Archive for the ‘2008/07 (July)’ Category

Saturday Single No. 81

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 19, 2008

While I told the tale of my friend Mike and his copy of the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” last Saturday, I dipped into the Billboard Hot 100 for July 18, 1970. That chart showed the Pipkins’ record at its peak spot of No. 9, having moved up from No. 11 a week earlier. Having verified that, I glanced quickly at the rest of the chart and closed the file, telling myself I’d have to get back and take a closer look sometime soon.

I did so last evening, and decided to use the chart – released thirty-eight years ago yesterday – and the movement of singles from the previous week’s chart – as I have done here at least once before – as a basis for song selection. After making some notes, I decided that I should limit my examination to the Top 40, as records ranked lower than that can make astounding leaps from week to week. And, as vast as my collection of mp3s is, there is a good chance that one of those leaping singles might be something I don’t have, like “The Sly, the Slick and the Wicked,” by the Lost Generation, which moved from No. 56 to No. 45, or “Stealing in the Name of the Lord” by Paul Kelly, which moved from No. 89 to No. 76.

As it was, I would have had one of the two singles that made the greatest leaps upward in the Hot 100, Edwin Starr’s “War,” which moved up twenty-eight spots from No. 72 to No. 44, a move equaled only by James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (Parts 1 and 2),” which entered the chart that week at No. 72. The largest tumble among songs below the Top 40 came from “She Cried” by the Lettermen, which fell fifteen spots from No. 74 to No. 88.

Digging around in the lower depths of the Hot 100 can be fascinating. There’s “Humphrey the Camel” by Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan at No. 85, “The Lights of Tucson” by Jim Campbell at No. 97, “Canned Ham” by Norman Greenbaum at No. 60, “That Same Old Feeling” by the wonderfully named Pickettywitch at No. 67, and so much more. But it’s best we get to the Top 40.

Riding at the top of the Top 40 during this week in July 1970 were the same two songs as had been there the week before: “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” by Three Dog Night at No. 1 and “The Love You Save/I Found That Girl” by the Jackson 5 at No. 2, but there was a fair amount of movement below those two.

Two records moved five spots from the previous week: “Johnnie Taylor’s “Steal Away” moved into the Top 40, going from No. 43 to No. 38, and “Tighter, Tighter” by Alive and Kicking moved up from No. 17 to No. 12. One song moved six spots: “I Just Can’t Help Believing” by B.J. Thomas rose from No. 36 to No. 30.

“Question” by the Moody Blues fell seven spots, from No. 27 to No. 34, as did “United We Stand” by the Brotherhood of Man, which went from No. 14 to No. 21. Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” moved up eight spots from No. 26 to No. 18.

Three songs moved ten places that week: Mark Lindsay’s “Silver Bird” rose from No. 39 to No. 29, Bread’s “Make It With You” jumped from No. 20 to No. 10, and “Which Way You Going Billy?” by the Poppy Family dropped from No. 23 to No. 33.

(As I wandered through the list, I realized that there were two records that tumbled remarkably from the previous week’s Top 40. “Spirit in the Dark” by Aretha Franklin had been at No. 35 on July 11, and Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful” had been at No. 29. Unless I’m utterly blind, neither record was in the Hot 100 a week later.)

There were just a few shifts of more than ten places between July 11 and July 18, 1970. “Lay A Little Lovin’ On Me” by Robin McNamara moved up eleven places, from No. 48 to No. 37. Moving down twelve places, from No. 8 to No. 20, was the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road/For You Blue.” And two records move fourteen places: “Sugar Sugar” by Wilson Pickett fell from No. 25 to No. 39, and “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon and War move up from No. 38 to No. 24.

And as upward movement trumps downward motion, that makes “Spill the Wine” – a little bit funky, a little bit hippie-ish – this week’s Saturday Single.

Eric Burdon & War – “Spill The Wine” [MGM 11418, 1970]

Another One From Darden Smith

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 18, 2008

One of the reasons for my vinyl madness of the 1990s was proximity: I first lived five blocks from Cheapo’s on Minneapolis’ Lake Street and then, after the store moved into larger digs (made possible, I am sure, by my patronage alone), about ten blocks from the store. As a result, between the beginning of 1992, which was about when I moved to the neighborhood, and the end of July 1999, I bought about 1,500 records, boosting the collection to about 2,300.

In August of 1999 (as I related here at least once), I moved further south in Minneapolis, about six miles from Cheapo’s but only maybe three miles from a Half-Price Books in the Highland Park area of St. Paul, just across the Mississippi River. I became a pretty regular customer at HPB (though not the super-regular I’d been at Cheapo’s.) I also found a Cheapo’s about another two miles further into St. Paul, and I spent some time and money there, too, but HPB was a more regular stop.

