Archive for the ‘2007/08 (August)’ Category

Tales Of The Kitchen Radio

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 31, 2007

Our kitchen radio when I was growing up was already old. It was a boxy thing with a shell of deep brown and gold plastic with a long, clear plastic window for the AM tuner. It had two knobs: on/off and tuning. No switch for FM, nothing to adjust the treble or the bass. It was either on or off. When you turned it on, it took a few minutes for the tubes to warm up.

The tuner was balky. Sometimes three or four rotations of the tuning knob moved the red indicator a half-inch; sometimes one rotation moved it an inch. Changing the station was a test of tenacity and finesse, and it was something that was rarely done, not just because it was difficult to find another station. The radio tuner was rarely changed because – as in many homes in Minnesota – the kitchen radio was almost always tuned to WCCO 830, the Twin Cities’ beacon.

At that time, there weren’t nearly as many radio stations as there are now. The FM band was home to only a few, and they mostly played what was called “beautiful music,” fit for elevators and dentists’ offices. On the AM dial, there were more stations, but still not near as many as today. And the further you lived from the Twin Cities, the less choice you had. As a result, most folks in outstate Minnesota – and at the time, that would have included St. Cloud, seventy miles from Minneapolis – tuned their radios to WCCO and kept them there.

At our home, about the only time we listened to the kitchen radio was in the morning, eating breakfast at seven o’clock before Dad went off to the college (later a university) and my sister and I headed off to school. As we drank our juice and milk and ate our cereal – quite often hot cereal during the Minnesota winter – we heard the world news for fifteen minutes, then the local and state news for ten minutes, and finally, at 7:25, five minutes of sports.

As the Sixties wore on, my sister – three years older than I – sometimes changed the radio on weekends or during summer days, setting the tuner carefully on 630 to bring KDWB’s Top 40 into the kitchen. And as the Sixties wore on even further and I also became interested in pop music, we each had our own radio and there was no need to change the station in the kitchen. So the radio remained tuned to WCCO for the rest of its long life. (It died sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, not long after I left home.)

WCCO was fine with me for most of the Sixties, though. Besides the five minutes of sports in the morning – and the school closing announcements on days of heavy snow – the only thing I needed from the radio was play-by-play sports. WCCO carried the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings, the University of Minnesota football and basketball teams, and – starting in the fall of 1967 – the Minnesota North Stars. Many afternoons and evenings, I’d take the radio from its normal place – tucked in a corner of the kitchen counter – and move it to the kitchen table. I’d sit and read, bent over the table, the volume set fairly low, and listen to one game or another.

One evening in early 1968, when I was fourteen, I had the volume turned up a little higher than usual. I was alone in the house, my parents and sister having gone to some event at Tech High, where my sister was a senior. The North Stars were playing that evening, and during one of the breaks between periods, the little feature called “Sports Quiz” came on. I perked up.

“What sport,” the announcer asked, “is played in an enclosed court with a rubber ball and no racquets?”

Just as he finished his question, my sister came in the back door. I looked at the radio and blurted, “Handball! Handball!”

My sister looked at me oddly.

And the radio said, “That’s right! Handball!”

Her chin dropped, and I collapsed in giggles.

Whenever I tell that tale – and I’ve told it many times over the years – I’m reminded of another radio moment that happened the next June. My sister and I were in the kitchen, doing dishes after lunch, with the radio tuned to KDWB. The song ended, and the DJ began some patter about how important the day before had been.

“You know what yesterday was, don’t you?” he asked through the speaker. “You have to know what yesterday was. It was a big deal.” He paused. “So what was yesterday?”

There came a rhythmic figure picked on a guitar, with the end of the figure bringing in just a little bit of strings. It repeated, and then the voice told us what yesterday was:

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day . . .”

And my sister and I laughed and put away the dishes to the sounds of Bobbie Gentry and her Faulknerian tale of a Mississippi mystery surrounded by the mundane. The song was, of course, “Ode to Billie Joe,” a No. 1 hit the year before and the centerpiece of Gentry’s album of the same title, which also reached the top spot on the charts.

Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe [1967]

Mississippi Delta
I Saw An Angel Die
Chickasaw County Child
Sunday Best
Niki Hoeky
Papa, Woncha Take Me To Town With You?
Hurry, Tuesday Child
Lazy Willie
Ode to Billie Joe

It’s a pretty good album. If it has a flaw, it’s that Gentry – at the start of her career – didn’t quite have enough distinctive material for a full album. Several of the songs start with guitar figures similar to the one that opens “Ode to Billie Joe.” But there are some gems here.

