Archive for the ‘1986’ Category

Down From The Shelves

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 8, 2009

Once more into the Valley of the Unplayed!

Wondering what marvels – or otherwise – might be found today in the crates atop the bookcases, I reached up and pulled down a clutch of LPs this morning, and then I added one that had recently arrived in the mail. From those, I hoped to find six songs with minimal noise. And that’s what I came up with.

En route, I had to regretfully skip over several LPs that had too much surface noise: Tighten Up by Archie Bell & the Drells; Blues and Bluegrass by Mike Auldridge; Stranger on the Shore by Mr. Acker Bilk; Born Free by Andy Williams; and Golden Hits by Roger Miller. The greatest disappointment in that bunch would have been the Archie Bell & the Drells album, based simply on the expectations raised by the title track, one of the great singles of 1968. I was, in fact, a little relieved when Track Four, “You’re Mine,” turned out to have too much noise, as it was a pretty bad piece of filler. So I happily moved on.

I thought I’d start off with the one record I chose purposefully this morning: Chi Coltrane’s little-known third album, Road to Tomorrow arrived in the mail last week. Not long ago, someone left a note here about it. I did a quick Ebay search and found a copy for sale at a remarkably low price. And a week later, the mail carrier dropped it off.

I’ve listened to only bits and pieces of it, but I’m not impressed. I guess I didn’t expect to be, however, as Coltrane’s second album, Let It Ride, was also mediocre, with only one good track, her version of “Hallelujah” (done earlier by Sweathog and by the Clique). All in all – and I’m not sure why I sometimes dig into an some artists’ catalogs so deeply; I guess I’m hoping to hear something others missed – one can classify Coltrane’s work into three categories: One great single (1972’s “Thunder and Lightning”), her decent take on “Hallelujah” (offered here once before) and the rest.

Anyway, here’s Track Four of Coltrane’s 1977 album, Road to Tomorrow. It’s an okay piece of pop.

“Ooh Baby” by Chi Coltrane from Road to Tomrrow [1977]

One of the media storms of early 1978 concerned the film Pretty Baby, a fictional account of the lives of a photographer and several working girls during 1917 in New Orleans’ Storyville, the city’s red light district. There would have been little ruckus about the film, I imagine, had it not been for the inclusion of several nude scenes featuring the then-twelve-year-old Brooke Shields as the daughter of a prostitute who was, in effect, in training for the life herself.

The film, by Louis Malle, won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. More to the point for our purposes here, the film’s score won an Academy Award in the “Adaptadion Score” category, with its mix of jazz, ragtime and blues echoing the sound of New Orleans in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. I’ve had a copy of the soundtrack sitting around for more than ten years and have never felt compelled to listen to more than a track at a time or so. Maybe I’ll rip the whole thing now that it’s out of the crates.

“Pretty Baby” by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra from the soundtrack to Pretty Baby [1978]

As I’ve noted here before, during 1998 and 1999, I was stockpiling records faster than I could play them. A couple of those showed up in the cluster of LPs I pulled from the crates today, including one that might never have been played by anybody.

When I pulled Patti La Belle’s Winner In You from its jacket and put it onto the turntable, I had to push fairly hard, as if it had never been placed on a spindle before. That, combined with the sheer gloss of the record and the lack of any noise as it played, told me that the record might be utterly new. At any rate, it had not been played often.

I’ve never been much of a Patti La Belle fan. I liked her work with LaBelle in the 1970s. (Who didn’t love “Lady Marmalade” and its lesson in essential French? It went to No. 1.) And I thought “On My Own,” her duet with Michael McDonald (another No. 1 hit), was okay. But for some reason – most likely the simple volume of records I had available to listen to – Winner In You, which included “On My Own,” stayed in the crates. I don’t think it will go back there; I’ll almost certainly listen to it and put it in the regular stacks this week, even if I don’t rip all of it to mp3s. Here’s Track Four:

“Kiss Away The Pain” by Patti La Belle from Winner In You [1986]

About once a year, since we moved to St. Cloud in 2002, the Texas Gal and I head down to the Twin Cities for some major shopping. That means fabric stores for her, bookstores for both of us, and, usually, a couple hours at Cheapo’s on Lake Street for me. During one of those visits, in 2005, I began to remedy a major gap in my collection.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the best-known bands in the Twin Cities area was the Lamont Cranston Band (sometimes styled as the Lamont Cranston Blues Band). I knew of the band although I’d never seen it perform. But amid all the other music to collect and listen to, the hard-driving Lamont Cranston Band never seemed to make it onto my list. During one of our first summers in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I went to see the River Bats, St. Cloud’s team in a summer college baseball league.

