Archive for the ‘2007/03 (March)’ Category

Saturday Single No. 7

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 31, 2007

I had a huge James Bond jones when I was a kid.

I was eleven in 1964 – in sixth grade – when the growing popularity of the novels by Ian Fleming and the first two films based on those novels, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, burst into full-blown Bondmania with the release of the third film, Goldfinger.

I wanted oh so badly to see the movie, but my parents weren’t sure. After all, the ads looked like they showed a naked woman painted gold. I won’t deny the attraction that held, but it was truly the story of 007 saving the world – or at least the world’s gold supply – that grabbed me. But the folks said no, a little regretfully, I’ve always thought. They also weren’t sure that I should be allowed to read Fleming’s novels; Dad bought a copy of Goldfinger to see if it would be appropriate for the somewhat precocious urchin I was, but he read it in the evening, just before retiring, and he read at most four or five pages at a time. I despaired as I saw his bookmark make such slow progress into the middle of the book.

Then the Minneapolis Star, an evening paper that no longer exists, began to print excerpts from The Man With The Golden Gun, the final novel Fleming completed before his death in August of 1964. My parents saw how avidly I read the twelve or so excerpts, which had to be okay – after all, they were in the evening paper. And I think they began to think that the books might be okay for me, after all.

But the bookmarker still moved slowly. And one day, I heard on the radio the main theme to Goldfinger, with the vocal performed by Shirley Bassey. We belonged to a record club, so I ordered the soundtrack to the movie, and once it arrived, I would sit by the stereo, trying to imagine the scenes that went with John Barry’s sometimes lush and sometimes sparely powerful music. I especially liked the instrumental version of the main theme, with its lead and rhythm guitars, its surging horns and its insistent percussion.

Eventually, Dad’s bookmark reached the end of the book, and with a sigh at my impatience and a shrug, he handed me Goldfinger, which I devoured in only a few days. (It was, like almost all of Fleming’s Bond novels, only 191 pages!) I moved into seventh grade and met a classmate named Brad, who was also a Bondhead. The film version of Thunderball came out; we went to it and I bought the soundtrack. We spent an afternoon at a double feature of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. We devoured movie magazine pieces about Sean Connery (who in my mind will always be James Bond). And we saw Goldfinger when it was re-released.

At the local toy store, where we raced model cars on the big track – we did have some interests beyond Bond – we looked at the items marketed under the 007 license: toy guns, board games, secret agent kits, trick briefcases, and more. As we looked, we partly thought, who would buy this stuff? And we partly thought, oh, I want it!

Secret agents were so cool. Not just James Bond, but Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, the men from U.N.C.L.E. And John le Carré’s Alec Leamas, who was “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold,” as well as Len Deighton’s nameless agent in “The Ipcress File.”

My dad took me to see the films based on the latter two books, and I read a few “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” books. A copy of the book Dr. No showed up in my Christmas stocking, and I devoured that as rapidly as I had the first book. I got two more records: one a low-budget item titled Thunderball on the Design label, which had a bunch of jazz guys performing themes from all the various secret agent movies and programs, and one called Sounds For A Secret Agent, on which David Lloyd and his London-based orchestra (a jazzy group, despite the word “orchestra”) offered their versions of themes from the four existing Bond films as well as themes for those Bond titles that had not yet been made into films. Brad and I thought that was a great idea, and the music was pretty cool, too.

And then, it ended. When eighth grade began, Brad had moved out of town; I never knew where. And although spies and agents were still cool for a while, by the time 1967 rolled around, other things – the rise of the hippie, for one – captured the public’s imagination. I finished reading Fleming’s novels, and I enjoyed them, but about the time I finished the last one, my sister brought home a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and I had a new world to explore.

I still have the four Bond records, and I play them occasionally, the two soundtracks and the Lloyd more frequently than the low-budget jazz LP. And my favorite bit of music from all of them remains John Barry’s instrumental version of “Goldfinger,” today’s Saturday Single.

John Barry – “Goldfinger” [1964]

‘With No Apparent Focus’

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 30, 2007

Every musician, I imagine, has something in his or her recorded legacy that induces a wince and a shake of the head. From everything I’ve read, for example, it’s clear that John Mellencamp does not have entirely pleasant memories from the days when he was Johnny Cougar. Or consider the Beatles: I would guess that during the days when they recorded “Rain” or the Abbey Road medley, they would occasionally recall with a groan their early sessions and “Till There Was You.”

And then there’s Hour Glass.