“Mississippi Delta” rocks along, fittingly, a little gritty and swampy. “Chickasaw County Child,” although it has the musical weakness noted above, still works lyrically, setting out details to paint a larger picture, just the title track does. “I Saw An Angel Die” is a gentle piece that works well, too. “Niki Hoeky,” the only tune on the album not written by Gentry, works for the most part, with its surreal lyric, although it, too, starts with a guitar figure similar to that from “Ode to Billie Joe.”

The tracks as listed above are in the order that they were on my copy of the LP. Oddly enough, the track list on the back of the record jacket is different, with – among other changes – Side Two starting with “Ode to Billie Joe” instead of ending with it. In addition, “I Saw An Angel Die” is called “An Angel Died” on the jacket, and “Papa, Woncha Take Me To Town With You?” is listed as “Papa, Won’t You Take Me To Town With You?”

This rip was one of the first albums I found on the ’Net when I became aware of music blogs about a year ago. If I could remember where I got it, I’d say “Thanks!”

The Stones In Hyde Park

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 30, 2006

We’ll stay in 1969 this morning and take in a performance of the song that was No. 1 for most of our late August football workouts and for the first weeks of my junior year at St. Cloud Tech.

Earlier that summer, in June, the Rolling Stones basically fired Brian Jones, one of their founding members, and replaced him with Mick Taylor. Shortly thereafter, on July 3, Jones died at his home after being found unresponsive in his swimming pool; the coroner’s report called it “death by misadventure.”

Two days later, the Stones performed at Hyde Park in London, in a concert scheduled before Jones’ death and intended to introduce Taylor as their new guitarist. A brief memorial to Jones preceded the concert, which included this performance of “Honky Tonk Women.”

A Baker’s Dozen From 1969, Vol. 2

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 29, 2007

Autumn approaches. Day by day, the signs accumulate: geese honking their ways across the sky in great V’s; the first tree on the boulevard abandoning its green cover for dusty brown or perhaps orange; and the slight chill hanging in the morning air, accompanied sometimes with a thin haze of fog in the low places.

There are other signs, less tied with nature’s hike toward the season: I drove past one of the three St. Cloud high schools the other afternoon, and the warming air there was filled with the demands of coaches and the grunted responses of athletes in pads as the football team went through its workout. And even more prosaically, the newspaper supplements have been filled for weeks already with advertising for back to school sales and promotions.

My junior year of high school began on a football field, although a different one than the one I drove past the other day. I was at the practice area next to Clark Field, home of the Tech Tigers. I wasn’t a player – my frame was too slight and my pace too slow. Rather, I was a manager, lugging a primitive medical kit between the field and the school a block away, tending to minor injuries, gathering and packing away loose footballs during and after practices, and running errands for the coaches.

And like the players and the three other managers, I hung around the locker room and the training room between and after practices. (This was not today’s complex weight training room but rather a small room with three tables, a tall medicine cabinet, an old refrigerator and a primitive whirlpool bath.) We’d trade jokes and stories –many of them vulgar and tasteless, of course – and listen to the radio, always tuned to KDWB, one of the two Twin Cities stations devoted to airing the Top 40.

In any one hour, we might hear “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, “Lay, Lady, Lay” by Bob Dylan, “Grazing in the Grass” from the Friends of Distinction,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” from Tommy James and the Shondells,” Tony Joe White’s “Poke Salad Annie,” Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525” and two of the Beatles’ trio of “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

And there was one song that we in Minnesota heard far more than listeners anywhere in the country did: “Pain” by the Mystics, a Twin Cities group also known as Michael’s Mystics. The song was No. 1 for two weeks in mid-August on KDWB’s Top 40 chart. It was a great summer for radio, and a great time to turn sixteen, which I did the Friday of the first week of school.

The beginning of a school year was always a time of great hopes: the hope that I’d like all my classes and teachers; the hope that I would find a place to fit in, a group of kids with whom I had some connection beyond sharing the same crowded hallways; the hope that the football team would succeed and that for the first time I would be able to feel like a part of that success; and the hope – this one a long-recurring wish – that I might find a young lady with whom to spend sweet time.

Well, the football team went 6-3 and wound up being ranked ninth in the state by the Minneapolis Tribune. As there were no playoffs, the newspaper’s ranking was all we had to strive for, especially since we were not a member of any conference and played an independent schedule. We took some pride in the fact that our three losses were to the teams the newspaper ranked first, second and third in the state: the suburban powerhouse Edina Hornets, the Austin Packers from near the Iowa border, and the Moorhead Spuds from the Red River Valley in the far northwest.

