Archive for the ‘1987’ Category

Keeping Track: The LP Log

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 12, 2009

Some time during the past year, I mentioned for the first time that I’ve kept track of when I’ve acquired my LPs and that I have a log for them that goes back to 1964. A few people asked me to write about the log, and I don’t think there’s a better time to do so than on Vinyl Record Day.

I remember when I thought for the first time that I should keep track of when I got my records: It was during the summer of 1970, when I bought my copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After I played the record, I thought to myself that I needed to find a way to keep track. So I pulled the out the plain white sleeve and wrote in pen at the very top (on the side margin actually, which is at the top when the sleeve is turned sideways) “June 1970.”

Then I went to the box where my sister and I kept our rock and pop records and did the same for the six of those records that were mine: Sonny & Cher’s Look At Us; Beatles ’65; Herman’s Hermits’ On Tour; the 5th Dimension’s Age of Aquarius; the Beatles’ Let It Be; and Chicago’s silver album from 1970.

Details stick with me: To mark my records on that first day, I used a red pen that happened to be sitting near the stereo in the basement rec room. It was a pen labeled “Property of the State of Minnesota” and no doubt came home from the college in my dad’s pocket one day. I used that same pen for about three years, I think, then switched to blue or black ink, whatever was handy.

For some reason, I only jotted down the month and year I’d gotten the records. And I only marked the rock, pop and soul records. I owned others, kept in a separate cabinet: Records by Al Hirt and the Tijuana Brass, some soundtracks and similar music, and some odd things. I didn’t pull those out and write months and years on them. It didn’t seem important at the time.

“Stardust” by Al Hirt from That Honey Horn Sound [1965]

“Carmen” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass from Herb Alpert’s Ninth [1967]

If I’d wanted to record the actual dates when I’d acquired those first six rock, pop and R&B records, I could have dated four of them with precision. The only two albums for which I would not have known a date were those by the 5th Dimension and by Chicago. But those acquisitions were recent enough on that summer day that I knew the months. As to the others: I knew for certain that Beatles ’65 came to my sister and me for Christmas 1965. [Actually, it was most likely Christmas 1964, just about the time the record was released. Note added January 23, 2014.]  I bought Let It Be on the day it was released, May 18, 1970. I got the Herman’s Hermits and Sonny & Cher albums from my sister for my birthday and for Christmas in 1965; I liked the records okay, but Sonny & Cher and Herman’s Hermits weren’t, you know, Al Hirt and Herb Alpert.

“It’s Gonna Rain” by Sonny & Cher from Look At Us [1965]

“Don’t Try To Hurt Me” by Herman’s Hermits from On Tour [1965]

As it turned out, marking those seven records with that red pen on that afternoon began a journey that finds me today with a database that has information about 2,893 LPs. Like all things concerning my record collection, it’s not something I planned to do. I just kept on keeping track when I purchased or received records, from that summer afternoon in 1970 onward.

I look back now at my early acquisitions and I’m reminded of my own case of Beatlemania, a malady that came upon me in 1970. (That was six years later than the rest of America, and I’ve been running behind ever since. Well, not really, but it sometimes feels like that.) I decided sometime during the summer of 1970 that I was going to acquire all eighteen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple by the time my pal Rick started his senior year of high school in September 1972. (I didn’t know that I’d set myself an impossible task: There were only seventeen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple at the time; A Hard Day’s Night was released on United Artists, but never mind.)

So I look at the log for 1970, 1971 and 1972, and I see many Beatles albums: In the last few months of 1970, I bought Hey Jude on a shopping trip to the Twin Cities, I got Revolver for my birthday and a buddy in school gave me his slightly used copy of Magical Mystery Tour, and on and on. By the time Rick and I – with our friend, Gary – headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in August 1972, I had one Beatles record to go to complete the collection. I bought A Hard Day’s Night in Winnipeg, less than a month before Rick began his senior year.

(That was not quite so, as I misread lines in the database, an error that I noted in a later post; I bought Beatles VI in Winnipeg and completed my collection with the purchase not long afterward of A Hard Day’s Night.)

If I got records as gifts, I also jotted on the sleeve or on the jacket (oh, the record jackets I’ve written on over the years!) the name of the person who gave me the record. That’s why, when it actually came time to create a database of my records, I could include a “From” column. Probably the oddest notation in that column is my note for Rubber Soul. One morning in January 1972, I got to talking about music with the guy next to me in Math 121. I mentioned my Beatles quest, and he asked if I had Rubber Soul. I didn’t. The next day, he brought me his slightly used copy of Rubber Soul. The day after that, evidently, he dropped Math 121, because I never saw him again. I think his name was Jerry, so on the record and in the database, the notation reads “Jerry in math class (?)”

