Archive for the ‘2008/03 (March)’ Category

A Baker’s Dozen Of ‘Song’

June 20, 2011

Originally published March 31, 2008

I did some record keeping yesterday as I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament.

(My bracket is still looking not too bad: I got three of the Final Four correct – North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas. I missed on only Memphis. From here on, I have Kansas and UCLA winning on Saturday and Kansas taking the title a week from today. The less said about the NCAA Division I hockey tournament, however, the better. Both St. Cloud State and the University of Minnesota were bounced in the first round. Things aren’t much better in Madison, Wisconsin, where my friend JB blogs; the UW Badgers lost a 3-2 overtime decision Sunday to the hated North Dakota Sioux.)

Anyway, as I said, I did some record keeping, and I learned that since I started this blog in January 2007, I have shared 115 albums, and I learned that twenty-one of those records came from 1970, the most from any one year

I didn’t do any work on the number of songs shared through Baker’s Dozens and so on, but that should be easy to estimate: Sixty-six Baker’s Dozens times thirteen equals 858; I’ve done nine Junkyards, but on only seven of those, I think, was every song shared, so call that 110; I’ve shared sixty-three Saturday Singles* and forty or so songs under the Tuesday Cover label. There were a few other songs shared with no label or plan, so let’s add ten to the total. We get 1,081 songs. (I know there were some repeated songs and at least one double Baker’s Dozen in there, but this is an estimate.) That’s a pretty impressive total.

Continuing my number-crunching this morning, I decided to look at the entire collection of mp3s and see which years command most of my attention. I hadn’t done this since, oh, October, but the general shape of the data didn’t change. If I were to put the numbers in a bar graph, the big bars would be from 1967 through 1973. (Is this a surprise? No.)

Here are the numbers of mp3s from those seven years and from the years immediately preceding and following them:

1966: 609
1967: 1029
1968: 1450
1969: 1680
1970: 1936
1971: 1789
1972: 1531
1973: 1092
1974: 724

A final set of numbers may be of interest. Here’s how the mp3s sort out by decade. (I have a total of nineteen mp3s from the years 1900-1919, so we’ll ignore those.)

1920s: 382
1930s: 412
1940s: 275
1950s: 920
1960s: 6552
1970s: 9384
1980s: 2056
1990s: 2763
2000s: 2645

As I was doing this, I was also casting about for a topic for today’s Baker’s Dozen, and I thought I ought to do something with a musical term. I asked the RealPlayer to sort for the word “music,” and it listed every one of the 25,338 mp3s. So I decided to gather a group of songs with the word “song” in the title.

A Baker’s Dozen of “Song”
“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, recorded in 1973, released in 1991

“Never Ending Song of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from Motel Shot, 1971

“Song of the Sun” by Robin Scott from Woman From The Warm Grass, 1969

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni single 55265, 1970

“Snake Song” by Townes Van Zandt from Flyin’ Shoes, 1978

“Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies from Ghosts That Haunt Me, 1991

“Just A Song” by Dave Mason from Alone Together, 1970

“Harvest Song” by Magic Carpet from Magic Carpet, 1971

“Everybody Knows (The River Song)” by O.V. Wright from If It’s Only For Tonight, 1965

“My Song” by the Moody Blues from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971

“Sing A Song Of Love To Me” by Chris Rea from Auberge, 1991

“Sleep Song” by Graham Nash from Songs for Beginners, 1971

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin from Aretha Live at Fillmore West, 1971

A few notes:

In 1972, Eric Andersen released Blue River, an extraordinary album that put him in position to be among the best of the singer/songwriters of the day, certainly in critical acclaim and possibly – depending on how his next record did – in sales and popularity. That next record, Stages, was nearly complete when the master tapes were lost, along with whatever momentum Andersen’s career had. He regrouped as well as he could, and in 1991, the tapes were found somewhere in Columbia’s storage rooms. Andersen recorded a few new songs and did a little bit of work on the old tapes before releasing Stages: The Lost Album. It’s a great album.

During my European travels, I spent about ten days wandering through northern Scandinavia with an Australian fellow named John. We spent one night in Kemi, a small town in Finland. The next morning, we learned we’d forgotten about a time zone change and had missed the first train back to Sweden. We had a couple hours to kill, so we sat in a café near the railroad station, drinking coffee and listening to the jukebox. At one point, a record came on that sounded familiar, but it took me a moment to place it. I have never heard anything else in my life quite as strange as “Never Ending Song of Love” sung in Finnish.

Robin Scott’s album, Woman From The Warm Grass, was assessed perfectly by All-Music Guide: “Scott’s vocals and songs were earnest and verbose, with the reflective fragile moodiness (and yearning, sometimes florid romanticism) found in many British folk/folk-rock singer/songwriters of the era.” AMG adds, “‘Song of the Sun’ has the poetic wordy gray melancholy very particular to this period of British folk.” Scott’s music isn’t bad, just a little bit of a downer.

I remember hearing on the Minneapolis station Cities 97 that at the time it came out, in 1991, and for maybe a year or so afterward. “Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies was the station’s most requested song. I’m not sure I get it. On the other hand, it’s a catchy song with a great hook, and I’ve found myself humming it as I finish this post.

You want hippie mysticism, sitar and all? Try Magic Carpet’s “Harvest Song.” The song, brief as it is, wears on one, and in general, the album is listenable only in small portions, mostly as a period piece. I’ve seen two dates for the record, 1971 and 1972, but AMG says the former, so I’ll go with that.

Chris Rea’s Auberge is a gloomy album, and “Sing A Song Of Love To Me” doesn’t change that. But no one does gloomy quite as well as Chris Rea.

