Archive for the ‘2009/03 (March)’ Category

‘All I’ve Got Is A Photograph . . .’

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 31, 2009

Every once in a while, I find a cover version of a favorite song that absolutely demands attention. This week, the song is “Photograph,” the Ringo Starr tune I posted here last week. Ever since I first heard Ringo’s original version in 1973, it’s been on a long list of favorites; it’s not in my Top Ten or maybe even Top 50, but if I were to, say, program a juke box with a hundred records, I think it would show up.

But that’s the original recording, the one I posted last week. I heard “Photograph” in concert once, on the first All-Starr Band tour in 1989. As the band played the tune, and later, when I heard the version on the live album recorded at a different venue, I thought the performance was a bit lumbering and a bit drum-heavy. But should I have expected anything different? There were three drummers during that performance: Ringo, Jim Keltner and Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey. I did like Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solo, though.

There aren’t a lot of covers of the song, which was a George Harrison/Ringo Starr composition. All-Music Guide lists more than five hundred CDs with a song titled “Photograph,” but lots of those are different songs. Among the artists or groups that AMG lists as recording the Harrison/Starr song are: The BB Band, Camper Van Beethoven, David Hentschel, Engelbert Humperdinck (his name seems to show up on a lot of these lists of cover versions) and Ray Conniff.

Conniff, who died at the age of 85 in 2002, was a long-time veteran of the easy listening wars. In the 1960s, his role, and the role of his Ray Conniff Singers, was to take pop hits and rearrange them so the songs would be acceptable to the moms and dads and aunts and uncles who didn’t understand the newfangled music. Conniff’s music was pleasant, safe and often saccharine. He had one Top 40 hit: “Somewhere, My Love,” also known as “Lara’s Theme” from the film Dr. Zhivago, went to No. 9 during the late summer of 1966. (It was No. 1 for four weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.)

Our late-1960s record collection in the basement rec room had one Ray Conniff album: Invisible Tears, on which Ray and his singers take on the title tune, which was a country hit for Connie Smith, and eleven other songs of love. That album provided me with my first exposure to songs like “Singin’ the Blues” (Guy Mitchell’s No. 1 hit from 1956), “Oh Lonesome Me” (No. 1 on the country charts for Don Gibson in 1957 and as high as No. 7 on the split pop charts of the time) and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” (No. 1 on the country charts in 1956 and as high as No. 17 on the various pop charts). And I find that the sounds of that album today still bring pleasant memories and a sense of a time – as clichéd as this has to sound – when life was much less complicated.

That’s what I get when I listen to music by Ray Conniff that I’ve known for forty years. What happens when it’s new to me? Well, somewhere in blogworld the other day, I came across a rip of a 1974 album, The Way We Were, credited to Ray Conniff alone – no singers. Included were, along with the title tune, songs like “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),” “Top of the World,” “Loves Me Like A Rock” and, by golly, “Photograph.” Intrigued, I downloaded the album, and, to start, I clicked on “Photograph.”

I got no further, and I have no more to say.

“Photograph” by Ray Conniff from The Way We Were [1974]

Advertisements

I Wore My Tiger Every Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 30, 2009

The Texas Gal and I watch Friday Night Lights and enjoy it immensely. Based around the lives of the members of the fictional Dillon Panthers in West Texas, the show is about much more than high school football. It’s truly one of those rare television shows that finds its drama in the small workings of day-to-day life. That’s not to say that it’s entirely subtle, but it’s character-driven, and the folks who live in Dillon are generally finely drawn, not caricatures. They are folks who are changing – many of them young people who do so as they take on the hard work of growing up, of course – and sometimes the changes are surprising, just as they are in real life.

The episodes currently playing on NBC on Friday evenings were shown last fall on a satellite service, and during this season, as in the previous two, the producers do pretty well in fitting their characters’ stories into the subfolders of high school life, high school football and life in West Texas. There aren’t a lot of obvious mistakes. But I think I spotted one in the episode that ran last Friday.

The week’s climactic scene dealt with a confrontation between J. D. McCoy, a ninth-grade quarterback new to town, and his father. Nothing wrong with the drama, but in the scene – which followed a football game – J.D. was shown wearing a letter jacket with a “D” on the front and a football patch on the sleeve. Now, maybe they do things differently in Texas, but I’ve never heard of a high school where you could wear a varsity letter on a letter jacket before you’ve earned it. And being new to town, J.D. couldn’t yet have done so. (Maybe I’m wrong and there are places like that. Anyone know?)

It’s not a big deal, but for a show that generally gets the details right, it stood out. And it reminded me of my letter jacket.

I was a manager, not an athlete. I spent three seasons going to wrestling practices and keeping the scorebook; two seasons at football practices, hauling balls, pads and other stuff around; and one season tending to the training room for track. And among the rewards for doing all that stuff were three varsity letters and the right to wear a letter jacket.