Another album that I had to guess about came from a discard pile at KVSC, St. Cloud State’s student-run radio station. I took it home and I played it once, I know, and I must not have been impressed, for I put it in the cabinet with my soundtracks and other non-rock stuff. That’s where I found it sometime during the 1990s, when I cleaned out the last of my records and junk from the house on Kilian Boulevard. While I was compiling the database, I came to that one record, Mark Turnbull’s Portrait of the Young Artist, and found that there was no date written on it. I do, however, remember claiming it from the discard pile. And I know that once the 1971-72 academic year ended, I spent almost no time at the radio station. So I got the record sometime between December 1971 and May 1972. I called it February 1972.

Around the same time, in early 1972, I happened upon two albums that led me down roads of exploration, and by looking at the entries in the log, one can see the number of artists and types of music I was listening to grow and grow. One of those albums was the compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, and the other was an album titled Joe Cocker!

“Family Circles (Portrait of the Young Artist)” by Mark Turnbull from Portrait of the Young Artist [1968]

“Darling Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker! [1969]

With Mr. Turnbull’s album being one of the rare exceptions, I continued to record the month of acquisition for my records. When it came time years later to enter their dates into the database, all I had to work with was the month. So I used the first of the month, called it an estimated date and put the entry in italics: August 1, 1972. If I knew the exact date because of Christmas or a birthday or some other reason, I used regular type. That vagueness became unnecessary for records I got after September 13, 1974. Before heading out to a party that evening (who knows why I remember some of this stuff!), I went downtown, most likely to the shop called Axis, and bought a new copy of Duane Allman: An Anthology, and for some reason, I wrote down the exact date, as I would do from then on.

Sometimes I’ve missed. When I was entering all of this data into the computer in early 2002 – a task that took me about ten days, working on it about six hours a day – I found a few other records besides the Mark Turnbull album for which I had no date. Those I had to estimate, looking for a price tag if I bought it used (which would tell me where I bought it, and thus give me a timeframe based on when I frequented that store) or relying on my memory if I bought it new. I may be in error on some of those.

And remember the Al Hirt and Tijuana Brass records, along with the other stuff that predated my rock and pop days? When it came time to enter those, I had to do some estimating, too. One of them, I could date exactly: I got Hirt’s Honey in the Horn for my eleventh birthday. The others, well, I did the best I could.

And I would guess, looking at the database today, that I have exact dates for at least ninety percent of the records in the collection. And when I run through the database chronologically, the dates in italics become more and more rare and begin to stand out in that column as the years roll by. One of those later dates is for a copy – still sealed – of Harry Chapin’s last album, Sequel, purchased sometime during the autumn of 1990 at a record store in a mall on the west edge of Columbia, Missouri. (I kid you not; I remember this stuff.) I won’t open the record, but the songs on Sequel were re-released in 1987 on an album called Remember When the Music. I gave Sequel an estimated date of October 1, 1990.

Not far from Sequel in the log is the self-titled 1977 album by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff, which I bought a few weeks later at that same store in the west side mall.

“I Miss America” by Harry Chapin from Remember When the Music [1987]
(Originally released on Sequel [1980])

“Someone To Lay Down Beside Me” by Karla Bonoff from Karla Bonoff [1977]

One of the things I did when I compiled the database in 2002 was to look at information in the albums’ notes. I made a note when the album included guest performances or other stars joining in. When I made an entry for a compilation, I put the names of the most prominent artists in the notes column. I also kept track of some sidemen and studio musicians, like the folks who played with Delaney & Bonnie (and Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton and George Harrison) and the Swampers from Muscle Shoals. As I’ve mentioned before, when I shop, I look for those names and a few others in album credits, and when I find those names, I generally take the album home.

One of those albums, one that I found at Cheapo’s in Minneapolis in 2003, raises a question: Who is Lori Jacobs? The liner notes to her 1973 album, Free, tell us that she “lives in Michigan and performs nightly at the Ann Arbor Road House. She used to be a teacher and she used to be married.” And then the notes talk about how her songs “tell the story of a newly-awakened [sic] lady, her loves and sorrows.”

