Archive for the ‘Baker’s Dozen’ Category

Autumn 1975: Learning New Skills

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 22, 2008

Pondering the autumn of 1975 – a season that seems more brilliant in memory the further it recedes in time – I realized that I expanded what educators call my “skill set” in those months.

Part of that expansion of abilities came from both my last quarter of college coursework before graduation and from my most frequent activity during my spare time, and part came on a wet October Saturday that I spent at home with my parents.

That wet Saturday provided an interesting learning opportunity, yet it left me with skills I’ve had no chance to use. For years, while my grandparents lived on their farm, our family would spend some time on the farm in August, with one of the late-summer chores being the butchering of a good number of chickens to freeze and store for the winter. The price my family paid Grandpa for the chicken was reasonable to him and far less than we would have paid at the butcher shop or at Carl’s Market up on East St. Germain.

After Grandpa and Grandma moved off the farm in 1972, we bought chicken in the store like everyone else. But for some reason in October 1975, Mom and Dad decided that they wanted some fresh chicken to freeze and store for the winter. So early one Saturday, Dad went off to a farm somewhere northeast of St. Cloud and came home with about a dozen chickens, headless and with their feathers removed. (A good thing, that last; from my experiences on the farm, I know well that pulling feathers from a butchered chicken is difficult and messy.) And for most of the rest of the day, Mom, Dad and I stood around the kitchen table, knives in hand, and cleaned chickens, something I’d never done before.

I needn’t go into gory detail. It was messy, of course, and by the time we got through cleaning and cutting up the final chicken, I was pretty good at it. I figure if I had to do it again, I could. But I’ve never had the need since, a fact for which I am grateful.

The other skill that I strengthened that autumn – in class and during my spare time – was writing. Among my classes that fall quarter was one in the history of the documentary film. We spent hours watching documentary films – from Robert Flaherty’s 1922 masterpiece, Nanook of the North – considered by most historians as the first true documentary – through 1971’s The Selling of the Pentagon, a television effort by CBS News. Some of the films were art; I think of Rain, a 1920s film by Joris Ivens (and the fact that these titles and names come back to me unbidden makes me realize again how important that class was to me) that detailed an everyday rainstorm in his hometown of Amsterdam, Holland. Some of them were something darker: The Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl chronicled the 1934 Congress of the German Nazi Party at Nuremberg and was – viewed with knowledge of the tragedy and horror that ensued – a chilling, powerful and dark piece of work.

Not only did we watch films, but we wrote about them. Each student was required during the quarter to submit a certain number – eight, maybe? – of brief critiques of the films we were seeing and one longer critique. The short papers were required to be two to three typed pages, double-spaced, and the longer paper, about ten pages. Not yet being skilled at composing my work at the typewriter, I wrote – actually printed – my critiques on notebook paper. And as I pondered and assessed the films we were seeing, I realized that, although writing was work, it was work I enjoyed, because it gave me the opportunity to move words around into forms and orders that were mine alone.

I remember the first time I realized that: I was writing a critique of Rain, the brief film shot in 1920s Amsterdam, and I was assessing the pacing of the film. I wrote that the film moved through the streets “with a calm urgency, like the rain.” I paused and looked at my words on paper, especially that “calm urgency.” Something about the way those words looked, sounded and read together gripped me tightly. And it was something I had done! I’m sure other writers before – many others – had found that combination of those two words and gone ahead from there. But for the moment, that set of two words was mine.

That was the moment that I began to think of myself as a writer.

And writing took up much of my free time from then on: I wrote short stories, and screenplays. My lyrics – which I’d dabbled in since 1970 – became more focused and more planned. I continued to work on a memoir of a railroad jaunt through northern Scandinavia that I’d shared with a madcap Australian – a manuscript that has rested, ignored (justifiably, I’m sure), in my files for more than thirty years now.

