Archive for the ‘2009/05 (May)’ Category

Saturday Single No. 134

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 30, 2009

Driving along St. Cloud’s Lincoln Avenue yesterday afternoon, midway through a list of errands, I had the Sentra’s window open and the oldies station playing at a pretty good volume. It was a warm spring afternoon, and things were, if not perfect, then pretty darned good.

And then the song changed, and I heard “Bah, bah, bah, bah-bah-ber Ann.” I reached over and punched the radio button and changed channels. There are only a few records that spur me to change the station immediately when I’m in the car; the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” is one of them. I won’t say I hate or detest the record, not the way I do a few others (as regular readers know, Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun” is at the top of that fairly brief list), but I find “Barbara Ann” unpleasant, at the least.

As I drove, now listening to The Loon, St. Cloud’s classic rock station, I began to wonder how many records I have on that brief list. What are the other sounds that trigger my radio button? I came up with a few: The Knack’s “My Sharona.” Diana Ross’ “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and her duet with Lionel Richie, “Endless Love.” Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey.” (I have to acknowledge that I don’t recall hearing that on the radio for a long, long time.) The Dave Clark Five’s “Over and Over.” The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died.” Those are, I think, the worst offenders, but I’m sure there are more that could go on the list.

(As I was pondering my hot-button songs just now, I asked the Texas Gal what songs are on her list. Without hesitation, she mentioned Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” and Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You.”)

Continuing on my drive, I changed back to the oldies station after a couple of minutes, figuring the Beach Boys had run their course. They had, and my reward was the rumbling and fuzz-toned introduction to Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” one of the great songs that’s on a different list, one that seemingly doesn’t matter any more.

It used to be that every once in a while – and I think this happened to all Top 40 lovers – you’d arrive at your destination just as a great record, one you hadn’t heard for a while, started on the radio. So you’d sit in your car in its parking space, doing nothing more than listening to that one great record. I guess that happens still, but for me, it’s not as frequent an occurrence as it was: I now have access at home to most of the music that would grab me like that, either as mp3s, on CD or on vinyl. Back in the days before my music collection grew to an almost preposterous size, and I didn’t have easy access to all of my old friends, there were records that would make me delay my errands long enough to listen all the way through.

“Spirit in the Sky” was probably on the top of my list. Others on that list – and this is by no means comprehensive – were “No Time” by the Guess Who, “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, “People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals, “Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian, and “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” by the Bee Gees. The Texas Gal said her list of those records starts with “One” by Three Dog Night and includes “Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays and King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight.”

She and I will, on occasion, interrupt our errands long enough to stay in the car and listen to the end of a song, but when I’m out on my own, that rarely happens. I don’t need to sit in the car if I want to hear Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” all the way through. I can go home, sit at the computer and click the mouse a couple of times, and there’s Lou.

It’s amazing and it’s wonderful to have such easy access to the music that I love, but it almost seems too easy sometimes. And I wondered yesterday as I drove home if, as I’ve gained ease and convenience, I haven’t discarded a little bit of the mystery of chance.

Here’s one of the songs that used to make me stay in the car until it ended. It’s “Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman from the 1969 album Hollywood Dream, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

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A Richie Preview

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 29, 2009

I said I was going to post a Richie Havens album, and I will, but it won’t be today. So here’s a small preview of what I hope to share Monday:

“Headkeeper” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag II (1974)

I’ll be back tomorrow – I assume – with a Saturday Single.

Blondie, Ry & Bob

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 28, 2009

Well, digging at YouTube starts out well this week. Here’s a live 1979 performance – for television, I assume – of “One Way Or Another” by Blondie:

I didn’t find anything from Ry Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music, but then I quit looking after I found this gem from a March 25, 1987, concert in Santa Cruz, California: A performance of “Down In Mississippi” from the soundtrack to Crossroads. Here’s the roster of musicians: Ry Cooder: guitar, vox; Jim Keltner: drums; Van Dyke Parks: keys; Jorge Calderon: bass; Flaco Jimenez: accordion; Miguel Cruiz: percussion; Steve Douglas: sax; George Bohannon: trombone; Bobby King: tenor; Terry Evans: baritone; Arnold McCuller: tenor; and Willie Green Jr: bass.

And finally for today, here’s Bob Dylan with a brilliant performance of “Masters of War” from the 1994 Woodstock Festival.

Video deleted.