It was March 1970 when I finished my second season as a wrestling manager. Near the end of the month, I got a letter in the mail from the high school’s athletic director. The letter granted me permission to go to Fitzharris Athletic downtown and buy a St. Cloud Tech letter jacket. So the following Friday evening, my folks and I went into Fitzharris and I presented the letter to the clerk. Shortly after that, I walked out wearing an orange and black jacket. The next day, my mom sewed a tiger head on the front, my name on the pocket and the year “71” on the sleeve. I remember how smooth the leather (or maybe simulated leather) sleeves were, a condition I wanted gone as soon as possible, as it identified me as a newbie.

(I got my actual letter, my “T,” at the athletic banquet that spring. I put it away in a box, as the tradition at Tech at the time was to wear the tiger head on the jacket instead of the letter. I never knew anyone who put his letter – and it was an exclusively male group in the early 1970s – on his jacket.)

Looking back, it’s amazing how much that jacket mattered to me: It made me feel as if I belonged somewhere. And I think I wore that jacket to school every day from then on, even as the weather turned warmer in the spring and then – during my senior year – even though there were days when the temperature dropped below zero. The other guys did the same, I think: If you’d earned the right to wear a letter jacket, you wore it.

I continued to wear the jacket around town during my first year of college. (For those interested, the etiquette for wearing your high school jacket during your college days was to remove your high school letter [or tiger, in my case], your graduation year and any patches other than your name.) Most likely, it was sometime during the spring of 1972, as my freshman year at St. Cloud State was ending, when I took the jacket off for the last time. By the time I got home from Denmark two years later, my mom had packed it away. And there it stayed until I took it with me when we closed the place on Kilian a few years ago.

It’s in a closet again, near the back, its usefulness gone. I certainly won’t wear it again. I have no one to leave it to, and I doubt that anyone else would want it. But I also doubt that I’ll ever get rid of it.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 28, 1970)
“Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9074 (No. 9)
“Psychedelic Shack” by the Temptations, Gordy 7096 (No. 24)
“Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade, London 20058 (No. 51)
“Rag Mama Rag” by The Band, Capitol 2705 (No. 58)
“Run Sally Run” by the Cuff Links, Decca 32639 (No. 77)
“Miss America” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45125 (No. 117)

A couple of weeks ago, I called “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board “chirping and warbling and absolutely wonderful.” It’s all that and more, one of the really great singles that I think tends to be a little overlooked. At the time of this particular chart, the record had just dropped from its peak position at No. 3; it would slide to No. 30 by April 25, its fifteenth week in the Hot 100, and then tumble completely out of sight by the next week’s chart.

‘Psychedelic Shack” seemed utterly weird at the time, especially for the Temptations, a group with records like “My Girl,” “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” in its pedigree. But “Shack” is what happened when producers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong were handed the reins. With “Psychedelic Shack,” the Whitfield and Strong pushed the boundaries they’d stretched with the No. 6 single “Cloud Nine” in late 1968, and “Shack” went to No. 7. The follow-up, “Ball of Confusion,” went to No. 3. (This is the album track and has the same running time as the single, but I don’t remember ever hearing the knocks on the door when the record played on the radio; maybe they were there, or maybe there was a radio edit without them. I don’t know.)

When it was on the charts, “Reflections Of My Life” seemed musically adventurous and lyrically important. I’m not sure how well “Reflections Of My Life” holds up as a piece of philosophy these days. I mean, “The world is a bad place, a bad place, a terrible place to live” isn’t Nietzsche; it isn’t even Lennon, for that matter. But the music, on the other hand, does owe something to Nietzsche (Jack, who worked with Phil Spector, not that German dude), with its horns and Wall of Sound-ish references. Maybe I’m still hearing this one with the ears of a high school junior, but man, I still love this record! At the end of March, it was still on its way up the chart, heading for a peak of No. 10.

I heard the second half of “Rag Mama Rag” on the radio – probably late at night on WLS from Chicago – sometime during the early months of 1970 and was frozen, staring at the radio as the song played out with its fiddle and honky-tonk piano. I didn’t catch the title or the name of the group, and I wondered for a long time what the hell it was I’d heard. I mentioned it to a few people I knew, and from my description, they said it sounded like country and they were sure I couldn’t have heard it on a Top 40 station. I quit asking people about it, and it wasn’t until the following Christmas when Rick gave me The Band that I learned what it was I’d heard. Utterly unlike anything being played at the time (probably well-defined as Americana before anybody thought about such a label), “Rag Mama Rag” never really had a chance of making the Top 40. It peaked at No. 57 the week of March 21; three weeks later, after eight weeks in the Hot 100, the record had dropped out.