A writer is always learning to write. Every time he or she takes pen or pencil to paper or lays his or her fingers on the keyboard, a writer is learning something. The lesson may not be obvious; the learning is not conscious. But a writer who is serious about his or her craft comes away from every session with his or her skills honed more, even if it’s just a tiny bit. In those days in the autumn of 1975, I was learning a great deal about writing – and about thinking, for one cannot write clearly without thinking clearly – every time I sat down at a table, whether that was in my room or the basement rec room at home, in a coffee shop or restaurant around town, or in my favorite haunt, the snack bar in the basement of St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center.

I’ve never cleaned a chicken since that rainy Saturday. But I’ve written almost every day since I discovered that “calm urgency” one evening in the autumn of 1975.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 4
“Fire On The Mountain” by the Marshall Tucker Band, Capricorn 0244 (No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 18, 1975)

“My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 10230 (No. 81)

“Gone At Last” by Paul Simon & Phoebe Snow, Columbia 10197

“Fight The Power” by the Isley Brothers from The Heat Is On (“Fight The Power, Pt. 1,” T-Neck 2256, was at No. 58)

“That’s The Way Of The World” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10172 (No. 50)

“Island Girl” by Elton John, MCA 40461 (No. 36)

“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 (No. 31)

“SOS” by Abba, Atlantic 3265 (No. 24)

“Lady Blue” by Leon Russell, Shelter 40378 (No. 19)

“Fame” by David Bowie, RCA Victor 10320 (No. 12)

“They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)” by the Spinners, Atlantic 3284 (No. 9)

“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 (No. 6)

“Bad Blood” by Neil Sedaka, Rocket 40460 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The Marshall Tucker Band was far more country-oriented than most of their brethren who recorded for the Capricorn label. “Fire On The Mountain,” which features Charlie Daniels on fiddle, would not be out of place on today’s country radio. Of course, a lot of what passes for country music these days would not have been out of place on rock and pop radio in 1975. Brooks & Dunn, for instance, often sound – instrumentally, at least – like the Rolling Stones gone off to Nashville. Anyway, more than thirty years on, the Marshall Tucker Band is still good listening.

I remember sitting at The Table in Atwood Center sometime during the autumn of 1975 and hearing the first low piano notes of “My Little Town” coming from the jukebox. I liked Paul Simon’s solo work, but it somehow sounded so right to hear his voice blend once more with Art Garfunkel’s (whose solo work was far less accomplished than Simon’s). And I think the song itself is one of Simon’s ignored masterpieces both musically and in the lyrics that detail the stifling atmospheres many of us perceive in our own hometowns as we grow.

I don’t have the Isley’s “Fight the Power, Part 1,” which went as high as No. 4, nor do I recall hearing it that autumn. But the album track from which Part 1 was pulled is too funky and, well, too good in its call to action to leave it out. I imagine the word “bulls**t” was bleeped on the radio.

A few of these singles, to this day, say “autumn of 1975” to me more than do the others. Among the most evocative – taking me back to sunny days on campus at a time when I was probably happier and more secure, both personally and in school, than I had ever been – are Earth, Wind & Fire’s “The Way Of The World” and Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” I love a lot of the rest of EW&F’s catalog, too, but “The Way Of The World” is my favorite. I guess “Dance With Me” is my favorite track by Orleans, too, but then, it has to be: It’s the only one I ever listen to.

Two of the other records here also take me back to a specific place on one specific evening that November: A pal of mine and I hit a series of drinking emporiums one Friday evening and wound up at a place called The Bucket, which was located in a spot that I believe placed it outside of the city limits of both St. Cloud and the nearby small town of Sartell. It was a rough place, and it had recently added to its attractions the diversion of young women disrobing while they danced on a small stage. Hey, we were twenty-two, okay? Anyway, among the songs one of the entertainers selected from the jukebox to accompany her efforts were David Bowie’s “Fame” and Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood.” Thankfully, they don’t pop up often, but when they do, those two tunes put me for just a moment in a Stearns County strip joint.


Farewell To Seven-Toed Henri

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 17, 2008

I was going to write about the autumn of 1971 today, a time that was unexceptional for the most part. It did mark my first quarter of college, and I guess that made it a time of major adjustments. But I’ll write about that some other day.

We lost another cat yesterday.

