Archive for the ‘1979’ Category

A Baker’s Dozen Of A&M Singles

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 7, 2008

I remember being aware of three record labels when I was a young listener, between the ages of ten and thirteen. Not record labels as in business concerns but as in the designs on the paper at the center of the record, be it an LP or a 45.

There was the yellow and orange yin/yang swirl at the center of the one 45 I claimed ownership of (half ownership, actually, with my sister): the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There.” Other records to come would have that swirl, but that 45 in February 1964 was the first. (That swirl popped up the other day when I was wandering through the CD’s: Rhino copied it lovingly for its 1990 issue of The Rutles.)

Then there was the very old logo that RCA Victor used: the dog Nipper leaning over the Victrola, listening to “His Master’s Voice.” (There truly was a Nipper who listened to the gramophone; some of his story is told here.) The label RCA used was a little cluttered: Nipper and his Victrola and the LP’s title were above the spindle hole with data to either side of the hole and track listings and more data below. That was the label on my copy of Al Hirt’s Honey In The Horn, which came to me for my eleventh birthday.

And finally, the third of the labels I was aware of early on was on A&M records, the company started by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Looking today at the design on the first A&M record I owned – Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass – I’m impressed by its clean look: the tan background, the very simple A&M logo. (The example shown here is from another album, obviously. As I don’t have a scanner, I find graphics where I can on the ’Net; this one came from BSN Publications, a treasure trove of LP discographies and history, including the histories of many label designs.)*

I don’t know that I had a favorite at the time, but it was during this period – the years from eleven to thirteen – that I began to play around with designing logos for imaginary sports teams, and in doing so, I began to look at typography and design. (Somewhere in a box in the closet is a folder full of logos that came from my pen.) And I recall looking at the A&M label one day and pondering its design as the sounds of Herb and the boys came from the stereo. I’m sure I came to no conclusions, except perhaps the one that might matter most of all: A nice label design is good, but it’s even better when it comes with good music.

And over the years A&M did pretty well with that, as today’s Baker’s Dozen shows.

A Baker’s Dozen of A&M Singles
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert, A&M 929, 1968

“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Boyce & Hart, A&M 893, 1968

“You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker, A&M 1641, 1974

“Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson, A&M 2132, 1979

“Superstar” by the Carpenters, A&M 1289, 1971

“Take The Long Way Home” by Supertramp, A&M 2193, 1979

“Come Saturday Morning” by the Sandpipers, A&M 1134, 1967

“The Captain Of Her Heart” by Double, A&M 2838, 1986

“Homburg,” by Procol Harum, A&M 885, 1968

“Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special, A&M 2316, 1981

“Memphis In The Meantime” by John Hiatt, A&M 2989, 1987

“Don’t You Want Me Baby” by Human League, A&M 2397, 1982

“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson, A&M 1949, 1977

A few notes:

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were better known as a song-writing team than as performers, although “I Wonder . . .” went to No. 8 in early 1968 and was the second of three Top 40 hits for the duo. The LP, titled after the single, seems to be a collector’s item, at least in some circles. I had a copy of it under my arm at Cheapo’s one day in the 1990s, and an eccentric collector followed me around the store for a few moments, asking to look at the record and gushing, when I did, “Do you know how rare this is? What a prize this is?” He handed it back, and I said, “I do now.”

“You Are So Beautiful” is not my favorite among Joe Cocker’s singles on A&M. I would probably opt for “Cry Me A River,” taken from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. But “You Are So Beautiful” is what popped up in a random run of A&M singles. And it did pretty well, reaching No. 5 in the early months of 1975. It was Cocker’s eighth Top 40 single in a little more than five years; it would be his last until he hit No. 1 seven years later with his duet with Jennifer Warnes: “Up Where We Belong.”

I always thought of Joe Jackson as a weird guy who could never figure out what kind of songs he wanted to sing. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that his constant changes were indicative of an inventive mind rather than a lost musician. The new wave textures of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” didn’t grab me much at the time, but then, I was beginning to lose interest in most pop music in 1979. It’s pretty clear to me now that all of Jackson’s oeuvre has had a longer shelf life than much of the stuff that surrounded him at the time.

