Archive for the ‘2007/06 (June)’ Category

Saturday Single No. 19

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 30, 2007

We’re halfway through the year today, and I wish I had something profound or at least interesting to say. But I don’t think I do. And I don’t have much time to figure it out, as the Texas Gal and I are joining some friends for a trek to an Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Paul. I imagine we’ll spend a few hours wandering the fair, looking at lovely old books and wishing we could buy them. It should be fun.

Even though I’m short of things to say right now, I can’t let a Saturday pass un-noticed, especially the one that marks the half-way point of the year, as we turn for the long slide to the end of December.

So I tried to find something distinctive for this week’s single: I ran a search for the word “hot” through the RealPlayer. One of the results I found was an album track from a late-Sixties group that, as I think back, listeners either loved or hated. It’s A Beautiful Day was a progressive-psychedelic band from San Francisco that was anchored by leader David LaFlamme’s violin and the vocals of Pattie Santos. The group’s sound was distinctive, immediately recognizable and frequently a little bit eerie. It was, to use affectionately a term often used derisively, hippie music.

The title of the track seemed appropriate for the mid-point of the year, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. (Those in the Southern Hemisphere can close their eyes and dream of December.) So here’s “Hot Summer Day,” the second track from It’s A Beautiful Day’s self-titled debut, today’s Saturday Single.

It’s A Beautiful Day –“ Hot Summer Day” [1970]

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I Missed The News That Day, Oh Boy . . .

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 29, 2007

Boy, sometimes things just get past you.

While pondering what to say about Jim Capaldi and his first solo album, Oh How We Danced, I dug into a couple of web sites and read about the album and its influences. And I thought I’d see what his later stuff was like, so I clicked on a link for a review of 2004’s Pretty Boy Blue.

And I learned that Capaldi died in January of 2005.

Okay, so Jim Capaldi wasn’t exactly a household name, especially since his days with Traffic ended in 1974 (notwithstanding a one-shot album and tour in 1994). But I like to think that I keep in touch with what’s happening in music, and the fact that the passing of a member of a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame group could slide by without my noticing it surprised me. I must not have been reading Rolling Stone too carefully. Or else I read about his death, thought, “Gee, that’s too bad,” and then went on to other things and utterly forgot about it until this morning.

Whether I saw it or not isn’t important. What is worth considering this morning is the music that Capaldi left behind, both as a member of Traffic and on his own. My first exposure was long ago through KVSC, the student-run radio station at St. Cloud State. When I first started hanging around the station – helping with the hourly newscast and the twice-a-day sports reports – the station was still broadcasting classical music for a good chunk of the day. Sometime during that 1971-72 year, the classical music was dropped and we started playing rock, with an emphasis on album cuts and, late at night, entire albums.

And late one afternoon as I was just hanging around our ramshackle lounge, as many of us we wont to do, one of the DJs cued up Side One of Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die. I jerked my head around as the distinctive two-keyboard instrumental of “Glad” filled the studios. In the control room, I scanned the album jacket, and [made a mental note to get] my own copy of the record.*

It’s not like that was the beginning of a Traffic spree for me. I enjoyed the album, but there was so much stuff coming out back then that I liked, and I was a student, with a limited budget for music (and pretty much everything else). Still, on occasion, I’d drop John Barleycorn or, later on, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys onto the turntable and wonder if I should dig a little deeper into the catalog of Traffic and its members. I never really did. I got some Steve Winwood through the 1980s but that was about it.

Then, sometime during my south Minneapolis record spree in the late 1990s, I was sifting through the new arrivals at my favorite store and came across Oh How We Danced. I vaguely remembered it from when it came out, at about the time that KVSC shifted to all-rock. I looked at the back and noticed with real interest that the album was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, with a lot of the work done by the studios’ famed rhythm section. At the time, I was buying pretty much everything recorded there. So I grabbed it, and when I put it on the turntable that night, I was pleased. It’s not a knockout record. But it’s very nice.

It sounds as if it would fit right in with the music that Traffic was recording at the time, which is not surprising. Especially since Capaldi’s bandmates Steve Winwood and Dave Mason lent a hand on a few tracks, with pals Rebop Kwaku Baah and Chris Wood also stopping by. It’s a pretty mellow album and it makes for a pleasant listen. And even if no single track seems to jump out and say, “Listen to me,” the album as a whole can be captivating. Capaldi sings well, and the support he gets from his bandmates and from the Muscle Shoals crew (with the Muscle Shoals Horns stopping by for a few tracks) is professional and at moments inspired.

Best tracks? Well, “Eve” was released as the first single in early 1972 but barely hit the Top 100, reaching No. 92, and it’s a sweet song. I lean toward the more urgent “Last Day Of Dawn” and the ballady “How Much Can A Man Really Take.” The closer, “Anniversary Song,” is a nice piece, too, and its first line provides the album’s title.

Now, calling an album “pleasant” and its songs “sweet” and “nice” makes it sound as if the album is inconsequential. I wouldn’t say that’s the case. It’s not a landmark record, no, but there are very few of those around. It’s a good record, decent listening from a seasoned pro with excellent musicians backing him. And lord knows, we listeners can do a lot worse than that!

Track listing:
Eve
Big Thirst
Love Is All You Can Try
Last Day Of Dawn
Don’t Be A Hero
Open Your Heart
How Much Can A Man Really Take
Anniversary Song

Jim Capaldi – Oh How We Danced [1972]

*I admit to some confusion while writing this. I opriginally wrote that I went and purchased  John Barleycorn Must Die during the next few days, but a look at my LP database tells me that I got it from a friend during the summer of 1973. I do recall  , however, purchasing several records during the spring of 1972 that I’d first heard at the station. [Note added April 23, 2011.]

