Archive for the ‘2009/07 (July)’ Category

Mississippi Fred, Jimi & Jack & Jorma

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 20, 2009

So what does YouTube have for us with at least a tenuous connection to the things we’ve done here recently?

Well, here’s Mississippi Fred McDowell with a typically good performance of “Goin’ Down to the River” on what appears to be a back porch-like set in some television studio somewhere. I’d guess late 1950s to early 1960s on this one, mostly because of the black and white visuals. The song, “Goin’ Down to the River,” was a McDowell original, and it shows up on some albums recorded in the 1960s. The person who posted this at YouTube didn’t leave a lot of information about this clip, and it would be nice to know some more. On the other hand, the music speaks for itself. [A little digging on reposting reveals that the performance likely was on a German television show in 1965. Note added May 12, 2022.]

In the listings for “All Along The Watchtower,” I found this performance by Jimi Hendrix at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. According to Wikipedia, Hendrix performed during the early hours of August 31, 1970, less than three weeks before his death.

Video unavailable

Here’s a clip showing Jack Casaday and Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna performing “Mann’s Fate,” a Kaukonen original that was on Hot Tuna’s first, self-titled album in 1970. The performance came from a PBS show called Folk Guitar that was produced in San Francisco and hosted by a woman named Laura Davis, from what I’ve been able to find out. Based on Casaday’s clothing, I’d place this one in the very early 1970s. [ The performance is from 1969. Note added May 12, 2022.]

And that will do it for today. Still in the plans is a six-pack from a single label, which I think I’ll do tomorrow, and Motown – suggested earlier – sounds like a good choice. We’ll see what sits in the files.

Eight Mostly At Random

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 29, 2009

Like a runaway steamroller that no one wants to challenge – or perhaps more aptly, like the dancing brooms in Fantasia that the apprenticed Mickey Mouse had no idea how to stop – the number of mp3s in the hard drive charged past the 39,000 mark last week, settling last night on 39,156.

So, in the absence of anything more compelling to write about today, I thought I’d take a eight-track walk, mostly random, through the 1960s and 1970s this morning, just to see what we get to listen to. (In this case, “mostly random” means we’ll start off random and I’ll go along with the findings except in the cases of tunes that are less than 1:30 long, that we’ve shared here in the last year, that repeat performers, or that I judge just a little too odd.)

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Mississippi Fred McDowell from Shake ’Em On Down, recorded live in New York City, May 11, 1971. The fascinating thing about McDowell, who often gets lumped in with the blues folks who were “rediscovered” during the 1960s and 1970s, was that he never recorded during the first heyday of the country blues back in the 1920s and 1930s. So when blues hunters – I’ve mentioned it before, but you really could do a lot worse than reading Gayle Dean Wardlow’s Chasin’ That Devil Music to find out what it was like to be a blues hunter – when blues hunters found Fred McDowell on his farm in the 1960s, they found a slide guitar artist who was entirely new to the wider, national audience. While the live performances on Shake ’Em On Down are good, I think McDowell’s 1969 album “I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll” (recorded in Jackson, Mississippi) is his best collection.

“Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals, Philles 112, 1963. As I wrote almost two years ago: “The Crystals, of course, were one of the girl groups produced by Phil Spector. While ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ is not Spector’s masterpiece – I think that title goes to the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ – it’s still a propulsive, fun and highly charged piece of music. And, as almost always with a Spector production, that’s Hal Blaine on the drums.” And as time slides past, I like the saxophone solo – Steve Douglas, I think – more and more each year.

“Thing In ‘E’” by the Savage Resurrection, Mercury 72778 (1968 release), recorded in Hollywood, 1967. The Savage Resurrection came out of the garage rock scene in California’s East Bay, according to the box set Love Is The Song We Sing. After a stint at San Pablo’s Maple Hall, the five-man band was signed by Mercury and recorded what the box set calls “a strong, punkified, psychedelic rock ’n’ roll album.” But the notes go on to say that the band broke up under the pressure of promoting the album on a cross-country tour. “Thing In ‘E’” was the single pulled from the LP.

“In the Long Run” by Curtis Blandon, Wand 11241, 1971. Blandon, notes All-Music Guide, was born and raised in Alabama, leaving the south in the early 1960s to make music in New York City. After a few years of scuffling, Blandon went into the military for two years, after which came a few more years of scuffling from label to label. Eventually, says AMG, Blandon signed with Wand and went to Chicago for some recording sessions produced by Gene Chandler. “In The Long Run” was a product of those sessions and received some local regard but failed to take off nationally. (AMG says those sessions began in 1972, but I’ve seen several other sources that put a date of 1971 on the record, so there’s an error somewhere. I’m leaving it tagged as 1971.) AMG calls it “[a] buoyant, up-tempo soul tune notable for its regal brass arrangement and Blandon’s searing vocals.” I found the track on a British anthology called Deep Beats: Essential 60’s Northern Soul, Vol. 2, sitting sealed in the cheap seats at the Electric Fetus here in St. Cloud.

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni 55265 (from Elton John), 1970. Just the first few notes of the opening riff of “Your Song” is enough to put me back in the multi-purpose room at St. Cloud Tech, the one-time cold lunch room where the authorities installed a jukebox in the autumn of 1970, just as my senior year began. (It was, as I’ve written before, a decision that I think those authorities regretted very soon.) For me, Elton John’s first hit single – with all the romantic notions one could want supplied by Bernie Taupin’s occasionally awkward lyric – is indelibly tied to the memory of a cute sophomore with short blonde hair. While my efforts, alas, did not succeed in turning the young lady’s head, Elton’s single spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 8, and opening the floodgates: Through 1999, Elton John had fifty-eight more Top 40 hits, twenty-seven of them in the Top 10, with nine of them going to No. 1. (This is the version from the Elton John album, which may differ considerably from the single.)