It was incredibly unhip to like the Carpenters when they came on the scene in the early 1970s. With their squeaky clean image and their music sitting on the softest part possible of the pop-rock sofa, they seemed like what our parents would want us to listen to. But Richard Carpenter was a pretty decent arranger: Some of his work is a bit busy and some a little too gooey today, but most of it now sounds quite good. And Karen Carpenter – poor girl – had a marvel of a voice. I don’t think that “Superstar” is her best performance – I’d probably go with “Goodbye To Love” instead – but she does find the lonely heart of the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song here.

On those nights when cares and worries keep you up past midnight with the radio playing softly underneath your dismay, the last thing you need to hear filtering from the speakers is Double’s great record, “The Captain Of Her Heart.” The only hit ever for the Swiss duo of Felix Haug and Kurt Maloo (No. 16), the song is guaranteed to increase the intensity of those cares and worries, especially if they’re of the romantic kind. (During the years when I had those kinds of nighttime cares and worries, I generally endured them in silence, just to avoid this sort of song.)

“Hold On Loosely” was 38 Special’s first Top 40 hit, coming before the group dropped the decimal point from its name. It’s a song I wasn’t all that familiar with until the Twin Cities oldies station I listen to shifted its format about a year and a half ago, adding hits and album tracks from the Eighties and trimming the Fifties and Sixties playlists. Angry calls and emails, along with declining ratings, spurred the station to revert to its earlier format not long ago. But “Hold On Loosely” stays in my RealPlayer because the Texas Gal likes it.

It’s entirely possible that some of these mp3s are album versions rather than single edits. If so, I apologize. As always, bit rates will vary.

*At this time, while assembling the archive of posts, I do have a scanner, but several attempts to scan labels on LPs have failed, so I pulled a scan I found online although not, this time, at Both Sides NowNote added June 27, 2011.

Another Turn Through The Junkyard

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 28, 2008

Well, quite a busy weekend around here!

We saw Richie Havens in concert Friday evening, as I mentioned Saturday. Saturday evening, we went over to the St. Cloud State campus and its National Hockey Center, where we saw the SCS Huskies lose 5-3 to the Mavericks from Minnesota State University, Mankato. (That’s a university that used to be plain old Mankato State, but its leaders decided a while back that it would sound more important if it were called Minnesota State University, Mankato. I wonder if the TV show Coach had anything to do with that, considering that the popular show took place for most of its run at a fictional Minnesota State? In any case, the uniqueness of the name went away after the state university at Moorhead did the same, calling itself Minnesota State University, Moorhead.)

And Sunday? Well, I spent the bulk of my time yesterday installing my new external hard drive and then transferring over to it more than 20,000 mp3s. The drive is a My Book from Western Digital, which I selected after a general recommendation by my nephew, who works in IT for the Osseo school district in the Twin Cities. He told me that he didn’t have specific model recommendations, but he listed a few manufacturers that he said put out good products, and Western was one of them. So when we were out Saturday, we stopped by the local outlet of the big box electronics store and found a 500-gig drive on sale.

Having heard horror stories, I backed up those mp3s that would be the hardest to replace – about twenty gigs, or a quarter of the collection – and then installed the new drive and began to transfer the mp3s. It took about three hours for the eighty-five gigs of music to find its way to its new home. And then I wasted a few hours messing around with RealPlayer. Prompted by a popup from Real.com, I installed a new version. I didn’t like it, so I spent some time finding and reinstalling the old version (thank goodness for Old Version) and finally got settled.

Next comes the process of reloading all the obscure (and sometimes rather odd) albums that I’ve recorded to CDs and pulled from the player over the past couple of years. I’m not sure how many of those albums I’ll share as albums, but tracks from them should begin popping up in Baker’s Dozens fairly soon.

Given that I have tinkering to do with all those CDs – about seventeen of them, each packed with about 700 MB of music – I thought I’d forego ripping an album this morning and instead take a Monday morning walk through the Junkyard, 1950-1999. And as someone responded to Saturday’s post about the Richie Havens concert with a request, we’ll start with Havens’ 1967 recording of “Follow.”