My classes and teachers were fine, although I struggled with third-year French. I never really did find that group of kids I sought. I spent some time hanging around in the locker room with the football team and – during winter – the wrestlers, for whom I was a second-year manager, and I also spent time with students who focused on music, as I was in the orchestra and the concert choir. I never did find a place, really.

Nor did I find that young lady. But several of the young women I knew became good friends, which in the long term is worth a great deal. At the age of sixteen, however, it’s difficult to think about anything other than the short term.

One fine moment of the year came in mid-September, when the first dance of the year had live music, provided by the Mystics. With my pal Mike – also a football manager – I hitched a ride from Tech to the dance at the old Central School, where we hung around the edges of the dance floor, listening to the music and watching the dancers. We didn’t dance a step all evening, but the Mystics were pretty good, and we got to hear their hit, the first time for either one of us to hear a band perform a Top 40 hit live.

And that’s where we’ll start this Baker’s Dozen for 1969.

“Pain” by the Mystics, Metromedia single 130

“Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash

“Where’s the Playground, Susie?” by Glen Campbell, Capitol single 2494

“To Be Alone With You” by Bob Dylan from Nashville Skyline

“Love and a Yellow Rose” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul

“More and More” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears

“All Along The Watchtower” by Brewer & Shipley from Weeds

“Joker (On A Trip Through The Jungle)” by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band from In The Jungle, Babe

“Woman” by Zager & Evans from In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)

“Nobody” by Three Dog Night from Captured Live At The Forum

“Nitty Gritty” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, Soul single 35063

“Cherry Hill Park” by Billy Joe Royal, Columbia single 44902

“London Bridge” by Bread from Bread

A few notes on some of the songs:

One can argue which version of “Wooden Ships” is better, this one from Crosby, Stills & Nash or the version released later the same year on Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album. (David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane wrote the song.) The CS&N version is a little more sleek and polished, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a compliment here. Nevertheless, both recordings of this enduring song are worth hearing.

When folks talk about Glen Campbell’s hits, they often forget about “Where’s The Playground, Susie?” and that’s too bad. It’s a fine performance of another Jimmy Webb song. It likely gets ignored because it only reached No. 26 on the pop chart, rather than climbing into the Top 10, as had “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” Campbell’s previous two releases to reach the Top 40.

“Love and a Yellow Rose” is a Guess Who album track that sprawls and wanders through simulations of Indian ragas, Gregorian chant (I think), standard pop rock and the kind of silly declamatory stuff that lead singer Burton Cummings was prone to (when he wasn’t writing hit singles, that is). As odd as “Love and a Yellow Rose” is, it’s not the strangest track on the album; that honor goes to the even sillier “Friends of Mine,” in which Cummings channels the still-living Jim Morrison.

“Joker (On A Trip Through The Jungle)” is a not-bad album track instrumental by Charles Wright and his group, but Wright and his band are better remembered for their singles, including the sweet “Love Land” from 1969, and 1970’s funky “Express Yourself.”

“Woman,” another album track, is Zager & Evans’ attempt at sweet and subtle, and the music is nice, but the lyrics are pretty vapid and unsubtle. I think that was the case, however, with pretty much everything the group did. It’s short, which helps.

Billy Joe Royal’s “Cherry Hill Park” is one of those guilty pleasures from the Top 40, and at the time, was just a little bit naughty: “Mary Hill was such a thrill after dark . . . in Cherry Hill Park.” Pretty tame these days, but still fun to listen to.

“You’re Not To Blame . . .’

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 28, 2007

It was nearly impossible, during the autumn of 1966, to escape the Left Banke.

Even one who didn’t listen avidly to pop music heard, seemingly everywhere, the violins and reedy vocals that dominated the Left Banke’s hit “Walk Away, Renee.” During its ten-week stay in the Top 40 – and it seemed a longer time than that – the record peaked at No. 5 and became one of the enduring earworms of the 1960s. Just a ten-second snippet of the song is liable to embed the song in one’s mind for hours.

That’s not to say that “Walk Away, Renee” is not a beautiful record. It is. The group’s chief writer, Michael Brown, wrote “Renee” with friends Bob Calilli and Tony Sansone, but he wrote most of the rest of the group’s oeuvre on his own. In doing so, Brown showed a skill in composition far greater than one would expect a teenager to have, and his craft in writing lyrics was also obvious, though not as astounding as his composition skills.