The other day, when I was doing some research for last week’s post about Cher’s 3614 Jackson Highway, I came across a pretty good website about the Allman Brothers Band and Duane Allman and his studio work. As I dug into the site, I noticed an ad for a book titled Skydog: The Duane Allman Story. I’d never heard of the book, so after I finished writing about Cher and her album, I dropped in on the website of my local public library. As it happens, Randy Poe’s biography of Duane Allman is new. It’s a pretty good read, well written, and Poe uses a wide variety of sources. I’m about halfway through, and I’m pretty impressed.

One of the episodes Poe deals with, of course, is the time that Duane and Gregg Allman spent in Los Angeles with their early band, Hour Glass, recording for Liberty Records. I paused as I read about those sessions and thought for a second, something nagging at me. I put the book down and went to the stacks, and sure enough, there was a copy of Hour Glass, the 1967 LP. The files say I bought it March 5, 1989, while I lived in Minot, North Dakota, and a stamp on the back of the jacket tells me that it once belonged to KMSC, a radio station at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

And as I played it for today’s rip, it didn’t take much for me to figure out that Hour Glass was one of those records that I’d bought, played once and stuck into the stacks without ever playing it again.

From what Poe writes about the Allmans, the group Hour Glass and the recording sessions that led to the album, I get the sense that both Duane and Gregg Allman would have been pleased that I left the record to sit on the shelf between Hot Tuna and Hudson Ford.

Poe notes that in the mid-1960s, Liberty Records had a wide-ranging stable of performers without much credibility in the rock world: the Johnny Mann Singers, Trombones Unlimited, the Van Nuys First Baptist Church Choir and even the Chipmunks! “What it didn’t have on its roster in 1967,” he writes, “was a long-haired, retro-clothes-wearing, semi-blue-eyed soul, semi-psychedelic-sounding rock band. Never mind that this wasn’t exactly the look or sound Duane and the guys had in mind. The Hour Glass was going to be the band to fill a gap in the Liberty roster – whether they liked it or not.”

The album, of course, ended up sounding nothing like the Allman Brothers Band, which was about two years from forming. It’s hard to say exactly what the group on the album sounds like, for there is no cohesive sound. A few of the cuts sound a little bit like the Association, with some horns grafted on. One of the songs, a Curtis Mayfield-penned tune called “I’ve Been Trying,” sounds like a bad imitation of the Impressions. Even worse is the album’s closer, “Bells,” with its hippie-style recitation through sound effects.

On a couple of the album’s cuts, Gregg Allman’s vocals give a hint of what would come later: The Goffin-King songs “No Easy Way Down” and “So Much Love” give the singer a chance to shine at least a little, as does his own “Got To Get Away,” despite the hideous arrangements – choirs and Las Vegas-style horns and all – imposed on the band by Liberty house producer Dallas Smith.

Duane Allman’s guitar work is more hidden than his brother’s vocals. (Poe writes that Liberty looked at signing Hour Glass as a way to get Gregg Allman under contract; the record company saw the younger Allman brother as the group’s true star and wanted to groom him for a solo career.) Poe notes that Duane’s first solo comes four songs into the record, on “Cast Off All My Fears.” Duane’s work can also be heard on “No Easy Way Down” and a few other spots. One of those spots is during “Heartbeat,” the opener to Side Two, where a break about three-quarters of the way through the song has what sounds like Duane’s guitar flickering and growling and shifting from speaker to speaker in a way that predicts for just a moment or two his more famous work in the future on Clarence Carter’s “Road of Love.” Then the horns and female chorus come in and bury the guitar for the rest of the song.

Quite honestly, the album is a mess, described by Poe as “an album consisting of a hodge-podge of genres performed by a band being pulled in various musical directions by a producer with no apparent focus.”

Even more appalling are the liner notes, written by Al Stoffel of Liberty Records:

“Tick. Psychotic phenomenon. From rhythm and blues to driving psychedelic beats. And soul . . . reeking of soul. A combination of things you’ve never felt before. Beats you’ve never heard. The Hour Glass. Tick. Sounds from within, alone sounds, sounds from a blue soul. Sounds of imagination and things unknown. ‘Heartbeat’ An uncanny beat from a living, breathing bass. A pendulum of psychedelic and soul – a new concept in a driving beat . . .”

And on and on.

The music I present here is usually stuff that I like, albums and songs that have some little bit of craft, skill or talent to recommend them. With Hour Glass, the talent is no doubt there, as the world would learn in a very short time when the Allman Brothers Band exploded out of Macon, Georgia. But that talent is deeply buried. So I offer Hour Glass as more of a historical curiosity than anything else.

(There was a CD issue of the album in the early 1990s, but that’s out of print, with used copies available through Amazon and likely elsewhere. Two other CD’s currently in print gather Hour Glass with Power of Love, the group’s second album for Liberty and what looks like some of Gregg Allman’s solo work for Liberty. Check your favorite online retailer. Vinyl copies of Hour Glass seem to be going for $12 and up through GEMM, with a sealed copy listed at more than $160.)