In the early days of 2000, about six weeks or so before I met the Texas Gal, I was struggling. In the past five months, I’d lost a good chunk of my health, I’d lost a job because of my ill health, and I’d lost a fiancée because of the depression I fell into after losing my health and my job. I was surviving, thanks to my parents being in a position to help and to several governmental agencies. With careful planning, I had $5 to $10 each month for music.

And, as I related at least once here before, Half-Price Books in Highland Park kept a cart near the front with its clearance CDs, almost all of them $1. In the middle of January, I’d found Darden Smith’s Little Victories there for a buck. Having liked it as well as I’d liked Evidence, the album Smith had recorded in 1989 with Brit Boo Hewerdine, I was looking for more.

On a Sunday trip near the end of January – the football playoffs must not have I interested me, or else I was too restless to watch – I found a Darden Smith CD titled Trouble No More. It, too, was $1, so it went out the door with me. I made a quick stop at the St. Paul Cheapo’s that afternoon, as well, and found a third Smith CD, Deep Fantastic Blue, for a couple bucks more. Satisfied, I went home.

Of the two, the later disc, Deep Fantastic Blue, is more adventurous, but Trouble No More is more quiet, more soothing, and it quickly became one of my favorites, never straying far from the Aiwa.

As I wrote the first time I posted anything by Darden Smith, his music “occupies a place somewhere near the intersection of country, folk, pop and rock.” It’s a fascinating place to stand, I think I wrote, but it’s a hard place from which to be promoted. And Trouble No More stands right at that intersection, accessible to folks who come to it from various directions.

The opener, “Midnight Train,” is one of the more clear-headed assessments of the rapid and dizzying feelings we go through during the course of our first enduring relationship.

“When I was seventeen
“As far as I could see
“All that mattered was running free
“But then I heard that midnight train
“Calling out your name, yeah,
“And oh baby, yeah, some things never change.”

I sat in my small living room in south Minneapolis, shaking my head, wondering why this guy wasn’t better known, a question that I still ponder almost nine years later, with six more of his CDs in the rack.

From the light-hearted love story of “Frankie & Sue” through the melancholy of “All the King’s Horses,” from the joy of “Trouble No More” through the sad acceptance of “Bottom of a Deep Well,” Smith’s music spoke to me in a way no performer’s music had for a long, long time. And Darden Smith’s name went on the list of performers whose stuff I will always buy.

Here’s Trouble No More.

Tracks:
Midnight Train
Frankie & Sue
All the King’s Horses
2000 Years
Ashes to Ashes
Fall Apart At the Seams
Trouble No More
Long Way Home
Listen To My Own Voice
Johnny Was A Lucky One
Bottom of a Deep Well

Darden Smith – Trouble No More [1990]

Simply Red & Northern Lights

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 17, 2008

The Simply Red song, “Money$ Too Tight (To Mention),” which popped up in a random Baker’s Dozen yesterday, is a good record, but my favorite song by the British group is the melancholy “Holding Back The Years,” also from 1985’s Picture Book album. (Both were released in 1986 as singles in the U.S., with “Money$ Too Tight (To Mention)” reaching No. 28 and “Holding Back The Years” going to No. 1.

Here’s a video for “Holding Back The Years.”

Staying within yesterday’s Baker’s Dozen, I looked at – but cannot post here – the video that was put together for Northern Lights’ anti-famine song, “Tears Are Not Enough.” Among the Canadian artists in the video, I recognized Gordon Lightfoot (who opens the song), Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bryan Adams. I also think I saw k. d. lang in there, but I’m not sure. Who else?

Note
When I wrote about Joan Baez’ album Any Day Now earlier this month, I said, “I think that Joan Baez’ Any Day Now was the first album made up entirely of covers of songs by Bob Dylan.”

Well, I was wrong.

I’d forgotten the 1965 album Odetta Sings Dylan, which I’ve seen mentioned occasionally but have never heard. And the All-Music Guide entry on that album – which it rates as very good – mentions an earlier album of Dylan covers, Linda Mason’s 1964 release, How Many Seas Must a White Dove Sail?

Does anybody know of any others?

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 16, 2008

I watched most of the (very long) baseball All-Star Game last night. The most affecting portion of the broadcast, to me, was the introduction of the starters, with each starter joining members of the Baseball Hall of Fame waiting for them at their positions. As the game was in Yankee Stadium, the Yankee Hall of Fame members were introduced last at each position, and the final Hall of Fame member to be introduced was Yogi Berra. That made sense to me. Berra is most likely the greatest living Yankee.

(Joe DiMaggio, who died in 1999, insisted to his last day on being introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer” because he was given that title during a celebration of professional baseball’s centennial in 1969. If one wanted to extend the title to a new claimant, I would imagine that “the greatest living ballplayer” now would be Willie Mays, although one could argue without looking silly for Stan Musial.)

