Archive for the ‘1980’ 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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‘Dance Into May!’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 1, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy May Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

EW&F, ZZ Top & The Band

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 2, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Looking for videos of songs recently posted, the first thing I came across was labeled as a 1975 performance of “Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire:

Here’s a live performance of “La Grange” that ZZ Top evidently did for NBC (probably on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno sometime around 2005 although that date is pretty iffy):

I’m I’m not sure of the date of this next clip, but it’s got to be from sometime in the 1970s. It looks to be the original line-up of The Band – with some help from a few other folks – doing “Rag Mama Rag.” Levon Helm takes up his mandolin and Richard Manuel sits down at the drum kit. I can’t see Rick Danko, but I assume he’s just back in the shadow.*

I think that tomorrow, along with whatever I happen to write about, I’ll begin a series of reposts of albums that people have requested over the past few months. If you’ve asked for one and I don’t get to it during April, send me a gentle reminder. Thanks.

*After I posted this, I got a note from reader Jenaclap telling me what I should have spotted right away: Rick Danko in front on the acoustic guitar. I was too busy looking in the shadows for the bass player. And my dating of the clip was in error as well: The absence of Robbie Robertson (and the presence of other players) means that this clip is from the time of the first reunion of The Band from the early 1980s to 1986, when poor Richard Manuel killed himself. Note added shortly after original posting and revised May 16, 2012.

Edited significantly on archival posting.

The Wail Of The Who Mouse

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 29, 2008

As I sit in my study this morning, the wind is whipping around the northeast corner of the house, triggering a memory that’s not that old.

Before we moved last summer, we lived in an apartment on the southeast corner of the building. During the cold months, the northwest wind would come around the outside corner with a moaning sound, wailing into the night. One evening a few years ago, I made up a tall tale for the Texas Gal about a little mouse who sits on the roof on cold nights and calls out “Whoooo?” No one ever answers, I said, and he spends his winter nights calling out that one forlorn word.

Every couple has its tales, the small stories and inside jokes, the shared catch phrases and taglines, all of which are the common currency of any pairing. The Who Mouse and his plaint has become one of ours. On some chill mornings in other winters, the Texas Gal – who sleeps more lightly than I do – would tell me, “The Who Mouse was out last night.” She’d shake her head, shivering, and murmur, “I don’t like that sound.”

Neither do I. The wail of the wind makes a chilly evening seem colder, and it heightens the desolation that northern winter nights bring with them. But cold and desolation are relative things. Every once in a while during the winter, I think about the people who settled this land a century and a half ago: How did they survive the brutal cold? I shudder at the thought of a winter with no heat except that from a fireplace, and realize once more how fortunate we are.

The new place has a garage on the northwest corner, and the Who Mouse isn’t noticeable on the main floor. But the Texas Gal says he visits the loft, where she does her quilting and other crafts. “I heard him this morning,” she told me a few moments ago. “He was out there.”

A Six-Pack of Who
“Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” by the Main Ingredient from Bitter Sweet, 1972

“Know Who You Are” by Supertramp from Famous Last Words, 1982

“Who’s Gonna Stop Me” by the Delilahs from Delilahs, 1994

“Who Can I Be Now” by David Bowie, unreleased from Young Americans sessions, ca. 1974

“Who’s Making Love” by Mongo Santamaria from Stone Soul, 1969

“Who Will Be The Fool Tonight” by the Larsen-Feiten Band, Warner Bros. 49282, 1980

A few notes:

The Main Ingredient’s Bitter Sweet album was the source for “Everybody Plays The Fool,” the great single that went to No. 3 in the autumn of 1972. The rest of the album, including “Who Can I Turn To,” is pretty good, if not quite as good as the hit. (The inverse was true two years later; Euphrates was a good album, much better to my ears than its hit, “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely.”)

The Delilahs came out of Minnesota at about the same time as the Jayhawks did, offering a similar mix of rock, country and folk. The group was named the Best New Band at the 1994 Minnesota Music Awards and released Delilahs shortly after that. Two more albums followed in 1995, and the group evidently called it a day.

The David Bowie track was included in 1991 on a CD reissue of his Young Americans album and evidently came from the same sessions. I think it’s better than almost anything that was included on the album.

