Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

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]

Saturday Single No. 161

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 28, 2009

I’ve mentioned over the last couple years how my musical tastes were sculpted in part by the music my sister owned and listened to during her high school and college years. When she got married and moved away from St. Cloud, she took with her a small collection of LPs, many of which I’d come to love. If I wanted them close at hand again, I’d have to go find them.

The most important of those records were (and this is a slightly odd list):

Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane
Tapestry by Carole King
Music by Carole King
Teaser & the Firecat by Cat Stevens
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Glenn Yarbrough
The Lonely Things by Glenn Yarbrough
Wildflowers by Judy Collins
Whose Garden Was This by John Denver
Mudlark by Leo Kottke
Circle ’Round the Sun by Leo Kottke
Traditional Jewish Memories by Benedict Silberman
Invisible Tears by Ray Conniff and the Singers

I was never systematic about finding them. I could have gone to Musicland in the mall or downtown to Axis in the months after my sister left home and found most of those, I think. I didn’t do that. Instead, I looked haphazardly over the years at flea markets and used record shops, finding a record every now and then, and replacing poor copies with better copies when I found them. (I’m currently on my fourth copy of Yarbrough’s For Emily.) It wasn’t until I began collecting vinyl in earnest during the 1990s that I also began to look seriously for those ten records.

By the time I went online in 2000, I had all but the Leo Kottke albums on vinyl. Eventually, I found and entered the world of music blogging, where I found some of the albums as digital files, most notably the John Denver album and the two Leo Kottkes. (Vinyl versions of those two Kottke albums now reside in my collection as well, thanks to Mitch and Bob, friends of mine and readers of this blog.)

As I entered last evening, the only albums from that list above that I did not have in digital format were the Ray Conniff and Traditional Jewish Memories. Even having a USB turntable was of no help, as my vinyl copies of those two albums are too worn to make for good listening, much less to make good rips.

So, as I do occasionally, I went to Captain Crawl, one of the two best search engines I know for music blogs (Totally Fuzzy being the other), and cast out my net for the Ray Conniff album. I found three blogs that had posted it recently, all – it appeared – from CD. I’d never seen a CD of the album in print, so I checked some online retailers. As I expected, the CD is out of print, but the album is available as a digital download here.

The music on the album is, of course, light and a little sappy. Some of the selections – “I Walk The Line” for one – don’t work well with the Conniff formula (though none of the tracks are as utterly clueless as Conniff’s version of “Photograph,” which I posted some time ago). But as sappy as the tunes are, they’re still old friends, and wandering through the album last evening was a pleasure. So here’s the Conniff version of “Singing the Blues,” the song that Guy Mitchell took to No. 1 for ten weeks in 1956. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

“Singing the Blues” by Ray Conniff and the Singers from Invisible Tears [1964]

Saturday Single No. 160

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 21, 2009

Two weeks ago, before my tabletop baseball break, I looked at the LPs I’d acquired in November from 1964 through 1989. Today, we’ll pick up the tale of Novembers from there. (For those who are interested, Rob won the Strat-O-Matic tournament for the fourth year in a row, this time with the 1922 Giants, who swept two games in the finals from my 1948 Indians.)

November of 1990 found me teaching journalism in Columbia, Missouri, which I enjoyed. I knew the city from having lived there a few years earlier, but for some reason, I wasn’t haunting the used record stores too much. I did get LPs by Karla Bonoff, Danny O’Keefe and Jud Strunk in November of that year, but that’s about all the record buying I did that autumn.

A year later, as I settled into my job in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, I got no LPs in November, but I made up for it a year later. November of 1992 brought me one of the windfalls I mentioned a while back: A charity based in Eden Prairie called Bridging, Inc., frequently got boxes of records – which it could not use – among its donations of household items. I knew the director, and for a few years, he’d call me when he had records for me to take away. I kept some, sold some (with Bridging getting a share of the take) and generally had to toss those in very bad shape. The November 1992 box from Bridging contained LPs by, among others, America, Louis Armstrong, the Beatles, Stephen Bishop, Waylon Jennings, Michael Jackson and Edward R. Murrow. There were also a lot of K-Tel and Ronco compilations. On my own that month, I picked up LPs by Wet Willie, Dr. John and John Fogerty and a collection of Bruce Springsteen covers, bringing the month’s total to twenty-nine records.