“Santa Claus Retreat” by Hot Tuna from Hoppkorv, 1976. Hot Tuna was the rootsy offshoot from Jefferson Airplane crafted by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady that eventually became a full-time project, touring and releasing albums regularly into the 1990s (with archival and occasional new live releases since then). Hoppkorv, says AMG, marked a shift in the band’s approach, with more covers of vintage material – tunes by Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry – and fewer of Kaukonen’s originals. “Santa Claus Retreat,” however, is one of Kaukonen’s originals, a growling effort that fits without straining into the mid-1970s rock aesthetic.

“Over You” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Columbia 44644, 1968. I’ve always thought that this record is the one amazing anomaly in the Top 40 career of Puckett, who had six Top 40 hits – five of them in the Top 10 – in the less than two years between December 1967 and September 1969. On “Over You,” which rose to No. 7, Puckett shows some vocal finesse. Now, I love the hits “Woman, Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” “Young Girl” and “This Girl Is A Woman Now,” but I think we can all agree that if there were a career achievement award for the best cluster of four leather-lunged performances by a single artist, those four records would win Puckett the title. They’re great radio hits, but they are utterly unsubtle. (And then there’s the creepiness of “Young Girl” by today’s standards, but I’m not sure it’s fair to apply current attitudes to vintage material.) “Over You,” however, has moments when Puckett seems almost thoughtful in his reading of the lyric. The record spent ten weeks in the Top 40 during the autumn of 1968, peaking at No. 7.

“Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain from Mountain Live – The Road Goes Ever On, 1972. In the autumn of 1972, I was still bewildered by the immense variety of music I was going to have to learn about if I ever wanted to be as well-informed about rock and all its relatives as were the folks around the campus radio station. So when my folks let me order five or six LPs from our record club as a birthday present, I stretched out a bit. One of the records I ordered – and I’m not sure why I chose it – was Mountain’s live album. I wasn’t too impressed with the three selections on the first side – “Long Red,” “Waiting To Take You Away” and “Crossroader” – but I found myself falling deeply into the seventeen-minute version of “Nantucket Sleighride,” the title tune from the group’s second album a year earlier. Over the years, as I’ve gone back to the track – on vinyl and now on CD and mp3 – I wonder now and then if I’ll find myself tired of it, but I always enjoy it. (And I guess, as I look at the record jacket this morning, that the Tolkienish drawing and the Elvish runes on the album cover certainly piqued my interest in the album back in 1972.)

‘Businessmen, They Drink My Wine . . .’

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 28, 2009

One frequently hears, in discussions of diverse topics, that “Context is everything.”

An aside: Where did that little epigram come from? A Google search for “context is everything” brings back about 151,000 results, and none of the first forty or so of those seems to indicate the original source. Even Wikipedia is no help. I have a sense that a search for the lodestone of “context is everything” would result in an academic and historical argument like the one discussing whether the Americanism “OK” descended from the Germanic/Dutch expression “Oll Korrect” or the nickname of President Martin Van Buren, which was “Old Kinderhook.” And a lengthy discussion of that question should certainly be followed by a deep consideration of why I remember that kind of stuff to begin with. We now return you to our regularly scheduled post.

Well, context isn’t everything. A diamond remains a diamond wherever it’s cast. Intellectual hogwash remains just that no matter how it’s packaged or prettied up. But when we turn to individual pieces of music, then context can matter a great deal. The setting in which we hear a specific piece of music – whether that’s our physical environment or simply the order of a certain set of songs – can create a long-lasting sense of any particular piece.

I’ve written fairly frequently about so-called “Time and Place” songs, pieces that usher us back to dates and locales generally long gone. Those can be fascinating, but just as interesting to me this morning is the musical neighborhood a song can find itself in through album contents and running order.

Why that? And why today? Because I heard Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” coming out of the speakers this morning. A track on his 1967 album John Wesley Harding, the song – like the album itself – is presented barebones and spare: just guitar, bass, drums, harmonica and vocals. And when heard as a part of that album, when heard between the songs “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” and “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” one hears “Watchtower” as part of a meditation. At least that’s what I hear now, because the first time I heard Dylan’s version of “Watchtower,” it was bracketed by two very different songs.

The 1972 release Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II was a great album, pulling together hits, album tracks, live tracks and some unreleased stuff onto two LPs. It was my first Dylan album, and served as a good introduction. (I’d previously heard Dylan’s stuff in various places, of course, but until I heard the tunes he performed at the Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971, I’d never really listened.) By pulling songs from the context of their original albums, however, the folks at Columbia (with Dylan’s assistance or at least acquiescence) altered the impact and even the meaning of those recordings. “All Along The Watchtower” was placed between the folky “She Belongs To Me” and the rollicking “The Mighty Quinn.”