Anyway, as I watched the introductions and then most of the rest of the game – staying up way after midnight to see the American League win – I thought about the two times the All-Star Game took place in Minnesota, in 1965 and in 1985. I was eleven when the 1965 game was played at Metropolitan Stadium, and I paid no attention. I paid little attention to baseball at all in those years, preferring to read and to listen to my James Bond soundtracks.

In 1985, I might have watched some of the game, which took place in the relatively new Metrodome, but I wasn’t all that interested. I was back in Minnesota after finishing my graduate coursework at the University of Missouri. I had a thesis to write, and I poked at that unenthusiastically. I wrote about the Wright County board for a pool of eight newspapers. I played a lot of tabletop baseball. And I kept house and listened to the radio a lot. For many reasons, it was not a happy time.

But I do recall a fair amount of the music that pops up when I run a random selection for 1985:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2
“My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Los Angeles Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Children’s Crusade” by Sting from The Dream of the Blue Turtles

“Turn Me Round” by A Drop In The Gray from Certain Sculptures

“Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears, Mercury single 880659

“This Is The Sea” by the Waterboys from This Is The Sea

“The Sweetest Taboo” by Sade, Portrait single 05713

“Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny)” by Prefab Sprout from Steve McQueen

“Just For You” by Quarterflash from Back Into Blue

“The Moon Is Full” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“Indoctrination (A Design For Living)” by Dead Can Dance from Spleen and Ideal

“Tears Are Not Enough” by Northern Lights, CBS single 7073 (Canada)

“One Dream” by the Dream Academy from The Dream Academy

“Money$ Too Tight (To Mention)” by Simply Red, Elektra single 69528

A few comments:

The Springsteen selection is, of course, from the massive (five LPs) box set of live performances that was released in 1986. Considering his accomplishments, I get the sense that Springsteen is a relatively humble man, but Live/1975-85 came across almost like bragging. On the other hand, as All-Music Guide notes, the “box set, including 40 tracks and running over three and a half hours, was about the average length of a [Springsteen] show.”

Certain Sculptures is the only album ever released by A Drop In The Gray, and it’s a pretty good one. I didn’t know about the group twenty-three years ago. In fact, I was only recently introduced to the group at The Vinyl District, one of my regular stops on the blog-reading circuit. I liked what I heard in TVD’s recent post, so I went and got some more from Certain Sculptures. A 1985 review from Trouser Press quoted at the blog notes that A Drop In The Gray had a sound “approximating an updated Moody Blues.”

There are, every year, records that almost no one can avoid hearing. In 1985, two of those were “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” Unless one lived in a remote corner of the universe, it seems, and watched only C-SPAN, you heard them somewhere, and you heard them frequently enough for those hooks to set in permanently. In fact, when someone says “1985” to me in the context of music, the Tears For Fears” record is one of several that come immediately to mind. (The others are “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty and “We Are The World.” I could get along for a long time without hearing that latter song again.)

On the other hand, I could always stand to hear more by the Waterboys. This Is The Sea is one of the great albums of the Eighties: Literate, melancholy, ambitious and maybe just a hair pretentious, but if the group’s ambition – maybe more accurately, leader Mike Scott’s ambition – exceeded its abilities, it wasn’t by much. And in general, I’d rather listen to something ambitious than something routine.

Speaking of “We Are The World,” the song “Tears Are Not Enough” was the Canadian effort on the album USA for Africa: We Are the World. “Tears” was written by Bryan Adams, David Foster, Rachel Paiement and Jim Vallance and was recorded by a large contingent of north-of-the-border musicians who called themselves Northern Lights for the exercise. Music by committee rarely turns out well, no matter how noble the cause, making “Tears Are Not Enough” a period piece at best, albeit one that’s not nearly as familiar as its U.S.-based cousin.

‘It’s Gonna Grab A Hold On You . . .’

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 15, 2008

The television commercial is, I think, for one of the national clothiers. Amid scenes of California – bridges, highways and streets, restaurants and golf courses – are pretty people wearing sharp new clothes. And in the background, a drumbeat ushers in a chorus of insistent strings for a few bars; the strings drop out and leave drumbeats and handclaps.

And then a distinctive voice half-sings, half-chants:

“Like a sound you hear
“That lingers in your ear
“But you can’t forget
“From sundown to sunset
“It’s all in the air
“You hear it everywhere
“No matter what you do
“It’s gonna grab a hold on you
“California soul, California soul.”

The first time I saw the commercial, I was likely doing something else, but the pulsing strings drew my attention. I was pretty sure I recognized the voice, but I absolutely recognized the song: “California Soul,” written by Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and first recorded on the 5th Dimension’s 1968 album Stoned Soul Picnic. (As a single, it reached No. 25 in early 1969.)