And the song, whether its strains came from a hand-held transistor radio, from the backseat speaker in a car or from a larger radio set at home, drew listeners in. The clearly sung chorus – “Just walk away, Renee; you won’t see me follow you back home.” – contrasted with the muffled vocals of the verses, leaving listeners to wonder exactly why Renee was being dismissed. I recall numerous discussions after school and on weekends of exactly what the words were and what did they mean?

(I looked at the lyrics for the first time ever today, as I was writing this, and finally resolved a question that I’d pondered very occasionally for the past forty years. I’d wondered if there truly were a sunglasses reference in the lyrics, for I’ve always heard the words “Foster-Grants” in the song. It turns out that I was mishearing the words “forced to cry.”)

Those types of conversations – detecting the accurate lyrics to a popular song – are less frequent now, I assume, with the existence of so many lyric sites on the ’Net. There still might be challenges in divining the meanings of lyrics, though. (And not all sites are all that accurate, of course. I recall one lyrics site that misheard one song’s words “I’m from the barrio” as “I’m from the bayou.”)

In the years since we first heard of the singer’s unrequited love for Renee, there have been numerous covers of the song. One of the more evocative versions came from Vonda Shepard for the television show Ally McBeal in late 1990s. That’s a little more recent than I like to deal with here, so I’ve selected one of the earliest cover versions of the song, that by the Four Tops.

At first thought, the pairing seems odd. The Four Tops’ greatest success came with more forceful work, songs like “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” not with the light, airy strains of something like “Walk Away, Renee.” But lead singer Levi Stubbs and his partners – backed by the superlative Motown studio players – do a pretty good job with the song, and the resulting single (Motown 1119) reached No. 14 on the pop chart in the early spring of 1968.

And it’s easier to understand the lyrics, too.

Four Tops – “Walk Away, Renee” [1968]

From The Reading Table To Johnny Rivers

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 27, 2007

My reading pile just gets larger and larger, as does my pile of things to listen to. We’ll talk about the listening pile another day.

Strewn across my worktable at home right now are five books: A thriller called A Necessary Evil; a combined biography of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis called Three Roads To The Alamo; a Richard Bachman book titled Blaze “discovered” recently by Stephen King; a Dean Koontz novel titled By The Light Of The Moon; and Faithful, a book about the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

I enjoy baseball history almost as much as I enjoy doing popular music history, and Faithful is the book I’m spending more time with right now. It’s a pretty good read, even though I know how it turns out: The Boston Red Sox win the World Series. And that makes the book’s existence remarkable. It was a team project from writers Stewart O’Nan (a novelist whose books I have not read, an omission I will correct soon) and Stephen King (most of whose stuff I have read many times more than once).

Their idea was to write day-by-day about the 2004 Boston Red Sox season, each of them keeping a record of their thoughts and reactions to the flow of the season. Those entries are in the book, as are occasional email exchanges between the two. Underlying the project, of course, was the sad and occasionally pathetic history of the Boston Red Sox, who had not won a World Series since 1918 but had lost four of them in the intervening years, all in seven games. Only two other teams in North American professional sports had endured longer stays in the wilderness: the Chicago White Sox, whose last title at the time of the 2004 season had been in 1917, and the Chicago Cubs, who last were Series champions in 1908. (The White Sox ended their long drought in 2005, the season following the one that O’Nan and King chronicled.)

The reader of Faithful needs, obviously, to be a baseball fan: There’s a lot of game dissection, lots of sports chat. But the reader need not be a Red Sox fan to understand the point of the book, which is that a true fan supports his team in all times, not just in the good times. In other words, a true fan remains, to use O’Nan and King’s title, faithful. As I said, one need not be a Red Sox fan to understand; I am a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and thus understand all one needs to know about enduring through fallow seasons and promises unmet.

The magic of Faithful, of course, is that O’Nan and King planned to collaborate on a book about the futility of yet another season supporting a good baseball team that once again fell short. Being Red Sox fans, they could envision nothing more, even as they hoped for a different and victorious ending. Their worst fears seemed about to come true in October when the hated New York Yankees took a three games to none lead in the second round of the playoffs.

I haven’t read that far into the book yet. I’m at mid-season, so I don’t yet know how the two writers greet the impending collapse of yet another season. Nor do I know how they react when – at the last possible moment – the Red Sox salvaged their season and went on to win eight straight games and their first World Series title in eighty-eight years.

There are sometimes rewards for being faithful.

Now, all that has nothing to do with the album I’m sharing today. I’m having such a good time reading Faithful that I wanted to write about it. And I guess that provides the most tenuous link possible: I enjoy listening to Johnny Rivers and want to share one of his albums.

