Archive for the ‘1987’ Category

Blondie, Ry & Bob

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 28, 2009

Well, digging at YouTube starts out well this week. Here’s a live 1979 performance – for television, I assume – of “One Way Or Another” by Blondie:

I didn’t find anything from Ry Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music, but then I quit looking after I found this gem from a March 25, 1987, concert in Santa Cruz, California: A performance of “Down In Mississippi” from the soundtrack to Crossroads. Here’s the roster of musicians: Ry Cooder: guitar, vox; Jim Keltner: drums; Van Dyke Parks: keys; Jorge Calderon: bass; Flaco Jimenez: accordion; Miguel Cruiz: percussion; Steve Douglas: sax; George Bohannon: trombone; Bobby King: tenor; Terry Evans: baritone; Arnold McCuller: tenor; and Willie Green Jr: bass.

And finally for today, here’s Bob Dylan with a brilliant performance of “Masters of War” from the 1994 Woodstock Festival.

Video deleted.

Tomorrow, we’ll dig into a Richie Havens album that I’ve mentioned before but never shared.


On The Reading Table

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it more so for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise! [1981]
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You [1981]
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment [1987]
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun [1987]
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light [1988]
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe [1987]

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.*

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

*The linked video is evidently the single edit. Video linked and note added July 1, 2013.

Saturday Single No. 112

December 16, 2011

Originally posted January 31, 2009

I got to thinking this week about the folks who work in the so-called service industry. It’s got to be a tough sector to work in, and generally, I think, they do pretty well. The dry cleaning is usually done on time, and all of our shirts and sport coats come back to us; we generally don’t end up with a necktie that someone across town owns and wants back. Far more often than not, the bottle we get at the pharmacy actually contains the antibiotics we need, not the antidepressants ordered by the unhappy woman who lives two houses down. For the most part, things go well.

But we remember more clearly, of course, those times when things go less well. And the real test for folks who work in customer service is how they respond to the mischances or errors that foul things up. A shrug and a “Sorry!” are not nearly enough.

The Texas Gal and I got an opportunity last weekend to see how things should be handled. We’d each spent some time that Saturday afternoon on projects – she on a paper for school, I on combing through some music history – and we’d neglected to thaw anything for dinner. So we headed out into the chill air and decided on Old Chicago, a place we’d gone only once or twice before.

We ordered – rigatoni for her, a Cajun steak for me – and sat chatting as she sipped her Dr. Pepper and I tried a Finnegan’s Irish Amber, an ale from St. Paul’s Summit Brewing. Time slid past as we chatted about – among other things – how bad we think the economy will get and for how long. I finished the Finnegan’s, not all that impressed, and the waitress asked what I wanted to try next.

The beer list at Old Chicago is extensive, but the waitress – her name was Kate – warned me that the restaurant was revamping its list and some of the beers and ales listed might not be available. I nodded and ordered a Polish beer. Moments later, Kate came back and said it was no longer in stock. I ordered an English beer. Kate came back empty-handed again, almost embarrassed.

So I said, “Tell you what. Go to your bartender and ask him to send me the best obscure dark beer he’s got.” She grinned and headed off, and a few minutes later, she brought me a bottle of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (from North Coast Brewing of California). And she said, “The bartender said that because your first two choices weren’t there, this one’s on the house.”

I was impressed. Not being able to fill orders for two relatively obscure beers from an extensive beer list is not a major failing. For me, the customer, it’s an “Oh, well, that’s too bad” moment. So getting the third order free was a pleasant surprise, and it told us a little bit about how that particular restaurant does business.

The Old Rasputin poured thick and dark, with a creamy brown head. And it might be the best beer I have ever had. If I were truly a beer reviewer, I’d say something like “It carries a dark chocolaty taste with sweet overtones and a hint of coffee, and an echo of that something sweet – cherries and plums? – lingers afterward.” I know, that sounds pretentious and all that. But it was that complex and, yes, that good. (The folks who frequent certainly think it’s a fine beer.)

We were about to learn more about how Old Chicago does business. It was crowded and busy there that evening, but it began to seem – as we sat and talked – that it was taking quite some time for our food to arrive. And then, Kate came to our booth again, visibly unhappy. For some reason, she told us, the kitchen had set our orders aside and had just now gotten around to them. Because of the delay, she said, our meals were on the house.

We had nowhere else to be, so the delay didn’t disturb us. And as we ate our meals, the restaurant’s manager came over to make sure everything was okay. It was an object lesson in how – at a time when every customer is important – to keep customers wanting to return to your place of business.