As to the singer of the version used in the commercial, I dug a little and verified my hunch: It was Marlena Shaw, who’s often described as a jazz vocalist but who is really one of those musicians who can find herself at home in a wide variety of styles and idioms. Her version of “California Soul” – found on the 1969 album, Spice of Life – could easily be called pop soul rather than jazz. Whatever you want to call it, Shaw’s version adds an insistence, an urgency that one didn’t get from the 5th Dimension’s take on the song. And that urgency helps the song add one little bit more to what I see as one of the defining bits of folklore in the American saga.

That piece of lore – one could call it a myth – is that California is our promised land, and it’s a bit of lore that’s existed since long before we were founded as a nation amid revolution. California calls wanderers, from the conquistadors and missionaries coming north from Mexico long ago through the forty-niners of the California Gold Rush and the Okies of the Great Depression up to the millions who went west to find their fortunes during the last half of the 20th century.

In my youth, California was a magic place, a land of gold and dreams. Two of my dad’s sisters landed there, and I envied my four cousins who grew up there (as did, I think, many of my other cousins who grew up here in Minnesota). What a dream, to live so near to so many great things to do, to see, to immerse one’s self into, to live inside: California was glamour and movies, television and Disneyland, sunshine and surf, and – later in the Sixties – freedom and rock music and hippie chicks.

California these days is less an El Dorado calling folks across the continent than it is another place where challenges abound, from frozen traffic and drought to annual fires, with the threat of the nearly inevitable massive earthquake sprinkled on top. There are, I am certain, many good things about the Golden State yet today, but its complications and hazards – as viewed here from the Midwest – seem to outweigh the benefits of living there. I’d like to visit; I spent a week in Southern California more than twenty years ago and saw pretty much everything I think I need to. But I do have friends I’d like to see, and I’d love to see a good chunk of the northern part of the state. I may yet get to do that, but the state doesn’t have the mythic attraction it once did, and I’m guessing that’s true in general, not just for me.

That current view of California is what makes the 2005 cover of “California Soul” by Riot Act interesting. Liberally sampling Shaw’s 1969 vocal, Riot Act puts together a compelling piece of music, released as Nebula 070. Irony? Or just a good beat? I dunno. But I’ve noticed that between the clothing commercial and Riot Act’s work, more attention is being paid to Shaw’s work. And that’s okay.

There are, of course, other covers of “California Soul.” In the late 1960s and early 1970s, covers came from Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Edwin Starr, the Undisputed Truth, Jonah Jones, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and Brenda & the Tabulations. Others who have covered the song over the years include the Dakah Hip Hop Orchestra, Wilson DasNeves, the Messengers and Gerald Wilson.

But I’m not sure anyone gets to the heart of the song as well as Shaw does in her terse reading. And though I generally don’t post anything released after 1999, Riot Act’s cover is too interesting to pass by.

Marlena Shaw – “California Soul” [1969]

Riot Act – “California Soul” [2005]

Patti Dahlstrom Calls It A Day

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 14, 2008

Last Friday morning, as I was dithering over what to say about Raga Rock, I heard the little chime that tells me that something had dropped into the mailbox that I use for this blog. A little pop-up on the screen told me Patti Dahlstrom had dropped me a line with the subject heading “London calling!”

Intrigued, I jumped off the less than interesting train of thought I’d been riding and headed for the mailbox. I was pretty certain Patti wasn’t going to discuss her impressions of the Clash’s 1979 masterpiece, London Calling!. And she didn’t. She asked me, politely, how soon I would be able to post Livin’ It Thru, the last of her four albums from the Seventies. Someone in the music industry is, she said, interested in reissuing her music, possibly all four albums, possibly a “best of” CD. And, she said, she thought that directing those interested to the posts here would be the easiest way to let them hear her stuff.

The timing was perfect. For the past couple of weeks, I’d been aiming at posting Patti’s fourth album this week. I’d been listening to Livin’ It Thru pretty regularly for a couple of weeks, absorbing the sound and doing some preliminary assessments. So I wrote back, telling Patti that the record would be up this week. This wasn’t the first time she’d mentioned that there was some interest in reissuing her work, and the idea that Echoes In The Wind might help get that done was pleasing.

I also asked a few questions about Livin’ It Thru and her feelings about it. Was it her best? How did she see it? And a few other things.

She wrote back: “Livin’ It Thru I see as my fourth album!” And I took that to mean that she’s unable to decide – or at least reluctant to acknowledge – how the record compares to the others. It’s probably an unfair question, much like asking a mother to declare which child she prefers above her others.