In The Kitchen Before The Meal

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 27, 2007

I got a package in the mail the other day. Actually, I got two – one was from my CD club: the re-mastered (and expanded with outtakes and single edits) version of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, the latest salvo in my campaign to replicate on CD as much of my classic rock record collection as I can afford. I’ve done well with that project over the last few years, despite getting sidetracked now and then by the lure of anthologies of blues, gospel and R&B from the years prior to my birth.

The other package was just as interesting: An LP sent by my friend Mitch in Alabama titled Duane & Greg Allman. (Yes, Gregg’s name was misspelled). On the Bold label, catalog number 33-301.

According to All-Music Guide, the record was released in 1972, although some sources say 1973. The material, though, was clearly recorded prior to the formation of the Allman Brothers Band in 1969, making the record an attempt by the Bold label to cash in on the fame of the Allmans. Well, that’s business, I guess. But beyond being a commercially crass (and classically American) move on the part of Bold, the record is also an interesting artifact, a look at the Allmans’ sound as it was developing, a sample of the banquet while it was cooking, one might say.

So I did some digging. According to a biography at CD Now of Scott Boyer, one of the early associates of the Allman brothers, the music on the LP came from sessions by a group called the 31st of February, which also included David Brown and future Allman drummer Butch Trucks. CD Now says that the sessions were sent as demos to Vanguard Records but were rejected before being released on Bold in 1971 as Duane and Gregg Allman, The Early Years.

Well, it doesn’t say “The Early Years” on the LP I got, and the year is off, but I have a sense that it’s the same recordings. And that seems to be the case, based on information from a Duane Allman chronology I consult from time to time. The site says that the Bold record, which it dates to 1972, is in fact the demo recordings of the 31st of February from 1968. The site also says that Duane and Gregg were studio musicians on the sessions rather than members of the group, which CD Now seems to indicate.

So, having figured out – for the most part – what I had, I dropped it on the turntable and gave it a listen. Side One is pretty clean for a thirty-six year old record, while Side Two has some surface noise. But still, I thought, not too bad. I decided to go ahead and rip it for today, noise and all.

Here’s the track listing:
Morning Dew
God Rest His Soul
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
Come Down And Get Me
Melissa
I’ll Change For You
Back Down Home
Well I Know Too Well
In The Morning When I’m Real

Probably the most intriguing cut on the record is the early version of “Melissa,” which was eventually released on 1971’s Eat A Peach album. The form of the later version is there, hiding in the shadows, waiting for Gregg to put a little more grit into it.

Other than that, nothing from the album is truly captivating. There are some nice moments, though. (According to a note at the Duane Allman discography, Duane plays on eight of the nine tracks, missing only “God Rest His Soul.”) “Morning Dew” has hints of the sound the brothers would discover with their own band in a year or so, as does “I’ll Change For You,” which to my ears carries a foreshadowing of the yet unrecorded “Dreams.” In the album’s penultimate track, “Well I Know Too Well,” I thought I heard echoes of the southern gospel that informed a fair amount of the two brothers’ musical legacy.

The rest of the tracks are pleasant but inconsequential, with the strange exception of the album’s closer, “In The Morning When I’m Real.” Obviously cut without Gregg contributing vocals, the track sounds like a bit of California pop, a tuneful and tasty bit of fluff oddly out of place next to the other eight tracks. (The surface noise increases during the track, which doesn’t help, either. I decided not to do any noise removal because I’ve found that doing that only serves to make a track as light as “In The Morning When I’m Real” sound tinny and pinched.)

Unlike most of the music I share here, I don’t think this is anything that will bear up to repeated listening. Some of it may, but not the entire album, I am certain. Nevertheless, I think this is one of those cases when the historic value of the music can be worthwhile. After all, it can be fun to see what went on in the kitchen before the meal was served.

Duane & Greg Allman [1972]

A Baker’s Dozen On Atlantic

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2007

I had an album ripped and ready to go this morning, but as I was researching it, I learned that it is no longer out of print; it’s been re-released on CD. That’s a boundary I try to keep, not posting entire albums that are in print, so I ditched the rip I had planned.

Then I sat there and looked at the pile of albums I have in my “To Rip” pile. I sneezed a few times, as there is some kind of pollen roaming around right now that does not like me. I looked at my list of household chores waiting for me. And I decided I’d move my Baker’s Dozen from Wednesday to today and let Wednesday worry about itself when we get there.

So, without any back story or anything else, here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while: A random Baker’s Dozen of singles on the Atlantic label. If I had more energy, I’d write about the Atlantic label, but I really don’t think I need to go into detail about the influence and importance of the label to American popular music. If you’re unfamiliar with the label and its history, there are any number of useful anthologies available with pretty good liner notes. (A note: In my filing system, if I have an entire album in the RealPlayer, then all songs from that album are listed under the album name, even those that were released as singles. So some favorites won’t have a chance to pop up.)

So let’s see what we get:

“It Tears Me Up” by Percy Sledge, Atlantic 2358, 1966

“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2909, 1972

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John, Atlantic 2846, 1972

“Since I Met You, Baby” by Ivory Joe Hunter, Atlantic 1111, 1956

“Whatcha Gonna Do” by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, Atlantic 1055, 1955

“I Don’t Care Anymore” by Phil Collins, Atlantic 89877, 1983

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris, Atlantic 3248, 1975

“Too Weak To Fight” by Clarence Carter, Atlantic 2569, 1969

“You’ll Never Change” by Bettye LaVette, Atlantic 2198, 1962

“Drown In My Own Tears” by Ray Charles, Atlantic 1085, 1956

“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals, Atlantic 2493, 1968

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA, Atlantic 3372, 1977

“See Saw” by Aretha Frankilin, Atlantic 2574, 1968

A few notes on the songs:

One surprise here is Wilson Pickett’s version of “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” the Randy Newman tune that Three Dog Night took to No. 1 in 1970, two years before Pickett recorded it. It seems an odd choice for Pickett, but keep in mind that he also recorded “Hey Jude” not long after the Beatles released it and nailed it.