I skipped three more Novembers for some reason, and then got back to business in 1996. The take was minimal, though: LPs by Clannad, Dion & the Belmonts, Carl Perkins and Mother Earth, and a new copy of Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. By the time November rolled around again, in 1997, I was heading into the years of what I call vinyl madness, with stops at Cheapo’s at least three times a week: I brought home twenty-five records that month. The best of them? Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, Taj Mahal’s Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home, and maybe the Who’s Live at Leeds. The least satisfying? Almost certainly one of the K-Tel anthologies I grabbed. Otherwise, it was a good month.

I more than doubled my November take the next year, bringing home fifty-seven records in 1998’s next-to-last month; among them were LPs by Poco, Rodney Crowell, Robert Cray, Harry Belafonte, Emitt Rhodes, William Bell, Nilsson, Fleetwood Mac, Clarence Carter, Bonnie Bramlett, Don Nix, Louis Jordan, Clannad, Malo and Mason Profitt. The best? Maybe War’s The World is a Ghetto or Live at the Regal by B.B. King. The least of them? Probably Night Flight by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. The most interesting? I’d say it’s In The Shadow Of The Mountain on the Nonesuch label, a collection of Bulgarian choral music, which to this day I find eminently fascinating.

In November of 1999, I almost equaled the previous year’s take, with fifty-six LPs. They included works by Sam & Dave, Elmore James, the Yarbirds, Carole King, UB40, Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Koloc, Dave Grusin, Joe Jackson, Dave Mason, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Cris Williamson, Caravan, the Byrds, the Indigo Girls and Phoebe Snow. The best of the month was either Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison or the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday. The least satisfying? Probably the Eagles’ The Long Run, and I’m not at all sure why.

Things tailed off from there, as I got a CD player, I met the Texas Gal and then moved, first to the ’burbs and then to St. Cloud. In November 2000, I found records by Ringo Starr, Steeleye Span and Bonnie Bramlett. In 2001, I brought home an LP by folksinger Kate Wolf. In 2002, I found a record by Dave Porter of Sam & Dave. And there the tale of Novembers ends.

So what to share? Well, I’m tempted to offer a track from In The Shadow Of The Mountain, but I’m aware my interest in Bulgarian choral music isn’t one that a lot of folks share. So I pulled out of the stacks a 1984 LP titled Cover Me, the collection of Springsteen covers I mentioned above. The first track was originally found on Dave Edmunds’ 1982 album, D.E. 7th, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

“From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)” by Dave Edmunds from Cover Me [1984]

Saturday Single No. 159

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 7, 2009

I wrote earlier this week about my Ultimate Jukebox project, a series of posts that will list and comment on the two hundred songs I’d want in such a machine. Well, the research has begun, and I can already tell that trimming the list of records to that count of two hundred is going to be difficult.

As a result, I’ve been preoccupied this week. And in the absence of something more compelling to write about, I thought I’d limp on one of my favorite crutches of this past year and see what records I’ve acquired in November over the years. As is usual with this topic, I’ll look at the years from 1964 through 1989 this week and the succeeding years on another Saturday in November. (The calendar for the month’s weekends is already crowded; I have no doubt that I will find a Saturday that requires a quick and easy topic.)

Early on, as I’ve noted along the way, I wasn’t always keeping track of when I got what records, and I had to estimate the months of some acquisitions. I’m pretty sure that November of 1964 brought me the soundtrack to the Disney movie Mary Poppins, home of the silly and utterly infectious “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the exquisite “Feed the Birds.” That’s the only November acquisition on which I have to guess; I know that I got my second Al Hirt album, That Honey Horn Sound, on a trip to Minneapolis in November 1965.

After that, I got a few years older and broadened my musical tastes before getting any records in November. In 1971, I got my copies of 13, the Doors’ greatest hits album, and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. The former is still a decent hits album, though my taste for the Doors has waned over the years. The Tull album – one I honestly haven’t heard very much for a long time – is one I enjoyed immensely at the time. I should cue it up someday and see how it holds up.

Sometime in the next year, I joined a record club, and on a November day in 1972, I opened a package that had a pretty good duo: Buffalo Springfield’s Retrospective and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. I also picked up a copy of John Lennon’s Imagine that month, but I find that one to be another record that’s lost its luster over time; I only have a few tracks from it in my digital files.

