Archive for the ‘1986’ Category

‘Looking For Mercy Street . . .’

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 1, 2009

There are, I am sure, numerous blank spots in my music collections: holes where one would otherwise expect to find LPs and CDs by major artists or of major styles and subcultures of music. One of those that I know about is Genesis. I have none of the British group’s work on LP or on CD. I do have the mp3 for one of the group’s albums, 1973’s Selling England By The Pound, but hearing it on occasion – and quite liking it – hasn’t spurred me to go out and get any of the group’s other twenty or so other albums.

I’m not at all sure why that hole exists. The group came along at a time – during the early 1970s – when I listened to a little bit of everything. Why none of its music made it to my shelves is a mystery. The two better-known members of the group who went on to solo careers are represented at least a little: I have – and like – Phil Collins’ Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going! And I have the LP of Peter Gabriel’s So, a 1986 album that I regard as one of the great albums of all time (in the top fifty, maybe?). In addition, I have digital files for So and for two of Gabriel’s earlier self-titled albums, the 1977 effort colloquially known as “Car” and the 1980 album frequently called “Melt.” Even so, there’s not a lot of music here by the two of them, but it’s enough to know that I like it and I really need to go get more.

The problem is, of course, that the same words – “I really need to go get more” – can be written about the work of almost any musical performer or group represented in my collection. My attention and my resources are limited. Post like this – in which I acknowledge gaps in my collection and in my knowledge – sometimes serve as the equivalent of Post-It Notes, little pastel flags telling me to find the single edit of the Moody Blues’ “Question” or to check the bitrate of the mp3s by Maria McKee or – as in this case – to find more music by one or more performers.

Those reminders get my attention, and when the resources are available, those tasks are done and gaps are filled. So in the near future, I expect I’ll dig a little deeper into Genesis, into the solo careers of Collins and Gabriel and wherever else those explorations lead me.

In the meantime, I listened once again the other day to So, losing myself in “Red Rain,” “In Your Eyes,” “Don’t Give Up” (with the angelic presence of Kate Bush) and, especially, “Mercy Street.”

Of the Peter Gabriel songs I know – and the preceding paragraphs should make it very clear that there will be many I do not know – the one I find most compelling is “Mercy Street.” I’m not sure why, and I don’t intend to analyze that attraction today. I would have thought my favorite might be “Don’t Give Up,” but “Mercy Street” kept coming to mind yesterday.

(Part of the song’s attraction for me might be that “Mercy Street” is dedicated “for Anne Sexton.” Sexton, says Wikipedia, “was an influential American poet and writer known for her highly personal, confessional poetry.” Sexton, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 and who dealt frequently in her work with her long battle with depression, took her own life in 1974.)

And with Gabriel’s version in my head yesterday, my RealPlayer came to rest randomly on a cover of the song from an Iain Matthews album that’s also a favorite of mine, 1990’s Pure and Crooked.

So I thought I’d see who else has covered the song. All-Music Guide lists ninety-one CDs that contain “Mercy Street,” with about thirty of those being various versions by Gabriel himself. Among those listed as having covered the song are Christy Baron, Black Uhuru, Al di Meola, Danni Carlos, Jane Duboc, Fenix, Valerie Graschaire, Herbie Hancock, Keith James, Lee Jeffriess, Leaving the Ozone, Kate McGarry, Ransom Notes, A Reminiscent Drive, Jenny Reynolds, Richard Shindell, Storyville, Sugar Plum Fairies, John Tesh and David Widelock.

Some of those names are familiar to me; most aren’t. But “Mercy Street” seems to be a song that can survive being pulled into numerous styles and interpretations. I may dig up some of these covers in the future.

For now, I have two cover versions to offer. The first is, of course, by Iain Matthews, the one-time member of Fairport Convention and the founder of the short-lived Matthews Southern Comfort. He’s issued more than twenty-five LPs and CDs since 1969, most of them well-received. Pure and Crooked contained more original material than covers, a rarity for Matthews, but to my ears, “Mercy Street” is the best thing on the CD.

