Archive for the ‘2007/07 (July)’ Category

A Baker’s Dozen From 1981

April 30, 2011

Originally posted July 31, 2007

One of the over-used epigrams of the 1960s was the quotation from Plato: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” It seemed hip at the time to envision the structure of society crumbling when faced with the works of the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the Rolling Stones (among many, many others). One wonders how the denizens of Woodstock Nation – or Altamont Nation, for those with a darker, more cynical bent – would have fared had the “walls of the city” truly been shaken.

It’s an interesting idea: Had the late 1960s actually been an era of revolution, how would the followers of tie-dyed fashion, the children of the suburbs, have fared in the new society following a true revolution? Probably pretty poorly, I would imagine. The new leaders, those deemed sufficiently pure ideologically, would most likely have found the vast majority of the so-called revolutionaries to be dilettantes at best, bent on changing their personal circumstances rather than the societal structure that gave them generally comfortable lives. I have the mental image of thousands of young people banished to bleak farms in the countryside, undergoing education and orientation to revolutionary ideals as they grow strawberries and potatoes. “This ain’t what I signed up for,” I can hear one or another say. “I just wanted to drop out and find a chick in San Francisco!”

It’s hard to say how close America was to an actual revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One can read the histories and memoirs of the era – Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage comes to mind – and not get a real sense. Despite the forty-year-old regrets on the far left end of the political spectrum and the still-potent rage that resides on the far right, it seems to me that the political upheaval of the times flared out without having much impact. (The civil rights and women’s movements, on the other hand, changed American life immensely, but those are other topics for perhaps other days.)

The real revolution, when it came along, was cultural, and it was in Plato’s “mode of the music.” I’ve seen a number of reviews, analyses and think-pieces in magazines and newspapers over the past couple of years – sorry, but I don’t have specific citations – that indicate that once more an American music form has become the world’s predominant music. Those pieces note that in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, rock ’n’ roll became the world’s music (though rock was recycled for a time through British sensibilities) and the same thing has happened in the last twenty years with hip-hop.

Now, I’m not anything like an expert on hip-hop and its stylistic cousins. I like some of it, have some in the collection, but it’s not my music. I do note its importance, though. And these thoughts about modes changing and the quaking walls of the city came about today because of the last track that came up while I was compiling my random list of thirteen songs from 1981.

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was one of those tracks that changed the music universe and continue to echo into the world at large. In his 1989 book The Heart of Rock and Soul, Dave Marsh puts the track at No. 179 and calls it “the Birth of the Nation” of hip-hop. He also notes, “play this first masterpiece of hip-hop at the crushing volume at which it was intended to be heard and s**t will start shakin’ you never imagined had any wobble in it.”

Marsh goes on to say that “hardly anybody outside the New York City area has ever even heard the damn thing.” That may have been true in 1989, when copyright difficulties – arising from the multitude of clips taken from other performers’ tracks – got in the way of Grandmaster Flash and his colleagues. But if nothing else has, the advent of the ’Net in the [eighteen] years since Marsh wrote has spread “The Adventures . . .” and other, similar, compiled tracks worldwide. So, if one accepts the idea that hip-hop has in the last [twenty-six] years become the soundtrack to the world, the last track on today’s Baker’s Dozen is what the real revolution sounded like when it began.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1981
“Old Photographs” by Jim Capaldi from Let The Thunder Cry

“I Can’t Stand It” by Eric Clapton, RSO single 1060

“Fire On The Bayou” by the Neville Brothers from Fiyo On The Bayou

“The Innocent Age” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age

“Carry On” by J. J. Cale from Shades

“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks from Belladonna

“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, EMI America single 8079

“Waiting On A Friend” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You

“Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton, Capitol single 4997

“Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Shakedown

“I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)” by Lulu, Alfa single 7006

“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 02536

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Sugar Hill single 577

A few comments on some of the other tracks:

Jim Capaldi’s “Old Photographs” is a beautiful song, tinged with regret the way most memoirs should be. But it’s a long way from the sometimes edgy work Capaldi and his mates in Traffic did once upon a time.

Just like Harry Chapin – whose song “Sequel” showed up here the other week – Dan Fogelberg is a polarizing musician: One either finds his work compelling or finds it overblown. In general, I like it, though I did think that his double album The Innocent Age flirted with lyrical pomposity. Even so, it was musically gorgeous.

If the Gary U.S. Bonds track sounds like Bruce Springsteen, well, there’s a reason. Springsteen and Miami Steve Van Zandt produced the track and a good portion of the album it came from, Dedication. Springsteen’s admiration for Bonds, and his love of Bonds’ early 1960s recordings of “Quarter to Three” and “New Orleans,” is no secret, of course.

