Archive for the ‘2007/10 (October)’ Category

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

‘Shut Softly Your Watery Eyes . . .’

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 30, 2007

Not quite two months ago, I wrote about Bobby Jameson and his version of “The Weight,” the Robbie Robertson song that sits high in my list of favorite songs. At the same time, I shared Bobby’s 1969 album Working!, on which he released his version of the song.

A friend of his left a comment and a link to a MySpace page set up for Bobby. I was a little concerned about Bobby’s reaction to my having shared his album, especially considering that his two earlier albums were in print on CD and – from what I read – Bobby hasn’t been getting any compensation for that. Bobby’s friend promised to check with him, and a few days later, the singer himself left a very complimentary comment here and then sent me a link to his own MySpace page.

Since then, every couple of weeks or so, I get a note from Bobby, and I stop by his page once a week or so. And shortly after we connected, he offered to send me his version of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona,” an unreleased song from his 1969 sessions for Working!

He did so last evening, and I’ve been listening to it ever since.

It’s very clear from the general sound that it’s from the Working! sessions. Bobby said that GRT pulled it from the record because of its length of 4:04. That may have seemed excessive in 1969, but listening now, it hardly seems to get started before it’s over.

Amid the swirling strings and the soft punctuation provided by the horns, Bobby’s voice – as world-weary as it was on the tracks that were released on Working! – comes sliding out of the speakers, the vocal becoming a little more intense, but no less weary, as the song goes on. Finally, the song ends with what sounds like a combination of anguish and resignation:

“And someday, maybe,
“Who knows, baby,
“I’ll come a-crying to you.”

Although I’m sure Bobby has played it for friends over the years, his version of “To Ramona” has, for the most part, been waiting thirty-eight years. I’m honored and touched that he sent it to me so I could share it here.

Thanks, Bobby.

Bobby Jameson – “To Ramona” [1969]

Random Sort, Ceramic Heat & ‘White Bird’

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 29, 2007

When I listen to the RealPlayer on random, I generally start off by sorting the 19,000 mp3s by their running times. Why? It seems to me that after a few truly random selections, the software settles into a pattern, rotating between three or four places on the long queue of songs. In other words, were the songs sorted by title, the program might happen on “Shadows” by Gordon Lightfoot and then go elsewhere for two or three songs, only to return to that spot for “Shadows on my Wall” by the Poppy Family and then, two or three songs later, play “Shadows Where The Magic Was” by James Hand.

That particular run would not be so bad, but when the player gets stuck in an area of multiple versions of the same song – for example, I have thirteen versions of “Key To The Highway” and, as mentioned another day, twenty-one versions of “The Weight” – then a pattern based on titles can be monotonous. The same holds true if the songs are sorted by artist or album or – to a lesser degree – by year.

So I sort by running time. The only drawback to that is that the program tends to stay in the middle of the road, playing neither the extremely shorts tracks nor the extremely long ones. So I rarely hear my Hamm’s Beer jingle from 1953 or “Her Majesty,” the little joke that closes the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Nor, more importantly, do I hear the longer tracks, generally concert performances or the various tracks that are full albums – or albums sides from the days when LP’s ruled. Among those are things a little more desirable to hear than “Her Majesty,” things like Sides One and Two of Johnny Rivers’ Realization, the “Mountain Jam” from the Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East, long suites by Chicago or Shawn Phillips and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

It was that last that brought the neighborhood of long songs, suites and entire albums to mind the other evening. On our way home from some Saturday errands, the Texas Gal and I stopped at a local big box store to replace her blow dryer. While she was sorting out the options – which included something that a blurb on one of the boxes called “ceramic heat technology” – I poked my head into the media section. I rarely find anything of interest there in this particular store; it’s usually current mainstream music at mainstream prices. But in the budget rack, I spotted the prism and rainbow of Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece.

I’m on my third vinyl copy of Dark Side of the Moon, but I’d never owned the CD; the mp3 track I had was ripped from the public library’s copy of the album. So I grabbed the CD and went back to the hair care aisle, where the Texas Gal had decided to try the blow dryer that offered ceramic heat technology (left dismally unexplained by the information inside the box, as we learned later). Late that evening, I ripped the CD into one long mp3, pulled it into the RealPlayer and put the headphones on.