Hour Glass – Self-titled [1967]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1972

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 28, 2007

Well, I went back to the twelve remaining songs on my list of love songs and rolled the dice this morning. And we start today’s Baker’s Dozen with “We,” Shawn Phillips’ gorgeous anthem from his 1972 album, Faces. (The song was released as a single in 1974*  but didn’t make a dent in the charts; it’s possible that the only place the single got much play at all was in the jukebox of the student union at St. Cloud State, where my friends and I played it nearly every day.)

From there, we’ve got a pretty representative slice of the year with a few rarities. Nick Drake wasn’t nearly as well known then as he is now, some thirty years after his death. And I don’t think Cold Blood – a San Francisco band with a powerhouse singer, Lydia Pense – was very well known at the time, although all their work is worth seeking out. Manassas, as you likely know, is Stephen Stills and his friends.

The version of “Stage Fright” by The Band is from the live Rock of Ages album, different from, but no better or worse than, the 1971 studio version from the Stage Fright album.

Don’t be put off by the fact that “Hvor Går Du Hen?” is a Danish tune. Sebastian has for years been one of the pre-eminent homegrown musicians in Denmark, evolving from a Dylanesque folk-rocker in the early 1970s to a position of high regard for his frequent musicals now. And “Hvor Går Du Hen?” is mostly music, with only three lines of lyrics. Those lines translate roughly into: “Where do you go when you go home? Where do you go when you leave here? Where do you go when you go away?” It’s a lovely piece of work.

(Instead of posting thirteen individual links for the songs, I’ve decided to put all the mp3’s into a zip folder and post just one link.)

“We” by Shawn Phillips from Faces

“I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners, Atlantic single 2904

“Anyway” by Manassas from Manassas

“Who Is He And What Is He To You?” by Bill Withers from Still Bill

“Jazzman” by Pure Prairie League from Bustin’ Out

“Parasite” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon

“I Won’t Be Hangin’ ’Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt

“Hvor Går Du Hen?” by Sebastian from Den Store Flugt (Danish)

“Thinking Of You” by Tracy Nelson & Mother Earth from Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth

“I Just Want To See His Face” by the Rolling Stones from Exile On Main Street

“Lo & Behold” by Cold Blood from First Taste of Sin

“Stage Fright” by The Band from Rock of Ages

“Baby, I’m-A Want You” by Bread from Baby, I’m-A Want You

* As it turns out, the single was actually released in 1972, like the album, but for some reason, it did not show up in the student union jukebox until the autumn of 1974.

Among The Forgotten: Bobby Whitlock

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 27, 2007

I saw Bobby Whitlock in concert once. He was doing an acoustic set as one of two opening acts for Joe Cocker in the spring of 1972. Rick and I saw him at the now-demolished Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, just north of where Mall of America sits now.

It was a tough gig for Whitlock, as his solo set was shoehorned in between the raucous nonsense of the opening act, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and the more serious but still freewheeling sound of headliner Joe Cocker. I think he performed for a little more than half an hour, seated on a high stool under a spotlight. Most of the songs he performed were pulled from his self-titled debut album, released that spring (and posted here in January), but his largest round of applause came when he began the introduction to “Thorn Tree In The Garden,” the song he wrote that closed the landmark album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, released in 1970 by Derek & the Dominos.

Layla is often regarded as Eric Clapton’s triumph, with Duane Allman receiving props for pushing Clapton to new heights. All that is true, but the record was also Whitlock’s triumph, as he not only wrote the album’s closing song but also co-wrote with Clapton five of the album’s other songs: “I Looked Away,” “Keep On Growing,” “Anyday,” “Tell The Truth,” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.”

I’ve always thought that as fans and critics have for years directed deserved adulation toward Clapton and Allman for the brilliance of Layla, those same fans and critics have tended to overlook Whitlock and his contributions to the record – as a songwriter, as a keyboardist and acoustic guitarist and as a singer. We tell stories, we critics and fans do, shaping what we know and believe we know about our favorite performers and our favorite pieces of music into narratives. The story of Layla, the album, has become over the years first of all the tale of Clapton’s love for Patti Boyd Harrison and his resulting anguish, and secondly, the tale of Allman bringing his astounding talent to a project that was already filled with astounding talent and helping to make what would have been a very good record into one for the ages.

What got lost, it seems to me, was Bobby Whitlock’s story, the tale of the kid from Memphis growing up steeped in that river city’s musical tradition and becoming a strong enough session player at the legendary Stax studios that he became the first white performer signed to a Stax contract. His years there and then with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends honed his skills and allowed his talent to shine. And then Clapton selects Whitlock to be one of the regulars in his Derek & the Dominos project, and at the end of the project, what could have been a tale of Whitlock and Clapton crafting one of rock’s greatest albums becomes other tales.

