Archive for the ‘2008/05 (May)’ Category

Saturday Single No. 74

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 31, 2008

As the month of May prepares to take her exit, I am – once more – casting about for a song to share on what looks as if it will be a rainy Saturday. There’s sunshine as I write this, but the weatherfolk tell us that rain and thundershowers are quite possible for a good portion of the day.

I’d like to commemorate the month of May, but there are – oddly – very few songs in the mp3 collection that would help me do so. The most obvious is “First of May” by the Bee Gees from Odessa, but we’re on the wrong end of the month for that. There are, unless I’ve missed something, three other songs that deal with May as a month:

“Regions of May,” is a pleasant ballad from Pearls Before Swine, the late-1960s group that centered on the vision and music of Tom Rapp. The song, which came from the group’s 1967 album, One Nation Underground, likely comes across better in the company of the rest of the album.

“Song on a May Morning” is by Canterbury Fair, a California group that focused on psychedelic rock. The track is from the group’s only album, a self-titled 1969 release, and it’s a little bland; besides, it’s hard to hear the words for all the swirling keyboards.

“Hills of May,” is a nice but not all that special folky entry by Julie Felix and comes from her Clotho’s Web album, released in 1972. Felix released numerous folk-styled albums between 1964 and the mid-1970s, with a few popping up since then. Some of them – including Clotho’s Web – have found their way to CD.

Since those three leave me, well, not much moved, what about songs recorded in May? As mentioned in April, I have session data for a large enough chunk of the mp3s in my collection to make such a search potentially interesting.

In fact, one of the earliest-recorded songs I have was recorded in May: Nora Bayes’ “Homesickness Blues,” laid down on May 4, 1916. (One of these days, I am going to share one of these pre-1920 tracks just for the fun of it. Not today, though.)

Some of the acts that pop up in the 1920s are Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, Long Cleve Red and Little Harvey Hull, Alberta Hunter and Fats Waller, Dick Justice, Didier Hébert, the Carter Family and the superlative Bessie Smith, known in her day as “The Empress of the Blues.” She recorded “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” in New York City on May 15, 1929. (I’ve always thought that particular title was written and recorded as a response to the financial crash of October 1929 and the resulting economic upheaval – including the Great Depression – that followed. Based on the recording date listed here – and I cross-checked it against the notes on my vinyl copy’s jacket – Smith’s version of the song predates the crash by at least five months, and I know there was an earlier version by Ida Cox, another classic blues singer.)

Numerous names that were stellar in the early folk, country and blues world pop up as having recorded during May in the 1930s: Bukka White, Charlie Patton, Son House, Blind Blake, Ken Maynard, Alfred Lewis, Gitfiddle Jim, the marvelously named Coon Creek Girls and more. John Lee Williamson, the first Sonny Boy, had a pretty good day at the Leland Hotel in Aurora, Illinois, on May 5, 1937: He recorded at least four blues songs, two of which were the classics “Good Morning School Girl” and “Bluebird Blues.” Also in Aurora that same day (in the Leland, too, one supposes), Robert Lee McCoy made his first record, performing “Night Hawk Blues,” the song that would give him a new name. From then until his death in 1967, McCoy recorded and performed as Robert Nighthawk.

The 1940s find more May sessions from John Lee Williamson as well as recordings during the month from Tampa Red, Jazz Gillum and the great Memphis Minnie (“I Got To Make A Change Blues,” May 21, 1941). Other names of interest that show up as having May recording dates during the decade are Wynonie Harris, Champion Jack Dupree, Dinah Washington (she would find huge fame in the 1950s) and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

During a session in Charlottesville, Virginia, on May 29, 1950, folk-blues artist Pink Anderson recorded a song – “He’s In The Jailhouse” – that would become far more familiar to a wide audience fifty years later in the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Other May sessions during the 1950s saw recordings by blues and R&B performers Wynonie Harris, Mabel Scott, Big Maybelle and Big Joe Turner. Rock & roll makes an entrance in 1956 when a May 9 session in New Orleans finds Little Richard recording “Ready Teddy,” “Hey Hey Hey Hey” and “Rip It Up.” The last May session of the 1950s in my collection has French songbird Edith Piaf recording “Milord” on May 8, 1959 in New York.

In the early 1960s, May sessions list the names of vintage blues performers Daddy Hotcakes and the team of Edith North Johnson & Henry Brown. From there, the names of the performers become more familiar: the Ronettes, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Tim Hardin. In 1966, Bob Dylan and the Band account for one of the most famous of the May recordings in my lists: The version of “Like A Rolling Stone” from the May 17 concert in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England. (Man in crowd: “Judas!” Bob Dylan: “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar!” Then, to The Band: “Play f—ing loud!”)

And maybe we should stop right there. Over the next forty-two years, a few more May recordings pop up in my collection. (Only about ten percent of the collection, at most, has annotation that detailed.) Some of those names on those recordings are Richie Havens, Taj Mahal, George Harrison, Derek and the Dominos, Bruce Springsteen, Carole King and Emmylou Harris. Interesting names, all, but finally, not as interesting as that slice of history known as the “Albert Hall” concert.

So here’s Bob Dylan and The Band’s May 17, 1966, version of “Like A Rolling Stone,” today’s Saturday Single.