Tomorrow, we’ll dig into a Richie Havens album that I’ve mentioned before but never shared.

More ‘More’ Than You’ve Ever Heard Before

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 26, 2009

The movie, an Italian flick, was supposed to be dark, depraved and disturbing. It might have been so in 1962. Now, forty-seven years later, it’s mostly slow and dull.

The title? Mondo Cane, which translates from the Italian as something like A Dog’s World.

Supposedly a documentary that detailed the oddities, cruelties and perversities of life, Mondo Cane was intended to be controversial, and some of its contents likely were shocking in 1962. I spent a couple hours looking at it over the holiday weekend, and it’s not very shocking at all from the vantage point of 2009.

The movie spent a lot of time in the Pacific, examining what might best be called non-industrial island cultures. While the film purported to be a true reflection of life in those societies, the winking narration – as when a cluster of bare-breasted island girls chase one young man around the island and into the sea, and in a few other instances – left me wondering about the truth of the visuals as well as the truth of the narration.

The broad-brush contrasts the film points out between so-called primitive cultures and Western culture were so ham-handed that I chuckled. Yeah, I know that in some areas of the world snakes and dogs are dinner; and in 1962, one could go to a restaurant in New York City and spend $20 for plate of fried ants, bug larvae and butterfly eggs. The film shows those young island women chasing men into the sea, and a little later shows a cadre of young Australian women running into the sea and pulling men back onto the sand (during lifeguard practice). After seeing footage of dogs in Asia waiting in cages to become dinner, the film takes us to a pet cemetery in southern California, showing the gravestones of pets owned by celebrities of the time, including Vivan Vance (Lucille Ball’s sidekick), Jack Warner, Jr., of Warner Brothers and Julie London.

I think I knew about Mondo Cane when it came out. I would have been nine, and – as I’ve noted before – was even then aware of current events and news that troubled adults. It’s quite likely, I realized this weekend, that my awareness of the film was helped along by parodies of its approach in MAD magazine, which was one of my favorites at the time. It’s not a significant film in any way, but it is interesting. There are, by current standards, several troubling images involving cruelty to animals, but beyond that, little is truly surprising. As a historical document of what Western culture found depraved in 1962, however, it’s an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

The movie did, however, provide one long-lasting piece of popular culture: Its theme, better known these days as “More (Theme to Mondo Cane).” The song, written by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero, was used in the movie as an instrumental under the title “Ti Guarderò Nel Cuore.” Italian lyrics were added by Marcello Ciorciolini, and later, the English lyrics were written by Norman Newell, giving us the song “More (Theme From Mondo Cane)” as we know it.

I would guess that “More” is one of the most covered songs of all time. All-Music Guide lists 1,325 CDs on which there is a recording of a song titled “More.” Some of those would be other compositions, but I’m certain that the vast majority of those recordings are of the song by Ortolani and Oliviero. So let’s take a walk though the garden of “More.”

First, here’s the original:

“Theme from Mondo Cane” by Riz Ortolani & Nino Oliviero [1962]

One version of the song made the Top 40 in the U.S., an instrumental version by a Kai Winding, a composer and bandleader who was born in Denmark but grew up in the U.S. His version of “More” went to No. 8 in the summer of 1963.

“More” by Kai Winding, Verve 10295 [1963]

And then came the flood (though not all covers were titled exactly the same):

“More” by Ferrante & Teicher from Concert for Lovers [1963]

“Theme from Mondo Cane (More)” by Jack Nitschze from The Lonely Surfer [1963]

“More” by John Gary from Catch A Rising Star [1963]

“More” by Vic Dana from More [1963]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Frank Sinatra & Count Basie from It Might As Well Be Swing [1964]

“More” by Billy Vaughn from Blue Velvet [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Liberace from Golden Themes From Hollywood [1964]

“More” by Mantovani from The Incomparable Mantovani and his Orchestra [1964]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by Nat King Cole from L-O-V-E [1965]

“More” by Julie London from Our Fair Lady [1965]

“More” by Steve Lawrence, Columbia 42795 [1963]

“More” by Roger Williams from I’ll Remember You [1967]

“More (Theme from Mondo Cane)” by the Ray Conniff Singers from Ray Conniff’s World Of Hits [1967]

“More” by Jerry Vale from The Impossible Dream [1967]

“More” by Andy Williams from The Academy Award Winning “Call Me Irresponsible” [1970]

“More” by Jackie Gleason from Today’s Romantic Hits – For Lovers Only [1963]

“More” by Harry Connick, Jr., from Only You [2004]

(I’ve pulled these from various sources; some are mine, some I found elsewhere. Of those I found elsewhere, I’m reasonably sure that the performers are identified correctly. And after spending several hours digging, I’m also reasonably sure that the original release album titles and dates are correct. I have a suspicion that the version by the Ray Conniff singers might have been released on an earlier album, but I can’t verify that.)