Mongo Santamaria was a Cuban percussionist and bandleader who covered pop, rock and soul songs on a series of fairly popular albums in the late 1960s and on into the 1970s. Those albums were fun, but his earlier, less pop-based, work is maybe a little more challenging but not quite as much fun.

The Larsen-Feiten Band – formed by session musicians Neil Larsen and Buzz Feiten – is a true one-hit wonder. “Who Will Be The Fool Tonight” went to No. 29 during the autumn of 1980 and was the group’s only chart entry. I don’t recall it from the time, but as it played out this morning, I heard echoes of Boz Scaggs’ late 1970s and early 1980s work. All-Music Guide has impressive lists of credits for both Larsen and Feiten as studio musicians. (Thanks to the Dude for this one.)

The Passions, Oliver & Bob

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 11, 2008

Making my normal jaunt through YouTube this morning, I found a few things related to recent posts:

Here’s the video the Passions released for their single “I’m In Love With A German Film Star.” I’d guess it was 1981, a year – if I remember correctly – before MTV came into being.

I couldn’t find a video of Oliver performing “Good Morning Starshine” (I found lots of videos of the record with various visuals, as well as some clips from the 1979 movie Hair but neither of those were quite what I was looking for), but here’s Oliver with a video/performance of his hit “Jean,” which spent two weeks at No. 2 during the early autumn of 1969:

And, reaching back to Tuesday’s post, here’s a live performance by Bob Seger from 1980 at Largo, Maryland, of “Rock And Roll Never Forgets.”

As it happens, embedding of the Seger video has been disabled since I posted it. The video can be viewed here.

Enjoy! Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at a mid-December Billboard Hot 100 from 1971.

Eyes On The TV In The E.R.

August 10, 2011

Originally posted September 15, 2008

I think it’s odd that when you’re lying on a bed in the emergency room, you can watch television.

On the other hand, I’m grateful that there was something – in this case, the fourth quarter of a close football game between Purdue University and the University of Oregon – to keep my attention off what the nurse was doing to my right index finger late Saturday afternoon. The Texas Gal told me to keep watching the game. She said later that the nurse had lifted the flap of skin sliced into my finger just below the nail and was scrubbing energetically with a swab.

“If you’d seen that,” the Texas Gal told me over dinner Saturday – I ate without using my bandaged finger – “it would have hurt no matter how numb your finger was.”

Thanks to an anesthetic, however, my finger was numb. And as Oregon came back from a 20-6 deficit, I kept my eyes on the screen and was thus able to ignore what the nurse was doing to my numb digit. The same held true a little later, when the physician’s assistant was putting in three stitches.

My finger is fine. I’ll have to be careful not to bump the top of it, near the nail, for a while, and I have to put antibiotic cream on it for about a week, and cover it with a bandage if I’m going to be doing something that might get it dirty. But those are annoyances compared to how bad it could have been.

We were hanging the last picture in the living room. Actually, it’s a print of a pioneer map of Minnesota, a print that hung in the basement rec room at Mom and Dad’s for more than thirty years. About six months ago, the Texas Gal and I got a new frame for it, and at about two o’clock Saturday, we decided to hang it on the wall near the front door.

I tied wire onto the frame, hammered a nail with a hook into the wall, and lifted the frame onto the hook. We stood back, agreeing that the print looked good there. We turned away to see what else we needed to do in the living room. There was a “snap,” and we looked toward the couch to see the frame slide down the wall to the floor, where the frame separated. The glass was unbroken and the print intact.

We carefully moved everything to an open spot, and we saw that the wire I’d tied onto the back of the frame had split. The Texas Gal reassembled the frame, and then we tried to slide the glass back in, and at that point, the glass broke into four large pieces. She moved the glass to the side, and we put the print into the frame between two mats and moved the frame to a closet for safekeeping. Then, as the Texas Gal was getting the vacuum cleaner out of another closet, I turned to the glass. Just as she told me to be careful, one of the large pieces of glass shifted and sliced neatly into my right index finger just below the nail.

