Archive for the ‘2009/12 December’ Category

Back In December ’82

July 6, 2022

Originally posted December 30, 2008

I spent much of my time during the last week of 1982 riding on buses, and it was one of more fun weeks of my life. I was accompanying – and covering for the Monticello newspaper – the Monticello High School marching band as it toured Southern California and prepared to march in Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, 1983.

During that week, we did a lot of the standard Southern California things: Universal Studios, a Hollywood bus tour, the Farmers’ Market, Sea World in San Diego and Disneyland. The band marched during the daily parade during our day at Walt Disney’s brainchild, and the band also performed during a men’s basketball game between the University of Southern California and Georgetown University. (That Georgetown team was led by Patrick Ewing, who would lead the Hoyas to the NCAA championship during the following season, 1983-84.)

And the band marched the long Tournament of Roses parade on New Year’s Day, bringing to its small-town high school in Minnesota one of the most sparkling accolades a marching band can ever earn. That meant, of course, that I got to see the parade from a front-row seat set aside for photographers. I had to work – getting as many shots as I could – during the forty-five or so seconds it took the Monticello band to march past my position. Other than that, I could sit back and enjoy the parade.

(About six of the men on the trip – me, my editor and four high school faculty members – ended the trip’s activities by taking in Rose Bowl game between Michigan and UCLA. As was its habit in those days, Michigan lost the game. But the highlight of the afternoon for me was seeing the Wolverine band march across the field in its big block M, playing the best college fight song in the land, “The Victors.”)

All of those activities meant a lot of time on the bus, heading from our hotel in Newport Beach to those various points. And where teens go, of course, goes music, and in those days before iPods allowed each person his or her own personal playlist, that meant a radio. So as we meandered along Hollywood Boulevard, as we found our way to Disneyland, as we headed south along the freeway to San Diego, and everywhere we went, the bus I was on had a radio playing the current hits of the day.

That’s why hearing almost any tune that was on the radio during the last week of 1982 triggers memories: The kids stepping into footprints left in cement by movie stars at Mann’s Chinese Theatre. The view from the stage at the Hollywood Bowl. Dolphins posing for a picture at Sea World. Fireworks over the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. And, too, the gasps of shock from a cluster of Midwestern boys when they realized that the cute Hollywood Boulevard gal they’d been waving to from the bus wasn’t really a gal at all.

Here are five tunes that can trigger some of those memories and one that’s just too good to pass up.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, December 25, 1982)
“The Girl Is Mine” by Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney (No. 3)
“Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye (No. 8)
“Africa” by Toto (No. 14)
“Rock the Casbah” by the Clash (No. 15)
“Love In Store” by Fleetwood Mac (No. 27)
“Forever” by Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul (No. 81)

I know I heard the first four of these as I rode that bus around Southern California during that last week of 1982. And I think we heard the Fleetwood Mac single, maybe on our longest ride of that week, from Newport Beach to San Diego. I’m certain, however, that we didn’t hear “Forever” by Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul.

“The Girl Is Mine” was in its eighth week in the Hot 100, and it would peak at No. 2 on the chart from January 8, 1983. (That was the next chart issued, as Billboard decided not to issue a chart on January 1, 1983.) The record did hit No. 1 on the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts, though. As for me, I thought the record was pleasant; it was sweet and melodic, and Jackson’s and McCartney’s voices blended well. But it was also lightweight enough that I doubt that it would end up ranked among the best bits of work in the career of either man.

“Sexual Healing” was Marvin Gaye’s last hit, pulled from Midnight Love, the last album Gaye recorded before his death in 1984. The record went to No. 3, and on the R&B chart it held the No. 1 spot for ten weeks. The record’s success, says Jason Elias of All-Music Guide, was understandable: “It was the perfect time . . .  Al Green had gone to church, Prince was too weird, and Teddy Pendergrass was still recovering from his near-fatal crash. Music had been missing this kind of mix of sex, humor, and romance.”

My sense of Toto at the time – and for years to come, as it happens – was that the band didn’t get much respect. Made up of studio pros, Toto ended up with ten Top 40 hits from 1978 through 1988, and if some of them were carefully crafted to climb the charts, well, so they were. And so they did. I confess to not having any Toto in my collection during the early 1980s, but then, I wasn’t buying stuff by other new bands, either. But I liked “Africa” right from the start, and I still do. The single spent sixteen weeks in the Top 40, one of them at No. 1.  And I have a sense that Toto sounds a lot better these days than a lot of things that were coming out of the speakers in 1982.