I was glad to see “Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band make the random list. St. Cloud has a baseball team in a regional summer college league, the River Bats, and hearing the Cranston track while sipping a cold beverage and taking in the early evening sights of a small baseball park is a fine experience, indeed!

‘I Got One More Silver Dollar . . .’

April 30, 2011

Originally posted July 31, 2007

Man, you can get positively whipsawed reading about Buddy Miles!

Here – in its entirety – is what John Swenson, one of the co-editors of the first two editions of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, wrote during the late 1970s in those editions about the funk-rock drummer and singer:

“The solo career of this clownish, heavy-handed ex-Electric Flag drummer is a series of incredible gaffes, the likes of which have seldom been witnessed in the annals of popular music. His taste is awful, his playing almost always overbearing and he manages to make more judgmental errors than seem possible. ‘Them Changes’ is his anthem, and a decent funk song, which in this context is miraculous.”

Now, the reviewers in those first two editions of that book were sometimes nasty. (They were also sometimes very funny. I remember almost falling out of my chair when I read Swenson’s review of an album by an aspiring white blues player named Catfish Hodge: “Can blue men sing the whites? Hodge is as tedious as they come.”) But there are degrees of nasty, and the lashing that Swenson gives Miles almost makes me wonder if Miles cut Swenson off in traffic or hit on Swenson’s sister or something. There’s a level of vitriol in that paragraph that seems way out of proportion for a music review.

And yeah, it’s an old review. But much of Miles’ work to this day is based on his early recordings, those made with the Electric Flag, those made as part of Jimi Hendrix’ Band of Gypsies and those made as a solo artist. It strikes me that Miles has over the years done far better than that harsh review augured. And he’s been better received, too.

Consider this review of Miles’ 1971 album, A Message to the People, written for All-Music Guide by Victor W. Valdivia:

“In the league of funk-rock albums, A Message to the People is top-notch. Buddy Miles was easily one the better bandleaders of the early ’70s, and his ability to unite a group of talented players around well-crafted songs definitely makes this one of his best albums. The gorgeous ‘The Way I Feel Tonight,’ the funky, horn-driven ‘Place Over There,’ and the lovely closing ‘That’s the Way Life Is’ all rank among Miles’ best songs and performances. Add to that two superb Gregg Allman covers (especially ‘Midnight Rider,’ which is arguably even more definitive than the original), and the results are impressive. Miles even predates hip-hop by lifting the horn riff from Joe Tex’s ‘You’re Right, Ray Charles’ and crafting it into a new instrumental cut called, fittingly, ‘Joe Tex.’ Only a dud cover of Percy Sledge’s ‘Sudden Stop’ is the album’s lone clinker. In fact, the album is so good, it’s mystifying why it barely clocks in at a meager half-hour. ‘That’s the Way Life Is’ and the clavinet-laden ‘The Segment’ are both over just as they’ve barely begun. Similarly, no sooner does the cover of ‘Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’’ settle into a powerful groove than it stops to segue into the next cut. Why Miles felt the need to edit the material so severely is bizarre, since the album could easily have been twice as long and still hit its mark. It’s a testament to Buddy Miles’ talent that, as first-rate as the album is, it will leave any listener wanting more. Still, A Message to the People is every bit a funk classic.”

Makes you wonder if they were listening to the same music, doesn’t it?

Well, there’s no accounting for taste or the lack of it, as all of us at one time or another make very clear. We all have our guilty listening pleasures (mine include French pop and a few tracks by Helen Reddy), and we all have those performers or performances that make us writhe in torment (“Seasons in the Sun,” anyone?). But such dissonance between two views of the same performer struck me as very odd. There’s no way to reconcile them except perhaps to note that a good deal of time passed in between, and time may have altered the way we look at some performers. There has been a general reassessment of earlier performances as earlier works were re-released on CD in the past fifteen years, and that reassessment may have been to Miles’ benefit. (The more recent reviews of his work came after 1997 and the release of the CD, The Best of Buddy Miles, which includes several tracks from A Message to the People.)

Anyway, guilty pleasure or not, I’ve generally enjoyed Miles’ work over the years, especially, as I wrote some time back, his version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River.” And I tend to agree with the AMG review that his version of “Midnight Rider” is extraordinary. It came out in 1971, a year after the Allman Brothers Band’s version was released on Idlewild South but two years before Gregg Allman released his solo version on Laid Back.

Is it the definitive version? That’s a tough call. I tend to lean toward Allman’s solo version from 1973. But to do as well as Miles does here performing a song that’s so strongly linked to its author is a remarkable feat. And we’ll leave it at that.

Buddy Miles – “Midnight Rider” [1971]

A Slinky Trip Along Back Roads

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 30, 2007

One of the maddening joys of collecting music, I imagine, is being a completist: aiming to acquire every piece of music produced by a certain musician or band. It’s an interesting idea, but unless the musician in question was a hermit and is long dead, it seems as if it would be impossible.

