Archive for the ‘1983’ Category

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.

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Saturday Singles Nos. 124, 125 & 126

June 1, 2012

Originally posted April 18, 2009

Last week, as I began to look at the records I’ve purchased in April over the years, we got as far as 1989, when I was beginning to pack up after two years of teaching at Minot State University. A year later, in April of 1990, I moved from Minnesota to a Kansas hamlet, where a lady friend waited. I bought no records in April of 1990, and in July of that year, I moved from that small town in Kansas to Columbia, Missouri, to teach once more.

In the spring of 1991, the staff at the student radio station at Stephens College finished cleaning off its shelves. I’d gotten quite a few records in March; my April haul that month was minimal. I brought home some Jake Holmes, some Ides of March, a couple albums by the Sutherland Brothers and the Balkan Rhythm Band’s album The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around! I got a Barbra Streisand album at a garage sale and went to one of Columbia’s downtown emporiums to get the new Ryko release – on translucent green vinyl – of Ringo Starr’s first tour in 1989 with his All-Starr Band.

In August of 1991, it was back to Minnesota and to journalism, as I took a job in Eden Prairie, one of the Twin Cities’ southwestern suburbs, and I found an apartment in a northwestern suburb, leaving me with a twenty-mile commute through some of the thickest traffic in the Twin Cities. I liked my job, but I didn’t care for much else that was going on, and – and I find this remarkable – I didn’t buy a record from the end of July 1991, just before I left Columbia, until April of 1992, when I moved to Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, five blocks from Cheapo’s.

In the first days of that April, a garage sale brought me a local gospel album by the Greater Sabathani Baptist Church Mass Choir, and later that week, on my first visit to Cheapo’s, I picked up Bruce Springsteen’s pair of new releases, Lucky Town and Human Touch. As the month wore on, I found Jesse Winchester, Dobie Gray’s Drift Away and Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Dancer With Bruised Knees. In retrospect, that month’s purchases seem tentative. By the time April danced around again, I’d added more than a hundred and seven LPs to the stacks. (More likely to the growing collection of crates on the floor of my small apartment, as the big shelves themselves were beginning to be filled.)

Looking at the LP log this morning, I see a pattern I’d never noticed before, one for which I have no explanation. In the early 1990s, I bought lots of records during summer, fall and winter, and then – even living so close to Cheapo’s – my purchases tailed off in spring. The only reason I can think of is that, as a reporter whose work was tied closely to goings-on in the schools, spring was a busier season than the others. But April 1993 found me bringing home only three LPs: one by Billy Ocean, one by Sade and one by James Taylor. In April 1994, it was one album each by the Crystals, Boz Scaggs and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. In April 1995, it was one Eric Clapton album and one by Minnie Riperton. In April 1996, the month when I left journalism and began a two-and-a-half-year period of scuffling, I got LPs by Ringo Starr, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Hurricane Smith.

Cheapo’s moved eight blocks further away. My car died. I used my 1965 Schwinn to get around the neighborhood, and I rode Metro buses to get to my long-term temp jobs downtown. And I began to get real serious about buying records, as music seemed like the only thing at the time that was helping me maintain my equilibrium. Eleven LPs in April of 1997, starting with The Best of Delaney & Bonnie and ending with the O’Jays’ Collectors Items. April of 1998 brought me twenty-five LPs: The first was Muddy Waters’ Rolling Stone collection, the last was Cris Williamson’s Blue Rider, and the most interesting was likely Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns: The Imperial Sides 1960-61.

In April 1999, during the last spring I was within biking distance of Cheapo’s, I brought home fifty-seven records. The first was Cold Blood’s Thriller! The last was Jim Horn’s Neon Nights. And the most interesting? Probably Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, the 1987 LP that followed in the path of the Nonesuch Explorer series, delving – for three more albums on vinyl and CD – into the odd, dissonant and compelling choral music of Bulgaria.

Fifty-seven records in one April. I don’t know if that’s a record for an entire month. I imagine we’ll find out as we go through the log month-by-month. I do know that come the next April, in early 2000, I was no longer in the workforce, I was seven miles further from Cheapo’s (though there were used record stores near where I lived, just none nearly as good), and, having gone online and digital, I was thinking a lot about CDs.

