Archive for the ‘1984’ 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.


John, Maurice & Randy Again

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 12, 2009

Off to the movies!

Here’s a clip of the opening sequence to 1964’s Goldfinger, with Shirley Bassey singing the title tune. Released as a single, the song went to No. 8 in early 1965.

And since it was on the same page at YouTube, here’s the opening sequence for 1965’s Thunderball. John Barry’s score for Thunderball was good but not at the level, I think, of Goldfinger. The opening sequence of the film was better, though (and the use of evidently naked women as a motif in the sequence was quite racy in 1965). I’ve never thought much of the title song, but Tom Jones’ single went to No. 25 in early 1966.


Then, here’s the opening sequence for the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago, with Maurice Jarre’s main title track.

Finally, here’s the climactic scene from The Natural, released in 1984. The point I’m making here – if have to make a point; it’s a fun scene to watch no matter what – is to be aware of how Newman’s sonic cues heighten the tension and how his main themes and motifs then lead the viewer through the scene.

One of the seven tracks I posted yesterday – “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” from Goldfinger – disappeared pretty quickly. That soundtrack is again in print on CD and is available here. Five of the other six soundtracks from which I posted single tracks yesterday are also available online. The only one that seems to be out of print is the soundtrack to The Natural.

The Music Behind The Movies

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 11, 2009

My long-time fascination with film soundtracks began – as I shared here in the first few months of this blog – with Goldfinger, the third of the James Bond films. As I wrote, my parents were reluctant at the time – I was eleven – to let me either see the movie or read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. But the soundtrack to Goldfinger was available through our record club, and I spent hours listening to it.

By the time I saw the film, maybe a year later, I practically had the score memorized, and I was fascinated with the way the music enhanced the movie, highlighting passages and underlining transitions. I began to pay close attention to the music whenever I went to a movie.

And I have done so ever since. Sometimes I felt like the only one. “Did you notice the music during the scene when they’re taking the car to Syracuse?” I’d ask my friends over a post-film drink.

“What about it?” one might reply.

“It echoed the main theme and also brought in the theme the composer created for the girl from Jersey.”

“Oh. No, I didn’t really notice.”

I kept listening and buying the occasional soundtrack LP (and later on, CD). My library of them isn’t large – I’ve focused far more over the years on rock, pop and soul – but generally, it’s music I still find interesting. Some of the soundtracks haven’t aged well. I bought the soundtrack to Country, the 1984 film that starred Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley, just days after I saw the film. But the New Age music – the musicians on it recorded frequently for the Windham Hill label – hasn’t worn well, I don’t think. Some others have lasted. And I think those include the three soundtracks that I absolutely love.

The first of those is the first soundtrack I owned: Goldfinger. Written by John Barry, the score for the third of the James Bond films provides a lesson in contrasts, from the blare and rumble of the main title to the insistent music that accompanied the film’s dawn raid on Fort Knox, followed by the hushed background to the arrival of a nuclear weapon before the pounding countdown begins. Matching the music, which I knew well, to the action on the screen was like reading a primer in film-scoring.

(I dabbled with the idea of scoring and soundtrack work as a career, but nothing came of it except a deeper love for the craft.)

The second of my three favorite soundtracks is Bill Conti’s work for Rocky, the first in what became a ridiculous series of films. Conti’s use of repeated motifs, often identified with one character, remains astounding, as does the variety of moods and arrangements he finds for each motif. How much of my affection for the score is a result of the film’s ultra-romantic story of the man who was almost destined to be “just another bum from the neighborhood”? I don’t know. I have a suspicion that it might be just as accurate to say that my affection for the movie is the result of the score. Rocky might have the prefect symbiosis between story and score: Each enhances the other.

The last of the three scores that sit atop my list is Randy Newman’s work for the 1984 film, The Natural. It’s true that the film’s story – especially its ending – bears only a passing resemblance to the Bernard Malamud novel from which it was adapted. (In the novel, given a chance at redemption, Malamud’s Roy Hobbs strikes out at the critical moment and his life and career unravel.) But given the producers’ decision to make Malamud’s cautionary tale into the Great American Fable, Newman came up with a score that was tragic, triumphant and Coplandesque.