This summer, shortly after we had to let go of the Texas Gal’s beloved Smudge, one of the Texas Gal’s co-workers said a kitten had found its way to her mother’s place. The kitten ended up with the Texas Gal’s co-worker, who then learned that her husband and son were allergic to cats. For two days, the kitten was alone in their basement while they figured out what to do, and there was talk of letting it loose in a field to fend for itself.

Given that we were in the middle of the difficult (and expensive) process of moving, I was reluctant to bring in a kitten, but I’ll never let a little one be let loose in a field; I can’t imagine anything more terrifying – or more practically lethal – for a small animal. So one evening, the Texas Gal brought home our new little guy, black with some white trim . . . and seven toes on each front foot.

I’m not sure where the name came from, but after some hesitation, the Texas Gal named him Henri Matisse, after the artist. But we pronounced his name “Henry” instead of the French “Ehn-ree.” And we took him to Dr. Tess for his standard kitten care. He had worms, which we expected, and we treated him for that. A few months later, not long after we moved, we had him neutered and had his front claws removed.

Even after treatment for worms, Henri’s digestive problems continued. When we organized the empty boxes we’d thrown off to the side of the basement during the move, we discovered that he hadn’t been using his cat box regularly. We thought his continued digestive problems might be the reason, so we changed his diet, kept an eye on his trips to the basement and gave him a supplement for two weeks.

Nothing really helped his digestion, and once the two-week regimen of the supplement was over, he began to lose weight and he didn’t always seem comfortable. And one evening this week, we discovered that his cat box behavior in the basement hadn’t changed. In some ways, it’s no big deal. We’ve cleaned up worse messes over the years. But the vet said yesterday morning that it was unlikely Henri’s behavior would change, even if we could correct the problem with his digestion. And we knew we couldn’t continue.

Henri went peacefully. And we have another cat-shaped hole in the house. The Texas Gal and I both spent a little bit more time than usual last evening playing with Oscar and talking to Clarence, our two remaining catboys. That helped, at least a little.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1971, Vol. 4
“Tell Me Why” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort, Decca 32874 (No. 99 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 16, 1971)

“Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’” by Peter Nero, Columbia 45399 (No. 91)

“Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers, Stax 0104 (No. 82)

“It’s a Cryin’ Shame” by Gayle McCormick, Dunhill 4288 (No. 60)

“Two Divided By Love” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4289 (No. 55)

“Women’s Love Rights” by Laura Lee, Hot Wax 7105 (No. 37)

“You’ve Got To Crawl (Before You Walk)” by 8th Day, Invictus 9098 (No. 36)

“One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse, Evolution 1048 (No. 32)

“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” by Kris Kristofferson, Monument 8525 (No. 27)

“Stick-Up” by Honey Cone, Hot Wax 7106 (No. 19)

“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement, Decca 32818 (No. 15)

“So Far Away” by Carole King, Ode 66019 (No. 14)

“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 12)

A few notes:

The Matthews’ Southern Comfort track is a cover of the Neil Young tune from After the Goldrush album, which came out in 1970. Southern Comfort was headed by Ian Matthews, who had been a founding member of Britain’s Fairport Convention. Matthews’ career is a fascinating series of stops, starts and sudden left turns, but his music has always been listenable and sometimes inspired.

One evening during the summer of 1971, after a day of unpacking file cabinets in the new Education Building at St. Cloud State, I wandered off to the theater and took in The Summer of ’42. The movie touched me, with its tale of a young man’s beginning to grow up, of his crush on the older woman played by the luminescent Jennifer O’Neill (looking impossibly young from where I sit now) and of the tragedy and confusion of wartime. I was also blown away by Michel Legrand’s Academy Award-winning score, which was sweet and sad and over-the-top – all of the things that we are at sixteen. I never looked for the soundtrack LP; I’m not sure why. But when Peter Nero had a hit with the main theme later in the year (the single went to No. 22), I was pleased to hear the song coming out of my radio.

