as his project came to a close, he was already weary of people asking him what his top-ranked single was. (It was Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”) But, he said, he would have been thrilled to have someone ask what single No. 1,002 had been. Or so I recall. In the 1999 edition, he says that the most common question he’d gotten since the publication of the original edition had been about single No. 1,002, and those questions irked him. Without going back line by line through the 1989 edition of the book, I can’t cite the page number, but I’m certain that somewhere in that volume, I got the idea that Marsh wanted people to ask about the first record that didn’t make it. And then, when people do just that, it irks him? I guess it’s a reminder to be careful what we wish for. (He adds, because he says he can’t figure out how it got left out of the 1,001 singles in the book, that single No. 1,002 has to be Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.”)

I thought of Marsh wanting to be asked about the records that didn’t quite make it as I was trimming the list for my jukebox. What are some of the records that fell by the wayside?

Here’s a short list. These are not the last cuts by any means. But these were among the finalists that got trimmed before the swimsuit competition. Great records, but not quite as good as the ones that stayed, for whatever reason (and those reasons can include utter whim).

“Golden Years” by David Bowie
“Charity Ball” by Fanny
“Night Train” by James Brown.
“Guinnevere” by Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Season of the Witch” by Donovan
“Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian
“Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
“Convoy” by C.W. McCall
“Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds

The list of those left behind also includes three by Bob Dylan, two by the Beatles, two by The Band and three by the Allman Brothers Band. And on and on and on down the line. Once I had my two hundred twenty-eight, I figured out a way to put them into random groups, and after one adjustment, I had my thirty-eight selections of six. And here’s the opening selection:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 1
“Look Through My Window” by the Mamas & the Papas from Deliver [1967]
“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan from Blood on the Tracks [1975]
“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream [1976]
“Driftwood” by the Moody Blues from Octave [1978]
‘They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart In Seventeen Places [1983]
“I Try” by Macy Gray from On How Life Is [1999]

Whatever one may think of the late John Phillips as a person – and he doesn’t rank highly on that scale in my book – the man could write a gorgeous song. Think of the Mamas and Papas’ catalog: “Go Where You Wanna Go,” “Monday, Monday,” “California Dreamin’,” “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Comng To The Canyon)” and many more. All well-crafted and lovely. And yet, “Look Through My Window” lies atop the heap for me. Why? I guess it seemed to be more reflective than the group’s other hits, with the narrator observing the world from which he is separated – for the time being, anyway. This is, I believe, the album version of the song; the single edit went to No. 24 in the autumn of 1966. Key lines: “We both knew people sometimes change, and lovers sometimes rearrange; and nothing’s quite as sure as change.”

I’ve written at least once before about Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” but I’m not at all sure what I said, and I’m not going to sort through the unarchived files. Suffice it to say that this has to be the sprightliest song about foreseen romantic disaster ever recorded. I mean, he knows she’s going to go, he knows he’s going to be lonely, and he seems to almost be looking forward to it. I guess that’s what happens when times are so good: The inevitable sorrow down the road seems a small price to pay for today’s joy. Key lines: “Flowers on the hillside bloomin’ crazy; crickets talkin’ back and forth rhyme. Blue river runnin’ slow and lazy. I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.”

Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has also been mentioned here at least once. I hold to my original position of a couple of years ago that Lightfoot’s song is one of the relatively few modern examples of folk song as both news and commemoration. When one wanders through the odd, dissonant and sometimes plain creepy songs in Harry Smith’s 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, one finds many examples of folk songs reporting the news of disasters small and large, and one finds many cases, too, of songs devised to keep long-gone events or individuals fresh in memory. Lightfoot’s song did both, telling the tale and commemorating the event so successfully that it’s become a familiar part of the cultural landscape, with the single reaching No. 2 in the autumn of 1976. Key lines: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

When the Moody Blues released Octave in 1978, it had been six years since the release of their last album, 1972’s Seventh Sojourn. I, for one, was ready for some more Moodies. I had a few of the earlier albums and I’d loved Sojourn, so, as soon as it was offered, I ordered Octave from my record club. I guess it disappointed me, as I don’t know the album as well as I do many others, including most of the Moody Blues’ catalog. But “Driftwood” has captivated me from the first time I heard it, with that lonely French horn calling me in for a meditation that seems longer than the listed five minutes and yet doesn’t seem long enough. Key lines: “Time waits for no one at all, no, not even you.”