The album is Slim Slo Slider, a 1970 release that continued Rivers’ string of solid albums that peaked with 1968’s Realization (which I consider one of the great forgotten albums of the rock era). Recording a mix of his own material and songs from some of the great writers and performers of the era, Rivers laid down an aural canvas of life in California – and to some degree in the entire U.S. – as the 1960s turned into the 1970s. From Changes in 1966 through Rewind (1967), Realization (1968) and Slim Slo Slider (1970) and culminating in 1971’s Home Grown, Rivers kept up an astounding level of quality, and each of those albums is worth seeking out. (He continued to record, of course, but his succeeding albums were not quite as powerful.)

(I don’t have Changes, but I’ve heard it once or twice and loved it. I found Rewind and Realization on a two-fer CD that is still available. Friends have given me rips of both Slim Slo Slider and Home Grown; they were available on a two-fer CD, but that now seems to have gone out of print.)

The highlights of Slim Slo Slider are Rivers’ takes on John Fogerty’s “Wrote A Song For Everyone,” Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia,” and Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic.” Morrison also was the source for the title track, which appears as a prologue and as the album’s closer.

As always, Rivers is backed by some of the best studio musicians of the time, including James Burton on guitar and dobro, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Jim Horn on saxophone and flute and Hal Blaine on drums.

Track list
Slim Slo Slider
Wrote A Song For Everyone
Muddy River
Rainy Night In Georgia
Brass Buttons
Glory Train
Jesus Is A Soul Man
Apple Tree
Into The Mystic
Enemies and Friends
Slim Slo Slider

Johnny Rivers – Slim Slo Slider [1970]

Saturday Single No. 27

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 25, 2007

One more indication of the passage of time: I used to see my friends at weddings, and then at baptisms. And now, we meet at funerals.

I talked Tuesday to both Rick and Rob, my childhood friends. Their mother, 91, was not doing well. After a few days in the hospital, she’d been moved to a hospice, and it was just a matter of time, Rob told me. But she was alert and comfortable, he said.

The inevitable call came the next morning. And so did the memories.

In every neighborhood full of children, there is, I imagine, one home where the kids congregate. In our neighborhood, it was Rick and Rob’s house. They and their three sisters filled the house with friends, and their mom welcomed all of us with a smile and a great tolerance for juvenile noise and mischief. From the time I was three until my last visit about a month ago, that smile was constant every time I walked through the door.

I’m sure there were times when we tried her patience, those of us who were her children’s friends and found her home a good place to gather. I recall times when there had to be at least twelve or more visiting kids in the house, as friends of all five of her children gathered on a rainy day or perhaps in the cold of winter. It could get noisy, whether that noise was the pounding of footsteps up and down the stairs, the sounds of a cap gun battle in the wilds of the basement, the beat of pop and rock music coming from a portable record player or two, or the raucous din of eight teens of various ages playing the card game Pit at the kitchen table.

The Soviet Union used to award a medal called the Hero Mother Award or something like that. Rick and Rob’s mom deserved whatever equivalent we could come up with. Not just for welcoming all those friends for all those years, although a smile in the face of twenty or more years of rambunctious children and teens is heroic enough. There were other, more serious challenges she faced through the years.

She was widowed thirty-five years ago, with three of her children yet to graduate from high school. In the past twenty or so years, she faced challenge after challenge to her health: a heart attack, open-heart surgery, breast cancer and lung cancer. And every time, she dealt with it, got back up and went on, living her life in her long-time home – which she shared with one of her daughters – and sitting late into the night in her favorite chair by the window, reading book after book.

At the same time, her home remained a haven, a safe and kind place to visit for the four who had moved away, for their spouses, and for her eleven grandchildren. Just as it was a haven for at least one of those kids who grew up in the neighborhood, one who now wishes he’d visited a lot more often than he did.

Her family and friends said goodbye to her today, laying her to rest next to the husband she lost so long ago. There were – as there should be at all such occasions – tears and laughter both. As we waited to go into the church, I had a chance to ask Rob if he knew what some of his mom’s favorite popular music was. He called over his youngest sister, who lived with their mom. She said their mom liked Frank Sinatra. So for Rick and Rob, and for their three sisters, and most of all, for their mom, here is Frank Sinatra backed by the Tommy Dorsey Band in 1940 performing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” today’s Saturday Single.

Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Band –
“I’ll Be Seeing You” [Victor 26539, 1940]

Roy Orbison’s Curtain Call

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 24, 2007

I don’t have a lot to say today – we’re busy and a bit preoccupied here today. So I’m just going to leave you with a very nice album from 1989.