As the album played, I sorted the tunes by running time; Dark Side of the Moon clocked in at 42:57, the longest file of the more than 19,000. Next came “Mountain Jam” and then the two sides – as originally released – of Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album Tubular Bells. And I wondered if, having been started at the extreme end, the player’s random selection function would come back to that extreme after a few changes. Or would it revert to the safer, shorter middle of the road?

Four selections later, I had my answer. We were in the land of shorter pieces. So, casting about for an idea for today’s share, I decided that the next time the program selected a track more than six minutes long, I’d rip and share the album the track came from, as long as the CD wasn’t in print. Six selections later, the player settled on “White Bird,” the haunting and melodic opener to the 1969 self-titled debut of the late-1960s San Francisco group It’s A Beautiful Day.

As I wrote last summer when I shared a track from the album, it’s hippie music: flowing and soaring longer pieces featuring distinctive sounds: the violin and vocals of David LaFlamme and the vocals of Patti Santos. There’s sometimes some crunch, as in “Wasted Union Blues,” and “Time Is” has portions that are less than lyrical, especially its drum solo. But for the most part, the group’s first album flows gently like an earth mother’s long dress. It’s an album that’s one with its time, as much an artifact of its era as any album can be. (And it seems to be difficult to find new, if not formally out of print.)

White Bird
Hot Summer Day
Wasted Union Blues
Girl With No Eyes
Bombay Calling
Time Is

It’s A Beautiful Day – It’s A Beautiful Day [1969]

Saturday Single No. 38

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 27, 2007

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, the Texas Gal and I watch a fair amount of television. Too much? Well, I’m not sure. But as I also wrote, we’re usually doing something else as we watch – I’ve usually got a magazine or a book, and she’s generally got a project of some sort, crochet in the past and now, most recently, quilting.

We weren’t reading or quilting last evening as we cuddled on the couch, but we were nibbling on a poppy-seed bread the college girls upstairs had baked for us and dropped off earlier in the day. And we were keeping an eye on Numbers, the CBS drama about an FBI agent and his mathematical genius brother. A commercial break started, and I leaned back on the couch, feet on the coffee table, ignoring the sales pitch.

I’m one of those people who always hear music when it’s present, even when it can slide past many people, unnoticed in the background. In the restaurant of a St. Cloud hotel last evening, as we sat waiting for our meals, smiling happily at each other, I noticed that the speaker in the ceiling was playing “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” If it wasn’t a cleaned-up recording of the 1935 Tommy Dorsey hit, it was a darn good remake. The Texas Gal noticed the music, too, as she almost always does. And all through our meal, we heard music from the Thirties and Forties – big band and other standards – floating down to us from the ceiling.

Other people I’ve known throughout my life – family, friends, earlier partners – often didn’t hear the music in the background. I’d be with someone in a grocery store, perhaps, and nod and say, “Steely Dan,” as the sounds of “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” came from speakers high overhead. My companion would look at me blankly. Or we’d be leaving a movie, and I’d say, “Wasn’t the music for the chase scene good?” only to be greeted with a another blank look and a comment like, “I didn’t notice any music.”

As we waited for Numbers to resume and we talked about something inconsequential, I noticed the sounds of a snaky guitar lick and insistent percussion being used as the soundtrack for a commercial. It was a familiar sound, and I glanced at the television.

I saw a scene of a field of soybeans – even though I’m a city kid, I can recognize a few agricultural commodities, having spent good portions of childhood vacations on my grandfather’s farm – and a farmer walking along the edge of the field, telling the viewer how beneficial some product had been for the quality of his soybeans. I thought to myself that, yeah, it’s late October, the harvest is pretty well done, and the various firms that sell such products are gearing up for sales for next year’s growing season.

We’ll see similar commercials throughout the winter and into the spring, for pesticides, for herbicides, for seeds for various crops and for other products that go along with farm life. Seeing such messages has always been, for me, a reminder that even though we live not far at all from a major metropolitan area, we also live in an area where many people make their livings from farming. It’s a thought that for some reason always pleases me. So I looked at the green field of soybeans on the screen and at the bins full of tan soybeans in storage, and became aware, again, that the snaky guitar and insistent percussion were still there, still familiar. I began to sort through my memory.

