Archive for the ‘2007/09 (September)’ Category

Saturday Singles Nos. 33 and 34

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 29, 2007

Earworms were on my mind when I began to dig around for today’s offering.

You know what earworms are, right? They’re songs you hear that for one reason or another linger in your brain, running around in your head for a good chunk of the rest of the day.

I imagine that earworms, like taste, are an individual thing. One’s favorite song is another’s dreaded earworm. So here’s a question: Is an earworm always bad? Annoying, perhaps, but it seems to me that songs one loves – or at least likes – can also linger in the brain for hours. And that’s maybe just annoying although I would guess that one’s fondness for a song that becomes an earworm can no doubt wane by the end of the day. But when a song one dislikes starts wiggling its way through the auditory canal, oh boy!

(And just typing those last two words was an invitation to an oldies earworm. If I allow it, Buddy Holly can now take over my brain, singing “All of my love, all of my kissin’. You don’t know what you’ve been a-missin’! Oh, boy!”)

There are a few earworms that I dread. Regular readers here will not be surprised to learn that Horrifying Earworm No. 1 is “Seasons in the Sun.” When it arrives – or threatens to – I rely on the only known defense against an earworm: Replace it with another. So when Terry Jacks invades my brain, I turn to the guitar riff from “Spirit in the Sky” or the introduction to “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and free my brain, for at least a while.

Earworms came up today for three reasons. First, there’s a new TV commercial for the iPod, with the appliance’s screen showing a video that has a chanteuse in a slinky blue outfit singing a simple little song: “1-2-3-4, tell me that you love me more . . .” It’s a catchy tune, and after the third time I saw the commercial, it began wiggling around in my head. I don’t play music when I write – the silence helps me focus – and trying to write about Richie Havens last Monday morning with “Oh, oh, changing your heart” running through my brain was difficult.

(I did some digging and learned that the song is, almost self-evidently, titled “1-2-3-4,” and the performer is a Canadian singer who goes by the name of Feist. The song is from her new album The Reminder. I’ve listened to most of it, and it’s pretty good, maybe a little more poppy than stuff I generally like, but not bad.)

The second reason earworms came to mind is that I was paging through The Billboard Book of Number One Hits this morning, looking for a Saturday Single. I thought I’d see what was on top of the charts thirty years ago this week, at a time when I was in my transition from college to the adult world. During the week of Oct. 1, 1977, the top song on the charts was the “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco, which was not so bad. Not great, but definitely not a horror. Then I looked at the next page and cringed. Earworm alert! Sitting in the top spot on the charts come Oct. 15, 1977, was “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. (I would have thought that it had hit the top spot earlier, recalling the song’s pervasiveness during the summer.) I blinked and thought about Manfred Mann’s version of “Quinn the Eskimo.” Be gone, spawn of Boone!

So, thinking about earworms, I closed the book and made my way to the living room, where the Texas Gal was working on a quilt and keeping half an eye on one of last week’s Dr. Phil shows. What, I asked her, were her earworm horrors?

She didn’t hesitate. At the top of her list is Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus).” “I hated that song,” she says of the 1969 hit, “and it was everywhere!”

Indeed it was. During his run-up to this past Tuesday’s observance of One-Hit Wonder Day, my friend the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ noted that the Zager & Evans recording was the most successful one-hit wonder of all time, lingering at the top of the Top 40 chart – some would say “polluting the top of the chart” – for six weeks during the summer of 1969. (Being a kind of a science fiction geek at the time, I loved the song. Which only shows that there’s no accounting for my taste.)

The Texas Gal continued. “And then there’s that Bobby Goldsboro song – is it “Honey”?

I sang, “See the tree, how big it’s grown . . .” and she covered her ears.

“Stop! Stop!” she cried. “I don’t want it in my head!”

There are others, I am sure, that would make us cringe. But the third reason earworms came to mind this week is a song we both enjoy: “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues),” written by New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint. Earlier this week, I dug out the Maria Muldaur version – listed as simply “Brickyard Blues” – from her 1974 album Waitress in a Donut Shop. I was humming it a little later, and the Texas Gal said, “That’s a Three Dog Night song!”

Well, yes, I said. Three Dog Night recorded it, too, at about the same time. We wondered who recorded it first. Turns out that Three Dog Night’s version, like Muldaur’s, was released in 1974, on the Hard Labor album. But –according to All-Music Guide – two other artists got to the song first, in 1973: Scottish blue-eyed soul singer Frankie Miller and a transvestite performer named Sylvester, who achieved greater success later in the decade as a disco king/queen.

I have neither of those versions. And, to promote domestic harmony, as the Texas Gal and I differ on which of the two 1974 versions I have is the better one, I offer two versions of “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)” as today’s Saturday Singles.

Maria Muldaur – “Brickyard Blues” [1974]

Three Dog Night – “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)” [1974]

John Denver With Olives & Mushrooms

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 28, 2007

If John Denver were alive today, he’d owe me half a pizza.