What the notes don’t tell us is how a woman whose credits seem to be that she performs nightly in a lounge in Ann Arbor, Michigan, managed to record her album with the Swampers at Muscle Shoals. They’re all there: Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. Joining in the fun were Clayton Ivey, Harrison Calloway and Harvey Thompson, who worked at Rick Hall’s FAME studios after Beckett et al. went on their own. Rick Ruskin, a pretty well-known guitarist from Michigan, joins in. And among the folks who came out to sing background on one of Jacobs’ songs were Clydie King and Venetta Fields. Who is this woman?

Jacobs, of course, was one only one of the many musicians who made pilgrimages to the studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Muscle Shoals. Not many were as seemingly obscure as Jacobs, but my notes point out another singer-songwriter who worked with the Swampers but who’s also spent some time in the shadows.

“Free” by Lori Jacobs from Free [1973]

“Come On Down” by Wendy Waldman from Gypsy Symphony [1974]

(I have a sealed copy of Free which I plan to break open and rip to mp3s one of these days. When I do, I’ll share the entire album here. This mp3 came from the copy I bought in 2003, which has some severe scratches.)

I spend more time these days wandering through the database looking for errors than I do keeping the log up to date. I just don’t buy a lot of LPs anymore. There are only two places to get good-quality records in St. Cloud, and the stock in those stores doesn’t turn over often enough for me to spend much time digging through the records. When I do go through the bins, I’ll grab something if I recognize it from my want list and it’s fairly rare. I also go to garage sales on a regular basis; that’s how I found Chipmunk Rock, from which I shared “Whip It” a while back.

And of course, I use the database frequently for posts here, running through each month’s acquisitions down the years. Once I do that for all twelve months, I’ll have to be a lot more creative when it comes to finding posts for Saturdays.

Digging through the database for this post has reminded me of records I have that I’ve not listened to for a while. Like the Sonny & Cher album, which likely hasn’t been played since, oh, 1968. And Mark Turnbull’s album, which probably hasn’t been played since 1972.

And there are treasures in even the most recent entries. One of the few records I acquired during 2008 was Leo Kottke’s Circle ’Round the Sun, a gift from Mitch Lopate, whose name has popped up here occasionally. There are also treasures less sublime.

“Long Way Up The River” by Leo Kottke from Circle ’Round the Sun [1970]

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by the Chipmunks from Chipmunk Rock [1982]

(All mp3s for this post were ripped from vinyl, so there are some bits of noise now and then.)

Tempted

August 18, 2021

Days like this come around every once in a while, days when I’m tempted to post something like:

And after a while the echoes died out, and all that was left was silence.

But not today. As I often do, I’ll lean on tomorrow, this time on “All Our Tomorrows” by Joe Cocker. It’s from his 1987 album Unchain My Heart, and its chorus offers something that feels like hope:

All our tomorrows find their own ways
And hear the sound of a distant thunder fading away
Well, every lonely night we’ll make our own brand of delight
And take all the comfort we may

Here is is:

On The Map, No. 2

December 11, 2020

A while back, we started a feature called “On The Map” by looking at songs that had “Memphis” in their titles. Today, we’re searching the digital files for tunes with “California” in their titles.

Our search brings up 197 tracks in the RealPlayer, many of which we have to dismiss. For example, we’ll ignore everything except the title tracks from Tony Rice’s 1975 album California Autumn, John Stewart’s 1969 album California Bloodlines, the Eagles’ 1976 album Hotel California, and all of a 2002 anthology titled California Soul.

We also have to let go of tracks by groups called California, the California Gold Rush, the California Guitar Trio, and the Californians, as well as an entire album titled Sounds of ’69 (including a cover of the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”) by the California Poppy Pickers.

And then, we lose a few tracks that my notes indicate were recorded in the Golden State, including five studio recordings by Elmore James from 1954 as well as live tracks by Santana from the late 1960s, by King Curtis from 1971 and by the Allman Brothers Band from 1975.

Still, my guess is that leaves us about 150 tracks to wander through with “California” in their titles. Alphabetically, they range from “Ain’t Nobody Home (In California),” a 1978 album track by Steppenwolf’s John Kay, to “Southern California Wants to be Western New York,” a 1996 effort from folkie Dar Williams.