“Run Sally Run,” the Cuff Links’ follow-up to their No. 9 hit “Tracy,” lasted six weeks in the Hot 100, with the March 28 position of No. 77 being its peak. There really were no Cuff Links, of course. What you got on the record was bubble-gum master Ron Dante and a bunch of studio musicians. Still, it wasn’t awful: It was fun, it had a good beat and you could chew it!

As I’ve noted here before, I do have a difficult time being at all objective about the Top 40 music of the second half of 1969 and all of 1970. Although I’d heard Top 40 before that – it would have been hard for any American kid to escape it – I’d not really listened until the late summer and autumn of 1969. So, as I’ve also said here before, when I think about and write about the music I heard during that period, I’m thinking and writing about old friends. Two of those friends are Mark Lindsay’s singles, “Arizona” (No. 10 in early 1970) and “Silver Bird” (No. 25 in the late summer of 1970). The single posted here is one that came in between the two, and to my mind, it’s a better single. Credited only to J. Kelly at All-Music Guide, the song is an allegory casting America as a young girl, with a nifty, if somewhat predictable, lyrical twist: “Do you miss America? I know I do.” The record, which peaked at No. 44, is pure pop with nothing of rock about it, and – not recalling it at all from 1970 – I wonder if the implicit political commentary kept programmers from playing it.

Saturday Single No. 121

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 28, 2009

It’s Hockey Day here in St. Cloud.

Rick, Rob and Dan will be here soon for our annual table-top hockey competition. This year will be the sixth straight year that we four have met here in St. Cloud, and Rick, Rob and I will be trying to break Dan’s streak of four straight Stanley Cup. Dan has won all four of those titles with the Boston Bruins; Dan’s other teams – Philadelphia and Dallas – have both done well, too. Clearly, Rick, Rob and I have our work cut out for us.

For those who might be interested, the other teams are distributed thus:

Rick’s teams are Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles. Rob’s are St. Louis, Montreal and the New York Rangers. Mine are Detroit, Pittsburgh and the Minnesota Wild.

(We have the metal teams for Vancouver and Buffalo but dropped them from the competition a few years back to trim a few games from the schedule; we wanted to finish the finals sometime before nine in the evening. The remaining teams from the National Hockey League? We quit buying the little metal teams in 1972 and – to be honest – use the players marked “Oakland” to stand in for the Dallas Stars.)

Anyway, I am short of time this morning, but I thought I’d throw a single up here quickly. I thought about “No Time” by the Guess Who. But that’s too easy. This will be the sixteenth time we’ll play for our tabletop version of the Stanley Cup; our first came in 1968 after I got the game for Christmas. So I thought I’d go to songs from 1968 and post the sixteenth that comes up randomly (unless it’s an utter disaster).

And that’s how “The New Life Out There” by the Neon Philharmonic came to be today’s Saturday Single.

“The New Life Out There” by the Neon Philharmonic from The Moth Confesses [1968]

Our Pictures Tell Our Stories

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 27, 2009

One of the things my sister and her family gave our mother for Christmas in December was a digital picture frame. Now at home on Mom’s dresser, its memory is loaded with pictures of our family, of Mom and Dad and of Mom’s family, going all the way back to the day her parents were married in 1915.

The selection of photos available to my sister was a little limited. Not that we don’t have family photos. We have a lot of them. One of the most pervasive mental images I have of my childhood is Dad aiming his camera during family gatherings, on vacation, or simply to record daily life. Every September, from the day my sister started kindergarten in 1955 until the day I started my last full year of college in 1975, he took pictures of us as we headed off for the first day of school. Early on, he used a Kodak 35mm camera; in the late 1960s, he got a Minolta single-lens reflex 35mm, and year after year, he took pictures.

But the vast majority of our pictures – from the time before my sister and I were born until the last years of Dad’s life – are on slides.

So one of the other gifts my sister and her family gave Mom last Christmas was a scanner that digitizes slides. My sister thought that we could dig into the boxes of slides and find some that Mom would want to display on her digital picture frame. Mom, of course, doesn’t have a computer. I do, and the minor task of learning how to use the scanner has fallen to me. So now that spring is here, Mom and I will head up to the storage unit in Sartell and see what we find.

But beyond finding pictures for Mom to display, my sister and I decided that it would be a good thing to digitize all of the family slides. The task is daunting: Dad put about half of his slides in special storage boxes; the rest remain in the little yellow boxes that came from Dan Marsh Drug, where we took our film for years. I’m guessing that there are thirty special storage boxes each holding at least 120 slides and about as many slides in the yellow boxes as there are in the special boxes. My basic math tells me that’s an estimated total of 7,200 slides. Many haven’t been looked at in years.