Edited slightly and Jackie Gleason release and date verified June 28, 2013. Steve Lawrence release and date verified March 5, 2014.

Saturday Single No. 133

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 23, 2009

It was during a long-ago May – 1970 – that I first bought a rock ’n’ roll LP: the Beatles’ Let It Be. I’d gotten some rock and pop albums as gifts before then, records by Sonny and Cher, Herman’s Hermits, the 5th Dimension and the Beatles. But Let It Be was the first album for which I’d laid down my cash at the counter in Woolworth’s.

I remember being confused and disappointed by the album. It seemed disjointed, almost a series of recordings strung together randomly, with no attention to sequence. It was so unlike Abbey Road, which I’d gotten on cassette as a gift the fall before, and those differences were disconcerting. To top it off, the version of “Let It Be” on the album wasn’t the same as the single that I’d heard on the radio for a few weeks in the late winter. I read on the back of the record jacket that the tracks had been recorded live and that their final form was the work of Phil Spector, whose name was fairly new to me. I could tell that the tracks weren’t necessarily done live. There was too much stuff added to them: Tons of, if you will, Spectorian frosting on some tracks overwhelmed the flavor of the cake.

I played the record frequently over the next few months (I had little else to play on the stereo at the time, if I wanted to listen to rock and pop), and I learned to enjoy it, even if I never really loved the album. But it was a poor start to building a record collection. And I wondered this morning, as I thought about Let It Be, what other albums came home to my shelves in May during my early years of collecting?

A year earlier, in 1969, I’d brought home a recording done by the Concert and Varsity bands at St. Cloud Tech. I was one of twenty-some trumpet players in the Concert Band that year; I bailed after that one year for Concert Choir, doing my horn-playing in the orchestra. A year later, in 1971, I brought home a record of Tech’s choirs; the orchestra never did make a record. I also brought home in May 1971: Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album; a recording of classical works by Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana; and a copy of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, my high school graduation present from Rick, which he’d wrapped in the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune’s sports section that detailed Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.

(Thirty-five years later, not having any wrapping paper, the Texas Gal and I presented to Robinson, Rob’s son and Rick’s nephew, a graduation present wrapped in the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s coverage of Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. We included a note explaining that it was now a tradition and asked him to pass it along sometime in the future.)

What else came my way in May during the early years of record collecting?

In 1972, there was a copy of The Early Beatles, an album created by Capitol by pulling stuff from all over the early days of the Beatles’ recording career. In 1974, in a record store in Fredericia, Denmark, I found a copy of Sebastian’s Den Store Flugt (The Great Escape). As I’ve related before, it wasn’t until I played it a week later back home in St. Cloud that I learned there was a skip in the record. In May of 1977, I won a Beatles’ trivia contest on WJON radio in St. Cloud; my prize was any Beatles album I wanted. As I had them all, I decided to replace the most hacked of them – Help! – with a new copy. Also that month, I picked up Neil Diamond’s live Love at the Greek, the soundtrack to Roots by Quincy Jones and Mancini’s Angels, a mediocre outing by the generally reliable Henry Mancini.

We jump to May 1980, when I added Joy by the studio group Apollo 100 (the title track, a pop version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” went to No. 6 in early 1972) and albums of classical music by Bach and Johannes Brahms. In May of 1984, living in Missouri, I bought 99 Luftballoons by Nena, the German group named after its lead singer. May of 1985 brought me a 1968 album, Switched-On Bach, a collection of Bach works performed on synthesizer by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos.

Then, it was quiet until 1988, when the sad month of May found me buying thirty LPs, ranging from Winelight by Grover Washington, Jr., to my first new copy of Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Other artists included in that May 1988 haul were Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Roger Whittaker, Bruce Springsteen, Boz Scaggs, Dan Fogelberg and the Righteous Brothers. I also dug a little further back into early rock ’n’ roll with the soundtrack to The Big Town, the 1987 Matt Dillon/Diane Lane fable detailing gambling life in the big city circa 1958.