Gayle McCormick was the lead singer for Smith, the group that had a No. 5 hit in the autumn of 1969 with a cover of “Baby It’s You.” “It’s A Cryin’ Shame” was a pretty good single from her first solo album – she recorded two others in the early 1970s, and after that, I lose track of her – but it didn’t do very well. Nor did her follow-ups. She never cracked the Top 40 as a solo artist.

This selection includes three more good singles (several showed up in previous Baker’s Dozen selections) from Hot Wax and Invictus, the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown. The singles weren’t as successful on the pop chart as they were good. “Women’s Love Rights” peaked at No. 36, and “You’ve Got To Crawl” topped out at No. 28, but the Honey Cone single nearly got into the Top Ten, stalling at No. 11. (It spent two weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart.)

This version of Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” originally linked with this post was from the album. Since then, I was able to find a video with the fairly rare single edit. Either way, once I saw the title in the Hot 100 for this week in 1971, I had to post the song, even in the wrong version. It’s just too good to ignore.

The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” was a pretty grim and tough song, talking about the perfidy surrounding all of us, wherever we go. Some folks saw it as a political allegory, and the theme of betrayal makes that at least a little bit plausible, given the realities of 1971. Whatever the message, the record had a great groove.

Edited and rewritten slightly on August 6, 2013.

A Room That Feels Like Mine

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 13, 2008

Not many days after we got all the furniture settled in the house, as I sat puttering idly at the computer and keeping half an eye on a football game – it must have been a Saturday – I began to hear repeated thumps and bangs coming from the loft. As the noise began, Clarence and Oscar fled down the stairs from the loft as rapidly as cat legs could carry them.

I left the study and went up to investigate: I found the Texas Gal wielding a hammer, attempting to put nails and hangers into the sturdy wallboard that lines the loft. Success was hard to come by. I asked if she needed help, and she declined. By the end of the afternoon, she had on the walls of the loft the things she felt most important to hang, some functional, some purely decorative. Among the decorative items were the Texas license plates she removed from her car when she first registered it in Minnesota.

I returned to my study and looked at the walls, still empty, and looked at the wide range of items waiting to find their places on the walls. Still not certain where they should all go – I tend to be a bit glacial about such decisions, a fact that sometimes perturbs the Texas Gal – I settled back into my chair and resumed my puttering and game-watching.

Last Saturday, I was finally ready. I’d gotten weary of moving framed things around whenever I wanted to pull a record from the stacks or a book from the shelves. The Texas Gal was away, heading with a friend to the city of Mankato – about a hundred and thirty miles away – on a quest for quilt and scrapbook shops. So after watching the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers win a football game at Illinois, I got out my hammer and some hangers and nails.

An hour later, I sat in my chair and surveyed the room. To the left of the north window was my framed poster of the cover to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. In the small space above the window: a plaque given me twenty-some years ago by the National Newspaper Association for feature writing.

From the window, heading to the corner, we find: The picture of my dad and his 1952 Ford; and a framed collection of pictures from 2002-2003, a chronicle of our move to St. Cloud and our first year here put together for me by the Texas Gal (one of those pictures is the last taken of me and my dad together, quite possibly the last picture he was ever in).

On the east wall are a cartoon poster of St. Cloud; a clock with its numbers ringing a drawing of an anonymous early 20th century baseball player; and a framed replica of the February 5, 1959, front page of the Clear Lake (Iowa) Mirror-Reporter, on which the lead story is the deaths in a plane crash two days earlier of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Boppper and pilot Roger Peterson.

Above a bookcase is an autographed picture of baseball player Joe Morgan, from the time he was with the Cincinnati Reds; and, above the door, a large replica of a Carlsberg HOF Pilsner bottle cap, a fixture that I brought home from Denmark thirty-five years ago, one that has had a place on the wall everywhere I have lived since.