I imagine Whitlock shrugged, went back into the studio and created his debut, then went out on the road, where I saw him in Bloomington, Minnesota. He kept going back into the studios during the first half of the 1970s, releasing Raw Velvet in 1972, One Of A Kind in 1975 and Rock Your Sox Off in 1976. The first of those three was on Dunhill, which had released his 1972 self-titled record; the other two were released on the Capricorn label.

The record presented here today is Rock Your Sox Off, the last of Whitlock’s four albums of the 1970s. (Raw Velvet and One Of A Kind will be shared here, too, very soon.) It’s of a piece with the rest of his work, and its songs wouldn’t sound out of place on records by either Delaney & Bonnie & Friends or Derek & the Dominos. In fact, one of them was on Layla. Whitlock opens the album with his own take on “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad,” reclaiming at least some of his portion of the legacy of those legendary sessions and that legendary record.

Track list:
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
If You Only Knew Me
Sweet Mother’s Fun
The Second Time Around
Brand New Song
Bottom of the Bottle
(It’s Been A) Long Long Time
Make It Through The Night

Bobby Whitlock – Rock Your Sox Off [1976]

Saturday Single No. 6

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 24, 2007

There was a half-second of empty air after the commercial ended. A softly strummed guitar broke the silence, and then, above that, came the moan of an electric guitar playing one long note and then a short break of melody in a minor mode. A choir came in behind the guitars, a chorus of “oooooh” sounding as lonely as a back road while the guitar continued its forlorn dance above the chorus.

A quiet organ wash replaced the chorus as the drums entered and set a pace, and then a tortured voice sang, “Be on my side, I’ll be on your side, baby. There is no reason for you to hide . . .”

Rick and I paused whatever we were doing – probably playing a board game – and stared at the small radio and the sounds coming from its somewhat tinny speaker. What the hell was that? And who was singing?

The sounds of a summer night came through the screened windows of the porch that Rick’s dad had recently added to their house: oak leaves whispering in the wind, a car’s honk some blocks away, the faint breek-breek of frogs in the low places near the railroad tracks, the laughter of teens out walking in search of something, the distant horn of an approaching train.

But we kept looking at the radio, wondering what in the heck they were playing on WJON, whose studios were no more than two blocks away, just the other side of the railroad tracks.

It was 1970, and like many stations in non-metro America, WJON tried to be all things to all people. Daytime was farm reports, the Party Line show in the morning, news at regular times during the day, and, I seem to remember, lots of traditional pop music during the day: Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Al Martino and maybe, if the deejay were feeling adventurous, Hugo Montenegro’s version of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” with its eerie whistle and twangy guitars.

At night, from 7 o’clock on, the station played pop and rock, ranging from mostly Top 40 during the early hours of the segment to deeper cuts and slightly harder sounds as the night aged. And it was about 10 p.m., I guess, when Rick and I were transfixed by the sounds coming out of the radio.

Maybe Rick recognized the song as Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” but I don’t think he recognized the vocals as coming from funky drummer Buddy Miles.  I didn’t know either the song or the singer. I was still pretty unhip to most pop and rock music, although in the past nine months, I’d started to listen and to buy LPs. My first two purchases had been Chicago II and the Beatles’ Let It Be. It would be a while before I got around to Neil Young. And beyond hearing on radio the spooky sounds of his version of “Down by the River,” it would be a longer time yet before I got around to Buddy Miles and his combination of blues, funk and rock.

“Down by the River,” which Rick and I would hear several more times late at night that summer, was from Miles’ third solo album, Them Changes. His first two, Expressway to Your Skull and Electric Church, had been well received by critics. (Jimi Hendrix, with whom Miles would play in Band of Gypsys, had produced about half of Electric Church.) Earlier, Miles had been part of Electric Flag, a group that was eclectic in both its membership and its music.

He’s not always been received well by critics. I recall reading particularly savage reviews in the various editions of the Rolling Stone Record Guide and Album Guide. But in the years following Them Changes, Miles would team up with Carlos Santana on a well-regarded live album in 1972 and would record consistently through 1976. Since then, he’s been more sporadic, although reviews of his 2002 release, Blues Berries, sound promising.

For me, though, as intriguing as his other work may be, nothing will ever grab my attention and imagination as tightly as that first hearing of “Down by the River,” today’s Saturday Single, during that long-ago summer evening.

Buddy Miles – “Down by the River” [Mercury 73086, 1970]

Down on Jackson Highway

April 18, 2011

 Originally  posted March 23, 2007

No matter how much you know, you can always learn.

