Archive for the ‘1992’ Category

It’s Video Thursday!

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 25, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Otis, Neil & Gypsy

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 9, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Here’s a clip of Otis Redding performing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” during the 1966 Stax-Volt European Tour. (The individual who posted the clip asked the question: “Did he cover the song from the Rolling Stones or did they cover it from him?” The correct answer, of course, is that the Stones wrote it and recorded it and Otis didn’t just cover it. He took it right away from them. But then, he did that with a lot of songs.)

Here’s one of the better performances of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that I passed by on Tuesday: Neil Young at the 1992 concert celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Bob Dylan’s first album.

Video deleted.

I was hoping to find something by Gypsy, whose self-titled debut album I reposted this week. What showed up is a video that uses the album’s opening track, “Gypsy Queen, Part 1,” behind a collection of archival film and photos showing the group during 1970 or so. The quality and coherence of some of the visuals is questionable, but it’s still a pretty cool package.

And here are a few more reposts:

New Routes by Lulu [1970]
Original post here.

Melody Fair by Lulu [1970]
Original post here.

Ambergris by Ambergris [1970]
Original post here.

With Friends and Neighbors by Alex Taylor [1971]
Original post here.

A Landmark In Peril

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 23, 2009

Twice during trips to visit the Texas Gal’s family in the Dallas area, she and I have driven into the heart of downtown Dallas, to a portion of the city whose good days are long gone. There, we’ve visited Park Avenue and the building at 508, where Robert Johnson recorded thirteen tracks over a two-day period in 1937. As well as taking pictures, I’ve stood on the front step, sharing the same space once occupied by both Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton.

The other week, the Texas Gal’s mom and sister sent me a clipping of a story from the Dallas Morning News, detailing the uncertain future of the building at 508 Park Avenue.

(It seems that the links to the images that ran with the story are no longer working. [Nor, for that matter, is the link to the story.] Here’s a photo of the front door of the building that I took on one of our two visits to Park Avenue.)

It would be nice to have the building saved, of course, both for its exterior architecture and for its place in music history. But I’m guessing that won’t happen. In the meantime, here are cover versions of some of the songs Robert Johnson recorded during his two days in Dallas in July of 1937.*

A Six-Pack of 508 Park Avenue
“Stop Breakin’ Down” by the Jeff Healey Band from Cover To Cover [1995]
“Malted Milk” by Eric Clapton from Unplugged [1992]
“Traveling Riverside Blues” by John Hammond from Country Blues [1964]
“Love In Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!’ [1970]
“Stones In My Passway” by Chris Thomas King from Me, My Guitar and the Blues [1992]
“I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man” by Robert Lockwood, Jr. & Carey Bell from Hellhound on My Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson [2000]

*I was too pessimistic, it seems: According to this piece in the January 26, 2012, edition of the Dallas Observer, the building at 508 Park Avenue will be restored and become the site of the Museum of Street Culture. That will include a recording studio on the floor of the building where Robert Johnson and others played, and – according to the January 26, 2012 piece – a memorial of some sort in the corner of that floor where Johnson and other musicians actually sat or stood to record. Note added February 1, 2012

Leo, The Muppets & Brownsville Station

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 19, 2009

It’s time for a trek through YouTube again.

Looking back to yesterday’s post of Leo Kottke’s Mudlark, I found a clip of Kottke performing a sweet version of “The Arms of Mary” on an episode of Austin City Limits. From what I’ve been able to track down, the show was taped in August 1992 for an airdate in 1993.

And here’s Kottke performing “Deep River Blues” for a taping of Sessions at West 54th in December 1997.

In Tuesday’s post, I mentioned the Muppets as one of the groups credited with covering Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” I found the clip, from an episode of The Muppet Show that was recorded between November 22 and 24, 1977. According to Muppet Wiki: “Two of the verses to ‘For What It’s Worth’ were rewritten in order to transform the popular anti-war song song into an anthem against hunting, but no one has ever been officially credited for these additional lyrics.” Muppet Wiki also notes that the audio of the sketch was included on a Muppets record released in 1978, but that on a 1994 release, the interruptions by the hunters were edited out.

And to close, here’s a clip from the January 29, 1974, episode of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert with Brownsville Station performing “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” and “Barefootin’.”

Tomorrow, I think we’re going to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the middle of February 1977. As I write this, I’m not at all sure what we’ll find, so it could be an adventure.