And that’s where I met Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby,” a sweet slice of R&B from 1956, when it went to No. 12 on two of the major pop charts of the time and spent three weeks at No. 1 on the main R&B chart. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

“Since I Met You Baby” by Ivory Joe Hunter, Atlantic 1111 [1956]
(From the soundtrack to The Big Town [1987].)

A Quick Stop In 1972

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 22, 2009

I said we’d visit 1972 today, and so we will. But it’s one of those days, so I’m going to toss up a mostly random selection and then move off to the easy chair or someplace else more comfy.

A Six-Pack from 1972
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics, Avco 4603
“Brand New Start” by Jackie DeShannon from Jackie
“City, Country, City” by War from The World Is A Ghetto
“Pieces of April” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4331
“Blue River” by Eric Andersen from Blue River
“Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Atlantic 2897

I think that the entire Jackie album might show up here soon, as might Eric Andersen’s Blue River (depending on their availability elsewhere). Both are superb records, and “Blue River” might be the best thing Andersen has ever recorded. The War track is a long one that gives the guys a chance to stretch out. The other three tracks offered here all got plenty of airplay: The Stylistics’ record went to No. 10, the Three Dog Night record went to No. 19, and the Flack/Hathaway record went to No. 5. Beyond that, there are very few records that say “Summer of 1972” as clearly to me as does “Where Is The Love.”

‘I Think I Will Travel To Rio . . .’

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 21, 2009

Well, I found something pretty interesting at YouTube this morning: Here’s a video that Mike Nesmith put together for his single “Rio” in 1977, when the song went to No. 1 in Australia. This was, as the YouTube poster points out in his comments, four years before MTV went on the air. It’s a witty video, as is the song.

And that’s so good – and I have such a long list of things to do today – that we’ll leave it right there. I think we’ll visit 1972 tomorrow.

A Note
Blogger tells me as I get ready to post this that Echoes In The Wind has 699 posts and this will be No. 700. There have actually been a few more than that, but some have disappeared over these two-plus years. Either way, the only thing to do is . . . celebrate!

“Celebrate” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4229 [1969]

Note: Because some of the first posts on this archives site were created by combining some of the very early posts on the original Blogger site, this is not the 700th post on this site. It’s not far off, though.

A Summertime Plot

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 20, 2009

Well, we’re armed and ready to garden.

The Texas Gal stopped by at the end of her lunch break the other day to drop off the results of her trip to the garden store: chicken wire, wooden stakes, a hoe, a metal rake, some pruning shears and a hose. Add that to a few garden tools we bought about a week earlier, and we should be set for implements.

So we spent an hour that evening attaching chicken wire to the stakes and marking off a roughly twelve-foot square in the garden plot in the side yard (available for use, as well, to the folks in the adjacent apartments, where we used to live). The fence is less than artistic, but it marks our plot adequately, and it should keep all but the most persistent rabbits away from our vegetables this summer.

So what are we going to grow? That’s been partly determined by the packets of seeds the Texas Gal got free at her workplace. Her goal for the coming weekend is to get seeds planted for several varieties of vegetables: We’ll certainly plant yellow squash and zucchini, some cucumbers, some beets, maybe some cabbage and likely some tomatoes. We’ll probably get a couple of pots to grow some parsley and some catnip, and there is a small strip of garden between the house and the sidewalk where we’ll plant – more as ornaments than as consumables – green kale and red lettuce.

In addition, we’re planning to head out to one of the garden tents at either the grocery store or the discount store down the street and get some plants to set in: more tomatoes (in case the seeds don’t go well) and some peppers – green and chocolate for sure, maybe yellow and possibly some jalapeño. And I’m thinking about growing some eggplant, although the Texas Gal is skeptical, having never eaten it before.

I wonder if we’re not being a little too ambitious, given that this is our first time around the vegetable patch. We’ll likely find out as mid-summer approaches, when watering and weeding may be the last things we want to do on a hot evening or humid Saturday. If all goes well, though, we’ll have the pleasure and satisfaction of home-grown salads and stir-fry and more.

I might – and I emphasize “might” – even eat some beets.