So here is one selection from each of those soundtracks and four more from soundtracks that I enjoy, if not to the degree I love the first three:

A Six-Pack of Soundtrack Selections
“Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” by John Barry from Goldfinger [1964]
“Lara’s Theme” by Maurice Jarre from Dr. Zhivago [1965]
 “No Name Bar” by Isaac Hayes from Shaft [1971]
“Going The Distance” by Bill Conti from Rocky [1976]
“Blade Runner [End Titles]” by Vangelis from Blade Runner [1982]
“The Natural” by Randy Newman from The Natural [1984]
Bonus Track
“Hymn to Red October (Main Title)” by Basil Poledouris from The Hunt For Red October [1990]


Driving On Ice With No Clue

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 13, 2009

When I went to graduate school at the University of Missouri, I lived in a mobile home park on the south edge of the city of Columbia. The park was on at the top of a hill on Grindstone Creek Road. (The road is still there, according to Google Earth, but the mobile home park is gone.) Heading into the city from my home, Grindstone Creek Road twisted and turned its way down the hill to a major intersection; from there, the university campus was located up another hill, though the roads were straight and the hill not so steep.

For most of the time I went to graduate school, I had no problem getting to and from school and the offices on campus of the Columbia Missourian and, later, the office of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Through the last four months of 1983, I’d had no difficulty with the weather; I’d actually chuckled a little at the way folks clutched their coats and huddled over in the face of a thirty-degree breeze (-1 Celsius).

One day during the first couple weeks of January of 1984, I woke up to learn that an overnight storm had left a skim of ice on the ground, topped by about three inches of snow. I shrugged, got dressed and headed out. I swept the snow of my car – a Toyota that I’d named Toby; I’ll tell his tale someday – and headed through the mobile home park toward the gate on Grindstone Creek Road.

With the defroster clearing away the fog on the windshield, I watched as about four or five cars went past me, heading down Grindstone’s hill. Every one of them was sliding around the curve to the south, fish-tailing as they came through the short straight stretch by the mobile home park and then fishtailing around the curve where the twisty, downhill portion of the road began.

I know how to drive in snow and – when absolutely necessary – on icy roads. My record isn’t perfect: I’ve gotten stuck a few times and had a fender-bender or two, but I grew up driving in winter. Those folks I watched coming past the mobile home park and heading down the hill that morning had no clue. There was no way I was going to pull out onto Grindstone and put myself in their paths. I drove back to my place and stayed put until the traffic had settled down.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 14, 1984)

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, Atco 99817 (No. 2)

“Church of the Poison Mind” by Culture Club, Epic/Virgin 04144 (No. 27)

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA 52316 (No. 32)

“In A Big Country” by Big Country, Mercury 814467 (No. 57)

“Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 04301 (No. 70)

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol 5271 (No. 100)

Ah, the Eighties! Not one of my favorite decades musically, although I had some very good years during that time. (There were one or two years that were real stinkers, though, so that may color my perception of the decade.) I’m not at all sure how well any of these have aged. Well, except the Dylan, as its production is not tied to what one might call “The Classic Eighties Sound.”

Actually, the Dylan track sounds darn good, with a good lyric and melody. The credits on the album Infidels list Sly Dunbar on drums and percussion, Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Alan Clark on keyboards, Dylan on guitar, harmonica and keyboards and Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor on guitar. Knopfler and Dylan co-produced. I don’t know which of the two guitarists – Taylor or Knopfler – is playing on “Sweetheart Like You,” but, well, just listen to it. (The record peaked a couple weeks later at No. 55.)

As to the others – all of which I selected pretty much on whims – I think “In A Big Country,” with its bagpipes and broad ambitions, still works. In fact, I like it a whole lot more in 2009 than I did in 1983, when the album The Crossing was released. The single eventually went as high as No. 17 and was Big Country’s only Top 40 hit.*

Similarly, I like Culture Club’s “Church of the Poison Mind” more than I did back then. Still, what makes the track work is not so much Boy George and the rest of the band; it’s the vocal from Helen Terry that lifts the record up from the rest of the pack. By January of 1984, the record was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 10.

Of the other three, I think the Yes single is the most memorable, though not necessarily the best; still, it reached No. 1 in the next week’s chart and stayed there for another week, the only Top Ten hit in the career of the long-lived and oft-altered group.