I didn’t get the Clash at the time or for a long time after. Among the excess records I got during the early 1990s from my friend Fran at Bridging Inc. were near-mint copies of London Calling, Sandinista! and Combat Rock. I sold ’em all, not yet plugged into the group’s aesthetic (and not yet committed to creating a rock archive in my living room). I still don’t listen often to the group’s work, but I now understand the historical and musical trends that brought the Clash its attitude and sound. All of that means that I quite like “Rock the Casbah” and a few of the group’s other efforts. “Casbah” was the group’s second hit – after “Train In Vain (Stand By Me)” went to No. 23 in 1980 – and peaked at No. 8 during a fifteen-week stay in the Top 40.

“Love In Store” came from Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage album, its studio follow-up to the idiosyncratic Tusk. (A live album was released and went to No. 14 on the album chart between the two studio efforts). Had Tusk scared off the less-committed listeners who’d bought the group’s mid-1970s chart-topping albums as if they’d held the secrets to perpetual bliss? Not at all. Mirage went to No. 1 as well and stayed there for five weeks. “Love In Store” peaked at No. 22, the third single from Mirage (after “Hold Me” and “Gypsy”) to hit the Top 40.

The Little Steven who fronted the Disciples of Soul was, of course, Steve Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. All-Music Guide notes that while Springsteen was working on Born in the U.S.A., Van Zandt gathered in a group of like-minded musicians and put together Men Without Women, which Mark Deming of AMG calls “the finest album the Asbury Jukes never made.” Deming continues: “Like the Jukes [sic] best work, Men Without Women blends the muscle and swagger of Jersey shore rock & roll with the horn-fueled heart and soul of classic R&B, and here Van Zandt was willing to push himself further in both directions at once.” As a single, “Forever” got to No. 63 and stayed there for two weeks during an eight-week stay in the Hot 100.

Four of these are album tracks and thus may differ from the singles that were getting airplay. “Africa” as presented here is shorter than the album track, and I think it’s the single mix, but as I no longer recall where I got it, I cannot say for certain. Nor do I recall where I got the Marvin Gaye track, but based on running time, I’m guessing without certainty that it’s the track from the album Midnight Love and not the single edit.

My thanks to the proprietor of Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas for his own post about riding a bus during school days that accompanied some tunes from late 1982. His memories triggered my own, and I’m grateful for that.

Saturday Single No. 168

July 6, 2022

Originally posted December 26, 2009

The day has gotten away from me, what with sleeping in a little, shoveling another bit of snow from the walks, grabbing a quick lunch at a local joint and running a few errands.

But I’m reluctant to let a Saturday go by unnoticed. I’m not sure how many times I’ve left this place blank on a Saturday since I began this blog in early 2007, but I think I can still count them on one hand. Certainly, two hands will suffice; I’m not yet forced to include toes.

So between shoveling and errands, I was rummaging through the “F” section of the LPs, looking for something interesting I’d not yet ripped or posted. I rejected a few ideas – I wasn’t in the mood for either Robben Ford or Firefall – and ended up pulling out a solo album by Mick Fleetwood, founder of and drummer for Fleetwood Mac.

The album is titled The Visitor, and it was recorded in early 1981 in the West African nation of Ghana. Some of the album is rock with backing provided by a mix of western and African musicians (along with a couple of guest artists, including George Harrison). And some of the album is African and African-influenced music, with the African musicians taking the lead and the members of Fleetwood’s band – George Hawkins on bass and Todd Sharp on guitars – and other guests joining in.

I’m not sure how far ahead of the curve toward world music Fleetwood was, given that The Visitor was recorded in 1981. That was eight years before Paul Simon released Graceland, which, it seems to me, was seen as a milestone. Peter Gabriel included Youssou N’dour as a guest vocalist on “In Your Eyes” on his 1986 album, So. And those are just the first two that come to mind as I write off the top of my head. I imagine there were other big-time musicians who explored African culture on their records before Fleetwood did so on The Visitor. But I wonder how many; I do have the sense that – as I said above – Fleetwood was ahead of the curve.