Patti wrote that the sessions for Livin’ It Thru came at a difficult time, though there were some good things that came out of them:

“I was extremely fried by this time, which explains several non-self-penned songs. That said, I loved working with [producer] Larry Knechtel. He is so professional, so talented, and he made the studio process the most pleasant I experienced. There are some unusual pieces on there I love though. Loved that Captain and Tennille came in and did backgrounds on “Lookin’ for Love” and “[He Was A] Writer.”

Five of the ten songs on the record came at least partly from Patti’s pen, and that was a lower ratio than had been present on her three earlier albums. Those songs were: “One Afternoon” (with Severin Browne), “Magician of Love,” “Without Love” (with Al Staehly), “Fool’s Gold” (with Marcia Waldorf) and “Changing Minds” (with Larry Knechtel).

And with Livin’ It Thru, Patti’s recording career closed:

“20th wanted me to do another album, but as I said I was fried. There was a lot of negative stuff at 20th, none of it related to [her mentor] Russ Regan, and I just wanted to go back to only writing at that point. . . . I just didn’t have it in me to do another one. I should have suggested a best of package for the first 2, that would have been an alternative, but I just wanted to be quiet for a while.”

And, as related here earlier, after some years of writing and then other pursuits in Southern California, Patti made her way back home to Houston to teach for some years before moving to London last year.

I have to admit that I can’t sort out where Livin’ It Thru ranks with Patti’s other albums, and I’m not going to try. It’s clearly a mid-Seventies pop-rock album, but there are several things that to my ears distinguish it – in a very good way – from the standard album in that genre. In general, I love the keyboard work. As noted below, a list of credits I found online cites Knechtel and Daryl Dragon as the keyboard players. Patti did some keyboard work on her earlier records, so it would not surprise me if some of the work were hers, as well.*

And there are some specific songs that stand out: The narrative song, “He Was A Writer” is a strong opening track, and “Magician of Love” has a nice organ part, and Patti does an eye-opening vocal vamp toward the end of the track. But the record’s strongest moments come on Side Two.

“Without Love” comes across as simply a song about our need for love when it’s not present until the chorus, when the background singers hiss, “Sex!” and Patti sings, “It don’t mean a thing without love.” And what seemed like a nice mid-tempo tune becomes a cautionary message (and one that was counter to a lot of other messages in the loose and easy Seventies). That’s followed by an atmospheric take on Cris Williamson’s “Wild Things.” And then comes, to me, the record’s high point, the bluesy, slinky and snaky “Lookin’ For Love.” (I wish I knew who did the harp solo.)**

A track later, the record end with the elegiac “Changing Minds,” the song Patti co-wrote with Larry Knechtel. It’s a lovely way to close the record, and, as it turned out, that chapter of Patti’s life. And through the entire album, of course, comes that smoky, bluesy twang of Patti’s voice.

There is a long list of credits on the back of the record jacket that does not list specific roles. The entry for Livin’ It Thru at West Coast Music has roles listed for some:

Mike Baird and Jeff Porcaro on drums; Jack Conrad and Jerry Scheff on bass; Ben Benay and Michael Deasy on guitar; Larry Knechtel and Daryl Dragon (the Captain of Captain & Tennille) on keyboards; Gary Coleman on percussion; Chuck Findley, Jim Horn and Jackie Kelso on horns; and Don Dunn, Melissa Tennille, Toni Tennille and Shelly Knechtel on background vocals.

Others credited on the back of the record jacket (with my best guess at their participation) were: Jay Cooper (unknown), Bernie Grundman (mastering) Jimmie Haskell (string arrangements), Duitch Helmer (vocals), Russ Regan (with 20th Century), Norman Seef (photography and/or art direction), “Sid Sharp etc.” (strings), Bob Siller (guitar and/or vocals) and Gary Ullmer (engineer).

Tracks:
He Was A Writer
One Afternoon
Lullaby
Magician of Love
I Remember You
Without Love
Wild Things
Lookin’ For Love
Fool’s Gold
Changing Minds

Patti Dahlstrom – Livin’ It Thru [1976]

*As I noted in a later post, Patti emailed me shortly after this post was published and told me that she did not play any keyboard parts on any of her albums. She also told me that the list of credits I found on line were in error at least once: Daryl Dragon did not play keyboards on the album. She did say that the harp solo on “Lookin’ For Love” was by Larry Knechtel and that Jay Cooper was her attorney. Notes added July 20, 2011.

Saturday Single No. 80

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 12, 2008

One of my companions as I began my exploration of the world of Top 40 during the 1969-70 school year was a fellow named Mike, someone who’s not shown up in this space before. (He’s not to be confused with Janitor Mike, with whom I scrubbed floors at St. Cloud State during the summer of 1971.) Mike lived on the north side of St. Cloud and had gone to a different junior high school; we met when we were sophomores at St. Cloud Tech, and for two years were pretty good friends, sharing our love of music and working together as managers for the football team as juniors.