After another blank November in 1973 – there were better things to do in Denmark than to buy records – I found myself mostly home-bound in November of 1974. Rick came over one day with a few records to divert me: Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album, the Association’s Greatest Hits, the Bee Gees’ 2 Years On and Odessa, and Quincy Jones’ Ndeda. The best of those? Odessa is a great, if sprawling album. On the other hand, I never quite got into Ndeda although it still has its place on the shelves.

Bob Dylan’s New Morning came home with me in November of 1975. And then there’s another gap, this one a long one. I didn’t acquire another November record until 1982, when my haul was the odd pairing of The Richard Harris Love Album and Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill. The Harris album was an anthology that I bought because it included both “MacArthur Park” and “Didn’t We,” the only two performances by Harris I really like.

In the eleventh month of 1983, I got as a gift the Motown-studded soundtrack to the film The Big Chill. I’m not sure what it is about November, but there was then another gap of several years before the month brought me new music again.

That happened in 1987, and I brought home fifteen LPs that month. In no particular order, there was music from Willie Nelson, ABBA, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel, the Alan Parsons Project, Crosby Stills & Nash, the Sanford/Townsend Band, Bob Dylan, The Band, Joe Cocker, Gordon Lightfoot and Paul McCartney. There were also two soundtracks: The Big Easy and Dirty Dancing. The best album of the bunch remains The Band’s Music From Big Pink. At the other end of the spectrum, Allies by Crosby, Stills & Nash is a pretty weak effort.

I continued to haunt garage sales, used record shops and the few places that sold new vinyl in Minot, North Dakota, and in November of 1988, I found LPs by the Eagles, Aretha Franklin, Jigsaw, the Rolling Stones and England Dan & John Ford Coley. Go ahead and blink. I also grabbed a K-Tel compilation titled Superstars Greatest Hits, which lost its apostrophe somewhere.

In 1989, as the first half of the November chronicles come to an end, I was in Anoka, Minnesota, and a lady friend brought me some albums from her collection as gifts: John Denver’s Poems, Prayers & Promises, Loggins & Messina’s self-titled album, an album by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and an anthology of well-known hits from the 1950s and 1960s.

So what to share from this mélange of November acquisitions? Well, the best album out of all of these might be Willie Nelson’s Stardust or maybe The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and The Band. But Odessa, from 1969, remains a favorite. At least one of its tracks will show up down the road, but for now, here’s the opening track of Side Three, the lush “Lamplight,” as your Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 150

May 27, 2022

Originally posted September 26, 2009

Well, there’s one more reasonable chance to take a look at which records came to roost on my shelves during September. (Not that carrying the idea into October would be truly unreasonable, but it would be a little off-kilter, it seems.) In my Saturday post two weeks ago, I wandered up through 1989.

In 1990, I spent some time during the first week of September in the two better used record shops in Columbia, Missouri, and indulged myself with six records for my birthday. Later in the month, I added three more to the shelves. The best of the month? Probably the second Duane Allman anthology or maybe the Rolling Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet (a record that likely ranks in my top fifty all-time). The least of the month’s acquisitions? Probably Eastern Wind, a record by Chris DeBurgh that’s so fey and lightweight it almost floats in the air.

A year later, I found myself settling down in the northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis and settling into my work at the Eden Prairie News as well as setting aside forty minutes every morning for a fifteen mile commute. For some months – or so the log tells me – buying records was not a priority.

By the time the late summer of 1992 rolled around, however, I had found my place on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, five blocks from Cheapo’s and only a little further from a few other stores that sold used records. And there were always garage sales. A total of twenty-one records came home with me that month. The most interesting? Maybe Joni Mitchell’s Wild Things Run Free, a record I’m not all that fond of but one that I do find challenging. And Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones is, I think, frequently overlooked. On the slight side, there were a couple of albums by pianist Peter Nero that are pleasant but inconsequential.

A year later, I’d begun my habit of visiting Cheapo’s – now in a larger location about eight blocks further from my home – at least twice a week, sometimes more often, and had been given the privilege there of keeping up to ten records on reserve under the counter. Once a week, I was supposed to empty the reserve bag by either buying the records or reshelving them, but that rule wasn’t firmly enforced. In September of 1993, my total LP take was twenty-eight, with most of them coming from Cheapo’s. The best of those were likely Delaney & Bonnie’s Motel Shot and Mother Earth’s Living With the Animals. During the same month, as I wrote during the first weeks of this blog, I found the self-titled album from 1970 or so by the band from the western Twin Cities suburbs that called itself debb johnson.