Denver, the singer-songwriter/country-folk performer/megastar of the 1970s, died ten years ago next month. When he died in the crash of a hobby aircraft, he was still popular enough to have a busy recording and performing career. But he was nowhere near as popular as he had been in the mid- to late 1970s and early 1980s when nearly every idea he had turned into a hit record.

And some of those ideas were not necessarily good ones. His list of hit singles from the last half of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s includes such clinkers as “Like A Sad Song,” “My Sweet Lady,” “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone),” “I’m Sorry,” “Calypso” and “Fly Away.” Obviously, millions of people did not agree with my assessments of those songs and the albums that surrounded them. Each of those tunes made the Top 40, and many of his albums did as well.

The rate of sales, of course, is no guarantee of quality. But neither does being popular automatically equate with mediocrity. I think that’s an attitude that one finds more prevalent in the world of novels and literature, the idea that a truly popular writer cannot possibly be a great writer. It’s a silly and elitist construct wherever its pops up its ugly little head, as is the less frequent musical corollary, that a popular performer cannot be a great performer. There can be a gap between critical acclaim and mass acceptance, of course, and many bands and performers have found one and not the other. But it is possible to have both, and the examples are numerous. A very short list, roughly chronological, of those who reached the top of both lists would include the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, U2 and Nirvana, at least.

(The above list does not include any 1950s performers because critical acclaim – in the sense of widespread acceptance and admiration – at the time of their emergence was unthinkable. The adult world at large was at best unimpressed with rock ’n’ roll as it emerged as a mass phenomenon in the 1950s, and critical thinking about the music and its descendants did not really develop – as I read the history – until the late 1960s with the emergence of Rolling Stone magazine and its coterie of reviewers, along with writers like Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus and John Laundau. I know I’m missing some, but I’m wandering far afield from what I had thought I was going to be writing about, and I’m winging it here.)

There was, quite honestly, a brief time when I thought that John Denver had a chance to be on that list that closes the paragraph before last. He came out of the Chad Mitchell trio in 1969 with Rhymes & Reasons, a pretty decent folk/folk-rock album that All-Music Guide notes was “released . . . to a nearly empty room.”

In the fall of 1969, Peter, Paul & Mary plucked Denver’s song “Leaving On A Jet Plane” from Rhymes & Reasons and released it as a single. It went to No. 1, providing Denver with the break that all songwriters and performers long for. He was levelheaded about his success, if his patter at a 1971 concert at St. Cloud State was any clue. About an hour into a two-hour performance, Denver – wearing a very cool fringed jacket, if my memory serves me – paused for a moment after the applause faded. He looked the crowd over and then said, “Now, I’d like to do a medley of my hit.” The crowd roared with laughter and Denver joined in, and then he performed the best version of “Leaving On A Jet Plane” I ever heard.

His second album, Take Me To Tomorrow, was released in 1970 and had a slightly tougher sound, especially lyrically, and his second release of 1970, Whose Garden Was This, was alternately gloomy and nostalgic but still worth a number of listens. The latter was one of the albums that my sister owned, and I listened to it frequently, probably far more often than she did. I not only liked it a lot, but I had a gut feeling – never really translated into words – that if he kept producing albums like that one, he could be a star and an important musician.

The mix of covers and originals on Whose Garden Was This was compelling. I especially liked “I Wish I Could Have Been There,” Denver’s tribute to Woodstock, and “The Game Is Over,” credited to Denver along with writers named Bourtayre and Bouchety. He also does a pretty fair job with the title song, a Tom Paxton composition. But his take on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” just doesn’t work. In retrospect, if Denver’s own songs seemed a little naïve, well, he was placing them next to songs by Tom Paxton, Robbie Robertson, Jerry Jeff Walker and John Lennon & Paul McCartney. Whose songs wouldn’t be a little overshadowed?

Of course, I didn’t articulate all those ideas at the time. But those were my gut feelings. And I didn’t really back off from the idea that Denver seemed to have a lot of promise as he released the overlooked Aerie and then Poems, Prayers & Promises, with its single, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which reached No. 2.

Now, I wasn’t breathlessly waiting for each new album and then running out to Musicland with my wallet in my hand. But I heard enough at gatherings of friends and on the radio to stay current with Denver’s career. “Rocky Mountain High,” from 1973, was a No. 9 hit and a song I’ve never much cared for. But I thought it was lyrically interesting. And then Denver hit No. 1 in early 1974 with “Sunshine On My Shoulders.” Now, 1974 wasn’t a great year for music, but the only song on the charts I can think of from that year that’s more insipid is Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun.” John Denver was selling a lot of records, yeah, but I pretty much wrote him off as a sell-out at that point.