I was pleased. Sixty minutes of work had turned the room from a place where I spent a lot of time into a room that felt like mine. A few things that I’ve had on the walls in other places will be packed away, and I’m not certain where the map of Middle Earth will go when its frame has been repaired. But it will find a place, as it has ever since my dad framed it for me in 1972.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 4
“Dinah Flo” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 45670 (No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 7, 1972)

“Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins, People 608 (No. 66)

“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Philadelphia International 3520 (No. 61)

“All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, Columbia 45673 (No. 60)

“Easy Livin’” by Uriah Heep, Mercury 73307 (No. 49)

“I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners, Atlantic 2904 (No. 40)

“Midnight Rider” by Joe Cocker & the Chris Stainton Band, A&M 1370 (No. 36)

“Starting All Over Again” by Mel & Tim, Stax 0127 (No. 25)

“Beautiful Sunday” by Daniel Boone, Mercury 73281 (No. 22)

“Garden Party” by Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band, Decca 32980 (No. 15)

“Popcorn” by Hot Butter, Musicor 1458 (No. 10)

“Everybody Plays The Fool” by the Main Ingredient, RCA Victor 0731 (No. 4)

“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by Mac Davis, Columbia 45618 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The funkiest thing here, without a doubt, is Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It),” which was produced by James Brown. Collins sang background on many of Brown’s recordings and was for a time in the 1970s a member of Brown’s traveling band. People Records was Brown’s label, evidently an offshoot of Polydor.

There are four other superb soul/r&b singles on this list, making it better than I thought it would be when I first dug the week’s Hot 100 out of the files. The singles by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Spinners and the Main Ingredient are smooth and still go down so easy, even after more than thirty-five years. All of them, oddly, peaked at No. 3. The Mel & Tim single starts with a conversation between the two singers before sliding into another smooth groove. I’m not sure the conversation works; it’s a short recording anyway, and I generally conclude that I’d rather have more singing and less talk from Mel & Tim.

Mott the Hoople and Uriah Heep, two British groups, had far more success on the Billboard albums chart than on the Hot 100. (Uriah Heep got five albums into the Top 40 between 1972 and 1974; Mott the Hoople had three albums in the Top 40 between 1973 and 1975.) The tracks here, “All the Young Dudes” and “Easy Livin’,” were the two groups’ only Top 40 hits, with “Dudes” (produced by David Bowie) peaking at No. 37 and “Easy Livin’” getting only to No. 39. Still both fun, though.

Joe Cocker’s version of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” starts a little sluggishly but when it kicks in, it cooks pretty well. In fact, there might be too much going on, what with the horns and the gospel chorus. I don’t know who produced the record, as the album from which it came, 1972’s Joe Cocker, is one I don’t have. I may have to remedy that although I seem to recall the album getting pretty spotty reviews when it came out.

I think Mac Davis told the tale behind his No. 1 hit on every talk show on television in 1972: His publisher or producer or manager (I don’t recall which it was, and it doesn’t really matter) told him that, in order to be a hit, a song had to have a hook. So he wrote “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” which stayed at No. 1 for three weeks in the autumn of 1972.


Still Catching Up On The ’90s

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 8, 2008

I got to the CD party way, way late.

As the 1990s dawned, folks all around me were buying CDs of new music as well as replacing their long-suffering LPs (and then selling those LPs at places like Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis). Meanwhile, like a man watching a lake dry up, fearing the drought to come, I was watching the amount of new music available to me diminish seemingly day by day.

I’d seen the first signs of drought when I lived in Minot, North Dakota. Several stores that sold new records when I moved to town in the late summer of 1987 sold only CDs and cassettes by mid-1989, when I loaded another truck and moved back to Minnesota. Other music stores I’d frequented had far less vinyl for sale when I left town than they’d had two years earlier, all except the pawnshop, where the amount of vinyl increased greatly (though I spent little time there, for some reason).

By the time I lived in the Twin Cities, beginning in the autumn of 1991, new vinyl was rare. There might have been more, but I can recall right now only five newly released albums I found on vinyl during the 1990s: Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town, Human Touch and The Ghost of Tom Joad; the box set of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings; and Counting Crows’ Recovering the Satellites. Not being in a position to buy a CD player, I turned to cassettes to keep up on new music.

Radio helped, too. Not Top 40; I’d lost interest in hits sometime during the 1980s, but I listened frequently to Cities 97, a station that I think has a deeper playlist than most available in the Twin Cities. There, I heard some familiar stuff and a lot of new stuff by artists I was interested in learning about. Through radio and cassettes, I kept up with my old favorites and some new friends from the 1980s – Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega and a few others – and got pointed toward some new performers: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Waterboys, October Project and the BoDeans come easily to mind.