How Long Ago It Truly Was

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 2, 2008

I talked to my mother yesterday as she celebrated her eighty-seventh birthday. She’d been able to get to a meeting of her women’s group for the first time in a while, and she was in good spirits. We chatted briefly about that, about the gifts that the Texas Gal and I had brought her on Saturday, and about plans for the week ahead. After we hung up, I sat at my desk and tried to put into perspective how long ago 1921 actually was.

There are a few ways to do that. One is purely historical: World War I had ended just more than three years earlier and was still known simply as the Great War, as its sequel was still eighteen years in the future. Babe Ruth was twenty-six and had just completed his second season with the New York Yankees. The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming was still seven years in the future; its widespread use as a literal lifesaver would come some years after that.

Another way of thinking about how removed we are from the year of 1921 is technological. Mom was born in a farmhouse not far from the little town of Wabasso, Minnesota. There was no electricity in the house; more than a decade later, the family was living on another farm near the small town of Lamberton when the area was first wired through the work of the federal Rural Electrification Administration.

I look at the stuff on my desk as I write. The only things on it that would be recognizable to someone visiting from 1921 would be my coffee mug and the small woven mat I use as a coaster, the box of tissues, the case with a pair of eyeglasses, the antique brass urn from India I use as a pen holder, maybe some of the pens (there may be a pencil or two in the holder as well) and a small, flat stone found in the Mississippi River. Everything else, from the computer, the monitor and the CDs to the headphones, the portable telephone and the two plastic pill bottles, would be strange, ranging from the disconcertingly odd to the utterly alien.

I recall a drive in 1975 or so. My folks and I had driven down to Lamberton and were taking my grandfather – my mom’s father – out for dinner for his birthday; the nearest nice restaurant was in the town of Sleepy Eye, about thirty miles away. As we drove along U.S. Highway 14, Grandpa and I looked out the window and saw a jet plane leaving a distant contrail just above the northern horizon. As we watched the airborne white line fade into the blue sky, Grandpa shook his head. “You know,” he said, “I drove away from my wedding in a horse-drawn buggy. And I saw men walk on the moon.”

My mom was born just six years after that horse-and-buggy wedding, and it’s astounding to think of the changes she’s seen – not all of them changes she’s approved of – as she’s lived into the cyber-age. (She doesn’t use a computer, though I occasionally show her something of interest on a computer either at my home or in the library at the assisted living center. She was fascinated by the fact that I could find pictures online of the small town in Germany from which her grandfather emigrated. I occasionally send emails for her to her distant cousins there, and she occasionally buys things on the ’Net with my help.)

And as I wrote this morning, I thought of one other way of putting into perspective how long ago 1921 was, a view that takes into account my own fascination with music history: In 1921, Robert Johnson was ten years old.

A Six-Pack of Futures

“The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” by Mickey Newbury from ’Frisco Mabel Joy, 1971

“Future” by the Panama Limited Jug Band from Indian Summer, 1970

“Future Shock” by Curtis Mayfield from Back To The World, 1973

“Future Games” by Fleetwood Mac from Future Games, 1971

“Future Blues” by Canned Heat from Future Blues, 1970

“The Future” by Leonard Cohen from The Future, 1992

A few notes:

Mickey Newbury’s music has popped up here once before, as an epitaph for Dave Thomson of Blue Rose. Newbury is one of those artists whose work I always intend to share here but always forget about when doing my minimal planning. ’Frisco Mabel Joy is a forgotten gem – some call it country, others folk-rock and still others tag it as singer-songwriter. But it’s a great album, and “The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” is only a taste of it. I’ll try to remember to post the whole album very soon.

Speaking of forgotten, that wasn’t the case with the Panama Limited Jug Band, which supplied the second track here. I hadn’t forgotten the group because, honestly, I’d never heard of them until early this year, when Lisa Sinder at the blog, Ezhevika Fields, posted Indian Summer, the group’s fourth “and best,” Lisa says, album. The whole album is filled with trippy pieces, entirely in synch with the aesthetic of the late 1960s and early 1970s. If I had to categorize the album, I’d call it a poor man’s Jefferson Airplane: Interesting but not nearly as good as the original. “Future” is pretty representative of the album.