That wasn’t always the case. Every once in a while on a Sunday evening, Dad would put up the screen and get out his old Argus projector and we’d look at slides: birthdays and Christmases, family reunions and picnics, backyard silliness and flower gardens. And we’d see portraits and snapshots of my mom’s folks, and all of our aunts and uncles and cousins, many of whom are long gone now. I’ll see all of those and more as I convert those slides to digital files: Our family’s history.

We’ll soon go up to Sartell and get the first boxes of slides, and I will begin saving those pieces of history. But I needed to learn to use the scanner, and I needed as well to convert to digital files the slides I took during my long-ago college year away. So I’ve been practicing both conversion and editing. And here are two thirty-five year old photos: One of a twenty-year-old whiteray, snapped by an obliging Swede in Stockholm, and one of the many I took during my visit to Stonehenge.

A Six-Pack of Pictures
“Every Picture Tells A Story” by Rod Stewart from Every Picture Tells A Story, 1971
“Take Another Picture” by Quarterflash from Take Another Picture, 1983
“Picture Book” by Simply Red from Picture Book, 1985
“This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)” by Peter Gabriel from So, 1986
“All the Pictures on the Wall” by Paul Weller from Wild Wood, 1993
“Pictures of You” by the Cure from Disintegration, 1989

Bonus Track
“Photograph” by Ringo Starr, Apple 1865, 1973

Three of the albums from which these tracks come would rank fairly high in any all-time list I put together, certainly in the top one hundred, I think. (And that’s pretty high, considering.). Those three are Every Picture Tells A Story, So and Disintegration. (I think Wild Wood may rank that highly in time, but I’m still taking that one in and haven’t made my mind up yet.)

As to Quarterflash and Simply Red, well, the albums are good ones but ultimately less than great. Still, both albums provide good listening. I’m particularly struck by how well the music of Quarterflash has aged, from the radio-friendly 1981 single “Harden My Heart” onward. Of course, the defining sound of the group, for the most part, was Rindy Ross’ saxophone, and I’m a sucker for a good sax break.

What’s most interesting to me about this list of tunes is that five of them come from well beyond the spread of years where I find most of the music I offer. That might mean my horizons are being broadened through the give and take in conversation and sounds that occurs in the blogging community. Or is just might mean that there weren’t very many good songs about pictures in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (And I don’t think that was the case.)

The best thing here? The Cure’s shimmering “Pictures of You,” without a doubt. The most inscrutable? Peter Gabriel’s “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds).”

I threw the bonus track in at the last moment because it fit the theme, because it’s a marvelous piece of pop-rock, and because it gives me another chance to listen to Bobby Keys (credited this time as “Keyes”) play saxophone.

(I said in yesterday’s post that I’d share some music from 1974 today. I decided to go with the theme instead of the year, but one day very soon, I’ll have a tale from 1974 and will dip into a Billboard Hot 100 from that time.)

Donnie & Kirk, Blind Faith, Over The Rhine

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 26, 2009

Looking around for versions of “O-o-h Child,” I ran across a remarkable cover of the song performed by gospel singer Donnie McClurkin with some help from Kirk Franklin. The recording was used in the soundtrack to the 2005 film The Gospel. Here’s the video:

Another cool find was this video of Blind Faith performing “Sleeping In The Ground” during a 1969 performance in London’s Hyde Park. The note left by the YouTube poster says that this was Blind Faith’s first gig and that the video is the only live video of the supergroup.

I posted a song yesterday by Over the Rhine. Here’s a performance by the group’s core duo, Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” There’s no indication when or where the performance took place, except that it was posted at YouTube in February 2007, so we’ll assume it came from that year.

I’m playing with some new – to me at least – technology, and I might be able to share a picture tomorrow. If so, we’ll be looking at some tunes from 1974. If not, well, I’ll figure that out later. Thanks for stopping by.

Fun With Sedatives

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 25, 2009

A couple of years ago, I began having some difficulty getting to sleep. Every ten weeks or so, I’d have four or five consecutive nights where sleep eluded me until three or four o’clock in the morning. Tired of having my body clock miscalibrated and wanting to be awake during the same hours as the Texas Gal, I went to Dr. Julie. She recommended Ambien, which I take to this day.

I’ve read – as I’m sure my readers have – about folks under the influence of Ambien wandering away from home, driving vehicles, or cooking and eating meals without recalling anything. I’ve had no difficulty with those things or anything like that . . . until Monday evening.

Generally, I take my pill about forty minutes before I retire, than play a few computer games and call it a night. But just after eleven o’clock Monday, with the Ambien beginning to do its work, I stopped by The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, the blog where my pal jb hangs his hat. I downloaded his offering of the day, “Annabella,” a more-or-less lost single from Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds. And I left a comment.