A note caught my eye at a forum where I drop in now and then. I’d posted Boo Hewerdine’s Baptist Hospital there, and one of my fellow forumites left a note “to all the Richard Thompson completists out there,” noting that Thompson played on a few tracks on the album. Certainly, in these Internet days, it’s far easier to be a completist if one wishes to be: There is more information more readily available than there used to be, and the music itself is more easily found, as well. So if one wishes to find the entire musical output of, say, Richard Thompson, one has a chance – however slender – of doing so.

I suppose it depends on one’s definition of completist. I have a lot of Beatles’ vinyl. In fact, I think I have almost everything that was released on Capitol/Apple, rare B-sides and all. I haven’t looked since I thought about it a few weeks ago, but it may be that of all the albums released from 1964 on – original releases and later compilations – the only thing I am missing is Reel Music, the compilation of music used in their films. If that’s the case, I probably should wander over to Ebay one of these days and find it. But I am certain that I have all of the songs on that compilation, so it’s not like it’s a matter of anything new escaping me. (I’m more interested these days in gathering the CD issues of the Beatles’ work in its British configuration, and I have five CDs to go on that little project. Now, if I were in the mood for a real collecting challenge, I’d aspire to collecting the British configuration albums on vinyl!)

As much as I like the Beatles, I’m not interested in acquiring every little thing they put on tape during their years together and during the odd times they were in each others’ company in the years after their break-up. (And I do like the Beatles very much; it was their music, for the most part, that brought me to loving pop music, and they remain one of my four or five favorite groups/artists of all time.) Given the sheer amount of stuff recorded during those years, acquiring all of it would be nigh impossible and, to my mind, not very rewarding.

Another artist whose fans would have a difficult time acquiring a complete collection would be Duane Allman. I said earlier that if the musician in question were long dead, it would make the acquisition of a complete collection easier. Well, in Duane’s case, that’s not necessarily so. Yes, he’s been dead for almost thirty-six years. But during his brief career as a member of the Allman Brothers Band and, especially, as a sideman, he was so prolific and so, well, casual about adding his talents to projects that from this distance, it would seem nigh impossible to get a complete collection of Duane Allman.

The website Duane Allman Resources is a good place to go to grasp the problem. Notes for many of the albums listed in the chronology at the site give differing accounts as to what tracks Allman played on. And given Allman’s well-known propensity for showing up at sessions and adding his talent to the mix without worrying about credit or even compensation, it would be utterly impossible, one would think, to track down every piece of tape to which he added his extraordinary talent.

After all, there would always be one more session to find, one more recording to seek, kind of like the legendary thirtieth song written by blues legend Robert Johnson or – more in my vein – the rumored tapes of sessions by The Band with Sonny Boy Williamson II. Now, I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade; I wish completists well. I’m just happy to listen to the music that’s readily available, some of which itself can be difficult to find.

An album that falls into that category is one that features Duane Allman on four of its nine original tracks as well as on two bonus tracks included on the CD issue, now evidently out-of-print. Johnny Jenkins’ Ton Ton Macoute!, originally released in 1970, was issued on CD in 1997, according to All-Music Guide, but seems to no longer be available new anywhere (three copies were available used at Amazon this morning, starting at $60).

And that’s too bad. Ton Ton Macoute! is a tasty serving of southern stew, a slinky trip along the back roads. Several of the tracks, as I indicated above, have Duane Allman playing on them; they were originally intended to be part of an Allman solo album, but when the Allman Brothers Band took off, the backing tracks were handed to Jenkins, who made the songs his own. A few of the other members of the Allman Brothers Band – Jaimoe, Berry Oakley and Butch Trucks – added their talents to Jenkins’ sessions, as did Capricorn stalwarts Pete Carr, Eddie Hinton and Johnny Sandlin.

Highlights of the album include Jenkins’ sly takes on Bob Dylan’s “Down Along The Cove” and Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone,” both of which were included on the Duane Allman anthologies. But the best track has to be Jenkins’ slithery performance on Dr. John’s “I Walk On Gilded Splinters,” which Jenkins and crew turn into a voodoo-nasty excursion deeper into the swamp than many people dare to wander.

According to the above cited chronology, Duane Allman plays on those three tracks as well as on “Voodoo In You” from the original album, and on the bonus tracks “I Don’t Want No Woman” and “My Love Will Never Die.”

My thanks to the blog Discos Ocultos, where I found the CD rip.

Johnny Jenkins – Ton Ton Macoute! [1970]

I Walk On Gilded Splinters
Leaving Trunk
Blind Bats And Swamp Rats
Rollin’ Stone
Sick And Tired
Down Along The Cove
Bad News
Voodoo In You
I Don’t Want No Woman (bonus)
My Love Will Never Die (bonus)

Some information
A visitor asked Friday: “Are you willing to share info on what program you use to clean up the pops and clicks from the LPs? [Your] transfers are exceptionally clean, and don’t have any of the ‘whooshing’ sound that comes from a lot of noise reduction processes.”