*Given that a Saturday Single post would occasionally be deleted by the bloghost, the numbering of the Saturday Singles posts was at times out of sequence. At the time this post was originally written, I had shared – based on the archives thus far posted – sixty-four Saturday Singles. Note added June 20, 2011.

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Saturday Single No. 64

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 29, 2008

The knock on the door came last evening, long after we’d settled in. The Texas Gal was working on a large quilt and catching up on a recent Dr. Phil, and I was in the back room watching my NCAA basketball bracket self-destruct. (That’s not entirely true. My Final Four – North Carolina, Kansas, Texas and UCLA – is still intact.)

But as I watched Wisconsin wither and the Texas Gal quilted, the knock came, followed by the doorbell. I figured I knew who it was, and I grabbed my wallet. And yes, it was our Girl Scout cookies: A box of Thanks-A-Lots (cookies with fudge coating on the bottom) and two boxes of my particular weakness, Peanut Butter Patties. The young girl who was officially the sales agent for the transaction shyly held onto our cookies and the order sheet we’d filled out a few weeks ago, and her sister stood by just as shyly as their father dug into his pockets for change.

When they’d stopped by the first time – they live on the lower floor of our building, a few units east of us – the young girl had shyly offered the order sheet without saying much. Her shyness made her sales skills minimal, but luckily for her, the product sells itself. We get a lot of young people coming through our building selling this or that product for school programs, church programs and other organizations. Unfortunately, most of them don’t come by with any predictability, so when they do arrive, we generally don’t need any magazines, and as for candles, candy and chocolate, well, we usually pass.

But Girl Scout cookies, now, how can we not buy? It would almost be un-American or something. So every year, we buy half of what we plan to purchase from one of the moms at the Texas Gal’s office – there’s always at least one – and half from the first young saleslady from our building who shows up at our door, accompanied always, these days, by a parent.

It wasn’t that way all those years ago when my schoolmates and I made our ways through our neighborhoods on similar sales drives. Every year from the time I was twelve, I suppose, there were drives or product sales to support the band, the choir, the Scouts or something. At least twice a year, it seems, I’d make my way up and down Kilian Boulevard and nearby Fifth Avenue, offering candy, chocolate or magazines. I was not a great sales agent, but there were some neighbors who always bought.

But when we went out selling, all of us in the band or the choir or the Scout troop, we went out alone, walking up and down the street with our cartons of candy or our envelopes. No parents shadowed us. It’s sad that they have to do so these days, but it’s part of life in 2008, I guess.

So I said goodbye to the salesgirl, her sister and her father and came back into the living room with our three boxes of cookies. I thought about all the times I went door-to-door selling stuff in my youth. And then I took two cookies and went back to the game. I thought about this morning’s post as I watched, and the cookies put me in mind of the wonderfully named Sixties group, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy. So I scanned the group’s songs as I watched basketball, and I found one I liked. The lyrical content doesn’t quit fit, but it’s a nice-sounding song, so “The Market Place” is this week’s Saturday Single.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy – “The Market Place” [1968]

‘Playin’ On The Radio . . .’

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 28, 2008

A stranger looking through my music collections might have a hard time figuring out which type of music is my favorite. And that was true even before my record collection became somewhat of an archive, back when it was a personal collection and nothing more.

The music that I love makes a long list, so long that it’s easier to list those genres and varieties that aren’t all that well represented among the 2,900 LPs, 700 CDs and 25,000 mp3s. So far as I know, there is no opera. I’ve been to one opera, and I enjoyed it, but that was in the Vienna Opera House and functioned more as a cultural and historical note than as a musical experience. I wouldn’t mind going to another opera if the circumstances arise, but listening to opera at home doesn’t interest me.

I have very little heavy metal, rap or hip-hop. Those genres aren’t entirely shut out; I have a few metal LPs and collections, and I have some rap and hip-hop – more of the latter – among the mp3s. And I enjoy those genres in small doses.

Pretty much any other genre of music is fairly well represented on my shelves and in the external hard drive: Blues, lots of classic and some current R&B, lots of rock and pop-rock, some standard pop (Al Hirt, Frank Sinatra et al.), soundtracks, some classical and a little bit of gospel. (Oh, I forgot to mention another genre that’s absent: polka music. It was kind of a kick, though – memories of vacations spent on the farm in southwestern Minnesota – when Tom the Barber happily popped his new polka CD into the player during my last haircut.)

Why am I running though this now? Because today’s album – compared to the things I generally share here – is an anomaly. Yet it’s one of my favorite records and it has been since I bought it in 1975, when my collection was still in its formative stages.

I still lived in my parents’ home in July 1975, and I was sitting on my bed, leaning back against the wall. The sounds of a quiet summer evening came through the window: cars making their way down Kilian Boulevard, their headlights casting the shadows on my bedroom walls that had at times frightened me when I was much younger; the occasional footsteps of folks walking in the late twilight; and likely the sound of a horn and a train engine as a Burlington Northern freight neared the crossing next to the Dew Drop Inn, the beer joint just down the way.

I was most likely reading and putting away a dish of vanilla ice cream liberally sprinkled with chocolate Quik – a snack choice that’s come with me through the years – as the radio played softly. The station was WCCO-FM, the sister station to the AM powerhouse in Minneapolis; these days, the FM station is WLTE, and it plays light rock. I guess that’s what it played then, too, but in memory, its playlist was more adventurous than it is now.