That sounds like something my dad might have said over pizza and beer. But it’s true. That was borne out to me just a few weeks ago. I was wandering around the music blogs and came upon one, Mojophenia, that had posted a single cut, “I Walk On Guilded Splinters,” from an album Cher had recorded in 1969 at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound studios in Alabama.

Cher? In Muscle Shoals? Doing a Dr. John voodoo number?

I downloaded the cut, listened to it and sat back for a moment. It’s a great cut, slinky and spooky, sliding along in just the right swampy southern groove. I played it a few more times over the next couple of days and started digging online for information.

I wrote a few weeks ago that my path to embracing the music that came from both Rick Hall’s FAME studios in Florence, Alabama, and the music from the Muscle Shoals Sound studios was a result of my buying an Eric Clapton record. After I posted that piece, I thought some more about it, looked at the chronology of my LP purchases, and realized it wasn’t quite that simple. I bought Clapton At His Best in 1972. As I wrote, that record led me to Blind Faith and then to Traffic, and to Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. I also wrote in the earlier post that the path led also through Derek & the Dominos to Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers to Boz Scaggs and then to the sounds of Muscle Shoals.

Well, the path did go that way, but it wasn’t a fluid progression; there were some stops and starts. And there was a period of what I can only call immersion, and that came during my academic year studying in Denmark. For that year, St. Cloud State had rented a youth hostel in the city of Fredericia. About half the students would start the year living with a Danish family; the rest would live at the hostel, and we’d switch places if we wished at about the midpoint of the year. One of the first investments our student council made was to buy a tape player for the lounge at the hostel.

I didn’t spend a lot of time at the hostel during the time I lived with my Danish family. The hostel was on the other end of town, and the American girl I was dating was also living with a family. But the few times I did visit and listened to the music, I realized it was, for the most part, stuff I did not know.

Most of us had brought tapes. I had J.J. Cale, Clapton, CSNY, Chicago, the Rolling Stones, some Bee Gees, some Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, some Delaney & Bonnie and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. And I moved to the hostel in January and entered a whole new universe.

A few of the fellows – one of them a spectacular guitarist whom I happily got to play with in a recreational band during the 1990s – had brought Eat A Peach, the last Allman Brothers album that included Duane Allman’s work, as well as The Duane Allman Anthology. A friend back in the States mailed them a copy of Brothers & Sisters when it was released. And I doubt that a day went by without at least one of those tapes in the player in the lounge. (The same was true for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.)

I’m not sure if I would have found my way to Duane Allman and his work at Muscle Shoals if it had not been for that four-month immersion in the Allman Brothers and the anthology. It certainly would have taken longer, I think. As it was, Brothers & Sisters was the first record I bought after my return to the States. And over the next few years, I collected everything the Allmans did as well as the two Duane Allman anthologies. And when I started seriously collecting records starting in the late 1980s, the work from FAME Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound studios were high on my list.

As I bought, I researched, reading as much as I could find about those studios and musicians and their work. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of who recorded at those studios over the years, at least of the major performers in the music world. That’s why learning that Cher had recorded an album there was a surprise. As I said, there’s always something to learn.

So I began to research Cher’s album, 3614 Jackson Highway (named for the street address of the Muscle Shoals Sound studios). I learned it was evidently the first record produced at the studios after Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and guitarists Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson set up their own shop after years of working at Rick Hall’s FAME studios. And I learned from a web page somewhere (I am unable to replicate the path I took through the turns of the Web) that 3614 Jackson Highway is one of the rarities in the world of rock and pop music, that the CD is long out of print and commands a price of more than $100 and the LP is generally priced at more than $50.

Having read that, I went to GEMM to take a look for myself. And those prices I’d read on the Web were true . . . except there was one copy of the LP graded at Very Good Plus that was listed for about $14. That LP now sits on my table and is today’s share.

It’s pretty good. I’m not a Cher devotee, though I liked some of the hits she had with Sonny in the 1960s, despite their occasional clunkiness. But she did a pretty good job down in Muscle Shoals (with production from the Atlantic Records veterans Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin). Her take on “For What It’s Worth,” which opens the record, is intriguing, and she does a nice job on two of the three Dylan covers: “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and “I Threw It all Away.” I was less impressed with “Lay Baby Lay,” her gender-inverted version of “Lay Lady Lay.”

Of course, the boys from Atlantic dress things up with strings here and there, filigree not at all needed, considering the band Cher had behind her. (That happens not only on this album, but on many, and I can’t help wondering: Why do so many producers sweeten and soften the grease and grits sound that they seemingly went south to find?) Overall, the record’s eleven cuts are pretty good, the best being that slinky take on “I Walk On Guilded Splinters.”