A couple more hits followed as 1974 turned into 1975. Then, late in 1975 – and here we finally get around to the pizza – my lady friend of the time and I stopped off at a St. Cloud pizza joint called Tomlyano’s. We ordered a large sausage pizza with mushrooms and green olives – still my favorite combo – and ate about half of it, agreeing to leave the rest for our separate breakfasts. We sat talking and sipping our beverages: Coke for her and a dark tap beer for me. The jukebox in the booth provided a soundtrack: “Fly, Robin, Fly,” “My Little Town,” “All By Myself,” maybe even “Convoy.”

And then from the jukebox came the strains of “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.” We looked at each other and rolled our eyes. “Ready?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

We grabbed our coats and headed out into the early winter evening, leaving half a pizza there. So wherever he is, John Denver owes me.

And here’s his 1970 album, Whose Garden Was This, one that I still enjoy hearing. It seems to be available on CD only as a Japanese import, and even the vinyl – though available – is a little bit scarce.

Tremble If You Must
Sail Away Home
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Mr. Bojangles
I Wish I Could Have Been There
Whose Garden Was This
The Game Is Over
Eleanor Rigby
Old Folks
Golden Slumbers/Sweet, Sweet Life/Tremble If You Must
Jingle Bells

John Denver – Whose Garden Was This [1970]

I got an email yesterday asking which Allman Brothers Band album contains the version of “Goin’ Down Slow” I posted here Tuesday. I neglected to point out in the post that the track is included on Duane Allman: An Anthology, the first of the two collections released after Duane’s death.

‘Wash Me In The Water . . .”

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 27, 2007

I called “Goin’ Down Slow” a sturdy song when I posted Duane Allman’s version of it two days ago. Another such tune that I happened to think of this morning is “Take Me To The River,” penned by the team of Al Green and Teenie Hodges.

Though not quite as pervasive as “Goin’ Down Slow” with its more-than-300 listings at All-Music Guide, “Take Me To The River” is pretty well covered, with AMG having 133 listings for it. And the roster of performers who have covered it is pretty extensive, too. A quick glance finds the late Eva Cassidy, Canned Heat, the film band the Commitments, someone named Bronco Bob, Exile, Foghat (!), Grand Wazoo, Levon Helm (who does one of my favorite versions), Syl Johnson, Tom Jones, Annie Lennox, Delbert McClinton, Ellen McIlwaine, Shalamar, Jabbo Smith (?), the Talking Heads, of course, and the marvelously named Trailer Park Casanovas. One performer not listed who does a creditable job with the tune is Etta James, who sang it as a guest of the Memphis Horns on a 1999 recording.

But, as is the case with more songs than not, there’s nothing quite like the original. So here’s Al Green doing a lengthy version of the tune on a 1975 or so episode of the television show Soul Train. (The video was evidently used somehow on a Japanese television show, as you’ll see, what with the Japanese subtitle while host Don Cornelius closes the show and the last shot, which shows two Japanese gentlemen watching their own TV. Odd, but as long they don’t mess with the music . . .)

Video deleted.

I Wish I’d Chosen Differently

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 26, 2007

I’m a story-teller, a writer, and my best gigs over the years – the ones that brought me the most satisfaction – are those that allowed me to focus on the writing, the story-telling that to me is the foundation of reporting.

It took me a long time to come to that realization, and along the way, I spent time teaching and time working as an editor and administrator. I also spent some time doing research in the banking and collections industries before health concerns pulled me from the workforce. I did most of those things well – I was not that good an administrator – but I never got from any of them the satisfaction I got from being a reporter, a story-teller.

When I was a kid, I used to go out to the golf course with my dad, walk around with him as he played nine holes. Every once in a while, his tee shot on the first hole would be a fair amount less than perfect, and if there was no one waiting behind us, he’d tee up another ball and take what he called a “mulligan.” I’m not sure where the term comes from – Wikipedia, as one might expect, offers several theories – but I do know that it’s not really consonant with the rules of golf. But every once in a while, Dad – and other golfers, too, of course – would give themselves a do-over, another chance.

If there were one decision in my life for which I wish I could take a mulligan, it would be one I made in early 1985. I’d finished my graduate school coursework and passed my comprehensive exams [at the University of Missouri], and I was a general assignment reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune, one of the better small daily newspapers in the country (being located in the same city as one of the best journalism schools in the country provided the newspaper with a steady stream of good talent). And even though my editors worked hard to persuade me to do otherwise, I left Columbia to go back to Minnesota, planning on working on my master’s thesis from there and hoping to get a teaching job at St. Cloud State.

From the advantage of hindsight, I’d make a different decision. I never did finish my thesis; when I completed work for my master’s degree during another sojourn in Columbia six years later, I did so by way of a reporting project. In the interim, for not quite two years, I taught one course a quarter at St. Cloud State but never came close to a permanent faculty position there.