And the DJ began to interview a singer/songwriter – I missed the name – scheduled to perform the next evening in downtown Minneapolis. Being a songwriter myself, and interested in music in any case, I listened as the writer – who had an odd, wispy voice – talked about his writing process, which he said was sometimes hard work and sometimes serendipity (an assessment of any kind of writing that I agreed with then and agree with today). He singled out a song of his that was one of those he’d just blundered into, as if it had been waiting for him to find it.

The DJ cued up the song and I fell in love with it, with its seemingly perfect marriage of sad, reflective words and a quiet, somewhat mournful melody and arrangement. It was indeed light rock, so light it almost floated out of the speaker. When the DJ named the song, the artist and the album, I made a note of it before I turned off the light and the radio for the night. And the next evening, after getting home from school, I headed out to the mall and brought home a copy of Paul Williams’ Just An Old Fashioned Love Song and its opening track, “Waking Up Alone.”

Overall, I’m not a big Paul Williams fan. I haven’t cared at all for the vast majority of his work. But that single album – with its songs of love gained and lost, love found unexpectedly or love never found at all – spoke to me that summer. I was twenty-one; I’d lost loves, and the fact that I was young and had much to learn didn’t make those losses hurt any less. So I suppose those songs might have been balm for those wounds. Whatever it was, I listened to the record a lot that summer.

The record followed me around as my life went on. During the Eighties and Nineties, when I made a lot of mix tapes for friends, I pulled songs from it on occasion, but I noticed that just the general wear over the years had created some surface noise. It was one of the first albums I put on my list of records to replace with a CD when I moved that direction. But I never found the CD; it turns out to only have been available as an import for years, and even when A&M put out a domestic copy, it disappeared. So when I was able to rip mp3s from my records, I tried to do so with Just An Old Fashioned Love Song, but there was more noise than I liked.

Happily, a fellow member at a bulletin board I frequent had a better vinyl copy, and in February, he (or she, I suppose) shared it. (Thanks, raphph!) So I’ve been listening to an old friend for a couple of months now, wondering if I should share it here. It’s light, it’s frothy, it’s wispy, and it’s sweet and sentimental. And it’s one of my favorites.

The highlight track for me is still “Waking Up Alone,” with the resignation in Williams’ words and voice being among the saddest things I have ever heard. I wish the record had credits because I’ve wondered for more than thirty years who’s playing the great saxophone break at the end of the song. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Jim Horn.

Other highlights? I like “That’s Enough For Me” and “I Never Had It So Good,” two of the songs of love found and held. And Williams does a very nice cover of Graham Nash’s “Simple Man,” the only song on the record Williams didn’t write.

The rest of it is nicely done as well, and still carries the same emotional impact it did more than thirty years ago. So it’s difficult to assess the record. I should note that the album also includes “We’ve Only Just Begun,” which began its life as a bank commercial and ended up being a No. 2 hit for the Carpenters in 1970. The title song, of course, was a No. 4 hit for Three Dog Night the following year.

When I did some digging online, I discovered something pretty interesting about that title song. Here’s Williams discussing it, as presented at a website called Songfacts:

“I had a date one night, a young lady named Patti Dahlstrom, she was a songwriter. We were going to go out and have dinner. And right before I left for the date I had gotten a phone call that I had a gold record. And I walked into her house, and I said, ‘Well, got a gold record for such-and-such, it just went gold. Kid did it again with another old fashioned love song.’ It just came out of me. And I went, wait a minute. I went over to her piano and I sat down, and it’s the quickest I ever had a song come out of me. And it sounds like it. It’s a really simple song, I wrote it in like 20 minutes. And it was a big hit.”

Given that I shared a Patti Dahlstrom record last week and that I have three more of her albums waiting to be ripped, well, the world turns in small circles, I guess.

Here’s the track list:
Waking Up Alone
I Never Had It So Good
We’ve Only Just Begun
That’s Enough For Me
A Perfect Love
An Old Fashioned Love Song
Let Me Be The One
Simple Man
When I Was All Alone
My Love And I
Gone Forever

Paul Williams – Just An Old Fashioned Love Song [1971]

‘Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi . . .’

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 27, 2008

As a further reminder that Patti LaBelle and her girls came along long before Christina and the others, here’s a 1975 performance by LaBelle of “Lady Marmalade.” I’m not sure where the performance took place; I get the sense it was Germany or the Netherlands, but I could be way wrong. Either way, the performance ended up on a two-disc DVD set titled “The Best Disco In Town,” offered – if I’m reading this right – by a firm called ZDF Kultnacht.*

*Soon after this post went up, a friendly reader informed me that ZDF Kultnacht was a pop music show on a German television network. The video originally presented here is no longer available, so I’ve replaced it with another televised performance of “Lady Marmalade” from 1975. Note added June 20, 2011.

Combing Through The Autumn Of 1976

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 26, 2008

It was, evidently, the autumn of 1976 when Asylum Records released In One Eye And Out The Other, the second album by the Cate Brothers, a pair of Arkansas-bred siblings whose music is a stew of southern music: soul, country and a little bit of blues. I’ve seen the duo’s music described as “blue-eyed soul,” but that doesn’t seem to work. I guess, as their fellow Arkansawn (what do you call someone who lives in the Diamond State, anyway?) Levon Helm noted, when you mix all those influences together, you get rock ’n’ roll.

I’m basing the autumn release date on the list of Asylum releases at BSN Publications, a handy site that provides detailed histories and discographies for an extraordinary number of record labels. The Cate Brothers’ record falls numerically between Jackson Browne’s The Pretender and Hoodoo, an unissued John Fogerty album. Moving a step further in each direction, we find that trio of records bracketed by Tom Waits’ Small Change and Harry Chapin’s On The Road To Kingdom Come. There are no release dates listed, but we still have a little more data to work with.