As an aside, it’s suspected that Duane Allman plays on three cuts on the record: “For What It’s Worth,” “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” and “Cry Like A Baby.” I can’t necessarily tell from listening to the last two, but it certainly sounds like Duane Allman and no one else on the dobro on “For What It’s Worth.”

Track listing:
For What It’s Worth
(Just Enough To Keep Me) Hangin’ On
Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
I Threw It All Away
I Walk On Guilded Splinters
Lay Baby Lay
Please Don’t Tell Me
Cry Like A Baby
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Save The Children

Cher – 3614 Jackson Highway [1969]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1968

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 21, 2007

While I was puttering around last evening, visiting blogs and boards and seeing what music some of my on-line friends had decided to share, I was pondering what type of Baker’s Dozen I would post today.

I’ve had it in my head for a while to post a collection of the 13 love songs/love laments that touch me the most deeply, with some of them, honestly, moving me to tears in almost any context. But that would be a remarkable concentration of firepower in one place, pretty much a case of overkill. And I do like doing something random with the Baker’s Dozen.

So I thought I would combine the two ideas, in a way. I’d take one of the songs from that list of love songs and use it as the starting point for a random Baker’s Dozen from the year of its release. Let’s start with some songs from 1968.

We’ll open the list with the Vogues and “Turn Around, Look At Me,” which reached No. 7 that summer. Now, about half of the songs on the list of love songs aren’t related in my mind with any one person; they’re just songs that moved me. The rest are indelibly linked with various girls and women who were important to me along the way. And “Turn Around, Look At Me” will always bring memories to mind of a certain long-ago young lady. I’m sure she never knew.

“Turn Around, Look at Me” by the Vogues, Reprise 686 .

“Goodnight Nelba Grebe, The Telephone Company Has Cut Us Off” by Mother Earth from Living With The
Animals
.

“Unlock My Door” by Fever Tree from Fever Tree.

“This Wheel’s On Fire” by The Band from Music From Big Pink.

“I’ve Lost My Baby” by Fleetwood Mac from Mr. Wonderful.

“Me And My Uncle” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente.

“Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas, Stax single 250.

‘The Christian Life” by the Byrds from Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

“Brother Where Are You?” by Johnny Rivers from Realization.

“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Columbia single 44644.

“Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, Dunhill single 4138.

“Jump Sturdy” by Dr. John from Gris-Gris.

“Flower Town” by Rose Garden from The Rose Garden.

One Of My Guidebooks

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 20, 2007

One of the books I turn to frequently when I’m writing about music – or even when I’m just thinking about it, which accounts for a lot of my waking time – is Dave Marsh’s 1989 volume, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. I use it to find connections between one artist and another, to clarify the origins of specific pieces of music, to verify a record’s catalog number and sometimes to simply lose myself in the history of music as seen through Marsh’s lens.

The book has been a companion of mine since I first learned about it through a book club I belonged to while I was living in a small town in Kansas. Shortly after the book arrived in the mail, the relationship that led me to move to that small Kansas town collapsed, and it took about a month for me to find employment elsewhere and move away. During that awkward month, with me occupying one half of a duplex and my ex-significant other occupying the other half, I spent many hours reading Marsh’s essays, recollections and reviews, sometimes nodding in agreement, occasionally shaking my head dubiously and often realizing that I was utterly unaware of singles that Marsh held in high regard.

Now, Dave Marsh isn’t infallible. His opinions are opinions, not Gospel. But I’ve read a lot of writing about popular music, and Marsh’s ideas on that universe seem more congruent with mine than do those of a lot of other writers and critics. And he writes very well. (I don’t know that I’ve read very many essays as moving as his piece about “Soldier Boy,” the 1962 single by the Shirelles, which he ranked at No. 149.) So I guess I used Marsh as one of my templates as I evolved over the years from a casual listener to something of an amateur critic and historian.

As I said, Marsh’s views don’t always coincide with mine. His list of singles clearly shies away from the psychedelic scene of the late 1960s, an era and style for which I have some affection. As an example, neither “White Rabbit” nor “Somebody to Love” made his list of 1,001 singles; for that matter, Jefferson Airplane is evidently not even mentioned in the book, as there is no index listing for the group. The Mamas & the Papas are mentioned twice in the book, according to the index, but none of their singles made the top 1,001.

Time has taken a toll, too. The book’s publication date was 1989, which means that almost twenty years of music is unrepresented. That would be a concern if Marsh’s book were the only tool one were using to explore popular music.