And among the music used to rev up the crowd was Lamont Cranston’s “Upper Mississippi Shakedown.” Reminded of the band’s artistry, I put several of the group’s albums on my list, and during a 2005 visit to Cheapo’s, I found Up From The Alley. I put it in one of the crates to await its turn, and then I had absolutely forgot that I had it until this morning. A couple of the tracks from the album ended up on a 1993 CD of the band’s best work, including Track Four. But, holding true to the intent of this feature, I ripped the track from the vinyl this morning:

“Oughta Be A Law” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Up From The Alley [1980]

Michael Franks had one quirky near-hit in, I think, 1976 – “Popsicle Toes” – and I have three of his albums: I’ve listened to The Art of Tea and Sleeping Gypsy, but I’ve never pulled Tiger in the Rain, his 1979 album, out of the crates until this morning. And I’ve concluded this morning that the meandering quality that made “Popsicle Toes” seem pleasantly quirky in the mid-1970s now seems wearisome. I can’t fault the musicianship, but nothing about the track I ripped this morning grabs me at all.

“Hideaway” by Michael Franks from Tiger in the Rain [1979]

Quarterflash had one very good hit, “Harden My Heart” in 1981, amid a string of four albums that took the band into 1991. Having listened to a fair amount of the group via mp3s that other bloggers have sent me, nothing from the band’s self-titled debut seemed likely to surprise me. But “Valerie,” the fourth track on the record, did.

“Valerie” was written by Marv Ross, but as sung by his wife, Rindy (who plays the saxophone that gave Quarterflash its distinctive sound), it’s a little eye-opening for 1981: The song is an exploration of a budding same-sex relationship that startled the narrator enough that she passed up the chance for a romance and now seems to regret having done so.

The sound and production are clearly that of the Eighties, but the track has aged well, and Ross’ saxophone solo is a nice way to close.

“Valerie” by Quarterflash from Quarterflash [1981]

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An Evening With The Boss

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 12, 2009

Well, as I expected, I can cross “Born To Run” off my wish list of live performances. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band used the long-time classic to close the main portion of last night’s concert in St. Paul, with the house lights up and the audience of about 20,000 singing along.

I sang along, too, from our perch in the upper levels, tears in my eyes.

I’m not entirely sure when seeing The Boss in concert went on my wish list of things to do. But I think it happened during my late-1980s stay on the North Dakota prairie, when, for the first time, I began to dig into Springsteen’s music and legacy. So ever since then, I’ve been hoping for a time when means and opportunity would coincide. And they did so last evening.

Like some other acts I’ve seen – Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan come to mind – Springsteen has such a vast catalog of songs, accumulated over a recording career that’s not all that short of forty years, that one could go to one of Springsteen’s legendary three-hour shows and still assemble a top-notch concert from songs left out. And with such an absurdity of riches in his catalog, Springsteen must find it difficult to leave some beloved songs in the dressing room night after night.

There were a few whose absence surprised me last evening: “Thunder Road,” “Hungry Heart” and “Glory Days.” Missing the latter didn’t disappoint me, but the other two would’ve been nice. Still, Springsteen and his mates performed twenty-seven songs in a show that lasted nearly three hours, and there were plenty of songs nearly as treasured and just as fun. With two new faces in the line-up – Charlie Giordano now sits at the organ where the late Denny Federici held court for years, and eighteen-year-old Jay Weinberg played the first third of the show on drums before giving way to his father, Max – the show started, as has been customary on this tour, with “Badlands.”

From there, the concert was a tour through most of Springsteen’s catalog, with the scheduled songs ranging from “Born To Run” (1975) and “Promised Land” (1978) through three numbers – the epic “Outlaw Pete,” “Kingdom of Days” and the title track – from this year’s Working On A Dream. Perhaps the most moving part of the show was the trio of “Seeds” (released only in a 1985 performance on the 1986 live package), the fiery “Johnny 99” and the haunting “Ghost of Tom Joad.”

There was, of course, fun, too, and plenty of it. I think one of those having the most fun last evening was Springsteen himself, singing, testifying and moving along the lip of the stage and along the rail at the back of the stage. I got the sense, though, that one of the most fun things he did all night was to collect posters with song requests written on them. He spent about three minutes at one point in the show grabbing about fifteen of them. (He also collected a Wisconsin cheesehead and seemed to have no idea what to do with it.) Then he and the band did three of those requested songs: A rousing cover of the Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” which Springsteen said the group had never played, and old friends “Prove It All Night” and “The E Street Shuffle.”

And even as the band left the stage after “Born To Run” and then came back on stage for an encore set, there were surprises to come. The encore set began with the Stephen Foster tune, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and moved on to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Land of Hope and Dreams” (found in the 2000 performance released as Live In New York City), “American Land” and “Bobbie Jean.”