Bob Dylan & The Band – “Like A Rolling Stone” [1966]

(Ripped from The Bootleg Series Vol. 7, No Direction Home: The Soundtrack, 2005)

‘The X-Rays . . . Look Odd’

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 30, 2008

Someone whose name I never knew saved my life thirty-four years ago this week.

I’d returned to St. Cloud from my academic year in Denmark on May 21, and by May 28, I was coughing every five minutes, feeling weak and winded. For a couple nights, I slept sitting up because every time I lay on my back, I started coughing uncontrollably. I’d started smoking during my last weeks in Denmark and had continued when I came home; thinking the cigarettes were the culprits, I laid them aside. But I continued to cough, and I felt weaker every day.

Finally, my mother took me to our family doctor. He tapped my chest, listened to my lungs and all that, and he sent me to the local hospital for some X-rays. At the hospital, when the X-rays had been shot, the technician asked me to wait there until he was sure they came out all right. I sat there with Mom, reading magazines and coughing. At length, the technician came out. He said, “The X-rays are all right, but they look odd. I’d like you to stay here until I can have a doctor look at them.”

And that almost certainly saved my life.

A doctor on call looked at the X-rays and had me admitted to the hospital. For half an hour or so, I went through tests – one of which determined how long I could exhale, in other words, lung capacity. I had blood drawn for lab work. About three hours or so after Mom and I walked in, I was sitting up in a bed – reading the morning paper, I think – waiting to find out what was going on.

And a doctor, a nurse and two orderlies – all with grim faces – came literally running into my room, the orderlies hauling an oxygen tank. The doctor watched as the nurse threaded a plastic tube through my nose and down into my breathing passage. She connected it to the tank and one of the orderlies turned the valve, sending oxygen into my lungs. The doctor said that no one knew why, but my lungs had – over the past week – filled with fluid to an alarming degree. I was drowning.

The doctors who cared for me in the next week gave some information to my parents that they did not share with me. From what I learned later, as I understand it (and I’ve never done much digging), the amount of oxygen, or O2, present in the blood is measured so that a normal level is somewhere around 100. When one’s O2 level drops to 50, some very bad things can occur. When it drops to 35, things get much worse. And – again, as I understand it from many years ago – when it drops to 25, one does not have much of a future. I have been told that my O2 level as I went through those tests that afternoon was 32.

That explains the grim faces on the doctor, the nurse and the orderlies.

That evening, I was moved to a room with an oxygen tank built into the walls and was given one of those oxygen masks with the nozzles that fit into one’s nose, which was much more comfortable. The internist assigned to my case told my parents and me that he was going to put me on Prednisone, a steroid. Over the course of a week, that cleared the fluid in my lungs, and doctors determined that there had been no permanent damage. I was very lucky. But the doctors never figured out why my lungs had filled; they called it an allergic reaction of unknown origin.

So I went home breathing and whole. My doctors, being understandably cautious, recommended that my activities be limited for at least the first six weeks of summer. I negotiated with them the right to walk every morning to the neighborhood grocery store a block away to buy a newspaper. And for the first half of the summer of 1974, that was just about all I was allowed to do. Oh, I imagine my folks took me out to dinner, and I know friends stopped by. But I was strongly discouraged from leaving the house on my own for anything other than that brief morning walk.

That was difficult enough for a man of twenty who was beginning to feel much better. But worse yet, I continued to take the Prednisone through the summer, and the drug had an effect on me similar to what I imagine low-grade speed would. I could sleep no more than six to seven hours a night, and when I was awake, I wanted to go, go, go. Those six weeks got long, and it was a major relief in July when I was allowed to leave home every weekday and work four to five hours at St. Cloud State’s Learning Resources Center.

Luckily, I had things to read – nearly nine months’ worth of Sports Illustrated and Time, which my dad had set aside for me while I was in Denmark – and I had music: Records in the rec room in the basement; the piano in the dining room; my guitar, which I played as I sat in our front yard overlooking the street; and radio, which was on as background most of the rest of the time, especially in the evenings, when I read late into the night.

Here’s some of what I heard that summer, thirteen songs pulled from the Billboard Top 100 for June 1, 1974:

A Selected Baker’s Dozen from 1974
“Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins, Epic single 11115 (No. 98 as of June 1, 1974)

“Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae, T.K. single 1004 (No. 93)

“Keep on Smilin’” by Wet Willie, Capricorn single 0043 (No. 81)

“Waterloo” by Abba, Atlantic single 3035 (No. 76)

“Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation, RCA single 0232 (No. 71)

“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan, ABC single 11439 (No. 55)

“Let It Ride” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Mercury single 73457 (No. 50)

“If You Wanna Get To Heaven” by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, A&M single 1515 (No. 45)

“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia single 46007 (No. 33)

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield, Virgin single 55100 (No. 25)

“Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” by the Main Ingredient, RCA single 0205 (No. 24)

“Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John, MCA single 40198 (No. 21)

“Help Me” by Joni Mitchell, Asylum single 11034 (No. 8 )

A few notes:

When I do a Baker’s Dozen, I usually let the RealPlayer select the songs randomly, so I always hear at least a snippet of each song. Today, I selected the songs from the Billboard list, so I heard bits of only a few. “Please Come To Boston” was not one of those I heard this morning, but I find as I think about it that it rings more clearly in my head than almost any other song on this list, throwing – as it were – echoes around the canyon. Was it that good a song? Or was it just pervasive? It peaked at No. 5 that summer, Loggins’ only hit, and it was, I guess, a not-bad chip from the singer-songwriter block. But in the end, more pervasive than good.