One Saturday in 1970, Mike made his way from the north side over to our place with a bunch of singles he’d found in one of his recent excursions to Musicland. I’m not sure there was anything new there, nothing I hadn’t heard on the radio, but of course, the sound quality of the stereo was better, and yakking while listening to music was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning. And then Mike put on a novelty record.

It was funny and raucous, and we laughed as only high school juniors can as it spun on the stereo. I’d heard it before, on the radio, but it never failed to amuse me. So I grabbed my cassette recorder and a new tape. My taping method back in 1970 was crude. There was no output plug on the stereo, so I’d lay my recorder on the carpet on the middle of the basement floor, aim the microphone as well as I could toward the stereo and tape the sound coming from the speakers. Our first attempt was interrupted by the sound of my father whistling as he came downstairs to get something from the storage room. The second ended when I sneezed. On our third take, we were barely seconds from the end when someone outside pounded twice on the basement window. That was Rick, coming from across the street, giving me his usual signal that he was heading to the back door. With Rick joining us, we got the song recorded on the fourth take. (By that time, my mother, upstairs in the kitchen, was heartily tired of the song.)

I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten tired of the record, though I no longer listen to it more than once at a time. It turns out, though, that I’d heard the main performer’s voice many times. His name was Tony Burrows, and during the early 1970s, he was one of the more active and successful studio singers in Britain. He might, in fact, qualify for the title of King of the One-Hit Wonders, having sung lead on Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” White Plains’ “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” “Beach Baby” by First Class, the Brotherhood of Man’s “United We Stand” and the record I’m pondering today (on which Burrows partnered with Roger Greenaway). I’d heard and liked the Edison Lighthouse, White Plains and Brotherhood of Man singles (“Beach Baby” was still four years in the future), but I had no clue that Saturday morning that the same voice had sung on all of them. Nor did I imagine that the single Mike and I were laughing at that morning featured the same person as well.

The record in question made it into the Top Ten that summer, peaking at No. 9 on the July 18, 1970, Billboard chart. And it’s not entirely forgotten; it gets a bit of airplay on the oldies stations, though not nearly as much play as Tony Burrows’ other singles have gotten over the years.

Mike and I didn’t see each other much after that summer. The St. Cloud school district opened Apollo High School in the autumn of 1970: Mike went there while I stayed at Tech. And I was not welcome at his home; during the summer of 1970, I brought a Beatles album over one evening and learned that Mike’s mom had never gotten past John Lennon’s 1966 comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. After high school, I headed to college while Mike went into the Army and then went to St. Cloud State for a brief time. We see each other now and then – the last time, sadly, at a memorial service for a college friend – and exchange the occasional email.

I long ago lost the tape we made that Saturday morning. But when I got my computer in early 2000 and began creating a collection of mp3s, I imagine that the novelty record Mike brought over that long-ago morning was one of the first couple hundred songs I secured. And so, for all of that, and for no reason in particular, the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” is today’s Saturday Single.

The Pipkins – “Gimme Dat Ding” [Capitol 2819, 1970]

Seeking Some Historical Perspective

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 11, 2008

There’s an interesting dichotomy I’ve noticed when I read, study, ponder or listen to music historically. There’s what I know about the music, and then there’s what I know about the times when the music was created and how those times intersect my life.

As an example, I was digging into Robert Johnson’s recording history this week, both for last Tuesday’s post and to answer a question from an acquaintance. Now, Johnson recorded in 1936 and 1937 before dying in 1938, so his life and times obviously didn’t intersect mine. But as I was listening to “Sweet Home Chicago” the other day, my mind began wandering, and I realized that when Johnson was recording that song in San Antonio in November of 1936, my father – gone now for five years – was in high school.

Something about that just rattles around in my head. The same sort of thing happened the other week when I was ripping mp3s from a new Fats Domino anthology. I was bobbing my head in time to “Something’s Wrong,” a mid-tempo ballad from 1953. As I read about the record, I realized with little shiver that it entered the R&B chart (eventually going to No. 6) when I was less than four months old.

I guess what I’m saying is: I know a fair amount about Robert Johnson and Fats Domino and many other musicians who line the historical corridors, and on fairly frequent occasion, I ponder their lives as I listen to their music. But it’s rare that I try to put those sometimes legendary lives in a context that intersects with the standard American lives of me and my forbears. And it’s somewhat surreal to think that when Robert Johnson was singing his “32-20 Blues” in San Antonio on November 26, 1936, my dad – then seventeen – was sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Cambridge, Minnesota. It’s as if there were some odd conjunction of two parallel universes.