The album, Mystery Girl, turned out to be Roy Orbison’s curtain call, released in early 1989 after his death in December 1988. Following his work with the Traveling Wilburys in 1987, Mystery Girl was the best-selling album of Orbison’s long career. It should be noted, however, that albums, per se, were not the measure of success during the years when Orbison was most popular. Singles were a better measure during his prime years, and Orbison had twenty-two Top 40 singles between 1960 and 1966; nine of the them were in the Top 10, and two – “Running Scared” from 1961 and “Oh, Pretty Woman” from 1964 – reached No. 1.

Recorded with the help of Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne from the Wilburys and with help as well from Bono and a stellar cast of backing musicians, Mystery Girl can be haunting, and not only because it was a posthumous release. Its best songs – “In The Real World,” “She’s A Mystery To Me,” “California Blue” and “Windsurfer,” come to mind quickly – echo the sense of loss and fate that pervaded Orbison’s best singles from the 1960s.

(This is not my rip; I found it elsewhere on the ’Net, but I’ve decided to upload it anew, as the CD has gone out of print and prices for used copies as rising. Enjoy!)

Track list:
You Got It
In The Real World
(All I Can Do Is) Dream You
A Love So Beautiful
California Blue
She’s A Mystery To Me
The Comedians
The Only One
Careless Heart

Roy Orbison – Mystery Girl [1989]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1982

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 22, 2007

When I settled on 1982 as the year for this morning’s Baker’s Dozen – after dabbling with the ideas of 1963 and 1964, two other years still unexplored – I wasn’t entirely hopeful.

I know I listened to the radio during the year – most likely to the station in the Twin Cities that at the time played “the hits of the Sixties, the Seventies and today” without playing all of the Top 40. Nothing very rude or raucous came out of the station’s studios. Not being a radio guy, I’m not sure what the format was called; I think today it would be called “Adult Contemporary.”

I thought about 1982 while the RealPlayer was sorting mp3s, though, and I realized that I couldn’t independently recall hearing a lot of music during the year. In fact, only one song came to mind, “Wasted On The Way” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, which I recall hearing as I drove through Iowa on my way to check out the graduate school at the University of Missouri. And I thought it was odd that I would remember so little music; after all, music has been one of the main foundations of my life. And on a practical level, a good part of a reporter’s workweek is spent driving to and from things, and I always had the car radio on. And the radio frequently provided the background to evenings at home, as we didn’t watch much television. But what did I hear? I really don’t recall.

Oh, I know what some of the music from 1982 was, having dug into it later and filled in the record collection with things I missed. But I must have been on autopilot that year, for I have no hooks of memory on which to hang any songs.

Still, the Baker’s Dozen is pretty decent selection:

“It’s Raining Again” by Supertramp, A&M single 2502

“Walking on a Wire” by Richard & Linda Thompson from Shoot Out The Lights

“Marina Del Rey” by George Strait, MCA single 52120

“Take A Chance With Me” by Roxy Music from Avalon

“Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot from Shadows

“Still In Saigon” by the Charlie Daniels Band, Epic single 02828

“Straight Back” by Fleetwood Mac from Mirage

“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes from the soundtrack to An Office and a Gentleman

“Cleaning Windows” by Van Morrison from Beautiful Vision

“I Can’t Survive” by Jimmy Johnson from North/South

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find (Pittsburgh)” by Bruce Springsteen at the Power Station, New York

“Take Me Home” by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle from the soundtrack to One From The Heart

“Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger, Capitol single 5235

A few notes on some of the songs:

Supertramp was in the middle of a pretty good run when the jaunty “It’s Raining Again” was released. It was the British group’s seventh Top 40 hit and the sixth to reach the Top 20 in a three-year period. The song reached No. 11, but it was the band’s last stay in the Top 20.

“Walking on a Wire” comes from Shoot Out the Lights, the last project that Richard and Linda Thompson released before they divorced. Listeners might assume that the edginess of the material came from the tensions of the pending split, but All-Music Guide notes that most of the material was at least a couple years old. Nevertheless, there is an edge to Shoot Out the Lights that isn’t as pronounced in the couple’s earlier work. “Walking on a Wire” is typical, but the entire album is worth a listen.

I don’t have a lot of George Strait music, but for some reason, I find that “Marina Del Rey” grows more and more charming every time I hear it. Maybe it’s the dissonance of the place: One doesn’t think of a country boy taking his vacation in Marina Del Rey. Someplace on a southern river or the Gulf Coast seems more likely. But “Marina Del Rey” works, a judgment with which country listeners agreed in 1982: the record reached No. 6 on the country charts.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Thank You For the Promises” is one of those songs that can nearly always move me to tears. Much of the album from which it comes, Shadows, is somber, and this track is typical of those parts of the record.

