Archive for the ‘2007/12 (December)’ Category

New Years Gone & Remembered

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 31, 2007

It seems a little bit like a slice of science fiction, that date that will show up on our calendars tomorrow: 2008. But then, on the last day of any year, it seems, we’ve always shaken our heads and muttered to one another or to the walls, “I can’t believe it’s going to be 1967,” or “It’s really going to be 1982?” or something like that. For many of us wandering this globe, our distaste for the passing of time shows itself in mock disbelief as each December wanes.

But the next day, the first of whatever New Year it may be, we lever ourselves out of our beds and move on into the future that waits, having no reasonable choice but to – as I put it the other day – put one foot in front of the other. Tonight will be the fifty-fifth time that a New Year has started with me as part of it, and I admit to some surprise these days that the years have spun by as rapidly as they have. But I’d rather be here than not, so there’s no point in whining about the advance of years or how large the number on the calendar is or, for that matter, how large the number on my waistband is. (Having grown up reading and watching 1950s and 1960s science fiction, however, I do admit to wondering what the heck happened to my flying car!)

I don’t recall all of the fifty-four New Years that have passed in my lifetime, of course, but a few stand out, and those that do tend to be those that had a soundtrack.

In the mid-1960s, I spent my New Year’s Eves across the street at Rick’s, as did many of his siblings’ friends, and the result was often cacophony backed by popular music. Rick’s elder sister and her friends generally selected the tunes that became the soundtracks for those December evenings. One year – it had to be the night 1964 turned into 1965 – Petula Clark encouraged us to go “Downtown” at least ten times between nine o’clock and midnight. A few years later, the theme for New Year’s Eve was the faux-1920s sound of the New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral,” which echoed in my ears for a few days.

In 1973, when I greeted the New Year in Denmark, I was visiting my Danish brother in a little town just outside the university town of Århus. At midnight, he and I and his roommates and their friends all looked down on the harbor town as fireworks arced through the sky all over town. As we stood outside, the radio inside continued to play, making “Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne – the Danish language version of Mocedades’ “Eres Tu” – the music that plays in my head as I recall red and white fireworks over the city.

A year later, a lady friend of mine and I were doing little or nothing to mark the evening, watching television at my home, when we got a call from a friend of ours from out of town. He’d driven into St. Cloud and was downtown at one of the bars, looking in vain for anyone from The Table, the irreverent group of students we hung out with at school. My lady friend and I shrugged, turned off the television and headed out into the cold, joining Larry at one of the popular bars downtown. We sat there until closing time. None of the three of us were then involved with anyone, and all three of us were recuperating from relationships recently gone wrong. So we laughed, long after midnight, as the cover band at the Red Carpet closed the night with its version of a Grand Funk tune. “I must have picked a bad time to be in love,” sang the vocalist, “a bad time to be in love . . .”

Two years later, on a farm in north central Minnesota, my girlfriend and I sat in her parents’ kitchen and listened as a radio station in – I think – the little burg of Wadena, Minnesota, played a syndicated program counting down the year’s hits. The No. 1 song of 1976, at least according to that program, was “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee, which was a tolerable result, we thought.

More than thirty New Year’s Eves have come and gone since then, and music has marked more than a few, although the music hasn’t always been current. One year, in the late 1990s, I played keyboard for a small band hired to bring in the New Year at an American Legion club in a Twin Cities suburb. We were a pretty good band, playing a mix of oldies and a few recent things. We did some Motown, some Doors, some Rolling Stones tunes, some Santana, a few things by Dylan and lots of other stuff. The club had evidently featured country bands other years, so we weren’t all that well received at first by the crowd. But we hung in there, and eventually we had ’em dancing.

We probably won’t be dancing tonight, the Texas Gal and I. We’ll watch some television, probably the festivities in New York, and we’ll most likely put a CD in the player as midnight approaches. And I would guess we’ll greet 2008 to the sounds of a thirty-eight year old recording: Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.”

I hope your New Year’s moments will mean as much to all of you.

On the Line – Gary U.S. Bonds
I’ve been planning to rip and share today’s album for some time, but I figured it would have to wait a little longer. With the Texas Gal on vacation for another two days, I’m reluctant to spend any more time on the blog than is utterly necessary, so I figured I’d cobble something together for today from music already ripped. But as I wandered around yesterday, I came across a rip of On the Line, the 1982 album by Gary U.S. Bond at La Columna Flácida, a blog that offers an interesting mix of music.