As soon as I felt it, I headed for the kitchen and bled into paper towels as the Texas Gal got ready to take me to the ER. We got there about three o’clock and were finished by about six. As the nurse directed, the bandage stayed on for twenty-four hours, making things awkward Saturday evening and most of Sunday. But if awkward is the worst I get out of this, I’ll have been very lucky.

Richie Havens – Connections (1980)
It’s been a while since I posted anything by Richie Havens, so I thought I’d dig into the library and see what was there.

I found a rip of Connections, a 1980 album that was Haven’s first release on Elektra/Asylum after a couple of mid-Seventies releases on A&M. Like most singer/songwriters who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Havens’ audience diminished, as listeners followed other trends. That, and other changes, made for tough times, Havens writes in his biography, They Can’t Hide Us Anymore:

“Through most of the 1980s into the mid-1990s, I recorded several albums for a handful of companies and repeatedly found myself up against changes in management, weak distribution, and other problems of the business.

Connections was to be the first of a two-album deal with Elektra-Asylum. But as Yogi Berra is famous for saying, it was ‘déjà vu all over again.’ Just as MGM had done [earlier], Elektra fired most of its employees when the first record was due to come out, including the president. The new people distributed a few token copies to a handful of cities and buried it on the shelf. They didn’t care what was on the record. They didn’t want anything developed by the people they had replaced to do well.

“When something like that happens, there is no recourse—unless you own the label or the masters, which I no longer did. I owned the publishing rights to the songs I wrote, but not the recordings that lay on those shelves, gathering dust.”

I came across Haven’s Connections during my late 1990s explorations into vinyl, buying the first copy I saw of it in February 1999 and liking it so much that I dug around for a second copy, one in better shape, the next month.

Highlights? I love Havens’ version of “Every Night,” the Paul McCartney song that showed up on McCartney in 1970, and his take on Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55” is good, too. More surprising are three other covers: Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” seems as if it would be over-familiar, but Havens brings a subtlety to it that makes one hear it with new ears, as it were. The same is true of his take on Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” which Havens recorded three years before Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton turned it into a sedative that went to No. 6.

The most eye-opening track on Connections, though, might be Havens’ excursion into Stevie Nicks’ territory, covering her “Dreams” (from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours) and making it his own. That shouldn’t be surprising, of course, as he’s done the same thing over and over throughout his career.

Musicians on Connections were:

Jeffrey Baxter, Rick Derringer, Elliot Randell and David Spinoza on guitars; David LeBolt, Richard Tee and Jack Waldman on keyboards; Doug Katsaris on synthesizer; David Woodford on tenor sax; Gloria Agostini on harp; Bob Babbitt and Chuck Rainey on bass; Steve Gadd, Andy Newmark and Allan Schwartzberg on drums; Montego Joe on congas; Michael Olatunji & Co. on percussion; and Lou Christie, Clydie King, Ann Lang, Linda November and Gail Wynters on background vocals.

Tracks:
Mama We’re Gonna Dance
Every Night
You Send Me
We’ve Got Tonight
Ol’ 55
Going Back To My Roots
Dreams
She Touched My Heart
Fire Down Below
Here’s A Song

This rip is one that I found early during my blog explorations, so I don’t know whom to thank.

Richie Havens – Connections [1980]

Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

A Baker’s Dozen From The Movies

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 25, 2008

Every time I watch the Academy Awards – and that’s pretty much every year – I think a little bit about “What if?”

For a brief time in college, I dabbled in film, taking several workshops and classes and hanging around with others who did the same. I wrote a lot of short films, many of them adaptations of short stories, some of them originals. I also wrote some music for film: themes, background music and songs, written with certain projects in mind and then shelved when those projects either didn’t happen or went another way.

I thought I might actually make a living at one of those crafts in the context of filmmaking. And I might have. But I had absolutely no idea how to get from the thought of making a living in film to the actuality. So I never went that direction and became a journalist instead. I still did some other writing, more when I was teaching than when I was working at newspapers, and I still wrote songs and other music from time to time. But the movies and I have never been more than friendly strangers, not the friends I once thought possible.

I don’t regret that my path never went that direction. If it had been intended to be, I would have found my way there. But I admit that once a year, when I watch writers and songwriters collect their cherished statues, I wonder what might have been if I’d had even half a clue about what the first steps in such a path should have been.