I bought two records in April 2000: the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing (to replace a damaged copy I’d had for years) and an anthology titled Guys With Soul Are The Greatest. In April 2001, I bought a sealed copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Live In New York City. And in 2002, I brought home an anthology of blues artists who recorded for Atlantic Records in the 1950 and 1960s.

By this time, the Texas Gal and I were in the ’burbs, planning our retreat to St. Cloud, and the majority of my record-shopping was done online. In April 2003, I got Eric Burdon Declares “War” and Johnny Jenkins’ marvelous Ton Ton Macoute!, some of which is laid on instrumental tracks that were intended for a Duane Allman solo album. By the time we got to St. Cloud, even online purchases were infrequent, and most of my vinyl hunting came at the occasional garage sale. April 2004 brought me two Steve Forbert LPs at a garage sale, and April 2007 brought me Shawn Phillips’ Collaboration (such a quiet album that I’ve never found a worthwhile vinyl copy although I’ve purchased maybe ten of them) and Jeannie C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. And last April, in a store I’d not seen before, tucked into a strip mall behind Red Lobster, I found R.B. Greaves and Very Extremely Dangerous by Muscle Shoals guitar stalwart Eddie Hinton.

Given such a mishmash of possibilities, I’ve decided to share three songs this morning. So, from vinyl ranging from near-pristine to well-used, here are your Saturday Singles:

“Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” by R.B. Greaves from R.B. Greaves [1969]

“Karlov’s Gankino” by the Balkan Rhythm Band from The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around! [1983]

“Down Along The Cove” by Johnny Jenkins (with Duane Allman et al.) from Ton Ton Macoute! [1970]

Our Pictures Tell Our Stories

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 27, 2009

One of the things my sister and her family gave our mother for Christmas in December was a digital picture frame. Now at home on Mom’s dresser, its memory is loaded with pictures of our family, of Mom and Dad and of Mom’s family, going all the way back to the day her parents were married in 1915.

The selection of photos available to my sister was a little limited. Not that we don’t have family photos. We have a lot of them. One of the most pervasive mental images I have of my childhood is Dad aiming his camera during family gatherings, on vacation, or simply to record daily life. Every September, from the day my sister started kindergarten in 1955 until the day I started my last full year of college in 1975, he took pictures of us as we headed off for the first day of school. Early on, he used a Kodak 35mm camera; in the late 1960s, he got a Minolta single-lens reflex 35mm, and year after year, he took pictures.

But the vast majority of our pictures – from the time before my sister and I were born until the last years of Dad’s life – are on slides.

So one of the other gifts my sister and her family gave Mom last Christmas was a scanner that digitizes slides. My sister thought that we could dig into the boxes of slides and find some that Mom would want to display on her digital picture frame. Mom, of course, doesn’t have a computer. I do, and the minor task of learning how to use the scanner has fallen to me. So now that spring is here, Mom and I will head up to the storage unit in Sartell and see what we find.

But beyond finding pictures for Mom to display, my sister and I decided that it would be a good thing to digitize all of the family slides. The task is daunting: Dad put about half of his slides in special storage boxes; the rest remain in the little yellow boxes that came from Dan Marsh Drug, where we took our film for years. I’m guessing that there are thirty special storage boxes each holding at least 120 slides and about as many slides in the yellow boxes as there are in the special boxes. My basic math tells me that’s an estimated total of 7,200 slides. Many haven’t been looked at in years.

That wasn’t always the case. Every once in a while on a Sunday evening, Dad would put up the screen and get out his old Argus projector and we’d look at slides: birthdays and Christmases, family reunions and picnics, backyard silliness and flower gardens. And we’d see portraits and snapshots of my mom’s folks, and all of our aunts and uncles and cousins, many of whom are long gone now. I’ll see all of those and more as I convert those slides to digital files: Our family’s history.

We’ll soon go up to Sartell and get the first boxes of slides, and I will begin saving those pieces of history. But I needed to learn to use the scanner, and I needed as well to convert to digital files the slides I took during my long-ago college year away. So I’ve been practicing both conversion and editing. And here are two thirty-five year old photos: One of a twenty-year-old whiteray, snapped by an obliging Swede in Stockholm, and one of the many I took during my visit to Stonehenge.