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard

“Follow” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag, 1967

“Human Touch” by Bruce Springsteen from Human Touch, 1992

“Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 372, 1967

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan with the Grateful Dead from Dylan & The Dead, 1989

“Chain of Love” by Lesley Duncan from Sing Children Sing, 1971

“Carolina Moon” by Mr. Acker Bilk from Stranger On The Shore, 1961

“Sideshow” by Blue Magic, Atco single 6961, 1974

“Too Much To Lose” by Gordon Lightfoot, RCA Studios, Toronto, 1972

“Wax Minute” by Mike Nesmith from Tantamount to Treason, 1972

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“House That Jack Built” by Thelma Jones, Barry single 1023, 1968

“Smile A Little Smile For Me” by the Flying Machine, Congress single 6000, 1969

“Get Down Tonight” by KC & the Sunshine Band, T.K. single 1009, 1975

“Keep Love In Your Soul” by Gary Wright from Headin’ Home, 1979

“Fancy Dancer” by Bread from Guitar Man, 1972

A few notes:

I hesitated when the track from Dylan & the Dead came up, as the album is truly one of the worst entries in the catalogs of both Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. It sounded like a great idea, I guess, and from what I’ve read in various places, there are tapes of Dylan and the Dead performing marvelously. But it didn’t happen on the tour that this album came from.

Lesley Duncan was one of the better session singers in the UK, or so I’ve read, and as a result, she had some estimable musicians – including Elton John – supporting her when she recorded Sing Children Sing. The album is a pleasant enough slice of early Seventies singer-songwriter, but it didn’t draw much attention in what was a crowded field. Duncan recorded four more albums through 1977, again without much success. I like her music, and “Chain of Love” is pretty representative. Sing Children Sing was released on CD on the Edsel label (!) in 2000, and copies now go for more than $80.

“Carolina Moon” is a track from the album released by England’s Mr. Acker Bilk after the idiosyncratic clarinetist had a No. 1 hit in 1962 with the lilting and lovely “Stranger on the Shore.” Bilk never had another Top 40 hit, but his musicianship has kept him quite popular among trad jazz fans in England, with his most recent album – among those listed with dates at All-Music Guide – being 2005’s The Acker Bilk/Danny Moss Quintet.

With its spoken carney-barker introduction, it could be easy to dismiss “Sideshow” as a novelty. But the record succeeds despite that corny intro and remains one of the prettiest of the singles that came out of the Philly Soul movement in the 1970s.

The Mike Nesmith track comes from one of the highly regarded series of country-rock records that the one-time Monkee released during the early 1970s. Any of them are worth checking out. (Those interested in eccentricity should also look into Nesmith’s 1968 oddity, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.)

Thelma Jones came out of the gospel music world and was the first to record “The House That Jack Built.” A little later in 1968, Aretha Franklin’s cover of the song would slice Jones’ version to shreds, but it’s always interesting to hear the original.

The Flying Machine was a British studio group, not to be confused with James Taylor’s similarly named group. The Brits did bubble-gummish work and the sold some records although “Smile A Little Smile For Me” was their only U.S. hit. Coming as it did from the year I truly began to listen to the Top 40 on the first radio I ever owned, it always brings a smile.

We Write What We Know

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 28, 2007

It was a year ago this week that I got my USB turntable, which means I’ve been involved in this blogging adventure for almost a year now. For about a month after I got the turntable and was happily ripping vinyl to mp3s, I was posting the results only at two bulletin boards I frequent. At the same time, however, I was digging deeper into the music blogs I knew about, and began to think . . .

For a month, I looked carefully at the blogs I visited regularly, trying to figure out if I could find a niche that was uninhabited and assessing how I should present my own commentary. I decided that when I posted full albums, they were going to be almost always out of print or at least hard to get, and when I posted collections of singles, they would mostly be from the years before 1990.

But what was I going to write about? I’ve taught some writing – mostly in the venue of teaching journalism – and I’ve had several friends who have taught college composition and creative writing. And for most of the students involved, the first instruction is to write what you know. And in the context of music, what I knew was what I liked, how the music I liked came to be, and how it was that I came to know about that music in the first place. And that’s what I wrote about, in contexts as varied as the music I listen to.