A Baker’s Dozen of Songs From Movies
“Between Trains” by Robbie Robertson from The King of Comedy, 1983

“Songs to Aging Children Come” by Tigger Outlaw from Alice’s Restaurant, 1969

“Don’t It Feel Good To Be Free” by Edwin Starr from Hell Up In Harlem, 1974

“We Have All The Time In The World” by Louis Armstrong from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969

“Look What You’ve Done To Me” by Boz Scaggs from Urban Cowboy, 1980

“Love Theme (A Time For Us)” by Nino Rota from Romeo and Juliet, 1967

“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Quicksilver Messenger Service from Revolution, 1968

“Route 66” by Manhattan Transfer from Sharkey’s Machine, 1981

“Nowhere Fast” by Fire, Inc., from Streets of Fire, 1984

“Child of the Universe” by the Byrds from Candy, 1968

“Un Homme et Une Femme (A Man and a Woman)” by Francis Lai from Un Homme et Une Femme, 1966

“The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff from The Harder They Come, 1972

“Midnight Cowboy” by John Barry from Midnight Cowboy, 1969

A few notes:

A recent visitor said that among the lost treasures he’d like to hear were Jennifer Warnes’ deleted album on Reprise and the Robbie Robertson track “Between Trains” from the soundtrack to The King of Comedy. I don’t have any leads on the Warnes album, but as soon as I got the note, I wandered to the shelf where I keep my soundtracks, pulled out The King of Comedy and ripped an mp3 of “Between Trains” from the vinyl. Joining Robertson in the studio were – among others – Richard Manuel on background vocals, Garth Hudson on synthesizer and famed session drummer Jim Keltner. It’s a good track.

Some time ago, I posted Joni Mitchell’s version of her “Songs to Aging Children Come,” noting that it had been performed in the movie Alice’s Restaurant by Tigger Outlaw. I said, “Mitchell’s version – the original – is probably more accomplished, but there is an awkward earnestness in Outlaw’s version that is somehow endearing.” That still holds true, having had Outlaw’s version pop up as I listened to songs from movies last night.

The Hell Up In Harlem soundtrack by Edwin Starr is pretty good, with Starr giving fierce readings of some of the songs from Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell. The gospelly “Don’t It Feel Good To Be Free” was the B side to one of the singles released from the film and was a pretty good track on its own.

The Quicksilver Messenger Service song was one of several rock songs used to back Revolution, a 1968 documentary on the counterculture of the late Sixties. The film’s description at All Movie Guide reads, in part: “Primarily filmed in San Francisco, this documentary features a series of interviews with those who call themselves hippies, or in some way identify with hippies. The countercultural revolution is revealed in discussions about sex, drugs, philosophy and lifestyle. Casual nudity and marijuana use is the main activity of one group. A nun who has left the order reveals her decisions to join the counterculture. Others decry the dehumanization of the modern industrial world, choosing to lead a hand-to-mouth existence. Communal living, psychedelic shows, love-ins and diverse fashion statements accompany the hippies who are many things to many people. All share a feeling of human togetherness and a live-and-let-live philosophy as they cope with the rapidly changing spectrum of social and political events in their lives.” Other groups whose music was used in the film were Country Joe & The Fish, the Steve Miller Band and Mother Earth.

“Nowhere Fast” was one of two Jim Steinman epics in the soundtrack to Streets of Fire, the rock and roll fable that came out in 1984. Overblown and overproduced? Yeah, probably. But I still like it. Every time I hear it, I find myself for a day or two with “Godspeed, godspeed, godspeed, speed us away,” running through my head.

“Child of the Universe” is a decent Byrds track that got swallowed up by the movie Candy, an atrocious 1968 film based on the “erotic” novel of the same title by Terry Southern. The book was one of those passed around surreptitiously in junior high with little notes inside the cover alerting us to the pages that had the hot stuff. The song – written by Dave Grusin – also wound up on the 1969 album Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. The movie, available through at least one standard on-line service, is essentially unwatchable.

John Barry’s instrumental theme to Midnight Cowboy might be the best thing on this list although the preceding track, Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” is a great recording, too, and was, I think, one of the first reggae records to get much attention outside of Jamaica.