So for Kate, the bartender, their manager and all the folks at St. Cloud’s Old Chicago, here’s Joe Cocker’s “Satisfied,” today’s Saturday Single.

“Satisfied” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart [1987]

Edited slightly on archival posting.

The Anniversary Of Flight

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 17, 2008

One of my favorite books when I was a kid was titled Men of Science or something like that. (It’s one of the few books from my childhood that has not stayed with me over the years, for some reason, so I’m not at all sure of the title.) I got it as a birthday present when I was eight, and it didn’t take me long at all to work my way through the biographies in the slender volume.

I recall reading the stories of Louis Pasteur, Alexander Fleming, Guglielmo Marconi, Enrico Fermi and the Wright Brothers. I think that the book also had chapters on Henry Ford and on Pierre and Marie Curie, but I’m not certain. (There were some scientists missing, if I recall the book correctly. I’d think that chapters on Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and a few others should have been there but weren’t, if my memory is accurate.)

Beyond broadening a young boy’s knowledge (and the book was, I recall, aimed specifically at boys in a way that it might not be today), I think that one of the goals of the book’s authors was to guide its readers toward science and scientific thinking as a career. Well, to me at age eight, a life in science wasn’t all that attractive. But the book did make me think: I remember reading the entry on Marconi, which presented the inventor’s internal thoughts as he prepared to test his mechanism for sending and receiving radio waves. “How do they know what he thought?” I wondered. “Who told them that?” In other words, what was their source? I was being a editor.

The book came to mind as I looked at today’s date. It was 105 years ago today that Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the first recorded powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (There are other claims to the Wrights’ achievement, says Wikipedia, but authorities favor the Wrights.) So it’s a good day for songs about flying.

A Six Pack of Flying

“Flying Sorcery” by Al Stewart from Year of the Cat, 1976

“Flying” by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy, 1971

“Learning To Fly” by Pink Floyd from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, 1987

“Come Fly With Me” by Wild Butter from Wild Butter, 1970

“Flying High” by Country Joe & the Fish from Electric Music For The Mind And Body, 1967

“Fly Baby Fly” by the Main Ingredient from Bitter Sweet, 1972

A few notes:

When it came out in 1976, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat was one of those LP’s that for a year or so was never far from my turntable. Like most U.S listeners, I was unfamiliar with the native of Glasgow, Scotland, until then, but the songs on Year of the Cat – melodic, filled with historic and cultural allusions and produced remarkably well by Alan Parsons – made me a fan. While I like the title song immensely, “Flying Sorcery” is, for those very reasons – the combination of melody, intelligent lyric and pristine production – my favorite Stewart track.

It Ain’t Easy was the album that helped Long John Baldry become lots more hip than he ever had been, at least in England, where he was well known as a folk-blues singer who had drifted over the years to the middle of the road. In the U.S., I would guess, he wasn’t known much at all. But 1971’s It Ain’t Easy – with Rod Stewart producing the first side of the LP and Elton John producing the second – brought Baldry back to attention in the U.K. and into the U.S. spotlight for the first time. The opening track, “Conditional Discharge/Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock & Roll,” was a staple of FM radio in the early Seventies. “Flying” was a track from the second side of the album, and Elton John’s work on both piano and organ are good, but to me, the long track works because of the byplay between Baldry and the background singers, led by Lesley Duncan, a studio stalwart in Britain in those years.

“Learning to Fly” is a track from Pink Floyd’s 1987 album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. A single edit was released and spent eight weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 that October and November, peaking at No. 70.

Anything I know about Wild Butter, I learned from Leonard at the blog Redtelephone66. When he posted Wild Butter’s self-titled 1970 album last February, Leonard wrote:

“Wild Butter was started in 1970 by drummer/lead singer Rick Garen and keyboard player Jerry Buckner. Garen had previously been in the Collection and recorded a demo called ‘Little Man.’ Former Rogues member Jerry was impressed and got Eric Stevens, WIXY program director and manager of Damnation of Adam Blessing, interested as well. Stevens took it to New York and after a week or two Buckner got a call saying the band had a LP recording deal with United Artists, only there was no band, yet, although UA didn’t know that. ‘Put a band together’ was the request [,] and Rick and Jerry talked to their Akron peers and found Jon Senne’ (guitar) and Steve Price (bass) willing to get on board. Wild Butter played a month or so before recording the LP at Cleveland Recording. ‘Little Man’ was not done, but a whole LP was, including excellent songwriting contributions from everyone. Considering the short time the band had to work up the songs, the high level of writing, musicianship, and vocals are amazing, and the LP is certainly a lost treasure of 1970 contemporary unpretentious melodic rock.”