But cassettes are awkward things, a declaration that will be news to nobody. It’s difficult to cue up a specific song or to skip one. So I didn’t invest in tapes the way I had already invested in vinyl. The result was that I learned a little less about new music during the 1990s than I had in previous decades. Since I got my first CD player in 1998 and then ventured on-line in early 2000, I’ve learned a fair amount about the decade that I spent mostly in Minneapolis. A little more than ten percent of the mp3s in my collection come from the 1990s, so here’s what the decade sounds like when I do a random program:

A Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s

“Sweet Spot” by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris from Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, 1999

“Children in Bloom” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites, 1996

“Ghost of Johnny Ray” by Boo Hewerdine from Ignorance, 1992

“Thunder” by Jimmy Witherspoon from Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay, 1993

“Shake That Thang” by Long John Baldry from It Still Ain’t Easy, 1991

“Bordertown” by the Walkabouts from Setting The Woods On Fire, 1994

“Blue Yodel No. 9” by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and John Kahn from Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, 1997

“Do You Like The Way” by Santana featuring Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo from Supernatural, 1999

“Need A Little Help” by Billy Ray Cyrus from Trail of Tears, 1996

“Follow” by Paula Russell from West of Here, 1999

“Skies the Limit” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask, 1990

“Ghel Moma” by the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir from Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 4, 1998

“Lives In The Balance” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

A few notes:

The Linda Ronstadt-Emmylou Harris collaboration, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, is a gem. The two had worked together before, of course, most notably during the Trio sessions with Dolly Parton that produced two albums. The result of this collaboration is the sound of two voices and two souls performing in harmony.

Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay is one of the multitude of tribute anthologies that began to pop up in the 1990s. Covay’s catalog of soul and R&B songs is immense and truly great, though I believe he’d be immortal if “Chain of Fools” had been the only thing he ever wrote. And the CD is a delight, featuring some intriguing choices for the vocals, such as Todd Rundgren, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop and others. Witherspoon’s fine performance on “Thunder” was likely one of his last recordings. The Covay tribute was released in 1993 and Witherspoon crossed over in 1997 at the age of 77.

I don’t know much about the Walkabouts. I came across “Bordertown” on another blog – I forget which one – and liked it a lot. Having it pop up at random today is a nice stroke of luck, as I’m going to add Setting the Woods on Fire to my short list of CDs to find soon. All-Music Guide says the album is a “sweeping, stately record” that “owes a great deal to the Stones’ Exile on Main Street.” Sounds like a good deal to me.

Mention Billy Ray Cyrus and most folks flash back to 1992 and “Achy Breaky Heart,’ which dominated the country charts and made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. I looked for his Trail of Tears album simply because it includes a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” which turned out to be a pretty good version. Trail of Tears turned out to be a pretty good and surprisingly rootsy country album, which surprised me.

“Skies the Limits” (which makes no sense as a title to me) is the opening track from the album Fleetwood Mac recorded after replacing Lindsey Buckingham with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Behind the Mask is a pretty uninspired effort with a couple of good tracks on it. Unhappily, neither “Save Me” nor “Freedom” popped up.

Jackson Browne’s 1986 song “Lives in the Balance” was still relevant in 1994 when Richie Havens made it his own on Cuts to the Chase, and it’s still relevant today.


Interconnected, For Better Or Worse

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 1, 2008

Sometimes, if I really stop and think about it, the interconnectedness of the world astounds me. With cell phones, PDAs, email, instant messaging and all the other ways we communicate with each other, one never needs to be out of touch. Well, there are places in the world with limited access to cell networks and so on, but they are increasingly rare.

And that increasing connectedness will change us – has already begun to do so – in ways that we cannot possible anticipate. (I recall a long-ago magazine piece about the slipperiness of predictions; it pointed out that pundits in New York City predicted in the 1880s, given the city’s reliance on horses, that the streets of the city would be several feet deep in manure by the middle of the twentieth century. You never know.)