I wondered sometimes if there was too much of me in my posts, but a comment I received one day from JB, the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, helped me clarify things. JB said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that when he began his blog, he thought that there would be posts so personal that no one save himself would be interested in them. He soon found, he said, that it’s impossible to handicap readers in blogworld: frequently, the posts he thought would be ignored generated traffic and comments, and the posts that he thought would be hot stuff weren’t. He basically told me: Do what you do and let others sort it out.

So I did. And I found myself having more fun than at almost any time in my life.

So, my thanks to JB, and to the other bloggers in my links list, who share their lives and their music in various proportions. With only a few days left in 2007, I’m looking forward to 2008 and to sharing more music. One of my hopes for the year is to get an external hard drive for my music, so I have room to expand and no longer have to go though the process, every six months or so, of deleting about 10,000 MB of music after burning it onto CDs, just to keep a comfortable amount of free space on my internal hard drive.

(One of those humorous laws of human behavior – I forget which one it is – notes that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. I guess that’s true. I guess whiteray’s corollary to that law says: Music always expands to fill the space allotted to it. And thank goodness it does!)

Here are fifteen random stops from the years 1950-1999:

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard
“Traveling Blues” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Think It Over” by Buddy Holly from The Buddy Holly Story, 1959

“ABC” by the Jackson Five, Motown single 1163, 1970

“Run Through The Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 641, 1970

“Payday” by Mississippi Heat from Handyman, 1999

“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes from Havin’ A Party With Southside Johnny, 1979

“Don’t Take Away My Heaven” by Aaron Neville from The Grand Tour, 1993

“Day is Done” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. single 7279, 1969

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence, 1966

“Another Lonesome Morning” by the Cox Family from Beyond the City, 1995

“Prayer in Open D” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Let Love Carry You Along” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Cocaine” by J.J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976

“The Rumor” by The Band from Rock of Ages, 1972

“Nitty Gritty Mississippi” by Jim Dickinson from the Crossroads soundtrack, 1986

A few notes on the songs and the artists:

I’ve mentioned Spencer Bohren here before. He’s good, if not all that well-known, and if you like rootsy music – generally far more rootsy than today’s offering of his work – you’d be doing yourself a huge favor if checked him out. Here’s his website.

Mississippi Heat is a group formed in the Chicago in 1992 with the aim of resurrecting the sounds of 1950s Chicago-style blues. Handyman is the fourth of eight albums the group has issued, and it’s representative of the group’s efforts, which are always listenable and sometimes inspired.

Because of their common place of origin and some common personnel, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will forever be linked in the minds of casual listeners with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. All-Music Guide notes that Johnny and the Jukes are more of a “white R&B horn band in the Memphis Stax Records tradition” than anything like the Boss and his band. Still, the influences are there, especially when Springsteen so frequently provided production assistance and material. The track offered here, for instance, came from the pens of Springsteen and one-time Asbury Juke Steve VanZandt.

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is one of the lesser tracks on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence album, an album put together rapidly in the wake of the radio success of the duo’s single, “The Sound of Silence.” Lesser track or not, it’s still one of my favorite tracks on the album, along with “A Most Peculiar Man” and the lovely “Kathy’s Song.”

The Cox Family hails from Louisiana and has been performing since 1976. In 1990, the group came to the attention of Alison Krauss, who brought the group to Rounder Records, for whom the Cox Family recorded a couple of albums. One of those was Beyond the City, with its combination of neo-folk and progressive bluegrass elements. “Another Lonesome Morning” is pretty representative.

When one hears in these days “Cocaine,” J.J, Cale’s cryptic ode to excess, one realizes how greatly the world has changed in twenty-eight years. A great riff, a great song, yet utterly out of synch with the times, one would think. Oh, the activity is still out there, sure, but we act like we don’t notice, and we don’t sing about it anymore. To steal a line from the late – and mourned – Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.

Some Stability & Some John Stewart

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 19, 2007

As I was recording today’s album, I got to thinking about small town living and stability.

The album, John Stewart’s Bombs Away Dream Babies, came out in 1979, and as I pondered the year, I realized that 1979 was the first year since 1972 that I had not moved at least once during the year.

That’s not that unusual for folks in their twenties, I guess. I’ve long been aware of the transient nature my life took later, during the years from 1987 into 1992, a stretch I’ve mentioned here before that saw me move eight times in a little less than five years. What made that stretch stand out, I guess, was that I was in my mid-thirties. The earlier stretch, when I moved nine times during the years from 1973 through 1978, came during my twenties, and neither I nor my family and friends seemed to think there was anything odd about my shifting homes and locales as frequently as I did.