One of the Rolling Stone album guides said something to the effect that in 1967, any self-respecting hippie had to own a copy of Electric Music For The Mind And Body. Given the number of vinyl copies of the album I’ve seen over the years in used music stores and pawnshops and at garage sales, that might be correct. “Flying High,” the album’s opening track, represents pretty accurately the ethos of the album and the group and most likely most young folks in California in 1967.

“Fly Baby Fly” is a nice bit of light pop-soul from the Main Ingredient’s Bitter Sweet album, the same album that included “Everybody Plays The Fool,” which went to No. 3 in 1972.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

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!

Miriam Makeba, 1932- 2008

September 26, 2011

Originally posted November 11, 2008

Commemoration is one of the functions that blogs like this one take on.

As musical pioneers or stalwarts cross over, their passings are noted in Blogworld, sometimes here, sometimes at other blogs, sometimes seemingly at every blog that puts its voice forward. I have no idea how many blogs will write about Miriam Makeba today, but I imagine there will be many.

And yet, even knowing the central place that Makeba and her music played in the long struggle for a free South Africa, I find myself hesitant to write much about Makeba or her music or the struggle. Not because of a lack of importance, but due to my lack of knowledge. (I have a vague memory of seeing Makeba in concert at St. Cloud State when I was about eight, but I’m not sure, and even so, that’s not nearly enough to hang a post on.)

I can start with the fact that Miriam Makeba, a singer who earned the sobriquet “Mama Afrika,” died yesterday near Caserta, Italy, after she became ill during a performance. I know – thanks to Wikipedia – that she was born in Johannesburg as Zenzile Miriam Makeba in 1932.

The Wikipedia piece summarizes her life and career as well as I can, and it looks as well at the musical and cultural impact Makeba had on her homeland as it moved slowly out of the tragedy of apartheid. As I expected when I heard the news of her death yesterday, there is a moving tribute to Makeba at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. Check it out; living in and writing from Makeba’s South African, he’ll have far more to say, more cogently, than can I, observing and writing from afar.

As for music today, here’s the track “Malaika” from the 1965 album by Makeba and Harry Belafonte, An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba.

“Malaika” by Harry Belafonte & Miriam Makeba [1965]

And here, in a live performance from Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1987, is Makeba performing “Soweto Blues,” written by her one-time husband, Hugh Masekela.

“Soweto Blues” by Miriam Makeba [1987]

And to close, here’s a video of the same performance:

RIP, Miriam Makeba.

Saturday Singles Nos. 95 and 96

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 11, 2008

JB from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ left a comment about Wednesday’s post, the Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s. He wrote: “Biggest question unanswered by your post: the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir?”

Well, the quick answer would be that Bulgarian choral music has become a somewhat hot property among world music fans since 1987, when Marcel Cellier recorded the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir and then released the recordings on an LP titled Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices).

Interest was honestly so large that in 1988, a second Cellier album, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2, was released; it included recordings by several small ensembles – some of them archival – as well as performances by the BSR&TFV Choir. Volume 3, which I have never seen, followed, as did Vol. 4, which I only have as mp3s. I do not know if Volume 4, for which I have no documentation, was recorded entirely by the choir or whether it also includes various small ensembles, as did Volume 2. At the very least, though, the tags on my copy of Vol. 4 are partly wrong, so in the absence of any other information, Wednesday’s offering should have been credited to the original group, the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir. But that’s a quick answer.

A longer answer starts with records in the 1960s and 1970s on the Nonesuch label, which included In the Shadow of the Mountain: Songs and Dances of Pirin-Macedonia, which was recorded in Bulgaria. I’m not sure of the date on that one; I found a 1970 date online when I was cataloging my vinyl, but I’m not entirely certain that’s right. I do know that there were earlier releases of Bulgarian choral music, whether by large choirs or small ensembles. How do I know?

I recall reading – I think it was in one of the Rolling Stone record guides, but I cannot put my hands on the piece this morning – that David Crosby gave at least partial credit for the close harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash to his having listened to the impossibly close intervals in Bulgarian singing. And that happened before the 1968 formation of CS&N.

It was, in fact, reading that statement by Crosby that got me interested in Bulgarian choral music. I have two different editions of the first record as well as the second on vinyl. I’ve found the first on CD and got rips from friends of the second and fourth.