Still, despite the book’s flaws, I think I’ve learned more about pop music and its history from The Heart of Rock & Soul than I have from any other source. And it’s a marvelous book for browsing. Rarely does an entry on any one song run more than one page; the essay on “Soldier Boy” is a pleasing exception. (At the other end of the spectrum, there is Marsh’s assessment of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” ranked at No. 320, which reads in its entirety “It’s a gas, gas, gas.”)

Even thought the book deals with the world of singles, I’ve found it valuable as a guide for album collecting as I began to listen to artists and genres with which I was not very familiar due to either history (for music recorded before, say, 1964) or lack of airplay on the radio stations I listened to over the years (growing up in a smaller city in the Upper Midwest did not give me a lot of exposure to soul, R&B, funk and similar styles). I used Marsh’s assessments of singles by performers in those styles as a jumping off point for my explorations.

One of the groups with which I had only a marginal familiarity before I read Marsh’s book was Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, the Philadelphia group whose heyday in the years 1972-75 was rooted in both sleek soul balladry and the very beginnings of disco. The group’s 1973 single, “The Love I Lost,” is often credited as being the first disco recording, although I imagine there are nearly as many candidates for that distinction as there are for the title of first rock ’n’ roll record (in that race, my money is on “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston). First disco record or not, “The Love I Lost” was a smash, with the single edit reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 7 on the pop charts.

Today’s rip from vinyl, Wake Up Everybody, came two years later, produced by Philadelphia marvels Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. The title track reached the top of the R&B charts and topped out at No. 12 on the pop charts. Also notable on the record were “Tell the World How I Feel About ’Cha Baby,” which reached the R&B Top Ten and the original version of “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” which became a No. 1 hit in 1977 for Thelma Houston.

Wake Up Everybody also includes two cuts that feature sweet vocals by Sharon Paige: “You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good” and “I’m Searching For A Love.”

The album is definitely a piece of its time. As I ripped the vinyl Sunday evening, the combination of strings, sweet voices and early disco rhythms stirred up memories, as music often will: a college internship, promising romances explored or reluctantly set aside, career plans changed and more. Others who were there at the time will have their own sets of echoes. But if you weren’t around and all you have is the music, that’s still enough!

Track listing:
Wake Up Everybody
Keep On Lovin’ You
You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good
Don’t Leave Me This Way
Tell The World How I Feel About ’Cha Baby
To Be Free To Be Who We Are
I’m Searching For A Love

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Wake Up Everybody  [1975]

Saturday Single No. 5

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 17, 2007

When I was a little munchkin, during the years when the 1950s ran out and the 1960s began, I don’t think there was anything I looked forward to more than the annual broadcast of the movie The Wizard of Oz. Once a year, in mid-December, one of the three networks aired the delightful fantasy of Dorothy and her trek through Oz.

It always seemed to come on the same Sunday when our family got all dressed up and headed over to the campus of St. Cloud State for the annual Christmas concert. I recall earning frequent admonitions to sit still and listen, but how could I focus quietly on Christmas music – classical, popular or other – when I knew that in a few hours, I’d hear “Follow The Yellow Brick Road,” “If I Only Had A Brain,” “In The Merry Old Land Of Oz” and a dozen or so more beloved songs, including the greetings Dorothy received from the Lollipop Guild and the Lullaby League? How could I sit still? Well, I managed, at least enough not to earn too much parental dismay.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the host for the broadcast was always very careful to explain that the first part of the movie was in black and white and that the color would come in later, when Dorothy opened the door and walked out into Munchkinland. That didn’t matter to us – we didn’t have a color television. I suppose that once or twice I managed to watch the movie across the street, at my buddy Rick’s house – his family had a color TV!

I watched it every year until I was in junior high school, I would guess, loving the music and the dance, the simple allegory of the story, the not-bad-for-their-time special effects, and still shivering at the flying monkeys, who at least once during the early years cost me a good night’s sleep.

I know The Wizard Of Oz is shown on TV these days, on a cable movie network, I would guess. I ran across it a few months ago and watched a little bit of it. It was fun, but it’s certainly not the event it was forty years ago. It can’t be. The television audience is too fragmented these days.

All this came to mind not just because I saw a bit of the movie a little while ago. It also popped to mind because I was sorting through my collection of 45 rpm records the other day, and I found today’s Saturday Single, a hit single inspired by the movie. And no, this isn’t some crooner’s version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

According to answers.com, Don Askew, one of the members of a Connecticut band called the Fifth Estate, told his fellow band members in 1967 that with the proper production and promotion, any song could become a hit. The others in the band challenged him to prove it, and Askew and Wayne Wadhams adapted the Wizard of Oz song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” partly basing their arrangement, answers.com says, on Michael Praetorius’ dance suite “Terpsichore.”