Robert John’s version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” pales when compared to the Tokens’ 1961 version, which was itself a revision of a recording by the early folk group the Weavers. The Weavers, in turn, had gotten the song from a recording by African Artist Miriam Makeba. The song’s origins, according to Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul, date to the 1930s, and the chain from Makeba to Robert John is a modern version of the way folk music used to evolve from region to region and from era to era.

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” the Major Harris tune with its racy-for-the-times cooing and moaning ran here a while back in a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. But it’s too much fun not to run it again.

I won’t say it was the first time I ever heard the recording, but the first time I really paid any attention to Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You, Baby” was when I heard it in the soundtrack to the 1987 movie The Big Town. Set in a mythical late 1950s, the movie – starring Matt Dillon and Diane Lane – is a noir-ish tale of a young gambler come to the big city with all its perils. The soundtrack, which featured Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash, the Drifters, Little Willie John and a few others Fifties artists, was superb.

ABBA’s music is often derided as “just pop.” Well, it may be pop, but it’s great pop, and there are few moments in 1970s music as recognizable as the gorgeous piano glissando that kicks off “Dancing Queen”!

Saturday Single No. 18

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 23, 2007

Being kind of a history buff, I am fascinated by certain historical periods in specific places. I find myself drawn, for example, to the time and place of the Vikings: Scandinavia in the years from, oh, 800 to 1066. The Civil War era and the opening of the Great Plains that followed it fascinate me too, as does life in rural Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s.

But the first historical era – events in a certain time and place – that I really examined to any great degree was World War II in Europe and the Holocaust. Triggered mostly, I imagine, by having seen some of the locales where those events took place and by knowing people who lived through them, I read about the war and the Holocaust voraciously in the mid- to late 1970s. I still pick up a new volume about those events now and then. Right now, I’m reading 1945: The War That Never Ended by Gregor Dallas. The book is an account of the final year of World War II in Europe that postulates that the events of World War II continued to resound in world history and politics longer after the end of hostilities than anyone realized. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, and about midway through the book, I can’t disagree with him.

And while I was pondering World War II yesterday, I happened to glance at the calendar and realized that yesterday was the anniversary of one of the truly world-changing events of the Twentieth Century. It was on June 22, 1941, that Adolf Hitler sent the Wehrmacht, the German army, across the line that separated the territory occupied by Germany from that occupied by the Soviet Union. The invasion – which took place along a front about nine hundred miles wide – caught the Soviets off-guard. (Why it did is one of the fascinating questions about the war; prevailing theory seems to be that Soviet leader Josef Stalin wanted so badly to avoid war with Germany that he ignored a multitude of signs that the invasion was imminent. And in a nation ruled by one cruel and vicious man, if the leader does not believe a specific thing will take place, no one else is allowed to prepare for that event.)

The invasion, which the Germans called “Operation Barbarossa” after an early German king, triggered one of the world’s great tragedies inside the greater tragedy of World War II. During the war, the Soviet Union had its most populous areas conquered and occupied, and more than twenty million Soviet citizens died, the vast majority of them civilians. (I do not know if that total includes the more than two million Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union who died in the Holocaust.)

The death and destruction the Nazis caused in the Soviet Union would be enough, but that’s only part of what I had in mind when I called the German invasion “world-changing.” I used that term mostly because the invasion of the Soviet-held territory that started sixty-six years ago yesterday ensured the downfall of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi henchmen and thus influenced much of the shape of today’s world.

We rarely think of World War II today. Maybe we pass a memorial in a city park or see a bit of a Veteran’s Day ceremony on television, but when we do think of it, we see it as an organic whole, albeit in several acts: The Germans started it in Europe, the Japanese started it in Asia, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we sent troops to England and the Pacific, we and the British invaded Europe and knocked down Hitler with the help of the Russians, and then we dropped two A-bombs on Japan. Final Curtain.

But as it was going on, for those who lived during those times, it was not nearly that simple. For many long years there was no guarantee of victory for those opposing Hitler and Germany. For most of 1940 and half of 1941, Britain stood alone, preparing for a German invasion across the English Channel. Why Hitler did not invade Britain is a question that has been discussed, parsed, chopped and sprinkled for the past sixty years. I imagine there’s a reason somewhere in the archives, but that’s not important here. My point is that the instant Hitler turned away from Britain and invaded Soviet-held territory, he lost the war. That didn’t happen right away, of course, but the failed invasion doomed the Nazis. Eventually, with the Allied invasion of France, Hitler was fighting on two fronts and the Germans’ own mistakes began to catch up to them. The Soviets – despite all the mistakes of their own leadership – eventually stopped the Germans and began what one book I read called “the long walk to Berlin.”

Again, that’s a bare bones outline, with an ending that was not at all visible until long after the fighting started. And it’s difficult to sort through the tales of armies and commanders and arrows on maps to find the individual soldiers. Some movies and books have done a good job of that: Saving Private Ryan on the screen and Band Of Brothers as a book and an HBO series come to mind.

But one of the most moving accounts of a front-line soldier in the war in Europe was a little-noticed song on Al Stewart’s 1974 album Past, Present and Future. That song, “Roads to Moscow,” tells in first person the tale of a Soviet soldier, a Russian who lived through the German invasion and made that “long walk to Berlin” only to be sent at the end to a Soviet labor camp because he had the bad luck to have been captured by the Germans for a day. (That was the fate of almost any Soviet soldier who was ever captured; those who somehow survived German prison camps were almost all sent to Soviet labor camps after the war. A pretty good analysis of Stewart’s historical allusions [was] available here.)