And so stability came to mind when I thought about 1979, living in the same place, with the same neighbors and the same job of being a reporter for a weekly newspaper in a small Minnesota town. Weekly newspapering can be demanding, but the job was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had, covering the news – large events and small – that went on in Monticello and also in the nearby small town of Big Lake. It was hard work, and it frequently ate up more than forty hours of my time in a week, but it was rewarding, too.

As I wrote a little more than two years ago in a “Where are they now and what did they learn here?” column for the Monticello paper, “I learned much during my time there, from my colleagues and from the Monticelloans I wrote about and lived with. I learned about perseverance, about the value of effort and attention to detail, about the worth of belonging to and believing in something greater than one’s self – whether that be a business, a civic organization, a community or the cosmos. I learned that one can overcome setbacks and repair the damage of errors, in work and in life both.”

I was just beginning to realize those things in 1979. Another thing I was continuing to realize – having been with the paper for just more than a year as 1979 dawned – was that reporters at a small town weekly are pretty visible around town. Early on, perhaps a week after I’d gotten to town, I stopped off at a small grocery store on my way home for milk or cigarettes or something. The store was nearly empty, and the proprietor glanced at me as I came up to the counter. He nodded. “You must be the new fellow at the Times,” he said. Startled, I nodded, then introduced myself.

That happened at least five more times in the next four weeks. Eventually, of course, I was no longer the new fellow, but through my entire tenure of nearly six years, wherever I went, I was recognized. That’s typical, as I say, of small towns, and Monticello at the time had a population of about 3,000. It took some time for me to adjust, having come from a city of about 40,000 (and that didn’t include all of the 12,000 students at St.. Cloud State).

So I was settling into small town life in 1979, the year that John Stewart’s “Gold” began to burble from radio speakers, reaching No. 5 in the middle of the year. What else was coming out of the radio on those evenings when my significant other of the time and I sat home on a Saturday evening?

Well, the Bee Gees were still hoofin’, with “Too Much Heaven” hitting the top spot on the charts in January, followed by Rod Stewart’s nadir: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Gloria Gaynor reassured herself and us in “I Will Survive,” and the Doobie Brothers sang “What A Fool Believes.” Later in the year, Donna Summer told us about “Bad Girls” and Anita Ward asked someone to “Ring My Bell.”

Until I turned the pages, checking out 1979, I’d forgotten about The Knack and “My Sharona.” (How soon can I forget again, please?) Robert John got (or stayed, many would say) wimpy as he sang about “Sad Eyes,” and the Eagles hit No. 1 with “Heartache Tonight” at the same time as The Long Run topped the album charts for nine weeks.

And in October, Fleetwood Mac released its long-awaited Tusk, the follow-up album to 1977’s Rumours. Like the earlier album, Tusk was Lindsey Buckingham’s product and carried the sonic marks of his intricate and idiosyncratic production techniques. It was, in fact, a sound similar to the one that Buckingham had provided at mid-year for John Stewart’s Bombs Away Dream Babies.

With Buckingham playing a fair amount of guitar and he and Stevie Nicks providing backing vocals, Stewart’s album sounds a little like a Fleetwood Mac product with Stewart singing lead vocals. If the track “Gold” were not so familiar, allowing a listener to ground him- or herself in Stewart’s identity, listening to the album could be disconcerting.

As it is, however, it’s a pretty good album. Buckingham’s productions have never been anything less than professional, of course. The three singles from the album are nicely done – “Gold,” the lovely “Midnight Wind” (No. 28) and “Lost Her In The Sun” (No. 34) – and Buckingham brings some nice touches to some of the album tracks. Those that stand out particularly for me are “Somewhere Down The Line,” with its kalimba, and the driving “The Spinning Of The World.”

I’ve included in the zip file the single edit of “Midnight Wind.” There are a few pops throughout the album, but I think it’s listenable.