There are duplicate titles, performances and covers, of course. There are, from what I can tell, seven different songs titled “California,” recorded by Charlie, the Freddy Jones Band, Jill King, Joni Mitchell, Pat Green, Bob Dylan, and Shawn Mullins. Little Richard adds a parenthetical comment to his “California (I’m Comin’).”

There are six tracks titled “California Blues,” three of which are the same song (Jimmie Rodgers’ original from 1928 and covers from Redwing in 1971 and John Fogerty in 1973). Two of the other three might be distant relations of Rodgers’ tune (from Dickey Betts & Great Southern in 1977 and Levon Helm in 2004), but the sixth, from the Crooked Jades in 2003, is a different song entirely.

I find eleven versions of “California Dreamin’,” from the 1966 original by The Mamas & The Papas to the 2010 cover by the Belgian choral group Scala & Kolacny Brothers. Some of the other covers of the John Phillips song are from Baby Huey, Bobby Womack, Johnny Rivers, Barry McGuire, and José Feliciano.

There are four versions of a tune I’ve not really noticed until this morning (as far as I know), “California My Way.” I’m a little chagrined, as Second Hand Songs tells me that the song was written by Willie Hutch and first showed up on the 5th Dimension’s Up, Up and Away album in 1967. That original is here, so maybe I should have recognized it. I also find covers by Rumbles Ltd. (1967), The Committee (1968), and the Main Ingredient (1974).

Another tune that shows up multiple times is “California Soul,” a Nickolas Ashford-Valerie Simpson song. Just seeing the title reminds me of a discussion via multiple emails more than ten years ago with the now-departed blogger who called himself Paco Malo. I preferred the 1969 version of the tune by Marlena Shaw, while he championed the duet from the same year by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. There are versions here as well by Brenda & The Tabulations, Edwin Starr, the 5th Dimension, and the Undisputed Truth, among others.

And there are many single tracks as well: “Bless You, California” by the Beau Brummels, “California Rain” by Delaney Bramlett, “California Blue” by Roy Orbison, “California Nights” by Lesley Gore, “California State Correctional Facility Blues” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, “Everyone I Meet Is From California” by America, and on and on.

So what should we listen to this morning? Well, I’m in a little bit of a subdued mood, so I think it’s time for “Here In California” by Kate Wolf. It’s from her 1987 album Close To You. It’s meditative and a little enigmatic:

Here in California,
Fruit hangs heavy on the vine.
There’s no gold. I thought I’d warn you,
And the hills turn brown in summertime.

One Random Shot

April 17, 2020

As I wrote ten years ago:

It was twenty years ago today that I watched a Bekins van pull away from my door with almost everything I owned inside of it. Fifteen minutes later, I gave my apartment key to my landlady, put three cats in carriers into my car and then followed the van’s path toward the highways that would take me from Anoka, Minnesota, to Conway Springs, Kansas.

I wasn’t in Kansas long, just about three months, and at the time, my moving there and then away in such short order felt like random events that life was throwing at me. Looking back, those moves – and a few that followed – look more like mid-course corrections that brought me back to the path where I belonged.

Thirty years after that move, I am without doubt where I belong, but life seems evermore random right now. That’s unsettling, and until I figure out how I feel about that, I’m going to move to another topic.

The Texas Gal and I are putting together a list of household tasks that we have neglected: defrosting the freezer, pulling out the carpet cleaner and letting it do its work, and so on. Some of the tasks on our list are less arduous, and we’ll start with a couple of those today.

But I’m going to go back to the randomness I noted in that earlier paragraph. I’m going to open up iTunes and hit “play,” and we’ll all listen to whatever it gives us.

And we get one of Nanci Griffith’s gentle meditations on life, time, and friendship, “There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret).” It’s from her 1987 album, Lone Star State Of Mind.

There’s a light beyond these woods, Mary Margaret.
Do you think that we will go there
And see what makes it shine, Mary Margaret?
It’s almost morning, and we’ve talked all night.
You know we’ve made big plans for ten-year-olds,
You and I.

Have you met my new boyfriend, Margaret?
His name is John, and he rides my bus to school.
And he holds my hand.
He’s fourteen, he’s my older man.
But we’ll still be the best of friends,
The three of us, Margaret, John, and I.

Let’s go to New York City, Margaret!
We’ll hide out in the subways
And drink the poets’ wine. Oh,
But I had John, so you went and I stayed behind.
But you were home in time for the senior prom,
When we lost John.

The fantasies we planned, well, I’m living them now.
All the dreams we sang when we knew how.
Well, they haven’t changed.
There’ll never been two friends like you and me,
Mary Margaret.