I’m by no means an expert on ethnic music, and I have to acknowledge that I rarely listen to the albums all the way through. But the songs – with their odd-to-western-ears harmonies and intervals – make a nice break when they pop up during random play.

When I was pondering this post this morning, I took a look at YouTube, and found a clip of the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir performing in 1990 on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show:

I’m sure there are holes and gaps in this brief account. Anyone who has more, or more accurate, information is welcome to leave a comment. I’ll just say that I find the music fascinating.

And here are two songs. First, a 1957 recording, “Ovdoviala Lissitchkata (The Fox Has Lost His Cubs)” by the Orchestra Yvan Kirev from 1988’s Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2 and the second, “Polegnala e Pschenitza” by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir from Cellier’s original effort, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, today’s Saturday Singles.

Orchestra Yvan Kirev – “Ovdoviala Lissitchkata (The Fox Has Lost His Cubs)” [1957]

Bulgarian SR&T Female Vocal Choir – “Polegnala e Pschenitza” [1987]

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

A Baker’s Dozen For The Heartstrings

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 6, 2008

Boy, I gotta pay attention to what I write.

I was wandering through the cyberattic last evening, seeing if any of last spring’s posts needed reviewal or brought up something more to write about. And I found a post in which I listed my three favorite singles.

They were “Summer Rain,” a 1967 single by Johnny Rivers, “We” from Shawn Phillips, released in 1972 , and “Long, Long Time,” Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 minor hit. That was on May 24.

Then, less than three weeks ago, I offered up the Association’s “Cherish” as the perfect pop-rock single.

Now, there may be a difference between a favorite single and “perfect” single, but it would be slight. What the comparison between the two posts means is that I’ve been in the process of refining my views, and when reminded of another possibility – or when recalling something I’ve forgotten for a short time – I can modify my views. For some reason, when I was writing the May post headed by “Summer Rain” – sparked by a discussion at a bulletin board – I didn’t think about “Cherish.”

Why? Because I forgot about it. I wrote the bulletin board post that sparked my post here off the top of my head, and the Association record slipped my mind. But as I look at the four songs in question – the three from the May post and “Cherish,” I realize that they all do come from a list I did put together some time ago, a list of songs guaranteed to tug at my heart. They don’t all have memories of young women attached to them, although some of them do. But every one of them – when it pops up on the radio or the RealPlayer – will make me slow down for a moment or two, during which the bartender of my soul serves me a cup of bittersweet wine.

So, after excluding “Cherish,” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” as I posted both here fairly recently, here are the thirteen best songs remaining on that list:

A Baker’s Dozen for the Heartstrings
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by the Supremes & the Temptations, Motown single 1137, 1968

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread, Elektra single 45701, 1970

“Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol single 2846, 1970

“Hey Tomorrow” by Jim Croce from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, 1972

“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John, MCA single 40280, 1974

“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise single 0686, 1968

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seal & Crofts, Warner Bros. single 7740, 1973

“We” by Shawn Phillips, A&M single 1402, 1972

“All That Heaven Will Allow” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love, 1987

“Sentimental Lady” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Cobwebs and Dust” by Gordon Lightfoot from If You Could Read My Mind, 1970

“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

A few notes:

Most of these, I acknowledge, are pop or singer-songwriter stuff, pretty mellow tunes for soul-searching in the dark hours, but the opener, well, even when the performers at Motown were baring their souls, they did so with a groove. The opening drums (has to be Benny Benjamin, I think) and then the low horns, followed by the horn chorus, well, all I can still say, forty years after I first heard it, is wow! My reference books are all packed away, or I’d credit the producer. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t sound light enough for a Smokey Robinson session. Maybe Holland-Dozier-Holland, or possibly even Berry Gordy himself. Anyone out there know? Whoever did it, they got it right.*

Bread recorded “It Don’t Matter To Me” twice. The first version, on the group’s first, self-titled album in 1969, sounds flatter than the single version that was released a year later. That’s likely recording technique instead of performance, and my preference for the single instead of the album track is likely based on familiarity, but the single version does seem the better of the two.

I expect a summons from the Taste Police – a term I’ve borrowed from fellow blogger Any Major Dude – regarding the Newton-John selection. Well, I’m guilty! Cuff me and lead me away! Make me listen to Ambrosia and Air Supply! “I Honestly Love You” is a good song (Peter Allen’s work) and a good recording. And I think it’s by far the best thing Newton-John has recorded in a long and indifferent career.