Then, as the crowd roared and the band seemed about to take its last bows, Springsteen saw a green sign in the crowd about twenty feet beyond the stage. He dashed to the lip of the stage and beckoned with his hand, asking the crowd to pass the sign forward. Once he had it in his hand, he showed the sign to the band and then to the camera for the big screens to the side of the stage. The crowd roared louder.

“C’mon, Steve!” Springsteen called, and standing side-by-side, he and guitarist Steve Van Zandt led the band into a kick-ass rendition of 1973’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”

Then the lights came on for good, and we made our way up the steep stairs, the first steps on our way home. My hands hurt from clapping, and my voice was gone from cheering and singing. My ears were ringing.

And my eyes were still damp.

Here’s last night set list and a couple of treats:

Badlands
Radio Nowhere
Outlaw Pete
No Surrender
Out in the Street
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand (Eddie Floyd)
Good Lovin’ (Young Rascals)
Prove It All Night
E Street Shuffle
Waiting on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
I’m On Fire
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run
Hard Times Come Again No More (Stephen Foster)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Bobbie Jean
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

“Seeds” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
From Live/1975-85 [1986]

“Land of Hope and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
From Live In New York City [2000]

Edited slightly since original posting.

William, Friends Of Distinction & Hugh

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 23, 2009

I thought it might be slim pickings at YouTube for this week’s posts, quite likely because the posts have been slender as well. But I found a few interesting things.

Here’s what looks to be a relatively recent performance by William Bell of “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Seeing the “Soulsville” emblazoned on the drum makes me wonder if the performance didn’t come from a Stax tribute or something like that in Memphis.

I couldn’t find any video of Hugh Masekela performing “Grazing in the Grass,” but here’s the Friends of Distinction during a 1970 television performance. In the spring of 1969, eight months after Masekela’s instrumental version of the song went to No. 1. The Friends’ vocal version got as high as No. 3.

Video deleted.

Here’s a nice find: Hugh Masekela and his band performing “Coal Train (Stimela)” at the Artists Against Apartheid’s June 28, 1986, Freedom Beat festival at London’s Clapham Common.

Tomorrow – and I promise! – we’ll do an unplayed records grab bag. I’ll have the Texas Gal pull some LPs at random from the unplayed stacks and we’ll pull a selection from five of those and take a listen to a track from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus. And we’ll see what we can learn.

About “Wade In The Water”
My thanks to Yah Shure for taking time to dig into the differing versions of Ramsey Lewis’ “Wade in the Water.” He left his conclusions in the comments to yesterday’s post. He first said:

“I timed my 45 of ‘Wade In The Water.’ The time listed on the label is 3:05, but the actual run time is 3:16. I don’t believe that it’s simply an early fade of the album version, but I’ll have to dive again to compare the two.”

After investigation, Yah Shure reported:

“Upon further review, the single version of ‘Wade In The Water’ is not an early fade. It contains four seconds’ worth of material that is not on the album/CD version!

“Aside from minor speed variations, both versions are identical up until 2:58 into the recording. At that point, each version utilizes different takes from the recording session. There’s a little piano trill on the 45 that is not on the LP, along with other differences in the piano and brass. This difference lasts only four seconds. Then, at 3:02, both versions once again become identical. The 45 begins its fade at 3:03, and is out completely at 3:16. The LP/CD track finally fades out completely at about 3:47.

“Mix differences such as these are not all that rare between single and album versions. Although they may seem quite minor, they demonstrate the lengths record producers went to in order to get a hit on the radio.”

(That means that one of the two versions I have is evidently the CD/LP track, with the other of them an edit that was given a fade ten seconds earlier. I never know what to do when I come across this stuff. Do I delete the one that’s the anomaly? If it pops up again, will I recall the information Yah Shure sent along? Good questions for which I have no answers.)

R&B In The Fog

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 10, 2009

After a few days of relative clarity – with the medication dosages for my ailing leg diminishing – I am once again in a fog this morning.

Yesterday afternoon, when the Texas Gal came home from work, we stood in the driveway and watched a squirrel dig in the ground, seeking some sort of treat. We routinely toss bread crusts out for the little guys, and I laughed as the Texas Gal told me about one she’d seen that morning, carrying a whole slice of bread in his mouth as he leaped from tree to tree.

Then we went to the back door and found all three cats waiting for us and hoping for a chance to slip outside. The Texas Gal blocked Oscar’s path, and I held off Cubbie Cooper. As we were distracted by the other two catboys, Clarence bolted between my ankles and out the door. I reacted instinctively, pushing Cubbie into the kitchen, then pivoting on my right foot and starting to run, pushing off with my right leg.

Not a good idea. My right leg is, of course, the leg that I hurt a week ago.