(I thought it odd, as you might, that Johnson recorded on Thanksgiving. But I guess that the American Record Corporation, having sent its representative to San Antonio, wanted to get at least a little bit done on the holiday. According to the notes in the box set Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings, Johnson actually recorded two takes of “32-20 Blues” that day, with one of them eventually being issued on Vocalion 03445 and the other evidently lost to history. Sandwiched around Johnson’s session, according to the notes, were sessions by the Chuck Wagon Gang and by the duo of Andres Berlanga and Francisco Montalvo with their guitars.)

This falls in place here because this morning, as I was uploading today’s album, which was released in 1966, I found myself thinking about the music of that year. I’m not sure in which month today’s album was released, but the musical environment was about the same all year long, so I glanced at the Billboard Top 100 for this week in 1966. The top song was the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” and other songs in the Top 15 included Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night,” “Cool Jerk” by the Capitals, the Standells’ “Dirty Water” and “Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones. The entire Top 15 for that week is an altogether familiar group, with the least known being perhaps “Little Girl” by the Syndicate of Sound.

And then I realized that during the summer when those songs were coming from the speakers of millions of radios, I was there. I heard that music, but I know I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it as I wandered through the summer between seventh and eighth grades. It’s like there are two versions of 1966: There’s the one that I consider in my guise as music historian (maybe too grand a term), and then there’s the 1966 that I remember, and it’s not often that the two versions are all that congruent.

(The two versions of the years, mine and the historical, become much more similar starting in 1969 or so, as the music I heard became the soundtrack to my life rather than something utterly apart from it.)

So when it comes to an album like today’s, all I can do is look at the historical 1966 and realize that the young lad who would become whiteray had absolutely no clue the record existed (and likely wouldn’t have cared a lot if he’d known).*

The record was one of those that companies put out to cash in on trends in the youth market, hoping to pry a few shekels from the hands of kids and their parents. Raga Rock was released on the World Pacific label and recorded by a group called the Folkswingers. A group by the same name, made up of Glen Campbell and three members of the Dillards, had recorded a 1963 album for World Pacific called 12 String Guitar! For the 1966 project, World Pacific brought in a different group of players and called them, also, the Folkswingers.

Raga Rock was, of course, an attempt to cash in on the increasing use of the sitar and other Indian instruments and techniques in pop music. George Harrison’s sitar work had anchored the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” on 1965’s Rubber Soul album, and Brian Jones had done the same for the Rolling Stones’ 1966 record, “Paint It, Black.” There were other groups dabbling with the sitar sound, too, of course: The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” has an obvious Indian sound to it, just to name one more. And as record companies were never slow to grab a trend, World Pacific gathered some of L.A.’s best session guys and went to work.

What the Folkswingers had going for them, notes All-Music Guide, was the presence of an actual sitar for the sessions, played by Harihar Rao, who, AMG notes, was “the leader of Los Angeles’ Ravi Shankar Music Circle and director of the Indian Studies Group at UCLA’s Institute of Ethnomusicology.” Joining Rao in the studio was “the cream of the cream from the L.A. rock session world, with Hal Blaine on drums; Larry Knechtel on keyboards; Tommy Tedesco, Howard Roberts and Herb Ellis on guitar; and Lyle Ritz and Bill Pittman on bass.”

Some of it works, and some of it doesn’t, at least not all that well. But it’s fun, and it’s probably more cool to listen to it now than it would have been in 1966. I wonder how many teens groaned as their parents, trying to be with it and failing, brought Raga Rock home? On the other hand, I probably would have liked it.*

Tracks:
Paint It, Black
Eight Miles High
Dona, Dona
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
Along Comes Mary
Time Won’t Let Me
Shapes of Things
Hey Joe
Kicks
Homeward Bound
Grim Reaper of Love
Raga Rock

Folkswingers – Raga Rock [1966]

Afternote: Raga Rock was reissued on CD in 2007, but it doesn’t look as if it’s that widely available. Check your favorite online emporium. Thanks go to Chocoreve.**

*I saw I “wouldn’t have cared a lot” had I known of the record’s existence, and later I say I likely would have enjoyed it. To clarify, I doubt that I would have been that interested if I’d seen the record at, say Dan Marsh Drugs, but had Dad brought it home, I would have played it, and I think  I would have liked it.

*The link to Chocoreve still works, but sadly,  there have been no new posts there since November 2008, nearly three years. Notes added July 20, 2011.

Cafferty Twice & Dexys Midnight Runners

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 10, 2008

There’s absolutely no problem finding videos for songs that came out in 1983, of course. With MTV having started up in 1981, every performer and group had learned or was learning that video production was one more tool in the promotion of songs and self.

I got cable television for the first time in late 1983, and I spent some time watching MTV. The two videos I remember most clearly are the Cars’ “You Might Think” and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” with Christie Brinkley dancing in front of the auto shop. I don’t recall seeing the three videos I’m presenting here today.

First, here’s John Cafferty and the Brown Beaver Band, with “Dark Side” from the movie Eddie and the Cruisers.