The Canned Heat track is an adaptation of a much older blues track, as was a lot of the group’s catalog. In this case, the original recording of “Future Blues” was done in 1930 by Willie Brown, the same Willie Brown whom Robert Johnson name-checked in “Cross Road Blues.” As was typical of their approach, Canned Heat’s members had the tune do some work in the weight room and then put it on speed before sending it out into the world in 1970.

Speaking of typical approaches, the future Leonard Cohen envisions will be one dark and unhappy place to live, at least according to the title song of his 1992 album, The Future. Musically, it’s a fascinating track – as is the entire CD – but lyrically, it’s a downer. Cohen’s songs have never been particularly cheerful, but what’s most fascinating to me about “The Future” is the matter-of-fact delivery that Cohen gives it, as if he’s saying, “Of course the future will be an obscene train-wreck. What else did you expect?”

Still Catching Up On The ’90s

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 8, 2008

I got to the CD party way, way late.

As the 1990s dawned, folks all around me were buying CDs of new music as well as replacing their long-suffering LPs (and then selling those LPs at places like Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis). Meanwhile, like a man watching a lake dry up, fearing the drought to come, I was watching the amount of new music available to me diminish seemingly day by day.

I’d seen the first signs of drought when I lived in Minot, North Dakota. Several stores that sold new records when I moved to town in the late summer of 1987 sold only CDs and cassettes by mid-1989, when I loaded another truck and moved back to Minnesota. Other music stores I’d frequented had far less vinyl for sale when I left town than they’d had two years earlier, all except the pawnshop, where the amount of vinyl increased greatly (though I spent little time there, for some reason).

By the time I lived in the Twin Cities, beginning in the autumn of 1991, new vinyl was rare. There might have been more, but I can recall right now only five newly released albums I found on vinyl during the 1990s: Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town, Human Touch and The Ghost of Tom Joad; the box set of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings; and Counting Crows’ Recovering the Satellites. Not being in a position to buy a CD player, I turned to cassettes to keep up on new music.

Radio helped, too. Not Top 40; I’d lost interest in hits sometime during the 1980s, but I listened frequently to Cities 97, a station that I think has a deeper playlist than most available in the Twin Cities. There, I heard some familiar stuff and a lot of new stuff by artists I was interested in learning about. Through radio and cassettes, I kept up with my old favorites and some new friends from the 1980s – Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega and a few others – and got pointed toward some new performers: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Waterboys, October Project and the BoDeans come easily to mind.

But cassettes are awkward things, a declaration that will be news to nobody. It’s difficult to cue up a specific song or to skip one. So I didn’t invest in tapes the way I had already invested in vinyl. The result was that I learned a little less about new music during the 1990s than I had in previous decades. Since I got my first CD player in 1998 and then ventured on-line in early 2000, I’ve learned a fair amount about the decade that I spent mostly in Minneapolis. A little more than ten percent of the mp3s in my collection come from the 1990s, so here’s what the decade sounds like when I do a random program:

A Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s

“Sweet Spot” by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris from Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, 1999

“Children in Bloom” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites, 1996

“Ghost of Johnny Ray” by Boo Hewerdine from Ignorance, 1992

“Thunder” by Jimmy Witherspoon from Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay, 1993

“Shake That Thang” by Long John Baldry from It Still Ain’t Easy, 1991

“Bordertown” by the Walkabouts from Setting The Woods On Fire, 1994

“Blue Yodel No. 9” by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and John Kahn from Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, 1997

“Do You Like The Way” by Santana featuring Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo from Supernatural, 1999

“Need A Little Help” by Billy Ray Cyrus from Trail of Tears, 1996

“Follow” by Paula Russell from West of Here, 1999

“Skies the Limit” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask, 1990

“Ghel Moma” by the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir from Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 4, 1998

“Lives In The Balance” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

A few notes:

The Linda Ronstadt-Emmylou Harris collaboration, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, is a gem. The two had worked together before, of course, most notably during the Trio sessions with Dolly Parton that produced two albums. The result of this collaboration is the sound of two voices and two souls performing in harmony.

Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay is one of the multitude of tribute anthologies that began to pop up in the 1990s. Covay’s catalog of soul and R&B songs is immense and truly great, though I believe he’d be immortal if “Chain of Fools” had been the only thing he ever wrote. And the CD is a delight, featuring some intriguing choices for the vocals, such as Todd Rundgren, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop and others. Witherspoon’s fine performance on “Thunder” was likely one of his last recordings. The Covay tribute was released in 1993 and Witherspoon crossed over in 1997 at the age of 77.