Having pulled The Visitor from the shelf, I’ll set it in the increasingly large pile of things I plan to rip to mp3s. I think I’ll get to it fairly quickly. In the meantime, here’s a preview: The title track from Fleetwood’s album, sung by the Ghana Folkloric Group, with Fleetwood on drums, Hawkins on piano and Mike Moran on the Prophet 5 synthesizer. It’s “The Visitor,” today’s Saturday Single.

“The Visitor” by Mick Fleetwood & the Ghana Folkloric Group et al.
From The Visitor [1981]

(Note from 2022: After this was posted, several folks left comments about other Western artists who had explored Third World music before Fleetwood did. Sadly, those comments and names are lost in email archives.)

‘And So This Is Christmas . . .’

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 25, 2009

In his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, Dave Marsh places “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at No. 784.

Marsh writes:

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

However you celebrate, may your day be sweet, and may your road be straight and clear.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John & Yoko & The Plastic Ono Band with The Harlem Community Choir [1971]

Christmas Tunes From The Tire Store

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 24, 2009

For about five years in the mid-1960s, in the early weeks of each December, my dad would stop off at both the Goodyear and Firestone tire outlets here in St. Cloud. He’d gab a bit with the managers or owners of the two outlets, asking about their businesses, their families, their golf games and maybe their January plans for ice fishing. He might even ask about the tires he’d eventually need for his old 1952 Ford.

And then he’d pick up a LP from a display rack, pay for it and head back out into the cold, with that year’s album of Christmas music gathered in. Firestone’s series was called Your Christmas Favorites, and when Dad’s record collection came to me a few years ago, I found four volumes of that series, released between 1964 and 1967. Goodyear called its series The Great Songs of Christmas, and Dad gathered in five of those albums, Volumes Four through Eight. They aren’t dated, but I’d bet that the first one dates from 1963; my memory, which is generally pretty good, is giving me faint hints that we got the first Goodyear album a year before we began collecting the Firestone albums.

I may be off by a year or two, but a look at the various artists presented on the albums makes it clear that we’re talking clearly about performers who were utterly traditional; if there was a whiff of popularity, it was popularity that was firmly ensconced in the middle of the musical road. The first Firestone album we got featured performances by Broadway stars Gordon MacRae and Martha Wright, opera stars Franco Corelli and Roberta Peters, and the Columbia Boychoir. The next year’s record eased up a bit, featuring Julie Andrews and Vic Damone, but also presented performances by opera performers Dorothy Kirsten and James McCracken, as well as by a group called the Young Americans, which Wikipedia calls the “first show choir in America, mixing choreography with choral singing.” Sounds to me like an early version of Up With People.

A look at the two earliest Goodyear anthologies I have – and I think they’re from1963 and 1964 – show them to be similarly conservative and safe: Volume Four of The Great Songs of Christmas has performances from Mary Martin, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Robert Goulet, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Percy Faith, the Brothers Four, Mahalia Jackson, Isaac Stern, Doris Day, the New Christy Minstrels, Mitch Miller and his Group and André Previn. The next year, Volume Five featured Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra again, and added Andy Williams, Andre Kostelanetz, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Maurice Chevalier, operatic tenor Richard Tucker, the duo of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Dinah Shore, Diahann Carroll, Danny Kaye and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Two other Christmas records came to me when I got Dad’s collection: During those same years in the mid-1960s, RCA Victor issued its own series of Christmas records, and in 1964 and 1965, Dad and I stopped by the bookstore annex of Fandel’s Department Store – where one could also buy stereos, radios and televisions – and picked up the current year’s RCA holiday record. I won’t list all the names of the performers, but some of them were Chet Atkins, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, the Norman Luboff Choir, Perry Como, the Ames Brothers, John Gary and Mario Lanza. Like those on the Goodyear and Firestone series, the performers were traditional and safe.

And for years – from the mid-1960s through Dad’s last Christmas in 2002 – those records were the ones we heard during the Christmas season, and then, during the later years, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day during our celebrations at home on Kilian Boulevard. I don’t listen to them anymore, although I imagine I should take some time during the next year and create digital files from them, just for posterity. (And my sister might like that.)

I said yesterday, as I have in years before, that there are really only two songs connected with Christmas that I listen to these days. I shared one yesterday: Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” And today, I’ve got two covers of what is without doubt my favorite song of the season.