I shared “Rendezvous,” one of the album’s singles, in a Baker’s Dozen not long ago, and I noted then that if the track sounded at all like Bruce Springsteen, there was a reason. Springsteen and Miami Steve VanZandt co-produced the album for Bonds, whose song “Quarter to Three” had long been a concert staple for Springsteen. And when one listens to On the Line, it does sound very much like a Springsteen work with a guest vocalist. Whether that’s a plus or minus depends very much on how much the listener likes Springsteen’s early 1980s sound.

For me, it’s a plus. Bonds, being a singles artist from the early 1960s – “New Orleans,” his first Top 40 hit, came out in 1960, and “Seven Day Weekend,” his seventh and last 1960s hit, came in 1962 – didn’t have a large body of work on which a listener can hang any hats. The hits all sounded pretty much the same, and the two 1960s albums listed at All-Music Guide were typical albums of the time: hits surrounded by filler tracks recorded in the same style as the hits. There wasn’t a lot to listen to if someone wanted to get an idea of what kind of range Bonds might have.

Bonds get a chance to show that range a bit on 1982’s On the Line (as he had a year earlier on Dedication, an album also produced by Springsteen and VanZandt). The tracks are mostly mid-tempo, but some of them rock along nicely in an early 1960s groove, while others give Bonds a chance to stretch his style.

“On the Line” gives Bonds one of those chances, as does “Club Soul City,” and he does pretty well. “Out of Work” is a track that sounds remarkably like Springsteen’s “Hungy Heart,” though its lyrics are far less cryptic than those of “Hungry Heart,” which, of course, wound up on Springsteen’s 1981 album, The River. It’s a nice track anyway.

Springsteen wrote seven of the eleven songs on the album, and VanZandt wrote one. In addition, the credits are stocked with members of the E Street Band: Danny Federici on accordion and keyboard, Roy Bittan on keyboard, Gary Tallent on bass, Max Weinberg on drums and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. Other musicians are listed on all those instruments, too – well, not on accordion – but the overall sense and sound of the album is that of a Springsteen project, as I wrote earlier.

It’s still fun, though, and Bonds comes off pretty well. He handles the Springsteen/VanZandt material well. But Bonds does just as well with the other three tracks: “Turn The Music Down” and “Bring Her Back,” which he evidently wrote with his wife, Laurie Anderson, and “Soul Deep,” the mid-1960s hit for the Box Tops.

Hold On (To What You Got)
Out Of Work
Club Soul City
Soul Deep
Love’s On The Line
Turn The Music Down
All I Need
Bring Her Back
Last Time

Gary U.S. Bonds – On The Line [1982]

Thank you
A huge and humble “thank you” to Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. In the inaugural Major Dude Awards, Echoes In The Wind was honored as the Best Singles Blog. And once you’ve checked out the awards, bookmark Any Major Dude . . . It’s a great blog itself!

Saturday Single No. 48

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 29, 2007

It’s quite easy to ignore the Moody Blues these days. A quick look at their recent slate of releases, as compiled by All-Music Guide, makes the reader yawn: A live album in 2005, a Christmas release in 2003, an “authorized bootleg” and another live CD in 2000, mediocre studio albums in 1999 and 1991 bracketing another live album in 1993, and a Europe-only compilation in 1990 (it’s a mystery why that compilation is not listed on the same page as the other numerous compilations at AMG).

One has to go back to the 1980s to find a significant piece of work, an interesting statement when it’s made about a band that continues to record and perform. Sur La Mer, which came out in 1988, was pleasant but inconsequential. The album – the last Moody Blues album I was able to buy in a vinyl format – reached No. 38 on the Billboard chart. Its single, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” peaked at No. 40 during a thirteen-week stay in the Cash Box Top 100, and reached No. 30 on the Billboard chart. (The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard list of “Mainstream Rock Tracks,” the existence of which underlines the fragmentation of the radio audience more than anything else, and the album’s second single, “No More Lies,” went to No. 15 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, another seemingly minor chart.)

So Sur La Mer was a minor success, especially when compared to what the Moody Blues regularly found up to that time: Starting with Days of Future Passed in 1968 through The Other Side of Life in 1986, the Moodies had thirteen consecutive albums reach the Billboard chart, six of them in the Top Ten and two – Seventh Sojourn and Long Distance Voyager – reach No. 1.

Despite that success, not everyone liked the Moody Blues. What riled the Moodies’ detractors most, it seems, was the scope of the group’s vision: The Moodies sounded as if they wanted to be important. In their most popular years – the late 1960s and early 1970s – the Moody Blues’ symphonic sound carried along with it lyrics that were mystical and philosophical, a marriage of words and music that some listeners found moving and meaningful and that others dismissed as excessively romantic balderdash.