And knowing now that I always got more satisfaction out of reporting than I did out of teaching or anything else, I realize that I should have stayed in Missouri. My professional life would have been a lot smoother had I done so. My personal life? Well, I believe – and have done so for years – that we find those things we are meant to find, no matter how crooked the path might be. So, had I stayed in Missouri, perhaps the Texas Gal and I would have found each other sooner and would now be living in Columbia, or Dallas, or somewhere in Mississippi, or maybe even in St. Cloud. Who knows? But we would have been together eventually, no matter where our separate paths and preparatory lessons took us in the time before we met.

I don’t brood on that misstep from 1985. It does cross my mind on occasion, and it came to mind today because that was the year that I chose for this week’s Baker’s Dozen:

A Baker’s Dozen From 1985
“Trust Yourself” by Bob Dylan from Empire Burlesque

“Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, L.A. Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, A&M single 2703

“Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, RCA single 14136

“She’s Into Something” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)” by John Parr from St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack

“Rumbleseat” by John Mellencamp from Scarecrow

“Talking Like A Man” by Linda Thompson, Warner Bros. single 28996

“She’s Waiting” by Eric Clapton, Warner Bros. single 28986

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, MCA single 52496

“Caislean Oir” by Clannad from Macalla

“You’re A Friend Of Mine” by Clarence Clemons with Jackson Browne, Columbia single 05660

“Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla single 1832

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Springsteen track is one of those collected on Live/1975-85, the massive album that came out in 1986.

The Showdown! Album released on Alligator Records by Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland was one of the better blues albums released in the years just before the blues boom that started just a few years later. Cray handles the vocal on “She’s Into Something,” and the first solo is his, while Collins provides the second solo.

There seem to be more singles in this batch of thirteen songs than usually pop up. Some of them – the Simple Minds and Mr. Mister tracks, especially – seem more to me like period pieces than things that stand very well on their own twenty-some years later. The Clapton, Petty and Clemons/Browne tracks have aged a little bit better than that but maybe only a little. The Stevie Wonder track, even as familiar as it is, still sounds fresh.

This was one of those years when I wasn’t listening too closely and have had to learn about in retrospect, but my sense is that it wasn’t all that great a year for music.

One of the things I noted as I was writing about my search through the files for a one-hit wonder last weekend was that I need to update my reference library. I got most of my reference books during the period 1988-1990. Now, most of the music I write about was issued before then, so there are not a lot of times when the lack of current information trips me up.

Saturday was one of them, as I failed to qualify my comment about the Bangles’ chart success and thus shorted them of five Top 40 records. I’m sure a number of people noticed; my friend Sean took the time to drop a note, which I appreciated. If I don’t soon get updated editions of my references, at least I’ll be a bit more careful to qualify my statements.

‘If I Never Get Well No More . . .’

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 25, 2007

One of the most durable of blues songs is the tune “Going Down Slow,” sometimes called “Goin’ Down Slow.”

With more than 300 recordings of it in print – according to All-Music Guide – it’s one of those songs that allow one to pick and choose, finding just the right version for the right moment. And it’s a baffling song, in one way: Lots of people seem to have written it.

It’s familiar:

“I have had my fun, if I never get well no more.
“I have had my fun, if I never get well no more.
“All my health is failin’ on me, oh yes, I’m goin’ down slow.

”Please, write my mama, tell her the shape I’m in.
“Please, write my old mother, tell her the shape I’m in.
“Tell her to pray for me, forgive me for my sin.”

At any rate, according to at least one website, that’s the lyric as sung by Howlin’ Wolf, who released it as Chess single 1813 in 1962, with some spoken portions added by Willie Dixon. When it was released, the writing credit was given to James Burton. At the AMG website, numerous other writers are credited with creating the sturdy song. They include Champion Jack Dupree, Jimmy Witherspoon, Mance Lipscomb, James Booker, Brownie McGhee, Lightning Hopkins and more.

Odds are, however, that the track was written by a bluesman named James Burke Oden (1903-1977), also known as St. Louis Jimmy. He recorded “Going Down Slow” in Chicago on Nov. 11 in 1941. The song was released as Bluebird 8889 and credited to St. Louis Jimmy, according to the Online Discographical Project, which offers a wealth of information about 78 rpm releases.

I’ve never heard Oden’s version of the song. The earliest recorded version of it that I have is probably one by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, although it’s hard to tell. My sense is that the track I have is one of the recordings the duo did for Folkways records in the 1940s and 1950s, but I have yet to find a listing for the duo that has them recording the song with the running time of 3:05. I suppose it could be someone else doing the lead vocal, but it sounds like McGhee, and the harp (and whoops) are almost certainly the work of Sonny Terry.

Excluding that version, the Wolf’s version from 1962 is the earliest I have, and I also have a version he did during his London sessions in 1970. Long John Baldry recorded the song for his Long John’s Blues album in 1964 and re-recorded it in 1971 or so during the sessions for It Ain’t Easy. In 1967, Canned Heat put the song on its self-titled debut album, and the same year, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley did a raucous version of the tune on their messy Super Super Blues Band album.