May your day and season be filled with peace, joy and love and whatever else you may need to be complete.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by the Moody Blues from December [2003]

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by Sarah McLachlan from Wintersong [2006]

‘The Snow’s Coming Down . . .’

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 23, 2009

We may be snowed in for Christmas.

For the past few days, the National Weather Service has been warning of a winter storm heading our direction, and this morning’s forecast predicts snow accumulations of fifteen to eighteen inches between tonight and Friday evening, with – says the weather service – accumulations of twenty or more inches becoming likely in some locations.

It seems to me that it’s been a while since we had a good-sized winter storm and blizzard around here. We’ve had a few heavy snows in the past few years, but the one heading our way sounds like the biggest in a while. We’ll see as things develop if it rivals the Super Bowl Blizzard of January 1975 or the series of storms we call the Halloween Storm of 1991.

In any event, if the forecast is correct, we’re likely not going to my sister’s on Friday for Christmas. She’s talked about postponing the family celebration until Saturday, and that might work, if the fellow who plows our driveway – I’m going to guess it’s about two hundred feet long – gets around to our place in time. If he doesn’t, well, we’ll hunker down and make the best of it.

That would make this Christmas a rarity, though. From many annual celebrations down on the farm at Lamberton and then at my grandparents’ new home in town through years of gatherings at the house on Kilian Boulevard in St. Cloud and recently at my sister’s home in Maple Grove, I’ve been away from my family for Christmas only a very few times. One was in 1973, when I celebrated the holiday with my Danish family in Fredericia. Another was in 1999, when I was dealing with an illness and was unable to travel. And then last year, for health reasons, the Texas Gal and I stayed in St. Cloud for the holiday.

It won’t be a tragedy if we’re unable to leave St. Cloud or even leave our home on Friday morning. It will be an unhappy inconvenience. Life intrudes on our plans every once in a while, and as long as we have warm shelter and our health, a snowstorm is a mild intrusion. And just in case it happens, we’re making a few plans: Soon after I finish this post, I’ll head out to the nearby grocery and pick up some treats and the makings of a modest holiday dinner for the two of us.

Those who’ve read this blog for some time know that I’m not big on Christmas music. In fact, there are only three holiday recordings I ever share here, and I do so every year. One of those has been the video of Darlene Love’s annual performance of the Wall of Sound classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s television show.

I decided this year to go back to the original. So this morning, I pulled out my copy of the Phil Spector box set, Back to Mono, which includes a copy of his 1963 album, A Christmas Gift For You. Here then, from near-mint vinyl, is the first of three Christmas songs I’ll offer this season: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love from A Christmas Gift For You [1963]

Saturday Singles Nos. 166 & 167

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 19, 2009

Among the first things I did when I moved to Minot, North Dakota, in the late summer of 1987 was to buy three large bookcases for my study. I actually used them for books for a couple of years. By the time I moved to Pleasant Avenue in South Minneapolis in 1992, about one-third of the big cases had been taken over by records. And during my last couple of years there, about once every couple months I’d empty one of the upper compartments of its books or knickknacks and rearrange the vinyl to give it more room.

But there were always more records sitting in crates on the floor, waiting for a place on the shelves. When I moved from Pleasant Avenue to Bossen Terrace, further south in Minneapolis in 1999, I devoted all of the large bookshelf space to LPs. The books and knickknacks went elsewhere in what was a smaller apartment.

This week’s post is the last month-by-month of the exploration of how the records came to take over the bookcases. Last week, I looked at December’s LP acquisitions from 1964 or so through 1989. This week, we carry on.

By December of 1990, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, having spent earlier portions of the year in Anoka, Minnesota, and Conway Springs, Kansas. And only two albums came my way that month, Rescue by Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers and The Legendary Christine Perfect Album, a record of bluesy rock first released in England in 1970 as simply Christine Perfect and then released in 1976 under the longer name in the U.S. after Christine Perfect became Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.

The following summer, I moved back to Minnesota, and as I settled into my new reporting job, I pretty much took the autumn of 1991 and the winter of 1991-92 off from buying almost anything, including LPs. When the spring came, I’d moved from the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Park to Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where there were garage sales, thrift stores and six or seven used record shops, including Cheapo’s. My buying was sporadic for a while, but it began to accelerate.