The approach was a ornate one, to be sure, and when it didn’t work, it left the group easily open to ridicule and parody, as was the case – to me – with the final portions of 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord and its closing tracks, “The Word” and “Om.” But when it worked, I found the approach thrilling. I’ve always loved the Wall of Sound that Phil Spector created and used on his singles and on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album, which came out in 1970. Sonically, the Moody Blues’ approach had much the same attraction. From 1970’s Question of Balance onward, through Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in 1971 and into 1972’s Seventh Sojourn, I loved the Moodies’ sound, and I went back to pick up on those albums I had missed.

Did I buy into the lyrics? I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes, to be sure, the lyrical content was a little thick and heavy, self-consciously strained in an effort to be poetic and meaningful. When they were, I shrugged. I don’t think I was a particularly demanding consumer. I liked the albums and listened to them frequently.

I likely was listening to Seventh Sojourn thirty-five years ago this week when it became the Moody Blues’ first No. 1 album. I’d gotten the record as a Christmas gift from Rick, and I recall playing it frequently during the week after Christmas. The record’s sound was a little less ornate and its lyrics a little less mystical than was the case on the group’s previous record, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. But the changes worked, I thought, as the group’s vision seemed to have shifted from cosmic exploration to social justice (love and romance were still subjects for exploration, as well; several of the eight tracks on Seventh Sojourn are nicely done love songs).

Seventh Sojourn turned out to be an album I love for a number of reasons. First, I do like the Moody Blues, and the album fit nicely into their body of work. Second, I believe it was the last Christmas gift Rick ever gave me; the next Christmas, I was in Denmark, and after I returned home, we’d grown away from each other a little. And although we’ve reconnected in recent years and see each other regularly, we don’t exchange gifts. Third, the music of our youth stays with us forever, and Seventh Sojourn came along in the middle of my second year of college. Fourth and last, some of the album’s concerns – fear and isolation, societal dislocation and more – remain valid concerns today. For all those reasons, the album remains high on the list of those I love.

So thirty-five years after Seventh Sojourn took over the No. 1 slot on the charts, the album’s opener, “Lost In A Lost World,” is today’s Saturday Single.

We Write What We Know

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 28, 2007

It was a year ago this week that I got my USB turntable, which means I’ve been involved in this blogging adventure for almost a year now. For about a month after I got the turntable and was happily ripping vinyl to mp3s, I was posting the results only at two bulletin boards I frequent. At the same time, however, I was digging deeper into the music blogs I knew about, and began to think . . .

For a month, I looked carefully at the blogs I visited regularly, trying to figure out if I could find a niche that was uninhabited and assessing how I should present my own commentary. I decided that when I posted full albums, they were going to be almost always out of print or at least hard to get, and when I posted collections of singles, they would mostly be from the years before 1990.

But what was I going to write about? I’ve taught some writing – mostly in the venue of teaching journalism – and I’ve had several friends who have taught college composition and creative writing. And for most of the students involved, the first instruction is to write what you know. And in the context of music, what I knew was what I liked, how the music I liked came to be, and how it was that I came to know about that music in the first place. And that’s what I wrote about, in contexts as varied as the music I listen to.

I wondered sometimes if there was too much of me in my posts, but a comment I received one day from JB, the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, helped me clarify things. JB said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that when he began his blog, he thought that there would be posts so personal that no one save himself would be interested in them. He soon found, he said, that it’s impossible to handicap readers in blogworld: frequently, the posts he thought would be ignored generated traffic and comments, and the posts that he thought would be hot stuff weren’t. He basically told me: Do what you do and let others sort it out.

So I did. And I found myself having more fun than at almost any time in my life.

So, my thanks to JB, and to the other bloggers in my links list, who share their lives and their music in various proportions. With only a few days left in 2007, I’m looking forward to 2008 and to sharing more music. One of my hopes for the year is to get an external hard drive for my music, so I have room to expand and no longer have to go though the process, every six months or so, of deleting about 10,000 MB of music after burning it onto CDs, just to keep a comfortable amount of free space on my internal hard drive.

(One of those humorous laws of human behavior – I forget which one it is – notes that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. I guess that’s true. I guess whiteray’s corollary to that law says: Music always expands to fill the space allotted to it. And thank goodness it does!)