Stewart’s song wanders hauntingly through the soldier’s narrative. It draws the listener in and allows him or her to feel not only the horror of war but the difficulty of accepting events that make no sense – for war makes as little sense as does the remanding of one’s own people to labor camps – and the numbness that comes when events of that type pile on top of each other time after time. That’s why “Roads to Moscow,” which begins with the world-changing events of sixty-six years ago yesterday, is this week’s Saturday Single.

Al Stewart – “Roads to Moscow” [1974]

Some Lasting Concert Memories

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 22, 2007

Some time ago, I set down a few words about the concerts I used to go to at St. Cloud State, starting when I was in high school and continuing through my college years. I came to the judgment that the Chicago concert in the spring of 1970 was the best I’d ever heard there.

That got me to thinking about sorting through memories of all the pop and rock concerts I’d ever attended and deciding on one best show. Kind of a tough task, as I was certain I’d forget a show or two here or there. And I might. But the best shows do tend to stand out, even after – in many cases – more than thirty years.

Now, I’ve never been one to go to a lot of concerts. Compared to some of my contemporaries, I hardly went to concerts at all. I knew people in college who hit the Twin Cities for shows nearly every weekend and then doubled that rate during the summers. That left me wondering how they kept track of them: To me, memory is a large part of the concert experience, the ability to sit back and re-experience, as it were, a moment that moved you but that may have taken place years before.

And that got me to thinking. Which moments stand out for me? When I look back at the concerts I’ve been to, what do I recall most clearly?

5.) In the spring of 1972, Elton John basked in the applause as his concert at St. Cloud State neared the two-hour point. Sitting at his piano after one of his quieter ballads, he raised his hands, thanked the crowd and mopped his brow. “We’re gonna have some fun now,” he said, leaving me and my date wondering what we’d been having up to then. He stood up and kicked the bench away from the piano. “I love this song,” he said. Then he bent over the keyboard and ripped into a kick-ass rendition of “Take Me To The Pilot.”

4.) All night long in the summer of 1974, the members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had traded off being the center of attention, fading into the background as each of the others sang lead on the group’s songs or performed material from solo albums, taking turns adding guitar solos to the performances and generally being very well-controlled. Near the end of the show, all four strapped on electric guitars to perform “Ohio.” As they headed into a long jam, the four of them formed a box on stage, all facing each other, backs to the rest of us in the arena. And it was like a switch was flipped: Suddenly it was the four of them – David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young – and the rest of us could just as well have not been there, as they traded lick after lick for what seemed like a very long time, embracing themselves and their music and giving the 17,000 of us in the audience the privilege of listening in.

3.) The Rolling Stones performed in a small arena when they played Århus, Denmark, in October 1973, doing two shows in a space that, in memory, seems no larger than maybe four basketball courts. I saw the second show with my Danish brother, Ejvind, and we had the best seats I’ve ever had for a concert: fifth row up, no more than sixty feet from the stage. The two images that stay with me from the show are of perspiration: Sax player Bobby Keys, already having shed water during the first show and dripping under the lights as he tore through his solo during the second show’s opener, “Brown Sugar,” and Mick Jagger mopping sweat from his brow midway through the show as he danced through the middle section of “Midnight Rambler.”

2.) In July of 1989, Ringo Starr brought his first All-Starr band to St. Paul’s Harriet Island for an outdoor show. About 20,000 folks came out to see the ex-Beatle, who’d brought along with him folks like Levon Helm and Rick Danko from The Band; Dr. John; Joe Walsh; Billy Preston; Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons from the E Street Band; session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner; and his own drummer son Zak. There were a number of wonderful moments: Helm and Danko teaming up to perform The Band’s classic song, “The Weight,” and Ringo closing the show as Billy Shears doing “With A Little Help From My Friends” were just two. But the best moment for me came during “Yellow Submarine.” During one of the choruses, Clemons leaned into his microphone and contributed the antiphonal spoken word portions that on the record were done, I think, by John Lennon. As he did so, he beckoned to the crowd to join him. And we did: “So we sailed (So we sailed) . . . into the sun (into the sun) . . . ’til we found (’til we found) . . . the sea of green (the sea of green.)” And so on. But at the end of the chorus, Clemons was silent after “yellow submarine,” leaving the 20,000 of us in the audience to replicate in unison Lennon’s manic “A-ha!”

1.) The best single moment I’ve ever had at a concert took place in September 2002, when the Texas Gal scored tickets for us to see Paul McCartney at the Xcel Center in St. Paul. It started as a good concert and then began to turn magical when McCartney encouraged our ovation for John Lennon before he performed “Here Today,” his tribute to John from Tug of War. He followed that by picking up a ukulele for a performance of George Harrison’s “Something,” which was lovely. And then, as the applause died down, there came from the speakers the sound of an airliner revving up. “Ohmigod, yes!” I hollered as McCartney and his sidemen (who were remarkably good) leaped into “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” quite likely my favorite Beatles’ song of all time. I couldn’t stop grinning, and the memory still makes me grin. I think it will for a long, long time.

So what do I share for a post about my best concert moments? Well, logic would call for McCartney’s Back In The U.S., a two-disc collection recorded during that 2002 tour. Two things helped me decide against it. First, it’s still in print, still easily available. Second, quite a few of the performances on it aren’t as good as the ones we heard in St. Paul that night. Although I enjoy the CD, I don’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would when I got it.