The Fixx’s single isn’t – to my ears – very memorable. It had reached its peak at No. 32 in the January 14, 1984, chart. And the Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” – which is either the best or second best of these six records; call it a tie with “Sweetheart Like You” – was just ending a long stay on the Hot 100. In a twenty-week run, the Motels’ single had gone up to No. 9 before falling back.

It’s possible – maybe even likely – that’s some of these are album versions instead of the singles. And as always, bitrates may vary.

Sadly, I don’t have the record or the mp3, but at Dr. Forrest’s Cheeze Factory, I found a link to the video for the No. 16 record on the January 14, 1984 Top 40: “The Curly Shuffle” by Jump ’N The Saddle:

That’s just one more bit of nonsense that proves that a good novelty single can make the charts in any era. Nyuk-nyuk!

*Shortly after this post was published, a kind reader who knew more than I about Big Country informed me that the bagpipe sound in “In A Big Country” had actually been created by electronically altering guitar sounds. Note added November 16, 2011.


Turning The Corner

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 22, 2008

We’ve turned the corner.

Sometime yesterday morning, the sun went as far south in the sky as it goes, and it began to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good new for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I must have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I have think I’ve mentioned here before – likely is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. Given what we know now of our physical earth, we know that the days of longer light will return come springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen, at least not this year. Today will bring slightly more daylight than did yesterday, and the day after that will bring more than will today. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’ve turned the corner toward the light.

A Six-Pack of Light
“As You Lean Into The Light” by Paul Weller from Heavy Soul, 1997

“Light A Light” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Long As I Can See the Light” by Joe Cocker from Hymn For My Soul, 2007

“Look for the Light” by B. W. Stevenson from Calabasas, 1974

“Real Light” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Carnival of Light” by Dead Can Dance from Dead Can Dance, 1984

A few notes:

I don’t know a lot about Paul Weller, which is a rather large gap in my database, considering that – as All-Music Guide says – there was a time in Britain when Weller was “worshipped as a demigod.” That’s figurative, of course, or maybe not. There might have been altars dedicated to Weller in a bleak corner in Leeds or somewhere else. But his solo work – which followed his days with the Jam and with Style Council – intrigues me. I’m digging deeper these days. And I do love “As You Lean Into The Light.”

The better-known track from Janis Ian’s Between the Lines is “At Seventeen,” which went to No. 3 in Setpember of 1975. “Light A Light” has the some of the same qualities as the hit: a yearning yet seemingly stoic vocal, lyrics that are literate without being over-bearing, and a seemingly effortless melody. On the other hand, I’ve been a fool for Janis Ian ever since 1967 and “Society’s Child,” so take that into account.

The long tale of Joe Cocker is well known: Brilliance in the late 1960s and early 1970s, comebacks here and there, the occasional indifference of the listening public, the also occasional bouts of excess of one kind or another. But forty years down the pike, one thing remains: The man is one of the greatest interpreters of song to ever face a microphone, and here, he does wondrous things to John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.”

On the flipside of the longevity stakes was B.W. Stevenson. He had a No. 9 hit in 1973 with “My Maria,” a song that never reached the country charts for which RCA had intended it. The album it came from, also titled My Maria, sparkled, as did the follow-up, Calabasas. Neither of them sold well, joining two previous albums in the cutout bins. He moved from label to label, issuing three more albums that no one bought, and he died in 1988 shortly after heart surgery, at the age of 38. I don’t know about the other albums, but My Maria and Calabasas are well worth listening to. I found them on a one-CD package not long ago.

I’ll let the Jayhawks’ country-rooted pop-rock and Dead Can Dance’s world-new age trance stand on their own, except to say that I like both and both are well worth checking out.


‘The Conductor Sings His Song Again . . .’

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 23, 2008

A while back, I wrote about my love for trains and offered a Baker’s Dozen of Trains, thirteen songs with the word “train” in the title. One of the flaws of searching for songs by specific words is that good songs – about trains, in that case – may have titles that don’t show up in the search.

So it was with the song “City of New Orleans,” one of the best songs I can think of written about a train. If I were to select thirteen recordings about trains on their merits, a recording of “City of New Orleans” would be chief among them. But which recording? And there we find our dilemma.