Here are fifteen random stops from the years 1950-1999:

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard
“Traveling Blues” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Think It Over” by Buddy Holly from The Buddy Holly Story, 1959

“ABC” by the Jackson Five, Motown single 1163, 1970

“Run Through The Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 641, 1970

“Payday” by Mississippi Heat from Handyman, 1999

“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes from Havin’ A Party With Southside Johnny, 1979

“Don’t Take Away My Heaven” by Aaron Neville from The Grand Tour, 1993

“Day is Done” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. single 7279, 1969

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence, 1966

“Another Lonesome Morning” by the Cox Family from Beyond the City, 1995

“Prayer in Open D” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Let Love Carry You Along” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Cocaine” by J.J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976

“The Rumor” by The Band from Rock of Ages, 1972

“Nitty Gritty Mississippi” by Jim Dickinson from the Crossroads soundtrack, 1986

A few notes on the songs and the artists:

I’ve mentioned Spencer Bohren here before. He’s good, if not all that well-known, and if you like rootsy music – generally far more rootsy than today’s offering of his work – you’d be doing yourself a huge favor if checked him out. Here’s his website.

Mississippi Heat is a group formed in the Chicago in 1992 with the aim of resurrecting the sounds of 1950s Chicago-style blues. Handyman is the fourth of eight albums the group has issued, and it’s representative of the group’s efforts, which are always listenable and sometimes inspired.

Because of their common place of origin and some common personnel, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will forever be linked in the minds of casual listeners with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. All-Music Guide notes that Johnny and the Jukes are more of a “white R&B horn band in the Memphis Stax Records tradition” than anything like the Boss and his band. Still, the influences are there, especially when Springsteen so frequently provided production assistance and material. The track offered here, for instance, came from the pens of Springsteen and one-time Asbury Juke Steve VanZandt.

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is one of the lesser tracks on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence album, an album put together rapidly in the wake of the radio success of the duo’s single, “The Sound of Silence.” Lesser track or not, it’s still one of my favorite tracks on the album, along with “A Most Peculiar Man” and the lovely “Kathy’s Song.”

The Cox Family hails from Louisiana and has been performing since 1976. In 1990, the group came to the attention of Alison Krauss, who brought the group to Rounder Records, for whom the Cox Family recorded a couple of albums. One of those was Beyond the City, with its combination of neo-folk and progressive bluegrass elements. “Another Lonesome Morning” is pretty representative.

When one hears in these days “Cocaine,” J.J, Cale’s cryptic ode to excess, one realizes how greatly the world has changed in twenty-eight years. A great riff, a great song, yet utterly out of synch with the times, one would think. Oh, the activity is still out there, sure, but we act like we don’t notice, and we don’t sing about it anymore. To steal a line from the late – and mourned – Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.

‘Never Die Young’

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 27, 2007

I’ve always thought that James Taylor’s song, “Never Die Young,” was a sad one, despite the lyric that has the entwined couple “sail on, sail on.” A portion of an interview posted at YouTube along with the video Taylor made for the song shows the composer to be in agreement with that.

“One of the great cliches of pop is that the love between a man and a woman can keep out the rest of the world, and it’s that impossibility that the song addresses,” Taylor told the New York Times in February of 1988. “To me, it’s a sad song.”

For those sharp of eye, yes, the crew includes Leland Sklar on bass and Rosemary Butler, among on backing vocals.

Video deleted.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 26, 2007

I was out on the prairie in Minot, North Dakota, for not quite two years, from August 1987 to the end of June 1989. That makes 1988 the only full year I spent there, living in the front end of a duplex on a quiet street not all that far from the state university where I taught.

That summer was the warmest year since the Dustbowl and droughts of the 1930s, with temperatures routinely topping the hundred-degree mark. With the university not in session, I moved my computer from my home – which had no air conditioning – to my university office and wrote there. My weekday routine during most of that summer was a good one: Mornings, I’d edit and revise the previous day’s production, and late afternoons and evenings, I’d go back to the office and write new material, working on a novel with a writing partner in Minnesota and another one that was solely my creation. (The first has never been finished, though work resumed on it during this past year; the second was finished in 1989 but has never been published.)

For some reason, the state of North Dakota allowed its university faculty members to take their salaries over the nine months that school was in session or spread out over only eleven months. That second option meant that at the end of the summer, there would be one month with no income, and for those whose budgeting skills were challenged – and here I raise my hand without hesitation – that meant finding another source of income during that last month of summer. Accordingly, I found myself in the office of a temporary staffing firm, being interviewed by a young woman.