The discography notes that the Waits album peaked at No. 89 on the album charts in November of 1976. The Pretender peaked at No. 5 in that same month. The Cate Brothers’ album reached No. 182 in October 1976, and the Chapin record went to No. 87 in October of 1976. Sort through all of that, and it doesn’t take a huge leap to figure out that the Cate Brothers’ album was released – and sank out of sight rather quickly – in the autumn.

What were people listening to in that autumn? Let’s look at the first week of October.

The Billboard Top 15 singles were:

“Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry (in its third week at No. 1)
“I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley
“A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band
“Disco Duck” by Rick Dees and His Cast Of Idiots
“Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs
“Devil Woman” by Cliff Richard
“Summer” by War
“If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago
“(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” by K.C and the Sunshine Band
“Still The One” by Orleans
“Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac
“A Little Bit More/A Couple More Years” by Dr. Hook
“Getaway” by Earth, Wind and Fire
“She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates
“With Your Love” by Jefferson Starship

Boy, that’s not a very good list. The singles by Boz Scaggs, War, EWF and Hall & Oates are good (I know some folks find Hall & Oates and/or “She’s Gone” intolerable, but it’s a time-and-place song for me), and some of the rest are just okay. I think “Say You Love Me” is one of the Mac’s worst singles, the Starship single – and most of the Starship catalog – is dreck, and I never got the appeal of Cliff Richard. And there’s other stuff on there that’s just mystifying to this day. Given the taste of the public in the late months of 1976, the Cate boys never had a chance. Of course, I doubt if Asylum ever released a single from In One Eye And Out The Other anyway.

But the album was out there, and, as I noted above, it peaked at No. 182 sometime in October. Let’s see what was at the top end of the album chart in the first week of the month:

Frampton Comes Alive! By Peter Frampton
Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs
Hasten Down The Wind by Linda Ronstadt
Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac
Wild Cherry by Wild Cherry
Greatest Hits by War
Spirit by John Denver
Spitfire by Jefferson Starship
Fly Like An Eagle by the Steve Miller Band
Chicago X by Chicago

For what it matters, the Frampton album spent ten weeks at No. 1 and fifty-six weeks in the Top 40. If you had to choose one single sound to sum up the Bicentennial year of 1976, it might be Peter Frampton talking through his guitar and vocoder.

That’s not a bad list of albums. I have a few qualms: I don’t have any affinity for Wild Cherry, and John Denver had lost me long before Spirit. I assessed the Starship above (I do like the 1975 album Red Octopus). The Chicago album was pleasant if not the revolutionary music the group had promised us back in 1970. (Go read the notes to Chicago, the silver album, to see what I mean.)

I could moan about the injustice of the music business, but it would be pretty silly to do so. It’s an unfair business in an unfair world, and when someone’s rather good record didn’t sell, it’s just the way things went. Besides, I wasn’t listening to the Cate Brothers back then, either. I think if I’d heard them, I might have bought the album. It’s music I would have liked.

But I didn’t hear the Cates until sometime in the mid-1990s, when I began to read record guides closely and look at credits on the album sleeves and backs. The credits on In One Eye And Out The Other are pretty impressive.

Steve Cropper produced the album and added his guitar to six of the record’s ten tracks. Cropper’s fellow MG, Duck Dunn, plays bass on five tracks. David Foster – now one of the most successful producers in the business – plays several different keyboards on six tracks. And two of my favorite horn players show up: Jim Horn plays on “Can’t Stop” and he and Bobby Keys both play on “Travelin’ Man.”

Highlights? I like the first track, “Start All Over Again,” the funky title track, the sorrowful “Music Making Machine” and the record’s closer, “Where Can We Go,” on which Foster shines on organ. There’s really not a bad song on the record, although the synth string effects on a couple of songs sometimes soften things a little too much.

In One Eye And Out The Other isn’t a lost classic. It’s a good album that serves as one more reminder that there’s always a lot of good music out in the non-radio world that we might hear only if we dig a little.

Tracks:
Start All Over Again
In One Eye And Out The Other
Can’t Stop
Stuck In Chicago
Travelin’ Man
Give It All To You
Music Making Machine
Let’s Just Let It Be
I Don’t Want Nobody (Standing Over Me)
Where Can We Go

Cate Brothers – In One Eye And Out The Other [1976]

(Note: There are several spots where it seemed the record skipped as I ripped it. Working with the record doesn’t correct them, and I’m not sure if they’re skips or funky bits of meter on the part of the musicians. If they’re skips, I’m sorry.)

Belated Wishes To Mr. Whitlock

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 25, 2008

A note came through here last week from my friend, Mitch, an English teacher and sometime rock ’n’ roll writer in Alabama who’s hobnobbed over the years with many of the best Southern rockers. He reminded me that March 18 was the sixtieth birthday of a musician we both hold in high regard: Bobby Whitlock.

I was preoccupied, so I missed it. But let this be my birthday greeting to Bobby.

In the early days of this blog – soon after I got the USB turntable – I ripped to mp3s and posted all four of Whitlock’s solo albums from the 1970s, work from the years just after he’d been a member of Derek & the Dominos.

As I’ve indicated elsewhere, I think Whitlock’s part of the Derek & the Dominos story tends to get lost in the stories of the two guitar legends – Eric Clapton and Duane Allman – who were in on the project. And as I thought about Whitlock’s birthday, I wondered about cover versions of his songs, in particular, the songs that were on Layla. One of those – the album’s closer, “Thorn Tree in the Garden” – was his alone, and he co-wrote with Clapton five of the other songs on the album: “I Looked Away,” “Keep On Growing,” “Anyday,” “Tell the Truth” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.”