Actually, I don’t use any noise reduction program at all. Early on, in January and maybe February, I used the noise reduction utility in Audacity, the program I use to rip LPs, but I didn’t like what the noise reduction did to the overall quality of the rip: It seemed to make it a little tinny and echoey. So I quit using it.

I would guess that over the course of the blog, a little more than half of the album posts have been rips from vinyl taken from my collection. Other album posts have been rips from CDs in my collection that have now – from what I can tell – gone out of print. And there have been several shares of albums that I’ve found at other blogs, albums that are out of print, as far as I can tell. Some of those have been ripped from vinyl, according to the individuals who posted them at blogs or forums; others were ripped from CD. When I know the provenance of a rip, I try to say so in my post.

The fact that some of my shares are ripped from (out of print) CD’s is one reason the album shares here are clean. Another is that when I rip an LP, I am very picky. I mentioned the other week that I had been ripping a Jim Horn LP and abandoned it after too many scratches became too audible. I don’t mind a share with a few pops and scratches; many of the LPs I share are, after all, between thirty-five and forty-five years old. But I am picky, and the bulk of my record collection is in pretty good shape. So the rips I do post will generally be pretty clean, and the word “from vinyl” will be in the post line. [Those post lines – detailing the size of the download, the bitrate and the origin – have not been included in the archive.]

I should note here my policy on material found elsewhere. I will share music found on other blogs. I will not use other blogs’ uploads. The links to uploaded music you find here are my links. To share music found elsewhere is, to my mind, a good thing, expanding the awareness of music that can be fairly obscure. To copy and paste another blogger’s link is, to my mind, lazy at best and certainly dishonest. So any link to an upload here is one that I have created. Similarly, any written content posted here is my own – with the exception of quotations from another source, which will always be cited.

Saturday Single No. 23

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 28, 2007

I probably should have done this last week, but things tend to slip away, and I missed it. That’s okay, though, because one of the points I’m pondering this morning – one that I touch on with frequency, whether I intend to or not – is the slipperiness of time. As Pink Floyd sang on The Dark Side of the Moon, “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.” Only in this case, it’s thirty-five years.

It was a horribly hot and muggy day, July 22, 1972, and there I was, sweltering in a tuxedo. I was an usher, and the folks I was seating were roasting as well. Almost as soon as I handed them their programs, they began using them as fans. As I walked to the back of the church after seating someone near the front, I saw a sea of white programs waving like flags, doing nothing at all to stir the still air inside the church.

It was the first time I’d been in a wedding, and the folks I was seating had come to see the ceremony uniting my sister and my brother-in-law-to-be. They’d met between two and three years earlier, when she was a waitress at the local Woolworth’s restaurant and he was a regular customer. (I still think there’s a song in there that I haven’t bothered to discover.) And in those two to three years, they’d decided to put their lives together into one life.

That can be a scary decision at any age, and the two of them were young, he having just turned twenty-four and she having not yet reached the age of twenty-two. As I – three years younger than she – seated guests and then watched the ceremony, I know I had no idea of what a commitment like marriage entailed: The patience, the tenderness, the time, the sheer work and joyful play of melding two lives into one were things about which I knew nothing.

All I knew was that she was my sister and I loved her; he was a nice person and she loved him. That was enough for me to know. So I guided guests to their seats. And after the ceremony – with perspiration running down my face – I nodded time after time to allow the guests in each row to file out to the doors and greet the couple who were now Mr. and Mrs.

While the guests headed toward our home, we in the wedding party drove to a park next to the Mississippi River for photos. We had just finished posing and were heading to our various cars when the skies opened, and the downpour that had been threatening became reality. Those of us whose cars were further away along Riverside Drive were drenched. I was drenched, too, as I ran to get the car in which I’d driven the newlyweds to the park. The newlyweds sought shelter as they waited for me, and, as I recall, stayed relatively dry.

One can find a metaphor there. From the outside, it seems that their thirty-five years have passed without their having been caught in a major storm. Oh, there were no doubt difficulties; all lives and marriages have them. And there was grief, certainly for the loss of aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents and possibly for other events. But it seems from where I sit – which I think is fairly near at the family table, as it were – time has treated them well, and they’ve done well with their time.

They’ve each had a solid career: He, now retired, was in telecommunications for more than thirty years; she, close to retirement herself, has been in education since the autumn after their wedding. They have two splendid children: Their son works in Information Technology for his home school district, and their daughter is an attorney in a respected firm in Chicago.