A Six-Pack of Pictures
“Every Picture Tells A Story” by Rod Stewart from Every Picture Tells A Story, 1971
“Take Another Picture” by Quarterflash from Take Another Picture, 1983
“Picture Book” by Simply Red from Picture Book, 1985
“This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)” by Peter Gabriel from So, 1986
“All the Pictures on the Wall” by Paul Weller from Wild Wood, 1993
“Pictures of You” by the Cure from Disintegration, 1989

Bonus Track
“Photograph” by Ringo Starr, Apple 1865, 1973

Three of the albums from which these tracks come would rank fairly high in any all-time list I put together, certainly in the top one hundred, I think. (And that’s pretty high, considering.). Those three are Every Picture Tells A Story, So and Disintegration. (I think Wild Wood may rank that highly in time, but I’m still taking that one in and haven’t made my mind up yet.)

As to Quarterflash and Simply Red, well, the albums are good ones but ultimately less than great. Still, both albums provide good listening. I’m particularly struck by how well the music of Quarterflash has aged, from the radio-friendly 1981 single “Harden My Heart” onward. Of course, the defining sound of the group, for the most part, was Rindy Ross’ saxophone, and I’m a sucker for a good sax break.

What’s most interesting to me about this list of tunes is that five of them come from well beyond the spread of years where I find most of the music I offer. That might mean my horizons are being broadened through the give and take in conversation and sounds that occurs in the blogging community. Or is just might mean that there weren’t very many good songs about pictures in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (And I don’t think that was the case.)

The best thing here? The Cure’s shimmering “Pictures of You,” without a doubt. The most inscrutable? Peter Gabriel’s “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds).”

I threw the bonus track in at the last moment because it fit the theme, because it’s a marvelous piece of pop-rock, and because it gives me another chance to listen to Bobby Keys (credited this time as “Keyes”) play saxophone.

(I said in yesterday’s post that I’d share some music from 1974 today. I decided to go with the theme instead of the year, but one day very soon, I’ll have a tale from 1974 and will dip into a Billboard Hot 100 from that time.)

Johnny & Joni, Big Country & Bob

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 15, 2009

As I generally do on Thursdays, I went looking around YouTube with the past few posts in mind. I found a number of nice videos of performance of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” but I couldn’t find the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell performance. I did find a nice one by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell (even missing the first few seconds and mistitled though it is, as “Girl of the North Country”). It’s from an episode of The Johnny Cash Show, which ran on ABC from June 1969 through March 1971.

So when did this happen? According to the Internet Movie Database index of Cash’s show, Mitchell performed on the Cash show three times, including the first episode on June 7, 1969 (when Cash and Bob Dylan performed “Girl From The North Country”). Her third appearance, on October 7, 1970, was the date that she and Cash performed the song, IMDB says.

Here’s what I assume is the video for Big Country’s “In A Big Country” from 1983. (I don’t recall seeing the video on MTV at the time, so I’m not certain.)

Video deleted.

And here’s a 1964 performance by Bob Dylan of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” from the Steve Allen Show.

For tomorrow’s post, I think I’ll have the Texas Gal pull three records at random from the box of 45s that sits on the floor near my desk. That will be Grab Bag No. 3.

Caught Unawares By The Chill

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 21, 2008

The weatherfolk on television and radio tell us that this isn’t the real beginning of winter’s cold creep. The temperatures this weekend, they say, will reach into the mid-thirties. But today is a chill preview of what will eventually come and stay with us for a while.

When I turned on the computer this morning, my little WeatherBug told me enough: The temperature outside was 3 Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius). Most mornings, I’m able to stay inside and sip a cup of coffee while the outside world stretches and limbers its muscles. This morning, I was due at the doctor’s office (they drew blood for tests in advance of my annual physical next week; no biggie) at 7:50. So I bundled up and headed across town, then stopped on my way home at Tom’s Barbershop and the grocery store.