Tracks:
Gold
Lost Her In The Sun
Runaway Fool Of Love
Somewhere Down The Line
Midnight Wind
Over The Hill
The Spinning Of The World
Comin’ Out Of Nowhere
Hand Your Heart To The Wind
Heart Of The Dream
Midnight Wind single edit (RSO single 1000)

John Stewart – Bombs Away Dream Babies [1979]

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone

May 20, 2011

Originally posted November 14, 2007

Everyone – more than once in their working lives, I imagine – has had a job assignment during which they look at their co-workers and ask, “Why are we doing this?”

And the answer comes back, “Because the boss wants it done.”

My first brush with that sort of assignment came mid-way through college, during the spring and summer of 1973. I’d been working at the St. Cloud State library – called the Learning Resources Center – since the fall before. I generally worked in the equipment distribution center on the first floor, but during breaks, I was often handed special assignments.

On the first Monday of spring break, my dad – the Assistant Dean of Learning Resources – assigned one of those special tasks to me and another student, a project on which we would spend our time for a week and a half. Dad showed us a reel-to reel videotape recorder (the height of technology in 1973). In particular, he pointed out the two-inch yellow letters that said “LRS,” letters that had been spray-painted on the recorder in the library’s receiving room and which stood for “Learning Resources Services.”

Dad handed us boxes of spray paint, nine cans of black and nine of white, and we each got two stencils – one of a rectangle about five inches wide and a little more than two inches high, and the other of the letters “LRS” about an inch high. Our job, he told us, was to go out on to the campus and systematically find every piece of equipment that belonged to Learning Resources: video recorders, television monitors, film projectors, slide projectors, tape recorders, record players, wheeled carts and more. On every piece of equipment we found, we were to paint a black rectangle over the two-inch yellow letters and then, when the black paint had dried, paint in white on the rectangle the smaller “LRS” in white.

We stared at him, probably with the look of people who have been smacked in the foreheads with billy clubs. As I processed the idea of what we had been assigned to do, two things came to mind. First, I had no idea how many pieces of audio-visual equipment there were on campus, but it was a lot. (Actually, it was about 17,000, as I learned two years later when my friend Murl and I headed up a campus-wide inventory during the summer we moved the house.) Second, as the scope of the project set in, the question “Why?” came to mind.

Dad had anticipated the realization and the question. He suggested we start with Stewart Hall, one of the main classroom buildings on campus, and then he said, “There is a lot of stuff out there, but you should be able to get to it all during the summer.”

I nodded, still a little stunned. “But why?” I finally asked.

He hesitated, chewed his cheek a little. “Because the dean wants it done,” he finally said. “So you’d better head to Stewart Hall.”

At home that evening, Dad told me that the dean had never liked the yellow color used to mark Learning Resources’ equipment, a hue in use for the three years the department had been in its new building. And, Dad said, the dean – a long-time family friend – had never cared for the font used for the stencil for those two-inch high letters. “He thinks the letters look ugly,” Dad said, shaking his head a little.

I offered the opinion that a black five-inch by two-inch box with smaller white letters would look pretty ugly, too, and Dad nodded. “Sometimes,” he told me, “you just do what the boss wants you to do, even if it doesn’t make sense.”

So for that spring break and then for twenty hours a week that summer, my colleague and I – augmented once the summer sessions started with a few other workers – worked our way across campus, poking our heads into classrooms, rummaging through closets in departmental offices and asking secretaries to let us into faculty offices, seeking out and painting over those yellow letters wherever we could find them. It wasn’t awful work, except when we had to work in smaller closets and the paint fumes got a bit thick. And the fellow I was working with – whose name has disappeared in the fog of years – was pleasant enough, a music fan like me, so we passed a lot of the time with good conversation.

One day during spring break, we decided to head to a local drive-in to grab some burgers for lunch and then head to his place, as he had an album he wanted me to hear. So as we ate, he cued up a song, and I heard one of the best things I’d heard in a long time, by a duo that was completely new to me. It was Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone,” off of their album, Abandoned Luncheonette. I loved it.

“A friend of mine told me about it,” my co-worker told me, “and it took me a long time to find the record. It’s pretty obscure.”