In the company of those good but ultimately less complex compositions, I heard “All Along The Watchtower” as a snippet of some kind of medieval tale that Dylan hadn’t bothered to finish. Separated from the songs that bracketed it on John Wesley Harding, “Watchtower” seemed unformed, and I shrugged. Years later, when I heard it as part of John Wesley Harding (I’ve always been years behind in my listening and thinking about music; I expect to understand the Nineties in about ten years), the ambiguous ending seemed correct, not unfinished:

All along the watch tower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wild cat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

The more I listen to John Wesley Harding, the more I believe that it’s a meditation on the pairings of ambiguity and fate, and faith and redemption. And I am certain that hearing “All Along The Watchtower” for the first time in a setting not the original made me listen to it and its companions more closely when I heard the original years later. In this case, then, context mattered a great deal.

(All-Music Guide lists more than four hundred CDs that contain a recording of “All Along The Watchtower.” I have seventeen different versions. It’s hard to do better than the original, but here are two versions that I find can also bear repeated listening.) [A better gauge of covers is now available at Second Hand Songs, which informs us that as of 2022, there have been 198 versions of the song recorded. Note added May 12, 2022.]

“All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Before The Flood [1974]

“All Along The Watchtower” by Affinity from Affinity [1970]

Toppers, Maxine Starr & The Inmates

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 27, 2009

Who were the Toppers? Who was Maxine Starr? And who were the Inmates?

Good questions all, because those are the artists on the three 45s that I pulled out of the mystery box this morning. Yes, it’s time for another Grab Bag!

The Toppers were a 1950s R&B vocal group. And either they or their producers – or perhaps both – had a penchant for risqué material, keeping in mind that what seems slightly risqué in 2009 could very likely have been near the acceptable edge in 1959 or earlier.

How do we know that? One of the songs that All Music Guide credits the Toppers with recording is “(I Love to Play Your Piano) Let Me Bang Your Box,” a ditty that shows up on two CD anthologies of bawdy R&B.

That penchant for naughtiness is one of the few bits of useful information about the Toppers at All-Music Guide. The names of the group members are not listed. There are a few credits from recordings currently included on CDs, and one of those CDs gives us a hint about the group’s origins. That CD is Mama Don’t Like It! 1950-1956, a collection of recordings by Smiley Lewis, a New Orleans artist. That’s not proof, but it’s a large hint that the Toppers were based in New Orleans as well.

That previously mentioned penchant for naughty titles also seems to account for the title of one of the sides I found in my mystery box: “It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was.” What was twice as big? Well, it isn’t what folks might think, but that’s the point of a risqué song title. The song itself is mild, and the mystery is solved in the final verse. The other side of the record – Decca 30297 – is a tidy little calypso tune called “Pots and Pans.”

“It Was Twice As Big . . .” was written by Tommie Connor and Jack Jordan, while “Pots and Pans” came from Diane Lampert and John Gluck, Jr. Both sides of the record were directed (produced, in today’s parlance, I imagine) by Jack Pleis. And that’s all the label can tell us.

So when was the record released? There’s no clear indication. One of the difficulties with 45s of this vintage – mid- to late 1950s or so – is that the labels rarely have copyright or issue dates on them. Those folks who are label design mavens could likely look at the records and know about when the record came out. But I am not one of those, so I have to rely on brute force and Google.

Just the name of the group and the title “It Was Twice As Big . . .” finds several copies of the record for sale. Adding “Jack Pleis” to the mix gets a few listings, but also begins to include the word “toppers” in the phrase “chart toppers.”

But Googling just “Decca 30297” by itself brings us some information. At a music forum at Mombu.com, we learn from a poster named Roger Ford that Decca 30297 “dates from 1957.”

Ford continues: “Doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in Billboard so here’s two clues
that help date it more accurately: Kitty Wells’ “Change Of Heart” on Decca 30288 was reviewed in [Billboard] May 6, 1957. And “Pots And Pans,” which was the “A” side, was released in England (with a different flip taken from an earlier Toppers record) in June 1957. I’d say it was an April 1957 release.”

So here you go:

“Pots and Pans” by the Toppers
“It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was” by the Toppers
Decca 30297 [1957]

Next up is Maxine Starr and her rock ’n’ roll version of “(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” backed by “Love Is” on New-Hits records. The record label was kind enough to include A- and B-side information on the label, but interestingly enough, a Web search brings up – among very little else – a U.K. based record shop called Rare Northern Soul that’s offering the record for sale based on the B-side, “Love Is.”

I’m guessing, simply from the sound and style, that the record was issued in the early 1960s. But throwing the catalog number into the Web search brings no more information. The record exists, the ’Net tells me, and is for sale a number of places. There’s nothing at All Music Guide. And a ’Net search for Maxine Starr alone brings up a great number of results; some of them might be the Maxine Starr on the record, but I don’t know.

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” was, of course, an old song by the time Maxine Starr recorded it. The best known version might have been the one recorded by the Andrews Sisters for Decca in 1940, and the song itself – written by Albert Von Tilzer and Neville Fleeson – dates to 1920, so Googling the title and writers won’t help us much with a record from what seems to be the early 1960s. But the B-side, “Love Is,” might not be as widely recorded a song, so we might glean something from Googling the song’s writers, Ralph Romano and Joe Burke. Well, we learn that the two men co-wrote the book Elbo Elf, but that’s all. And there’s no producer credit on the record label.

So we don’t know a lot about this one, not even a recording date. But I’m going to guess around 1962, just on a hunch. [A check at discogs.com, a site I did not know about when this piece was originally posted, verified that Starr’s record was in fact released in 1962.]

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” by Maxine Starr
“Love Is” by Maxine Starr
New-Hits 3009 [1962]

Our third 45 for today is of a more recent vintage. In fact, the label tells us all the basic information. A group called the Inmates released “(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” and “Show You My Way” on the Polydor label in 1980. So is there more information out there?