The song was written by the late singer/songwriter Steve Goodman and released on his self-titled debut album in 1970. Most folks know the song from the version Arlo Guthie recorded for his Hobo’s Lullaby album in 1972, the version that went to No. 18 and gave Guthrie his only Top 40 hit. But according to All-Music Guide, there are currently 150 CDs out that contain versions of “City of New Orleans,” giving us lot of options.

Whoever sings it, it’s a great song, with a melody that sounds as old as railroading itself, as if it were shipped across America from the nineteenth century instead of coming from anyone’s pen and guitar. And the plain-spoken lyrics paint pictures:

All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee,
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin’ trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

And then the chorus, which was so evocative that it was high-jacked as the title for a television show, where its meaning has, I fear, long been lost:

Good morning, America! How are you?
Don’t you know me? I’m your native son.
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans.
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

As I said, a great song, perhaps the greatest American song about railroads. What others would be in the running? Well, “Mystery Train” for certain. Along with “The Midnight Special” and probably a few others. Nominations, anyone?

The above lyrics are from Guthrie’s version, which was changed slightly from Goodman’s original. Goodman’s musical approach was slightly different, too, with more steel guitar and a prominent harmonica. And it’s faster than Guthrie’s version, without the gently rolling feel that seems to mimic a train’s motion. Of the two, I prefer Guthrie’s, for the tempo and the gentle piano underneath the melody.

Beyond those two versions, as I said above, there are plenty of choices. Others listed at All-Music Guide as having recorded the song include Lynn Anderson, Chet Atkins, Back Porch Mary, Joe Brown, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, John Denver, David Hasselhoff, Mike McAdoo, C.W. McCall, the Mountain Folk Band, Holly Near, Jerry Reed, the River City Ramblers, Randy Scruggs, Pete Seeger, the Seldom Scene, Sammi Smith, Hank Snow, Sunnyland Slim and many more.

The version I enjoy most beyond Guthrie’s, though, was the title track of a 1984 album by Willie Nelson. Nelson’s version earned Goodman a posthumous Grammy award for Best Country Song. (Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, the year the album was released.)

Here are Goodman’s original and Nelson’s cover:

Steve Goodman – “City of New Orleans” [1970]

Willie Nelson – “City of New Orleans” [1984])

A personal note: This post is the 500th in this blog’s relatively brief history. I thought about writing about what it means to reach 500 posts. Then I decided it would be a brief post, as the only important thing it means is: I’m still having an immense amount of fun doing this, and it’s great to have a pretty sizable number of readers along for the ride.


A Baker’s Dozen Of Columbia Singles

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 25, 2008

It was about four in the afternoon yesterday when the Texas Gal and I took a break. We’d hauled four carloads of stuff over to the house – following five loads on Saturday – and I’d made another trip to the big-box home center, followed by the assembly of two more sets of utility shelves in the basement.

We’re beginning to envision how the living room will be arranged, and the Texas Gal has a handle on where things will go in the loft, which will be her quilting and sewing space. I can see that my study will have room to have my keyboard out, which means I can make some music again, and we’re negotiating colors for the bedroom. We’ve agreed on a Scandinavian motif for the kitchen.

Those things are much more vision than reality now, and much heavy lifting remains before the gap between those two words is bridged. This will be the first house the Texas Gal has lived in as an adult; she’s been an apartment dweller. And though I shared a house with some fellows during my late college years (I’ve lived in mobile homes and apartments since), this feels like my first house, too. So we’re trying to take in all of the process that gets us home, even the drudgery of piecing together plastic shelf sets and of sorting out boxes of fabric.

As we took our break in what is still a sparely furnished kitchen, she drinking a Dr. Pepper, me sipping a Summit India Pale Ale, we looked at the bare walls and saw the décor that will soon be there; we looked through the archway into the empty dining room and saw the table and chairs that will soon welcome dinner guests. And we smiled at our house-to-be and at each other.