This is Minnesota. I’ve lived here most of my life, and it’s going to be cold. I know that. But it seems like every year that first blast of Arctic air catches us by surprise and we do a double take when we look at the temperature reading on that first frigid morning. It doesn’t take us more than a couple of days to readjust, and by the time January brings with it temperatures that can slide to -30 F or colder, we’re almost blasé.

But that first frozen day, like today, still seems to catch us unawares.

A Six-Pack of Cold
“Cold, Cold, Cold” by Dr. John from In The Right Place, 1973

“Cold Lady” by Humble Pie from Town and Country, 1969

“Cold Winter’s Day” by the BoDeans from Go Slow Down, 1993

“Until I’m Dead and Cold” by B.B. King from Indianola Mississippi Seeds, 1970

“Cold Missouri Waters” by Cry Cry Cry from Cry Cry Cry, 1998

“It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” by the Moody Blues from The Present, 1983

A few notes:

Some years ago, I read in one of the many books of album reviews I’ve scanned that the first two Humble Pie albums – As Safe as Yesterday Is and Town and Country – had an ambience not unlike that of The Band’s first albums. Being an easy sell, I wandered down to the record store and dug through the used albums in the “H” bin. Having brought the two albums home and listened to them, I wasn’t altogether certain that the review was right. But the albums were pretty good, and I hung on to them. Of the two, I think Town and Country is the better album, and “Cold Lady” is one of its better tracks.

For a long time, the only thing I knew about the BoDeans was that they came from Wisconsin (Waukesha, not far west of Milwaukee) and that they sang “Good Things,” a live version of which got an incredible amount of airplay in the early 1990s on Cities 97 in the Twin Cities. Over the past eight years or so – late, but at least I got there – I’ve explored the band’s catalog, and I quite like it. “Cold Winter’s Day” is a pretty good track.

Speaking of having to catch up, the Moody Blues somehow released an album in 1983 that I missed entirely at the time. I think a lot of people did. The Present is not one of the group’s better albums, and listeners seemed to know that. Its predecessor, Long Distance Voyager, was No. 1 for three weeks during a twenty-three-week stay in the Top 40, and its successor, The Other Side of Life, went to No. 9 during its twenty-two weeks in the Top 40. The Present was in the chart for only six weeks and went to No. 26. “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” is the most memorable song on the album.

Cry Cry Cry was a one-shot release by a trio of contemporary folk artists: Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell. It’s quite a nice album.

Is ‘Too Big To Fail’ Too Big To Exist?

September 26, 2011

Originally posted November 12, 2008

“You’d be surprised with the friends you can buy with small change.” – J. J. Cale

I thought it was worth a few sardonic chuckles during the recent presidential campaign when Joe the Plumber (whose name was not really Joe and who wasn’t a licensed plumber anyway, as I understand it) and other folks on one end of the political spectrum were warning us about the dangers of socialism.

At the very moments we were all being warned about how some folks wanted government to take over our economic futures, our government was already taking over our economic futures. Call it loans, equity positions, shares, bailouts, hot fudge sundaes, whatever you want. The federal government’s intrusion into the private sector – is there really a private sector anymore? – is about as huge as it’s ever been.

I’m not an economist. I’m not a historian. I do read a lot and think at least a little. And as I see corporations continue to line up for government help with their designer hats in their hands, I begin to wonder a few things: First, will that assistance do any good in minimizing the effect of the economic crash that appears to be headed our way? Second, will there be similar assistance for the folks whose assets and liabilities total a lot less but whose economic straits are just as severe (in other words, regular folks, however you want to define them)? And third – and this might be the most important question of the three, rhetorical though it is: If an economic entity can be tagged as “too big to be allowed to fail” because of the damage its failure can do, shouldn’t that be a signal that it’s too big to be allowed to exist in the first place?

I’m not sure about any of that, honestly. I’m just throwing questions out. As the autumn has gone on, I – just like anyone else, I imagine – have absorbed the economic news and tried to learn more. For whatever value the observation may have, I find myself nodding in agreement more and more to the thoughts and writings of two specific individuals whose commentary I read regularly: Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek (and now CNN, too)* and Paul Krugman of Princeton University and the New York Times.