Well, yes, a little bit. The band’s entry at All-Music Guide is a little slender, but we learn that the members of the British group were Bill Hurley, Ben Donnelly, Peter Gunn, Barry Masters, Tony Oliver and Jim Russell. And the tracks on the 45 in question – both written by Russell – show up on the group’s 1980 album, Shot in the Dark.

But the single didn’t go anywhere: The Inmates’ only presence on the charts was for a cover of the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” which went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. At the same time, the group’s first album, First Offence, went to No. 49 on the Billboard album chart. That first album was originally released in 1979 on Radar and later came out on Polydor, just as Shot in the Dark would be in 1980.

But even if the single didn’t get any attention when it came out, it’s a decent new wave/pub rock single.

“(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” by the Inmates
“Show You My Way” by the Inmates
Polydor 2152 [1980]

Saturday Single No. 142

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 25, 2009

I’ve gone to two high school reunions since walking out the doors of St. Cloud Tech in 1971: The ten-year and the twenty-year. Both came in two parts, with a get-together over beer on a Friday evening and more formal dinner followed by a dance on Saturday evening. I was underwhelmed at the first reunion in 1981; there weren’t a lot of folks I wanted to see – high school had been a generally solitary time – and my then-wife didn’t want to be there, anyway. The twenty-year reunion in 1991 was more fun for a few reasons: We gathered together with the Class of ’71 from St. Cloud Apollo – our senior year had been its first year of existence, and we’d all been together at Tech for two years before that – for both evenings instead of just the first. I was single, and it seemed we’d all grown up a little more (or perhaps it was I who had matured). Still, I didn’t stay in touch with anyone. The reunion was fun, as I said, but that was all.

I’ve never been back to a high school reunion since. Will I go when we mark forty years in 2011? I’m not sure, but I doubt it. Nor have I ever been to a true college reunion; given the size of St. Cloud State at the time I graduated – about 12,000 students – a true class reunion is unlikely. Reunions generally fall to groups that had common majors, and I’ve pretty much ignored those, too.

But there are two reunions I will never miss, as long as I am healthy enough to get there: a get-together of those who worked for the Monticello Times during the more than thirty years my friend and mentor DQ was the editor and then publisher of the paper, and a gathering of the more than one hundred friends with whom I spent my junior year, the 1973-74 college year, in Fredericia, Denmark.

I knew from emails sent out this spring that DQ and his wife, who currently live in Portland, Oregon, would be in Minnesota during July, and that plans were taking shape for a picnic get-together. I also knew that this spring was the thirty-fifth anniversary of my return to Minnesota from Denmark; we’d gathered in 1994, 1999 and 2004, so I was certain we’d gather again this summer.

I worried a fair amount that both gatherings would be scheduled the same day, and I would have to choose one of the two. Or – depending on location – I could split my time between the two, satisfying no one, including myself.

Happily, the two events were set on Saturdays two weeks apart. On July 11, the Texas Gal and I drove the thirty miles to Monticello and spent several hours with the newspaper’s alumni. I know most of them by name, but I worked with only about a third of them, as I left the newspaper in 1983 and then Monticello in 1987. But there still are bonds: Through our boss and friend, DQ; through our experiences in living in and reporting on the same small town; and through our love of newspapering. Most of the newsfolk from the Times have moved on over the years to other facets of the communications field, but at heart, we’re all still reporters, as we realize when we get together.

As satisfying as that gathering was, it’s today’s reunion that I’ll probably find more moving: The Denmark folk will gather for a picnic in the Twin Cities suburb of Ramsey this afternoon. I would guess that about half of the hundred or so who remain – some have passed on during these thirty-five years – will be there. Many of them live elsewhere and likely won’t be present. But almost all will be accounted for: Since our string of reunions began in 1994, we’ve learned the whereabouts or the fates of all but four of those who were together in Fredericia.

We’ll take over the lawn of one of our gals, share a potluck picnic and plenty of beer. (I’ll likely contribute a six-pack of a pretty good red ale from St. Paul’s Summit brewery.) There will be laughter, as we tell and hear once more the tales of our times together (with some of the tales having become taller over the years). There may be a few tears for the friends we’ve lost, one of them as recently as last November.

My dad once told me, when I asked why he got together annually with his Army buddies, that when one shares a unique and intense experience with a small group of people, as he did with his Army Air Corps unit during World War II, bonds form that outlast time. I can’t think of a better definition for the time I spent in Denmark than “a unique and intense experience with a small group of people.” So this afternoon, we’ll share that again, as we share the news of our lives, lives that have been built on the foundations of what we learned about the world and about ourselves so long ago.

I’ve long said that my time in Denmark was the most important time in my life, and that my years at the Monticello Times were the second-most important. I no longer believe that. The most important time of my life is now, these days and years that I share with my Texas Gal. But those times – and the people I shared them with – helped create who I am today. So here’s a song for all of those who shared those early years with me, both in Fredericia and in Monticello, today’s Saturday Single.

“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Planet Waves [1974]

Where Am I?

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 24, 2009

Change of plans: We’ll look at a few singles from a single record label next week sometime. (As long as there’s time, any suggestions for which record label?)

I’ve noticed something odd for a couple of weeks now. I thought it would correct itself, but it doesn’t seem so inclined. For some reason, something in my computer thinks I live in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. When I stop here at the blog, the visitor counter tells me someone from Stevens Point is here, not someone from St. Cloud.