Translating that to music can be sketchy, but I went to my favorite song about smiles, and moved on from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Columbia Singles

“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127, 1970

“My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, Columbia 44163, 1967

“My Back Pages” by the Byrds, Columbia 44054, 1967

“Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 45719, 1972

“Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10090, 1975

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 11072, 1979

“Going Down To Liverpool” by the Bangles, Columbia 04636, 1984

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674, 1963

“Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45180, 1970

“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414, 1967

“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde, Columbia 44590, 1968

“Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand, Columbia 45236, 1970

“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After, Columbia 45457, 1971

A few notes:

“Make Me Smile” still grabs me by the collar and says “Wake up, we’re playing music here!” The same is true, of course, for many of Chicago’s early singles. (Take a look at what JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ had to say about “25 or 6 to 4” recently.) Unhappily, the band didn’t keep up this level of quality. When did I give up on Chicago? Maybe with “Wishing You Were Here” in 1974, but certainly by the time of “If You Leave Me Now” in 1976. For a few years, though, Chicago had a good hold of my collar.

“My World Fell Down” comes from the confectionary talents of Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, the producers behind Sagittarius. A little too cloying, maybe, but the single is worth noting because the 1997 CD release restored an avant-garde bridge of noise that had been brutally edited when the LP was released in the Sixties.

The Dylan track was the single from Slow Train Coming, the first of Dylan’s three Christian albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with production from Barry Beckett and guitar provided by Mark Knopfler, Slow Train Coming is far better – and far more enjoyable – than the two albums that followed. (Dylan earned a Grammy for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” for “Gotta Serve Somebody.”)

“Silver Bird” was one of two great radio singles Mark Lindsay released in 1970 after leaving Paul Revere & the Raiders. “Arizona” was the other, and it went to No. 10 in the early months of 1970. “Silver Bird,” which entered the Top 40 in July, reached only No. 25. They were Lindsay’s only Top 40 hits. I don’t recall the last time I actually heard either one of them on the radio, but they still sound plenty good popping up on the player.

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the Avant-Garde was the duo of Elkin “Bubba” Fowler and Chuck Woolery. “Naturally Stoned” was one of those rare hits that almost wasn’t: The record reached No. 40 in its only week on the chart. The book doesn’t say what happened to Elkin after that, but Woolery, the book notes, went on to host TV games shows like Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection and Greed. Even with all that, it’s not a bad record although it’s certainly a period piece.

I’ve never been much of a Streisand fan, but she and producer Richard Perry got it right with “Stoney End.” The record did well, too, going to No. 6 after entering the Top 40 in December 1970. (The similarly titled album came out in February 1971, which explains the seemingly contradictory tags on the mp3.)


Saturday Singles Nos. 85 & 86

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 9, 2008

So the Olympic games began in China yesterday, at eight p.m. local time on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the millennium. I’m not feeling particularly Olympiccy, to coin a bad word. I imagine I’ll watch some of the proceedings in the next few weeks, but I won’t be as invested in the games as I have been some other years.

I don’t think my lack of interest has anything to do with any of the political considerations that surround this edition of the Olympic games. I do admit to wondering since the games were awarded to China if the Chinese government and the international Olympic movement would eventually come to regret their partnership. I’m not predicting anything dire, just thinking to myself that societies that try to maintain tight control are finding it increasingly difficult to do so, especially when the entire world is looking into their windows, so to speak.

I guess I haven’t really watched the summer Olympic games with much joy since, oh, the Munich games of 1972. That date provides a dividing line in a number of ways: By 1976 and the Montreal games, I was deep into my college studies, even during summertime, and the games that followed that – Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984 and all the rest since – found me even more entrenched in adult concerns. The Munich games were the last ones that found me unencumbered by adult responsibilities.

Any thought of the Munich games also carries with it a sense of sorrow, too, and that certainly colors my attitude toward the quadrennial games that came after.

I also find these days that I tend to watch the winter Olympics more closely. There are more sports that interest me, a good number of the athletes usually come from Minnesota, and the winter games don’t yet seem to be the overblown spectacle that the summer games have become.

And while I have – since 1972 – no striking memories of the Olympic games themselves, yesterday’s beginnings in China reminded me of something. In 1984, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, and the route of the ceremonial Olympic torch – making its way from Olympia, Greece, to Los Angeles – followed Interstate 70 across the state from St. Louis to Kansas City, right through Columbia. I was going to graduate school and working at a newspaper, and I recall wondering idly if I should head out to the north edge of town to see the torch as it went past.

I didn’t. If I recall correctly, the torch made its way along the north edge of Columbia sometime shortly after sunrise, about 7 a.m. I didn’t bother to get up and drive across town to see it. And that evening when I saw a picture in the newspaper of the torch being carried past the crowds along the highway, I regretted staying home. I looked at the photo and thought, “Well, that was a once in a lifetime thing. I should have gone.”