With its Wall of Sound intro – chimes and all – and its witty video, Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” was one of the light-hearted highlights of pop radio and MTV in late 1983 and early 1984. I was in was in graduate school, and after some years away from pop and rock and certainly Top 40, I found myself surrounded by current music once again, enjoying much of it. A few other tunes from that period will show up in the project later, and several barely missed the cut. But there was never a doubt about “They Don’t Know” making it into the jukebox: Its good humor and its girl-group-reminiscent sound make it one of my favorite records of that time, now more than a quarter-century past. Key lines: “Why should it matter to us if they don’t approve? We should just take our chances while we’ve got nothin’ to lose.”

I wrote the other day about the dismal winter of 1999-2000. One of the things that helped me through that winter, as is true of all of my life, is music. Some of the tunes I listened to during that time, however, have had that season’s despair attached to them. As I wrote a while back, I am to this day unable to listen to Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia without lapsing into sorrow. Macy Gray’s On How Life Is and its single, “I Try” could easily fall into that category, as they’re among the most memorable music from those months. And the topic of “I Try” – a seemingly hopeless connection – seems tailor-made to settle the record into the unhappy file. But for some reason, the song seems to rise above that when I hear it. Maybe it’s Gray’s odd voice. Maybe it’s the very cool backing track. Maybe it’s just time having passed. Or maybe the song tugs at me still, but I recognize its place in this mythical jukebox that is essentially the soundtrack of my life. Whatever the reason, it’s one of three songs I’ve selected from 1999, the most recent year I examined. And it belongs here. Key lines: “I believe that fate has brought us here, and we should be together. But we’re not.”

‘And Watch The River Flow . . .’

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 13, 2010

It was around this time in 1972 that I bought my first Bob Dylan album. I’d heard Dylan plenty of times before, certainly: Just in the couple of years since I’d started listening to the radio, he’d had a Top Ten hit with “Lay, Lady, Lay” during the summer of 1969 and then reached the Top 40 in late 1971 with “George Jackson.” And I’d likely heard John Wesley Harding on one evening or another, hanging out at Rick’s. And that doesn’t count the other times I heard his songs just as part of the music around me before I really started paying attention.

But on a January day, I bought Dylan’s music for the first time. I actually bought two albums that day. Rick’s birthday was coming up soon, and he wanted Nashville Skyline. So I grabbed that at Musicland and then pawed through the rest of the Dylan records. I found a copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II and scanned the jacket. A pretty good mix. So brought it home with me, and as I wrapped Rick’s gift, I dropped my new record on the stereo.

And the first track was happily familiar: A rolling roadhouse piano accompanied by a twanging guitar announced the presence of “Watching The River Flow,” a song that had been released as a single during 1971. (It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 41.) The rolling piano made it clear that the record had been recorded under the influence of Leon Russell, who in the first years of the Seventies was about as hot any performer ever was, sitting in on God knows how many major recording sessions, spearheading Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in early 1970, playing at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971 and seeing two of his own albums – Leon Russell & The Shelter People and Carney – hit the Top 40.

So the first sounds I heard from the first Dylan album I owned were and still are tasty ones. The track – which Russell co-produced with Bob Johnston – popped up the other night on the RealPlayer as I was reading, and the guitar and piano riff captured my attention just as quickly and fully as it had thirty-eight years ago. I nodded along through Dylan’s tale of countryside ennui and laziness, and then wondered, as I frequently do, who had covered the song and if I had any of those covers.

I dug into those questions the next morning. And I found that “Watching The River Flow” has not had a large number of cover versions released.

As “Watching The River Flow,” All-Music Guide finds a total of sixty-one recordings on CD, including Dylan’s work. (The song’s title is sometimes listed on LPs and CDs as “Watchin’ The River Flow,” but some of those variants are included in the database under the correct title; whether all of them are, I don’t know. I’d dig deeper, but AMG’s search function seems balky this morning.) Among those have recorded the song are the Asylum Street Spankers, the Boogie Woogie Company, Robert Crotty, Chris Farlowe, the Gadd Gang, Steve Gibbons, the Heart of Gold Band, Gordon Johnson, Ollie Mitchell, Zoot Money, the Porch Rockers, Earl Scruggs, Steve Wynn and Pete York.

I have four cover versions of the song, by Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Steve Forbert and the Minnesota-based bluesy Lamont Cranston Band. None of the four really quite get to the level of the original. Russell recorded his version for a 1999 project called Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan that’s actually pretty good. Russell’s cover is one of the few on the CD that doesn’t seem to work; it’s just a little too relaxed.