I wrote a few weeks ago that Wet Willie sometimes gets overlooked when talk turns to southern rock of the Seventies. The same is true with “Keep On Smilin’.” There wasn’t much southern about it, at least not what a listener would expect of a Capricorn release. But it was fun, it moved along nicely, and it had a good vocal and a good hook.

“Rock the Boat” is another one of those songs whose lyrics roll through my head without hesitation whenever I stop to think about it. The song reached No. 1 that summer, another example of the value of a good hook.

“Tubular Bells” began as an LP with two long compositions, one on each side. The single came about when an edit of Oldfield’s composition was selected for use as the theme to the movie The Exorcist, which came out in 1973. The single was released after the film’s success and eventually made its way to No. 7.

I tend to think that “Help Me” is the best thing Joni Mitchell has ever recorded over the course of her long career.

One day in July, having received approval from my doctors, my folks let me drive to the local mall on my own. There wasn’t a lot to do there, although I imagine I checked out the paperbacks at the drug stores and then looked through LPs at Musicland and Woolworth’s. But to be out on my own again was liberating, and I sat on one of the benches in the mall, sipping a soft drink, just watching that bit of the world. As I did, I heard from the sound system of a nearby store “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” And for more than thirty years, that song has been to me the sound of freedom and relief.

Eddie & The Boss & His Friends

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 29, 2008

Digging at YouTube into Monday’s Baker’s Dozen:

Not withstanding the numerous times I’ve heard Bob Dylan perform it, the most gripping version I’ve ever heard of “Masters of War” came from Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Filmed during the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary celebration in 1992, Vedder – accompanied by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready as well as G.E. Smith – left the audience spell-bound. (The same happened, I’m sure, to those who saw the video and heard the album when they were released.)

Video blocked.

And here’s Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band performing “Bring ’Em Home” on Conan O’Brien’s late night show, June 23, 2006. This is the audio I posted last year for the Memorial Day Baker’s Dozen.

Video deleted.

Some Tales From Abbey Road

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 28, 2008

It’s been a while since I read a book about the Beatles.

And it’s been a long while since anything about the Beatles interested and intrigued me as much as my current reading has. It’s the 2006 memoir of Geoff Emerick, the engineer whose work helped shape much of the Beatles’ catalog. Co-written with Howard Massey, Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, is a fascinating account of the years during which the Beatles were doing something new almost every time they stepped into the studios.

Emerick was 15 when he was hired by EMI, the British company that owned, among other things, some record labels and a recording studio complex on London’s Abbey Road. Not long after his hiring, EMI’s Parlophone label signed the Beatles, and by the time the group was recording Revolver in 1966, Emerick was pretty much their full-time recording engineer (although he worked other artists’ sessions, too). In 1969, Emerick left EMI in 1969 to join the Beatles at Apple.

I’m don’t know yet how that move came about. I’m currently reading about early 1968 and the unhappy sessions for The Beatles (generally known as The White Album). As grim as those sessions were for the Beatles, for producer George Martin and for Emerick and his fellow engineers, there is a fascination there, an awareness of the train wreck about to happen. But the book also holds my interest in Emerick’s tales of how the Beatles’ records were created: When they needed a certain sound, a certain effect, from Revolver on, it was Emerick’s job to create it. For example, when John Lennon said he wanted his vocal for “Tomorrow Never Knows” to sound “like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountain top,” Emerick found the electronic formula to create the effect.

And he was mighty good at it. Emerick notes in the book that he was disappointed when he wasn’t credited for his work on the jacket of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but he adds that his work was noticed by his peers: He was awarded a Grammy for 1967 for the Best Engineered Album.

Along with the tales of how the sounds of the Beatles’ records were accomplished, Emerick gives his readers vivid and sometimes new sketches of the characters of the four Beatles. Maybe tales of the high-jinks and the nitty-gritty of who played what part on what song have already been told – it’s been a long time since I read anything about the Beatles, and there have been books in that interim that I have missed – but as well as having a good ear, Emerick seems to have a good eye. He noticed who was pleased or displeased by the way a session went, and he could tell which Beatles were truly engaged in a project and has some good ideas why or why not.

It’s a quick read but an interesting one, and I’d wager that anyone interested in the Beatles – that might include most music fans, I’d guess – would find a few hours spent with the book to be a good investment.

Delaney & Bonnie – D&B Together
As I was reading about early 1968 last evening, reflecting on the imminent break-up of the Beatles, a song from Delaney & Bonnie’s 1972 album D&B Together popped up on the player. “Ah,” I thought, “another partnership in the process of dissolving.”

D&B Together was the sixth or seventh album the duo made with their collection of friends. (Genesis, listed on All-Music Guide as a 1971 album, is – I believe – a collection of outtakes from very early sessions, so I discount that as an album. But AMG lists an album titled Country Life on Atco in 1972, and I know nothing about that album. Anyone out there?) But regardless of whether it was Number Six or Number Seven, it was the last. The partnership of the two singers – musical and marital – was coming to an end.

For the most part, that last album is a good collection of country-rock with the gospel and R&B inflections that charged the duo’s best albums. For me, the question always arises: How much of the credit for their good and great albums belongs to Delaney & Bonnie, and how much should go to their famous friends? I’m not sure how one would divide the credit, but as good as Delaney and Bonnie were, the quality of their records was at least in part due to their ability to attract superlative musicians into the studio. On the other hand, Delaney was a very good producer. And all of those factors were assets on D&B Together.