But the 1990 release Ringo Starr And His All-Starr Band, now, that’s a different story! I was surprised to find that it’s out of print here in the U.S. (Used copies are easily available online.) And, to my ears, it provides an accurate and very enjoyable listen, with the performances – recorded during the tour finale at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles – being faithful to the sound of the show I saw during the tour’s early weeks. The only disappointments are the absences – for clearance reasons, I assume – of the Lennon-McCartney tunes, “Yellow Submarine” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Live albums can be a crapshoot, of course. Many of them – and some of these are legendary – have so many studio overdubs added to repair concert deficiencies that they might as well be studio albums. I don’t think that’s the case here. At least, I’ve never read anything about it, as I have in the cases of other prominent rockers and their live albums. It’s a fun album to listen to on its own, and as an audio souvenir of a hot evening in July 1989, it really can’t be beat. (A-ha!)

Here’s the track listing:
It Don’t Come Easy
The No-No Song
Iko Iko
The Weight
Shine Silently
Honey Don’t
You’re Sixteen
Quarter To Three
Raining In My Heart
Will It Go Round In Circles
Life In The Fast Lane
Photograph

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band [1990]

A Baker’s Dozen for Summer

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 20, 2007

The solstice is upon us tomorrow, the longest day of the year – as measured by sunlight – in the Northern Hemisphere. That means those poor sods in Australia and Argentina and other southern places will stumble around in the dark for a longer period than normal, of course. It also means that the Druids – as I mentioned in Monday’s post – will gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise over the stone called the Heel Stone as part of their annual ceremonies.

We don’t have any hoopla to mark the beginning of meteorological summer here, as far as I know. There’s no ceremonial dipping of the season’s first ice cream cone or anything like that. The fact that summer as a state of mind has already started likely has something to do with the absence of such things. Summer’s been here for a while, no matter what the calendar says.

Maybe it’s not the same now, but thirty-some years ago, for me and the kids I knew, summer – specifically the summer after high school graduation – marked our first real entry into the workforce. I imagine some kids had worked earlier, but I think that most of us in the Class of 1971 got our first real taste of the so-called adult world very shortly after we took off our caps and gowns. For me, that meant spending forty hours a week doing whatever it was the maintenance department at St. Cloud State wanted me to do. And I got the remarkable sum of $2.10 an hour for doing it.

I spent the first half of that summer mowing lawns, riding a huge roaring machine across the green expanses of lawn on campus. Quite honestly, the mowers were a little scary, requiring a fair amount of strength in order to mow anything but a straight line. As there weren’t any areas of lawn that didn’t require a turn now and then, I did not do well mowing lawn, and by mid-summer, I was transferred indoors to the janitorial corps.

And in the building that housed the art and industrial arts departments, I met Mike. A few years older than I was, Mike was loud, profane and funny. For a week or so, he and I filled in for the vacationing regular janitors in Headley Hall, and then maintenance management assigned me to Mike and we became a roving floor cleaning crew, moving from building to building with our mops and buckets and detergents and electric floor scrubber. The first time Mike turned the operation of the scrubber over to me, the machine – which glides along the floor atop a whirling scrubbing pad – deposited me on my rump on a slippery wet floor. Mike laughed, and all I could do was join in. By the end of the summer, though, I could scrub and polish a floor with the best of them, which pleased me a lot. (At the age of seventeen, one takes one’s accomplishments when and where they surface.)

In August, we switched to an evening schedule, 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., to clean the floors in Whitney House, the luxurious one-time private home that then housed the offices of the college president and several vice presidents. We were only allotted thirty minutes for lunch, but given that we had to spend a fair amount of time waiting for mopped floors and newly waxed floors to dry, that was okay.

One evening in Whitney House, Mike and I were lounging in the lower-level office of one of the vice presidents, sipping cola and waiting for the floor in an adjacent office to dry so we could wax it. As we waited, we amused ourselves by browsing through the vice-president’s collection of Playboy magazines (a collection that I imagine would get the vice-president disciplined for harassment these days). As we paged through the most recent editions – which were fairly innocent by today’s standards – we heard a scream upstairs. It was Betty, the nighttime matron!

We ran upstairs, and as we did, we heard a door slam. We saw that the closet where our supplies were kept was closed, and the knob was turning. “Betty, are you okay?” Mike asked through the closet door.

“No,” said Betty. She was a sweet lady, but she was, in today’s terms, developmentally challenged. “There’s a bat, and I don’t want him to get me!”

Mike and I looked around. There, flying up and down the grand staircase of Whitney House, was a small brown bat. “I’ll get him with a broom,” Mike said. But the brooms were in the closet with Betty. It took Mike a few minutes to persuade her to unlock the closet so he could get one. At length, the door opened, and Betty’s hand offered Mike a broom. He took it, and Betty pulled her hand back in and locked the door again.

Mike headed for the stairway with me in tow. The bat came toward him, its course parallel to the stairs, and Mike took aim. Three or four times, he flailed at the flying mammal. Every time, the bat wheeled in its flight and the broom went past harmlessly. We began to laugh, mostly at Mike’s futility but also at the moans and cries still coming from Betty in the closet. On his fourth try, Mike swung harder. The broom again missed the bat and then continued on toward me. I turned my back. The head of the broom struck me between my shoulder blades, and the broomstick broke neatly in two.

We laughed harder.

Mike slumped against the wall near the closet, laughing, and said to me, “You try it.”

I looked for a weapon. The broomstick was useless. I looked in my right hand, where I still carried the vice-president’s most recent edition of Playboy. As the bat flew away from me, up the staircase, I rolled the magazine into a cylinder. At the landing where the staircase turned, the bat reversed its course and headed toward me. I waited at the bottom of the stairs, and as the bat neared me, I rose on my tiptoes and delivered an overhead smash that Bjorn Borg would have envied, catching the bat from behind, where his sonar did no good, and driving him into the carpet.