I also have a version of the song that Muddy Waters recorded in 1971, likely at the Chicago nightspot called Mr. Kelly’s. And the most recent version of the song I have is the one that Eric Clapton released in 1998 on his album Pilgrim.

But the best version I’ve got in the collection – and the best version I’ve ever heard – comes from a surprising direction, at least vocally. It’s the lengthy version cut in February of 1969 at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals by Duane Allman, during sessions for a solo album that never came to pass.

Allman acquits himself fairly well as a vocalist, even though Tony Rice noted in the liner notes to Duane Allman: An Anthology that Duane once told him, “The cats in my band insist that I cannot sing a note . . . My voice is a scapegoat.” But it’s with his guitar, of course, that Allman makes the veteran song his own. With Berry Oakley on bass, Muscle Shoals stalwart Johnny Sandlin on drums and Paul Hornsby on piano, it’s a cover version of an oft-recorded song that is a delight to the ears.

Duane Allman – “Goin’ Down Slow” [1969]

It’s Time To Make Some Changes

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2007

I took a walk this morning. It was a short one, perhaps fifteen minutes, maybe half a mile.

It’s something my doctor suggested I do twice a day, a suggestion she’s made several times over the past few years. More to the point, it’s something the Texas Gal strongly suggested I begin doing, today. Her desire to see me get my shoes on early in the morning and get my legs moving down the street stems from a couple of things:

First of all, there’s a little sheet of paper on my file cabinet that details what the lab at my doctor’s office found while examining my blood last week. There’s one measurement in particular – my cholesterol – that is too high. That’s partly a gift from my father and partly an outcome of my diet. That’s why my doctor told me to do some walking, twice a day.

The second reason for the Texas Gal’s insistence – and that’s not too strong a word – that I get some exercise likely has to do with how I spent my Saturday afternoon and how the two of us spent Saturday evening. I spent a portion of the afternoon at a memorial get-together for a college friend, and the two of us spent the evening with that friend’s brother and several of my other college friends, easing grief with companionship and laughter.

There’s nothing like an intimation of mortality to get one to change behavior, to begin to do things that should have been done some time ago, such as walking and watching my diet. And Seth’s passing earlier this month – and the memorial and gathering Saturday – was one of those intimations.

(Unhappily, Saturday’s gathering was the third such for me in a month. I wrote not long ago about the death of Rick and Rob’s mother. Shortly after that came the death of the mother of a college friend, one whom I saw Saturday as we celebrated Seth’s life. And then there was Seth. I certainly hope things come in threes, for if they do, I will have a respite from death for a while.)

The last time I saw Seth was about thirty years ago. The same was true of his elder brother, Sam, whom I knew first. Add to those sad admissions the fact that it had been at least fifteen years since I’d seen any of the college friends I spent time with Saturday afternoon and evening. That’s an awful thing to realize, to recognize that I had almost entirely lost touch with a group of people who, during a formative part of my life, had kept me sane and laughing.

I know why that happened, but that makes it no less sad: The woman whom I married long ago was threatened by the intensity of my friendships, and I left them behind for her. Although I’ve seen some of my college friends in the years since that marriage dissolved, it seems that the habit of contact, once broken, is a hard thing to resume.

But Saturday afternoon and evening – especially during the evening – times distant seemed recent. We talked about Seth and about our days at The Table, as we called the group that gathered long ago in the student union at St. Cloud State. We caught up on news of each other’s lives. I had more of that to do than they, for I learned early during the day’s events that even though I might not have often been in touch with those old friends, one of them is in frequent touch with a writing colleague of mine, so they’ve known the news of my life even though I haven’t always known theirs. And we laughed: at old stories and memories, at old jokes and new, and at how the Texas Gal, having met my college friends for the first time, was able several times to make common cause with two of the women there, leaving me blushing and laughing at the same time.

One of Seth’s passions was acting, most of it done for various amateur theater groups in St. Cloud. His adult son, whom I’d never met, was amused when I told him of a long-ago cinema workshop at the university. I’d adapted a short story for my group’s film, and the director, after reading the script, had said something to the effect that, “The lead actor should have an air of mystery and romance.”

Seth’s son, who inherited his father’s dark good looks, laughed. “That was Dad,” he said.

I’d like to be remembered as fondly and with as much joy and laughter as my long-ago friend Seth was Saturday evening (and the people whom I shared the evening were only a portion of a much larger group celebrating his life). But I’d like that evening of hoped-for memories and laughter to take place quite a few more years down the pike. So I’ll need to change some things.

The Texas Gal and I have agreed to modify our diets: less sugar, fewer processed foods, more vegetables. (That change will be difficult, as I am not fond of many vegetables.) And I will walk, twice a day. I might even get to like it.

Another change I am determined to make is to stay in touch this time with those friends with whom I reconnected this past weekend. Second chances at anything valuable are rare, and one should make the most of them.