I only vaguely remember doing that. I do remember having difficulty typing, my fingers feeling as if they were as large – and as responsive – as bratwursts. In the morning, with those vague memories circling, I went to see what I had written at jb’s blog.

I found:

“‘Annabella’ is a fine song, but this is — unaccountably — my first hearing of. That means that the nearly four-decade headstart the other hits have takes effect. I likely would have loved “Annabella” had I heard it regularly way back. But I didn’t, and ‘Don’t Pull Your Love’ stays in the top spot in my utterly figurative radio statiom. [sic] Nice look at a group that tends to get ignored.”

Relieved that it wasn’t utter gibberish, I sent a note to jb, telling him of my Ambien-influenced adventure. He replied, noting that I’d used “some interesting sentence structure.” He concluded: “Lucidity is often overrated anyhow.”

I haven’t yet gone back to “Annabella” to see if it sounds as good as I thought it did.

A Six-Pack of Sleep
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand, 1990
“Sleeping in the Ground” by Blind Faith, unreleased, 1969
“Sleep” by Crack the Sky from Crack the Sky, 1975
“Sleep Baby Jane” by Over The Rhine from Eve, 1994
“Talking In Your Sleep” by Crystal Gayle, United Artists 1214, 1978
“Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” by Jackson Browne from The Pretender, 1976

I listened to a lot of Suzanne Vega’s work when she first came to attention in the late 1980s, especially her Solitude Standing album. I’ve kind of lost track of her in the past few years, but I still like her early stuff. “Tired of Sleeping,” with its plucked strings (mandolin, I think) and its organ, has a rootsier sound than a lot of Vega’s stuff. The lyrics are precise and literate, as always, and the vocals are a little austere and somehow distant, which makes for a nice contrast.

“Sleeping in the Ground” is from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads box set and comes from the Blind Faith sessions, with Steve Winwood handling the vocal. From time to time, Clapton returns to the song, credited on Crossroads to Sam Myers. (I’d check it on All-Music Guide, but that site seems to be having problems today.) Clapton and Winwood are on tour this spring and summer, and I wonder if “Sleeping on the Ground” is on the set list.

“Sleep” is the epic closing track on the self-titled debut album by Crack the Sky, a group described at Wikipedia as a “progressive rock band” (though who knows what that really means). The group, which came out of West Virginia, has continued to record, says Wikipedia, albeit with some changes in personnel. I’ve not listened to a lot of the group’s work, but from what I have heard, I hear bits of Styx and Journey and, I think, Jefferson Airplane.

Over the Rhine is a Cincinnati-based group that I came across through the budget stacks at a St. Paul bookstore, finding a copy of the group’s Good Dog, Bad Dog, which I enjoyed a lot. The group – essentially the husband-and-wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, backed by whoever they happen to find, I guess – continues to release albums, the most recent being The Trumpet Child, which was independently released. “Sleep Baby Jane” has the dreamy and disturbing sense that seems to pervade a lot of the group’s work.

“Talking In Your Sleep” is no doubt pretty familiar to most readers, and it marks the second time Crystal Gayle has showed up here in less than a week. Even after nearly thirty years, I remain astounded at the purity of Gayle’s voice. “Talking In Your Sleep” went to No. 18 on the pop chart and was No. 1 for two weeks on the country chart in 1978.

Jackson Browne’s The Pretender haunts me still, from the opening strains of “The Fuse” through the end of the title tune. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” precedes “The Pretender” and remains sweet and sad as it tells of those moments we all have one night or another: “Sometimes I lie awake and night and wonder . . .”

‘O-o-h Child’ With Green Peppers

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 24, 2009

It was 1986, and the Five Stairsteps almost cost me some major auto repairs.

Well, that’s not true. It was my desire for a free pizza that almost cost me a huge auto repair bill. But the Five Stairsteps were involved.

It was a spring morning and I was driving through south St. Cloud, heading to my public relations job at St. Cloud State University. As I drove, I listened to one of the St. Cloud radio stations, and as I got near the campus, the station conducted its morning “Name That Oldie’ contest. The first caller to name correctly the song and performer won a free pizza from one of St. Cloud’s many pizza places.

As I drove, I scanned the nearby territory for a phone booth, just in case. I saw one in a service station parking lot just before the next intersection, and the traffic slowed, leaving me at the driveway to the lot just as the music started. I needed no more than the short drum riff and two notes to recognize the record as “O-o-h Child,” the 1970 hit by the Five Stairsteps. (It went to No. 8.) I pulled into the parking lot, got out of my beat-up 1979 Chevette with my quarters in my hand, and called the radio station.

I was right, of course, and qualified for a free pizza. I provided my mailing particulars, and as the deejay and I completed our business, I glanced at my car. It was beginning to roll backwards, toward the driveway and the morning traffic.