Jubilee Records signed the band and released “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” as a single. It reached No. 11 during the summer of 1967. It was the only hit record the Fifth Estate ever had.

The Fifth Estate  – “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” [Jubilee 5573, 1967]

A Full Serving, Texas-Style

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 16, 2007

Ah, yes, 1982. I don’t recall it all that well.

It’s not that I was in some kind of drug- or beer-induced haze, murmuring incoherently as the year passed by. No, I was working, spending my days reporting and writing for a weekly paper in a small Minnesota town, covering city councils, boys high school sports, crimes and fires and the thousands of other things that take place – both major and minor – in small-town America.

The year slid by without much to mark it. I turned twenty-nine, something that I greeted with a shrug. And not much happened that year in the world or in that small town that had to me very much of an impact. I was living a life.

Oh, things happened, of course, both in Monticello and in the world at large. In the latter category, one of the major events of the year was the brief war between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, a war that Britain won fairly handily. It was interesting, perhaps even fascinating to watch via satellite as the British Navy sailed out to reclaim the small archipelago. But it didn’t seem to matter.

It did seem to matter when someone in the Chicago area went about buying Tylenol, taking it home, doctoring the capsules with cyanide and then placing the bottles of pain-killer back on store shelves. Seven people died. The murders have never been solved and were just the first in a series of product-tampering crimes over the next few years. Before that time, the tamper-proofing of products – extra seals and all – didn’t exist. It soon became the norm, as it remains today.

Now, I remember those things happening. I remember writing columns and new stories about them, commenting on the oddity of a war being treated like a football game, with previews and analysis, and writing about the fears of consumers and retailers when products previously thought safe could no longer be considered so.

But if you asked me what year they happened, I’d have to look them up, as I did today, checking in one of my numerous reference books to see what 1982 brought us.

Along with the two topics mentioned above, the year brought us a number of things: There was a brief but damaging recession in the U.S. One of the Unabomber’s bombs killed one person at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

On the more pleasant side of life, the first version of David Letterman’s late-night show debuted on NBC. EPCOT at Walt Disney World opened. Michael Jackson released Thriller, which – whatever one may think of Jackson and his behaviors and oddities – remains a great record.

But quite possibly the one event of 1982 that had the greatest impact on modern life went almost utterly unnoticed: Sony and its partner in the Netherlands, Phillips, developed the compact disc. For almost eighty years, records – first 78s, then later 45 and LPs – were the carrier of choice for recorded sound. When cassettes recorders came along in the 1960s, we were told that the day of records had passed and that tape would supplant records. It didn’t, mostly, I imagine, because it was awkward to cue a tape up to a specific song. So when CDs came along and their adherents claimed they would put an end to vinyl’s domination, I don’t think I believed it.

Even at that, I know I didn’t hear about CDs in 1982, when they were developed. I first heard about them when I was in graduate school a year or two later. And I followed news closely, which makes me wonder how many people both heard about the development of the technology and could foresee its impact in 1982. Not many, I don’t think.

So why am I reviewing 1982? Because that was also the year that Texas singer Lou Ann Barton made her way from her home base of Austin, Texas, to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where she recorded her first album, Old Enough, released later that year on Asylum Records.

Like the development of the CD, Barton’s record didn’t generate a lot of interest, and she’s recorded only sporadically since then, which is a shame. She is a true marvel, being in one moment as brazen and pushy as a rich girl on spring break and then turning as vulnerable as a still-hopeful wallflower during the night’s last dance. And she knows when to use which persona and all of those in between, which one could lay down to either instinct and genius or to a long resume of performances in bars and dance halls. I vote for a combination of the two.

Born in either Austin or Fort Worth – All-Music Guide oddly had both cities listed as Barton’s home town – Barton sang in the late 1970s with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble before branching out on her own. And for her debut record, producers Jerry Wexler and Glen Frey wisely sent her to Muscle Shoals. And backed by the legendary Swampers, Barton hands over a stellar piece of Texas-style blues-rock.

It’s hard to note highlights, because each of the record’s ten cuts is good, even “It’s Raining,” which AMG calls too slick, a judgment I’d dispute. The best cuts might be “I’m Old Enough” and “Every Night Of The Week,” but to my ears, the entire album is a pleasure.

(Old Enough was released on CD on Antone’s in 1993 and then on Discovery in 1997 but seems to have since gone out of print. Some copies are available through www.gemm.com starting at about $20 through Amazon starting at about $13.)

Track list:

I’m Old Enough
Brand New Lover
It’s Raining
It Ain’t Right
Finger-Poppin’ Time
Stop These Teardrops
The Sudden Stop
The Doodle Song
Maybe
Every Night Of The Week

Lou Ann Barton – Old Enough (1982)