If I do a search on one of those pages that provides supplemental local results off to the right, I get offered good deals on real estate, fresh fruit, rocking chairs, bottled water and anything else I might want . . . but in Stevens Point, not in St. Cloud.

I’m not sure how that happens. I recall a visitor to the blog once noting that the visitor log had him misplaced by several hundred miles and one nation.  In my case, Stevens Point is 282 miles and one state away. It’s not a big deal, but it is a little odd.

And here’s a song whose title seems to fit.

“I’m Not There” by Bob Dylan and The Band, probaby from sessions for The Basement Tapes, ca. 1967

Richard, Three Degrees, Jay+ & Jools

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 23, 2009

Rummaging as usual today, I found a fascinating clip from a British television show examining the greatest one-hit wonders. Here’s that show’s take on Richard Harris and “MacArthur Park.”

Video unavailable.

This is interesting: Here are the Three Degrees live in London in 1975, with their rendition of “MacArthur Park.” The dancing is, well, cheesy, but the vocal performance and the musical backing are pretty good.

Video unavailable.

Here’s a video put together or taken from another source – long after the fact, I assume – to go with Jay and the Americans’ version of “Always Something There To Remind Me.” I don’t recognize the video. Does anyone out there? It’s a little ambiguous and disturbing for some reason. Or it could just be too early in the morning.

And to close, here’s a performance from one of Jools Hollands’ New Years’ fetes, with Ron Wood, Slash and Holland taking on Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” They get an assist from a strolling streaker, whom Slash doesn’t even notice.

Video unavailable.

Tomorrow, I think we’ll do something we haven’t done in a while: Select a record label and pull a random selection of singles. At least we’ll start there.

Smoking With Jumbo

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 22, 2009

I went to summer camp three times during my childhood and youth. I spent one week each of the summers of 1965 and 1970 at a Boy Scout camp a little more than an hour north of St. Cloud. The second time I was there, the camp was formally called Parker Scout Reservation, but, informally, everyone still called it Camp Clyde in honor – as I understood it – of the stuffed moose head called Clyde that presided from the wall of the mess hall.

My other camping summer was in 1968, when I spent something like twelve days at Bible camp, swimming, boating, crafting and more at a camp called the Shores of St. Andrew near the town of New London about forty-five miles southwest of St. Cloud.  St. Andrew wasn’t near as rustic an experience as Camp Clyde had been: We slept on bunk beds in a cabin instead of in canvas tents, and everything was located within, oh, a hundred yards of the lakeshore instead of being sprinkled throughout the piney woods as it was for the Boy Scouts.

A few things stick out from my time at the Shores of St. Andrew:

First, it was during those twelve days that my voice changed. When Mom and Dad dropped me off on a Sunday afternoon, I was still singing something close to soprano when we all gathered for sing-alongs in the evenings. Within a few days, that started to change. I felt constantly as if I needed to clear my throat. It never helped. Another few days went by, and I was a tenor. My range diminished slightly as my voice deepened, and as I struggled with the new sound of me, my fellow campers joshed me gently. When I greeted Mom when she arrived to take me home after those twelve days, the first thing she said was “What happened to your voice?”

One of the girls in the little crowd that had gathered at the departure point giggled. “It changed,” she said simply. Mom looked at me, looked at Jill – and the fact that I recall my fellow camper’s name after forty-one years is a little surprising – and then back at me. She nodded, and then we put my stuff in the car, and I left my remaining camper friends behind.

Jill’s presence – and the presence of the other girls – is another thing that makes that time at camp memorable. Oh, there was no romance between us, although a few other couples among the older campers – the ages of campers ranged from about twelve to sixteen – paired up tentatively during our time there. But there were cross-gender friendships, which was kind of a new concept for a lot of us, I think, girls as well as boys. Those friendships were aided by a decrease in the number of campers after one week. Most of the kids who arrived the same Sunday I did had signed up for just one week; about a third of us – maybe twenty – had signed up for the twelve-day session. A few of the kids from the nearby city of Willmar who’d signed up for the single week extended their stays because we were all having so much fun, but the second portion of my time at camp still had a much smaller population, and I think that helped encourage the development of a wider range of friendships, including those that crossed the gender line.

But friendly or not, we were still boys and they were still girls. And one night after midnight, we boys decided to go visit the girls’ cabin. We didn’t go in, of course. We ran around the outside of the cabin and then banged on the windows, yelping and hollering. I was gratified to hear the sounds of laughter on the other side of the window where I stood, shouting what in effect were nonsense words. After about five minutes, we ran back to our cabin, where our counselors – who had not attempted to dissuade us from our plans – were waiting. Both Louie and Paul – More names! Amazing! – shrugged as we tumbled in, laughing. One of them said, “I hope it was fun, guys. You’ll pay for it tomorrow.”

And we did. After lunch, while the girls got to go outside and go swimming or do whatever they wished, we boys were issued buckets and scrub brushes and spent the afternoon cleaning the floor of the mess hall. That wasn’t all that bad; as we scrubbed, we talked and laughed.

I also recall the last night at camp. We had a dance in the craft room, which was on the upper floor of one of the buildings. The tables were folded and moved to the side, some basic decorations were installed and one of the counselors provided a radio. I might have danced once; I think I had a dance with Jill. But I spent a good chunk of the evening with a few other guys standing near the wall, watching the others dance. After a while, I slid along the wall to the door. Once outside, I made my way down the stairs.