Joe Cocker’s version was part of his 1978 album Luxury You Can Afford, and bears witness to Cocker’s difficulties at the time. Like the rest of the album – and like a few other albums through the mid- to late 1970s and beyond – the recording seems to lack focus. It’s not awful, just not as striking as Cocker’s earlier work was (and as his work has at times been since 1987 or so).

Forbert recorded his version as “Watchin’ The River Flow” for a project titled I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road. The CD and its predecessor were collections of Americana-tinged recordings put together for their association – or potential association, as seems to be the case with Forbert’s contribution – with Interstate 10, which crosses the United States’ southern tier. (The highway begins in Jacksonville, Florida, then parallels the coast of the Gulf of Mexico before crossing Texas and the desert southwest and ending in Los Angeles, California.) Forbert’s version is pretty good; I like it best of the four covers I’m offering here.

The Lamont Cranston Band’s cover of “Watchin’ The River Flow” is a live version recorded in December 1980 at the Cabooze bar in Minneapolis. It was included on a 1981 LP titled Bar Wars that was released mostly in the Twin Cities area, I assume. While I like some of what the band does with the song, I think it’s just a little too fast. But that’s me.

Here, then, are the original and four covers:

“Watching The River Flow” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II [1971]
“Watching The River Flow” by Joe Cocker from Luxury You Can Afford [1978]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Bar Wars [1981]
“Watching The River Flow” by Leon Russell from Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan [1999]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by Steve Forbert from I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road [2001]

A Little Bit Dark

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 2, 2009

It’s cool today, as it seems to have been for most of the past few months. We seldom used the air conditioner this summer, our first in the house. Part of that was, no doubt, a quality of the house itself, shielded as is it by numerous trees. But it was also the weather. It just didn’t get that hot this summer.

And it’s chilly – and rainy – again today, as it was yesterday. I look out my study window, and the two oak trees I can see still hold mostly green leaves: There are only a few scattered spots of brown, though I expect that to change in a few days. Autumn, as I have written here before, is my favorite of the seasons. And my favorite autumn days are those when the sun lights up the red, gold and brown leaves and the temperature hovers around fifty degrees Fahrenheit (about ten degrees Celsius). Those days should be ahead of us, but given the odd weather we’ve had this year, I’m not sure how plentiful they will be. Perhaps I just have a case of the Friday glums, but I fear this morning that those days will be few this autumn.

On the other hand, perhaps the clouds will clear and the sun will light up the trees and lighten my mood. That might not happen for a bit: Weatherbug says the best we’ll likely get in the next week is partly cloudy skies on Sunday. Still, as October advances, we’ll most likely have at least a few of those bright days. And my mood – changeable as it can be – will most likely shift upward even before those sunny and cool days light up the oaks outside my window.

I am honestly not in as bleak a place as the titles of the following songs might lead one to believe. It was just easier (and more productive) to search for “dark” than for “kind of glum.” I think, though, that I’ll just let the songs speak for themselves this morning except to say that they’re all worth a listen.

A Six-Pack of Dark
“Darkness Brings” by the Panama Limited Jug Band from Indian Summer [1970]
“Darkest Hour” by Arlo Guthrie from Amigo [1976]
“Darker Days” by the Connells from Darker Days [1985]
“Alone In The Dark” by the Devlins from Drift [1993]
“The Darker Side” by the Lamont Cranston Band from El Cee Notes [1978]
“Right On For The Darkness” by Curtis Mayfield from Back to the World [1973]

(Some of these may have been shared here before. With the loss of my blog’s archives, it’s become difficult to know if that’s the case: It would require searching thirty separate Word documents, and that’s more trouble than it’s worth. So accept my apologies for any repeats.)

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.”

‘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]

The Moody Blues: 1978

January 7, 2021

For almost a year now, the CD of the Moody Blues 1978 album Octave has been sitting on top of a pile of the group’s later albums on a bookcase near my desk. And during those eleven months – ever since I shared here my assessment of Seventh Sojourn, the group’s 1972 album – I’ve thought to myself, “I need to write that post.”

And yet, I didn’t and didn’t, instead pulling something else out of my mind and reference books to share here nearly three times a week. And I wondered: Was I lazy, not wanting to organize myself enough to actually think and write clearly about the album? I certainly know the album, having had it on my shelves since early 1979. As one of my characters in a bit of fiction asked another, “What’s the tale, Dale?”

And upon another listening this week, I came up with my answer. With one major exception, I really don’t like the album. Nine of its ten tracks leave me pretty much empty. Those nine tracks sound okay musically: the ballads are sweet, and the up-tempo tracks lope along as they should. Lyrically, those nine tracks tell familiar stories in familiar ways: love stories, self-discovery, a little bit of cosmic wonder.