Today’s album share has nothing to do with anything of that, except that Richie Havens’ music is somehow appropriate listening when one ponders one’s own mortality. The album, from 1976, is The End Of The Beginning, with nine of the ten tracks being covers, which is pretty standard for Havens. The one original, which closed Side One as the album was originally configured, is “I Was Educated By Myself,” which might be as close to autobiography as Havens ever gets in song. (His actual autobiography, a 1999 volume, was titled They Can’t Hide Us Anymore, with the title being an adaptation of the title of the second track of The End Of The Beginning. It’s a book well worth reading.)

Track list:
I’m Not In Love
We Can’t Hide It Anymore
Dreaming As One
You Can Close Your Eyes
I Was Educated By Myself
Daughter Of The Night
If Not For You
Do It Again
Wild Night
Long Train Running

Richie Havens – The End Of The Beginning [1976]

Saturday Single No. 32

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 22, 2007

Well, I spent some time dithering today about what I should do here. Oh, I knew I wanted to do my standard single, but I had no idea which one it should be.

I looked at the date, 9/22, and wondered what tunes I had in the library that might be nine minutes and twenty-two seconds long. I found one. “Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder” from Shady Grove, a 1969 album by Quicksilver Messenger Service clocks in at 9:22. Well, that’s not exactly what I was looking for, I thought, as Nicky Hopkins’ piano led the Quicksilver boys through their paces.

And then I thought of the last few posts I’d read by a blogging colleague, JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, as he’s been marking One Hit Wonder Day, which takes place next Tuesday, September 25. I was particularly taken with his listing of the greatest one-hit wonders year by year, the upshot of which was that the greatest (in terms of best chart performance, not quality) one-hit wonder during the years 1955-1986 was Zager & Evan’s “In The Years 2525.” I was gratified because as silly as the song is, it’s been one of my guilty pleasures since 1969.

Anyway, as I thought about the upcoming One Hit Wonder Day, I decided to let the RealPlayer roll on from the Quicksilver track and find me a one-hit wonder from the same stretch of years. (I really need to update my reference library to cover the 1990s.)

We started with nice music: Bobby Whitlock’s “Thorn Tree In A Garden” from Derek & the Dominos Layla. Some odd stuff: “Glory Glory,” a gospel outing by Robin McNamara, a track from his 1970 album Lay A Little Lovin’ On Me. “I Love How You Love Me,” a 1961 track (No. 5) from the Paris Sisters was a close one; they had one other Top 40 hit, “He Knows I Love Him Too Much,” which hit No. 34 in 1962.

Lightning Hopkins rolled by, as did Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. “Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad slid in, and I was surprised to see that the group had nine Top 40 hits. We rolled on. Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” (No. 24, 1971) popped up, and I recalled JB’s words of caution: the Canadian group also had a hit with “Sunny Days” (No. 34, 1972).

Dixie Chicks, Mason Proffit, Chris Thomas King, Steely Dan, and then Badfinger’s “Day After Day.” Another great single, but it was just one of four Top 40 hits for the British fellas. A few clicks later, there was the familiar sound of a twangy descending guitar, the brainchild of the recently deceased Lee Hazlewood, but then the vocal kicked in: a French chanteuse singing “Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher,” a French version of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit about what her boots were made for. We walk on.

Phoebe Snow! She had a one-hit wonder with her 1975 single “Poetry Man” (No. 5), but instead of the single, we get a fine cover of the McCartney tune, “Every Night,” from her 1978 album, Against The Grain. From there it was a trek through a fair amount of 1950s R&B and pre-World War II blues. The Shelton Brothers went through their 1947 version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues,” later covered by both Carl Perkins and the Beatles.

Carolyn Franklin, who never hit the Top 40, and then her sister, Aretha, who had thirty-seven Top 40 hits. The Band. Country Joe & The Fish. Joy Of Cooking. John Hammond. A 1968 one-album group called Gentle Soul. Some Bulgarian choral music. The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir didn’t have any Top 40 hits, although I find the music – collected on the album Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices) and its follow-ups – fascinating.

The Boss. Delbert McClinton. Spencer Bohren. (Do yourself a favor and check out his music.) William Bell, who hit the Top 40 once with “Tryin’ To Love Two,” but this is his version of “Nothing Takes The Place Of You.” Slim Harpo. Manassas. An album track from the Mamas and the Papas. The Rolling Stones and “Heart of Stone.” I look at the RealPlayer and the seventeen tracks visible in the window. None of the seventeen is a one-hit wonder. I click to the next seventeen.

I see something that makes me pause. It’s the first one-hit wonder I’ve seen in the display since I started this: “Birthday” by the Underground Sunshine, which hit No. 26 in 1969. Is this like horseshoes? Is close good enough? And then the Stones’ song ends and the RealPlayer shifts to the next random track, away from temptation and on to Long John Baldry, who – even though I like his music a great deal – was a no-hit wonder. Ian & Sylvia wander past, as do Joe Cocker and Nick Drake. I find myself wishing that Zager & Evans would show up and end this. Or even Four Jacks & A Jill (“Master Jack,” No. 18 in 1968). Some John Barry soundtrack music wanders past, as does Big Bill Broonzy and some more Joy of Cooking followed by Ian Thomas. But it’s “Runner” from 1981 and not “Painted Ladies” (No. 34) from 1973.