The commercial neared its end, and I recognized the song just as the vocal came in over the guitar. But instead of the “Boom, boom, boom, boom” I expected, I heard “Beans, beans, beans, beans,” with that familiar snaky guitar lick following. I sat back and laughed as the commercial ended and the music faded out on the third repetition of “Beans, beans, beans, beans.”

So that’s why we’re listening to John Lee Hooker and what I’m pretty sure is his 1961 performance released as Vee Jay single 348. (If anyone knows differently, let me know.) It’s one of many recordings Hooker made of “Boom Boom,” today’s Saturday Single.

John Lee Hooker – “Boom, Boom” [1961]

A Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 26, 2007

Sometimes the Texas Gal and I look at each other and marvel that we ever met, that our lives took the turns they did to bring us together, first in a small corner of the Internet and then – in a leap that took courage and faith for both of us – in a small corner of Minnesota.

Other times, we smile and acknowledge that, well, where else could we have ended up? As I’ve written before, we find the places and the people we are meant to find, no matter how crooked our paths might have been. And she and I are where we belong.

We’re not young, but there were reasons – ones we’ll never know – that our meeting was delayed until midlife. We find solace in knowing that the lives we led before we met are what made us each who we are. Those lives – we hope – have provided us with some level of wisdom that has guided us during the seven years we’ve known each other and will continue to guide us.

If this sounds solemn, it is. This afternoon, we’re going to go down to the courthouse, where we’ll formalize the marriage that took place long ago in our hearts. It’s something we’ve been planning to do for a while, and it’s time.

So here are some of the songs that have been important to us during the past seven years (with one ringer that I threw in). This is a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal, who from today on will be my wife.

“Loving Arms” by Darden Smith from Little Victories, 1993

“Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer from Sixpence None the Richer, 1998

“Rest of My Days” by Indigenous from Circle, 2000

“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5614, 1988

“I Knew I Loved You” by Savage Garden from Affirmation, 1999

“If I Should Fall Behind” by Bruce Springsteen from Lucky Town, 1992

“Precious and Few” by Climax, Carousel single 30055, 1971

“Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden from Savage Garden, 1997

“This Kiss” by Faith Hill from Faith, 1998

“Levee Song” by Darden Smith from Little Victories, 1993

“Two of Us” by the Beatles from Let It Be…Naked (recorded 1969)

“Wedding Song” by Tracy Chapman from Telling Stories, 2000

“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison from Moondance, 1970

Fleetwood Mac & ‘Seven Wonders’

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 25, 2007

When the title track to Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night came up on the random play yesterday, I mentioned that I would have preferred the tracks “Caroline” or “Seven Wonders.”

Well, with the world on video at YouTube, it’s no surprise that it took very little searching to find a live performance of “Seven Wonders” from, I think, a San Francsicso performance in 1987. By the time of the performance, it appears, Rick Vito and Billy Burnette had joined the band in Lindsey Buckingham’s place, setting in motion the changes that resulted in the less than remarkable album Behind The Mask in 1990. But the video clip shows a pretty good performance of a good song.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 24, 2007

In 1987, I began what I now call the nomadic phase of my life. During the nearly five-year period from May 1987 through March 1992, I moved eight times, wandering from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and back to Minnesota.

It was, clearly, an unsettled time in my life. I taught at two universities, a college and a community college, lost one cat, wrote for four newspapers, wrote a novel and lots of lyrics, fell in love three times and watched it fade three times, bought more than six hundred records, made friends and lost friends, survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 (a total of twenty-eight inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities from October 31 through November 3), and wound up on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where I lived for the next seven years, waiting (though I did not know it) for the Texas Gal’s path to intersect mine.