It’s nice to see your family growing, Margaret.
Your daughter and your husband here,
They really treat you right.
But we’ve talked all night
And what about those lights that glowed beyond
Our woods when we were ten?
You were the rambler then.

The fantasies we planned, oh, Maggie,
I’m living them now.
All the dreams we sang, oh, we damn sure knew how
But ours haven’t changed.
There’ll never be two friends just like you and me,
Maggie, can’t you see?

There’s a light beyond your woods, Mary Margaret

See you tomorrow.

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.

‘What’

August 25, 2017

We resume our tour this morning through the five W’s and one H of basic journalism, a trek we’re calling Journalism 101, during which we’ll highlight tunes with titles that include the words “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how.” We started with a post titled “Who” last month. Today, we move on to “what.”

Our initial search through the 96,000 or so tracks in the RealPlayer brings us 1,476 candidates. There’s winnowing required, and we lose entire albums (except, in some cases, the title track) from William Vaughn, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Jimmy Smith, Bobby Womack, Koko Taylor, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Janiva Magness, Catherine Howe, the Decemberists, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jackie Lomax, Gloria Scott, Pat Green, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and a fair number more. We also lose a few tracks from Michael McDonald, a couple tracks from the Staples, one track from the Dynamics, two tracks from Dinah Washington, a track from Rodney Crowell and a few others.

But there are plenty of tracks remaining for our needs this morning, and instead of trying to sort through the remainder with any sort of criteria, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work randomly. I’ll intervene for spoken word tracks, tracks shorter than two minutes, and anything before, oh, let’s say 1945. So here we go:

First up in our trek today is “What Do You Want” by the Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds. The track showed up in the U.K. on the 1966 album Yardbirds. In the U.S., it was on Over Under Sideways Down. It’s your basic garage rocker with a slight Brit twist, at least until the last third or so, when Beck takes things over. It’s not near the top of the Yardbirds’ oeuvre, but mediocre Yardbirds is a lot better than a lot of other things we might hear as we wander among the digital shelves here.

We move on to a record about which I know next to nothing, “What More Can I Say” by Jeffrey Clay & The Diggers. It was released by MGM in 1965 but went nowhere; it came to our attention in the massive Lost Jukebox collection that was available online a while back. It’s not in any of the chart books or files I have, the Airheads Radio Survey Archive finds no mention of the single in its vast collection of surveys, and it’s the only single for Mr. Clay and his pals listed at Discogs. It’s not a bad record, just a little boring, with one odd thing: Producer Gene Nash tacked the sound of an audience of screaming girls to the beginning and the end of the record, in what I’d guess was an attempt to make the listeners think the group was overwhelmingly popular. I just wonder who it was those young ladies were actually screaming for.

And we hit some traditional country with “What’ll You Do About Me” by Randy Travis. I suppose that back in 1987, when the tune was an album track on Travis’ Always & Forever, the tale of a spurned lover who won’t give up seemed like a good topic. But listening thirty years later, in a world that’s become much more attuned to the traits of domestic abuse, I hear the story of a stalker who’s likely dangerous (especially in the verse where he’s got his hands on a two-by-two):

All you wanted was a one-night stand
The fire and the wine and the touch of a man
But I fell in love and ruined all your plans
Now what’ll you do about me?

Imagine the faces on your high-class friends
When I beat on the door and I beg to come in
Screamin’ “Come on, love me again!”
Now what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can change your number, you can change your name
You can ride like hell on the midnight train
That’s alright, Momma, that’s okay
But what’ll you do about me?

Picture your neighbors when you try to explain
That good ol’ boy standin’ out in the rain
With his nose on the window pane
Now what’ll you do about me?

What in the world are you planning to do
When a man comes over just to visit with you
And I’m on the porch with a two-by-two?
Lady, what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can call your lawyer, you can call the fuzz
You can sound the alarm, wake the neighbors up
Ain’t no way to stop a man in love
Now what’ll you do about me?

All you wanted was a one night stand
The fire and the wine and the touch of a man
But I fell in love and baby, here I am
Now what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can change your number, you can change your name
You can ride like hell on the midnight train
That’s alright, Momma, that’s okay
Now what’ll you do about me?