The other cover of “Mercy Street” comes from Miriam, the first popular music release by South African-born Miriam Stockley, a classically trained vocalist who’s recorded primarily in that field. She was also a member of Praise, a contemporary Christian group that released one CD in 1992. Her 1999 album, notes All-Music Guide, had songs performed “in English, Zuli and a language she just made up.” That debut album, AMG notes, came off as a “fusion of classical, world, pop and new age elements.” I found Miriam by accident a year after its release, and Miriam Stockley’s name remains on my list of performers to explore further.

That said, here is the original version of “Mercy Street” and covers by Iain Matthews and Miriam Stockley.

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So [1986]

“Mercy Street” by Iain Matthews from Pure and Crooked [1990]

“Mercy Street” by Miriam Stockley from Miriam [1999]

The Moody Blues: The Late ’80s

February 11, 2022

We resume our assessment of the Moody Blues’ catalog today by looking at the two studio albums released in the last half of the 1980s: The Other Side Of Life from 1986 and Sur La Mer from 1988.

It’s probably not over-stating things to say that the first of those two albums made the band relevant again, following the failure of 1983’s The Present to gain very much attention. Key to the success of the album was the single (and accompanying video) “Your Wildest Dreams” with the young British psychedelic band the Mood Six portraying the young Moody Blues:

Boosted by the video – and the quality of the song, an exercise in nostalgic romance from the pen of Justin Hayward – the album went to No. 9 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the magazine’s Hot 100 and was No. 1 for two weeks on what was then called the Hot Adult Contemporary chart.

The album and single were in the charts from spring through the summer, and I imagine I heard the single, but I didn’t buy the album for a couple of years. When I did, it was kind of a let-down. Beyond “Your Wildest Dreams” and the title track (which went to No. 58 on the Hot 100 and No. 18 on the HAC chart), the album was pretty blah. The closer, “It May Be A Fire” was a collaboration between John Lodge and Hayward, and was all right, as was the duo’s “Talkin’ Talkin’,” but otherwise, the band sounded as tired as it had in 1993 on The Present.

But even a halfway good Moody Blues album from 1986 was a good deal when I got it in 1988. The band sounded like the band had always sounded, with the mysticism pretty much left behind. Back then, I’d have been tempted to give it a B+ just for the high points. But listening more than thirty years later, the dross pulls the album down some. Call it a C+.

I brought home the next Moody Blues album, Sur la mer, just more than a week after it was released in June 1988. I was hooked, no doubt, by hearing the album’s title track, a yearning exercise in romanticism with hints of the idea of soulmates. The track was so closely a follow-up to “Your Wildest Dreams” that the video used the same actress – Janet Spencer-Turner – to play the romantic interest.

With only a couple of exceptions, though, the rest of the album again sounded tired. The sound was there, but the spirit was, for the most part, not. “No More Lies” is a decent love song from Hayward, and his “Vintage Wine,” an elegy for the 1960s, is earnest but simplistic. One review I read recently called “Deep” as “overtly sexual as any piece” in the group’s catalog. Maybe. The same review said “Breaking Point” is much darker than anything else the group has done, and that’s likely true.

But those last two notes are about tone, not quality, and the record, once the listener gets beyond “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” is the sad sound of a band running out of ideas. The charts reflect that: The album went to No. 38, and the title track went to No. 30 on the Hot 100 and to No. 9 on the HAC chart. It’s a C- effort at best.

Saturday Single No. 729

March 20, 2021

One of the most-represented artists on the shelves here came to me twenty-eight years ago today. Like today, March 20, 1993, was a Saturday, and I was scouting out a new-to-me used record store on Minneapolis’ Nicollet Avenue.

The store was, if I recall rightly, about five blocks north of Lake Street, in an area unfamiliar to me. There was nothing shady about the neighborhood; it was home to, among many other things, a German restaurant I’d visited occasionally. But beyond several instances of schnitzel and beer over the years, I knew little about the area.