I eased up in 1994, maybe because the shelves in my apartment were getting full of records and I’d begun packing books away to make room for the music. I brought home only eleven records in September of that year. My favorite among them is likely Van Morrison’s Wavelength, although it was a prime month: I found some John Prine, Ry Cooder, Aretha Franklin, more Van Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Ian & Sylvia and Little Feat. I also brought home an anthology of rock ’n’ roll from 1959 that, while fine listening, is overshadowed by the rest of the month’s take.

There was one September record in 1995: The World Of Ike & Tina Turner Live, as I adjusted to some changes in my life. Those changes were still echoing a year later, but I brought home a cluster of records on what appears to have been a garage or rummage sale day, and added a few more at the end of the month. The best finds of the month were likely Tomorrow the Green Grass by the Jayhawks and Eric Andersen’s Blue River, while the least consequential was the Doobie Brothers’ Farewell Tour, a live album that never really grabbed me.

Come the later summer of 1997, I was scuffling with a mix of temp jobs, and I likely should have cut back on my visits to Cheapo’s. But that would have been wise, and wisdom comes late, or so they say. (It sometimes feels as if it is getting quite late, and I think I am still waiting.) The truth was that music was my solace during a few difficult years. Among the nineteen LPs that helped provide that solace in September of 1997 was one of my favorites: Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares, Volume Two, the second collection of folk music recorded in Bulgaria by Marcel Cellier between 1957 and 1985. Also that month, I found a couple albums each by Redbone, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Tower of Power. Nothing in that month’s take looks very slight, but the month did provide perhaps the strangest group name in my collection: I found a copy of The Bluest Sky by a duo with the name Nikki Meets the Hibachi. (I listened to it once and forgot about it; from the reviews I see online, I should listen to it again; the album may show up here one of these days.)

On more stable ground once September 1998 came around, I continued to visit my local record stores and brought home twenty records. Some of those were by favorite artists: Richie Havens, Joy of Cooking, Jim Horn, Jim Capaldi, and almost all of them, looking at the log, were pretty good. Most likely the least impressive was Vienna, an album by Minnesotan Linda Eder, who’d come to attention through the talent show Star Search.

About ten days into September in 1999, some health problems began, and I responded the way I’d responded to crises for a while: I bought music, bringing home forty-three records that month. The best of the month? Maybe the two albums by Fairport Convention, or a cluster of LPs by Bread. It was not a good month for great albums. The worst was easily the self-titled 1968 album by a group called the Trout: a work of unfocused country-ish sunshine pop that nevertheless had a fascinating cover.

Since then, the pace of record buying has slowed. Eventually, I moved from south Minneapolis to the suburbs and then to St. Cloud. In September of 2000, I got five records. Two of them were great albums by Etta James: At Last and Second Time Around. But they paled beside the first birthday gift I ever got from the Texas Gal: The Bootleg Series, Volume 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966 (The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert), which actually took place in Manchester, England. A year later, another piece of Dylan vinyl – Love and Theft – found its way home (along with an album by Toots & the Maytals).

In 2002, just before we moved to St.Cloud, I found a few treasures at a suburban thrift shore and brought home nine September LPs. The best was a second and better copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees, while the one I listen to least was a rock soundtrack titled Lazarus. I spent some birthday money on a trip to the Twin Cities in 2003, picking up a couple records by Jimmy Spheeris, some Clannad and some Mandrill. And the last September LPs I’ve obtained came a year ago: a Quincy Jones record the Texas Gal found for me at a garage sale, two Leo Kottke albums sent me by friends (and readers) Mitch and Bob, and a sealed copy of Lori Jacobs’ album Free, which I mentioned a little more than a month ago in a post I can no longer link to.

So what sums up my September acquisitions? Well, there are not many songs more autumnal than my favorite Eric Andersen song, “Blue River.” So that’s today’s Saturday Single.

“Blue River” by Eric Andersen from Blue River [1972]

Saturday Single No. 148

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 12, 2009.