And, as always, I listened to a lot of music. Being on college campuses at various times during those years kept me more in touch with new music than I had been when I was working as a free-lance writer. That was especially true in Minot, where I advised the college newspaper for two academic years, from the autumn of 1987 through the spring of 1989. My office was adjacent to the paper’s newsroom/workroom and the sound of the radio in the next room was inescapable. Luckily, I liked most of what I heard.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

“There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” by Nanci Griffith from Lone Star State of Mind

“Hooked On Your Love” by Lynn White, Waylo single 3022

“Runaway Train” by Rosanne Cash from King’s Record Shop

“Someplace Else” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine

“Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead from In The Dark

“Paper In Fire” by John Mellencamp from The Lonesome Jubilee

“Yes” by Merry Clayton from the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing

“Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love

“Tango In The Night” by Fleetwood Mac from Tango In The Night

“The Mystery” by Van Morrison from Poetic Champions Compose

“With You Or Without You” by U2 from The Joshua Tree

“Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles, Def Jam single 07630

“Unchain My Heart” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart

A few notes on some of the songs:

Lynn White came from Alabama and had her first success in 1982 when Sho Me Records released her single “I Don’t Wanna Ever See Your Face Again.” Among those who heard it was Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, who released the single on his own label, Waylo, and brought White into his Memphis studio. Her records did well, and in 1987, “Hooked On Your Love” was released as the B-side to “He’ll Leave You For Her.” The single is a good indication of how Mitchell’s sound had evolved since the days of Al Green, Otis Clay and Ann Peebles. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The “B” Side for the tune and the information.)

Rosanne Cash’s “Runaway Train” is about as clear-headed an assessment of love flying off the rails on a curve as you can find in song. Written by John Stewart (of “Gold” and “Midnight Wind” from 1979) and produced by Rodney Crowell, Cash’s husband at the time, it’s a disquieting song. Dave Marsh, who ranked it at No. 590 in The Heart Of Rock & Soul, his listing of the 1001 greatest singles of all time, notes that the “husk of Rosanne’s singing and the thrash of those drums . . . evoke without flinching a million exhausted midnight fights between lovers too familiar with each other’s moves to be taken by surprise or learn anything new, too wrapped up in each other’s lives to know how to quit.”

It took the Grateful Dead more than twenty years to have a Top 40 single. The infectious “Touch of Grey” spent sixteen weeks on the Cash Box Top 100 chart in the autumn of 1987, peaking at No. 17.

Merry Clayton’s “Yes” was included on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing when it was released in the fall of 1987. The song was released as a single in 1988 and spent twelve weeks on the Cash Box chart but didn’t quite make the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night is a sweet album and remains one of my favorites by the group. It was Lindsey Buckingham’s last work with the band until Say You Will in 2003, and he took his leave with an album that grows on me more and more every time I hear it. The title tune, which came up during a random play for this list, is all right, but I would have preferred “Caroline” or “Seven Wonders.”

“Unchain My Heart” is the opener and the title track to Joe Cocker’s lively and accomplished album of late 1987. I’m not sure how many times Cocker had mounted a comeback by 1987, but the album was one of his better comeback efforts and this track is one of the best on the record. That’s Clarence Clemons taking the saxophone solo.

As always, bit rates may vary.

Thanks 100,000 times!
Back in late 1989, I had a Toyota station wagon that was approaching the 100,000-mile mark. As I drove home one November evening, I could tell that the car would be at 99,999.8 miles when I put it in the garage for the evening. So I drove an extra time around my block, watching the odometer move to 100,000 and beyond. It’s one of those things you don’t often see (although as automobiles last longer these days, I imagine it’s more common).

I felt a little bit then like I did yesterday afternoon when I refreshed the page here at Echoes In The Wind and saw that the number of visitors had changed from 99,999 to 100,000. Someone in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, was the 100,000th visitor here since February 1. It’s a number that boggles my mind, and I just want to thank that Dutch visitor, and everyone else who stops by, for visiting my little corner of the ’Net.

‘In The Silence Of Your Deep . . .’

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 23, 2007

My blogging friend JB, the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, left an interesting comment on yesterday’s post about Smith’s “Baby It’s You” and other music from 1969:

“‘Baby It’s You’ just flat rocks, as did much else in the fall of 1969,” he wrote, “although as I listen back to those songs (which I did not hear in context, but only after I got into music and radio myself in 1970 and in succeeding years), I also detect some darkness in them.”

And he provided a link to a post at his blog in which he explored that idea at length. I recall reading that post when he wrote it not quite a year ago. I agreed with it then and now.