Here’s some information from the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of the album (a reissue that seems to be difficult to find, if not out of print):

On “Only You Know And I Know,” guitar work comes from Dave Mason and Eric Clapton.

Tina Turner joins the duo on “Sound Of The City.”

“Comin’ Home” features work once more by Clapton and Mason, and Clapton also joins in on “Groupie (Superstar),” the Bonnie Bramlett/Leon Russell composition that was a hit for the Carpenters in a slightly bowdlerized version.

A quote from Delaney is a little unclear, but if I read it correctly, Duane Allman – in what had to be one of his last bits of session work – added guitar on “A Good Thing (I’m On Fire)”.

The next-to-last track on the album “I Know Something Good About You,” has a pretty good cast, too: King Curtis (in what must have been one of his final sessions, as well), Billy Preston, Bobby Womack, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Wilson Pickett and a singer Delaney identifies in the comments about the track as Aretha. (Franklin? She’s not mentioned in the long list of general credits, but neither is any other Aretha. And at the end of the list – compiled in 2002 – Delaney writes: “If I left anybody out, I’m sorry, I’m old.”)

Other musicians of note mentioned in that long list were Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Larry Knechtel, Bobby Whitlock, Steve Cropper, James Jamerson and Merry Clayton. (Somewhere in the notes, I also saw a mention of drummer Jim Keltner but I don’t see his name on the list.)

So, as usual, Delaney and Bonnie drew a pretty good crowd of friends. And they did a pretty good job. I don’t know if the album is up to the standard of their earlier albums, but it’s not far off. Highlights for me are the gospelly “Wade In The River Of Jordan,” “Comin’ Home,” “Move ’Em Out” with its great sax solo (likely by Keys) and “A Good Thing (I’m On Fire).” Disappointments? Only a couple: I’m not fond of the version of “Groupie (Superstar)” and I could do without the string-laden and overly long intro to “Country Life,” a song Delaney co-wrote with Bobby Whitlock.

Track listing:
Only You Know And I Know
Wade In The River Of Jordan
Sound Of The City
Well, Well
I Know How It Feels To Be Lonely
Comin’ Home
Move ’Em Out
Big Change Comin’
A Good Thing (I’m On Fire)
Groupie (Superstar)
I Know Something Good About You
Country Life

Delaney & Bonnie – D&B Together [1972]

‘Down By The Highway Side’

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 27, 2008

When one thinks of cover songs, I’m not sure that recordings of blues songs written long ago are what come to mind. One generally thinks of cover songs in the context of being able to compare the cover versions to a relatively recent original. And in the case of many of the classic blues songs, the original can be hard to determine, if not lost to history.

There are, of course, some blues songs that we can trace back to a writer: There are the twenty-nine songs written by Robert Johnson. Charlie Patton, who was born about twenty years earlier than Johnson, no doubt wrote many more blues songs than that during his lifetime. (The box set titled Complete Recordings, 1929-1934, available in numerous places, gathers in more than ninety recordings, many of which, if not all, are credited to Patton. That’s a set that’s high on my wish list.) In between the two – born eleven years after Patton and nine years before Johnson – came Son House, creator during his recording days of many songs as well.

I’m being imprecise about the work of Patton and House, I know. Their work came a few years earlier and their catalogs are larger than Johnson’s. The very slenderness of Johnson’s recorded catalog – twenty-nine songs, forty-two recordings – makes it easy to deal with. (My music collection includes Johnson’s complete recordings, but neither Patton’s nor House’s.)

In addition, there is a difficulty in crediting writers of blues songs – especially those songs created in, say, the first half of the twentieth century. Improvising singers would borrow a line from here, a figure of speech from there and a snippet of dialogue from another place: Did that make a new song? In the folk, early country and early blues tradition, it did. A new legal copyright? These days, likely not. (It’s interesting to realize that what those early blues singers were doing was similar to what today’s studio masters do when they sample other recordings for their own uses.) Johnson, no doubt, did the same; I’m not a blues historian, but I know that themes and ideas and language similar to those in Johnson’s works have been found in earlier works, as was common in the blues tradition. So how can the copyrights be Johnson’s and now belong to his heirs? I dunno. That’s a question for lawyers. On an artistic level, Johnson’s blues are clearly distinct from those that came before in their dark vision and their lyrical complexity (not to mention musical virtuosity).

(Again, I’m not a blues scholar; I know the history of the music fairly well for an amateur, I think, and I’m more or less just wandering through this thicket without notes. If I overstate or understate or ignore something, let me know.)

Anyway, acknowledging that to some degree or another, Patton, House and Johnson built their own songs on those that had come before, I think they’d still have to be considered three of the six most important blues writers ever. (The other three? Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie McTell – the first pretty much a contemporary of Patton, House and Johnson, with McTell coming along a little later – and Willie Dixon, who wrote an astounding number of blues songs for Chess Records during the 1950s and 1960s. Where’s W.C. Handy? Seventh, eighth, ninth – I don’t know.)