I never did get to looking at August LP acquisitions in the years after 1989; time and circumstance have made that idea bit outdated. Perhaps when August turns our way again, I’ll recall and then remedy that omission. On the other hand, there may be more vibrant things about which to write when the eighth month comes to call next summer.

And the first September Saturday has slid past without my marking it here. I was – as regulars know – taking a few days off to move my figurative stuff here to WordPress. So I thought we’d just jump over August and see what records came my way in September, starting this week with the years from 1964 through 1989. (Some of these will be among the most enduring records in my collection, as my birthday falls in this month, and my family and friends have generally had a good idea of what I’d like.)

My first album, as I’ve noted here more than once, was Al Hirt’s Honey In The Horn, which showed up on the turntable early one morning in 1964. A year later, Sonny and Cher’s Look At Us occupied the same space. During the summer of 1967, I spent a week at a band camp on the campus of what was then Bemidji State College, nestled among the pines of Northern Minnesota; in September, I received in the mail an LP made up of the various bands’ performances during that week’s culminating concert.

The Beatles’ Revolver, an album I consider either the best or second-best that group ever recorded (it changes places with Abbey Road in my internal rankings), came my way in September 1970. And then we jump to 1974, when I picked up on a September evening the first of the two Duane Allman anthologies.

In 1977, having tentatively entered the workforce, I found a used copy of the Moody Blues’ Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and later that month, I bought from a co-worker three albums: Seals & Crofts’ Greatest Hits, Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits and Michael Johnson There is a Breeze. (The latter was quite possibly the final step toward collecting all the music we had listened to in the lounge during my stay in Denmark four years earlier.)

I found myself from time to time dipping into classical music, sometimes purchasing recordings of pieces I played as part of the St. Cloud Tech High School Orchestra, other times just trying something new. During a shopping trip to the Twin Cities in September 1978, I found a sale on classical recordings; I bought two records, one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 5, and one of Wolfgang Mozart’s Symphonies No. 40 and No. 41. Three years later, in September 1981, I added a collection of George Gershwin pieces to the classical shelf, and then put a copy of the Moody Blues’ Long Distance Voyager on the main shelf.

For some reason, September in the earlier years isn’t a month jammed with lots of record acquisitions. An accident of timing, I guess. We move forward several years – and several life changes – to 1987, when my birthday brought me Dan Fogelberg’s Nether Lands and the soundtrack to the movie Stand By Me (a record packed with fine music from the latter years of the 1950s). Later that month, I’d add John Wesley Harding, a great album, and Real Live, an okay album, to my growing collection of the works of Bob Dylan.

September of 1988 was a different story. I added thirty-eight LPs to the shelves that month, with the most interesting of them being maybe a clutch of records by the Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa, The Grateful Dead and Workingman’s Dead. The least of those September records? Well, there were a couple of anthologies that might have been half-good, but I’d say that chief among the records that didn’t age well were Luna Sea by Firefall and Bonnie Tyler’s Faster Than The Speed Of Night.

A year later, I bought only a few records in September (having binged in July and August). During a trip to visit a lady friend in Kansas, I spent some money in Wichita on a few Gordon Lightfoot albums, one Gram Parsons, a copy of the early Beatles album, Introducing the Beatles on Vee-Jay (an album that’s almost certainly a fake printed long after the fact, as are most supposed copies of the Vee-Jay record these days), a Sly & the Family Stone album and the charity extravaganza, We Are The World. Back in Minnesota, I found the History of Eric Clapton, every track of which I had on other Clapton albums, and Roxy Music’s brilliant Avalon, introducing myself finally to the British band.

And that’s a nice place to stop for a Saturday Single.

“More Than This” by Roxy Music from Avalon [1982]

Saturday Single No. 143

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 1, 2009

As it happened, I never found a Saturday during July to explore the record log, to see what LPs have made their ways to my shelves in Julys past. There was a perfectly good reason for that: There were more immediate, and perhaps more interesting, things to write about on Saturdays in July. So we’ll celebrate August’s start with a look at July records. (Long-term readers with good memories may recall that I once shared a First Friday post on a Saturday, so this type of temporal dislocation is nothing new. We’re all lost in time, anyway.)