Looking back, however, I can guess that today’s connectedness would have changed one major part of my life, and not for the better. During the college year I spent in Fredericia, Denmark, I was separated for the first time in my life from my family and friends. Had I been able to use email, cell phones, texting and all the other tools of today’s communications, my time away would have been immeasurably different, and – I think – a lot less valuable to me.

I was in touch with friends and family throughout the year, of course, writing and receiving frequent letters and cards. But that contact was very limited. It took a week for a letter to make its way from Denmark to Minnesota and another week for a reply to arrive, which gives one a lot of time to think – or worry, if so inclined – between statements. And trans-Atlantic telephone calls were expensive. I called Minnesota from Denmark twice: On Christmas Day and then in April, when I returned to Fredericia after being on the road for a month.

And I think the distance created by being out of touch was good for me. If I’d had access to today’s numerous means of communication, I think I might have held tightly to my friends at home and not been as adventurous as I was. I don’t know. Perhaps not. But I think that one of the central facts of my time away was that it was time away in all ways, and I’d guess that holds true for all of us who were in Denmark that year. We’re a fairly tight group, even thirty-five years later, with all the changes that life brings. Reunions are regular and well attended. I’m not at all sure that we’d feel as connected as we have to each other over the years if we’d carried our friends from home in our pockets.

On a less important scale, one of the fascinating things about being away was losing track of popular culture. Events, catch phrases, fads and especially music had come and gone while we were gone. Friends sent many of us tapes that we shared in our lounge, so we heard some of what was popular, both Top 40 and albums. But there have been numerous times over the years – and I think this likely happened to all of us – when I’d hear a song for the first time and learn it had been popular during the time I was away.

Here’s a selection from the Billboard Top 40 during the week of September 29, 1973. A few of these had hit the Top 40 before I left, but the vast majority of them were records I had to catch up on later (in some cases, years later).

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 4
“Redneck Friend” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 11023 (No. 99 as of Sept. 29, 1973))

“Make Me Twice The Man” by New York City, Chelsea 0025 (No. 96)

“This Time It’s Real” by Tower of Power, Warner Bros. 7733 (No. 74)

“Jesse” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic 2982 (No. 68)

“I Can’t Stand The Rain” by Ann Peebles, Hi 2248 (No. 64)

“Such A Night” by Dr. John, Atco 6937 (No. 56)

“Nutbush City Limits” by Ike & Tina Turner, United Artists 298 (No. 50)

“In The Midnight Hour” by Cross Country, Atco 6934 (No. 31)

“Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson, Monument 8571 (No. 23)

“Yes We Can Can” by the Pointer Sisters, Blue Thumb 229 (No. 16)

“Brother Louie” by Stories, Kama Sutra 577 (No. 11)

“My Maria” by B.W. Stevenson, RCA Victor 0030 (No. 9)

“We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk, Capitol 3660 (No. 1)

A few notes:

Jackson Browne was perhaps the quintessential singer/songwriter of the 1970s, so “Redneck Friend,” one of the few real rockers Browne ever recorded, was a pleasant surprise. It didn’t get much radio play – never made the Top 40 – but it’s a great mood-changer when heard in the context of Browne’s 1973 album, For Everyman.

I don’t ever recall hearing New York City’s “Make Me Twice The Man” before this morning, when I rummaged through the stacks and found the album. Despite the group’s name, it’s a nice piece of Philly soul, and you can hear the imprint of Thom Bell (the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners) in every groove. New York City had reached No. 17 in the spring of 1973 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now.”

I still love “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” especially the first few seconds. Ann Peebles has spent her career trying to record something else this good. She’s done well, but she’s never reached the same heights as she did here.

Another single I don’t recall hearing was Cross Country’s version of “In The Midnight Hour,” which is different enough to deserve a hearing (if ultimately nowhere as good as Wilson Pickett’s version). Leonard at Redtelephone66, the blog where I found Cross Country’s album, said when he posted the record that Cross Country was a group formed by three of the four members of the Tokens in 1971. The single reached No. 30 during a four-week stay in the Top 40.