I don’t know much about the Walkabouts. I came across “Bordertown” on another blog – I forget which one – and liked it a lot. Having it pop up at random today is a nice stroke of luck, as I’m going to add Setting the Woods on Fire to my short list of CDs to find soon. All-Music Guide says the album is a “sweeping, stately record” that “owes a great deal to the Stones’ Exile on Main Street.” Sounds like a good deal to me.

Mention Billy Ray Cyrus and most folks flash back to 1992 and “Achy Breaky Heart,’ which dominated the country charts and made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. I looked for his Trail of Tears album simply because it includes a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” which turned out to be a pretty good version. Trail of Tears turned out to be a pretty good and surprisingly rootsy country album, which surprised me.

“Skies the Limits” (which makes no sense as a title to me) is the opening track from the album Fleetwood Mac recorded after replacing Lindsey Buckingham with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Behind the Mask is a pretty uninspired effort with a couple of good tracks on it. Unhappily, neither “Save Me” nor “Freedom” popped up.

Jackson Browne’s 1986 song “Lives in the Balance” was still relevant in 1994 when Richie Havens made it his own on Cuts to the Chase, and it’s still relevant today.

‘Blue Monday’ Times Three

July 25, 2011

Originally posted August 5, 2008

“Blue Monday, I hate blue Monday,” sings Fats Domino. “Got to work like a slave all day.”

“‘Blue Monday,’” wrote Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock & Soul, “is the foundation of a rock and roll tradition of songs about hatred of the working week and lust for lost weekends. The chain now includes such significant links as the Coasters’ ‘What About Us,’ Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds’s ‘Seven Day Weekend’ (the first call for the abolition of Mondays, blue or otherwise), the Vogues’ ‘Five O’Clock World,’ ‘Friday on My Mind’ by the Easybeats, ‘Manic Monday,’ the hit Prince wrote for the Bangles, and the Sex Pistols’ ‘Holidays in the Sun’ (in which the vision turns ugly from mass unemployment and begins to die).”

Marsh wrote in 1989, a couple of generations ago as far as music genealogy goes. If I wished, then, I could dig through the last nineteen years of pop and rock and no doubt find other examples of dismay for the fact that we are born to toil, whether that toil be tightening bolts on the assembly line, installing someone else’s new clutch, balancing lunch plates at the diner, making alterations in someone’s new dress, planning lessons and teaching fifth-graders, installing new software, researching legal precedents or writing an account of a ballgame with a deadline fast approaching. I’m sure those songs are out there, but I’m more interested this morning in “Blue Monday,” as Marsh sees it as a signpost.

In “Blue Monday,” Marsh notes, it’s not just hatred of the work week that’s on the table: “Fats,” Marsh writes, “is talking about something much more modern: the demand for leisure. He discards the working week and his loathing of it in the first verse; it’s the weekend that the song dwells upon, and in the end Fats’ feeling for its excesses is clear and profound. ‘Sunday mornin’ my head is bad,’ he sings, ‘But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had.’”

In other words, Marsh sees “Blue Monday” as possibly the quintessential song for 1950s America, the time and place when leisure became more and more a regular portion of life instead of something possessed by very few and envied by the many. Oh, don’t get me wrong: Not everyone prospered so. But enough did so that having fun for the sake of fun was widespread enough to be the subject of “Blue Monday” and the other songs yet to come in the chain Marsh cites above.

Interestingly, Fats’ version of “Blue Monday” was not the first recorded. Smiley Lewis recorded and released the song – written by New Orleans genius Dave Bartholomew – in 1954, when it was released as Imperial 5268. Modern rock and roll charts starts in 1955, so I don’t know how well Lewis’ version sold. But Bartholomew and Domino recorded Fats’ version in 1956 and released it as Imperial 5417. It entered the charts the second week of January 1957, eventually making its way to No. 5.*

In the fifty years since then, “Blue Monday” has been a popular song to pick up. All-Music Guide lists more than 250 CDs with a version of “Blue Monday.” Even accounting for the repeats of Domino’s version (and for other songs of the same title), there’s an impressive total of covers. Other artists listed as having recorded the song include Bonnie & Francis, the Crickets, Bobby Darin, Dion, Dave Edmunds, Ian Gillan, Wilbert Harrison, Cecil Hill, Huey Lewis & the News, the Kingsnakes, Alexis Korner, Delbert McClinton, Randy Newman, Bob Seger, Cat Stevens, Dave Van Ronk and the Zydeco Boneshakers.