And since it was on the same page and so easy to find – as well as a decent song – here’s Cafferty and the boys doing “Tender Years,” also from Eddie and the Cruisers.

After that, I looked at a couple of things: videos for “Love is the Law” by the Suburbs and for “Poison Arrow” by ABC. I found some concert videos of Leo Kottke that were interesting. Finally, I decided to search for Dexys Midnight Runners. Here’s the video for “Come On, Eileen.”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 9, 2008

A year or so back, I wrote about my first working summer, the summer I ended up cleaning and waxing floors with Mike and learning, along the way, to use one of those rotary floor scrubbers and polishers.

I saw a fellow using one of them somewhere the other day – I’ve wracked my brain and cannot remember where – and it brought me back to that summer. It also reminded me of a day in the autumn of 1983, not long after I’d started graduate school.

At the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, there is a covered walkway between Neff Hall and the building that houses the Columbia Missourian, the newspaper written by students and edited by teachers and graduate students. As I came through the walkway one autumn morning, I saw one of the maintenance men, an older fellow whose name I sadly do not recall, using a floor polisher with streams of students walking past him.

Sympathizing, I said to him, as the flow of students clogged, “Kind of hard to hit all the spots with all this traffic, isn’t it?”

He thought I was being critical. He stopped the machine and spun the handles toward me. “You wanna give it a try?”

I thought about trying to explain what I had meant and decided that wouldn’t work. So I shrugged and handed him my briefcase. I grabbed the handles, reminded myself – after twelve years – what it would feel like. I glanced over at the janitor, who was looking at me with a gleam of anticipation in his eye.

I squeezed the handles, and the polisher pulled me slightly to the right. I adjusted the weight, and – it came back to me in an instant – began polishing the floor right next to where he’d been working. Push forward slightly and go one way, pull back a little and go the other way.

The janitor smiled wryly and chewed his cheek. “You’ve done that before,” he said.

I nodded. “That’s one of the ways I got through my undergraduate years,” I told him.

I stopped the machine and took my briefcase, and he resumed polishing the floor. I spent another fifteen months taking classes at Mizzou, and every time I saw him from then on, he shot me a wink and a smile.

And here’s some of the music that I might have heard that evening when I was doing janitorial duties in my own home.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2
“Love Is The Law” by the Suburbs from Love Is The Law

“Easy Money” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man

“Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran, Harvest single 5195

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA single 52316

“Rings” by Leo Kottke from Time Step

“Murder By Numbers” by the Police from Synchronicity

“Oh, What A Night” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart in 17 Places

“Finally Found A Home” by Huey Lewis & The News from Sports

“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners from Too-Rye-Ay

“On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. single 04594, from the film, Eddie And The Cruisers

“Man of Peace” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Poison Arrow” by ABC, Mercury single 810340

“True” by Spandau Ballet, Chrysalis single 42720

I’ll admit to not knowing a lot of these at the time they came out. I retreated from pop and rock as the Seventies moved into the Eighties, bored for the most part with what I was hearing and thus not keeping up with things as New Wave and Punk wandered into the room. In many ways, I’m in the same circumstance with a lot of the music from that time as I was in 1969, when I began to catch up with the years previous to then. But I have a few thoughts:

I’m still not impressed with Duran Duran. I wasn’t back then, when they were on MTV a lot (those were the years when MTV played music videos almost all the time), and I’m not now. They’re an inescapable part of the Eighties, though, in the same way that, oh, Alice Cooper was in the Seventies. (And I know I’ve offended two sets of fans there. Sorry.)

I’m not sure if one can lump the Suburbs and ABC into the same category, but the songs by those groups here are propulsive and fun (and that last adjective is odd when one considers the topic of ABC’s “Poison Arrow”). Another one of these songs that can be described the same way but is less consciously “New Wave” – if that really means anything – is “Come On, Eileen,” which in its single edit went to No. 1 in early 1983.

I guess “Easy Money” is the place on An Innocent Man where Billy Joel makes his nod toward Stax/Volt or something similar. I don’t know if it works in the context of the album, but hearing the song on its own, well, it just sounds like a mismatch. (The review of the album by Steven Thomas Erlewine at All-Music Guide also gauges the song as a Stax/Volt tribute. Erlewine makes the point that although the bulk of the album is an homage to pre-Beatles pop, Stax/Volt showed up after that time, putting “Easy Money” out of place on the album.)

“Rings” by Leo Kottke is a remake of the 1971 hit by Cymarron, and Kottke comes off pretty well. I almost lost my coffee laughing when I heard Leo sing, “Got Mel Blanc on the radio” instead of “Got James Taylor on the stereo.”

“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Brown Beaver Band is the best non-Springsteen Springsteen ever.