And we close our four-tune sample with the combination from 2008 of a long-familiar name with a long-familiar tune: Bonnie Bramlett taking on “For What It’s Worth.” Bramlett, of course, was the Bonnie of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the powerhouse group of the late 1960s and early 1970s that offered a wicked stew of rock, blues, R&B and gospel; and the song, of course, is the one that Stephen Stills wrote when he was member of Buffalo Springfield that became an anthem for the counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A cynic could say, “Hey! It’s Double-Nostalgia Day!” But the song, slightly cryptic as it is, still sounds right today, and Bramlett’s supple and bluesy voice still sounds good on what is – so far – her most recent album, Beautiful.

‘West’

February 15, 2017

Today, finally, we go west, sorting through the digital shelves for four tracks that use the word “west” in their titles.

Sorting in the RealPlayer for the word, we get 613 tracks, but as I suspected, we have some winnowing to do. Numerous tracks have been labeled “West Coast” in the genre slot, and they fall by the wayside, Jackson Browne’s For Everyman, the City’s Now That Everything’s Been Said, and Walter Eagan’s Not Shy among them. Anything titled or tagged as having been recorded at the Fillmore West will be ignored, as will numerous blues joints that came out of West Helena, Arkansas (many of them by Howlin’ Wolf).

Most of Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won is lost, as are Ray Charles’ two volumes from 1962 of Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. The same holds for anything by Cashman & West (with and without Pistilli), and for a group called West, which gets double-docked for its 1968 self-titled album.

We also throw out the fight song from Western Illinois University, and numerous singles, starting with those on the Westbound and EastWest labels. Among the lost singles are “Linda’s Gone” by the West Coast Branch, “Fairchild” by Willie West, “Rave On” by Sonny West, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan, “Tennessee Toddy” by Billy Gray & His Western Okies, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” by Kim Weston, “500 Miles” by Hedy West, “Take What You Want” by West Point, and “The Ballad Of Paladin” by Johnny Western.

Still, we have enough to work with.

Trying to tap into the spirit of the music they’d made a decade earlier, the Allman Brothers Band offered “From The Madness Of The West” on its 1980 album Reach For The Sky. In its six-plus minutes, the jam gave the listener the expected: parallel guitar lines playing arching melodies, a percussion solo, modal progressions and a technically precise guitar solo. What it could not offer, of course, were those people and things the Allman Brothers Band lost along the way: the departed Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, the bypassed Jaimoe, and the ability to do things no other band could. “From The Madness Of The West” is decent listening but no more than that. If you let it roll by in the background without thinking about it, it’s pleasant music, but when you stop to think about the arc of the Allman Brothers Band, the track – and in fact all of Reach For The Sky – feels like the part in a novel where you pause and wonder if in fact there can be any revival.

In 1987, when the Grateful Dead released the album In The Dark and pulled from the album the single “Touch Of Grey,” I wonder if Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band were baffled by the result. The album went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the Hot 100. The group had reached the Top 20 of the album chart a few times before – Blues For Allah had done the best, going to No. 12 in 1975 – but never before had a Dead single hit the Top 40, much less the Top Ten. The group’s highest charting single before “Touch Of Grey” had been 1971’s “Truckin’,” which topped off at No. 64. As it happened, the Dead’s burst of popularity coincided with the rebirth of my interest in buying tunes, and In The Dark became the first Grateful Dead album on my shelves. And one of my favorite tracks from the album – “West L.A. Fadeaway” – qualifies for today’s exercise, bringing along a blues verse that more often than not makes me chuckle: “I met an old mistake walkin’ down the street today/I didn’t wanna be mean about it, but I didn’t have one good word to say.”

With a spare accompaniment – guitars and few strings – Nanci Griffith sings:

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

I remember times
When you’d weathered out my mind
But you always had a peaceful word to say
And you could always bring a smile
With the mischief in your eyes
Still, I’m glad the miles keep me separate from your games

You know you’re still as wild
As those old west Texas plains
Standing by the highway do you still call my name?
Lord, I can’t believe it’s been such a long, long time
Since I’ve seen that Texas boy smile

Well, I’ll be heading out of town
I may stop by next time around
Hell, it’s raining, but at least that’s something real
I came shackled down with fears
About our dreams and wasted years
And now I know exactly how to feel

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

The track is “West Texas Sun” from Griffith’s first album, the 1978 release There’s A Light Beyond These Woods. As one might expect for a first album, it’s a little tentative; the confident story-teller that I discovered in the early 1990s has yet to show up. (I think of “Love at the Five & Dime” from The Last of the True Believers in 1986 and “Trouble In The Fields” from Lone Star State Of Mind a year later, just to highlight two great songs that came along very soon.) But even early Griffith is worth a stop this morning.