I managed to corral Clarence, and we got all three cats inside. But my leg was throbbing as it hadn’t for about three days, and twenty minutes later, I had to take a muscle relaxant and a pain-killer. And this morning it’s taking more effort to focus than I can spare for very long.

So I’m going to suggest that you folks do exactly what I did last evening and will do again today: just listen to some good music. Not long ago, a track popped up here from Dreams Come True, the R&B supersession album by singers Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton. (All of those links are to corresponding pages at All-Music Guide.) Last evening, I listened to more of the album, and I liked it even more than I did the first time I heard it. So here’s Dreams Come True.

Track list
A Fool In Love
Good Rockin’ Daddy
It Hurts To Be In Love
Love, Sweet Love
Gonna Make It
You Can If You Think You Can
I Idolize You
Dreams Come True
Bad Thing
Turn The Lock On Love
Something’s Got A Hold On Me
Snake Dance

Dreams Come True by Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli & Lou Ann Barton [1990]

My thanks go to azzul, as I found Dreams Come True at his excellent blog, nongseynyo. Sadly, azzul has quit posting new material; the blog now offers its archives without download links and lists current posts at a few other bluesy blogs. I – along with many others, I’m sure – miss the original nongseynyo. Thanks for everything, azzul!

And I thought that as long as I was sharing Dreams Come True in the middle of my repost festival, I’d make today “Lou Ann Barton Day”!

Reposted:
Old Enough by Lou Ann Barton [1982]
Original post here.

Forbidden Tones by Lou Ann Barton [1986]
Original post here.

Read My Lips by Lou Ann Barton [1989]
[With bonus tracks]
Original post here.

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.)

Saturday Single No. 111

December 16, 2011

Originally posted January 24, 2009

So I sat here in the study, fresh coffee at hand, digging through a few 45s and a batch of newly ripped mp3s, looking for something compelling for a Saturday morning.

In the stack of 45s in good shape that I pulled aside some years ago – leaving others in the mystery box, the source these days of my Grab Bag records – I found a 1967 Young Rascals single, “A Girl Like You,” and I dropped it on the turntable. It played well enough to rip an mp3, as did a 1967 Sammy Davis, Jr., spoken-word record. I spent fifteen minutes recording those and appending tags to them. The Young Rascals single may show up here in the future; it’s a nice tune. The Sammy Davis single – fascinatingly unique – will certainly show up in this space, but only after I’ve had the chance to do some research. And I wasn’t in the mood to do research today.

So I ate a whole-grain toaster pastry – how about that for a product that’s healthy for you and likely not so healthy at the same time? – and dithered. I pulled a Jim Horn album – 1972’s Through The Eyes Of A Horn – from a box and thought about posting his version of “Going Up The Country” along with a meditation of some sort about finding records by folks who spend most of their time as studio musicians. I decided that if I were going to do that, I’d share the entire album. So look for that in the future.

And then, as the Texas Gal rose and got herself ready for the day – the most exciting portion of our day is likely to be a trip to a major discount store to purchase furnace filters – I had company here in the study. Our newest cat – and I may not have mentioned him here previously – jumped into my lap and demanded attention. He’s an orange tabby with a white muzzle, and his name is Cubbie Cooper. (The Texas Gal said it just sounded right, and she’s correct.) The Coop, as he’s also known, settled himself on my lap, purring loudly.

A few moments later, the Texas Gal came in to say good morning. “You’ve been Cooperized, I see,” she said.

I nodded. “And it’s hard to concentrate” I said.

“He does have a loud purr.”

She asked what I was going to post this morning, and I said, “I have absolutely no idea.”

She thought for a moment. “How about . . . ‘Amanda’?”

By Boston?

“Yeah, that’s the one. When it came out, I wished my name were Amanda. I’ve always liked it.”

So with that, here – courtesy of the Texas Gal – is today’s Saturday Single.

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA 52756 [1986]

Who Might Rank Among Them?

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 19, 2008

I got my new copy of Rolling Stone yesterday, the one that trumpets on its cover the listing inside of the one hundred greatest singers of all time. The cover also bears a picture of Aretha Franklin, who took the top spot on that list of singers.

Now, I love lists of stuff, especially lists relating to music. And Rolling Stone does a lot of them. I could walk across the study and pull from the bookshelf about fifteen editions of the magazine from the last twenty or so years that have a list ranking something in rock ’n’ roll history, whether it’s albums or songs or singles or guitarists or what-have-you. And this list – greatest singers – seems to be a suitable topic.

I haven’t waded my way through the entire one hundred names yet; I’ve read the foreword of the section, looked at the list of the folks who voted and read the entries on the first five singers: Aretha, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and John Lennon. That’s a pretty impressive top five. Maybe not quite as powerful but still impressive were the names of the folks who wrote the short essays about that top five: Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and Jackson Browne. I am looking forward, sometime later today, to sitting down with the magazine and digging into the remaining ninety-five singers on the list.