That wouldn’t be the case for long. In 1974, “She’s Gone” was released as a single and only reached No. 60, but in 1976, a re-released “She’s Gone” would go to No. 7, and Abandoned Luncheonette would find its way to No. 33 on the album chart, launching Hall & Oates’ long stay in the spotlight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone
“She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973

“Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969

“Real Real Gone” by Van Morrison from Enlightenment, 1990

“Goin’ Gone” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“My Baby’s Gone” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, Juneteenth Festival, Houston, Texas, June 19, 1979

“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” by Arlo Guthrie from Precious Friend, 1982

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66133, 1965

“Gone Again” by Fred Neil from Bleecker & MacDougal, 1965

“Going, Going, Gone” by Bob Dylan from Planet Waves, 1974

“Now You’re Gone” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs, 1969

“After the Love Is Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 11033, 1979

“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” by Chilliwack. Millennium single 11813, 1981

“Too Soon Gone” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

A few notes on some of the songs:

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone” may be the best song on this list. The eerie and foreboding piece was David Crosby’s reaction to the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy.

My, but Lou Ann Barton can sing. And with Stevie Ray Vaughan helping, her 1979 rendition of “My Baby’s Gone” becomes downright incendiary. Three years later, Barton headed to Muscle Shoals to record her first album, one of only five she’s released, including a 1990 CD recorded with Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli. Any of them are worth seeking out.

Fred Neil was one of the more gifted songwriters and performers in the Greenwich Village scene during the early to mid-1960s, but his greatest claim to fame is the authorship of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” used as a theme in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. Never a prolific artist, Neil retreated to Florida in the late 1960s and released only a live album in 1971 after that. He died of cancer in 2001. All-Music Guide calls the album Bleeker & MacDougal “one of the best efforts from the era in which folk was just beginning its transition to folk-rock.”

“Going, Going, Gone” is one of the better moments from Dylan’s Planet Waves album, the first release that had Dylan backed by The Band. (The double album The Basement Tapes, compiled from recordings done during the mid-1960s in Woodstock, New York, would come out in 1975.) Planet Waves is a muted album, showing none of the fiery interplay that listeners anticipated in a record released just ahead of Dylan’s 1974 tour with The Band, his first tour in some years. (The fiery interplay showed itself on the tour, as a listen to Before the Floor will bear out.)

Jericho was the first album released in the 1990s after Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson reconstituted the band with some new players. The abject “Too Soon Gone,” written by Jules Shear and Stan Szelest, is almost certainly a meditation on the 1989 suicide of original member Richard Manuel.

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1979

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 14, 2007

When I think back on it, 1979 is another one of those years that kind of blurs around the edges. I was living in Monticello, working at the newspaper there. I was telling stories, finding news, paying bills and building a life. The fact that the life I was building came undone a few years later doesn’t negate the effort or the time invested, or the results at the time.

It was a pretty good time, as I loved what I was doing. But it was a time that – looking back – is indistinct, as if I’m trying to view it through thick glass. A couple of things, work- and news-related, do stand out. Monticello is home to one of the two nuclear power plants in Minnesota, and when one of the two reactors at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant had a partial meltdown that spring, we were presented with our lead story for the next week: How did it happen? Could it happen to the plant here? How does the safety record of the company in Pennsylvania compare to that of the company here? Does the accident make people here more uneasy about nuclear power? And so on.

It was a hard issue to deal with, one that requires a reporter not only to understand a complex technology but also to be able to explain it to his readers in a way that’s easy to read and understand. There’s a thin reporting line between being technically obtuse and condescendingly simple, and that was one of the times when that line was difficult to find. But it was fun.

Fun? It was fun reporting on an accident that – had things gone only a little bit differently in Pennsylvania – could easily have killed or hurt a lot of people?

Well, yeah. Reporting can be an odd business, and I suppose the people who get into it might be – many of them, anyway – a little odd as well. There is a rush that comes along with a big story. Now, I was far removed from Pennsylvania, but it was still a kick to go out and gather and collate and present information about those major events and how they affected those of us in our area. There was a little extra adrenaline rush that week as I and the other members of our small news staff put together several stories about Three Mile Island for the next week’s edition.