As I thought about them this week, about that hot Saturday and about thirty-five good years, I looked, as I frequently do, to the music. And I decided that the song that was No. 1 on the pop charts on that distant day – Saturday, July 22, 1972 – provided another good metaphor for a marriage that has endured and succeeded. That’s why Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” is this week’s Saturday Single.

Bill Withers – “Lean On Me” [1972]

One I Missed From 1970

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 27, 2007

I wrote the other day about 1968 and the aptitude test that set me on the (somewhat crooked) road I followed to my years working as a journalist. That was the year, I wrote, when my passion for spectator sports developed, as I devoured each weekly edition of Sports Illustrated and followed the fortunes, especially, of the Minnesota North Stars.

I said that it would take another couple of years for my other major passion – popular music – to bloom. That passion sprouted tentatively in the fall of 1969 and came to full blossom during the year of 1970. And what a time that was to start listening to popular music!

Here are the No. 1 hits from that school year of 1969-70, which was my junior year in high school:

“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations
“Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley
“Wedding Bell Blues” by the Fifth Dimension
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B. J. Thomas
“I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five
“Venus” by Shocking Blue
“Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)/Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Let It Be” by the Beatles
“ABC” by the Jackson Five
“American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
“Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens.

So that’s what was coming out of the radio on the table in my room that year. It’s not a bad collection of singles; the only clunker I see in the bunch is the Ray Stevens (possibly “Na Na Hey Hey,” but it was fun). Something not listed here that I was listening to as 1969 drew to a close was Blood, Sweat & Tears, the group’s self-titled second album. (I’d spent the money I’d earned at the trapshoot that summer on a Panasonic cassette recorder, and someone – my sister, most likely – had given me BST as a gift.)

Sometime early in that autumn, I went to sleep with the radio on low, as I nearly always did, and in the middle of the night, I awoke to a spooky noise: A “shoop!” followed by a guitar riff and tom-toms, and then a flat voice singing the strangest lyrics I’d heard so far: It was the Beatles’ “Come Together” slithering into my ears. I bought the cassette the next day to get the song.

As 1970 began, I began to look more at albums than individual songs, and by the time spring approached, I was looking at LPs instead of cassettes. I bought – or received as gifts – more albums the rest of that year than I had bought in my entire life before. The haul of 1970 was:

Let It Be by the Beatles in May
Chicago II by Chicago in June
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles in June
Best of Bee Gees in June
Hey Jude by the Beatles in August
Revolver by the Beatles in September
Déjà Vu by Crosby, Still, Nash & Young in September
The Band by The Band in December

Not a bad haul for the first serious stabs at putting together a collection. I didn’t yet have the taste for obscure, for the gem that’s found somewhere beyond the record charts. Even if I had, I likely wouldn’t have picked up the album I’m sharing today, Mylon LeFevre’s Mylon.

Mylon came from a family of gospel singers, and with his self-titled album (which is sometimes credited to Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart), he tried to meld his rebellious love of rock with the faith he’d learned from his family. What he came up with is a faith-tinged album of pretty good southern gospel rock, something that bears a resemblance to some of the work by the Allman Brothers Band and a lot of the output of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.

Helping the sound inestimably was the trio of backup singers that frequently shows up on LPs that I love from that era: Merry Clayton, Venetta Fields and Clydie King. In addition, All-Music Guide says that Joe South helped out on guitar (though he is not listed in the credits).

Three years later, LeFevre would team up with guitar superstar Alvin Lee – of Ten Years After and “Comin’ Home” fame at Woodstock – for On the Road to Freedom, one of the great albums of 1973, one that attracted help from numerous luminaries of the time, including a British songwriter and guitarist who for contractual reasons was identified as Hari Georgeson. Some time after that, LeFevre bottomed out in the rock lifestyle, survived and went back to the church and became one of the brighter lights in what is now called Christian Contemporary Music.

But first, there was Mylon, a record that if I had looked more closely, I might have seen under the arms of some of St. Cloud’s version of the Jesus People, as the hippies who got religion were called at the time. It’s a sweet piece.

(Note: All-Music Guide has no listing for this album ever having been released on CD, meaning the source for the album – which I found at a blog last year; I unfortunately do not recall which one – has to be a vinyl rip. It’s an astoundingly good rip.)

Track listing
Old Gospel Ship
Sunday School Blues
Who Knows
Sweet Peace Within
You’re Still on His Mind
Trying to Be Free
Searching for Reality
Pleasing Who, Please You?
Hitch Hike
Peace Begins Within
The Only Thing That’s Free

Mylon LeFevre – Mylon [1970]

‘I Have Always Thought . . .’