I suppose I should look ahead and note here which singers rounded out the Top Ten: Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. I could make a number of observations, but I’ll keep still on most of them until I’ve absorbed the entire list. I will make one comment.

The list of voters – made up of musicians, journalists and critics – seems to have been pretty well spread among the generations and sub-genres of rock music. In other words, there was no overloading on any one era or style. And those various voters decided that the ten greatest singers in rock history are seven dead guys and two men and one woman whose greatest work was turned was turned out between thirty and forty years ago. (Some might argue that Dylan’s recent work is among his best; it might be, but still, that hardly dents the point I’m about to make.)

What the Rolling Stone voters are telling us is that not one of the ten greatest singers in rock ’n’ roll history has started his or her career in the years since, oh, 1964 (the year that Redding released his debut album). That’s a remarkable statement, and it’s one for which I don’t seem to have a response. (I’ve been staring at the screen and keyboard for about five minutes trying to find words; they’re not there.)

Now, I love the music of the Sixties and the Seventies. Anyone who stops by here knows that, and it’s an understandable passion: That music is the music of my childhood, youth and young adulthood. But those decades are not the sole source of good music by talented artists. And I think the best thing about lists like the one in the current Rolling Stone is that they start discussions. So I’m going to throw out a question and (with luck and some effort from my readers) we’ll start a discussion here. That question:

Who is the best rock (in all its forms) singer to start his or her career, oh, let’s say, after 1970, and where would that person fall among the top ten anointed by Rolling Stone?

Just so you don’t have go back and pick them out, here are the names of those ten singers again:

Aretha Franklin
Ray Charles
Elvis Presley
Sam Cooke
John Lennon
Marvin Gaye
Bob Dylan
Otis Redding
Stevie Wonder
James Brown

And to accompany that, we’ll do a random six-pack of tunes from artists who came along after 1970:

“Rain” by Terence Trent D’Arby from Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, 1987. (Debut album)

“Late In My Bed” by Elizabeth Barraclough from Elizabeth Barraclough, 1978. (Debut album)

“That’s What They Say” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988. (Debut album)

“All I Want Is You” by Roxy Music from Country Life, 1974. (Debut album in 1972)

“Fadeaway” by the BoDeans from Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, 1986. (Debut album)

“Roman” by the Church from Heyday, 1986. (Debut album in 1981)

I don’t think that any of the lead singers there will challenge for that Top Ten list, but Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music might belong in the Top Fifty or so. That’s beside the point, though. This was a random selection of songs.

Again, what I do want to know from readers is: Who, from the artists who came along post-1970, could reasonably be considered for that top ten? Lemme know!

Walkabouts, Jackson & David, Long John

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 9, 2008

I went looking for stuff by the Walkabouts at YouTube this morning and chanced upon a video for the song “The Light Will Stay On,” the opening track from the group’s Devil’s Road album, released in 1996. The song and the video are somber and gorgeous. Regarding the CD, All-Music Guide said: “Half of the tracks comprising Devil’s Road feature the string arrangements of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, giving greater depth to a sound that’s already impossibly rich. Recorded in Berlin, the album is dark and soulful, the work of a band at the peak of its powers.” ‘’

Here’s the video for “The Light Will Stay On.”

I was also looking for a video of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris performing something from their Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, but I kept running into their performance of Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer,” which was recently posted by my friend Paco Malo over at Gold Coast Bluenote. So I shifted gears and went looking for a video my pal Schultz told me about last evening: Jackson Browne with David Lindley performing the same song. The performance took place in December 1976 in connection with the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test.

Then I went in search of Long John Baldry, as he showed up in yesterday’s random Baker’s Dozen. I came across this little gem, a video for a song called “Silent Treatment,” which was released as a single in the U.K. in 1986. The song showed up on CD as the title track to a Baldry compilation in 1999.

Ry Cooder’s Score For ‘Crossroads’

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 22, 2008

I’m not exactly sure when I saw the movie Crossroads, the one that stars Ralph Macchio as a young guitarist torn between classical music and the blues. I imagine I saw it on home video sometime during my years in Minot in the later 1980s.

I do know I bought the soundtrack during those days; the date on the back of the record jacket is March 11, 1989, and the titles of the other records I got that date – according to the LP log – tell me that I was at the flea market at the North Dakota state fair grounds.

It’s a good record, far better than the movie for which it was created. The movie’s story, as near as I can remember it, has Macchio studying classical guitar in New York while also learning the blues. Working in Harlem at a home for senior citizens, he meets an old man who claims to be Willie Brown, legendary bluesman (Brown’s name was cribbed, of course, from that of the real-life “friendboy” of Robert Johnson), and the two of them take off for Mississippi to find a long-lost blues song.