She glanced over my application and smiled brightly. “Now,” she said, “tell me about yourself. What specialized training have you had?”

I thought for a moment. I’d been a public relations writer, a reporter, an editor, and I’d taught all those things at one time or another. I’d also taught the history of journalism. As I finished my mental cataloguing, I chuckled. The young woman looked askance at me, the wattage of her smile dimming a little.

“I’m a journalist,” I said. “Beyond that, I have no specialized training.”

She persevered, still smiling. “What do you do well?”

I smiled back. “I read and write very well.”

Her smile dimmed appreciably, and – as it turned out – she had no place for me to work. Now, reporting is more than just reading and writing, of course. Research and analysis, interviewing techniques, the ability to listen carefully and other skills are essential. But reading and writing are the core skills of a good journalist. And I was being honest.

I wound up spending fifteen days late that summer doing telephone sales, calling individuals in Minot who’d expressed an interest one way or another in joining a health club, trying to sell them memberships. I was pretty good at it, but I was relieved when I walked out of that office for the final time, my pocket holding a check large enough to tide me over until I got the first check of the new academic year from the university.

I continued to make the rounds of the flea markets and the garage sales that summer, scavenging LPs wherever I went. I also made plenty of new purchases in stores around Minot and during a quick trip back to St. Cloud in August. It was during that year that music publications like Rolling Stone and others began to publish pieces about the death of the LP in the face of the popularity of the newly marketed CD. I began to find new LPs a little more difficult to find.

As always, the music I did find helped ease my way through the year, providing solace during a year of massive personal and professional challenges, about which nothing more need be said than that they existed.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988
“Love Me Like a Soldier” by Darden Smith from Darden Smith

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Chimes of Freedom

“Silvio” by Bob Dylan from Down In The Groove

“Trouble in the Fields” by Nanci Griffith from One Fair Summer Evening

“Zimbabwe” by Toni Childs from Union

“I’ll Tell Me Ma” Van Morrison & the Chieftains from Irish Heartbeat

“Never Die Young” by James Taylor, Columbia single 07616

“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles, Columbia single 68533

“To Love Is To Bury” by the Cowboy Junkies from The Trinity Session

“Loving Arms” by Livingston Taylor (with Leah Kunkel), Critique single 2486

“Last Night” by the Traveling Wilburys from The Traveling Wilburys

“Let It Roll” by Little Feat from Let It Roll

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, Elektra single 96412

A few notes about some of the recordings and artists:

I’ve shared much of Darden Smith’s early work here. “Love Me Like A Soldier” is from his major label debut, which also includes reworkings of three songs from his first album, Native Soil. This track, I think, is one of the better ones from Darden Smith, which found the Austin-born performer getting some help from such luminaries as Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett.

This version of “Born To Run” is the slowed-down acoustic version that Springsteen performed frequently in the 1980s. In a short story around that time, I described the transition over the years between the two versions like this:

He used to end his concerts with ‘Born to Run,’ guitars and drums and saxophone wailing while the road went by and he and the girl on the cycle roared toward whatever tomorrow would bring them because they knew it had to be better or at least no worse than what they had tonight and the roaring of the cycle that the narrator rode got mixed up with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounded and thundered with a noisy momentum that carried the E Street Band and its Boss and the audience in the arena toward some wonderful finish, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when he toured a few years later, at the end of the shows, when the audience might have been ready to rock but when Bruce and the guys with him were ready to go home, he’d play it slow. Solo, with only a quiet acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and sad, and the crowd was quiet. And it was right to do it like that: We had what we had, even if it wasn’t what we all dreamed of. And none of us were running anymore.

Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove is kind of a ramshackle album, pieced together – or so it seems – from bits and pieces that Dylan found himself with after a series of low-key sessions. It’s an amiable album, but it makes no grand statement – nor any statement at all, actually. Still, it’s a fun album, a mix of originals and covers, and “Silvio” is pretty representative.

Toni Childs and Tracy Chapman were two members of a diverse group of young women who came to prominence in the late 1980s, a group that the observing media carelessly lumped together in the category of New Folkies. Among the others so lumped were Suzanne Vega and the Indigo Girls. Sometimes the category fit well – as it did with Chapman and the Indigo Girls – and sometimes it didn’t, as with Childs. She was a singer-songwriter, but her work was more ornate and opaque, with production techniques being laid over her swirling songs in a way that didn’t happen with the others. Union was Child’s first release, and to my ears, the parable of “Zimbabwe” is its centerpiece. Two more albums followed: House of Hope in 1991 and The Women’s Boat in 1994. All are well worth finding. The same holds true for the larger output of Tracy Chapman, of course, which to my ears is more rooted in folk than is Childs’ work. From her first self-titled release – “Fast Car” was the first single – through her most recent release, 2005’s Where You Live, Chapman has been firm in calling for change, both internally in her listeners’ hearts and externally in the world in which she and her listeners live. The narrator of “Fast Car” is hopeful but realistic, a posture that seems more reasonable than most. And it was a great radio single, too!