Mike took a broom and dustpan from Betty’s cart, scooped up the creature and placed him under a tree outside. Evidently, I had only stunned him, for when we checked, half an hour later, the bat was gone. It took us about that long to persuade Betty it was safe to leave the closet.

And then we went back downstairs. I put the magazine back into the vice-president’s desk, and Mike and I waxed the floor of the adjacent office and then moved on to the next office, still laughing.

A couple of years later, when I was working for the library at a job that took me all over campus, I ran into Mike. He told me Betty had retired but that every time he saw her, she talked about the bat in Whitney House. Mike was still floating, filling in for janitors on vacation, but he no longer worked the floor cleaning crew or worked nights. And he missed that.

“We had a good summer that year, didn’t we?” he said to me. “That was a good one.” And he was right.

So, to celebrate the summer that technically starts tomorrow, and to celebrate as well all the good summers of the past – including the summer I spent scrubbing floors – here’s a Baker’s Dozen of songs with the word “summer” in their titles:

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

“The Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141, 1984

“Summertime” by Scarlett Johansson from Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, 2006

“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3, 1973

“The Endless Summer” by the Sandals from The Endless Summer soundtrack, 1966

“Summer Wages” by Ian & Sylvia from Ian & Sylvia, 1971

“Summer’s Almost Gone” by the Doors from Waiting For The Sun, 1968

“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone, Epic single 10497, 1969

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol single 5271, 1983

“Fifteen Summers” by Gallagher & Lyle from Breakaway, 1976

“Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream, 1976

“Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust, 1975

“Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood from Nancy & Lee, 1968

A few notes about the songs:

This is a random selection. I sorted all the songs with “summer” in their titles or album titles, selected “Summer Rain” as the first, and then let the RealPlayer go. I then decided that the word “summer” had to be in the song title, not the album title. And I rejected Brewer & Shipley’s “Indian Summer” as not being quite in the spirit of things. So this is what we got.

A few songs missed the cut that would have been nice. Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” comes to mind, as does Frank Sinatra’s melancholy “Summer Wind.” I love Seals & Crofts’ version of “Summer Breeze,” but it’s so well known that I was glad to see the Isley Brothers’ long version show up instead.

Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain” is one of my all-time favorite songs (it would make my Top Twenty for certain), and I was a little surprised to see that the single was not released in summer, that it was released late in the autumn, first making the charts in December of 1967. But then I thought about the last verse of the song, and that made sense. The song is from Rivers’ Realization, which was on my recent list of my favorite albums.

The album Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, from which the Scarlett Johansson performance comes, was a benefit record for “Music Matters,” an educational program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I thought that, for an actress not known for singing, Johansson pulled it off pretty well.

I wrote a while back about working at the state trap shoot for three summers when I was in high school and about how I heard some songs so frequently down in the trap pit that they became what I call “trap shoot songs.” “Hot Fun In The Summertime” is one of those songs, redolent of black dust and the smell of gunpowder and the sound of shotguns.

“Summer Wine,” as over-written as it might be – a condition not rare among songs penned by Lee Hazlewood – is nevertheless one of my favorite songs, no matter who sings it. The Nancy & Lee version is not the original – that showed up on a Hazlewood album a year or two earlier than this, I believe – but it is, I think, the best.

A Place Where The Barrier Is Thin

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 18, 2007

I was precocious when I was a little stomper. I taught myself to read when I was three, or so the story goes. I evidently quite startled my mother one day when I looked at my red wagon – emblazoned “REX” but with some of the paint scraped off of the “E” – and asked her, “What does RFX spell?” Family lore has it that after she finished the laundry, she set me down with some of the primers she used when she taught in a one-room school in the 1930s and 1940s and asked me to read them to her. I did so, matter-of-factly.*

By the time I was in first grade, I was reading at, oh, a third-grade level or better. The class was split into reading groups, based – I would imagine – on our progress in learning that basic skill. The materials we were learning from were no challenge to me, so for one-third of the year, at least, my first-grade teacher handed me over to our student teacher, Miss Hennesey (and the fact that I recall her name after forty-seven years is a little surprising). So for the thirteen weeks that Miss Hennessey was with us at Lincoln School that year, I was a reading group of one.

One day, she must have showed me a book with pictures from Europe or England in it, because I went home for lunch that day – I walked the five blocks home for lunch every day, with my sister, who was in fourth grade at the time – and said to my mother as I ate my soup or whatever we had, “I saw pictures of a place called ‘Stonehenge’ today.”

My mother may have murmured something, and I continued, “I’ve been there.”

To which she replied, reasonably, “No, you couldn’t have been there, but maybe you’ll get there someday.”

I don’t recall saying anything more, but I do know that from that day on – sometime during the 1959-1960 school year – I was determined to see Stonehenge and find out whether I’d been there before.

I’ve mentioned numerous times here that I was lucky enough to spend my third year of college living and studying in Denmark. Almost as soon as I learned I was accepted for the program, I began to plan my trip to Stonehenge. We had four weeks in December and January and a little less than that in March free for travel. In early March, I used my railpass to get to the French coast and then – on my own dime, as my railpass wasn’t good in Britain – I crossed the Channel and headed for London and then Salisbury, about ten miles south of where Stonehenge stands silently on the Salisbury Plain.

I called some friends of one of our faculty members, as I had promised to pass on his regards, and Mr. and Mrs. Horace Rogers invited me to their home for lunch, drove me around Salisbury and its environs, and put me up for the evening. One of the places Horace Rogers took me, of course, was Stonehenge.