Orleans’ “Dance With Me” (No. 6, 1975), another of my guilty pleasures, pops up. But the group had two other singles in the Top 40. More R&B followed by Sixpence None The Richer. The Bangles, sadly, had [several] hits after “Manic Monday.”* Sonny Boy Williamson II, Otha Turner, Bob Brozman, the Voices of East Harlem, Jimmie Spheeris and Brewer & Shipley follow.

And then came a flutter of drums introducing a truly great bluesy track that blew out of our radio speakers in the late summer and autumn of 1977, peaking at No. 9 (at least on the Cash Box chart) exactly thirty years ago this week. The Sanford/Townsend Band never had another Top 40 hit, and that’s why “Smoke From A Distant Fire” is this week’s Saturday single.

Sanford/Townsend Band – “Smoke From A Distant Fire” [1977]

*I originally wrote that the Bangles two hits after “Manic Monday.” They had, of course, many more than that – eight, to be precise. The error can be credited to not having updated my reference library and relying on a copy of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits that was published in 1987. [Note added May 11, 2011.]

A Strange, Terrifying Journey

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 21, 2007

I wrote a little while ago about the trip my family took in 1968: my parents and I heading from Minnesota to Pennsylvania to greet my sister when she came home from six weeks in France, and the four of us heading back to Minnesota along a different route.

Well, 1968 itself was a kind of journey – as all years are, I guess – and thinking back about the world of 1968, its journey took all of us here in the U.S. through a strange and terrifying land.

The journey began at the end of January with what became known at the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, a synchronized military campaign launched against U.S. and South Vietnamese forces by the People’s Army of Vietnam – the regular army of North Vietnam – and the guerilla forces known as the Viet Cong. The end result was a military loss for the attackers, as they sustained casualties without gaining any ground (although gaining territory is not at all the aim of a guerilla war as we are learning again to what I fear will be our everlasting sorrow). But the attack was nevertheless a victory for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, as our government and military had been assuring us for some time that our military operations had diminished our opposition’s capabilities to the point that they could no longer mount major offensives. The sight of U.S. Marines battling attackers inside the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in the city that was then called Saigon tended to lead us to other conclusions.

On an April evening in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots broke out in the African-American sections of many major U.S. cities, with Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago being among the most affected.

Just more than two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel just moments after claming victory in the California primary election; the victory had made him the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president.

And just more than two months after that, downtown Chicago exploded into violence during the Democratic National Convention, as demonstrators and police clashed in what was later judged by investigators to be a “police riot.”

The rest of the year was quieter, says my memory, bolstered by Wikipedia, but how could it not have been? In November, Richard Nixon won the presidential election, defeating Hubert Humphrey in a divisive race that also included third-party candidate George Wallace.

And in perhaps the only public event of the year that provided any solace at all, in December, three astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 space capsule became the first humans to orbit the moon and to look back from that vantage point at our blue planet.

Such images have become so commonplace – in advertising and elsewhere – in the thirty-nine years since that it’s hard for those who did not experience it to understand just how electrifying and humbling it was to see for the first time all of the earth at one moment. That image – of the blue earth hanging alone in the black of space – underlined to me, and, I think, to many, how alone we are and how this small earth is all we have, a lesson that I think we need to relearn.

Another bit of solace, though not nearly as cosmic, came in October with the release of “Abraham, Martin and John,” a single by Dion, the one-time king of doo-wop and pre-Beatles pop rock. Sounding unlike anything that might have been expected from Dion, and sounding folky enough to have been written years ago (except for the telling coda that had Robert Kennedy “walkin’ up over the hill”), the song – written by Dick Holler – was an instant classic, and the single climbed to No. 4 during a twelve-week stay in the Top 40.

When the accompanying album, Dion, came out, it was also a departure, more folky than anything one might have expected, with songs by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, folkie Fred Neil and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix? Yeah, Dion covered “Purple Haze,” giving it an odd serenity in a performance that sits high on my “Who the hell thought that was a good idea?” list. The rest of the album, though, is pretty good. I especially like Dion’s take on Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy.” (I’ve included in the zip file “Daddy Rollin’ [In Your Arms],” which was the B-side to the “Abraham, Martin and John” single [Laurie 3464].)

This is a rip from vinyl that I found out on the ’Net and used because the record it came from was in slightly better shape than my own vinyl copy of Dion.