I won’t say that my favorite cover version of “Blue Monday” gets to the song’s center better than any of those versions, as I have – oddly enough – heard none of the versions by the artists listed in the above paragraph. But I really doubt very much that anyone – other than Domino, and maybe Lewis – can deliver the song any better than New Orleans’ own Dr. John, who recorded “Blue Monday” for his 1992 album, Goin’ Back to New Orleans.

Here, then, are Smiley Lewis’ original version, Fats Domino’s hit cover and Dr. John’s take on Dave Bartholomew’s “Blue Monday.”

Smiley Lewis – “Blue Monday” [Imperial 5268, 1954]

Fats Domino – “Blue Monday” [Imperial 5417, 1956]

Dr. John – “Blue Monday” [From Goin’ Back to New Orleans, 1992]

*A quick check of Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B & Hip-Hop Hits shows no sign of Smiley Lewis’ version of “Blue Monday,” making me think – though I could certainly be wrong – that its sales were not too notable. Fats Domino’s version, on the other hand, was No. 1 for eight weeks on the R&B chart.  Note added July 25, 2011.

Here & There In Blogword

July 25, 2011

Originally posted August 4, 2008

A couple of things to note at blogs in the link list:

At the marvelous blog The “B” Side, Red Kelly continues the remarkable story of the discovery of Lattimore Brown, one of the great but less-heralded R&B singers of the 1960s and 1970s. When you head over to The B Side, make sure you delve back into the beginning of the story, around June 30. That’s when Red told us how Jason Stone, operator of the equally terrific blog Stepfather of Soul, got a note from a nurse at a hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi, telling him that she’d Googled his blog because one of her older patients claimed to be a singer and she was trying to find out who he might be. Turned out he was Lattimore Brown, who was assumed by many to have died sometime during the 1980s. Jason consulted with Red, and Red tells the story from there, a tale that wanders through the world of Southern Soul with some fascinating and startling stops along the way.

It’s everything a music blogger could want: A great story told exceedingly well with marvelous music at its center.

There are a few blogs relatively new to the link list:

Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas tells the tales of two listeners rediscovering vinyl. From the construction of the ultimate sandwich to tales of playing pinball with an Eighties’ icon, the writer at BAIFP seems to find what I have found: While not everything must connect with music, everything can so connect, if one chooses to view and hear the world that way.

Paco Malo, operator of Gold Coast Bluenote, may be a familiar name to readers here, as he’s left several notes to me and to readers in recent months. His own efforts at Gold Coast Bluenote wander between music, film and other outposts of modern pop culture and provide, as good blog posts do, rich grist for the mental mill.

Another blogger who finds multiple connections between music and life is Fusion 45 at the similarly named blog, Fusion45. From a high school crush that to this day brings him a connection to Stevie Nicks to memories of the days in 1973 when folks wandered through his home town of Elmira, New York, en route to Watkins Glen, Fusion 45 brings together memories and music, assessing both lovingly but unsentimentally.

I have a couple of albums in mind for sharing this week, but I didn’t find enough time over the weekend to listen to them as closely as I would like. One of the two will show up later in the week, but for today, well, we haven’t wandered through the junkyard for a while.

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard, 1950-99
“Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

“Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do” by Johnny Bristol from Hang On In There Baby, 1974

“You Did Cut Me” by China Crisis from Flaunt the Imperfection, 1985

“Saved” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2099, 1961

“Morning Will Come” by Spirit from The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, 1970

“Nights Are Lonely” by Emitt Rhodes from Farewell to Paradise, 1973

“Want” by Country Funk from Country Funk, 1970

“Hercules” by Elton John from Honky Chateau, 1972

“Confidence Man” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988

“Centerfield” by John Fogerty, Warner Bros. single 29053, 1985

“Picture Book” by the Kinks from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968

“Fields of Gold” by Sting from Ten Summoner’s Tales, 1995

“When Jesus Left Birmingham” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Book of Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen from Lucky Town, 1992

“Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” by Country Joe & The Fish from Electric Music For The Mind And Body, 1967

A few notes:

I chuckled when “Same Old Lang Syne” popped up. Just last evening, I’d left a note about the song at one of the blogs mentioned above, noting that there is a twinge in my soul whenever I heard the song. I added that I don’t connect with the song any specific individual from my past, so I can only assume that the presence of that twinge means that Dan Fogelberg did his job as writer and performer very well.