I dropped the phone and raced around the front of the car. I managed to catch up with it, and I reached in and yanked on the parking brake. By that time, the rear bumper was no more than two feet from the street. As I acknowledge, the fault was mine, not that of the Five Stairsteps. Nevertheless, when I hear the song these days, the first thing that flashes through my mind is my frantic race to save my Chevette.

That was true last weekend, when the song popped up on the RealPlayer. But as well as thinking about potential automotive disaster, I also wondered – as I generally do these days – about cover versions. Who else has recorded “O-o-h Child”?

I have three versions beyond the original by the Five Stairsteps: Richie Havens included it in 1974 on his Mixed Bag II album; Valerie Carter recorded it for her 1977 album Just A Stone’s Throw Away; and the Edwin Hawkins Singers included the song on I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, released in 1972. (I’m searching for a better vinyl copy of that last album.)

All-Music Guide lists 200 CDs that include a recording of “O-o-h Child” (often spelled simply “Ooh Child”), but almost half of those listings are of the Five Stairsteps’ original version. Beyond the ’Steps and the three artists listed above, though, we find some interesting names:

Brand Nubian, Destiny’s Child, Hall & Oates, Ramsey Lewis, Keith Marks, Donnie McClurkin, Milton Nascimento, Laura Nyro, the 103rd Street Gospel Choir, Beth Orton, the Posies, Dee Dee Sharp, Nina Simone, the Spinners, Dusty Springfield and Lenny Williams. Lots of those sound interesting, and I think I’ll have a few more CD titles to put on my wish list. Especially interesting is the prospect of the Laura Nyro version, which is a bonus track laid onto an expanded CD version of her Gonna Take A Miracle album.

Of the three cover versions I have, I’ve already posted the Havens and Carter versions, but it’s been a while, so I’ll post those again. And as long as we’re talking about cover versions, I have at times seen the Five Stairsteps’ single listed with its B-Side, which must have gotten some airplay. So I’ll post the Five Stairsteps’ version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” as well.

“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]

“Ooh Child” by Valerie Carter from Just A Stone’s Throw Away [1977]

“Ooh Child” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag II [1974]

“Dear Prudence” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]

In The Light Of A Rainy Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 23, 2009

As I look out the window this morning, I’m consoled by the thought that it could be worse: The temperature could be fifteen degrees cooler and it could be snowing.

As it is, the rain is expected to hang around here all day. That makes the view from the study window distinctly unappealing. Luckily, I have no need to go out into the rain, save for a quick trip across the street to the mailbox sometime this afternoon. And as I sit here pondering the rain, I’m struck for some reason by the contrast between the brightly lighted interior and the gloom – bare black oaks against a gray sky – I see outside.

It puts me in mind of rainy days in elementary school, days when the fluorescent ceiling lights were reflected in the large window that lined one wall of our classroom at Lincoln School. The splash and streak of raindrops on the outside window would grip my attention more firmly than could arithmetic or social studies, and I’d get lost in the ever-changing pattern on the glass.

In the cloakroom, yellow slickers and black boots would shed water all morning, leaving puddles on the brown tile floor. On some very wet or bitterly cold days, I’d eat lunch at school, but most days, just before noon, I’d head home for lunch, walking in the winter and riding my Schwinn Typhoon in the autumn and the spring, even on days of light rain. Somewhere there is a picture of an eight-year old whiteray in his yellow slicker with the matching cap, about to head off to school. I wore that slicker – or another one like it – for several years, making my way to and from school amid the drizzle and the drops.

I don’t recall if I ever heard music playing from the radio in the kitchen at lunch time. I would have been far more interested in eating my Campbell’s Scotch Broth or my Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli and then heading back out in the damp for another few hours of school.

If there had been music during lunch, I would at best have heard two, maybe three, of the following songs:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 23, 1963)
“South Street” by the Orlons, Cameo 243 (No. 7)
“Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers, Vanguard 35017 (No. 22)
“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674 (No. 31)
“Hitch Hike” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54075 (No. 54)
“Mecca” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1028 (No. 81)
“Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 563 (No. 88)

The Orlons don’t seem to be much remembered these days, and I’m not sure why. The Philadelphia quartet managed five Top 40 singles between June 1962 and October 1963, which is a pretty good run. Three of those hit the Top Ten: “The Wah Watusi” (No. 2), “Don’t Hang Up” (No 4), and ‘South Street,” which peaked at No. 3. If any of those get any airplay on oldies stations these days, it’s “The Wah Watusi,” which is probably third-best of the three Top Ten hits.