So it’s not hard at all to find covers of the songs written by Patton, House and Johnson, as many of those songs have become central to how we hear the blues today. That’s been true even when the original writer got no credit; for years, early blues songs were credited as “traditional” at best. Performers and producers often took writing credit for the songs, too. That practice has generally ended, mostly as a result of the two separate eras of increased awareness of the blues, in the 1960s and since 1991, although one can still find the occasional record or CD label that fails to credit Johnson, House, Patton or another early blues artist for the writing of a song that’s historically known to belong to one of them.

One performer who’s never been anything but accurate in crediting his influences and sources has been Eric Clapton. Throughout his career, he’s cited Johnson’s work as one of the touchstones of his own work. And in 2004, Clapton released an album he said he’d wanted to release for some time: Me and Mr. Johnson, a fourteen-song collection of Johnson’s blues. Later that year came another treat for those of us who are fans of both Clapton and Johnson: Sessions for Robert J, an eleven-song CD accompanied by a DVD that chronicled the four sessions that created the CD.

One of those sessions took place during June 2004 in a dark room of a decaying building at 508 Park Avenue in downtown Dallas, Texas. According to records long thought lost but that had come to light in recent years, that room was almost certainly the same one in which Robert Johnson had recorded in June 1937. Clapton and Doyle Bramhall II ran through five of Johnson’s songs as the light faded.

The Texas Gal and I spent Christmas 2004 with her family near Dallas. That morning, one of her gifts to me was Sessions for Robert J. After dinner that day, she and I drove into downtown Dallas and picked our way through the streets to Park Avenue. I walked up to the front door of 508 Park Avenue, now gated and locked. Without success, I tried to imagine how Park Avenue would have looked when Robert Johnson went through that doorway, a doorway that Eric Clapton would pass through in 2004, sixty-seven years later.*

Here’s the original “Me and the Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson, recorded June 20, 1937 at 508 Park Avenue in Dallas and released as Vocalion 4108, and a cover, “Me and the Devil Blues” by Eric Clapton with Doyle Bramhall II, recorded June 3, 2004, at 508 Park Avenue in Dallas and released on Sessions for Robert J.

Robert Johnson – “Me and the Devil Blues” [1937]

Eric Clapton – “Me and the Devil Blues” [2004]

*In the interest of full disclosure, the photo of 508 Park Avenue was taken on our second visit to the site in the spring of 2007. When this post was first published, a reader noted that Google’s street view of that address showed a different building. It did, indeed, but Google’s location was wrong and has since been corrected. Note added June 29, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen For Memorial Day 2008

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 26, 2008

As I keep reading the same things in the newspapers and magazine and on the ’Net, and as I keep hearing and seeing the same things on television and radio as I did a year ago, it seems fitting to present here today the same things I did a year ago.

Maybe next year can be different.

“Requiem for the Masses” by the Association, Warner Bros. single 7074, 1967

“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” by Phil Ochs from Rehearsals For Retirement, 1969

“War” by Edwin Starr, Gordy single 7101, 1970

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Peter, Paul & Mary from Peter, Paul & Mary, 1962

“One Tin Soldier (Legend of Billy Jack)” by Coven, Warner Bros. single 7509, 1971

“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie from It’s My Way!, 1964

”Masters of War” by Bob Dylan from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1962

“Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon), Apple single 1809, 1969

“2+2=” by the Bob Seger System from Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, 1968

“Handsome Johnny” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag, 1967

“Bring The Boys Home” by Freda Payne, Invictus single 9092, 1971

“All The Young Women” by the Cuff Links from Tracy, 1970

“Bring ’Em Home” by Bruce Springsteen from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) [live in Detroit, most likely], 2006

As I noted a year ago, times have changed enough since Freda Payne, Peter, Paul & Mary, and the Cuff Links recorded their songs that we now need to bring the girls home, and we need to grieve with all the young men who have lost loved ones. The Springsteen track is a different version than a year ago.

Saturday Single No. 73

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 24, 2008

My use of the word “single” in the title of this weekly feature, as regular visitors to this valley know, is perhaps misleading: The songs presented here on Saturdays have not always been issued as singles. Some of them no doubt have been, either on 45s or on CDs. But if so, that’s coincidental. The point of the weekly discussion is to focus on a single track. And of course, sometimes I cheat there, as I occasionally present a pair of recordings for what seems to me to be a good reason. I don’t think I’ve ever done three at a time; if I did, I’d likely call it something different, maybe “A Three-Ring Circus.” (And the internal lights go on: someone is finally at home in my cranium on this sleepy Saturday, and that idea may be too good to just mention here and forget about. A circus may be in this blog’s future.)

Last week, I presented here the list I left at a board called Groovy Fab, my list of the best ten albums from the years 1950-1976. And I ended the post with the song “Comin’ Back To Me” from Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow album, which I’d ranked No. 6. (As the notes added to last week’s post indicate, I had a brief colloquy with the Half-Hearted Dude, who suggested that Otis Redding’s Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul and an album by Aretha Franklin might have found a place on my list. I replied that Otis Blue and Aretha’s Lady Soul would have made the list if it had been fifteen places long, and I added that No. 11 on my list was Marvin Gaye’s classic album What’s Going On.)

At about the same time, a member at Groovy Fab asked readers to list their favorite single. Most folks listed three, so I did as well: “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, “We” by Shawn Phillips and “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt. I then added, “Honorable mention to ‘Wild Horses’ by the Rolling Stones. And if the Beatles had ever released ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’ as a single, there would be no doubt about my No. 1.”*

(Four of those five are no doubt familiar. The Shawn Phillips song was on his 1972 Faces album and was released as a single in 1974 without making the Top 40. I posted it here once, and will likely find a reason to do so again some day.)