The crossroads of the title is, inevitably, the place where Brown once sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play the blues. And the climax of the movie is a guitar duel between Macchio’s character and the devil for Willie Brown’s soul, with Macchio’s character winning the duel by throwing off classical arpeggios blues-style. I never could buy Macchio (The Karate Kid) as tough enough for the blues, so to me, the movie was a scrambled mess. But I watched the whole thing.

What did keep me interested was the music. Whoever made the decisions – Mark Carliner produced the movie and Walter Hill directed it – chose wisely when they selected Ry Cooder to oversee the soundtrack. A genius when it comes to stringed instruments and folk/blues traditions, Cooder put together a soundtrack that for the most part stands on its own, drawing some tunes from the deep catalog of Mississippi blues; he adds four new compositions, two written on his own and two co-written songs, one written with Joe Seneca, the actor who played Willie Brown (who also sings the tune) and an instrumental written with legendary blues harpist Sonny Terry.

The soundtrack bounces around a bit stylistically. The opener, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” slides singers Bobby King, Terry Evans and Willie Green, Jr., in with a gospel-ish chorus amid Cooder’s vocals and guitar and Terry’s harp. Another track, Noah Lewis’ “Viola Lee Blues” – with its baritone horn platform – owes more to New Orleans than to the Delta. But it’s good listening nevertheless.

There are only two missteps on the soundtrack: Cooder’s compositon, “See You In Hell, Blind Boy,” performed by Van Dyke Parks on piano and Alan Pasqua on synthesizer, bogs down. And Amy Madigan’s vocal turn on “He Made A Woman Out Of Me” just doesn’t work. (Madigan’s not listed in the cast – Macchio’s love interest is played by Jami Gertz – so I’m not at all sure why Cooder used Madigan instead of any number of other women; Maria Muldaur comes to mind immediately. Anyone out there know anything?)

There is one fascinating name in the credits: Jim Dickinson has a large presence, one I noticed when I got the record, but it wasn’t until some years later that I connected Jim Dickinson, the long-time Memphis producer and session player, with James Luther Dickinson, the musician behind the quirky 1972 album Dixie Fried (as well as the father of Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars).

Musicians on the record are: Jim Keltner and John Price on drums, Miguel Cruz on percussion, Dickinson on piano, guitar, organ and dolceola, Nathan East, Richard “Stubby” Holmes and Jorge Calderon on bass, Van Dyke Parks on piano, Alan Pasqua on synthesizer, Otis Taylor on guitar, George Bohannon on baritone horn, Walter Sereth on soprano saxophone, Sonny Terry on harmonica, William “Smitty” Smith on organ, Ry Cooder on guitar, mandolin and vocals, Frank Frost on vocals and harmonica, and Joe Seneca, Amy Madigan, Bobby King, Terry Evans, Willie Green, Jr., Sam King and Arnold McCuller on vocals.

Tracks (lead vocals):
Crossroads (Ry Cooder)
Down In Mississippi (Terry Evans, Bobby King, Willie Green, Jr.)
Cotton Needs Pickin’ (Frank Frost)
Viola Lee Blues (Ry Cooder)
See You In Hell, Blind Boy (instrumental)
Nitty Gritty Mississippi (Jim Dickinson)
He Made A Woman Out Of Me (Amy Madigan)
Feelin’ Bad Blues (instrumental)
Somebody’s Callin’ My Name (Bobby King, Sam King, Arnold McCuller, Willie Green, Jr.)
Willie Brown Blues (Joe Seneca)
Walkin’ Away Blues (instrumental)

Ry Cooder – Crossroads soundtrack [1986]

A Baker’s Dozen of caithiseach’s Favorites

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 24, 2008

(Our guest poster today is caithiseach, who generally hangs his hat at The Great Vinyl Meltdown.)

It must have been the frozen custard cake. We were eating it when whiteray asked me what my favorite single was. I thought for far too long, then I gave him an answer. A day later, with the custard still in his system, he invited me to guest-blog this Baker’s Dozen of my favorite singles. I could not pass up the opportunity to write in this blog, the first music blog I ever read, and the inspiration for my own blog, which deals with quirky old 45s I collected when I was a kid.

Today I have been set a different task: to write about songs that you probably know. I had made my job somewhat easier by adding a marker to the digital filenames of my favorite Hot 100 hits. So I sorted out the favorites, some 400 of them. Then, in order not to think too much or too long, I culled any song I thought might be one of my thirteen favorites. I may have missed some really good songs that I didn’t mark, and surely I am skipping some superb singles that I don’t own or have not digitized, but I used the Force and let it tell me what to do with the material at hand.