A record store is always going to draw me in, though, and as I wandered through the stacks and racks of this one – its name long-forgotten – my eye was caught by a record jacket tucked into the folk and country section:

Last Of The True Believers, The

I don’t recall the price, but I’m sure it didn’t cost more than a couple of bucks, and I added Nanci Griffith’s The Last of the True Believers, a 1986 album, to the other two records I’d grabbed that morning – Don McLean’s self-titled album from 1972 and Glenn Yarbrough’s Honey & Wine from 1967 – and headed to the cash register and then home. And, I assume, sometime that afternoon or evening, I listened to the eleven tracks on The Last of the True Believers and encountered Nanci Griffith’s unique voice and diction for the first time.

I added two more albums over the next few years, and when I began to buy CDs, added yet more of Griffith’s music. And by the time we get to today, twenty-eight years since I first heard her voice, there are 261 of her tracks on the digital shelves.

Simply by that total, I’d have to acknowledge that she’s my favorite of the artists found at that intersection of folk and country. (Darden Smith, whose music I’ve mentioned here many times, comes in second with a total of 180 tracks.) And there are only six artists of any genre whose music is better represented on the digital stacks here. (Fodder for a post in the next week, likely.)

So today, March 20, is Nanci Griffith Day around here. And to celebrate, here’s “Love At The Five & Dime,” the best track from The Last of the True Believers. I offered the song once before in a version from a later album, but here’s the original version, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Somewhere East Of Midnight . . .’

April 29, 2020

In 1988, April 29 was a Friday, and I’m guessing that I stopped off to do some shopping on the way home from Minot State University that day and came away with a copy of Gordon Lightfoot’s 1986 album East Of Midnight.

The album was Lightfoot’s most recent release of all new material. (Sometime in 1988, he would release Gord’s Gold, Volume II, which included re-recordings of some of his recent work, as well as some repackaging of earlier recordings and one new track.) And it was, according to the LP database, the fifth album by the Canadian folk singer to come home with me.

I was likely in a difficult mood that day, struggling after the ending of a relationship during the first days of the month. New music might cheer me, I suppose I thought. And there was another thing, as I look back.

One of the stages of grief, it’s said, is bargaining: If I do this, things will change and the grief will go away, or something like that. And, I’ve read, we don’t often recognize the bargaining behavior at the time. One of the touchstones of the relationship just ended had been music, and Lightfoot’s music had been high on our list. Was there a subconscious motive in my buying East Of Midnight?

Maybe. I’d added some Lightfoot to my stacks during the previous year, while things had been going well. I might have seen East Of Midnight as a talisman of some sort. Or maybe not. As well as I recall the events of that spring, I can’t untangle my motivations on that long-ago Friday.

So I don’t remember the specific purchase. At first thought this morning, I was guessing I stopped at a garage sale on the way home, but after pulling the record from the stacks, I lean toward a retail purchase: the jacket is crisp and the record is shiny and unmarked. I assume I put the record on the turntable sometime after dinner that evening, but it’s pretty evident that the record has not been out of the jacket very often in the past thirty-two years. And when it has come out of the jacket, it did so most often at the times I was making mixtapes for friends. I often included the album’s moody title track on those mixtapes.

I recognize the other titles listed on the jacket, but none of them are favorites of mine, especially not “Anything For Love,” which was pulled from the album as a single. It’s the one track on the album produced by David Foster, whose work I’ve never much cared for. (Lightfoot produced the rest of the album.) And as a single, “Anything For Love” had some success, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart; the album itself went to No. 165 on the Billboard 200. Given the radio stations I tended to listen to in 1986, I imagine I heard the single without really noticing it.

In the context of the album, though, the single was noticeable, as Foster’s overblown approach was vastly different from the tack Lightfoot took, a pop-folk vein familiar to listeners since his first major successes in 1970. And I imagine I noticed that difference during that first playing of the album on that long-ago evening.

In the years since, I’ve continued to gather Lightfoot’s work, with seventeen LPs and five CDs on the stacks here. East Of Midnight isn’t my favorite; I think that title would go to 1974’s Sundown, with Shadows from 1982 coming in second. East Of Midnight comes somewhere after those two, but the dark title track still ranks pretty highly with me. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, so I’m not sure what Lightfoot was actually trying to say, but I like it nevertheless.

And the fact that I found the track during a difficult spring and still like it in a springtime thirty-two years later – a springtime also difficult but for far different reasons – pleases me. Here’s “East Of Midight.”