Having listed ten great albums and three favorite singles at Groovy Fab, I got to wondering what would happen if I combined those concepts? If I made a list of my favorite single tracks from those ten albums in my list, what would I find?

Well, “Summer Rain” would be there, but what else would we find? And even as I write that question, I do not know the answer. I’m going to make these decisions on the fly here, because – as I have noted in these precincts at least once – it’s more fun to do things without a net. And here’s the list I presented last week:

1. Abbey Road, the Beatles, 1969

2. The Band, The Band, 1969

3. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan, 1975

4. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, 1975

5. Exile on Main Street, the Rolling Stones, 1972

6. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane, 1967

7. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973

8. Déjà Vu, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970

9. Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East, Allman Brothers Band, 1971

10. Realization, Johnny Rivers, 1968

Boy, a tough one right at the top. I love the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley that almost closes Abbey Road. (“Her Majesty” actually closes the record, of course.) I don’t think Paul McCartney has provided us many vocal performances better than on “Oh Darling.” And I have what must be a juvenile affinity – easy to ignore, thank goodness – for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” But the best track on the record remains the first one I ever heard: John Lennon’s “Come Together.”

I got The Band as a Christmas present long before I ever heard Music From Big Pink or any of the legendary performances of The Band with Bob Dylan, so the twelve tracks on the group’s second album were all I knew of the group for a very long time. As good as “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” are, they’ve also become a little tired, so that cuts the number of great songs down to ten from twelve. But three truly stand out to me, and the sad elegy of “Whispering Pines” and the mournful “Unfaithful Servant” are eclipsed only by the autumnal regret and frustration of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).”

I wrote a bit about Blood On The Tracks earlier this week, and readers might reasonably conclude that my favorite track from the album is “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” They’d be right. Second place? Maybe “Tangled Up In Blue” or “Shelter From The Storm,” but more likely “If You See Her, Say Hello.”

I know that many Springsteen fans think that “Thunder Road” is the apex of Springsteen’s body of work. It’s a good song and recording, without a doubt, starting quietly and slowly insinuating its way into your ears and heart. But I’ll go with the booming, throbbing title track: I’m way too old for the kind of running the narrator and his girl are considering, but every time I hear “Born To Run,” the record is powerful enough to make me wish for an instant that I’d done more running toward the edge and less staying safe in the middle when I was younger.

The singles from Exile On Main Street were “Tumbling Dice” (No. 7) and “Happy” (No. 22) but they were hardly the only great tracks from this sprawling, bluesy and decadent album. Out of an absurd excess of riches, I guess I’d choose “Stop Breaking Down,” mostly because it’s one of the greatest covers ever of one of Robert Johnson’s sublime blues.

I shared “Comin’ Back To Me” from Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow here last week, and nothing had happened in the past week to change my belief that it’s the best song on that great album.

Now we come to the problem with true concept albums, at least those whose tracks tend to blend into one another: On further review of an earlier statement, only two tracks from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon can really stand alone as separate entities without sounding utterly incomplete: “Money” and “Time.” I’d earlier thought the same thing of “Us and Them,” but I have changed my mind. “Us and Them” might be the heart of the album – and a stunning song – but it works imperfectly as a stand-alone because it blends so seamlessly into “Any Colour You Like” and the album-ending duo of “Brain Damage/Eclipse.” “Money” has never done much for me, so we fall to “Time,” which works as a single track because of its alarm-clock beginning and its fade-out before the start of “The Great Gig in the Sky.” “Time” is also sublimely depressing in its assertion: “No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.”

I once selected Graham Nash’s sweet “Teach Your Children” – from Déjà Vu – as one of the ten songs I’d take to a desert island. It’s still a great song, probably the best thing Nash has written in a long career, but does it still hold up, when directly compared to the other songs on a great album? Well, I think so. Neil Young’s “Helpless” comes close, as does Stephen Stills’ “Carry On,” the album’s opener, and the group’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” But I’ll stick with “Teach Your Children,” quite possibly the only song I’d still choose from that desert island list of twenty years ago. (I need to find that list and share it here; it would be interesting.)

The Allman Brothers Band’s 1971 Fillmore East album – released in numerous configurations in the years since the advent of the CD – remains the group’s high point. By September of that year, Duane Allman was gone, and the group went into the second phase of its existence. It might be understandable to select one of the longer tracks, either the twenty-two minute “Whipping Post” or the thirteen-minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” But to me, the band’s brilliance shines most in the album’s first track, the group’s concise and superb version of Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.”

I listed “Summer Rain” from Realization as my favorite single of all time, so there’s no point in digging into the album any further.

That’s a pretty good list of single tracks:

“Come Together” by the Beatles

“King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” by The Band

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan

“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen

“Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones

“Comin’ Back To Me” by the Jefferson Airplane

“Time” by Pink Floyd

“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

“Statesboro Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers

And pulled from that list, partly on a whim and partly because it’s possibly the least familiar track on the list (maybe tied with “Comin’ Back To Me”), “Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones is this week’s Saturday Single.