So, let’s take a look. First of all, Whitlock released his own versions of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” and the five co-written songs on Other Assorted Love Songs, a 2003 album he recorded with Kim Carmel, but those aren’t cover versions (although it’s an album I would love to hear).

“Thorn Tree in the Garden,” or at least a song of the same name, was also recorded by Lisa Alibrandi on her 2005 album, The Guitar in the Corner. That’s the only other listing at All-Music Guide for “Thorn Tree.”

All-Music Guide lists one artist I can be sure of who has covered “I Looked Away.” (Fixation had a song of the same title on a self-titled album in 2000, but AMG lists no writer for that recording, so it’s quite possibly a different song.) Mike Nesmith included the Clapton/Whitlock song on the 1971 album, Nevada Fighter, credited to Mike Nesmith & the First National Band.

“Keep On Growing” has an interesting list: Sheryl Crow recorded the song for the 1995 soundtrack to Boys on the Side. Since then, her version has been included on both versions of the 1996 EP If It Makes You Happy, on the soundtrack for Arctic Tale in 2007 and on her two-disc British release, Hits and Rarities. A few lesser-known names show up on the list – Wes Loper, Annie McLoon and Moodras (though Loper and Moodras may have recorded a different song of the same title; again, those versions are listed without a writer credit) – as well as Genya Ravan, who did a nice version of “Keep On Growing” on her 1973 album, They Love Me They Love Me Not.

A lengthy list of performers – about forty – is credited by AMG as having recorded a song titled “Anyday,” but almost none of those recordings are listed as being the Clapton/Whitlock song. Many of those recordings, too, are listed without writer credit, so the only cover I can be sure of is a version by the Derek Trucks Band on the live album from the 2007 version of Clapton’s own Crossroads Guitar Festival.

A similar scarcity holds for “Tell the Truth.” Many recordings listed again have no writer credit, so it’s hard to be sure. But the Clapton/Whitlock song is listed as having been recorded by Tom Lepson, a blues organist who released the song with his band the Lazy Boys on 1995’s Live and Dirty.

As to “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad,” the brief list includes the Allman Brothers Band (from a live 2004 recording), Buckwheat Zydeco, Chuck Crane and Steve Wynn (founder of the L.A. group, the Dream Syndicate).

While I was writing this, I was all set to share either the Sheryl Crow or Genya Ravan version of “Keep On Growing.” As I did the research for the preceding paragraph, however, I realized that I own the vinyl of Buckwheat Zydeco’s Taking It Home, for which Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural and his pals recorded “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.” That was too interesting to pass up, so I ripped the track, and re-discovered that Stanley and the boys had some help in the studio from a guitarist named Eric Clapton. So that made the decision easier.

Buckwheat Zydeco with Eric Clapton – “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” [1988]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1974, Vol. 3

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 24, 2008

I tend to read more than one book at a time. No, I don’t have two books in two hands and flip my head back and forth from volume to volume. I mean that I almost always have more than one book in progress and move back and forth between those books, depending on mood and circumstance. Along with The Shield of Time (mentioned the other day), I’m currently reading biographies of Roberto Clemente and Richie Havens and a book titled The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and the Invention of Murder, an account of how a New York murder in 1841 became a public sensation from which – evidently – follow all of the public sensations created by the crimes that fascinate us. Daniel Stashower’s thesis seems to be – I’ve not read far into the book – that the furor and frenzy in Manhattan following the murder of Mary Rogers is the civic predecessor of modern-day public reaction to all the so-called “crimes of the century,” over which our culture hovers like some bloated, moralizing and baleful vulture (my words, not Stashower’s).

As fascinating as that is, the book I’m moving through quicker than any other right now is Boom!, the look back at the Sixties written by former NBC newsman Tom Brokaw. Somewhere along the line, I said that the cultural whirlwind that we call the Sixties began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Brokaw considers the Sixties closed with the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, which is a reasonable stopping place. And his thesis, like that of many who have written before him, is that the Sixties are not really finished; they echo in today’s events and attitudes. (Though Brokaw’s thesis is not new, his book shines as a result of his clear and concise prose as well as the access he had to so many of the participants in the events under consideration.)

Indeed, if one wanted a confirmation that the events of the cultural era we call the Sixties have not gone away, all one needed to do was look at the front page of the Minneapolis StarTribune Saturday and today. The first of those stories noted that Sara Jane Olson of St. Paul had been released from a California prison after serving about six years for crimes committed in 1975 – a bank robbery that included a murder, and an attempt to bomb two police cars. The second story – today’s – reported that California authorities discovered that they had calculated Olson’s sentence incorrectly and she still has about a year to serve.

The link back to the Sixties, of course, is that in those days, Sara Jane Olson was known as Kathleen Soliah and was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the radical group that abducted heiress Patty Hearst in February of 1974 and committed other crimes both before and after most of its membership was killed when the house in which they took refuge burned down during a shoot-out with the Los Angeles Police Department in May 1974.

After the shootout/fire, Soliah, like Hearst and other members of the group, went back to the San Francisco area for some time. Soliah eventually moved to Minnesota, changed her name, married a doctor and raised a family under the name Sara Jane Olson.

When her identity was discovered as a result of a television show in 1999, I was working for a collection agency and was three years removed from reporting. Still, I was fascinated as I saw television coverage and read newspaper reports about the one-time radical turned doctor’s wife who’d hidden in St. Paul – right across the Mississippi River from my Minneapolis neighborhood – for more than twenty years. The reaction then to her arrest and now to her evidently mistaken and brief release make it clear that the Sixties – at least the Sixties of the SLA – are still with us, proving Brokaw’s thesis to be true in this case and, I am certain, in many more.