And that all sounds like something you’d be pleased to have playing in the background in early 1979 as you catch up with friends: Who’s getting married, who has a new job, who’s having a first baby, whose parents aren’t doing so well. That’s what we talked about during those years, our first years of being out on our own. We were young professionals offering our competence to the world for the first time.

And on the stereo, there were the Moody Blues offering their competence to the world, and – with one huge exception – that’s all that Octave offerred: competence without any seeming inspiration. The five long-time members of the group – Graeme Edge, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder and Justin Hayward – had returned from time away from the band, five years or so, and offered an almost entirely forgettable set of tracks that were pleasant in the background but lacking substance when given more careful attention.

Coming to that realization over the past week depressed me. Octave was the third of the group’s massive catalog that I’d ever owned; I’d gotten the 1968 album In Search of the Lost Chord in 1972 and found the hippie mysticism a little silly but listenable. I got 1972’s Seventh Sojourn for Christmas that year, and loved the album, less mystical but still pertinent and enjoyable musically. And I also knew the 1970 album A Question Of Balance well, having heard it across the street at Rick’s many times.

So realizing this week that I don’t like the album bummed me out. A little more thought brought me to understand that – with one major exception – I didn’t much like the album in 1979, either. And that brought me to think about – and here things get markedly personal – my life back then. I had a job I loved as a reporter for the Monticello Times. I was newly married. I was losing touch with my college friends and not replacing them. And looking back forty-some years, the only memories of that life that aren’t tinged with sorrow are the memories of my job.

So sorrow-laden memories of the times float along as I listen. Trying to sort things out, a few of the tracks did seem better than the others as I listened this week: Despite its ponderous and clichéd introduction, “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone” is a decent piece, “Had To Fall In Love” is a pretty track, and “The Day We Meet Again” is all right. But there’s no way I can accurately assess and review the album without delving into the mostly unhappy life I was living when the album came into that life. Call it a grade of Incomplete and leave it that way on the transcript forever.

There is, of course, the one exception I’ve mentioned several times: “Driftwood,” the fifth track on the album and the last track on Side One in the LP configuration, towers above anything else on the album. It’s a melancholy track, to be sure, but its sadness, its sorrow, is couched in perhaps the most beautiful music the Moody Blues ever made, capped by the metaphor of the title and chorus: “Don’t leave me driftwood on the shore.”

No person was about to leave me as driftwood back then, but – looking back as fairly as I can – perhaps I sensed that life outside the newsroom was leaving me behind in some ways, and thus, “Driftwood” spoke to me. Or maybe that’s bullshit, and it was the sweeping melody, the bittersweet lyrics, the French horn, and the saxophone that pulled me in. I don’t know, and despite my frequent need to assess and analyze the stops and turns in my life, I’m just going to say that “Driftwood” can stand alone as perhaps the best thing the Moody Blues ever did and one of the tracks I have most loved over the years.

Saturday Single No. 716

December 19, 2020

At times over the years, I’ve used one post or another here as kind of a note on a bulletin board, something to remind me to start a new project or to pick up on a series of posts interrupted and since set aside. This is one of those posts.

It’s been ten months since I added to the series of posts intended to examine the catalog of the Moody Blues. I dug into the group’s 1972 album, Seventh Sojourn, in February, just before the world went askew, and have never gotten back to that project, never examined the next stop in the group’s journey, 1978’s Octave.

But I reckon that delay is all right. After all, it took the group six years to get from Sojourn to Octave. If I can do so in a little more than ten months, well, that’s not too bad. So sometime in the next week, that long-delayed project should resume.

As a teaser, I’m offering here the track that might be the second-best the album has to offer. I’m not exactly where “One Step Into The Light” fits among the tracks from Octave. Musically, it’s very much like late 1960s Moodies stuff (which may or may not be a good thing), and lyrically, it lapses into the kind of mysticism that left a lot of people either laughing or leaving the room during those late 1960s days:

One step into the light
One step away from night
It’s the hardest step you’re gonna take
The ship to take you there is waitin’ at the head
Of the stairs that lead up through your opened mind

Above the dark despair
Shines a light that we can share
Close your eyes and look up in between your brows
Then slowly breathing in
Feel the life force streaming in
Hold it there, then send it back to him

All the old things are returning
Cosmic circles ever turning
All the truth we’ve been yearning for
Life is our savior, savior, savior
Save your soul

The river of living breath
Is flowing through the sun
He was there before the Earth began
The world will drag on you
Use his love to pull you through
Find the mission of your life and start to be

All the old things are returning
Cosmic circles ever turning
All the truth we’ve been yearning for
Life is our savior, savior, savior
Save your soul

There’s one thing I can do
Play my Mellotron for you
Try to blow away your city blues
Your dreams are not unfound
Get your feet back on the ground
The truth will set us free, we cannot lose
We cannot lose
We just have to choose

But still, there is – to my Moody-friendly ears – a kind of stately grandeur about “One Step Into The Light.” And that, along with its utility as kind of a Post-It note to remind me of my task next week, makes it today’s Saturday Single.