The Rooftop Singers’ version of “Walk Right In” was on its way back down the chart in March 1963, having spent two weeks at No. 1 as January turned into February. The song has a long history, having first been recorded by Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1929. According to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, banjo player Erik Darling – who’d been a member of the Weavers, a legendary folk group – heard the Gus Cannon recording of the song, changed a line or two (the book says, for example, “a two way woman” became “a new way of walking”) and found a couple of friends to record the song with him. The hit “was a windfall” for Cannon, “who was living in a little house by the railroad tracks in Memphis.” Cannon had hocked his banjo for $20 worth of coal to keep from freezing the previous winter; after “Walk Right In” was a hit, Cannon not only earned royalties but gained a recording contract with Stax Records.

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” went to No. 2 in the spring of 1963, Andy William’s seventh Top Ten hit. He would wait another eight years for his eighth and last Top Ten single, “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” which went to No. 9 in early 1971. “Losing You” is sweet but, I think, insignificant. More appealing is the flipside, “The Days of Wine And Roses,” which also charted, making it to No. 26. That single, of course, was the theme song from the film that starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Williams did well with movie themes; he also charted in late 1964 with “Dear Heart” and in the spring of 1972 with “Love Theme from ‘The Godfather’ (Speak Softly Love).”

“Hitch Hike” is a nice slice of early 1960s R&B, drawing a little bit, I think, from Ray Charles. My blogging colleague, Any Major Dude, will appreciate the flute break that starts 1:15 into the song (with the flute recurring at moments after that). The single, which went to No. 30, is notable as Gaye’s first Top 40 hit. As nifty a single as “Hitch Hike” is, one wonders if anyone around Gaye could see the brilliance waiting to take wing.

“Mecca” is an odd single, with its Arabian/North African opening riff, its tale of seemingly forbidden love and its chorus of “Mecca (Mecca, Mecca).” I doubt if the song would get released these days, as the cultural uproar – valid or not – wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The single peaked at No. 12.

I’ve thrown singles by Ferrante & Teicher on the logpile a couple of times. The duo’s twin-piano sound was, to me, one of the defining sounds of the early 1960s. Ferrante & Teicher had only five Top 40 hits, but four of them – all from movies or musicals – came in 1960 and 1961, and I know heard them somewhere, and fairly frequently at that. (Their fifth hit, another movie theme, was “Midnight Cowboy” in late 1969 and early 1970.) The single offered here, “Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’,” bounced around in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 for twelve weeks, never getting any higher than No. 84.

(The songs that would have gotten airplay on any station we listened to on Kilian Boulevard? The Andy Williams, the Ferrante & Teicher, and maybe the Rooftop Singers.)

Saturday Single No. 120

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 21, 2009

Well, it’s been spring for a little more than twenty-four hours now, the vernal equinox having taken place at 6:44 a.m. Central Time yesterday. It didn’t look or feel much like spring yesterday – cool and drizzly, more like October than anything – and I expect pretty much the same on today’s flipside.

But it is spring, and soon enough, the last stubborn bits of dirt-encrusted snow on the north side of the house will melt and the bare patches of dirt in the driveway will dry out enough to quit taking CSI-like impressions of our shoes when we pass by. A little later will come the greening: The lawn will revive, the oak trees will send out tentative leaves and a few perennials along the edge of the house will bud and blossom. We have a good-sized community of squirrels living in the oak trees in the front yard, and later in the spring, we hope to see more squirrels than we fed this winter, as the little ones eventually take their first leaps from limb to limb.

But all that is yet to come: The grass is still brown, the trees still bare, the ground still muddy. It takes an act of faith to look out the study window this morning and see green. But it will be there. We hope this year to add to that green ourselves. We’re thinking about putting together a large planter box and growing some peppers and tomatoes, a few herbs and maybe a few beets. (Those last would be for the Texas Gal only; beets are among the few foods I categorically refuse to eat ever again.)

So what music celebrates – or at least notes – the arrival of spring? Let’s see what waits in the files.

Well, a search for “spring” finds lots of songs, but most of them show up because they’re by Bruce Springsteen. There’s not much there otherwise. So instead of saluting the coming of the season, I think I’ll mark the current reality, a reality that will end as the leaves appear. And doing so gives me a chance to share one of those songs I love but tend to forget about when compiling lists and so on, the title track to Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 album Bare Trees, today’s Saturday Single.

“Bare Trees” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

Found In The Unplayed Stacks

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 9, 2009

At a guess, I’ve listened to eight-five to ninety percent of the LPs that reside in my study. Those I’ve not yet put on the turntable fall into two categories: Records that were my dad’s – mostly classical with an added mélange of show tunes, Swedish folk music and a few odd things – and records that I bought mostly at garage sales that got put into a pile and never got taken out.