Saturday Single No. 685

April 18, 2020

I’ve spent a little bit of time yesterday and this morning trying to sort out Nanci Griffith’s discography, all in the wake of sharing yesterday her 1987 version of “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret).”

I say “1987 version” because Griffith first recorded and released the poignant song in 1978. Without the parenthetical portion of the 1987 title, the song was the title track to Griffith’s first album, released on the B.F. Deal label. The re-recording of the song came after Griffith was signed to MCA; the album Lone Star State Of Mind, where the re-recording can be found, was Griffith’s second album for MCA.

And as far as I can tell, that’s the only song that Griffith has re-recorded in the studio – or at least re-released – from either There’s A Light Beyond These Woods or her second album, Poet In My Window (released on the Featherbed Productions label in 1982). One track from Poet – “Workin’ In Corners” – did find its way into the set list for the 1988 live album One Fair Summer Evening.

I imagine I’m the one of the few people who cares about this stuff. Well, probably not. I’m sure there are Nanci Griffith obsessives out there, just as there are discography obsessives. I only dabble in both topics, digging around in Griffith’s music when something brings her up (as the randomizer did yesterday), and digging around in various discographic sites when I have a question (as I did about “There’s A Light Beyond These Woods”).

As far as Nanci Griffith’s music goes, I have a fair amount of it: All but one of her albums are on the digital shelves and I have five on CD. Before the vinyl sell-off a few years ago, I had three LPs of her; the first one I bought was Last Of The True Believers. I actually remember pulling it from a bin in a store on Minneapolis’ Nicollet Avenue about a mile or so from my 1990s apartment.

How do I remember? I’m not sure, but I know I rarely shopped in that Nicollet Avenue store, and I recall being intrigued as I looked at the album, which came out on the Philo label in 1986, in between two of her albums on MCA. Something about the jacket grabbed my attention, and at the time, I was willing to try pretty much any new artist in most genres, so I put the album in the stack of stuff I was buying. The LP log tells me it was March 20, 1993; I also bought albums that day by Don McLean and Glenn Yarbrough.

Anyway, I took the album home, and sometime in the next few days I plopped it on the turntable. I clearly liked what I heard – especially her idiosyncratic voice and diction – as I ended up buying more and more of her stuff over the years. So I wondered, as I was digging around in the course of writing this (probably not too interesting) piece, what was the first Nanci Griffith track I heard?

Well, it likely was the opening track of Last Of The True Believers, which turned out to be the title track. So here’s “The Last Of The True Believers,” today’s Saturday Single.

It’s Video Thursday!

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 25, 2009

As long as I mentioned Modern English and “I Melt With You” yesterday, I thought I’d look for the original video. I think this is it.

Here’s a live performance of “None But The Brave” by Bruce Springsteen with the Max Weinberg 7. It took place at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on December 7, 2003.

And continuing to be fortunate, I found a live performance of “I’ve Been Working Too Hard” – with side excursions into “Little Queenie” and “Can I Get A Witness” – by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from a 1992 concert at the Music Hall in Cologne, Germany.

And here’s a Farm Aid ’86 performance of “Comes A Time” by Neil Young with harmony vocals from – I believe – the late Nicolette Larson.

As for tomorrow, I’ve got a couple of Jim Horn albums in the pile to rip, and a few other things that might be interesting. I’ve also got a little bit of an itch to see what was going on in, oh, 1961 or 1962 around this time of year. I’ll figure it out tomorrow morning.

Into The Eighties

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 24, 2009

I generally don’t spend a lot of time contemplating the 1980s. The years of big hair, thirtysomething and “Greed is good” don’t attract me much. I find myself, as regular readers no doubt figured out early on, much more interested in the 1960s and the 1970s, the years when I did the bulk of my growing up.

I do tend to subscribe to the theory that we never cease growing up. There is always work to be done, and there always will be. For me, some difficult parts of that work came in the 1980s, making some of those years hard. On the other hand, some of the finest years of my life – professionally and personally – came during that decade, so on the plus-minus scale, it’s mostly, I would guess, a wash.