One thing I looked for was songs that truly were singles. Crisp story lines, nicely rounded finishes, no sense that the song was hacked out of a larger work, the way a Pink Floyd single would be. I see an artistry in a perfect single that matches the magic of an excellent short story. It’s satisfying in itself, not incomplete and co-dependent like a chapter in a novel. As Oliver Wendell Holmes might have said, I know a real single when I hear one.

By accident I pulled out exactly forty finalists, which suits my way of thinking about music – in terms of countdowns. When I was ten, I started counting down my ten favorite hits, playing them in my mind when I mowed the lawn each Saturday. That short music chart had as much fluidity as a Billboard chart, but it also had a consistency that reflected the amount of thought I put into it. I remember such momentous decisions as replacing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at No.1 with “The Love You Save.”

Today’s Top Thirteen doesn’t have a lot in common with my final lawn-mowing Top Ten, because I stopped mowing the family lawn around 1982, when I graduated from college. But several songs from that era slipped into the forty candidates for this Baker’s Dozen, and I’m pleased that I still like the songs I enjoyed in my teen years. It would be awful to have outgrown myself completely.

I also started doing the DJ countdown thing on my record player when I was about eight. With just one turntable, that made for a lot of chatter between songs. That’s what you’ll get here; I’m going to explain my choices, rather than give valuable information about the artists, as whiteray does. And I’ll go bottom to top, so here goes:

13. “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond [Bang 578, 1970]

As much as I like other early Diamond hits, this song about betrayal and the response to it stuck with me as a clean discussion of the topic, with no self-pity to muck it up. The delicious Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich production, with the acoustic guitar accented by somber horns, meshed perfectly with the message.

12. “Shattered Glass” by Laura Branigan [Atlantic 89245, 1987]

This cut climbed only to No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100. What puts it here is ninety percent appreciation and ten percent desire to share a song you probably have never heard. I was rolling into Bloomington, Indiana after a very long drive, and I got stuck at a very long light at two a.m. This song, new to me then, came on the radio, and I cranked it to stay awake. My car was rocking on its springs already when Laura hit the climax notes of the chorus. The tsunami of sound left my brain unable to process all of the sound in real time. If you play this song loudly enough, her voice at that point will leave an impression on you that will never fade.

11. “No Matter What” by Badfinger [Apple 1822, 1970]

The story of Pete Ham and Tom Evans is tragic, and their band’s output was inconsistent, but they worked magic several times, most notably here. I am a sucker for songs that go silent abruptly and use a drumbeat to pull the music back in. I love the guitar work. I don’t tire of listening to Pete Ham singing. It’s a song about hanging in there. I wish people had hounded these two guys less relentlessly.

10. “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons [Warner/Curb 8168, 1976]

Three of my forty finalists were on the same chart in March-April 1976, and two of them are in the final thirteen. This song’s bass line has whiteray’s blessing as perhaps the best bass line ever, and that is what drew me to the song in the first place. An amazing piano part carries the song into the second vocal phrase, where the bass kicks in, and Gerri Polci’s turn as lead vocalist gives welcome respite from Frankie Valli. Apart from the message that not learning a lover’s name is an okay thing, the song chronicles a wondrous event without getting tacky. And you should fiddle with your graphic equalizer and isolate that bass line. Mmmmm.

9. “Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown [Atlantic 1125, 1957]

The year of 1957 was very good for me, musically. I wasn’t born yet, but Pérez Prado recorded “Why Wait” then (had it been an A side, it would be No. 2 here), and Ruth Brown gave us this bright shuffle that rolls along like a diesel engine with a hundred cars behind it. Any song that starts with a long, growly sax note gets my vote, and this one boasts the “No Matter What” silence as well. It would be a good song with anyone else singing it, but no one could put joy into a vocal the way Ruth Brown did.

8. “No One Is to Blame” by Howard Jones [Elektra 69549, 1986]

Almost an answer to No. 4 below, now that I think about it, I found this song heartbreaking at a time when I was heartbroken. Singing about the unattainable, Jones doesn’t get all of the words right, says I, but the melody, his soulful delivery, the percussion – it works for me in inexplicable ways.

7. “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies [Calendar 1008, 1969]

We’re getting to writhe-on-the-floor-in-ecstasy territory now, at least in the case of the upbeat songs. I blogged about this song, which was my one source of joy in 1969, a year that beat me to a pulp. I admire Jeff Barry beyond words, and if you forget the reasons why this song is so gentle, you’ll be able to appreciate the genius he injected into every beat.