From A Muscle To The Junkyard

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 22, 2008

As some cliché writer once said, there’s a first time for everything. I’m still not sold on the “everything” in that, but I do seem to have cataloged a “first time” that I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days, and last evening, while sneezing, I pulled a muscle in my ribcage. I never knew one could do that. But I did, and one of the results is that I’m not very comfortable writing. So I’m not going to do much of that today, beyond a short introduction and some comments about some of the songs that pop up.

Several of the online outlets where I buy CDs have had sales and promotions lately, so there is an appreciable pile of CDs waiting to be logged into our collection here. Most of them are albums from the 1960s and 1970s, as I continue to fill gaps. In an effort to fill one such empty space, I finally picked up last week Wanted, the first album by the country-rock group Mason Proffit. So we’ll start today’s walk through the junkyard with “Two Hangmen,” the Vietnam-era protest song dressed up as a Western morality play. In the year it came out, I used to hear it through whispers of static on KAAY in Little Rock.

A Walk Through the Junkyard
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted, 1969

“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan from The Royal Scam, 1976

“Wolves In The Kitchen” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Hurt So Bad” by El Chicano from Viva Tirado, 1970

“Everything Is Gonna Be OK” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente, 1968

“Stranger Than Dreams” by Lowen & Navarro from Scratch at the Door, 1998

“Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man, 1983

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters, Chess single 1571, 1954

“Poems, Prayers & Promises” by John Denver, RCA single 0445, 1971

“So Easy” by Aztec Two-Step from Aztec Two-Step, 1972

“Love at the Five & Dime” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“That Girl Could Sing” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out, 1980

“One Fine Day” by Carole King, Capitol single 4864, 1980

“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy, 1970

“Moses” by the Navarros, GNP Crescendo single 351, 1965

A few notes:

I’ve learned from conversations and correspondence with radio folks that “Two Hangmen” is one of those songs that brings a buzz when it is aired: The phones light up as listeners have questions, comments and just plain gratitude for being able to hear the song one more time.

Steely Dan’s sound was unique and so consistent from album to album that sometimes the group’s body of work can blend into a whole. While the Dan never released a truly bad album, there were a couple that weren’t as good, and I think The Royal Scam was one of those.

I’m not sure if Lowen & Navarro were as popular elsewhere in the 1990s as they seemed to be in Minnesota. Every two or three months, it seemed, the duo would stop by Cities 97 for a live-in-studio performance. Their acoustic folk-pop was well-done, and I enjoy the couple of CDs I have, but there never seemed to be much change or growth: the songs on 1998’s Scratch at the Door could easily have fit into Walking On A Wire, the duo’s 1991 debut CD.

I have seven LPs and three CDs of Billy Joel’s work in my collection. I’m not sure I need that much. That said, An Innocent Man is a good album, and if “Keeping the Faith” isn’t the best track on the record – I think that title goes to “Uptown Girl” – it’s nevertheless a good one. Maybe someday I’ll write a post examining why I’m not all that fond of Joel and his work, and maybe by the time I’m finished with that post, I’ll understand the ambivalence he brings out in me.

Aztec Two-Step was a folk-rock duo that released four albums during the 1970s and a few more sporadically since then, including 2004’s Days of Horses. Their self-titled debut in 1972 created some buzz, but by the time the duo recorded 1975’s Second Step, folk-rock was falling out of favor. The first album is the best, though all of their work is pleasant.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a Nanci Griffith song among either a Baker’s Dozen or a Junkyard, it almost always has fewer hits than the other tracks posted that day. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Love at the Five & Dime.” I think that if I were to make a list of the one hundred best songs in my mp3 collection – which now numbers around 23,600 – “Love at the Five & Dime” would be one of them. I know that Nanci Griffith is not as well known as other artists whose recordings are posted here. I know that her delivery can be quirky. But the woman can write a song, and this one is most likely her best, from where I listen.

The Carole King track was the single pulled from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King, a 1980 record for which King recorded some of the songs she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin crafted during the Brill Building days in the early 1960s. I’d call the album a must-have.

The Navarros’ “Moses” is not quite a novelty record, but it comes close. I almost skipped over it when it popped up at the tail end this morning, but then I decided it’s a good day for a little bit of a chuckle.