But according to the numbers I shared here a few weeks ago, I’m not all that much interested in the 1980s, as least as far as the music of the decade goes. Here are the numbers of mp3s, sorted by decade since 1950, as I reported a few weeks ago:

1950s: 1,152
1960s: 8,820
1970s: 13,445
1980s: 3,327
1990s: 4,525
2000s: 5,319

There are fewer songs from the 1950s than from any other decade because, turning six just before the decade ended, I remember so little of those years, both in a large sense and musically.

If I were asked what song from the Fifties I remember most from hearing at the time, it would be a tie between Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” (No. 1 for six weeks in 1958) and David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” (No. 1 on three different charts in 1958 as well). Those are fun, which has its place, but not exactly the kind of artistry I like to recognize here.

Leaving the 1950s, then, as something incomplete, the numbers above show an interesting tale: I clearly have much less interest in the 1980s than I do in any of the other decades I remember. And I’m not sure I know why.

I used to think it was the music: arena rock and synthpop and drum machines and dancepop are what come to mind. I know I wasn’t listening to much pop music when the decade started. As I spent time on various college campuses through the decade, as a grad student, a writer and a teacher, I heard more current music than I had in a while. I liked some of it, and as I dig further into that lost decade these days, I find I like more of the music than I would have expected. (That means that on another day down the road, when I run the numbers, that imbalance may have diminished a bit.) So it might not have been the synthpop and the drum machines and the dance pop. (Arena rock remains less than attractive.)

I called the 1980s a lost decade just above. That might be a bit harsh, but it’s not far from the truth. I didn’t care for a lot of what I saw happening in public affairs or in popular culture, so I think that for chunks of the decade, I just checked out – from music, from most television, from film, from current fiction and nonfiction and from current events (with the exception of those that immediately affected how I was earning my living at the time as a reporter, a public relations writer or a teacher). And at the same time, I was looking for a place to roost, moving from Monticello, Minnesota, to Columbia, Missouri, and back to Monticello. From there, I spent a summer in St. Cloud, then moved to Minot, North Dakota, for two years, and finally ended the decade in Anoka, Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis.

And here’s a random selection from each year of that decade of drifting:

1980: “One Love” by Sniff ’N’ The Tears from The Game’s Up
1981: “The Innocent Age” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age
1982: “Tables Turning” by Modern English from After the Snow
1983: “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” by Bob Dylan, New York City, April 23
1984: “None But The Brave” by Bruce Springsteen, Born In The U.S.A. sessions, New York City
1985: “Minutes to Memories” by John Cougar Mellencamp from Scarecrow
1986: “Love You ’til The Day I Die” by Crowded House from Crowded House
1987: “Isolation” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart
1988: “Let The Rain Come Down On Me” by Toni Childs from Union
1989: “The Last Worthless Evening” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence

That’s kind of an interesting mix. I do have a few thoughts:

As much as I like most of Fogelberg’s work, and as beautiful as I thought The Innocent Age was when it came out, its lush orchestration is sounding more and more overblown as the years pass.

The Dylan track is an early version of “Tight Connection To My Heart,” which showed up on Empire Burlesque in 1985; you can find this version on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3. It’s interesting to compare the two and get a look at Dylan’s creative process, looking at what he retained and what he changed. The Springsteen track is from the third CD of The Essential Bruce Springsteen. It sounds more relaxed – but no less muscular – than the songs that made it on to Born In The U.S.A., if that makes any sense.

The Crowded House tune is a lot more, well, angular than the stuff I know best by the band. I have a soft spot for “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” but the lushness of that ballad wasn’t a fully accurate picture of the band, either. The truth was, I guess, in the middle.

I’ve never known Sniff ’N’ The Tears’ work well, so we’ll let “One Love” pass. As to the Modern English track, “Table Turning” is kind of just there, with nothing – to my ears – that differentiates it from a thousand other songs from the same period. It certainly pales next to the same album’s gorgeous “I Melt With You.”

The Toni Childs’ track is from a cryptic album I’ve loved since 1988. The Mellencamp and Cocker can go without any comment. I do wish that a different Henley tune from The End of the Innocence had popped up. From the first time I heard “Heart of the Matter,” I’ve thought that Henley asked the key question about the 1980s:

“How can love survive in such a graceless age?”