Fast-forward twelve years to the summer of 1996. The summer games that year were in Atlanta, and again, I’d paid little attention to the gathering momentum as the games approached.

But one Saturday morning, I opened the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and saw that the Olympic torch would be making its way through Minneapolis that evening. Its route would bring it along Thirty-Sixth Street South, three houses away from my apartment building.

I was there that evening, in a large crowd of my neighbors, watching and applauding with them as a local volunteer carried the torch down the middle of the street. I don’t recall any wellspring of emotion. I just watched the runner carry the torch, and then I went to the neighborhood coffee house with a few people. But as I wrote to a close friend in the next few days, “What I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime event turned out not to be so, and that amazes me a little. How often do any of us get a second chance at something so rare?”

Here are two songs that were on the charts at those times, songs that remind me of those summers, one from 1984 when I let the torch pass unnoticed and one from 1996 when I took advantage of my second chance.

Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face” (Chrysalis 42786) peaked at No. 4 in 1984 and was at No. 11 on August 4 as the Los Angeles games were halfway done. And twelve years later, Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” (Reprise 17621) was featured in the soundtrack to the film Phenomenon and peaked at No. 5. It was at No. 6 on August 3, 1996, as the Atlanta games were less than a week from their closing ceremonies.

And those songs are today’s Saturday Singles.

Billy Idol – “Eyes Without A Face” [1984]

Eric Clapton – “Change the World” [1996]

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.


Hang A Basket! Have A Parade!

June 24, 2011

Originally posted April 30, 2008

It’s May Day.*

No one’s leaving May Baskets at my door, I am certain, nor is anyone in the apartment complex dancing around the Maypole. A look at Wikipedia confirms my hunch that those are traditional English and Northern European activities, quite likely tied to pre-Christian fertility rites. I remember learning about them – May Baskets and Maypoles, not the fertility rites – in elementary school. It strikes me as I write that we learned very little about the celebrations of most other cultures, and that tells me how insular our culture was during those times (the late 1950s and the first half of the 1960s). We celebrated Anglo-Saxon traditions and – for the most part – ignored others.

I vaguely remember making May Baskets as an art project one year early in my school days. We used little blunt-ended scissors to cut construction paper into the appropriate shapes, and then we glued those pieces together with that white paste that someone in the classroom always insisted was good to eat.

May Day is also celebrated as an international workers’ holiday, and that brings back other memories. During the years of my childhood and youth, we’d see television footage every May Day of the parade in Moscow. The Soviet Union’s workers and soldiers would march, accompanied by tanks and missiles. They’d pass through Red Square, where old men in uniforms and ill-fitting suits – the leaders of the Soviet Union – stood atop Lenin’s Tomb to review them. I remember seeing bits and pieces of the parades on television in shades of gray; once color television became the norm, the parade turned into a celebration in a sea of red. Whether the spectacle was in gray or in red, though, we were taught that it should have frightened us.

Do the believers who remain still march through Red Square? I don’t know. For that matter, does anyone dance around a Maypole anywhere? Again, I have no idea. But to mark May Day, here’s a selection of songs – mostly random; I clicked past a few from earlier years – that have in common the predominant color from those May Day parades.

A Baker’s Dozen of Red
“Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie from Wet Willie II, 1972

“Red Box” by Simply Red from Picture Book, 1985

“The Red Plains” by Bruce Hornsby & The Range from The Way It Is, 1986

“Red Rooster” by Howlin’ Wolf, alternate mix from The London Sessions, 1970

“Red Telephone” by Love from Forever Changes, 1967

“Red Cross Store” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from [Lots More] Blues, Rags and Hollers, 1964

“Red Shoes” by Chris Rea from Auberge, 1991

“Red House” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from Are You Experienced (U.S. version), 1967

“Red Dirt Boogie, Brother,” by Jesse Ed Davis from Ululu, 1972

“Red Flowers” by Martin & Neil from Tear Down The Walls, 1964

“Bottle of Red Wine” by Eric Clapton from Eric Clapton, 1970

“Red’s Song” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow the Green Grass, 1995

“99 Red Balloons” by Nena, Epic single 04108, 1984

A few notes:

The band Wet Willie sometimes gets overlooked when talk turns to southern rock of the Seventies. The group had three Top 40 hits – the best, “Keep On Smilin’,” went to No. 20 in 1974 – and released a series of pretty good albums between 1971 and 1979. The best of those was likely The Wetter the Better, in 1976, but all are worth finding. My thanks to TC at Groovy Fab, whose posts reminded me. (TC also has a great blog: TC’s Old & New Music Review.)