‘This Is What I Give . . .’

October 2, 2020

The atmospheric “Since You Asked” is the second track on Judy Collins’ hushed 1967 album Wildflowers. The album itself was part of the soundtrack of my mid- to late teen years, from the time my sister bought the album – probably in 1968, after Dad finished work on the basement rec room – to the time she took it with her on her newlywed way to a career in education in the summer of 1972.

I couldn’t have told you the title of the track until it came to mind the other day, but as soon as I called it up on the RealPlayer, it was instantly familiar, pulling me back to adolescent reveries on the green couch:

What I’ll give you since you’ve asked
Is all my time together;
Take the rugged sunny days,
The warm and rocky weather,
Take the roads that I have walked along,
Looking for tomorrow’s time,
Peace of mind.

As my life spills into yours,
Changing with the hours
Filling up the world with time,
Turning time to flowers,
I can show you all the songs
That I never sang to one man before.

We have seen a million stones lying by the water,
You have climbed the hills with me
To the mountain shelter.
Taken off the days, one by one,
Setting them to breathe in the sun.

Take the lilies and the lace
From the days of childhood,
All the willow winding paths
Leading up and outward.
This is what I give
This is what I ask you for;
Nothing more.

After my sister headed out to adult life, I went about sixteen years without hearing the song except by accident. I found it in 1988 on Collins’ anthology, Colors Of The Day, and then found Wildflowers five years later. Even during a time of increased record-buying, the two Collins albums got fairly regular play as I drifted between North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri and back to Minnesota

In a seemingly unrelated event, I also picked up in 1988 an album by Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg titled Twin Sons of Different Mothers, a 1978 piece of work that I’ve listened to occasionally but not with any great attention.

So, until it was mentioned in a Facebook music group the other day, I’d not realized that the track on the latter album titled “Since You’ve Asked” was actually Collins’ song. After reading the note at Facebook, I wandered off and found the Fogelberg/Weisberg track in the digital stacks and of course knew it immediately. The production – framed by piano, with some slight alterations in the lyrics – makes the tune fit nicely into Fogelberg’s catalog of sometimes spare and haunting songs:

There are a few other covers of the song out there, some instrumental (and most using the title “Since You’ve Asked” instead of Collins’ original “Since You Asked”). If we dabble with those at all, we’ll do so on another day.

Saturday Single No. 691

June 6, 2020

When weeks are as news-filled (and as discouraging) as the last week has been, I try to take a break from the news every now and then, try to get away from the crawl and scroll. And I run head-on into the (long acknowledged) fact that I am a news junkie.

While listening to music or reading a book or magazine, I peek around the corner (as it were) and something in one of the crawls or scrolls or webpages catches my eye. Ninety minutes later, I’m drowning in facts, suppositions and analyses, and I am once again overwhelmed. So I wander around some place like YouTube, looking for diversion. And I found something this week, something not only diverting but pertinent to the supposed purpose of this blog.

Here’s a recent video put up on the channel “Jamel_AKA_Jamal.” Jamel/Jamal is a young African American man who’s found an audience of 400,000-some on the video site by listening to decades-old music he’s not heard before and recording and offering his reactions to that music. Here he is, in a video posted yesterday, listening for the first time to Al Stewart’s 1976 track, “Year Of The Cat.”

(I particularly love the expression on his face at 6:10 when he hears Phil Kenzie’s saxophone solo start.)

There are other similar channels at YouTube, and I’ve dipped into some of them, but I keep coming back to Jamel/Jamal, probably because he so clearly loves learning about music recorded long before he was born (and not coincidentally, music from my formative years). And it’s fun to listen to old favorites through young ears, as it were.

I imagine I’ll spend a few hours with Jamel/Jamal over the weekend, interspersed with housework, table-top baseball, and keeping a wary eye on the news. I think I’ll also suggest to Jamel/Jamal that he take a listen to another Al Stewart track, this one from 1978. “Time Passages” is one of my favorites, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.