My first July records came in 1972, when I picked up a copy of The Beatles’ Second Album and an album titled A Special Path, recorded and released by Becky Severson, a high school classmate of mine. The Beatles album was the next-to-last step in my quest to own all of the Fab Four’s Capitol and Apple albums; all that remained was A Hard Day’s Night. (I misremembered; I had yet to pick up Beatles VI as well. Note added February 21, 2019.) The Becky Severson album was a simple, folkish work, testifying to her Christian faith. Its title song surfaced years later, a tale that I told here in 2007.

It was another three years before July found a new record on my shelves. I’ve told the story before about how Paul William’s Just An Old Fashioned Love Song came to my attention in 1975. And I’ve also told – obliquely – the story about a friend giving me Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly in July of 1976. (I often wonder how many tales about music I have left to tell; if I have one for every four of the albums on my shelves, I’m good for a few years yet.) And in July of 1977, as I was finishing up my time at St. Cloud State, KVSC was giving away promotional albums the staff had decided against: I got the Bee Gees’ Children of the World and Neil Diamond’s Beautiful Noise.

I moved to Monticello, and in July of 1978, my fiancée of the time gave me Jackson Browne’s Late For The Sky (a superlative album, and I wonder as I type its name why I’ve never written about it).  The next July albums came in 1982, flea market captures of America’s Homecoming and Carly Simon’s No Secrets. A year later, I received as a gift a big band anthology, Big Band Collector’s Guild Premiere Showcase, which I enjoyed a fair amount.

I went to Missouri to go to grad school. I bought no records during the one July I was there, and I went back to Monticello and bought no records during the two Julys I was there that second time. I moved, for the summer of 1987, to St. Cloud. It was there that the Bob Dylan project started, with a lady friend of mine and I determined to get all of Dylan’s existing work on vinyl before CD’s overtook the world. In July of that year, we picked up Infidels and Another Side of Bob Dylan. They went with me to Minot in August of 1987.

In Minot during July of 1988, I bought five LPs. The best of those was likely Paul Simon’s Graceland and the most interesting was probably Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing. Elton John, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the New Riders of the Purple Sage rounded things out.

By the time the spring of 1989 came sneaking into the northern plains, new LPs were becoming very difficult to find in Minot, as I’ve mentioned before. CDs had taken over, and I was forced to find my vinyl at garage sales and at the one pawnshop in town. So when I moved back to Minnesota in July 1989, living on the northern edge of the Twin Cities metro area, I celebrated by picking up thirty-four albums in that first month.

The log shows some very nice records: Shoot Out The Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson, as well as their I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight; the Indigo Girls’ self-titled album; Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking and Full House as well as the anthology, Fairport Chronicles; Maria McKee’s self-titled album; four Van Morrison albums as well as an anthology of Them, his early band; What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye; Joy of Cooking’s self-titled debut; and albums by Mott the Hoople, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and on and on. It was a great month, except that I kept pulling books off the big shelves to make room for LPs. And I had nowhere else to put the books.

I learned that month that I love Joy of Cooking’s work; despite that, the group has shown up here sparingly. So here’s the opening track from that debut album, today’s Saturday Single.

“Hush” by Joy of Cooking from Joy of Cooking [1970]

The Moody Blues: The Nineties

February 23, 2022

I recall, back in 1992 or 1993, when I got the Moody Blues’ 1991 album, Keys Of The Kingdom, that it sounded slight. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to invest in listening to it; I was working as a reporter again after some years of teaching, and that took time away from listening.

When I was teaching, I could play music in the background in the evenings as I graded papers and planned lessons. As a reporter, at least three – sometimes four – evenings a week were spent at athletic events or else interviewing coaches and other folks on the phone. My listening time decreased a great deal, and Keys Of The Kingdom didn’t spend a lot of time in the cassette deck of my stereo, so I did not know it well.

I know it better now. Not as well as I do the Moody Blues albums of the years 1970-72, when I seemingly had all the time in the world to listen to music. But I know it better.

The other week, I noted that the Moody’s 1988 album, Sur la mer, was, except for one track, “the sad sound of a band running out of ideas.” Well, Keys Of The Kingdom – and the group’s next album, 1999’s Strange Times – were a little better but mostly more of the same: The sweeping, sometimes majestic sound of the band was there on occasion, but it didn’t always work with the topic of the songs.