When the Symbionese Liberation Army brought itself into the news with its abduction of Patty Hearst, I was in Denmark. As with almost all things that took place in the U.S. during those nine months, it seemed as if I were seeing the kidnapping and all the rest of the news about the SLA through the wrong end of a telescope. Those of us in Fredericia knew things were happening – from the International Herald Tribune, from shared copies of the slender and expensive European editions of Time and Newsweek, and from conversation with our Danish friends, who translated coverage of events from Danish media. But out information was frequently old and sketchy.

By the time we students left Denmark on May 21, we knew there had been a shootout four days earlier but nothing more than that. I don’t think it was one of my first questions, but sometime during the forty-minute drive from the airport to my sister’s home the day I came home, I asked if Patty Hearst had been killed in the shootout. No, I was told. I nodded and went on to think of other things.

And as we think of other things, every once in a while the Sixties pop out of the box in which we try to store them neatly, and we’re reminded that the past is never really gone.

Here are some songs from the year the SLA burst into the headlines for the first time.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 3
“It’s Out Of My Hands” by the Soul Children from Friction

“Willie & The Hand Jive” by Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard

“Another Park, Another Sunday” by the Doobie Brothers, Warner Bros. single 7795

“When It’s Over” by Cold Blood from Lydia

“I’d Be So Happy” by Three Dog Night from Hard Labor

“Even A Fool Would Let Go” by Gayle McCormick from One More Hour

“Just Like This Train” by Joni Mitchell from Court & Spark

“Everything Good To Ya (Ain’t Always Good For Ya)” by B.T. Express from Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)

“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle from Nightbirds

“Keep the Faith” by Mel & Tim from Mel & Tim

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind

“Faithless Love” by Linda Ronstadt from Heart Like A Wheel

“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan & The Band from Before the Flood

A few notes:

461 Ocean Boulevard is regarded, I think, as one of Clapton’s great albums, coming after his drug-wracked retreat following 1970’s Layla. It’s a good album, but I hesitate to say it’s a great album, as there are just a few too many hollow spots. I love “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Please Be With Me” and “Let It Grow,” to name three. Unfortunately, the randomizer selected “Willie & The Hand Jive,” which to me is one of the album’s hollow spots.

Cold Blood, a great late Sixties group from the San Francisco area, was struggling by 1974 – as many acts were – to hold its audience, which to be unhappily honest, had never been that large to begin with. It titled its 1974 album after its lead singer, the attractive Lydia Pense, and then changed its name to Lydia Pense & Cold Blood by 1976. The move didn’t work, and the group faded into obscurity, remembered only by fans and collectors of Bay Area groups until the CD boom in the 1990s. The music’s still good.

Hard Labor was the last Three Dog Night album to reach the Top 20, and is better remembered as the source of two pretty good singles “Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here” and “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”. Overall, the band – especially the singers who had given Three Dog Night its character and identity – sounded tired.

Gayle McCormick had been the lead singer for Smith, the band that reached No. 5 in 1970 with an incendiary version of Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You.” When Smith didn’t reach the charts again, McCormick recorded two pretty good solo albums right away: her self-titled debut in 1971 and Flesh & Blood in 1972. One More Hour came in 1974, and wasn’t quite to the level of the earlier records. This may be the first version of “Even A Fool Would Let Go,” a tune written by Kerry Chater and Tom Snow. All-Music Guide lists McCormick’s version as being the earliest in its database, but that’s not entirely persuasive. Even if it is first, it’s far from the best – I’d put my vote to Levon Helm’s 1982 version. Still, McCormick had a good voice, and at least battled the song to a draw, I think.

“Lady Marmalade” is an Allen Toussaint song that Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink brought back to life in the film Moulin Rogue and on the charts, reaching No. 1 for five weeks in 2001. The original version by LaBelle – Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash – came out on Nightbirds in 1974, and a single edit went to No. 1 for a week in 1975. It was so much more fun learning French from the jukebox than it had been in a third-floor classroom.

This was pretty much a random selection – I skipped stuff that had been previously posted – until the last song, when I decided to take over the universe’s work. I think I mentioned this version of “Like A Rolling Stone” when I wrote about stellar pop-rock introductions. This opener isn’t the best – I’d likely give that nod to the original “Layla” still – but it’s one of the few beginnings to a rock performance that left my jaw hanging the first time I heard it. Recorded, I believe, in Los Angeles, the performance provides an extraordinary capstone to the document of Bob Dylan and The Band on stage together.

Saturday Single No. 63

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 22, 2008

As she often does, Nature played a joke on folks here this week. The vernal equinox passed on Thursday, and we marked the beginning of spring with a fairly warm day – temperatures about 40 or so (about 4 degrees Celsius) – and it was sunny enough that the three cats here lay in the sunshine coming through the southern windows.

Outside, most of the snow cover was gone from the lawn, except near the parking lot, where the huge piles of snow pushed from the lot during the winter were slowly diminishing. Evidence of that was the little streams flowing through the parking lot toward the storm sewer, like spring rivers flowing out of the mountains onto the plains.

I ran a few errands outside, prosaic stuff like taking cans and newspapers to the recycling bins and walking down to the mailbox (hoping that a record ordered last week would have arrived; sadly, it hadn’t), and doing them was certainly more pleasant in the sunshine. It’s not a great distance from the building to the trash/recycling bins or to the mailboxes, but in the depths of winter, when the wind slices in from the northwest, somehow both the bins and the mailboxes seem to be further away. Thursday’s walk – short as it was – was pleasant.