“There was a gloom there, a deep forboding of anguish to come,” I told him in an email this morning. “I do recall a vague sense of uneasiness in the adult world and among my peers, as we began to wonder which of us would have to wade through rice paddies and run through the jungle on the other side of the world. And popular culture mirrored that vast unease, showing us, as it always does, how we felt about our world and ourselves. Topping the list of doom, in November of that year the Rolling Stones released the album Let It Bleed, which opens with ‘Gimme Shelter,’ a song that’s scarier than anything Blue Öyster Cult ever dreamed of.”

After all, I thought to myself as Yahoo! mail sent my message off, in the autumn of 1969, our nation was embedded in an undeclared war on the other side of the world, a war started through fraud and extended by the fallacy that we had to fight them there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here. And the administration fighting that war was heedless to the growing demands by the populace to end the fighting and, along the way, was trampling the rights of some and endangering the rights of all in its disregard of the U.S. Constitution.

“Darkness, darkness, be my pillow,” sang Jesse Colin Young of the Youngbloods. “Take my head and let me sleep in the coolness of your shadow, in the silence of your deep.”

The song was the opening track of Elephant Mountain, the Youngblood’s third album released in March of 1969. It’s a song that’s been covered by a few people over the years: Eric Burdon, the Cowboy Junkies, Golden Earring, Mott the Hoople, Phil Upchurch, Ann Wilson of Heart. Neo-folkie Richard Shindell did a nice version of it on his Reunion Hill album in 1997, and Richie Havens did the same on his Cuts to the Chase in 1994. But the best version I think I’ve heard is the one that Elliot Murphy and Iain Matthews released on their wonderful 2001 collaboration, La Terre Commune.

Elliot Murphy & Iain Matthews – “Darkness, Darkness” [2001]

Of Cassettes, Footballs & Radio

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 22, 2007

During the fall of 1969, I began to really listen to Top 40 radio.

Oh, I’d heard rock and pop before then, of course. Music was all around: on the radio at friends’ houses, on television, at home on the occasional times my sister tuned the kitchen radio to KDWB in the Twin Cities as we did dishes or other kitchen chores, and on portable radios pretty much anywhere kids went.

So, as I’ve indicated other times – most recently, I think, regarding the sound of Procol Harum in the back of a school bus – pop and rock were an inescapable part of the background of teen life during the mid- to late 1960s. Left to my own devices, however, I rarely listened, with the stereo in the basement used for soundtracks and records by Al Hirt and Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass. The radio in my room – and in the kitchen, many times – was for Vikings’ and North Stars’ games.

Things changed during the autumn of 1969 for a couple of reasons.

First, I started my two-year stint as a manager for the St. Cloud Tech High football team: I lugged bags of footballs and other equipment around the practice field and hauled a primitive medical kit between the field and the school a block away, and on Friday evenings, I stood on the sidelines during games, hoping no one got hurt beyond my minimal abilities to tend to him. I also spent time in the locker room, a loud environment where adolescent crudeness played out with a radio always on in the background. In the locker room, I began to recognize more songs and more artists and realized that I liked a lot of what I was hearing.

The other reason was my tape recorder. From my work at the trapshoot that summer, I’d earned $50, and the day after the trapshoot was over, my dad and I went downtown to Dan Marsh Drug and its photo department, which also sold tape recorders. Dad stood by as I looked at several models in my price range and finally selected a Panasonic cassette recorder. The silly fun of recording myself or recording random sounds from the neighborhood wore off quickly, and I began to search for things to listen to. In September, my sister gave me my first commercial cassette, Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled second album. In October, I saw that the Beatles’ Abbey Road was on sale at the mall for $3.50. I’d heard “Come Together” late one night coming from the radio on my nightstand, and I’d loved the spooky introduction. Once I heard it, I loved the rest of the album (and still do).

Once those two pieces were in place, I dove into Top 40 radio, listening in my room nearly every night after I finished my homework. I don’t know that the autumn of 1969 was, in reality, any better than any other season for Top 40 music, but in memory, it’s one of the greatest listening times of my life. And a clear-headed assessment from thirty-eight years afterward finds it a pretty good time for tunes. Singles released that autumn included:

“Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations
“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” by Lou Christie
“Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley
“And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Backfield in Motion” by Mel & Tim
“Cherry Hill Park” by Billy Joe Royal
“Something/Come Together” by the Beatles
“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman
“Take A Letter Maria” by R.B. Greaves
“Tracy” by the Cuff Links
“Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band
“Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder

And then there was the single that spurred this discussion this morning: “Baby, It’s You” by Smith.