Rolling Stones – “Stop Breaking Down” [1972]

*Long-time readers will note the absence from my list of top singles the Association’s “Cherish.” To put it simply, I blew it while making my top three list at Groovy Fab. As I assemble this post for the archives, more than three years after writing it, “Cherish” remains at the top of my list of favorite singles, but my comment about “Back In The U.S.S.R.” still stands. Note added June 29, 2011.

Into The Junkyard On Friday Morning

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2008

I’ve got plenty of things waiting in the pile of music I eventually intend to post here. There’s one last Patti Dahlstrom record, three albums by Redwing, a country-rock group from the Seventies. Bonnie Bramlett, John Stewart. Michael Johnson, Kim Carnes, Gypsy. Malo, Romeo Void, Shawn Phillips and Steve Forbert.

That list could go much longer, as the records line up in the study, patiently waiting to be spun and heard once more. They’ll get their chances, but not today, at least not this morning.

In anticipation of the holiday weekend, the Texas Gal has taken the day off. While she will likely check in with her office via her newly issued laptop sometime during the day, we also plan to spend some time doing nothing together. And to get to that sooner, I won’t be ripping an album this morning or writing anything too deep or detailed.

Instead, here’s a random Walk Through the Junkyard, starting with a group that, surprisingly, has only popped up here three times, once with Bob Dylan.

“Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty, 1970

“Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys, Capitol single 5009, 1963

“Cattle and Cane” by the Go-Betweens from Hollywood, 1983

“A Thousand Miles” by Joy of Cooking from Closer to the Ground, 1971

“Ball of Twine” by Lightning Hopkins, Ash Grove, Hollywood, August 1961

“North Country Blues” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“Rise and Fall” by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band from The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, 1974

“A Sense of Deja Vu” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel, 1975

“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” by Michael McDonald, Warner Bros. single 29933, 1982

“For Your Love” by the Yarbirds, Epic single 9790, 1964

“Wallflower” by Doug Sahm from Doug Sahm and Band, 1973

“To The River” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Crystal” by Buckingham Nicks from Buckingham Nicks, 1973

“I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine, ABC single 12117, from the soundtrack to Nashville, 1976

A few notes:

“Truckin’” was released in two forms – the album version here and a single (Warner Bros. 7464) that ran 3:16, almost two minutes shorter than the album track. Considering the state of radio and the state of the culture at the time, I find it amazing that the single didn’t crack the Top 40, with its loopy and matter-of-fact tale of druggies and narcs, travel and blissful crash-pad paranoia. (When I hear the song, I can’t help flashing to Cheech & Chong a few years later: “Dave’s not here, man.”) All of which proves the truth in the song’s tagline: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

The Go-Betweens were a highly successful band in their native Australia and in Great Britain but were almost unknown in the U.S. during their early 1980s peak period. (The releases from those early years have since been released on CD in the U.S.) “Cattle and Cane” is a ballad with lush moments and an underlying edge that insinuates itself into one’s memory. For me, at least, it’s created an appetite for more.

Bob Dylan’s “North Country Blues” tells a tale of the iron mining milieu in which he grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota (home, for example, to the world’s largest open pit mine, essentially the world’s largest man-made hole in the ground). The song resonates with me, as I still see the occasional news piece about the hard life of mining in the northern part of the state and the hard times that come more and more regularly as the quantity and quality of the ore remaining in the ground continue to diminish.

The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – made up of the criminally ignored country rocker J.D. Souther, Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield – released three pretty good country-rock albums from 1973 to 1977. The self-titled first was likely the best, but the group never seemed to catch the attention of the listening public. All-Music Guide tags the ten songs on the album as a “collection of ten pleasant, if overall unremarkable tunes in the singer/songwriter, country-rock vein.” I think the record is a little better than that.

“For Your Love,” the single that drive Eric Clapton out of the Yardbirds because of its commerciality, is actually a pretty good record; it went to No. 6 in the U.S. No, it’s nowhere near the blues, but it’s a catchy tune, sonically (the lyrics are serviceable but nothing remarkable), and its memory can stay in a listener’s ear for a long time. For me, the song puts me in the halls of my junior high school, which is okay. As far as musical memories go, I’ve had better, but I have certainly had worse, too.

The sessions for Doug Sahm and Band, according to All-Music Guide, were something of a superstar jam session, with lots of famous friends of Sahm’s dropping in to hang out and lend a hand. Sahm, who first came to major public attention as the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1965 (“She’s About A Mover” went to No. 13), was a roots music enthusiast years before roots music (or Americana, if you prefer) was in vogue. Doug Sahm and Band is nothing other than roots music, ca. 1973. And yeah, that’s Bob Dylan on vocals; he wrote the song.

Back in the days when his manager called him Johnny Cougar and the Rolling Stone Record Guide called him “Meat Head” (1983 edition), who’d have thought that John Mellencamp would become an elder statesman of heartland rock? With his Rolling Stones meets Appalachia sound, Mellencamp has turned out a pretty good series of albums in the past twenty years (and some clinkers, too, but that happens in a long career). Human Wheels is a pretty bleak album, but it’s a good one, and “To The River” might be the best song on it.

The Airplane Gets Groovy

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 22, 2008

From a surplus of options at YouTube last week to slender pickings today. I found a few things that related to the last few days’ posts but nothing I really liked. (In the case of the Indigo Girls, nothing that I could post here; embedding had been disabled on a couple of very nice clips.)