A Six-Pack of Gardens

“Here In The Garden, Parts 1 & 2” by Gypsy from In The Garden [1971]
“Johnny’s Garden” by Manassas from Manassas [1972]
“Safe In My Garden” by the Mamas & the Papas from The Papas And The Mamas [1968]
“A Wednesday In Your Garden” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul [1969]
“Come Into The Garden” by Chimera from Chimera [1969]
“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen from Greatest Hits [1995]

Probably the least-known of these groups is Chimera, whose self-titled album was recorded in 1969. The record, featuring two female vocalists and a few British folk and rock notables, went unreleased for many years. You’ll find a slight history of Chimera and an affectionate assessment of its only album at Time Has Told Me, one of the great blogs for out-of-print rarities, many of them in the line of British psych-folk, as is Chimera’s work.

The tale of Gypsy, a Minnesota band that began as the Underbeats, showed up here in the early days. In The Garden was the group’s second album. (I noticed this morning, as I was going through earlier writings and my files, that I keep changing the year In The Garden was released, citing either 1971 or 1972. While the LP and its jacket seem not to have a date anywhere, All-Music Guide says the record came out in 1971. So I’ll go with that.)

I’m never sure, as long as we’re talking about indecision, whether to classify Manassas as a Stephen Stills album or as an album by the group Manassas. My sense of the album is that it was a Stills solo project that shifted in the process to a full band identity, but I’m not sure. I’ve tagged it as a Stephen Stills album because that’s what the record jacket and the CD cover say. I could easily go the other way, as AMG does, saying “Formed in 1971 from the sessions for what was going to be Stills’ third solo album, the chemistry of the musicians he gathered was so intense that before long they were a full-fledged band.” Either way, it’s still good tunes.

The tracks by the Mamas and the Papas and by the Guess Who are album tracks whose sounds fit into the groups’ canons without many surprises. Listening this morning, I realized once again how main Papa John Phillips and producer Lou Adler worked painstakingly on every detail, even on album tracks, creating a lush pop-folk sound that still sounds effortless today. The Guess Who track sounds like no other band, as well, but I’m not sure that “effortless” is the word I’d use for “A Wednesday In Your Garden” or in fact for many of the Guess Who’s recordings. Thinking about it, I always got the sense that Burton Cummings was working too hard at being a rock star. I may be forgetting one or three, but the only Guess Who record I can think of at the moment that sounded light and effortless at any point was “Undun.”

“Secret Garden” was one of three new tracks Bruce Springsteen recorded with the E Street Band for release on his greatest hits album in 1995. The other new recordings were “Blood Brothers” and “This Hard Land.” Also on the album was “Murder Incorporated,” a 1982 recording with the band that had never been released. Of the four, “Secret Garden” is my favorite.

Note: While I still love “Secret Garden,” I have to admit that in the past four years I’ve come to admire and enjoy “This Hard Land” more. While the former is a beautiful love song that could only have come from Springsteen’s pen, “This Hard Land” is a heartland plaint that clearly shows the connection between Springsteen and the music of Woody Guthrie, the fiction of John Steinbeck and the photography of Walker Evans. It might be worth noting that “This Hard Land” was recorded in January 1995, just a few months before Springsteen began recording The Ghost of Tom Joad, his minimalist album that focused on similar themes as “This Hard Land.” Note added June 28, 2013.

‘You’re So Supreme . . .’

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 19, 2009

Over the course of more than two years of sharing music here, there have been some detours from the rock ’n’ roll highway. While I love rock and pop from most eras, I also love music from other genres and eras. And I’ve noticed that when I share songs from those disparate non-rock genres, the numbers of downloads drops precipitously. Folks come by here to find rock and pop, and generally the more familiar fare.

That’s fine. We like what we like.

But among my loves in music, as I’ve noted many times, is one Al Hirt, a New Orleans-born trumpet player who died in 1999 at the age of seventy-six. His music was what I listened to while I was learning to play cornet; in that sense, he was my first musical model and hero, getting in line way ahead of the Beatles and Bob Dylan and all the other musicians who came along to entertain and inspire me later.

The first of Al Hirt’s music I heard was almost certainly “Java,” a sprightly tune from his Honey In The Horn album; the album came out in 1963, and in 1964, “Java” went to No. 4, providing Hirt with his only Top Ten hit. (“Cotton Candy” went to No. 15 and “Sugar Lips” went to No. 30 later that year.) It was in 1964, as I’ve noted before, that I got my horn; I took lessons that summer between fifth and sixth grades and continued to play the horn through high school. And as I heard “Java” on the radio – all three of his hits got some play on Top Forty stations and plenty of play on the St. Cloud stations, which at that time did not play any rock – I wanted two things: I wanted the LP, and I wanted to play my horn that well.