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 26, 2007

A while back, talking about 1978, a song by the Rutles popped up. For this week’s video, I found the piece produced to go along with “Cheese and Onions,” a song supposedly taken from the Rutles’ 1969 album, Yellow Submarine Sandwich. The song was included in the first Rutles film, 1978’s All You Need Is Cash, but I’m not sure if the video – which artfully mimics the style of the Beatles’ 1968 animated film, Yellow Submarine – is from 1978 or from the long-delayed sequel, 2003’s Can’t Buy Me Lunch. Either way, from the Lennon-ish vocal with its “Oh, no” and the dead-on backing tracks right through the animation for the video, the producers got it right.

The Rutles – “Cheese and Onions” [1978]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 25, 2007

Not long after I rose this morning, at about seven o’clock, someone in Clichy, France, a city of about 60,000 on the northwest edge of Paris, clicked on this blog. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon in Clichy, so it might have been someone just finishing lunch. I’ll never know.

But when that unknown resident of France clicked on the blog, it turned the counter here to 50,000. And I’d like to thank him or her as well as all of you who stop by here. I started the blog on a whim, creating a place to share music I love, and I am gratified that so many people out there – from Clichy, France, and Klagenfurt, Austria, to Yamagata, Japan, and Karachi, Pakistan, and on to Warwick, Rhode Island. and Madison, Wisconsin – seem to enjoy the same music I do and seem to enjoy reading my tales.

I’d like to thank all of you who stop by. Obviously, I know who only a very few of you are, but that’s fine. It really is enough to know that the music I love and the tales I tell are circling the world.

But I thought something a little more might be in order for that unknown resident of France. No, I’m not going to lapse into French here. (Years ago, my high school French served me fairly well during five days in Paris. Well, it did except for the time in a restaurant when the waiter asked if we wanted dessert and I told him we were going to die. Nous sommes fini, I told him, saying, “We are finished,” instead of the appropriate “We have finished.” His eyes got quite wide for a moment.) Rather, I thought I would find my favorite song in French – of the maybe fifty I have – as a start to a Baker’s Dozen. I hope my unknown visitor from Clichy likes the song as much as I do.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

“Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf, recorded in Paris November 10.

“Bye Bye Johnny” by Chuck Berry, Chess single 1754

“Late Last Night” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2171

“Ruby Baby” by Ronnie Hawkins, Roulette single 4249

“Sleepless Nights” by the Everly Brothers from It’s Everly Time

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport

“Lonesome Cabin” by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Checker single 956

“The Magnificent Seven” by Elmer Bernstein from The Magnificent Seven soundtrack

“Close To You” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke single 322

“Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1003

“Greenfields” by the Brothers Four, Columbia single 41571

“Spoonful” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1762

“North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41782

With a very few exceptions, I tend to dislike most of the music that ruled the Top 40 charts during the early 1960s, and the list here reflects that. Of the thirteen acts in the above list, only two – as far as I can tell; I may have missed something — reached the Top 40 during 1960: The Brothers Four’s version of “Greenfields” was No. 2 for four weeks in the spring, and Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” reached No. 4 in the autumn.

A few comments about some of the songs:

The Edith Piaf performance was evidently released several times not long after it was recorded, and my uncertain reading of Ebay’s French site indicates that the EP releases came about in 1961. But the notes for Éternelle, the Piaf compilation I have, say the song was recorded in 1960, so we’ll call it a 1960 song.

Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Ruby Baby” may be backed by at least some of the Hawks who went on to become The Band. The time is right, generally, and I swear I hear Richard Manuel’s voice among the background singers.

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” comes from the July 1960 appearance by Muddy Waters and his band at the Newport Jazz Festival. A four-minute performance of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” was so well received that after the song ended, Muddy and the band went back into it, creating the version heard here. Most blues fans think that Waters’ performance at Newport – available on a remastered CD – was among the finest of his long career.

For those of my vintage, who recall when there were commercials for cigarettes on television, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for The Magnificent Seven conjures visions of rugged cowboys herding cattle through valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The song was for much of the 1960s used in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes, and its genesis as the stirring theme of an iconic western movie was, alas, lost. From what I can tell, the theme wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. although there was a single released in the United Kingdom.

“North to Alaska” was one of the historical songs that Johnny Horton seemed to specialize in. He’d reached No. 1 for six weeks a year earlier with “The Battle of New Orleans.” (“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’. There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.”) And in the spring of 1960, his song “Sink the Bismarck,” inspired by – but not formally connected with – the identically titled film, went to No. 3.

Born To Cover Steppenwolf

April 28, 2011

Originally posted July 24, 2007

It’s an interesting list, with the first real recognizable name being that of Blue Öyster Cult. Further down the alphabetical listing, we find the Countdown Singers and Crowded House, the Cult, Doro and a group named Ebba Grön. There’s John Kay, which makes some sense. There are also Kim Fowley, Jeff the Drunk, the Leningrad Cowboys and the Enoch Light Singers.