So I wandered back to last Saturday and the Jefferson Airplane and found a clip of the group from the Smothers Brothers television show in 1967. The Airplane lip-synchs both of its hits – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” – in a couple of utterly psychedelic videos. (There’s an audio glitch in “Somebody to Love” that’s mildly annoying, but the video is worth watching anyway.)

News From Here & There

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 21, 2008

A few things from here and there:

JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has a new gig. He tells about his new occasional radio shifts – starting this Sunday – at WISM-FM, known as Magic 98 – in Madison, noting that he applied for a job at WISM’s AM side in 1983. JB notes, “Magic 98 is a bigger pond to swim in—higher ratings, stronger signal—with vastly different formatics to learn, but it’s also a whole lot closer to the kind of radio I was weaned on. So I suspect it’s going to be one hell of a lot of fun.”

You’ll find links at the blog to the station’s website and to a page showing JB’s radio schedule. Good luck with the gig, JB. Spin one for me!

My other compatriot from the Upper Midwest, Jeff from AM, Then FM, tells of taking his dad to a Dionne Warwick show at a local casino. Everything was gravy, he says, after Warwick’s second song, “Walk On By.” And Jeff provides links to Warwick’s version of the song as well as to two additional, intriguing versions of the Bert Bacharach/Hal David anthem.

Elsewhere on his blog, Jeff continues his “20 Songs from 20 Albums for $20” series, sharing the fruits of a recent vinyl purchase with tunes from the Bob Crewe Generation, Joe South and War.

At The College Crowd Digs Me, Casey continues his “Track Four” feature – following a tradition that helped his father and friends make it through college – by sharing and assessing “Alexis,” the fourth track on the James Gang’s 1973 album, Bang. Casey notes that at the time of the recording, the James Gang was actually a different band, what with the departure of Joe Walsh and the arrival of Tommy Bolin. Oddly enough, this is the third mention of the talented but ultimately doomed Bolin in just a week or so among the hundreds of blogs I scan every week. (If I could recall where those were, I’d provide links; as it is, I’ll likely be writing a little about Zephyr, Bolin’s first band, in the next few weeks.) As long as you’re at Casey’s joint, scroll down and look at his reading recommendations; in terms of subject, they’re all over the place, but in terms of quality, they’re top-notch.

At Bobby Jameson, my friend Bobby continues his memoirs, telling his tale of life in late-Sixties America (with a mid-Sixties sojourn in England already covered). In his fifty-fifth chapter, Jameson looks at where he was – pysically, mentally and emotionally – in 1968 as he headed toward the recording of his third album, Working! Bobby’s blog is not always fun reading, but it’s an open and honest look at one man’s journey through Southern California and its recording industry during the time we now call the Sixties.*

Jesse Colin Young, Together (1972)
All-Music Guide notes that Together, Jesse Colin Young’s first solo album since 1965, was recorded while the Youngbloods – the folk-rock group Youngblood organized in 1965 – were still together. As the Youngbloods effectively disbanded in 1972, one might assume that Young’s release of Together was effectively his declaration of separation from the group he’d headed since its inception.

But if the release of the album was a statement of purpose, the content of the album doesn’t exactly follow. It’s kind of a hodgepodge, a mix of things that really shouldn’t cling together as an album.

The album starts with three of the sweet and mellow folkie tunes that would more and more become Young’s stock in trade during his solo career. Then, Together takes the first of several odd turns with a not-quite-rocking piano-based rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.” It shouldn’t work, but it does, probably because Young’s distinctive voice ties the song into the rest of the record.

That same effect – voice as unifier – comes into play a little later when Young shifts from his earnest “Peace Song” into a rendition of the truck-driving tune, “Six Days on the Road.” Again, one would think that the country-ish tune wouldn’t fit into the mood of Northern California mellowness that Young projects, but it does. As do the following songs: Young’s rendition of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Creole Bell” and a bluesy take on on “1000 Miles From Nowhere,” a 1953 tune by Mercy Dee Walton better known as “One Room Country Shack” and recorded by many others, including Buddy Guy.

Young closes the record with performance of Nick Gravenites’ “Born in Chicago” and “Pastures of Plenty,” a song credited to “Woody Guthrie/Traditional.” And again, one might think that these separate parts of the album should grind gears rather than function as a whole. But it’s the voice, I guess, as well as Young’s seeming determination; it’s almost as if he willfully said, “It goes together because I say it does.”

And, oddly enough, Together holds together pretty well.

Helping Young out were Rick Anderson on harmonica, Pete Childs on guitar and dobro, Jerry Corbitt on vocals, Scott Lawrence on keyboards, Jeff Myer on drums, Eddy Offenstein on guitar, Ron Stallings and John Wilmeth on horns and Suzi Young on vocals.

The album has been released on CD but seems to be out of print, with copies currently priced at $40 or more. This is a rip from vinyl, with a few whispers of sound. I wish I could remember where I found the rip, but I don’t, so all I can do is offer a generic thanks.

Good Times
Sweet Little Child
Sweet Little Sixteen
The Peace Song
Six Days on the Road
Lovely Day
Creole Bell
1000 Miles From Nowhere
Born In Chicago
Pastures of Plenty

Jesse Colin Young – Together [1972]

*Since this was first posted, Bobby Jameson has created a cluster of blogs dealing with his history and his music. He’s posted a lot of music on YouTube, much of it unheard until the past few years. It’s well worth your time to wander through all of his online projects. Note added June 29, 2011.