I wasn’t the only one who’d gone outside. A guy whose real name I never knew – he was chunky and called himself “Jumbo” – was sitting atop one of the picnic tables smoking a cigarette. (Another thing I never knew was whether Jumbo truly chose that nickname for himself or accepted it with as much grace as he could when it was given to him.) “Dull dance,” I said as I approached and sat on the table top.

He shrugged and nodded. “But we can at least hear the music here,” he said, and we could. The front windows of the craft room were open, and the sound of the radio was clear.

Jumbo offered me a cigarette, my first. I took it and smoked it inexpertly, somehow not managing to inhale. (That, and the habit, would come to me during college.) And perched on top of a picnic table, we listened to the music and sat out the dance. As we did, I would guess we heard at least one of these records.

A Six-Pack from the charts (Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 27, 1968)
“The Look Of Love” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, A&M 924 [No. 16]
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, Dunhill 4134 [No. 23]
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals, Atlantic 2537 [No. 32]
“The Eyes Of A New York Woman” by B.J. Thomas, Scepter 12230 [46]
“The Snake” by Al Wilson, Soul City 767 [No. 110]
“This Wheel’s On Fire” by Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger and the Trinity, Atco 6593 [122]

“The Look Of Love,” the first hit for Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, was part of the soundtrack for the James Bond film Casino Royale. The title was the only one of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels to which producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli didn’t hold rights. Faced with the prospect of mounting a spy film without Sean Connery – secure in the role of the British spy in the Saltzman-Broccoli films – the producers of Casino Royale turned Fleming’s taut tale into a spoof and a shambles. According to the Internet Movie Database, the producers were Jerry Bresler and Charles K. Feldman; six people were listed as having directed portions of the film, and ten individuals were involved in the writing (six were officially credited, not including Fleming, who got the credit: “suggested by the novel Casino Royale”). The movie was a mess in which – according to my memory – actors David Niven and Peter Sellers were allowed to run amok. But it did have some good music, including “The Look Of Love.” The song went as high on the charts as No. 4 during an eleven-week run, and the group had two more Top 40 hits in 1968, both also done in a light and friendly Latin style.

I said the other day that “In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” is one of those records that one either loves like a first-born child or hates like mold. I imagine the same is true of “MacArthur Park,” the rambling and symphonic love song whose most famous line is “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” I happen to think that the combination of Jimmy Webb’s admittedly over-the-top songwriting with the astounding vocal range of Richard Harris makes “MacArthur Park” a great record. Top 50 of all time? Maybe, maybe not. But – using a measuring stick I used here at least once before – if I were selecting a hundred records for a classic rock and pop jukebox, I think “MacArthur Park” would be in it. The record – Harris’ only Top 40 hit – spent ten weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 2.

Here’s what Dave Marsh had to say about “People Got To Be Free” in his 1989 classic, The Heart of Rock & Soul: “Sung like a funky Italian boys choir, arranged like a cross between Dyke and the Blazers and the Buckinghams, written in the fullest immersion in the glorious naivete of the times. Does hearing Felix [Cavaliere] try to preach about ‘the train to freedom’ render ‘People Got To Be Free’ dated? Of course. But what a glorious date, and what a way of celebrating the part of it that’s eternal: ‘I can’t understand, it’s so simple to me / People everywhere just got to be free.’ Ask my opinion, my opinion will be: Dated but never out of date.”

The Rascals’ record was in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks and spent an astounding five weeks at No. 1.

For more than ten years, from 1966 into 1977, B.J. Thomas recorded reliably good singles, but all too often, when talk and thought turns to listing the great Top 40 performers, his name seems to get lost. I’m not sure why that’s so. The man had fourteen Top 40 hits, with two of them reaching No. 1: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in 1969 and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” in 1975. Three others – 1964’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” 1968’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and 1970’s “I Just Can’t Help Believing” – all reached the Top Ten. And I’d be amazed if at least one of those five songs doesn’t start running through your head as you read that list. (And no, Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling” does not count!) “The Eyes Of A New York Woman” didn’t quite reach the heights those five records did, peaking at No. 28, but it’s probably my favorite B.J. Thomas song. Why? I dunno. Some things just are.

Al Wilson’s “The Snake” was pulled from his Searching For The Dolphins album, which was released on Johnny Rivers’ Soul City label. Through the end of the summer and into the autumn of 1968, the sly and funny slice of R&B moved slowly up the chart, peaking at No. 27, where it sat for the first two weeks of October. It was Wilson’s first Top 40 hit; he’d reach the top spot five years later with “Show and Tell,” which spent a week at No. 1 during the autumn of 1973. Being a sucker for drums, I love the four-second riff that starts about six seconds into the song. Drummers on the album were Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon.

Julie Driscoll never had a Top 40 hit in the U.S., but her version of “This Wheel’s On Fire” (written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko of The Band), which she recorded with Brian Auger and the Trinity, went to No. 5 in her native Great Britain.  Shortly after that, Driscoll moved her career toward vocal improvisation and jazz, recording under her own name into the mid-1970s and in a variety of ensembles since then. In 1992, according to All-Music Guide, Driscoll re-recorded “This Wheel’s on Fire” as the theme to the smash BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.  

‘I Walk Along The City Streets . . .’

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 21, 2009

Sometime during the early months of 1970, a new record came whispering out of the radio as I listened. It might have been a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but most likely, it was a weekday evening, and the radio was my old RCA, perched on the nightstand in my bedroom, keeping me company as I did homework, read or simply puttered around with the things that were important to a sixteen-year-old boy.