The seven albums I picked up in December 1992 are an odd lot: A live John Lennon LP, two records of Beethoven compositions, albums by Jonathan Edwards, the Singing Nun and Anne-Charlotte Harvey (the last a collection of Swedish-American folksongs titled Memories of Snoose Boulevard) and the marvelous 1972 three-record celebration of folk and country music by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and friends titled Will The Circle Be Unbroken. (A few of the friends: Mother Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Vassar Clements and Norman Blake.)

I took the last months of 1993 off from buying records and resumed as 1994 dawned. In December of 1994, I was digging into the catalogs of singer-songwriters, grabbing albums by Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Hoyt Axton and Wendy Waldman. I also got a copy of Dobie Gray’s Hey Dixie, which has a country/soul sense to it, making it an interesting listen.

The haul in December of 1995 was slight, only two records. But they were pretty good: George Harrison’s Cloud Nine from a few years earlier and the newly released Bruce Springsteen album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. A year later, in December 1996, I brought home records by Lulu, Tower of Power, Bob Seger, Joe South and Tracy Chapman as well as a compilation of recordings by Gary U.S. Bonds and Chubby Checker, and Anthology 3, the third three-record volume in the Beatles’ massive series.

The rate of purchases was accelerating, as I was devoting more and more free time to record research and to crate-digging at about five or six used record stores. In the last month of 1997, I brought home ten albums, including work by Gypsy, Junior Walker and the All-Stars, Hootie & the Blowfish, Major Harris, Alberta Hunter, Love, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Jackie Wilson and Neil Young. Still, the best album of that month was an anthology, Volume 5 of Atlantic Records’ history of its rhythm & blues efforts, covering the years 1962 to 1966.

In 1998 and 1999, I went mad. During those two years, I brought home a total of 1,056 records, an average of more than ten a week. I was well above average in December of 1998, when I brought home ninety-eight LPs. (Thirty-seven of those came in one morning, when – as I’ve mentioned before – a friendly clerk at a nearby thrift store called me on a Saturday and told me that someone had just dropped off eight boxes of mint-condition LPs, mostly vintage blues and R&B.) Some of the more interesting names on that month’s records: Mavis Staples, Richie Havens, Ike & Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Graham Central Station, Z.Z. Hill, Cold Blood, Lou Ann Barton, B.B. King, Moby Grape, Johnny Ray and Etta James. The best of that month’s huge haul?  Maybe Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, maybe Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ in the Moonlight, maybe Muddy Water’s Hard Again, or maybe any one of ten or so other LPs. It was a great month.

December of 1999 was a little less busy, with thirty-six LPs coming into my new digs on Bossen Terrace in far south Minneapolis. Among the names on the jackets were Leonard Cohen, Bob Seger, Mike Nesmith, Otis Redding, Chicago, the Rascals, Jimmie Spheeris, Robert Cray, the Youngbloods, the Byrds, Mason Profitt, Lou Rawls and Shawn Phillips. The best of the month? Maybe Little Milton’s Moving to the Country or Al Green Explores Your Mind or possibly the Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain, an album for which I have an odd affection.

That was the peak of my vinyl period, 1999. In December 2000, I brought three records home: El Chicano’s Cinco, Muddy Waters’ King Bee and the soundtrack to The Great Gatsby. In 2001, I collected four LPs: A bootleg of a 1970 performance at the Hollywood Bowl by The Band, a Christmas anthology and albums by the Blasters and Terence Trent D’Arby.

Three years passed. During a holiday visit to Texas in 2004, a friend of the Texas Gal gave us a box of LPs, bringing that December’s total to twenty-five. Among the artists whose work was in the box were: Amy Grant, the English Beat, the 4 Seasons, Madness, Melissa Manchester, Romeo Void, Sting and Carly Simon. The best of that month? Probably Warren Zevon’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School.

I picked up two records at a thrift store in December 2005, and bought two records – getting Chi Coltrane’s Let It Ride by mail and the Looking Glass’ Subway Serenade at an antique store – in December 2007. And there the tale of Decembers ends.