Here’s some music that’s somewhat related to the topic at hand:

“Pawnshop Man” by Copperhead [1973]

“Cash on the Barrelhead” by Joe Nichols & Rhonda Vincent [2003]

“Money Talks” by J. J. Cale with Christine Lakeland [1983]

According to the blog Orexis of Death, Copperhead was a band organized by guitarist John Cipollina after he left Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1970. The group “was signed to a major-label record deal by Clive Davis at Columbia and recorded its debut album, Copperhead, released in the spring of 1973. Unfortunately, Davis was fired from Columbia shortly after the album’s release, an action that doomed any developing band that had been signed under his aegis. The album went nowhere, and when Columbia refused to release their [sic] second album, Copperhead folded.” I like the album, especially “Pawnshop Man,” a lot.

The Joe Nichols/Rhonda Vincent track comes from Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers, a 2003 release that’s well worth picking up

The Cale track comes from Cale’s 1983 album, 8.

*In 2010, Zakaria left Newsweek and became the editor-at-large of Time magazine. Note added September 26, 2011.

Cafferty Twice & Dexys Midnight Runners

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 10, 2008

There’s absolutely no problem finding videos for songs that came out in 1983, of course. With MTV having started up in 1981, every performer and group had learned or was learning that video production was one more tool in the promotion of songs and self.

I got cable television for the first time in late 1983, and I spent some time watching MTV. The two videos I remember most clearly are the Cars’ “You Might Think” and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” with Christie Brinkley dancing in front of the auto shop. I don’t recall seeing the three videos I’m presenting here today.

First, here’s John Cafferty and the Brown Beaver Band, with “Dark Side” from the movie Eddie and the Cruisers.

And since it was on the same page and so easy to find – as well as a decent song – here’s Cafferty and the boys doing “Tender Years,” also from Eddie and the Cruisers.

After that, I looked at a couple of things: videos for “Love is the Law” by the Suburbs and for “Poison Arrow” by ABC. I found some concert videos of Leo Kottke that were interesting. Finally, I decided to search for Dexys Midnight Runners. Here’s the video for “Come On, Eileen.”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 9, 2008

A year or so back, I wrote about my first working summer, the summer I ended up cleaning and waxing floors with Mike and learning, along the way, to use one of those rotary floor scrubbers and polishers.

I saw a fellow using one of them somewhere the other day – I’ve wracked my brain and cannot remember where – and it brought me back to that summer. It also reminded me of a day in the autumn of 1983, not long after I’d started graduate school.

At the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, there is a covered walkway between Neff Hall and the building that houses the Columbia Missourian, the newspaper written by students and edited by teachers and graduate students. As I came through the walkway one autumn morning, I saw one of the maintenance men, an older fellow whose name I sadly do not recall, using a floor polisher with streams of students walking past him.

Sympathizing, I said to him, as the flow of students clogged, “Kind of hard to hit all the spots with all this traffic, isn’t it?”

He thought I was being critical. He stopped the machine and spun the handles toward me. “You wanna give it a try?”

I thought about trying to explain what I had meant and decided that wouldn’t work. So I shrugged and handed him my briefcase. I grabbed the handles, reminded myself – after twelve years – what it would feel like. I glanced over at the janitor, who was looking at me with a gleam of anticipation in his eye.

I squeezed the handles, and the polisher pulled me slightly to the right. I adjusted the weight, and – it came back to me in an instant – began polishing the floor right next to where he’d been working. Push forward slightly and go one way, pull back a little and go the other way.

The janitor smiled wryly and chewed his cheek. “You’ve done that before,” he said.

I nodded. “That’s one of the ways I got through my undergraduate years,” I told him.

I stopped the machine and took my briefcase, and he resumed polishing the floor. I spent another fifteen months taking classes at Mizzou, and every time I saw him from then on, he shot me a wink and a smile.