That adrenaline rush is a hard thing to explain, except to another reporter/news junkie, and then it needs no explaining. When big things happen, when we cover major stuff, we reporters operate in kind of a duality. In the spring of 1990, when I was editing two weekly newspapers in rural Kansas, a string of tornadoes ripped through our coverage area one night. The next day, I drove from town to town, farm to farm, interviewing people about their fears during the night and seeing their grief in the daylight. I was kind, I was gentle, and the larger part of me, as I recorded their losses and their tears, grieved with them; they were my neighbors. But there was that part of me – and every reporter knows this portion – that was thinking, as I aimed the camera or asked the next question, “Man, what a great story!”

That adrenaline rush was there as I reported and wrote about nuclear power in the spring of 1979, and it was there later that year as truckers around the state, fed up with rising fuel prices, threatened a strike. Our photographer and I, trying to find more truckers to talk to, found ourselves in the midst of a convoy heading down a freeway toward a truckers’ meeting, a meeting at which it was made clear – with many angry faces and a few threats – that we were not welcome. We left, and later that day, as I filled my car at one of the local stations, I sympathized with the truckers. After all, I was paying 79 cents a gallon for gas, and at the time, that was a high price.

It’s not often that the life of a small town intersects with larger events that capture the attention of a state, a nation, the world. Reporters always look for those connections, for they make it easier to tell the stories of all our lives. Reporters, after all, are storytellers

And here are some songs from that year, 1979, when the stories that I told included nuclear power gone wrong and anger on truckers’ faces.

“Sign on the Window” by Jennifer Warnes from Shot Through The Heart

“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman, RSO single 917

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan from Slow Train Coming

“Rise” by Herb Alpert from Rise

“Look Out” by Albert King from Live Wire: Blues Power

“Run for Home” by Lindisfarne from Back and Fourth

“Last Train To London” by Electric Light Orchestra from Discovery

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into the Music

“Half the Way” by Crystal Gayle, Columbia single 11087

“That’s All Right Mama” by Rick Nelson, unreleased remix from Memphis sessions

“Need Your Love So Bad” by the Allman Brothers Band from Enlightened Rogues

“Don’t Cry Sister” by J. J. Cale from 5

A few notes about the songs:

Jennifer Warnes “Sign on the Window” is to my mind one of the finest interpretations of a Bob Dylan song available. The single from Shot Through The Heart was “I Know A Heartache When I See One,” which hit No. 19 on the Top 40 chart and the Top Ten on the country charts. The album didn’t sell well, despite the hot single and strong performances on other cuts, and, according to All-Music Guide, Warnes didn’t release any new material until Famous Blue Raincoat, an album of Leonard Cohen songs, came out in 1987. That was also the year, of course, when Warnes and Bill Medley had a No. 1 hit with “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the film Dirty Dancing.

“Stumblin’ In” was a piece of fluff from Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman that completed the destruction of Quatro’s credibility as a rocker, a process that had begun when she took the role of Leather Tuscadero on the ABC comedy Happy Days two years earlier. I’m not sure how much of a rocker she actually was, although some of her stuff seemed to have some nice crunchy power chords. Anyway, fluff can be successful, and “Stumblin’ In” reached No. 4 early in 1979.

“Gotta Serve Somebody” is what happened when Bob Dylan got religion and believed once again in his songs as agents of change. From the first of Dylan’s three so-called Christian albums (the others were Saved and Shot of Love), “Gotta Serve Somebody” – and the entire Slow Train Coming album, for that matter – also shows what happens when a performer works with a strong cast. In this case, Dylan went to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, brought along Mark Knopfler, bassist Tim Drummond and drummer Pick Withers, and used Barry Beckett on keyboards and the Muscle Shoals Horns.

Herb Alpert’s Rise came out of sessions that were originally intended to present the trumpeter in a disco context. Those sessions did not work – a fact for which I, for one, am grateful – and Alpert turned to other work. The edited version of “Rise” was No. 1 for two weeks that August.

Probably the least-known group or performer on today’s list is Lindisfarne, a British folk-rock group that had several well-regarded albums in the first half of the Seventies. Back and Fourth was the group’s first album on Atco, after time spent at other labels, notably Elektra. It’s a not-bad album, but it doesn’t have quite the British character that informed the group’s earlier albums, especially Fog On The Tyne and Nicely Out Of Tune. AMG says “Run For Home” is “Springsteen-like” and received some FM airplay in the U.S. likely because of that. I don’t recall hearing it back then, but I like the song.

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!