And we close this morning with a recent version of a song that’s been around for nearly ninety years: “West End Blues.” Written by Clarence Williams and King Oliver and first recorded in 1928 by King Oliver & His Dixie Syncopators, “West End Blues” was one of the tunes that New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint selected for his 2009 album The Bright Mississippi. In his review of the album at AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that “although straight-out jazz is uncommon in Toussaint’s work, this neither feels unfamiliar or like a stretch,” adding, “Upon the first listen, The Bright Mississippi merely seems like a joyous good time, but subsequent spins focus attention on just how rich and multi-layered this wonderful music is.” As I listened to the most recent cover of “West End Blues,” I noted that the digital shelves also hold a copy of one of the earliest covers of the song: A 1928 release by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five.

Random In The ’80s

February 10, 2016

Simply because we don’t visit the decade very often around here, we’re going to make a four-stop trip through the 1980s this morning. When I sort for the decade, the RealPlayer offers us somewhere around 6,200 tracks. (I have to estimate because of things like catalog numbers – Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” Coral 61985, for example – and releases from box sets and other re-releases that note a date in the 1980s for things recorded earlier.) So here we go:

First up is Wynton Marsalis with “Soon All Will Know” from his 1987 album Marsalis Standard Time, Vol. 1. Modern jazz is not a territory I know well or travel in confidently, but a while back – after Marsalis and Eric Clapton recorded a live blues album – I grabbed some Marsalis CDs from the library and dropped them into our mix here, figuring I might learn something. I’m not sure I have so far, but I keep letting the tracks fall here and there as I roll on random. After seeming to wander around for a while, “Soon All Will Know” grabs a decent groove and offers a nice intro to today’s wanderings.

Steve Forbert’s music has been for years on the margins of my interest. Folks might recall that his 1979 single “Romeo’s Tune” showed up in my Ultimate Jukebox six years ago, but that was more a consequence of its getting radio play at a time when I wasn’t hearing much I liked on the radio. This morning, we land on “Laughter Lou (Who Needs You)” from Forbert’s 1980 album Little Stevie Orbit, a work whose tracks pop up on occasion but on which I’ve not focused much attention. The album went to No. 70 on the Billboard 200, clearly following on the success of 1979’s Jackrabbit Slim, which hit No. 20. But there was no interest in any singles from the album, even though Nemperor released “Song For Katrina” as a promo. As to “Laughter Lou (Who Needs You),” the lyrics have some nice putdowns for poor Lou and the music drives along quite nicely. I probably wouldn’t have changed the station if it had come on the radio back in 1980, but I don’t know that I would have anxiously waited to hear it again.

We move on to “Crazy Feeling” a track from The “West Side” Sound Rolls Again, a 1983 album by Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, the guys who years earlier were the heart of the Sir Douglas Quintet and its hit, “She’s About A Mover.” Sahm has shown up in this space a number of times over the years (as has Meyers, though almost always unmentioned while Sahm’s music played), and “Crazy Feeling” is a remake of a 1961 Sahm single that hews very, very close to the original; the major difference seems to be that the 1961 version doubled up on the crazy and was titled “Crazy, Crazy Feeling.” As to the album, there’s not a lot out on the Interwebs about it (and I’m not at all sure how it came to be in the digital stacks), but I do note this morning that a copy of the LP is going for $219 at Amazon. (That’s the asking price, of course; how much it actually sells for could be an entirely different matter.)

Anyone trying to keep track of the various unreleased works by Bruce Springsteen that end up bootlegged in the corners of the ’Net would have an impossible task. I don’t try to keep track; I just listen to the boots when they show up and keep some of them (well, most of them). One of the tracks that I’ve come across that way is “Sugarland,” which showed up on a board somewhere as part of a collection called Unsatisfied Heart, a group of outakes from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions in 1983 and 1984. According to Setlist.fm, Springsteen has performed the song live twice, two days apart in Ames, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska in November 1984. It’s a plaint about the prospects of a farmer (and that makes sense of the locales of its performances):

Grain’s in the field covered with tarp
Can’t get a price to see my way clear
I’m sitting down at the Sugarland bar
Might as well bury my body right here

Tractors and combines out in the cold
Sheds piled high with the wheat we ain’t sold
Silos filled with last year’s crop
If something don’t break, hey, we’re all gonna drop

‘If I Have Been Unkind . . .’