And as I puttered, I heard the singer, with a little bit of a rasp in his voice, tell the object of his devotion, “There’s always something there to remind me . . . You’ll always be a part of me.” And as the sound and the words sunk in, I operated on two levels for an instant. A portion of me recognized the voice as that of R.B. Greaves, who’d had a hit the previous autumn with “Take A Letter Maria.” (That record, the tale of a cuckolded husband who turns around and hits on his secretary, peaked at No. 2 during a thirteen-week run in the Top 40.)

And on the other level, I was thinking, “Always there to remind me: Oh, yes! Always be a part of me. Oh, yes! But how does he know?” How, I wondered, can the people who write and perform popular songs know what it is I’m going through? For there was in fact someone who mattered that much during that winter of 1969-1970, one whom I adored without consequent return. And in the confined environment of even a large high school like St. Cloud Tech, there were many places and people and things and moments that reminded me of her as I made my way through the days. And as I heard “Always Something There To Remind Me” from time to time – it spent only five weeks in the Top 40, reaching just No. 27 – it became one more of a chorus of songs that reminded me almost daily that the one I wanted to hold would remain forever beyond my reach.

So how do I hear the song today when it pops up on the RealPlayer or – infrequently – on the radio? I smile, recalling the absolute devotion of the high school junior I was, and I smile with a shrug of regret as I recall the exasperation on the face of my beloved. As it happens, the song doesn’t come around on the oldies stations very often: Greaves is remembered more for “Take A Letter Maria,” but then, that was the bigger hit. On occasion, though, it makes it way through the speakers here in the study. And almost forty years after that one-sided high school romance, the song – which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David – brings back memories far more sweet than bitter.

Over the years since Greaves’ version of the song was on the charts, I’ve learned, of course, that Greaves was not the first to record the Bacharach-David song, just as I learned that there are at least two ways to present the song’s title. Two versions that reside in my collection came out of 1964: One by British singer Sandie Shaw and the other by Lou Johnson.

Shaw’s version – one I’ve never much cared for – was a hit in the United Kingdom, reaching No. 1. Here in the U.S., it went to only No. 52. At the same time in the U.S., Johnson had been assigned through his record label, Big Top, to work with Bacharach and David. His take on “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” was his second single for them, and it went to No. 49, according to All-Music Guide. (AMG says that Bacharach brought Johnson to London for an appearance on Top of the Pops, but the visit took place right during the time that Shaw’s version of the song was dominating the charts.)

A few years later, in 1968, José Feliciano slid the song onto his record Feliciano as an album track, and in 1972, a couple of years after Greaves recorded his version, Michael McDonald recorded the song for his first album, a little-known artifact called That Was Then. Neither version reached the Top 40, and neither seems to be anything special, though I like the Feliciano version better of the two. (The McDonald album was recently released in a CD package with some extra tracks; I have utterly forgotten who pointed it my way, but they deserve my thanks.)

Finally, the last version in my collection is the one that most recently reached the Top 40 chart: the 1983 cover of the song by Naked Eyes, with the attention-grabbing chiming bells in the introduction. The record, which I quite like – though I was prepared not to when I first heard it – went to No. 8 and spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, the first – and best-performing – of four Top 40 hits for the English duo.

There are of course, many others who’ve covered “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.” Some of them are: Affinity, the Drifters, Carol Duboc, the Four Seasons, Aretha Franklin, Jay & The Americans, Larry Knechtel, Patti LaBelle, Brenda Lee, Peggy Lee, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, the Pozo-Seco Singers, the Stylistics, Stanley Turrentine, Dionne Warwick and Don Williams.

I’ll likely dig a few of those up in the future. (The idea of the Aretha cover of the song intrigues me.) But these six will have to do for now:

A Six-Pack Of Reminders
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Sandie Shaw, Pye 15704 (UK) [1964]
“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by Lou Johnson, Big Hill 552 [1964]
“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by José Feliciano from Feliciano! [1968]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Michael McDonald from That Was Then [1972]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by R.B. Greaves, Atco 6726 [1970]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes, EMI America 8155 [1983]

Afternote: I read Oldetymer’s note, and yes, the McDonald track does sound like B.J. Thomas. I admit to wondering about it myself, as it was an extra track in the That Was Then package someone posted for me. So I did some digging, and it turns, according to what I learned at An Overdose of Fingal Cocoa, that McDonald recorded some tracks for Bell Records in 1972 that were eventually released on Arista in 1982 as That Was Then. A later re-release on vinyl included some bonus tracks, one of which was “Always Something There To Remind Me.” So it is in fact a young Michael McDonald.

‘One Small Step . . .’

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 20, 2009

Like almost everyone else in the United States – and like so many elsewhere around the Earth, for that matter – I was watching television forty years ago this evening.

My folks, my sister and I gathered in the living room, gazing at our old Zenith, and watched Neil Armstrong descend the Eagle’s ladder and then take that first step onto the surface of the moon. And we continued to watch as he was joined by Buzz Aldrin and the two of them placed a U.S. flag and then gathered samples of lunar rocks to bring back to Earth.

I admit to being puzzled by the missing “a” from Armstrong’s ceremonial first words on the moon: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” But in the years since, he’s said that he intended to say it and he thought he said it, so that’s fine. Given the weight of the occasion (and granting him the missing “a”), I thought his first words were well thought out and appropriate. But they were ceremonial, and thus were missing the visceral truth of Aldrin’s first words when he left the Eagle and joined Armstrong on the lunar surface: “Magnificent desolation!”