Track list
Abraham, Martin and John
Purple Haze
Tomorrow Is A Long Time/Everybody’s Talkin’
Sonny Boy
The Dolphins
He Looks A Lot Like Me
Sun Fun Song
From Both Sides Now
Sisters of Mercy
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
*Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms)

Dion – Dion [1968]
*Bonus track

The Boss and Courtney In St. Paul

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 20, 2007

Given that we took a look at 1984 yesterday, I thought I’d drop by YouTube and see if I could find one of the top videos from that year. And I succeeded.

The video for “Dancing in the Dark,” one of seven Top Ten singles pulled from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. album, was one of the year’s most popular videos, eventually winning an MTV Video Music Award for best stage performance. Filming for the Brian DePalma- directed video took place in June of that year at the now-demolished St. Paul Civic Center, where Springsteen was starting his summer tour.

Finally, the video is notable for the identity of the young lady whom Springsteen pulls out of the audience and dances with during the closing moments. It’s a young Courteney Cox, who turned twenty the month the video was filmed and would, of course, go on to star in the TV series Friends.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1984

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 19, 2007

Well, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984 here in Minnesota.

Oh, not George Orwell’s 1984, although I could chatter politics for some time and I do have my societal concerns. No, the 1984 I have in mind is Les Steckel’s 1984.

“Les Who?” I hear many of you mutter out there in the cyberworld. ”What record did he release? Did it make the Top 40?”

I’ve mentioned at times my passion for spectator sports. I follow most of the major sports fairly closely, with the exception of professional basketball. I watch a little of that, but not nearly with the regularity or interest with which I follow baseball, football and hockey. Of them all, my favorite sport and team – as measured by the emotional impact of the team’s performance – is professional football and the Minnesota Vikings. And as we sit just past the middle of September, with the autumnal equinox four days away, the NFL season is two games old, and it feels like 1984.

That was the year that Les Steckel took over for the retired Bud Grant as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and promptly led the Vikings to a 3-13 record. It wasn’t the worst season in the team’s history; in 1962, the team’s second season, was a hair worse at 2-11-1. And the uninspiring performance of the team in its first two games this season and the seeming disconnect from reality of the coaching staff (insisting on starting a second-year quarterback who is clearly not capable, right now, of playing that key position well enough to win) leaves me feeling like it’s 1984 all over again. I may be wrong, and I’d like to be wrong. But I think it’s going to be a long season here in the land of longboats and horns.

Luckily for me, in 1984, I was unable to see the vast majority of the Vikings’ games, as I was in graduate school in Missouri. That means that I watched the St. Louis Cardinals (still a few years from their flight to the Arizona desert), who were 9-7, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 8-8. The only Vikings game I saw all season was their 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay in early November when I was visiting some friends in northwestern Iowa.

Other than the Vikings’ performance, 1984 was a pretty good year. Grad school was fun and challenging, and I had a good nucleus of friends with whom to spend the free time I had. Nothing particularly stands out about the year, which is good, in retrospect. It was a quiet time. One thing I do recall is my stunned admiration in January when Apple announced the introduction of the Macintosh with a legendary commercial during the Super Bowl.

And here’s a Baker’s Dozen from a quiet year:

“Valotte” by Julian Lennon, Atlantic single 89609

“Countdown to Love” by Greg Phillinganes from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Crow Jane” by Sonny Terry from Whoopin’

“Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Columbia single 04715

“Jungle Sweep” by Jimmie Spheeris from Spheeris

“Daddy Said” by Nanci Griffith from Once In A Very Blue Moon

“We Belong” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 42826

“On the Wings of a Nightingale” by the Everly Brothers, Mercury single 880213

“Bobby Jean” by Bruce Springsteen from Born in the U.S.A.

“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan from Real Live

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

“If This Is It” by Huey Lewis & the News, Chrysalis single 4283

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Julian Lennon single isn’t much of a record to me, even though it reached No. 9 on the charts; I preferred his “Much Too Late For Goodbye,” which went to No. 5 early in 1985. As far as Julian himself goes, I tend to agree with the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which notes that the younger Lennon should be “commended for daring even to whisper after the echo of his formidable father.”

At the time Streets of Fire came out, I was writing occasional movie reviews for the Columbia Missourian, and I gave the film a pretty good review, based partly on the film itself and partly on the music. I looked at the movie a few years ago, and it has not aged well; it seems silly now. But the music is still pretty good, if maybe not to everyone’s taste. The Greg Phillinganes track, “Countdown to Love,” is a sprightly doo-woppy piece, while “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” was one of two bombastic Jim Steinman productions used in the movie, kind of a Great Wall of Sound production that featured, among others, Roy Bittan of the E Street Band on piano. Overblown, yes, but fun.

“Jungle Sweep” is from the album that Jimmie Spheeris completed work on hours before he was killed by a drunk driver on July 4, 1984. It was released by Sony in 2000 but was pulled back by the company shortly after that.

The Everly Brothers’ track was the single from their album EB ’84, a pretty good reunion album. The single was written and produced by Paul McCartney.