And then the storm blew in. We didn’t get hit badly, like some areas of Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest. The storm went pretty much south of us, and we got around four inches of snow. (An online report from one of the Twin Cities’ television stations says we got 1.7 inches, but it looked like more than that; the city of Chaska, on the southwest edge of the Twin Cities metro area, got 10.5 inches.) And if the forecast is right, and we get sunshine tomorrow and Monday, what little snow we got will melt away quickly.

So it’s not like I’m disheartened or anything. But it’s very typical of Nature to send us a warning like this, telling us that thoughts of springtime, of green grass and budding trees and tulips, are fine, but we shouldn’t forget that for at least a while, those are all hopes and the reality is still chilly. And even though the calendar says it’s spring, it’s entirely possible to have more of the white stuff yet – lots more. I remember more than one end-of-March blizzard.

So I console myself that at least I’m not as discouraged as Jesse Winchester was when he and Robbie Robertson wrote “Snow,” a song from Winchester’s first, self-titled album in 1970, today’s Saturday Single.

Jesse Winchester – “Snow” [1970]

If I Could Wander Through Time . . .

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 21, 2008

Time travel has been on my mind for the past few days, as it sometimes is. Of all the concepts that writers of science fiction – or speculative fiction, as it might better be called – sometimes tangle with, time travel is the one that grabs hold of my imagination the hardest. I admit I have some interest in anticipating what it will be like when we are confronted with the proof that there are other civilizations, other sentient beings, somewhere else in the universe. The meeting of disparate cultures, if and when it happens (and I’m betting it will), will radically alter our ideas about the universe and our place in it.

But that’s something that I believe will someday leave the arena of science fiction and become science fact. Time travel is a less likely proposition. (I’m not going to say it won’t ever become reality; when I’m tempted to do so, I recall the correction the New York Times ran in 1969, when Apollo 11 made the first lunar landing. The Times acknowledged that had it been wrong in its insistence during the 1920s that rockets could never boost payloads into space.) And I enjoy very much wading through the thickets of fiction about time travel, some of it very good, some of it less so.

I think about it today because I completed last night a re-reading of The Time Patrol, a 1991 collection of short stories and novellas by Poul Anderson (whom I mentioned in a post earlier this week). Anderson’s structure for the collection is that there is a group of men and women who jaunt through time and space, safeguarding human history at the behest of the Danellians, a powerful culture descended from humankind millions of years in the future. When variations in history are detected – sometimes the result of accidents and sometimes the product of mischief perpetrated by criminals who have illegally gained access to time travel – the patrol goes into action to safeguard history as we know it and to ensure the time line that results in Danellian civilization.

Anderson’s work is sturdy, and his tales range from simple detective stories to longer examinations of historical cultures that are generally unwritten about (at least from where I read), like the Mediterranean culture of Tyre in 950 BCE, or the Ostrogoths in what is now Poland and Ukraine in about 300 CE. (Anderson’s long story set in the latter locale, “The Sorrow of Odin the Goth,” is the best in the book and one of the best stories I’ve ever read, speculative fiction or otherwise.) Anderson also wrote a novel, The Shield of Time. I’ve read it once, and started re-reading it last evening; its tale didn’t stick in my head from the first reading, so we’ll see how the second run-through goes.

Other authors have invested much of their writing efforts in time travel. A few come to mind quickly.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote a little bit of every kind of speculative fiction, but to me, his time travel novels and stories were his best, starting in 1973 with Time Enough For Love, subtitled “The Lives of Lazarus Long.” Time travel enters the tale in the last third or so of the volume, and for the rest of the book and for much of the remainder of Heinlein’s work, exploration of time travel, and the inherent contradictions and paradoxes, was a constant.

In addition, Jack Finney has written a three-novel series featuring a character named Simon Morley beginning with 1970’s Time and Again. Allen Appel wrote a series about the travails of Alex Balfour, whose time travels are involuntary; that series begins with 1985’s Time After Time. And Darryl Brock is the author of two novels: If I Never Get Back and Two in the Field, which feature time traveler Sam Fowler. (Brock’s first, from 1990, is likely my favorite time travel book of all; Fowler spends a good portion of the book traveling the U.S. with the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team.)

Anytime I read those books or others like it, of course, the notion runs in my head: If I could travel through time, where would I go? Well, six places/times come to mind:

1. The American Great Plains in, say, 1500. I’d love to see the buffalo in herds that stretch to the horizon.

2. The Globe Theater in Shakespeare’s London, for one of his comedies. Given changes in pronunciation, I likely wouldn’t comprehend the English, but I’d know when to laugh.

3. I’d like to go to two baseball games in Pittsburgh, one in Exposition Park in 1908 to see Honus Wagner, the greatest shortstop of all time during what was likely his greatest season, and the other in Forbes Field in 1939, when Josh Gibson – probably the greatest catcher of all time – and Buck Leonard, one of the great power hitters of all time, were teammates on the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League.

4. It would be fun to be in Liverpool, England, in 1961 and stop in at the Cavern Club for a performance by the very young Beatles. They played 292 times in the club in 1961 and 1962.

5. I’d travel in 1362 to the land near Kensington, Minnesota, that would eventually be farmed by Olof Öhman, to see if a traveling group of Swedes and Norwegians actually left there the stone inscribed with runes that Öhman found in 1898. Famous in Minnesota and among archeologists on a wider scale, the Kensington Runestone is one of the great historical riddles.