Jimmy Johnson is a native of Mississippi and brother to soul/R&B singer Syl Johnson. North/South, the album from which “I Can’t Survive” comes, is a nice serving of third-generation Chicago blues.

The last two songs, as stylistically different as any two can be, are a fitting conclusion, especially since it’s a random pairing. Both of them – “Take Me Home” overtly and “Roll Me Away” more implicitly – are about finding home, that physical and emotional place where one can rest.

‘But It Just Don’t Work On You . . .’

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 21, 2007

According to All-Music Guide, there are almost 300 recordings of the blues standard “Got My Mojo Working” (or “I Got My Mojo Working” or variations thereof) on CDs currently in print. And that doesn’t begin to touch those recordings of the song on vinyl or on CD that are no longer in print.

Probably the most famous name that pops up on those lists is that of Muddy Waters, the Mississippi native who was one of the creators of the Chicago blues in the years following World War II. From what I’ve heard, Waters got hold of the song after hearing a live performance by Ann Cole, who had recorded the song – written by Preston Foster – in 1956. Waters and his band made the song their own, so much so that when various British and American rock and blues-rock groups began to record the song in the mid-1960s, they frequently credited Waters with writing it.

I don’t know if Muddy did much to disabuse those performers of the idea that he wrote the tune. At AMG, about two-thirds to three-quarters of the listings for the song are credited to Preston Foster – including most of Waters’ recordings. The rest still list Muddy Waters as the composer either under that name or under his birth name of McKinley Morganfield.

Even if he didn’t write the song – and I don’t know if he actually claimed to have written it or not – Waters was the reason it became as well known as it did. And even a partial list of those who recorded “Got My Mojo Working” after that is interesting: Etta James, British bluesman Alexis Korner, Manfred Mann, Elliott Murphy, Rotary Connection, Shadows of Knight, Junior Wells, Steve Winwood, Long John Baldry, Canned Heat, Gatemouth Brown and on and on. The wisdom of pairing some of those acts – and many I did not mention – with the song is debatable, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most widely covered songs in the blues library.

One of the best covers, listed as “I Got My Mojo Working,” came from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, released in 1965 on the group’s eponymous debut album. Drummer Sam Lay handles the vocal with Butterfield (on blues harp) and guitarists Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield providing a tasty backing. (Jerome Arnold on bass and Mark Naftalin on organ round out the group) The result shows that Butterfield’s group was more adept at getting inside the sense of the blues as well as the sound than many of the other groups that were playing the blues at the time.

If I have a complaint about Butterfield’s version, it’s that it’s a hair too fast, but that’s a minor quibble. The recording remains a good example of why the Butterfield Blues Band was among the cream of the mid-Sixties groups that brought the blues to a far wider audience than the music had ever known.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band – “I Got My Mojo Working” [1965]

Odd Moments In Vienna

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 20, 2007

I have one indelible memory regarding Rick Nelson.

No, it’s not the first time I heard “Hello Mary Lou” or one of his other hits. I was far too young for his hits of the 1950s and early 1960s to matter much to me as radio fare. Nor am I thinking of either of his two chart hits in the 1970s – “She Belongs To Me” and “Garden Party” – although I liked both of them.

No, I’m recalling a hole in the wall tavern somewhere in the old city of Vienna, an Austrian dive, if you will.

I’d already had a far more I interesting time in Vienna that I’d bargained for. Arriving on a Wednesday evening in late March, I’d learned that spring break for Austrian university students was underway and hostel spaces and cheap hotel rooms in Vienna were more rare than cheap beer. I stood near the information kiosk in the main train station, pondering my options. I was thinking of getting on a train leaving the city, riding and sleeping halfway through the night and then getting off that train and catching the next train back to Vienna, again getting as much sleep as I could on the way back. (With a rail pass, there would be no cost, but whatever rest I got would be less than good. But I’d done it before.)

Then a woman about my age came up to me, trailed by a young man. “Are you looking for a place to stay?” Hopeful and leery at the same time – maybe they ran a small hotel, or maybe they were into things more weird than I wanted to contemplate; I did not know – I nodded. She turned to him and said something in a language I didn’t recognize. He responded in the same language, and she turned to me and said, “This is my fiancé, and he’s arrived here a few days ago from Hungary. He knows a place where people who come here from Hungary stay.”