After the Johnny Bristol and China Crisis tracks followed Dan Fogelberg, I braced myself for a downer set. The Bristol track is a generally good slice of mid-Seventies soul, although it’s not as good as the title track from the album, which brought Bristol his only hit. China Crisis’ smooth and melancholy “You Did Cut Me” put me in mind of some of Roxy Music’s work ten years earlier.

“Saved” is LaVern Baker’s musical testimony, with a gospel chorus and a big bass drum underlining her tale of how she used to do all that bad stuff but don’t do it no more. Then the saxophone takes a solo, and oh, it sounds sinful and fun. After that, she can sing it all she wants, but the record sounds more sensual than sanctified.

I always thought that when I finally found a good copy of The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus, I’d be so pleased. Well, I wasn’t blown away. My take is that even in 1970, when the listening public was likely a little less discerning than it might be today, it was tough to put together an album that would last. Doing the same thing with a concept album was even tougher.

I recall seeing LPs by Emitt Rhodes in the cutout bins during the mid- to late Seventies. I guess he was supposed by some record company executive to be the next big thing. He wasn’t, although his stuff is listenable if ultimately interchangeable with the work of hundreds of others.

Country Funk isn’t all that countryish or funky, although it makes a better run at the former than the latter, with a sound not that far removed from Buffalo Springfield, at least on “Want.” The track would have been better served had it ended at the 3:00 mark. The disjointed mess that follows might have been funny in 1970, but it just seems self-indulgent now.

The Kinks’ track is far more familiar these days as the background to a camera commercial than as a track from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. The album is worth checking out, although the Kinks’ very British sensibilities have always been a little difficult for this non-Brit to grasp.

Near The Heart Of ‘The White Album’

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 29, 2008

One of the exercises into the hypothetical that bloggers and other music fans will on occasion break into is wrestling with the question: What if the Beatles had released The Beatles (more commonly known as “The White Album”) as a single LP instead of two? Which of the thirty songs on the album stay and which are trimmed to get down to forty or so minutes of music?

It’s an interesting exercise, and I’ve seen several good takes on the idea over the past couple of years. It seems to me that – whether they said so specifically or not – those who’ve wrestled with the question of editing the White Album by half begin with the task of deciding which song sits at the thematic center of the album. The Beatles was such a hodgepodge of styles and ideas that it’s perhaps not easy to see a center. There is one, though, and to me that center seems one of grief and loss.

Consider the songs that touch those themes in one way or another, either expressing current grief, grief already endured or grief anticipated: “Dear Prudence,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “I’m So Tired,” “Blackbird,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Helter Skelter,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Cry Baby Cry” and the closer, “Good Night.” (The pretty lullaby has one of the sadder lines in rock music: “Now the sun turns out his light.”)

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I slid over two songs that belong in that list, the pairing of “I Will” and “Julia,” which end Side Two of the LP version of the album and the first disc of the CD package. “Julia” may be the most gorgeous and desolate piece John Lennon ever wrote, and to my mind, if one looks for the heart of the White Album, one finds it there. But its partner, “I Will,” is not far behind, as Paul McCartney’s brief (1:46) pledge of fealty to Jane Asher hides its grief in a line that’s almost thrown away in the first verse:

“Who knows how long I’ve loved you.
“You know I love you still.
“Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
“If you want me to, I will.”

“Will I wait a lonely lifetime?” Good lord, was there ever a line better written to grab the attention of a teenage youth whose current object of affection was quite happily pledged to another? Well, not that I recall hearing, and from that moment on, the center of the White Album resided in those two songs, “I Will” and “Julia,” with the narrator of the first pledging to endure separation from the one he loves, and the narrator of the second letting us know how that separation truly feels. As a young listener, I embraced the first tune and knew that there was something inside the second one that I did not understand.

And so, though “Julia” may be the better song, “I Will” holds a place inside me. Were I a recording artist, “I Will” would be the song I’d choose from The Beatles for a cover version. (I should note that my favorite song on the album is “Back In The USSR,” but as a musician, I’m a singer/songwriter type and not enough of a rocker – would that I were! – to pull that off.)