I got the album for my birthday that September, and continued to think that “Java,” the second track on Side One, was fun. But the revelation was the first track on the record: “I Can’t Get Started.” I loved the sliding saxophones, the chorus (seeming corny now but so much a part of its time), the shifts in tempo, and above all, Al Hirt’s horn: weaving and darting in and around the arrangement, taking a breather or two and finally 2:08 into the song, taking off and flying, then leaving me hanging in mid-air.

The first time I heard Hirt’s take on “I Can’t Get Started,” I stared at the stereo as I sat on the floor in the living room. When the song ended, I lifted the needle and played it again. And again. I’d never heard anything like it.

What I didn’t know, of course, is that “I Can’t Get Started” is one of the great standards of American song. Written by Vernon Duke, with words by Ira Gershwin, it was first heard – says Wikipedia – in the theatrical production Ziegfield Follies of 1936. Since then, there have been numerous versions recorded; All-Music Guide lists 1,778 CDs with versions of “I Can’t Get Started.” The artists who’ve recorded the song include (and this is by necessity a brief and inadequate selection): Cannonball Adderly, Larry Adler, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Judy Collins, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Merle Haggard, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, Rickie Lee Jones, Gene Krupa, Enoch Light, Wynton Marsalis, Rod McKuen, Peter Nero, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Django Reinhardt, Buddy Rich, Doc Severinsen, Cybill Shepherd, Mel Tormé, Joe Utterback, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Lester Young and Dave Zoller. (No one whose last name begins with “Q” or “X” was listed.)

Some of those, I’d like to hear. Others, well, maybe not. The thought of the Cybill Shepherd version, frankly, scares me.

The one name I did not list there is the man whose version was listed most: Bunny Berigan. A trumpeter and vocalist at the time that Big Band music was separating itself from other forms of jazz, Berigan recorded the song in 1937 for Victor Records (a predecessor of RCA Victor). I learned a little about that – but just a little – by reading the notes on the back of Hirt’s Honey In The Horn.

“On one (recording) date,” writes Anne L. Freels, “Al was scheduled to do ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ a perennial that most knowledgeable musicians feel should be left alone after Bunny Berigan’s incomparable rendition. Especially wary was Louis Nunley, a member of the vocal chorus and a good trumpeter himself. When behemoth Hirt finished with that fine song, however, Nunley sat down and said ‘I’ll never pick up my horn again.’”

I’ll note three things about the anecdote: First: Plenty of musicians had recorded “I Can’t Get Started” at the time Freels was writing, so her comment that the song “should be left alone” is publicist’s overstatement. But over the years, I have read many times that Berigan’s version is considered the standard, and horn players do risk a comparison when they record it.

Second, I doubt that Nunley was serious about leaving his horn sit unplayed. I’m sure that if he actually made that statement about not playing again, it was hyperbole, uttered in amazement at a great performance.

Third: Even if the anecdote was overstated, it underlined to me at the age of eleven that someone besides me thought that Hirt’s version of “I Can’t Get Started” was special.

But I’ll let you judge for yourselves. Here are Bunny Berigan’s version from 1937 and Al Hirt’s version from 1963.

“I Can’t Get Started” by Bunny Berigan, Victor 37539 [1937]

“I Can’t Get Started” by Al Hirt from Honey In The Horn [1963]

From A Yodel To The Wool Hat

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 18, 2009

I never was much of a Monkees fan. I knew the hits, and I likely could have named the four guys, but I doubt if I could have ever matched names to pictures. Later on, after the hoopla was over and I actually was listening to Top 40, along came a song that I quite liked: “Joanne,” credited to Mike Nesmith and the First National Band. After that, I kept my ears open for anything else by Nesmith, but nothing else hit the Top 40, and I – being not very adventurous in my record shopping – pretty much forgot about Mike Nesmith (though he continued to produce records in a country-rock vein).