I was tired and it sounded better than getting on a train and switching directions in the middle of the night. So I walked with them as they led the way out of the station and north into an older neighborhood. On the way, the young woman told me that she was originally Hungarian but had emigrated to Canada when she was very young and had come to Vienna to meet her fiancé, who had just left Hungary. A mile or so later, we entered a building and went up a flight of stairs, and the Hungarian fellow knocked on a door. An older woman opened it and spoke German to him.

And then came the most odd negotiations I have even been part of. The proprietor of the boarding house, for that’s what it was, spoke German. The Hungarian fellow translated that into Hungarian and spoke to his fiancé, who translated his words into English for me and then sent my response back up the line, through Hungarian into German. After a few moments, the owner ushered us inside to show me the room I would rent for the night. (I planned on three nights in Vienna, but I was still leery.) We went through one room with two beds into a second bedroom. I saw I could lock the second room from the inside, which reassured me a little, but the bed needed changing. And I waved my hands and began to leave. No, no, said the young woman, the bed would have clean sheets in a matter of minutes. Was I hungry? There was a good Hungarian restaurant down the block, and by the time we got back, I would have clean sheets.

So we went and ate Hungarian goulash: tender beef chunks in a paprika and sour cream sauce over noodles. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, the impact heightened, I imagine, by the oddness of its circumstances. After we were done, we went down the block and up the stairs, and the room that would be mine – with a bed, a sink, and a table and chair at the window overlooking the street – was cleaned and ready for me. I still didn’t like the idea of going through another bedroom to get to mine, but it was late, and I could lock my door from inside. The landlady gave me towels and showed me where the shower and other facilities were, and I settled in.

I ended up spending two nights there. And I spent two days seeing the sights of Vienna in the company of two young women from West Virginia, Cathy and Betty, and a guy from Canada named Louis, whom I met during my first morning there. During the afternoon of our second day together, as we wandered through the central part of the city, we thought it was time for a beer or two. After a few blocks, we saw an open door into what looked like tavern that might have seen better days, but there were people laughing at a couple of tables and there were some empty tables. So we trooped in and found chairs and ordered mugs of dark beer.

Louis and I saw the jukebox on the far side of the room, and we headed over. There were only two songs in English: Tammy Wynette’s 1968 hit “Stand By Your Man” and Rick Nelson’s “Hello, Mary Lou” from 1961. We dropped some money in the machine and sat down, laughing and drinking pretty good beer with Cathy and Betty, watching customers come and go.

And we became aware that the clientele, except for Cathy and Betty, was all male. The men would enter, go to the tables occupied by the laughing people – all women, we now noticed – and soon make their way to a side door, each man accompanied by a woman. We were in a brothel!

Cathy and Betty began to sing along with Tammy: “Stand by your man! Give him two arms to cling to and something warm to come to when nights are cold and lonely.” Louis and I laughed into our beers.

The song ended, and the jukebox started playing “Hello, Mary Lou.” As the young Rick Nelson’s voice competed with the laughter of the idle working girls at the two tables near the bar, Louis leaned forward. We all leaned in to hear him. And, looking at the working girls up front, he said, “Which one’s Mary Lou?”

Laughing most of the time, we finished our beers and left. A couple of passers-by on the street did double-takes when they saw that Louis and I were followed out of the place by two rather attractive young women.

And every time I hear “Hello, Mary Lou,” well, there I am in a Viennese brothel.

That holds true for the live version of the song on today’s album: Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour, 1969), on which for some reason the song is listed as “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart.” It’s a pretty decent album, recorded at a time when Nelson was trying to get his recording career off the ground again. He would have a couple of hits in the next year or so – “She Belongs To Me” and “Garden Party,” as I indicated above – but he never did catch the imagination of the listening public the way he had years before.

And in a way, that’s too bad. The work he did later in his career – starting with this live album – was nicely done, starting as country-tinged rock and moving to full country rock (and a little rockabilly) in the late 1970s and early 1980s before his death in a plane crash in 1985.

In Concert presents a nice mix of three of his originals, three Bob Dylan covers and covers of songs by Fats Domino, Tim Hardin, Eric Andersen and Doug Kershaw and a few other things, including, as I said above, “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart,” which was written by Gene Pitney. It’s a pretty good listen.

(The band is: Randy Meisner on bass, Pat Shanahan on drums, Allen Kemp on guitar and Tom Brumley on steel guitar.)

Come On In
Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart
Violets Of Dawn
Who Cares About Tomorrow/Promises
She Belongs To Me
If You Gotta Go, Go Now
I’m Walkin’
Red Balloon
Louisiana Man
Believe What You Say
Easy To Be Free
I Shall Be Released

Rick Nelson – In Concert (The Troubadour, 1969) [1970]