The record, which went to No. 5, came from the group’s first album, A Group Called Smith and was the group’s only Top 40 single. It features a vocal by Gayle McCormick, one of the group’s three singers, over an insistent and punchy background underpinned by a Hammond B3 organ. McCormick’s vocal alternates between breathy and bold, and the backing – organ, crunchy guitar, horns and pounding drums – was just right for 1969.

It was, of course, a cover of the Shirelles’ Top Ten hit from 1962, a record that was much more controlled and subtle than Smith’s cover version seven years later. But we absorb the music we hear first, and although the Shirelles’ version is sweet and lovely, it is Smith’s version I think of when I think of “Baby It’s You.”

Covers, for the most part, were Smith’s stock in trade on A Group Called Smith. The record has versions that are tough and interesting – if ultimately lesser than the originals – of the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” the Zombies’ “Tell Her No,” the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” Willie Dixon’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” (credited on the album, oddly, to Kenny Lynch and Bob Wackett, whoever they were) and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”

A Group Called Smith is more of a period piece than a great album. In retrospect, maybe Smith’s powerhouse approach might have been more interesting and more successful with more originals. The group’s second album, Minus-Plus, released later in 1969, did have at least eight originals among its ten tracks. Yet, the second album didn’t spin off a hit single and didn’t sell well enough to reach the Top 40 album chart, while A Group Called Smith reached No. 17, almost certainly on the strength of “Baby It’s You.”

And “Baby It’s You” still echoes nicely, bringing back memories of my orange-clad Tech Tigers on the green field and of October’s evening shadows outside my bedroom window.

Let’s Get Together
I Don’t Believe (I Believe)
Tell Him No
Who Do You Love?
Baby It’s You
The Last Time
I Just Wanna Make Love To You
Mojalesky Ridge
Let’s Spend The Night Together
I’ll Hold Out My Hand

Some CD copies of the album are available, listed at GEMM, with prices ranging from around $11 to more than $50. (One CD listed at GEMM has a track listing that clearly is not from the same album.) Vinyl copies abound. The rip I’m offering here is evidently a vinyl rip, based on a note at headfonehaus, a great blog where I found the album about a year ago. I’ve converted the rip to mp3s.

Smith – A Group Called Smith [1969]

Saturday Single No. 37

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 20, 2007

I’ll be brief this morning as I have company coming and need to finish preparations.

I wrote last spring about the annual tabletop hockey tournament I host, when my friends Rick, Rob and Schultz show up and we laugh and play hockey. Well, today is the day of the other annual event for the four of us: The St. Cloud Strat-O-Matic Classic.

As many of you likely know, Strat-O-Matic is a tabletop baseball game in which players perform reasonably close to how they played in real life. Our format is simple: Each of us chooses two teams from baseball history from Rob’s vast collection of baseball teams. Two rounds of single-elimination narrow the field to two, and we play a best-of-three championship series.

This year, the teams will be: the 1927 Yankees and 1954 Giants for Schultz, the 1980 Phillies and 1990 Athletics for Rick, the 2006 Twins and the 1975 Reds for me, and the 1953 Dodgers and the defending champion 1922 St. Louis Browns for Rob. Of the eight teams, the Browns are the only one that did not, historically, win its league or division; they finished second to the Yankees, but the Browns are a formidable team. We’re going to have a difficult time dislodging them from their championship.

(For those wondering about the existence of the Browns, they played in St. Louis from 1902 through 1953 and won one American League pennant, in 1944. They moved to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles.)

I’m off to prepare the apartment for some baseball. In honor of the event, though, I thought I’d find a version of the song that was appropriate for the way Rick, Schultz and I felt last year after Rob’s St. Louis Browns took the title.

So here, from an album called River of Song, a Musical Journey (a companion piece to a PBS documentary about various cultures and their music along the Mississippi River), are Ann Peebles and the Memphis Horns with their 1997 version of “St. Louis Blues,” today’s Saturday Single.

Ann Peebles & The Memphis Horns – “St. Louis Blues” [1997]