I’ve not heard many covers of “I Will” over the years. All-Music Guide lists 224 CDs that have a track titled “I Will.” Of those, a little more than fifty are covers of McCartney’s tune: There are versions by Eddy Arnold, Steve Barta, Big Daddy O, Pat Boone, Pete Calo, Tim Curry, Connie Evingson, Art Garfunkel, Pamela Hines, John Holt, Jeremy, Kristin Jericho, Kathy Mattea, Lauren Kilgore, Don Altars, John McNeil, Fred Mullin, Maureen McGovern, Maura O’Connell, Phish, Julia Rich, Diana Ross, Tom Scott, Tuck & Patti, Kit Walker and Ben Taylor.

In other words, the usual mix of knowns and unknowns that take a shot at recording any good song. I’m sure some of them do a creditable job, but they’d have to go some distance to better the one cover version of “I Will” I have in my collection.

Guitarist and banjo player Tony Furtado recorded the song for his 1992 CD, In Reach. And he was wise enough to enlist one of the best voices in American music to take on the vocal: Alison Krauss. As I wrote, I’ve not heard a lot of covers of the song in question, but any versions I hear would have be extraordinary to be better than the job that Furtado and Krauss do on “I Will.”

Tony Furtado & Alison Krauss – “I Will” [1992]

‘In The Shadow Of The Evening Trees . . .’

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 1, 2008

Despite the string of albums he’s released over the years, despite the folk-rock phase, the countryish phase and the Christian music phase, despite even “Abraham, Martin and John,” which went to No. 4 in 1968 – despite all that, Dion to me has always been an inhabitant of a mythical 1960. He’s on the corner and under the streetlight, standing hipshot and snapping his fingers, singing doo-wop to the night: “Teenager In Love.” “Where or When.” “The Wanderer.” “Ruby Baby.”

Not all of those, and maybe no more than half of Dion’s hits, were doo-wop, of course. His solo hits – “The Wanderer” and “Ruby Baby” among them – inhabited some odd place between pop and R&B and most were tougher than most anything else that showed up in the Top 40 during the first years of the 1960s. His softer songs, like “Ruby Baby,” were served atop a plate of stoicism, which made their tenderness all the more persuasive. But all of his hits, even those that were not doo-wop, carry in them an echo of neighborhood nights and street corner harmonies.

It’s sometimes hard, then, to reconcile that mythical figure with the performer who has never stopped working, never stopped singing, never stopped recording and releasing albums. Some of those albums stood out: His 1968 album, Dion, which included “Abraham, Martin and John,” was, if not a masterpiece, at least a fascinating and sometimes very good exploration of folk rock. Suite for Late Summer, which came out in 1972, has Dion in singer-songwriter mode, and that album, too, is interesting if not a classic. In 1978, Dion released Return of the Wanderer, maybe the best thing he’d ever done, highlighted by the great song, “I Used To Be A Brooklyn Dodger.” And though critics disagreed, I thought 1989’s Yo Frankie was pretty good.

The releases continued. In the past few years, Dion’s found his way to blues, releasing Bronx in Blue in 2005 and Son of Skip James in 2007, two credible CDs of blues with a few originals added to material pulled from the catalogs of Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams and more. As All-Music Guide notes, very few people heard those two albums, as has been pretty much true for Dion since 1968, whether the albums were those I’ve mentioned here or any of the roughly fifteen other albums he’s released since then.

That includes the album from which today’s track comes, one that I skipped over in this brief chronology: Déjà Nu, which came out in 2000. Among the batch of songs Dion wrote for the record nestle three covers, one of them a song by Scott Kempner, with whom Dion collaborated on a couple of other songs on the album. The other two covers were pulled from Bruce Springsteen’s 1992 album, Lucky Town: “Book of Dreams” and “If I Should Fall Behind.”

The second of those is the more interesting, as Dion takes the song and pulls it back to that mythical 1960, standing under the streetlight with his pals. As AMG notes, the song “seems like it was written with this arrangement in mind.”

Others have covered the song, including Cindy Bullens, Flying Mule, Linda Ronstadt, Robin & Linda Williams, Rootbound and country star Faith Hill. I don’t know many of those versions, but it’s doubtful that any of them get to the heart of the song the way Dion does. (As the song – like the Lucky Town album from which it comes – is among the less prominent items in the Springsteen catalog, I’m posting his original version here, too).

Bruce Springsteen – “If I Should Fall Behind” [1992]

Dion – “If I Should Fall Behind” [2000]