“Let It Roll” is the title track from the first Little Feat album recorded when the group reconvened following the death of founder Lowell George. Some fans were offended by the band’s regrouping, but the fact was that George’s involvement in the band’s efforts had diminished more and more during the years he struggled with the difficulties that finally took his life. Let It Roll is a pretty good album by a group that decided to go on doing what it did best: make music.

‘And So This Is Christmas . . .’

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 25, 2007

Well, the holiday is here, and we’re headed out of town to have dinner at my sister’s house. It’s about an hour away, and we’re scheduled to be there mid-morning, so I’m just going to post a cover version this early Christmas morning and leave things be there.

The cover version for this week is Sarah McLachlan’s take on John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” released a year ago as the first track on McLachlan’s Wintersong CD. I’ve long thought that McLachlan has one of the most arresting and beautiful voices I’ve ever heard, and it’s a joy to hear her take on one of my favorite songs of the season.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a Baker’s Dozen from a year not yet selected. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and hope you all get to spend it with those you love!

Sarah McLachlan – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [2006]

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moving

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2007

Although many people in the U.S. and the rest of the world that observes Christmas are now at their destinations, I’d wager that nearly as many are still in motion, heading toward their holiday celebrations with that odd mixture of anticipation, anxiety and exasperation that holiday travel brings.

When I was a kid, our holiday traveling was simple: driving about a hundred and thirty miles from St. Cloud to my grandfather’s farm near the small southwest Minnesota town of Lamberton. Some years, we’d go down to the farm a week or so before Christmas, and then – during my teen years and later – we’d head down on Christmas Eve.

Either way, we marked Christmas Eve with a dinner of creamed lutefisk over potatoes. Lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish, one that tends to put off those not raised in the Nordic tradition. It begins with dried whitefish that is then rehydrated in solutions of first, cold water; second, water and lye; and third, cold water again. The rehydrated fish is then baked, flaked and stirred into a cream sauce and served over potatoes. The aroma of lutefisk baking is pungent and distinctive; it is also for me the scent of Christmas Eve at Lamberton. If I ever smell it again, I will in an instant be in that farmhouse two miles outside of town where I spent my first eighteen Christmases.

Looking back, although the times we went to the farm in the days before Christmas were fun – there was always something to explore out in the barnyard, and trips into town with Grandpa almost always resulted in a treat of some kind – my memory tends to settle on those years when we made the three-hour trek to Lamberton on Christmas Eve itself. Each of the small cities on our route had its holiday decorations up, brightening the way through town, and along the way – in the cities and out on the farms that we saw across the snowy fields – houses, other buildings and trees were strung with brightly colored lights.

As we drove through the gathering dark of the late December afternoon, we listened – as did nearly all Minnesotans, as I’ve mentioned before – to WCCO, the Minneapolis radio station. With our headlights slicing through the dimness ahead, we’d hear the announcer note, on a regular basis, that military radar had once again observed the presence of a high-flying object setting out from the North Pole. By the mid-1960s, my sister and I no longer believed in a flesh and blood Santa Claus, but I think that we both smiled every year when we heard the radio bulletin. It was part of our Christmas Eve.

And so was movement. We drove through the late afternoon, heading toward lutefisk and then a church service, then gifts, and the next day, a large family dinner. Christmas itself meant resting in a familiar place, but Christmas Eve meant moving, whether it was the motion of a fictional Santa Claus from the North Pole or the motion of the mid-1960s auto carrying me and my sister toward our place of Christmas rest.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moving
“Diamond on the Move” by Pete Rugolo from Music From Richard Diamond, 1959

“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town” by Little Milton from We’re Gonna Make It, 1965

“She’s About A Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe single 8308, 1965

“Move to Japan” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

“I’m Movin’ On” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Train Keep On Movin’” by the 5th Dimension from the Up, Up and Away sessions, 1966 & 1967

“Move ’Em Out” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from D & B Together, 1972

“We Shall Not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples from We’ll Never Turn Back, 2007

“She Moves On’ by Paul Simon from The Rhythm of the Saints, 1989

“You Got To Move” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from One Foot in the Groove, 1997

“Moving” by Howlin’ Wolf from The Back Door Wolf, 1973

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380, 1978

“Something In The Way She Moves” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort from Second Spring, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

“Diamond on the Move” is from an album of music from a late 1950s television show. Richard Diamond, Private Detective was on first CBS and then NBC during the years 1957 to 1960, following a stint on radio from 1949 to 1953. I don’t recall ever seeing the show, but I came across a rip of music from the soundtrack some time ago and thought it was kind of cool.