And here’s some of the music that I might have heard that evening when I was doing janitorial duties in my own home.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2
“Love Is The Law” by the Suburbs from Love Is The Law

“Easy Money” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man

“Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran, Harvest single 5195

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA single 52316

“Rings” by Leo Kottke from Time Step

“Murder By Numbers” by the Police from Synchronicity

“Oh, What A Night” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart in 17 Places

“Finally Found A Home” by Huey Lewis & The News from Sports

“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners from Too-Rye-Ay

“On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. single 04594, from the film, Eddie And The Cruisers

“Man of Peace” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Poison Arrow” by ABC, Mercury single 810340

“True” by Spandau Ballet, Chrysalis single 42720

I’ll admit to not knowing a lot of these at the time they came out. I retreated from pop and rock as the Seventies moved into the Eighties, bored for the most part with what I was hearing and thus not keeping up with things as New Wave and Punk wandered into the room. In many ways, I’m in the same circumstance with a lot of the music from that time as I was in 1969, when I began to catch up with the years previous to then. But I have a few thoughts:

I’m still not impressed with Duran Duran. I wasn’t back then, when they were on MTV a lot (those were the years when MTV played music videos almost all the time), and I’m not now. They’re an inescapable part of the Eighties, though, in the same way that, oh, Alice Cooper was in the Seventies. (And I know I’ve offended two sets of fans there. Sorry.)

I’m not sure if one can lump the Suburbs and ABC into the same category, but the songs by those groups here are propulsive and fun (and that last adjective is odd when one considers the topic of ABC’s “Poison Arrow”). Another one of these songs that can be described the same way but is less consciously “New Wave” – if that really means anything – is “Come On, Eileen,” which in its single edit went to No. 1 in early 1983.

I guess “Easy Money” is the place on An Innocent Man where Billy Joel makes his nod toward Stax/Volt or something similar. I don’t know if it works in the context of the album, but hearing the song on its own, well, it just sounds like a mismatch. (The review of the album by Steven Thomas Erlewine at All-Music Guide also gauges the song as a Stax/Volt tribute. Erlewine makes the point that although the bulk of the album is an homage to pre-Beatles pop, Stax/Volt showed up after that time, putting “Easy Money” out of place on the album.)

“Rings” by Leo Kottke is a remake of the 1971 hit by Cymarron, and Kottke comes off pretty well. I almost lost my coffee laughing when I heard Leo sing, “Got Mel Blanc on the radio” instead of “Got James Taylor on the stereo.”

“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Brown Beaver Band is the best non-Springsteen Springsteen ever.

Into The Junkyard On Friday Morning

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2008

I’ve got plenty of things waiting in the pile of music I eventually intend to post here. There’s one last Patti Dahlstrom record, three albums by Redwing, a country-rock group from the Seventies. Bonnie Bramlett, John Stewart. Michael Johnson, Kim Carnes, Gypsy. Malo, Romeo Void, Shawn Phillips and Steve Forbert.

That list could go much longer, as the records line up in the study, patiently waiting to be spun and heard once more. They’ll get their chances, but not today, at least not this morning.

In anticipation of the holiday weekend, the Texas Gal has taken the day off. While she will likely check in with her office via her newly issued laptop sometime during the day, we also plan to spend some time doing nothing together. And to get to that sooner, I won’t be ripping an album this morning or writing anything too deep or detailed.

Instead, here’s a random Walk Through the Junkyard, starting with a group that, surprisingly, has only popped up here three times, once with Bob Dylan.

“Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty, 1970

“Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys, Capitol single 5009, 1963

“Cattle and Cane” by the Go-Betweens from Hollywood, 1983

“A Thousand Miles” by Joy of Cooking from Closer to the Ground, 1971

“Ball of Twine” by Lightning Hopkins, Ash Grove, Hollywood, August 1961

“North Country Blues” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“Rise and Fall” by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band from The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, 1974

“A Sense of Deja Vu” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel, 1975

“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” by Michael McDonald, Warner Bros. single 29933, 1982

“For Your Love” by the Yarbirds, Epic single 9790, 1964

“Wallflower” by Doug Sahm from Doug Sahm and Band, 1973

“To The River” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Crystal” by Buckingham Nicks from Buckingham Nicks, 1973

“I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine, ABC single 12117, from the soundtrack to Nashville, 1976

A few notes:

“Truckin’” was released in two forms – the album version here and a single (Warner Bros. 7464) that ran 3:16, almost two minutes shorter than the album track. Considering the state of radio and the state of the culture at the time, I find it amazing that the single didn’t crack the Top 40, with its loopy and matter-of-fact tale of druggies and narcs, travel and blissful crash-pad paranoia. (When I hear the song, I can’t help flashing to Cheech & Chong a few years later: “Dave’s not here, man.”) All of which proves the truth in the song’s tagline: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

The Go-Betweens were a highly successful band in their native Australia and in Great Britain but were almost unknown in the U.S. during their early 1980s peak period. (The releases from those early years have since been released on CD in the U.S.) “Cattle and Cane” is a ballad with lush moments and an underlying edge that insinuates itself into one’s memory. For me, at least, it’s created an appetite for more.

Bob Dylan’s “North Country Blues” tells a tale of the iron mining milieu in which he grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota (home, for example, to the world’s largest open pit mine, essentially the world’s largest man-made hole in the ground). The song resonates with me, as I still see the occasional news piece about the hard life of mining in the northern part of the state and the hard times that come more and more regularly as the quantity and quality of the ore remaining in the ground continue to diminish.

The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – made up of the criminally ignored country rocker J.D. Souther, Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield – released three pretty good country-rock albums from 1973 to 1977. The self-titled first was likely the best, but the group never seemed to catch the attention of the listening public. All-Music Guide tags the ten songs on the album as a “collection of ten pleasant, if overall unremarkable tunes in the singer/songwriter, country-rock vein.” I think the record is a little better than that.

“For Your Love,” the single that drive Eric Clapton out of the Yardbirds because of its commerciality, is actually a pretty good record; it went to No. 6 in the U.S. No, it’s nowhere near the blues, but it’s a catchy tune, sonically (the lyrics are serviceable but nothing remarkable), and its memory can stay in a listener’s ear for a long time. For me, the song puts me in the halls of my junior high school, which is okay. As far as musical memories go, I’ve had better, but I have certainly had worse, too.

The sessions for Doug Sahm and Band, according to All-Music Guide, were something of a superstar jam session, with lots of famous friends of Sahm’s dropping in to hang out and lend a hand. Sahm, who first came to major public attention as the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1965 (“She’s About A Mover” went to No. 13), was a roots music enthusiast years before roots music (or Americana, if you prefer) was in vogue. Doug Sahm and Band is nothing other than roots music, ca. 1973. And yeah, that’s Bob Dylan on vocals; he wrote the song.

Back in the days when his manager called him Johnny Cougar and the Rolling Stone Record Guide called him “Meat Head” (1983 edition), who’d have thought that John Mellencamp would become an elder statesman of heartland rock? With his Rolling Stones meets Appalachia sound, Mellencamp has turned out a pretty good series of albums in the past twenty years (and some clinkers, too, but that happens in a long career). Human Wheels is a pretty bleak album, but it’s a good one, and “To The River” might be the best song on it.

Nena & Her Balloons

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 1, 2008

Well, I figured out how I thought it was May Day yesterday. I write my posts in a word-processing file, with each new post written at the top of the document, starting just above the date from the previous post.

Sometime in the past four or five days, I’d gotten a day ahead of myself, and yesterday when I sat down to write, I saw the previous day’s post tagged with “April 30, 2008.” So without thinking, I tagged the next post “May 1, 2008.” Oh well.

I was hoping today to find some good video of Jesse Ed Davis. I found a 1968 performance by Taj Mahal with Davis on guitar, but we never see much of him (it’s a great performance by Taj, though.). And there were a few videos of a 1988 concert that ended up with Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, George Harrison and a few other folks on stage, including Jesse. But the cameras understandably didn’t linger too long on Jesse in that company.

So I looked further down the list of yesterday’s Baker’s Dozen. It was easy enough to find the video the German group Nena put together for “99 Red Balloons,” the English version of the German hit song “99 Luftballoons.” The German version reached No. 2 in early 1984 in the U.S. after topping the West German charts in 1983. According to Wikipedia, the German version also went to No. 1 in Australia and New Zealand while the English version reached No. 1 in Great Britain.

And I thought that since I was already digging around in the appropriate places in YouTube, I’d post the video for the German language version of the song.