Jump to 2007: A rock journalist and enthusiast named Mitch Lopate discovers Echoes In The Wind and leaves a note and sends an email now and then. A friendship develops, and in emails and the occasional phone call, Mitch notes his favorites from over the long sweep of rock and all its musical relatives. Among them is Mike Nesmith. On his advice, I buy a couple of CDs and listen. Still persuading me, Mitch makes sure I have a copy of Nesmith’s 1977 album From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing. I listen, but the magic eludes me. So I’ve asked Mitch to explain it. Here’s his response:

A music journalist has to be careful when accepting an offer to write an essay about his or her favored musician of choice. In my case, I was caught by my own trap (the term is “hoisted by one’s own petard,” and I think it was used on an early Star Trek episode with Captain Kirk). What simply happened to me is that whiteray threw the idea back in my lap and asked, “What makes Michael Nesmith more interesting than any of the other country-folk-rock musicians from the same time period in his genre?” It took a few days to let it simmer until I found an answer – or several. For one, he yodels.

No, not the pastry; the way he sings, of course. He yodels – and that clued me in to some of the Nez magic. It’s his way of carrying along the legacy and tradition of those singers who incorporated that method into their work in the country vein of musical bloodlines. Jimmie “The Singing Brakeman” Rodgers, for one – and absolutely, there’s a big hunk of Hank Williams, too. They would surely be included – it’s part of Nesmith’s heritage as a native son of the Republic of Texas; it’s that mix of refined/respectable gentleman and hell-raisin’ rascal. It’s also a mix and blend of Nashville, but it comes through other locations and fellow musicians as well. It goes as far as the Pacific Northwest region where Danny O’Keefe comes from (listen to “I’m Sober Now”) – and then you can count in Boz Scaggs down at the Muscle Shoals studio in 1969, working on “Waiting for a Train.” Nez, however, makes it a staple part of his production – and it just fits naturally, as though he knew he was born to yippee and whoop. And no, I already know how much influence folks like Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Pure Prairie League had – I mean it’s different when Nesmith plays because it’s like he was singing about himself and not some distant ideal or goal like a busted romance and how to fix it.

If you really want to hear how far back he made it clear, turn it back to the Monkees’ first album and slip on “Papa Gene’s Blues.” That James Burton-like Nashville lead guitar is, I think, where Mike’s heart has been right from the start. Follow that with “Sunny Girlfriend” from the Headquarters release, and you’ve got the next clue. Forget all that foolishness that was part of the group’s act: Michael Nesmith was always a serious musician who honored his country roots. And backing that up is the whine of a pedal steel guitar – it’s found on almost all his songs (“Mama Nantucket” is a great example – and not the kind of title I’d associate with the instrument.)

That’s another part of the man’s appeal: He had a businessman’s approach to writing songs and lyrics in an honest but earnest way that lacks any fancy gimmicks. It was his approach to acting as well; for what it matters, there was no other option with the clowning antics that made the other three Monkees seem so cute. Even the Beatles needed George Harrison to be serious at times. Nez, on his part, keeps his production basic and focused – but adds just a tad of mischief. My favorite tune is “Rio,” partially because he deliberately rearranges words and images to create a fantasy of escaping to South America for the adventure of it – and the way he plays on the title itself when a woman’s voice proclaims, “Not Reno, dummy! Rio! Rio de JIN-ero!”

See? It’s not an obvious thing; it’s more simple than all the elaborate parts. He sings and plays like a musical collection of old movie stars: he’s sort of a singing mix of the best characteristics of Cary Grant and Gary Cooper: polite, firm, and funny, and quiet when it counts. That is, quiet until he writes a song – and then he’s out for a good laugh and a good time on the town. Heck, maybe it’s that Mike Nesmith is and always has been a man who knew what he wanted and how to do it – and he lets the music do his walking and talking. Or maybe it’s just that confidence that comes from – can I say – “a home on the range”? Any way I try to pin it down, it just comes down to a man who knew what he could do and how to make it fit his needs and his music as well as his life story. Can’t argue that with a man in a wool hat.

From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing by Mike Nesmith [1977]

Tracks
Rio
Casablanca Moonlight
More Than We Imagine
Navajo Trail
We Are Awake
Wisdom Has Its Way
Love’s First Kiss
The Other Room

Mitch adds, by way of closing:

“I enjoyed the project a whole lot because I really admired that guy. I mean, he was the only one in the group who made sense – most of the time.  Photon Wing really is a good album – when I first heard ‘Rio,’ I thought, ‘What clever writing; kind of a sensible Warren Zevon.’”