The Sir Douglas Quintet was the vaguely British-sounding name that producer Huey Meaux gave to Doug Sahm and his band in 1965 in order to compete with the vast number of hits coming into the U.S. from England during what was called the British Invasion. There was nothing of the Mersey River in the work of Texans Sahm and his band; their river was the San Antonio. But the song went to No. 13 and musical polymath Sahm had a long career until his death in 1999.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” comes from one of 2007’s greatest albums, Mavis Staples’ extraordinary tribute to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, We’ll Never Turn Back. With help from the original vocalists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – called in the 1960s the SNCC Freedom Singers – as well as from South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and roots musician extraordinaire Ry Cooder, Staples’ album is both a joy and a moving historical document. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an adaptation of the old song “I Shall Not Be Moved,” which some sources list as traditional but that other sources credit to the Charley Patton, the Delta bluesman of the 1920s and 1930s. I don’t normally post things recorded so recently, but this is too marvelous to pass by.

The Howling Wolf track comes from The Back Door Wolf, the last album the massive bluesman recorded before his death in 1976.

Saturday Single No. 47

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 22, 2007

Despite the holiday week ahead of us, the event I perceive as the most hopeful of the season took place early this morning, just eight minutes after midnight. That was the moment of the winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun reached its furthest point from the equator on its journey south and began to come north again. That northward journey by the sun is a long process, of course, and the seasonal shift set in motion by its southward trek is only just beginning here in the Northland.

For some time yet, the temperatures will be colder and the chilling winds will be stronger. More than likely we will have more days when storms swoop out of the Canadian northwest, leaving our houses, trees and all under layer upon layer of snow, making the entire city look like the work of a baker gone mad with frosting.

But with all that chill and snow to come – and it will come, for if one believes the words of the various forecasters, this will be a hard winter – there is hope in the reaching of the solstice. From today on, the amount of daylight we receive will be greater every day. Each morning’s sunrise will be earlier, and the evening’s sunset will be later. We are on our way out of the darkness, and my spirit grasps at that fact with hope, making me feel at least a little bit like my long-ago German and Swedish ancestors must have when the solstice promised the eventual endings of their even darker and longer Nordic winters.

Hope was one of the main ingredients in the recording I’ve chosen to share today, both in my view and in the view of Dave Marsh, who assessed the recording in 1989 in his book, The Heart of Rock & Soul. Marsh ranked the single at No. 784 and wrote:

“John Lennon was always rock’s most Dickensian character, and here, he emulates ‘A Christmas Carol’ to a tee, stopping just short of pronouncing, ‘God bless us, every one!’ Well, Christmas is the season of sentimentality, and if there were greater sentimentalists in rock history than Lennon (at least in one of his guises) and [producer] Phil Spector, I’ve never heard of them. Let’s remember, then, that Dickens is remembered in part because of, not despite, his warm and open emotionalism and that ‘A Christmas Carol’ is the best-loved of all his stories not only because it fits the season’s hopes, but because, like the best records of the Beatles and Phil Spector, the love it inspires is equal to the love it creates.”

And all that is why “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – credited in full to “John & Yoko & The Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir” and produced by John and Yoko and Phil Spector – is today’s Saturday Single.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [1971]

‘Raise Your Voice . . .’

May 27, 2011

Originally posted December 21, 2007

Today’s lesson comes from the Book of Onehit, Chapter One:

And in those days when AM Radio ruled the youth of the land of Usa, those young ones heard strange and wondrous sounds come from the speakers. Sundered into small tribes as they were, the youth of Usa listened carefully for their various leaders, waiting to hear what wisdom those leaders sent to them through the little speakers in their plastic appliances.

Messages of music came frequently to those who were members of the greater tribes, the tribes of Beatle and Dylan and Rolling Stone, the tribes of Who and Clapton and Chicago and Beegee, and also the tribes of the place called Motown, the Wonder and the Franklin and the Supreme Temptation. And those who heard these AM messages went to their temples and laid down their offerings, and they came away from the temples with their vinyl. And once they were home with their vinyl, they played it. And lo, it rocked!