December 29, 2015

As I was learning how to make my way across the ocean of rock, blues R&B and all the rest during the early 1970s, I imagine that somewhere, I ran across the music of Leonard Cohen. Someone at a party, a dorm bull session, a quiet evening or somewhere else had to have put onto the stereo one of Cohen’s early albums – Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room or Songs Of Love and Hate.

I would have been unimpressed. The generally spare melodies and arrangements and the plainness of Cohen’s voice would have left me wanting more and would have over-ridden any regard I might have had for the quality of Cohen’s songs. Some of those songs I would have known via covers by other artists, like Judy Collins’ versions of “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” “Suzanne” and “Sisters Of Mercy,” and I liked those, but Cohen’s own versions left me cold.

(In writing that, I find some irony, for over the decades, I’ve been dismayed to hear friends say essentially the same thing about Bob Dylan: I like his songs, but I cannot stand the way he sings.)

So even though there’s a fair amount of Cohen’s work on both the vinyl and digital shelves here, very little of it is played. The only album of Cohen’s that I truly like is his 1992 work, The Future, and with the exception of the great track “Closing Time,” my regard for the album is tied more to its time and my place then.

This comes up now, of course, because as we put together an alternate version of Joe Cocker’s second album, Joe Cocker!, we run right into Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire.” It’s the second track on Cocker’s album, and his relatively spare take on the tune is likely the first one I ever heard. Judy Collins was evidently the first to release the song, on her 1968 album Who Knows Where The Time Goes, and I might have heard that before the spring of 1972, but I don’t think so. Some of the versions released through 1972, according to Second Hand Tunes, came from folks I would eventually listen to – Jackie DeShannon, Dave Van Ronk, Genya Ravan and Tim Hardin among them – but they were not on my turntable then.

So would any of those early versions work for our purposes today? I like the idea behind Collins’ country-tinged take, but I think the vocal gets lost. Ravan’s take from 1972 is restrained with a slowly building backing, and I like it, too. Plenty of covers have come since then, of course, and I’ve heard and liked some. But among all the versions of the tune that I’ve heard – and that list also includes covers by k. d. lang, the Neville Brothers, Fairport Convention, Kate Wolf, Johnny Cash and more – I keep coming back to Jennifer Warnes’ foreboding version on her 1987 album of Cohen’s songs, Famous Blue Raincoat.

Saturday Single No. 465

September 26, 2015

While cleaning the kitchen this morning to make way for another Saturday of pickle power – the last of the season? We’ve thought so before – I let the iPod keep me company. And as one of the tunes played, I wondered how often had it been mentioned here over the past eight-plus years.

Only twice, as it turns out, and it’s been offered for listening only once. So I thought I’d let the archives do the bulk of the work for me today. Here, edited slightly, is something I wrote in October 2007 about the year of 1987:

In 1987, I began what I now call the nomadic phase of my life. During the nearly five-year period from May 1987 through March 1992, I moved eight times, wandering from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and back to Minnesota.

It was, clearly, an unsettled time in my life. I taught at two universities, a college and a community college, lost one cat, wrote for four newspapers, wrote a novel and lots of lyrics, fell in love three times and watched it fade three times, bought more than six hundred records, made friends and lost friends, survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 (a total of twenty-eight inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities from October 31 through November 3), and wound up on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where I lived for the next seven years, waiting (though I did not know it) for the Texas Gal’s path to intersect mine.

And, as always, I listened to a lot of music. Being on college campuses at various times during those years kept me more in touch with new music than I had been when I was working as a free-lance writer. That was especially true in Minot, North Dakota, where I advised the university newspaper for two academic years, from the autumn of 1987 through the spring of 1989. My office was adjacent to the paper’s newsroom/workroom and the sound of the radio in the next room was inescapable. Luckily, I liked most of what I heard.

Among the tunes I heard coming from that radio in the next room was the Grateful Dead’s “Touch Of Grey.” It turned out to be the band’s only Top 40 hit, going to No. 9 in the Billboard Hot 100, and it came from the band’s only Top Ten album, In The Dark, which went to No. 6. Chart success, of course, was never the Dead’s primary motivation, but the record sounded good coming from the radio and eventually, from my stereo.

And because that sound is one of the good memories I have from my time on the Dakota prairie, “Touch Of Grey” is today’s Saturday Single.