On down the list we go. Raven, Slade and Elvis Schoenberg. Suicide Commanders, Joe Lynn Turner and Twisted Sister. Leslie West and Link Wray. The Ventures. Along the way, we passed by Steppenwolf, Mars Bonfire and Wilson Pickett.

It’s a fascinating list. Just think about it for a second. What in the name of Little Richard would bring those names together on a list?

A while back – when I was writing about Tom Jans’ song “Loving Arms” – I made a reference to cover versions that bring about the question “Who in the world though that was a good idea?” One could ask the same question about some of the names on the list I was looking at this morning. It’s a list from All-Music Guide of performers who have recorded “Born To Be Wild,” the song Steppenwolf took to No. 2 in 1968.

Look back at that list. I don’t know who Ebba Grön is, or Joe Lynn Turner, for that matter, so let’s dig a little: Turner was in Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow and has carved out a decent hard rock career, including a couple of albums of cover songs. And Ebba Grön is a Swedish punk band that included the song on a live album. Fair enough.

Still, some of those names in connection with “Born To Be Wild” give me the willies. I mean, the Enoch Light Singers? The same Enoch Light album, from 1968, has the singers covering the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” and “Light My Fire” as well as Gary Puckett’s “Lady Willpower.” Those aren’t quite as bizarre as “Born To Be Wild,” but still, there’s some cognitive dissonance there. It’s almost as surreal as the Ray Conniff Singers of that era recording “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Or maybe Pat Boone recording “Smoke On The Water.” (Oh. Never mind, then.)

Some of the names belong there. John Kay was the lead singer for Steppenwolf, so I guess he’s got the right to re-record the tune whenever he wants, even if he’s unlikely to touch the quality of the original. And the wonderfully named Mars Bonfire – who began life as Dennis Edmonton – wrote the song, so he’s cool.

But the least likely name on that list – with the exception of the Enoch Light Singers – is probably Wilson Pickett. Now, Pickett was both prolific and adventurous. He recorded a lot and was willing to try a lot of different things. But “Born To Be Wild”? That seems like a real stretch.

On the other hand, Pickett could stretch. He recorded the Steppenwolf song during the same sessions at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals that found him recording the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” According to Tony Glover’s account in the booklet that accompanied the album Duane Allman: An Anthology, Allman himself talked Pickett into recording “Hey Jude” as the title track for his next album. And despite Pickett’s reluctance, with the help of Allman and the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section and horns, the singer did a bang-up job on the Beatles’ tune.

His work on “Born To Be Wild,” didn’t quite reach the same level. I mean, it’s a good track: Pickett delivers the song with his typical gusto, and the backing he gets is good. It’s always dangerous, however, for a singer to attempt a song that’s achieved anthemic status. It’s rarely possible for such a cover to overcome the inevitable comparisons. And during those sessions in 1968, I don’t think Pickett got to the heart of the Steppenwolf song the way he did with “Hey Jude.” Still, it’s worth a listen.

Wilson Pickett – Born To Be Wild (1969)

Note: When I unexpectedly found a CD of Pickett’s out-of-print Hey Jude album online last month, I had planned to share the entire album here. But between the time I ordered the CD and the time it arrived, I learned that the CD is once again in print, which is good news. Look for it at Amazon or your favorite online retailer.

Recalling Early 1968

April 28, 2011

Originally posted July 23, 2007

As I prepared today’s album, I found myself wondering: What was going on around me, and what was on my mind, in the early days of 1968?

Well, I recall one of my main interests quite clearly, although I won’t identify her. She was slender and blonde, and she was in my social studies class. She was pleasant toward me – she was honestly too nice a person not to be – but it was clear by springtime, if not before, that her interests and mine were, alas, not congruent.

As well as continuing the dip my toe in the waters of attraction, I was also beginning to delve seriously into sports as a fan and observer. Sometime during the winter, in that same social studies class, we took a career aptitude test. The results informed me that I might be good at some form of mass communication, perhaps in radio or television. That winter was the first season in the National Hockey League of the Minnesota North Stars, and I found myself spending many evening hours listening WCCO Radio’s Al Shaver as he described the action from Montreal or Boston or St. Louis or any of the other places where my heroes in green and gold played. What a fine life – to travel from city to city, to see hockey games three or so nights a week, and to get paid for talking about it!

I decided right then, as I looked at the results of the aptitude test, that I was going to do play-by-play for a NHL team someday. And for eight or so years, I looked ahead to a sportscasting career in radio and television. (I never spent a day in broadcasting after college, as it turned out. My ability to write, along with an inability to project myself through a television camera, led me to newspapers.) But for a while, starting in the early part of 1968, I could see myself entertaining distant listeners from a press box high above the ice in some far-away city.