On Kingdom, the guitar opening of “Just Ask Me Once” puts me in mind of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Up Around The Bend,” but the track – written by Justin Hayward and John Lodge – devolves with an odd transition into a shuffle. The shift is so jarring that the first verse – a not bad bit that sets up the song – is easily missed. And then there’s “Bless The Wings (That Bring You Back).” Now, I’m a romantic, but I groaned just at the title. And then came the opening lines:

Like the rose that blooms in the wintertime
As it reaches up through the snow . . .

Then there’s the closer, and all you need to know is the title: “Don’t Blame The Rainbows For The Rain.”

Keys Of The Kingdom is a better album than I thought it was on first listening, but it’s not nearly as good as I hoped when I first put in the cassette deck in the 1990s, nor as good as I was hoping a few months ago when I began listening to it for the first time in thirty years.

With the group taking advantage of the increased time available on a CD as opposed to an LP, the album runs fifty-three minutes, and it feels too long by about ten minutes. As far as the charts go, it muddled around and peaked at No. 94 on the Billboard 200. It’s not quite as good as the 1986’s The Other Side Of Life, so it’s a solid C.

Here’s the best track on the album, “Say What You Mean (Parts I & II).”

Then there’s Strange Times, which came out in 1999. I’d done one of those “Ten CD’s for a dollar each” deals, and the CDs showed up after I’d become ill and had left the workforce. I had all the time I wanted to listen to music, but after I put Strange Times in the player once, I never played it again until maybe two years ago.

From some listenings over the past couple of years, it’s actually not that bad, which is not a great endorsement. As with Kingdom, the sound of the group is mostly there. But the ideas and the lyrics generally fall short or else bring up the thought – as came through my mind when listening to “Forever Now” – “Yeah, John Lodge, you’ve been singing the same kind of shit since 1968. It sounds pretty and all that, but have you learned anything over those years?”

Strange Times did not do well in the charts, either, peaking at No. 93 in the Billboard 200. As I noted a while back about Octave, the group’s 198 album, Strange Times (and Keys Of The Kingdom, too, for that matter) would be fine background music both in 1999 and today, playing quietly as those of us who grew up and grew old with the group talk about current concerns, most of them related to our health, I’d guess. Strange Times, which also seems over-long at fifty-seven minutes, is a little better than Keys, so I’ll give it a C+ even though that feels too generous.

Here’s “Haunted,” one of the better tracks on Strange Times.

The Moodies would release one more studio album, 2003’s holiday release, December. I’ve heard it and it’s decent. But I won’t dig into it here, as Christmas albums are not my deal.

Having wandered through almost all of the Moody Blues’ catalog in the past few years, I’m facing a question. As I think about the albums I like best, they’re the ones I listened to when I was young and seemed to have all the time in the world: A Question Of Balance from 1970, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour from 1971, and Seventh Sojourn from 1972.

So, the question is: Are those my favorites because I could immerse myself in them at a time when I was figuring myself out, or are they my favorites because they’re really so much better than the stuff that came before and after? Probably the former, but that’s okay.

The Moody Blues: The Late ’80s

February 11, 2022

We resume our assessment of the Moody Blues’ catalog today by looking at the two studio albums released in the last half of the 1980s: The Other Side Of Life from 1986 and Sur La Mer from 1988.

It’s probably not over-stating things to say that the first of those two albums made the band relevant again, following the failure of 1983’s The Present to gain very much attention. Key to the success of the album was the single (and accompanying video) “Your Wildest Dreams” with the young British psychedelic band the Mood Six portraying the young Moody Blues:

Boosted by the video – and the quality of the song, an exercise in nostalgic romance from the pen of Justin Hayward – the album went to No. 9 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the magazine’s Hot 100 and was No. 1 for two weeks on what was then called the Hot Adult Contemporary chart.

The album and single were in the charts from spring through the summer, and I imagine I heard the single, but I didn’t buy the album for a couple of years. When I did, it was kind of a let-down. Beyond “Your Wildest Dreams” and the title track (which went to No. 58 on the Hot 100 and No. 18 on the HAC chart), the album was pretty blah. The closer, “It May Be A Fire” was a collaboration between John Lodge and Hayward, and was all right, as was the duo’s “Talkin’ Talkin’,” but otherwise, the band sounded as tired as it had in 1993 on The Present.