Simply Red’s Picture Book was the group’s debut, and I’m not sure the group ever released a better album. With two Top 40 hits (“Holding Back The Years” went to No. 1, and “Money’s Too Tight To Mention” reached No. 28), the album itself reached the Top 40 with its mix of melodic ballads and grittier numbers.

“Red Telephone” comes from the quirky and beautiful Forever Changes, quite likely the pinnacle of the L.A. group Love. Led by Arthur Lee, the group released three great albums – Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes in 1966 and 1967, becoming a favorite of critics and other musicians in the rapidly changing Southern California music scene. The band soldiered on until 1974 but never regained the odd magic it had during those first years.

The late Jesse Ed Davis wasn’t much of a singer, as one listen to “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” tells you, but he was a hell of a guitar player. The list of his credits includes session work for artists ranging from John Lee Hooker and Booker T. Jones to Buffy Ste. Marie, Brewer & Shipley, John Lennon and Tracy Nelson. And when it came time to record his own albums – his self-titled 1971 debut, 1972’s Ululu and Keep Me Comin’ in 1973 – he had a wide range of friends and associates to help out. The credits for Ululu list Dr. John, Duck Dunn, Jim Keltner, Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, Clydie King, Venetta Fields, Merry Clayton and more.

The folk duo Martin & Neil of “Red Flowers” was Vince Martin and the late Fred Neil, the latter, of course, better known as the writer of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which was a No. 6 hit for Nilsson in 1969. Neil’s own recordings are worth digging into. Tear Down The Walls was his only record with Martin, and within a year, Neil would release his first solo album, Bleecker & MacDougal. That would be followed by his best work, Sessions, in 1967. Later releases were a bit haphazard but interesting in their own ways.

Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” is the English version of the international hit “99 Luftballoons,” which was recorded in German. Although German is not my favorite non-English language for music – French and Danish rate rather higher – I tend to like the original of Nena’s song more than I do the translated version. I guess it’s a tendency to seek the original and beware the copy.

*Clearly, I was a day ahead of myself. It was not May Day, it was the last day of April. As I explained in a later post. I somehow misdated one of my earlier posts. Well, things happen. Note added June 24, 2011.


Two From Ellen Aim & The Attackers

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 28, 2008

I continue to be ambivalent about the movie Streets of Fire.As I wrote here some months ago, when I rented the movie a few years ago, it didn’t seem nearly as good as it did when in came out in 1984. Yet, this morning, I did my normal Thursday morning casting about at YouTube and took a look at the video for “Nowhere Fast,” the movie’s opening song. And as I watched, I found myself being sucked in again to the story of rock star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), on the verge of being kidnapped – as the song ends – by Raven, the character played by Willem Dafoe.

I pondered the pull of the scene for a moment, and then realized – to paraphrase a sign in someone’s election headquarters – “It’s the music, dummy!” Jim Steinman’s mammoth production still thrills me. I know some find his work overbearing, and it’s true that his 1980s version of the Wall of Sound didn’t always make for great listening on the radio or at home. But in a film – in particular, in this film – it worked well.

I may have to head over to the movie rental site and have them send me a DVD of Streets of Fire. It’s been a few years since I looked at it, and – even if it’s not quite as good as I thought it was in 1984 – it may not be as lacking as I thought it was in 2001. Anyway, here’s the scene of Ellen Aim & the Attackers performing “Nowhere Fast” from Streets of Fire.*

I thought that, as long as I was digging around, I’d also post the ending sequence of Streets of Fire. It includes the other big number from the film, “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” performed after Ellen Aim has been rescued from captivity by her old flame Cody (Michael Paré), who then heads down the road with Amy Madigan’s McCoy. (The clip includes the closing credits, backed by the Fixx’s “Deeper and Deeper.)

*Both videos had been deleted since this entry was first posted. The best videos now available appear to be official videos released by the studio. Note added June 12, 2011.