So what do I share from all of this? I think one song each from two of the giants of Chicago blues is a good direction to go. So here are your Saturday Singles:

“Smokestack Lightnin’” by Howlin’ Wolf from Moanin’ in the Moonlight [1958]

(Likely recorded in 1956; released as Chess 1618)

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters with Johnny Winter from Hard Again [1977]

One Of Those Days

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 18, 2009

It’s one of those days. I got the kitten – our newest, Little Gus – to the vet for his last round of shots this morning, and that’s about all that’s gonna happen.

But I mentioned Wednesday that Duane Allman was one of the guitarists who played on Barry Goldberg’s 1969 album, Two Blues Jews, noting further that an Allman discography says that Duane played on the track “Twice A Man.”

So, here’s a treat to get us all through the day:

“Twice A Man” by Barry Goldberg with Duane Allman on guitar.
From Two Blues Jews [1969]

I’ll be back tomorrow with a Saturday Single.

Defaulting To Random

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 16, 2009

Today’s post was going to be a look at December 1971. Not that I had any great tale to tell, but I’d recalled a brief anecdote onto which to hang a musical hat.

And the chart – from December 18, 1971 – looked good. I was particularly happy with the presence of “You Are Everything” by the Stylistics and “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” by the Temptations. I pulled the vinyl anthologies for both groups and got to work. Regrettably, both pieces of vinyl have skips. At least, I think so. I’m certain the Stylistics track does. Then there’s an odd rhythm at the beginning of the Temptations piece, and I think it’s a skip. I need to dig a little further.

But messing around with those two rips – the two tracks would have been great to share – has taxed my patience, and the brief tale I’m going to resurrect from the last month of 1971 will have to wait. I’m just going to cue up the third track I’d already selected from that week in December 1971 and go more or less random from there. By “more or less,” I mean that there’ll be nothing pre-1950, nothing post-1999, nothing I recall sharing recently, and nothing that might yet end up in the listing for my Ultimate Jukebox.

An update on that project, since it came up: It was relatively easy to find enough records to consider. It’s become quite difficult to pare them down to two hundred. The list right now numbers two hundred and thirty-five, and I hope to get down to two hundred within a week.

A Mostly Random Six-Pack
“So Many People” by Chase, Epic 10806 [1971]
“Maxwell Street Shuffle” by Barry Goldberg from Two Blues Jews [1969]
“Hobo Jungle” by The Band from Northern Lights/Southern Cross [1975]
“Sisters of Mercy” by Judy Collins from Wildflowers [1967]
“In The Light Of Day” by Steve Winwood from Refugees of the Heart [1990]
“Weather With You” by Crowded House from Woodface [1991]

Listening to it today, I’m startled that “So Many People” was essentially unsuccessful. Chase’s “Get It On” went to No. 24 during the summer of 1971, but “So Many People” peaked at No. 81 during the first week of 1972 and then took a week or so to tumble out of sight. And that’s too bad, because from here and now, it was a great horn-band single. But maybe the era of the horn band was ending. A note: I once was silly enough to write that Chase was a group without a guitar player because the review I was looking at mentioned everyone in the group but the lead guitarist. Of course, the group had a guitar player. On this track, it’s Angel South. Others here are Bill Chase, Ted Piercefield, Alan Ware and Jerry Van Blair on trumpets; Phil Porter on organ, Dennis Johnson on bass, Jay Burrid on drums and G.G. Shinn on vocals.

As All-Music Guide notes, Barry Goldberg “was a regular fixture in the white blues firmament of the mid-’60s that seemed to stretch from Chicago to New York.” His name popped up in album credits everywhere, as he played with Harvey Mandel, Mother Earth, the Electric Flag, Jimmy Witherspoon, B.J. Thomas, Maggie Bell, Stephen Stills, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and many more. Two Jews Blues was his own album, and it comes off pretty well, given that he got a lot of his friends to show up and help out. I’m not sure who does the guitar solo on “Maxwell Street Shuffle,” but the guitarists credited at AMG are Mandel, Bloomfield, Duane Allman and Eddie Hinton. (It’s not Allman, according to a Duane Allman discography that’s pretty reliable; the site says that Allman played on one track on the album, “Twice A Man.”)

As much as I love The Band, I’ve never quite figured out how I feel about the album Northern Lights/Southern Cross. Two of the songs on the album – “Acadian Driftwood” and “It Makes No Difference” – are among the group’s best and are so good that the rest of the album seems somehow wanting when taken as a unit. But when other tracks pop up individually – as “Hobo Jungle” did today – they seem better than I remember them being. Which might put The Band in a rare category as a group whose own lesser work still shines when placed next to the best work of a lot of other performers.