All of these have lyrics designed to make one sigh or worse, but the best lyric here might be “All That Heaven Will Allow,” with Springsteen’s working man taking us through three uses of the title phrase with three different meanings. A neat trick, and the Boss makes us believe it.

Fleetwood Mac should have had a hit with “Sentimental Lady” when Bare Trees came out in 1972. As it turned out, a remake by writer Bob Welch reached No. 8 in 1977, but the original is by far the better version of the song.

*As it happens, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was not produced by any of those luminaries I mentioned, but by Frank Wilson, about whom I know nothing. Note added and post revised slightly July 27, 2011.

‘He’s Never Near You . . .’

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 22, 2008

You could call it the accidental hit.

The Billboard Book of Number One Hits tells the tale: In 1969, producer Paul Leka joined Mercury Records, and he brought to the label a friend from his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, a musician named Gary De Carlo.

De Carlo and Leka put together four songs and brought them to Bob Reno, the head of Artists & Repertoire for Mercury. Reno thought all four of them sounded like hits and told the duo to go back into the studio and record a B-side. On the day of the session, an old friend of De Carlo and Leka’s – Dale Frashuer – stopped by the studio. The three men had been in a group called the Chateaus in Bridgeport, and Leka and Frashuer dug through the songs they’d written together when they were in the Chateaus

In that jumble of songs, they found a 1961 up-tempo ballad called “Kiss Him Goodbye,” and began to record a B-side for one of De Carlo’s singles. The song ran about two minutes, and the three decided to lengthen it to discourage deejays from flipping the single over and playing the B-side.

In the Billboard book, Leka says, “I started writing while I was sitting at the piano, going ‘na na na na, na na na na . . .’ Everything was ‘na na’ when you didn’t have a lyric.” And someone else added “hey, hey, hey.”

Early in the morning, the track was done, except for the lyrics of the chorus. Agreeing it was just a B-side, the three included the “Na Na Hey Hey” chorus on the record, repeating it a few times.

Well, you know how things sometimes go. Reno heard the song and said it sounded too good for a B-side. He persuaded Leka and De Carlo to let Mercury release it as an A-side on the Fontana label, with the duo and Frashuer agreeing that the record could go out under an assumed group name, not as De Carlo’s single.

“It was an embarrassing record,” Leka said. “Not that Gary sang it badly. But compared to his four songs, it was an insult.”

So Leka came up with a name. He recalled walking out of the studio in the early morning after finishing the record and seeing steam coming out of a manhole. The record would go out under the group name of Steam.

And of course, it went to No. 1, and De Carlo’s records went nowhere. Leka and Frashuer pulled more material from the Chateaus period for an album and composed some new material in De Carlo’s range. Unhappy with the turns of events, De Carlo refused to record as Steam, and Leka went back to Bridgeport and found a local group willing to be Steam.

For my part, I think the single – which spent two weeks at No. 1 during December 1969 – is a great one. Not a great song, mind you. It’s only an okay song. But it’s a great record with an unforgettable hook. One feels for De Carlo, but folks who follow music know that stuff happens. Actually, stuff like that happens in every arena: The gods, the Fates, the dice of the universe – whatever it is that shapes events – turns things one person’s way for no other reason than that he or she was standing there.

The song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” shows up on about one hundred and forty CDs, according to All-Music Guide. At least half of those are anthologies that include the original single by Steam, but there are still some interesting names on the list: Axxis and Bananarama. The Belmonts, Fancy and the Hermes House Band. The Countdown Singers, those studio phantoms and inveterate cover artists familiar to TV viewers, are listed, as are James Last, Liberace and the Ohio Express. Edwin Starr took a crack at the song, as did the Pioneers. And so did the Nylons.

The Nylons’ version on the Open Air label went to No. 12 during the summer of 1987 under the title “Kiss Him Goodbye” and was included on their Happy Together album. The recording showed up as well, this time titled “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye),” on the group’s 2003 album Illustrious.

So, here is the Nylon’s version from 1987, and although it’s a little omnipresent, I thought I’d post the original by Steam as well.

Steam – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” [Fontana 1667, 1969]

Nylons – “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” [Open Air 0022, 1987]

(I have two mp3s of Steam’s version, one that clocks in at 4:04 and one that runs 4:08. The album version is timed at 4:12, so that’s no help. Not being sure that it’s the original mix, I posted the mp3 with the higher bitrate.)