Well, love did survive, of course, as did I and most of us who were around for those years. But they truly were, in so many ways, graceless. As do most years, however, they at least left some good music behind.

‘East’

June 30, 2016

In our first two installments of our “Follow The Directions” adventure, we’ve hit “North” and “South” and for some reason bypassed “East” along the way. Today, we head that direction, looking for tunes for the eastward road.

A search for “east” on the RealPlayer gives us exactly 400 tracks, but as usual with these searches, many of those tracks will be dismissed. Anything recorded at the Fillmore East goes by the way, including the Allman Brothers Band’s astounding live album from 1971, a full concert by Leon Russell from 1970, and single performances by the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

We also lose some entire albums (except title tracks, in some cases): Mandrill’s Beast From The East (1975), Don Henley’s Building The Perfect Beast (1984), Tower Of Power’s East Bay Grease (1970), Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers’ East Carson Street (2009), the Patti Smith Group’s Easter (1978), Badly Drawn Boy’s The House Of Bewilderbeast (2000) and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (2010).

Gone, too, are any tracks by East of Eden, the Voices of East Harlem, Head East, the Beastie Boys, Skip Easterling, the Eastenders, the East Texas Serenaders, the East River Boys, the East Side Kids and a few singles on at least two labels from over the years: “East West” and “Eastwest.” And at least eighteen additional tracks with the word “beast” in their titles (and a few with “Easter” and “feast”) go by the wayside as well.

But, as almost always happens, we have enough tracks left for us to sort through, and we’ve found four good examples to accompany us as we head east:

We’ll start with a track from a friend of mine, the late Bobby Jameson. His “Girl From The East” is a song he wrote and recorded as Chris Lucey in 1965 for the album Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest. (Performer Chris Ducey came to a disagreement with the Surrey label after he’d recorded an album by that title; Bobby was hired to write songs with titles matching those that Ducey had recorded for the album, and the album cover – already printed – was altered to make the performer’s name “Lucey” instead of “Ducey.”) “Girl From The East” was also recorded by the Leaves and showed up as a B-side on some versions of the Mira label’s release of “Hey Joe.” Here’s the video Bobby made in 2010 for “Girl From The East.”

One of the delights of the CD age has been the unearthing of alternate takes and unreleased tracks offered as addenda to long-familiar albums. An example of that for our journey this morning is “East of Java” from the 5th Dimension’s sessions for the 1968 album Stoned Soul Picnic. As it happens, the track could easily have been called “Java Girl,” because to my ears “east of Java” doesn’t come into the mix until near the end of the record. And for those looking for something with a South Asian/Indonesian flair, well, sorry. The track is firmly rooted in the L.A. session sound that the 5th Dimension offered on its thirty hits in the Billboard Hot 100 (including seven in the Top Ten) between 1967 and 1976.

On my 35th birthday in 1988, I got some records (huge surprise, right), scoring LPs by Cream, the Grateful Dead, the Who and Van Morrison. But the best album I got that day was Folkways: A Vision Shared, subtitled “A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.” The album offered fourteen tracks written by the two long-gone roots legends as performed by artists ranging from Little Richard, Brian Wilson and Sweet Honey In The Rock to John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. One of those taking part, of course, was Arlo Guthrie, who offered his version of his father’s “East Texas Red” to the proceedings. The tale of the railroad guard and the men who eventually take their revenge is classic Woody Guthrie.

Also in my listening mix during the difficult year of 1988 was lots of Gordon Lightfoot (and his presence in my playlists remains even as the years have gotten better). His 1986 release East Of Midnight was on the turntable on occasion but not as frequently as some of Lightfoot’s other work, most notably Sundown, Shadows and If You Could Read My Mind. Still, I found myself humming the title track at odd times, as lines like “For the things that might have been, I need no more reminders,” and “The ocean is where lovers meet again” wound their ways into my head and heart that year. It’s an oddly metered song and probably not high on a curated list of Lightfoot’s work (it was not one of the two Lightfoot tracks that showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox), but for at least a few seasons, it was part of my life.