6. “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones [London 910, 1969]

Charting simultaneously with “Sugar, Sugar,” this song gave my appreciation of music new range. Until then, I was too young for the Stones, but I figured them out here. The recurrent caithiseach theme of a horn section helps to reel me in, but I also love suspended fourths in any song, and the unified vision the guitars give to the subject matter round it all out. I always think about this being Brian Jones’ last work, and it tears me up.

5. “Misty” by Johnny Mathis [Columbia 41483, 1959]

The song is amazingly evocative poetry, and this arrangement, with artfully understated vocals, is the only version anyone needs to hear. Even so, I didn’t become familiar with “Misty” until 1984, when I waited table at the Raging Bull, a fine-dining establishment in Merrillville, Indiana, that provided music by pianist-singer Tony Liggins. He turned me on to the song, then I found the Mathis version on a Time-Life CD of 1959 hits. From there, the recording crept into my mind to the point that, after a bit of meditation, it wound up at No. 5 here.

4. “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez [A&M 1737, 1975]

As much as I enjoy her singing tunes by The Band, and as much as I could enjoy her singing almost any song, Joan accomplished something here that almost defies description, so forgive me if I fail you: She should be as bitter as Alanis Morrissette in these lyrics, but she is so graceful with her condemnation of Dylan that she soars above the situation and avoids sounding like a bitch. Start there, and add a chord progression that is as memorable (and inspired) as what Hoagy Carmichael came up with for “Stardust.” But “Stardust” does not have the eerie, haunting resonance of this song, of course. I don’t know how she could use any major chords in this song, but she chose exactly the right ones, at the right moments. I would crawl to where she is to thank her for the song, if I thought I could get past her bodyguards.

3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen [Elektra 45297, 1976]

I can explain this one. Freddie Mercury trusted his audience to be able to handle big words and big sounds. I enjoyed his work when he was alive, and I ache to have him back now that he’s gone. As a polar opposite to its fellow 1976 chart hit “December, 1963,” this song provided gravity without being maudlin or unlistenable in its pomposity. I think the song must have been a lot of fun to write and record, and I have always found it fun to listen to. My big problem with it came when my sister borrowed my single and scratched it in such a way that you could hear the entire song except for the gong, which is where it skipped. Thanks, Lisa.

2. “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA [Atlantic 3457, 1978]

In 1977-78, on Friday nights I watched Midnight Special. About two a.m., a truck would drop off Saturday newspapers for me to deliver. If I felt like it, I delivered the papers after the show rather than get up four hours later to do my job. Apart from almost getting shot once, it worked out fine. And one morning, I delivered my seventy-five papers with one song stuck in my head. Wolfman Jack had just played a string of ABBA promo clips, and he ended with their “new single,” which was three months away from its U.S. release. I had never heard an intro like the one to “Take a Chance on Me”: an a cappella female lead with male chant underpinning? Then the synth comes in, and finally the song explodes. A sweet message of at-some-point-to-be-requited love, the song is boundlessly cheery but not cloying. Another time, I was sitting in a disco in Salzburg, Austria, drinking expensive imported beer (Budweiser, their only beverage). The dance floor was empty. The DJ tossed on this song, the locals screamed, and before the chant started, there were a hundred couples grinding away. As they say, two hundred Austrians can’t be wrong.

1. “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals [Philles 106, 1962]

The vocalists are actually Darlene Love and the Blossoms. Phil Spector needed a Crystals record, and they weren’t available, and a voice is just a musical instrument, right? Well, I don’t think so. Gene Pitney’s composition captured the tug-of-war between leather-clad surly teens and frightened parents, with a girl’s arms as the rope, as succinctly as could be done. The girl’s choice is clear, which makes the song scarier for “adults” and an anthem for teens who want to push the envelope. Spector recorded some of his other songs very well, but this one includes a wistful piano, hot horns, a tasteful sax solo – and Darlene Love. She appeals to me more than any other Spector girl singer, and she took control of this song to a degree the actual Crystals might not have attained. From the time I became well-aware of this song, around 1970, it has ranged from first to third on my list of favorites. It’s time I admitted to myself that I don’t think any juxtaposition of lyrics, melody, vocals and arrangement tops this one.

Thanks, whiteray, for giving me this chance to think about the concept, and for the space to publish it. Thanks to you for reading what I wrote.

Some of the other songs I considered were:

“Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith

“What’s a Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You)” by Timi Yuro

“Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph

“Washington Square” by the Village Stompers

“Java” by Al Hirt

“Downtown” by Petula Clark

“Bus Stop” by the Hollies

“Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat

“Cecelia” by Simon & Garfunkel

“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5

“Be My Baby” by Andy Kim

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon

“The World Is a Ghetto” by War

“ I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by ABBA

“ Just Between You and Me” by April Wine

“Rosanna” by Toto

“Hello” by Lionel Richie

“Cherry Bomb” by John Cougar Mellencamp