There were those in the days of AM Radio who sent messages but once, supposing enough would listen so that later messages would be called for by their tribes. Their tribes were of lesser size, and though the members of those tribes listened intently to the first messages, few would listen again. And no more messages came to those tribes. These were the tribes of Greenbaum and Robin of the McNamaras, of Lemon Pipers and Blue Cheer, the tribes of Smith and Steam and Spiral Starecase, of Flying Machine and Bubble Puppy, of Jaggerz and Edison Lighthouse, of White Plains and Tee Set, the tribes of R. Dean Taylor and Pipkins. And the world at large rejoiced at the silence of the Pipkins.

Some members of those tribes went to their temples and laid down their offerings. They took home with them their vinyl, most of them wiser and carrying smaller pieces of vinyl with the original message, the one that AM Radio had already sent them. And lo, they ignored the flipside.

Others would commit the sin of over-enthusiasm, offering more at the temple for the larger pieces of vinyl, those with the original message set amid the horror. For when they laid those albums on the turning table, lo, they sucked. And no one came to their parties evermore. And tomorrow is a long time, indeed.

Those tribes dwindled, their members becoming more careworn and manic as the numbers around them decreased. They would utter pronouncements that were more and more ignored: “Crabby Appleton matters!” “Mock not the Ides of March!” “All hail Daddy Dewdrop!”

And the vinyl turned, and AM Radio sent them no more messages. Many of them turned from their leaders, who had fallen silent. They sought new leaders, and lo, some of them heard from the Partridge Family. And some heard from Climax. And some from Sailcat. And they learned not from their ways.

When the end of their days came, their boxes of vinyl were filled with album after album of Onehit and much horror, and those boxes were sent into exile at the thrift stores. Some in later days would avidly seek those Onehit messages and would gain them for small offerings. They would place them on their turning tables, and only those who liked irony would come to their parties.

And so would come to notice in those later days the messages and the dross of Mouth & MacNeal and Skylark and Bullet, of Apollo 100 and Coven and Ocean, of Tin Tin and Bloodrock and Cymarron and Christie, and of Teegarden and Van Winkle, whose message of “God, Love and Rock & Roll” had been heard by its adherents in the long-ago autumn of 1970.

And the world at large still rejoiced at the silence of the Pipkins.

Teegarden & Van Winkle – Teegarden & Van Winkle [1970]

God, Love and Rock & Roll
Mona Sweet Mona
Ruth Colleen
Everything Is Going To Be Alright
Going Back Home
Eleanor Rigby
You Do
Okie From Muskokee (sic)

About all I can say is that this is a better album than it has a right to be. The title track, of course, is one of the great radio singles and went to No. 22 in 1970. The duo evidently had high hopes for “Everything Is Going To Be Alright,” as it’s featured on a sticker on the front of the jacket along with “God, Love and Rock & Roll.” “Everything” is a decent track with somewhat the same sound as the hit. That sound went too far – the horns become Vegas-like – on “Going Back Home.”

The cover of “Eleanor Rigby” is interesting and probably worth more than one listen. On the other hand, the live version of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” not only misspells the name of the town but also misses completely. Listening to it once is more than plenty. The other tracks – “Mona,” “Ruth” “You Do” and “Homegrown” – are inoffensive but inconsequential.

There are a few bits of noise here and there, maybe most notably at the beginning of the first track, the hit. But this is thirty-seven year old vinyl, and I figured that the hit would be easily replaced for those who wish to do so. (My CD rip copy of “God, Love and Rock & Roll” is ripped at 128, and I decided not to insert it into an album of rips at 192.)

‘Pretty Lights On The Tree . . .’

May 27, 2011

Originally posted December 20, 2007

As the pages in the daily calendar dwindle and the holidays draw closer, I find there’s really no question for me as to what I should post as this week’s video.

For seventeen straight Decembers, Darlene Love has visited David Letterman’s late night show and performed her holiday anthem, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” originally recorded in 1963 for the album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. Each year, Letterman’s music director, Paul Shaffer, augments the regular band with strings and a chorus, and the result – to my ears – is a live performance that comes closer to Spector’s Wall of Sound than anything else I’ve ever heard.

As a result of the writer’s strike, Love may not perform this year on Letterman’s show, although it would seem a given that Letterman will air a recording of one of Love’s earlier performances. This one is from 2006, and the video also includes a brief excerpt from Love’s commercial break rendition of “Silent Night.”