Visitors to the site these days are almost always kept away from the ancient stones by barriers. (One exception to that policy is the Druids, who use Stonehenge for ceremonies on the summer solstice; the validity of their historic claim to Stonehenge as a sacred site is questionable, as the stones were put in place, from what I understand, long before the Druids appeared as an identifiable sect in Britain. But it does make for good TV.) When I was there, however, visitors were still allowed to walk among the stones unimpeded, and I spent more than an hour there during my first day of touring with Horace Rogers, and another hour there the next morning before heading back to London.

I walked among the old stones, laying my hands on this one and then that one, watching the sunlight and shade change the colors of the stones from light orange to dull gray, taking photographs (always making sure that none of the twenty or so other people who were there were in the frame when I clicked the shutter) and absorbing what I can only call the silence of thousands of years. I felt gratified that I had kept a promise made to myself when I was very young. But even more than that, I felt something that was, all at the same time, odd, eerie, compelling and familiar. I felt as if I knew the place.

Some who read that will scoff, considering such a sensation to be, in the phrase I used here Saturday, “laughable hogwash.” Others will nod, having felt such sensations in their own travels and knowing them to be real, if not explainable.

How had I been there before? Possible explanations I’ve considered (however unlikely they may be) are time travel, alternate universes, sheer folly and reincarnation. I lean toward the latter, but I do not know. All I know is that as I wandered the pathways among the ancient stones, stones put in place about five thousand years ago and abandoned sometime later, I felt as if I were returning. It’s not that I belonged there in that year of 1974, but as if I had belonged there somewhen else.

There is, of course, a barrier that separates the life we understand at least a little from things we do not understand very well (if at all). I do believe that there are places in the world where that barrier is very thin. Among the places I’ve heard mentioned where that is true are Sedona, Arizona, and Mount Shasta, California, here in the U.S.; Machu Picchu in Peru and the Pyramids in Egypt. There are likely more that I’m forgetting. I am certain, though, that Stonehenge is one of those places.

That may have been what drew me from that day in first grade. I have a sense that many people are drawn to the stones on the Salisbury Plain for that reason. And I imagine that such an attraction may have been what led singer-songwriter Richie Havens to the title of one of his better albums, 1970’s Stonehenge.

While the style is typical of Havens’ other releases at the time – Mixed Bag­, Something Else Again and The Great Blind Degree come to mind – I’m guessing that Stonehenge is one of Havens’ more personal albums. For one of the few times in his recording career (maybe the only time, but I haven’t looked closely enough today to say for certain), Haven wrote or co-wrote a majority of the material on the record, seven out of ten songs.

And the ten cuts are presented in a jewel-like setting of folk and folk-rock, certainly one of the better examples of a style that had become pretty much a standard of presentation by 1970. Among those joining Havens for the record – which seems to be available in the U.S. only as an imported CD – was David Bromberg, credited with dobro by All-Music Guide.

It’s actually quite a nice listen. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Track listing:
Open Our Eyes
Minstrel From Gault
It Could Be The First Day
Ring Around The Moon
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
There’s A Hole In The Future
I Started A Joke
Prayer
Tiny Little Blues
Shouldn’t All The World Be Dancing

Richie Havens – Stonehenge [1970]

*I have always assumed, without ever looking at the wagon, that the “E” had been partly scraped away. I’ve had the wagon at my home for about eight years now and still left it unexamined until our end of summer picnic this year. During that picnic, my mother began telling the tale of “RFX,” and I again mentioned my assumption that the paint had been scraped away. My friend Rob walked over to the wagon and checked what I should have looked at years ago. The “REX” is intact, and my young eyes simply saw the “E” as an “F”. Note added October 7, 2011.

Saturday Singles Nos. 16 & 17

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 16, 2007

The choir sings from somewhere beyond, “You are a child of the universe . . .”

And millions of college students went out and bought posters.

There was no way that author Max Ehrmann could have known, as he lived out his life in Indiana and died in 1945. No way that he could have anticipated that the inspirational piece he wrote when he was fifty-five would someday be the basis for a Top 10 hit. No way he could have foreseen that the prose poem he called “Desiderata” – Latin for “Things desired as essential” – would assuage the spirits of those millions of college students and the millions of others who, in 1971, needed a little assurance that things would be okay.

But in fact, “Desiderata,” which Ehrmann wrote around 1927, went to No. 8 in the fall of 1971, recorded as a spoken word single by television talk show host Les Crane. Backed by a soft rock musical track, Crane reads his way through Ehrmann’s comforting words. And the choir, with the swelling music carrying more than a few echoes of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, tells us again and again:

“You are a child of the universe.
“No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.
“And whether or not it is clear to you,
“No doubt the universe is unfolding the way it should.”

For some odd reason, when I think of the recording – which, like many of my fellow college freshmen, I liked – I picture the basement hallway of Stewart Hall at St. Cloud State and the adjacent entry to the college bookstore. This baffles me. Did I hear the song coming from a radio in one of the nearby offices? Did I see the poster of the poem in the bookstore? Or maybe buy the poster for a girl I knew? Does this mean that my place in the universe is a basement corridor that over the years has been remodeled out of existence? Or perhaps my place in the universe is in a bookstore, which is a happier thought.

I don’t know. I only can say that over the years, whenever I’ve heard the recording or thought of it – and those instances have not been numerous, to be sure – I see that corridor. I guess it’s one of those odd juxtapositions that the mind celebrates without our ever knowing why. But I’m not sure it’s any more odd than a prose poem by an Indiana attorney becoming the basis forty-four years later for a Top 10 hit recorded by a talk show host. (And the record won a Grammy for “Best Spoken Word Recording”!)

There were those who, when “Desiderata” came to public attention in 1971, wanted it to have a more impressive pedigree. Many of the reprintings – posters, plaques or what have you – carried the notation that the piece was found in St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland, and was written in 1692, which happens to be the year the church was founded. It’s a nice fable, but “Desiderata” was clearly Ehrmann’s.