I wrote the other week about the albums my sister owned when she was in college, the albums she took with her when she left home. Judy Collins’ Wildflowers was one of them. Collins’ cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” is one of the most evocative tracks on the record; hearing it puts me back into late 1971, the period of time I was going to write about today. It’s evening, and I’m in the rec room in the basement, maybe playing tabletop hockey with Rick and Rob, maybe reading, maybe talking quietly with my first college girlfriend. Collins’ soprano and Cohen’s lyric – enigmatic as it may be – blended so well that “Sisters of Mercy” became one of the songs that made that rec room my refuge.

“In The Light Of Day” was the closing track to Steve Winwood’s Refugees of the Heart, an album that hasn’t been too well-respected over the years: AMG’s William Ruhlmann says, “The key to Steve Winwood’s solo career is inconsistency; Refugees of the Heart was a letdown. The distinction between a great Winwood album and one that’s only okay is dangerously small – it has more to do with performance than composition . . .” I admit to not being blown away when I got the album in 1990 and then again when I found the CD in a budget bin two years ago. But this morning “In The Light Of Day” – essentially a lengthy, grooved prayer – seemed pretty good. The saxophone solo is by Randall Bramblett.

“Weather With You” is one of my favorite Crowded House tunes, but then, CH was a group that rarely did anything I truly dislike. During their heyday – the late 1980s and early 1990s – I heard and read the term “Beatlesque” applied to the New Zealanders so often that it became a cliché instead of meaningful commentary. But “Weather With You” is bright, concise, melodic and infectious, and those are virtues no matter who you’re being compared to.

Saturday Singles Nos. 164 & 165

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 12, 2009

As we approach the middle of December, I thought I’d go ahead and look at Decembers past, seeing what LPs have come home with me over the years. As I’ve done throughout this year, I’ll invest two Saturdays, looking this week at records I obtained from 1965 (or so I think) through 1989 and next week at Decembers from 1990 onward.

I wrote last summer about my first December album, Beatles ’65. My database says that my sister and I found the record by our stereo – a shared Christmas present – in 1965, but as I indicated in August, it might have been 1964, as I didn’t keep track of acquisition dates until 1972 or so. Either way, it was the first LP I ever got in December. And as the rip I posted here in August makes clear, it was very good, even if its contents and running order were determined by Capitol Records in the U.S. rather than by the Beatles or even by Parlophone.

(Note from 2022: Some years after this post was written, my sister sent me a photograph of me holding Beatles ’65 and wearing my Beatle wig. On the back of the photo, in my dad’s handwriting, was the note: “Christmas 1964.” So that mystery has been settled.)

Rick walked across Kilian Boulevard on an afternoon just before Christmas in 1970 and did me – through that year’s Christmas gift for me – the great favor of introducing me to The Band via the group’s second, self-titled album. I looked a little skeptically at the cover photo of the five musicians, who looked as if they’d just walked out of 1870. But once I dropped the record on the turntable, the skepticism fled and I lost myself in the best album recorded by the group that continues to hold the title of my all-time favorite.

Christmas continued to be the reason for record acquisition in 1971: Putting me closer to my goal of owning all of the Beatles’ albums, my first college girlfriend gave me Meet the Beatles! A couple of guys I’d hung around with during the first quarter of college game me a copy of Three Dog Night’s Naturally, and my folks gave me the three-record box set of The Concert for Bangla Desh. Not a bad bunch at all.

I’m not at all sure what Rick gave me for Christmas that year, 1971, but I think that was the year of the lemon-colored velour necktie. I still have it, one of the few neckties in my possession. A year later, in 1972, Rick returned to music, and his Christmas gift to me in 1972 was Seventh Sojourn by the Moody Blues, another favorite of mine.

In early December 1974, clearing his shelves of a duplicate, Rick gave me a copy of the live album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Four Way Street. Later in the month, for Christmas, he handed over Dreamspeaker and thus introduced me to the work of flautist Tim Weisberg.

Decembers for the next few years saw no new LPs, but after I joined the Monticello Times in 1977 – my first week with the paper was for the December 1, 1977, edition – I had more income and began to spend a little more on music. That last month of 1977 saw me bring home records by Jefferson Starship, the Moody Blues, Boz Scaggs, Marvin Gaye, Jim Croce and the duo of Henry Mancini and Doc Severinsen.