Those garage sale records sit in bins atop the main stacks here, and I rarely find a reason to go digging to see what’s there. So let’s take a look:

In the first bin, I see, among others, Chilliwack, Bob James, Steve Forbert, Carly Simon, the Electric Light Orchestra, Asia, Devo, W.C. Fields, Weird Al Yankovic, Amy Grant and the soundtrack to the 1962 film Cleopatra (starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison). The second bin brings us a selection that includes Prince, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Anthony, Archie Bell & the Drells, Tina Turner, Patsy Cline, Richard Harris, Madonna and the Looking Glass. And in the third bin, our trove includes Whitney Houston, the Willmar Boys Chorus, Head East, Artur Rubenstein, Culture Club, Al Martino, Chester Thompson (and the Pop Sound of the Great Organ, says the jacket), Sandler & Young and the soundtrack to the 1962 film How The West Was Won.

Despite temptations, I selected none of those records for this morning’s frolic. I chose instead six other albums for today’s music. None of them, alas, were quite as odd as the Willmar Boys Chorus. Willmar – pronounced WILL-mer – is a city of 18,000 or so that lies about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud; I got the two-record set of that city’s boys chorus at a garage sale here in St. Cloud about five years ago. (Chester Thompson’s album came in the same haul.) The Willmar record could have popped up; I simply went to the stacks and pulled six records out at random.

Having pulled the LPs, I let the records make my selection for me: Using a method I got from Casey at The College Crowd Digs Me, I ripped the fourth track of each record. So what did we get this morning?

A Six-Pack From The Unplayed Stacks
“You Never Miss A Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)” by Crystal Gayle from Crystal [1976]
“Marcie” by the Four Seasons from Rag Doll [1964]
“Love & Emotion” by Gino Vannelli from Brother To Brother [1978]
“My Heart Echoes” by Kitty Wells from Heartbreak U.S.A. [1962]
“Headlines” by Melissa Manchester from Help Is On The Way [1976]
“Killer Queen” by Queen, Elektra 45223 [1975]

This is not entirely awful. It doesn’t thrill me, but neither did I wince. Probably the best thing here is “Killer Queen.” As it came from Queen’s Greatest Hits album, I went ahead and tagged it with its catalog number as a single. The record went to No. 12 in the spring of 1975, the first of fourteen hits for the group. (“Bohemian Rhapsody” counts as two hits, as it went to No. 9 in 1976 and then – after its inclusion in the movie Wayne’s World – to No. 2 in 1992.)

Other than “Killer Queen,” nothing here really stands out. Maybe the Crystal Gayle tune, which might have been a single. It’s pretty decent late-Seventies country. The Kitty Wells’ tune, on the other hand, is a good example of the blanding of country that took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the mass chorus and the less-than-downhome piano licks. (Though I do not have session information for the Kitty Wells album, I’d bet that the piano was manned by Floyd Cramer.)

The Gino Vanelli track is all right, inoffensive but bland, and the Four Seasons’ “Marcie” is a typical Bob Crewe Half-Wall of Sound production, and it’s okay for an album track. Then there’s “Headlines.” I never was a huge Melissa Manchester fan, although I did like her first hit, 1975’s “Midnight Blue.” But “Headlines” – which Manchester wrote – is a very strange song. A few more listens, and it might fall for me into the category of odd songs by so-so performers that I like nevertheless.

As I was ripping these albums and writing this post, I was under great temptation. So I yielded. Here’s a bonus:

“Ebb Tide” by Chester Thompson from The Pop Sound of the Great Organ. [Prob. 1964]

There are some clicks in this rip, but I decided it was odd enough of a track to put up with them. The record, says the notes on the jacket, was the first ever recorded on the giant Wurlitzer organ in Plaza Studios above New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. There’s no issue date on the record, but a reference to “Java” and “More” as “instrumentals of the past year” puts the record almost certainly in 1964.

I departed from vinyl and from the Track Four method for today’s second bonus. I pulled Alfred Newman’s soundtrack for How The West Was Won from the bins and slipped it on the turntable just to get an idea what kind of shape it’s in. And there was just too much noise to work with the record. But the film’s overture blew me away.

An overture, you ask? Yes, films that wanted to be taken seriously offered overtures before the show started, just as Broadway musicals did (and perhaps still do?). Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia are two other films I recall that had overtures. (Anybody recall any others?)

So what grabbed me about this overture? It’s just odd and amazing in its choral approach: At first it sounds almost like a Soviet choral piece celebrating the glory of labor, and then it becomes more American, if still a little odd. It’s a track very much of its time, and though I remember it only vaguely, I wanted to share it. So I went and found a digital copy. Thus, here’s the overture to How The West Was Won, featuring the MGM Studio Orchestra along with the Ken Darby Singers and Dave Guard & The Whiskeyhill Singers.

“Overture: I’m Bound For The Promised Land/Shenandoah/Endless Prairie/Ox Driver” from the soundtrack to How The West Was Won [1962]