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]

Six At Random

December 5, 2013

Well, being a little tired from shoveling the first portion of a six-inch or so snowfall, and with the second portion waiting on the sidewalk for my attention, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work today and walk us through six tunes at random. (I will skip stuff from before, oh, 1940, as well as the truly odd). So here we go:

First up is “Treat Me Right” from Nothing But The Water, the 2006 album from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that was, I think, the first thing I heard from the New England group that’s become one of my favorites. The slightly spooky groove, the organ accents and Potter’s self-assured vocal remind me why I’ll listen to pretty much anything that Ms. Potter and her bandmates offer to the listening public. I have five CDs, some EPs, and some other bits and pieces of the band at work, and I find that all of that scratches my itch in the way that only a few groups and performers – maybe ten, maybe fifteen – have since I started listening to rock and its corollaries in late 1969.

I came across the North Carolina quartet of Chatham County Line via County Line, their 2009 collaboration with Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. Today, we land on the cautionary “Sightseeing” from the group’s 2003 self-titled debut album. In reviewing the album, Zach Johnson of All Music Guide writes: “Centered around a single microphone, the band plays acoustic bluegrass instruments in the traditional style, but there’s a sly wink in the music – like in the trunk of their 1946 Nash Rambler there may be some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records underneath the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs LPs. Any nods to rock & roll are successfully stifled in their songwriting though, as the band specializes in purely honest and irony-free honky tonk bluegrass, earnestly sung and expertly picked as if ‘marketing strategies’ and ‘the 18-24 demographic’ never existed.”

The 1980s country group Southern Pacific featured a couple of ex-Doobie Brothers – guitarist John McFee and drummer Keith Knudson – and by the time the group got around to recording its second album – the 1986 effort Killbilly Hill – one-time Creedence bassist Stu Cook joined the group. Still, on “Road Song” and the rest of the group’s output (and there were a few more membership changes along the way), there’s less of a rock feel and more of a 1980s country polish that doesn’t always wear well nearly thirty years later. That would be more of a problem if we were listening to full albums here; one song at a time, it’s easy to overlook. And the group was relatively successful: Thirteen records in the Country Top 40 between 1985 and 1990, four of them hitting the Top Ten.

In early 1967, the Bob Crew Generation saw its instrumental “Music To Watch Girls By” go to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune, written by Sid Ramin, originally came from a commercial for Pepsi-Cola and was popular enough in that arena that it quickly attracted recording artists. Second Hand Songs says that the first to record the tune was trumpeter Al Hirt, whose version bubbled under the chart at No. 119, while Andy Williams saw his version – with lyrics by Tony Velona – go to No. 34. Other covers followed, one of them from a studio group called the Girlwatchers. Their version was the title track to a quickie album in 1967 that also included titles like “Tight Tights,” “Fish-Net Stockings,” “Tiny Mini-Skirt” and so on. “Green Eyeliner” is the track we land on this morning. I’m not sure how the album found its way onto my digital shelves, but it’s an interesting artifact, and I imagine I’d recognize the names of quite a few of the studio musicians who helped put it together.

Speaking of members of the Doobie Brothers, as we were earlier, during one of the band’s quieter times, guitarist Patrick Simmons released a solo album, Arcade, in 1983.To my ears, it sounds very much like early 1980s Doobies, with a glossy blue-eyed soul sound that – like the glossy country of Southern Pacific mentioned above – works fine as individual tracks go by but tends to work less well as an entire album. Simmons released two singles from the album: “So Wrong” went to No. 30, and “Don’t Make Me Do It” went to No. 75. A pretty decent record titled “If You Want A Little Love” was tucked on the B-side of “So Wrong,” and that’s where our interest is this morning.

And we close our morning wanderings with a tune from Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! That’s a 1956 effort that sometimes finds its way into the CD player late at night here in the Echoes In The Wind studios. The album came from the classic sessions that paired Sinatra with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, and “It Happened In Monterey” is pretty typical of those sessions: brass and percussion accents, the occasional swirling strings and more, all in service of one of the greatest voices and one of the greatest interpreters of song in recording history.