It wasn’t just hockey that interested me. The autumn before, I’d subscribed for the first time to Sports Illustrated, and I read each edition voraciously. So the first of the two major passions of my life was in place as I was heading toward fifteen: spectator sports.

Popular music, the other major diversion, would have to wait a little bit. It wasn’t that I didn’t hear it. After all, even without trying, a teenager would hear Top 40 songs all around. There was no escape at the time from “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses),” the No. 1 hit by John Fed & His Playboy Band, or from hit songs by the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, the Lemon Pipers, the American Breed and more. But I heard them without truly listening.

Neither was I listening to the albums that topped the charts: The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees (yes, they topped the album charts!), the Doors, the Supremes, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother & the Holding Company – all of their albums passed by unnoticed. The most recent album I was listening to was Herb Alpert’s Ninth, which had come out the previous September, a good album, but not one that was going to increase my hipness quotient, if in fact I had been worried about it. I wasn’t.

Also among the albums that I missed that January of 1968 – although I was not at all alone in missing it – was Richie Havens’ Something Else Again. In many ways, it was similar to his 1967 release, Mixed Bag, with its combination of originals and cover songs, many presented with the muscular strum of Havens’ open-tuned guitar (the approach that would help him become famous in the summer of 1969 when he opened the Woodstock festival). What makes Something Else Again both fascinating and a perfect product of its time is the seven-minute-plus title track, an excursion into sitar, flute and Indian percussion, as Havens, like many other musicians at the time, followed Beatle George Harrison in exploring Indian music.

There are other things to recommend Something Else Again, to be sure. Havens’ take on Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” is worth more than a few listens, as is “The Klan,” a bit of social commentary written by a duo identified only as D. Grey and A. Grey. My favorite is “New City,” which has some of the feel, if not the epic scope, of “Follow,” the magnificent closer to 1967’s Mixed Bag.

Track listing:
No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed
Inside Of Him
The Klan
Don’t Listen To Me
From The Prison
Maggie’s Farm
Somethin’ Else AgainNew City
Run, Shaker Life

Richie Havens – Something Else Again [1968]

Saturday Single No. 22

April 28, 2011

Originally posted July 21, 2007

It’s been a little more than seven years since we met, the Texas Gal and I. And it’s been a little more than six years since we merged our two households into one, on the first day of June in 2001.

We were both in our forties by the time we met, and when we put our stuff together in our first apartment in the Twin Cities, there was, as one might expect, a lot of duplication. Over a period of a few months, we sorted stuff, winnowing out the duplicated, the damaged and the ugly (the latter most notably in the mélange of furniture I’d collected over the years).

Not all of the stuff we sorted out as unnecessary was thrown out, of course. Our local thrift shop got lots of surplus towels and sheets, as well as some housewares. We left lots of stuff in boxes marked “free” in the laundry room of our apartment building; nearly all of it was gone in a couple of days. And to this day, there are boxes in the garage filled with things that one or the other of us once used almost every day. Someday, we keep saying, we’ll pull those boxes out and sort through them.

The one area, however, where we had not sorted out the duplicates was our records. I don’t think that was due to any misgivings in either of us about the durability of our partnership; we are bonded to each other. But early on, we just filed the Texas Gal’s records – about twenty had survived from the times before she switched to cassettes – into the stacks and forgot about them. Until yesterday.

I spent about an hour looking through the LP log, finding the duplicates, pulling them from the shelves and then assessing which record and which jacket were in better shape. The lesser copy, we had decided earlier in the day, we would sell at the only local shop that buys used records. I ended up with a stack of twenty-six records to offer.

As I sorted through the duplicates, I was pretty sure that there were some that the shop wouldn’t buy: There were none that I saw with real gouges, but there were surface scrapes enough to make more than half of the records, I guessed, less than desirable. But I put them in the stack anyway.

The results were pretty much what I thought they would be. We had duplicates of some Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks and the Bee Gees. But I also pulled out some duplicates that I had bought on my own: a copy of the reggae soundtrack The Harder They Come, a copy of Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution, and three extra copies of Laura Nyro’s Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (I evidently kept forgetting I had already bought it and grabbed it every time I saw it).

So out the door I went, heading to the local emporium, taking along a few surplus DVDs as well. My suspicions were justified. The clerk there took a pass on more than half of the records. We didn’t get a lot of money.

That wasn’t really the point, the money. The point was that by pulling the duplicates we brought along with us six years ago, my records and her records are now our records (the same thing happened long ago with the CDs). By this time, neither one of us doubts the permanency of our life together, so clearing out the duplicate records is a small point, I guess, but there it is.

And in that spirit, having gone back and listened to some of the tunes we’d duplicated, I’ve decided to share “Sunlight,” one of Three Dog Night’s prettiest love songs, as this week’s Saturday Single.

Three Dog Night – “Sunlight” [1970]