Another riddle that I ponder now and then – as does anyone who loves music – is why some performers make it big and others don’t. About a month ago, I ran across a short post from a year ago at the Illfolks blog about an early 1970s singer-songwriter named Patti Dahlstrom. The two tracks posted there – “Ollabelle and Slim” and “Rider” – intrigued me a lot. So I began to dig.

And I learned that there isn’t a lot of information out there about Patti Dahlstrom. According to Illfolks, she’s evidently in Houston, but according to a piece I saw for the online magazine Spectropop, she’s living in St. John’s Woods in London, England. So there’s very little to go on. Google provides a few links, but nothing with much hard data, not even a birth year (although I’d guess somewhere between 1948 and 1951). What remains are Patti’s four albums, all of which were fairly easy to acquire:

Patti Dahlstrom, on the Uni label, 1972

The Way I Am, on 20th Century, 1973

Your Place Or Mine, 20th Century, 1975

Livin’ It Thru, 20th Century, 1976

As I was recording Patti Dahlstrom this morning to rip the mp3s, the Texas Gal said to me, “It sounds like Carole King.”

Well, maybe. The sound of the accompaniment is akin to Tapestry, with lots of piano and acoustic sounds. Any electric instrumentation is folded into the background, and the sound of the album is homey. If I were to draw a comparison, I’d slide it in with the three albums made about the same time by Joy of Cooking.

But the voice, Patti’s voice, doesn’t slide that easily into either one of those folders. She has a twang and a drawl at times, giving her a bluesy, country feel. The blogger at Illfolks commented on “her rootsy Southern vocals,” calling them “true if not pretty.” The blogger went on to say, “Perhaps at the time (early 70’s) there was no such thing as ‘country crossover,’ so being pitched as a pop star was doing her a disservice.”

That seems about right. Patti’s voice wouldn’t have fallen neatly into a genre in an industry that seems, more often than not, to be looking for a repetition of the last big thing instead of looking for something unique. So Patti was likely too countryish for pop and far to connected to pop-rock for her records to be placed in the country bins. She recorded her four records and went on.

Today’s share is her first, Patti Dahlstrom, from 1971. I think it’s generally a good album, with Patti writing the lyrics to all ten songs and music for six of them. (Music for “Get Along, Handsome” and “I’m Letting Go” came from Severin Browne, while Robbie Leff wrote the music for “Weddin’” and “Comfortable.”) To me, the standout is the album’s opener, “Wait Like A Lady,” with “And I Never Did” and “Ollabelle and Slim” not that far behind.

That makes it sound like the other tracks on the record lack something. They don’t, but there is a sameness throughout the record that veers close to an overload of mellowness. A few things keep that from happening: One is the country feel of “Weddin’,” while another is the slow acceleration of the tempo on “Ollabelle and Slim” that pulls the record forward. The third is the sweet saxophone of Jim Horn weaving its way around the vocal on “Comfortable.”

As I noted, this is the first of four Patti Dahlstrom albums. I’ll be sharing the other three in weeks to come. I like this one a lot.

Tracks:
Wait Like A Lady
And I Never Did
Get Along, Handsome
Comfortable
This Isn’t An Ordinary Love Song
Weddin’
I’m Letting Go
What If
Ollabelle and Slim
Rider

Patti Dahlstrom – Patti Dahlstrom [1972]

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Rip It Up

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 29, 2008

Riches abound at YouTube this morning. I never got further than the first item on my list of things to look for.

I’m not exactly sure when this video was shot, but it seems to have been on the same tour in England that brought about the album Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton. At least, it’s around the same time. Among the Friends mentioned yesterday, I didn’t see Tex Johnson or Rita Coolidge here, but they may be hidden behind speakers or amps. All of the other Friends I mentioned yesterday are here: Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Price, Bobby Keys and Eric Clapton. And there are two guests, one very visible and the other, it seems, not seen on the video but mentioned by Delaney at the end. Those guests are George Harrison and Billy Preston.

For me, this is about as good as it gets.

Video deleted.

A Few Notes
In the older essay about the summer of 1972 that I posted the other day, I said that the drafting of young men into the U.S. military ended by 1971. A reader named David, a year younger than I, sent me a pleasant note telling me that the draft was active at least a couple years more and his lottery number was 254. I was confused, as I was certain that the law authorizing the draft had lapsed in 1971. So I took a look at Wikipedia, which reports that the law did lapse but that Congress, after some wrangling, passed a two-year extension. I would imagine that, having gotten No. 354 in the lottery for men born in 1953, I was relieved enough that I paid no attention to what Congress did about the draft. No matter what the reason might have been for my being unaware of the dates, I should have checked them before I posted the essay. Thanks for the heads-up, David!

David, along with reader Yah Shure, also noted that a book about rock history, referred to in my post regarding Alex Taylor, was written by Lillian Roxon, not Ronson. I should note, then, that the quote I posted about James Taylor’s music likely did not come from that book. Taylor’s album, Sweet Baby James, came out in 1970, and Roxon’s book was first published in 1969. So I’m not sure where I read the quote about Taylor’s music, but I read it somewhere. It’s too good a quote for me to have made up!

And then, about yesterday’s post, which touched vaguely on science fiction’s place in leading me to be a writer: Had I known as I wrote on Wednesday morning that Arthur C. Clarke had died the day before, I certainly would have mentioned it. In fact, it might have been an entirely different post. Of the few writers I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Clarke is likely the one I would have tagged as the best, based on his ability to generate a story that grabs one’s attention, is based in the facts of science and is well-written throughout. As a farewell, I thought it would be appropriate to share a couple of lines from one of Clarke’s most famous characters (created with Stanley Kubrick, certainly), the HAL 9000 computer.

“I’m sorry, Dave, but I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”