We watched until the two astronauts went back into the Eagle after something like two hours exploring the lunar surface that evening. None of us said much in the living room that night, and I don’t know what my folks thought as they watched men bounce around on the surface of the Moon. I remembered President John Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to the nation to land a man on the moon and bring him home, and it seems to me – I was maybe eight at the time the challenge was laid down and fifteen when the Eagle landed on the Moon – that I took the existence and success of a lunar expedition as a given. (History and chance have since taught me, of course, that so many things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. Then.)

But I wonder now what my parents felt and thought, both having been born less than half a century earlier in homes – like many of those in the United States at the time – that had no electricity. Did they marvel at the sight of men on another world? Or did they take it as a given, another accomplishment checked off the list in a world that supplied marvels one after the other? I don’t know.

I know I was fascinated by the landing and all the things that surrounded it. There was a Gulf service station not far from Tech High School, about a mile west of the Mississippi River. And during that summer, Gulf Oil was handing out sheets of heavy die-cut paper. By carefully punching out the die-cut pieces and then folding and inserting tabs into slots, one could make his or her own lunar module. Most of the kids I knew had picked up at least one, and each spent an hour or so carefully constructing the fragile model. I wound up with three of the paper models on a shelf in my bedroom. Even after the mission of Apollo 11 was finished successfully, I’d look at those fragile models and think of the real fragile and ungainly Eagle landing on the moon and then returning Armstrong and Aldrin to the Columbia and Michael Collins, in orbit around the moon.

Though I might not have put it into these words back then, I think what I was pondering was the slender margin of error that those three astronauts had successfully ridden, from the launch of the Saturn 5 rocket through the trip to the Moon and back to the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Everything had to go just right, and it did. I think I was trying to figure out what that could teach me that I could apply to my life. And I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten there.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending July 23, 1969)
“In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans, RCA Victor 0174 (No. 1)
“Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” by Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys, Polydor 14002 (No. 25)
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods, RCA Victor 9752 (No. 44)
“On Campus” by Dickie Goodman, Cotique 158 (No. 51)
“Tell All The People” by the Doors, Elektra 45663 (No. 58)
“Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” by Lou Rawls, Capitol 2550 (No. 87)

The first single is either a listener’s worst earworm or a delightful piece of bad science fiction. Either way, it was inescapable during the summer of 1969, vibrating out of tinny speakers and car radios at least twice an hour, or so it seemed. A bit of research a while back by a blogger whose stuff I read regularly – I believe it was my colleague jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – revealed that Zager & Evans hold the title of the greatest one-hit wonder of all time: “In the Year 2525” was in the Billboard Top 40 for twelve weeks, with an amazing six weeks spent at No. 1. This is one of those records that one either loves like a first-born child or hates like mold. I was a science fiction geek in 1969, so I never tired of hearing it come out of the speaker. In fact, this record might have been one of those that drew me toward Top 40 music during that summer when I was exploring new sounds.

“Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” by Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys is another one-hit wonder, this one from a band that’s kind of slipped through the cracks of time. I knew nothing at all about Cat Mother and the boys a year ago, and I still know very little (though I like what I have heard, mostly through the graces of Chuntao at Rare MP3 Music). The medley, which was the opening track of the band’s first album, The Street Giveth…and the Street Taketh Away, spent six weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 21. The group released three more albums, closing down the presses after Cat Mother in 1976. “Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” pulls fragments from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins/Elvis Presley and Buddy Knox in a little more than three minutes, kind of a whirling history of a portion of 1950s rock ’n’ roll.

The Youngbloods’ “Get Together” had originally been released in 1967 and had risen to only No. 62 in the Billboard Hot 100 before being re-released in 1969 with a different catalog number. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that in 1969, the record “was popularized as the theme for the National Conference of Christians and Jews.” Whatever the reason, the record got as high as No. 5 the second time around, spending twelve weeks in the Top 40. Without digging too deeply into the timing, it seems to me that the record’s peak came in the autumn: its strains carry with them the sense of moonrise and the crackling dance of leaves falling from the oaks in the back yard.

With “On Campus,” Dickie Goodman struck again with his cut-in comedy formula. This one isn’t as witty as some of his other topical takes from over the years, but it wasn’t as lame as “Batman and His Grandmother” (which was the only one I ever bought).  The record didn’t make the Top 40. Goodman’s previous Top 40 hit had been 1957’s “Santa and the Satellite” and his next would be 1974’s “Energy Crisis ’74.” It didn’t miss by much, though: “On Campus” peaked at No. 45 during an eight-week stay in the Hot 100.

The version of “Tell All The People” I’m offering here is from the album The Soft Parade, and given the Doors’ and Elektra’s propensity for issuing widely different mixes on their 45s, I have no confidence at all that it’s the version that folks heard occasionally on their radios during the summer of 1969. I find it interesting for the use of horns, and for the fact that the writing credit for the single went solely to Robby Krieger; the Doors’ albums to that point had credited all songwriting to the group as an entity. One bit of speculation I saw (and I do not recall where I read it) suggested that Jim Morrison was unwilling to attach his name to a lyric that told listeners to “get your guns.” The record moved up one more spot to No. 58 during the last week of July, hovered there for another week and then fell out of the Hot 100 entirely.

I don’t have a lot to say about Lou Rawls’ “Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” but only because any comment I make is superfluous: It’s a great record by one of the great singers of all time. The record peaked at No. 18 in late September of 1969, the third of six Top 40 hits Rawls would have in his career.