After that, my record buying was sporadic for years, and December was no different. In Columbia, Missouri, in December of 1983, I picked up Marvin Hamlisch’s soundtrack to Sophie’s Choice, a record that I might have played twice. In December of 1987, I stopped one evening at a record store in Minot, North Dakota, for Robbie Robertson’s first, self-titled solo album, an interesting record with moments of brilliance. While I was back in St. Cloud for Christmas that year, friends gave me The Band’s The Last Waltz and Reminiscing, a Buddy Holly anthology.

During 1988, I began buying records more frequently than ever, and December was no different. I got nineteen LPs that month, including records by Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Steely Dan, Brewer & Shipley, Shawn Phillips, Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt and more. The best of the month? Without a doubt, it has to be Bob Dylan’s five-record retrospective Biograph, another Christmas gift from a friend. The least compelling? There were a couple of collections of hits that were iffy, but beyond those, the most disappointing was the reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for American Dream.

I closed out the 1980s with three albums during December of 1989. Two of them were very good: Isaac Hayes’ soundtrack to Shaft and Gordon Lightfoot’s Summertime Dream, the home of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The other? Well, it’s pretty lightweight: David Soul’s self-titled album.

So, out of those, which album stands out? There are some very good ones here, but to my mind, the best is Biograph. Here are two previously unreleased tracks from that collection, recorded during Dylan’s 1966 tour with The Band, this week’s Saturday Singles.

“I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” by Bob Dylan & The Band
From Biograph (Recorded in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 6, 1966)

“Visions of Johanna” by Bob Dylan
From Biograph (Recorded in London, England, May 26, 1966)

Remembering Rick Danko

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 10, 2009

Ten years ago this week, I was poking my way through the Minneapolis paper. I’d lost the habit of reading the obituaries – I wasn’t working in news anymore – but for some reason, my eyes settled on the section of the page that the Star-Tribune sets aside for newsworthy deaths.

And there I saw Rick Danko’s name. A member of The Band – he played bass, guitar and more and added his distinctive voice to the group’s vocal mix – his heart had given out and he’d died December 10, 1999, in his sleep at his home near Woodstock, New York. He was fifty-six.

It had been a long road for The Band. The group had played from the 1950s through The Last Waltz in 1976, when things were called to a halt by guitarist and composer Robbie Robertson. Along the way, the five musicians – Robertson, Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel – had first been the Hawks, backing Ronnie Hawkins. The group backed Bob Dylan on some crucial tours and acclaimed recordings in the 1960s and again during the 1970s. A few years after The Last Waltz, the group reconvened without Robertson and played gigs until Manuel’s suicide in 1986.

In the early 1990s, Danko, Helm and Hudson brought in three new players for a new version of The Band. That version released three CDs and toured frequently. Danko also played during the 1990s with Eric Andersen and Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld, and that trio released three CDs.

I saw the 1990s version of The Band twice at the Cabooze, a bar not far from the West Bank Campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. For one of the shows, in 1994, I had a seat and stayed put. For the other show two years later, I wandered and found myself for a while in the front row of the crowd standing near the stage. As we in the crowd sang along with Danko on the chorus of “It Makes No Difference” – “And the sun don’t shine anymore; and the rains fall down on my door” – my gaze and Danko’s caught. He returned my smile and gave me a quick wink, a moment I treasure.

And ten years ago this week, with Danko gone, the story of The Band ended. Here are a few of the memories he and his friends left behind.

A Six-Pack of Rick Danko
“New Mexicoe” by Rick Danko from Rick Danko [1977]
“Raining In My Heart” by Rick Danko from Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band [1989]
“Blue River” by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen from Danko/Fjeld/Andersen [1991]
“It Makes No Difference” by The Band from Northern Lights/Southern Cross [1976]
“The Unfaithful Servant” by The Band from The Band [1969]
“Too Soon Gone” by The Band from Jericho [1993]

Note: One of the places that keep Rick Danko’s memory alive is a very good blog operated by his friend Carol Caffin at http://www.sipthewine.blogspot.com/. This week, she collected memories from an incredibly wide swath of folks who knew Danko. Check it out.