But even a halfway good Moody Blues album from 1986 was a good deal when I got it in 1988. The band sounded like the band had always sounded, with the mysticism pretty much left behind. Back then, I’d have been tempted to give it a B+ just for the high points. But listening more than thirty years later, the dross pulls the album down some. Call it a C+.

I brought home the next Moody Blues album, Sur la mer, just more than a week after it was released in June 1988. I was hooked, no doubt, by hearing the album’s title track, a yearning exercise in romanticism with hints of the idea of soulmates. The track was so closely a follow-up to “Your Wildest Dreams” that the video used the same actress – Janet Spencer-Turner – to play the romantic interest.

With only a couple of exceptions, though, the rest of the album again sounded tired. The sound was there, but the spirit was, for the most part, not. “No More Lies” is a decent love song from Hayward, and his “Vintage Wine,” an elegy for the 1960s, is earnest but simplistic. One review I read recently called “Deep” as “overtly sexual as any piece” in the group’s catalog. Maybe. The same review said “Breaking Point” is much darker than anything else the group has done, and that’s likely true.

But those last two notes are about tone, not quality, and the record, once the listener gets beyond “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” is the sad sound of a band running out of ideas. The charts reflect that: The album went to No. 38, and the title track went to No. 30 on the Hot 100 and to No. 9 on the HAC chart. It’s a C- effort at best.

On The Air In Tucson In Early ’72

January 7, 2022

Having dabbled over the last ten days in what was happening in the Billboard album and easy listening charts as 1971 eased into 1972, I thought we’d visit the Airheads Radio Survey Archive and see what the well-appointed progressive station was offering its listeners fifty years ago this week.

These were the hit albums at KWFM in Tucson, Arizona, this week in 1972:

R.E.O. Speedwagon
E Pluribus Funk
by Grand Funk Railroad
In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster
Off The Shelf
by Batdorf & Rodney
Synergy by Glass Harp
Detroit
Muswell Hillbillies
by the Kinks
The Hills Of Indiana by Lonnie Mack
Shake Off The Demon by Brewer & Shipley
IV by Led Zeppelin

There’s some obscure – at least to me – stuff there. The album Detroit is subtitled “With Mitch Ryder.” The group turns out to be one Ryder put together in 1969 with Johnny Badanjek, who’d been the drummer when Ryder had fronted the Detroit Wheels. Detroit, released in 1971. was the group’s only release during the band’s existence; a live performance from April 1972 was released in 1997. A 1987 CD re-release of the album – I think – is available as one video at YouTube; a quick sampling finds about what you’d expect from Ryder: straight-ahead rock, with one of the 1987 bonus tracks being a cover of “Gimme Shelter” that starts off with an extended acoustic introduction and shifts without warning to a thrumming, pulsing workout.

The Glass Harp album listed here is also a mystery to me. It’s the group’s second release; I have the first, self-titled, release on the digital shelves, It’s pretty mellow, from what I can tell, but I’ve not spent much time with it. In digging through some references, I see the group – from Youngstown, Ohio – listed as “Christan folk-rock,” which is likely true, as one of its members was Phil Keaggy, later a major player in the world of contemporary Christian music. You can find Synergy in various forms at YouTube, as well.

The Hills Of Indiana by Lonnie Mack is the third album from that list that’s a little bit of a mystery. The website discogs lists the album as folk rock and country rock, which seems to make sense: I somehow have the title track on the shelves here, and it’s a nice bit of mellow nostalgia that sounds like a thousand other songs from the time period. The album can be pieced together from separate videos at YouTube.

The fourth album on KWFM’s top ten that might be obscure is In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster. The album somehow ended up on the digital shelves here, and it’s pretty jazzy, from what I remember (and from some quick smidgen listens this morning), reminiscent, I think, of the first album by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Batdorf and Rodney might be obscure to others, but I know their stuff: pleasant folk-rock that – like the Mack track – sounds like the work of a thousand other groups from the early 1970s.

Both the Atomic Rooster and Batdorf and Rodney albums can be found at YouTube as well, the first as a full album and the second – it appears – as separate files.

The rest of the top ten from KWFM fifty years ago this week is familiar, perhaps even predictable. My favorite would be Shake Off The Demon by Brewer & Shipley. And here’s what might be the quintessential track from the early Seventies: Brewer & Shipley’s “Back To The Farm.”