And just as there were those who wanted “Desiderata” to have a more historic origin, so, too, were there those who found the whole thing – the poem, the recording, the posters and plaques – to be laughable hogwash. Among those who felt that way were the folks at National Lampoon, home of the humor magazine and related organizations that were themselves a professional offshoot of the famed Harvard Lampoon. In 1972, the magazine released an LP entitled National Lampoon Radio Dinner, and one of the cuts on the album was “Deteriorata,” a spot-on parody of the previous autumn’s hit record. From the introduction to the chorus, the record nails it, although the background music is, to my mind, not quite as spiffy. But the choir still reassures us:

“You are a fluke of the universe,
“You have no right to be here.
“And whether you can hear it or not,
“The universe is laughing behind your back.”

Hearing “Deteriorata” or thinking of it doesn’t have any associations for me, except smiles. No basement corridors with this one. But just as I can never hear “Desiderata” without that strange memory of the basement hallway, neither can I hear either of these two recordings without thinking of the other.
So the other day, when “Deteriorata” popped up on the RealPlayer, I knew that I had to make it and its cousin today’s Saturday Singles.

Les Crane – “Desiderata” [Warner Bros. 7520, 1971]

National Lampoon – “Deteriorata” [Banana 218, 1972]

In My Little Pocket Of The ’Net

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 15, 2007

It’s all too easy to feel old these days. And I fear it’s only going to get easier.

The Texas Gal and I have recently become involved with an on-line community called BookCrossing, a way to share books, essentially, with whoever might come along. We registered a few books with the site before we took our recent trip to Texas and left them along the way, in shopping malls, in restaurants, in motel lobbies and elsewhere.

Only one of them has showed up on line as having been found, a military novel that we left at a motel in Cameron, Missouri. Oddly enough, the woman who found it – and then went to the BookCrossing site to report her find – was also from Minnesota and brought the book back here before sending it to her son in Iraq.

Along with leaving books for others to find, the Texas Gal and I have begun meeting with other BookCrossing devotees once a month for evening coffee. . . .  There were nine of us this week when we met at a local coffee spot. The conversation stayed on books and plans for book-related events for a fairly long time, but, [with fellow blogger] Sean and I being who we are, our conversation eventually gravitated to music, as we discussed his work on a major research project and my own research and finds. I told him about a treasure trove of out-of-print recordings by Delaney & Bonnie and related musicians that I’d gotten from my Alabama friend Mitch. He whistled softly and said, “Oh, I’d like to hear some of that.”

And the faces of the younger couple on my right had blank looks. The names of Delaney & Bonnie and Bobby Whitlock and the rest of the Friends meant nothing to them. And why should they? It’s been more than thirty years since D&B and their friends were a vital part of American pop music, for more reasons than we really need to go into here. And for a moment, I felt like my father must have felt when he tried to explain to me how exciting it was during the early 1940s to hear a new Benny Goodman record.

(Should they read this, I’m not trying to make them feel bad and I hope they don’t. I’m more bemused than anything at the passage of time and at how I feel like I flip back and forth: When I’m writing here about the music that moves me, or when I’m sharing that same music here and at a couple of bulletin boards, I’m joined – in cyberspace, anyway – by thousands of folks who have similar tastes and memories. In my little pocket of the ’Net, it’s always 1975 or 1966 or whatever year I happen to be thinking about and writing about. Out in the world of coffee shops and gas stations and grocery stores, it’s very clearly 2007 and much of the music that moves me is no more than a vague idea to most people. That’s an interesting duality, one that reminds me more than a little bit of the duality between cyberlife and real life that Arthur C. Clarke predicted in two works that dealt with the same plot and the same theme: the 1953 novella Against The Fall of Night and the 1956 novel The City and the Stars. Some of Clarke’s ideas regarding the impact of technology on us and on our lives were so prescient that it’s spooky.)

Anyway, in my little pocket of the ’Net today, it’s 1970, and Merry Clayton has released her first solo album, Gimme Shelter. Clayton, of course, was the wailing back-up singer for the Rolling Stones when they recorded their version of “Gimme Shelter” for their Let It Bleed album in 1969. According to All-Music Guide, that work came not long after Clayton took part in the recording sessions for Dylan’s Gospel, an album by a group called The Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles. In 1970, as well as recording her debut solo album, Clayton provided backing vocals for B.B. King’s Indianola, Mississippi, Seeds album. The juxtapositions simply show that Clayton – whose most recent work listed at AMG includes supplying backing vocals for Joe Cocker’s 2007 release, Hymn For My Soul – is at home in a multiplicity of genres, including but certainly not limited to blues, rock and gospel.

Those three genres, along with R&B, are at the core of Gimme Shelter, an album that is criminally out of print. From the gospel-tinged “Country Roads,” the James Taylor-penned opener, through the Doors’ “Tell All The People,” the title cut of “Gimme Shelter” and Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and on to “Good Girls,” the R&B-tinged closer, Clayton shows a mastery of each and every genre. I only wish I had some information about the other musicians on the project. I got the album as a download from my friend babalu at a forum.

But at least I have the music.

Merry Clayton – Gimme Shelter [1970]

Track listing
Country Road
Tell All The People
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Gimme Shelter
I’ve Got Life
Here Come Those Heartaches Again
Forget It I Got It
You’ve Been Acting Strange
I Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Away
Good Girls

A personal note:
Today’s post is the 100th since I began this blog so tentatively in January. I have to say that I’m thrilled (and sometimes baffled) at the wide-ranging and positive response to my ideas and the music that I love. Thanks to all of you who stop by.