Stories’ single “Brother Louie” was quite the sensation in 1973, with its tale of an interracial romance. The fact that it was pretty good listening, too, sometimes got lost in the brouhaha.

If I had to pick the best of these, I’d likely go with “Yes We Can Can,” the Pointer Sisters’ single written by Allen Toussaint or maybe B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria,” which was possibly the rootsiest record of 1973.


A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2008

As the autumn of 1970 slid into view, things were changing around me. And I was changing, too.

I was a senior at St. Cloud Tech High, a member of a class that was half the size it had been three months earlier, when our junior year ended. The St. Cloud school district had opened a new high school on the north end of town – St. Cloud Apollo, home of the Eagles, named in honor of the space program – and what had been an 800-student class was suddenly split into two 400-student classes.

At the same time, freshmen joined the high school ranks instead of attending junior high school for another year, so each of the two high schools – Tech and Apollo – had about 1,600 students instead of the 2,400 or so that had clogged the corridors of Tech the previous year.

So there was more room in the halls, and it was easier to get to class. But I was aware as I wandered through those halls that most of my good friends were now across town. Oh, I found locker-room camaraderie as the head manager for the football team, but that seemed a little shallow to me (though I never said so). I made a few new friends, among them some young women from the sophomore class, but I began to spend a good deal of my time alone out of choice, not necessity.

For a long time, I’d worried what other people thought about me. That autumn, for the first time, I began to care more about what I thought about myself. I spent my free time reading what I liked – science fiction, astronomy, rock music history and criticism – and beginning to write bits of verse and lyrics (some of it inspired by the less-than-happy outcomes of my friendships with those sophomore girls). Even though I was flying solo in a world beginning to be defined by couples, I was pretty happy.

Sometime during the autumn, I filled out my lone college application, to St. Cloud State. I had thought for a brief time about the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, but I never bothered to apply. It was pretty well decided long before I was in high school that – like my dad and my sister before me – I would attend St. Cloud State. And it was just as well that I did: Learning how to survive college academically and socially was difficult enough in St. Cloud. I would have been utterly lost in the vastness of the University of Minnesota.

I should note that the college application dance in 1970 was a far different exercise for most of us than it is for today’s high school students. I imagine those applying to the more selective schools back then endured some anxiety. But St. Cloud State – and the other state universities – accepted pretty much anybody who’d shown basic proficiency in high school. The weeding-out that I think happens these days during the college application season began then during the fall quarter of college.

I recall sitting at my table and looking at St. Cloud State’s application form sometime during the latter weeks of September 1970, with the radio on the nightstand keeping me company. Here’s a selection of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 of September 19, 1970. I’m sure I heard at least one of these as I filled out my application.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4
“Our World” by Blue Mink, Philips 40686 (?) (No. 102)

“Border Song” by Elton John, Uni 55246 (No. 93)

“Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard, Reprise 0942 (No. 85)

“Funk # 49” by the James Gang, ABC 11272 (No. 68)

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping (In My Bed)” by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), Hot Wax 7004 (No. 52)

“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Atco 6756 (No. 43)

“Everything’s Tuesday” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9079 (No. 38)

“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, Rare Earth 5013 (No. 35)

“Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad, Capitol 2877 (No. 31)

“Joanne” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band, RCA Victor 0368 (28)

“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 (No. 21)

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers, Atlantic 2751 (No. 11)

“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 194 (No. 5)

A few notes:

Blue Mink, a British group, never made the Top 40, and I doubt that I heard any of their singles when they came out. But I’ve heard a few things in the past year or so, and they’re pretty good. “Our World” might be the group’s best record.

I’ve never understood why Little Richard’s 1970s work on Reprise didn’t do any better. With a rootsy, gritty sound not all that distant from that of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the resources of Reprise Records, you’d think music as good as “Greenwood, Mississippi” would have been a hit. But “Greenwood” spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and never got higher than No. 85. (“Freedom Blues” had gone to No. 47 in the summer of 1970, and three other Reprise singles released in 1971 and 1972 never reached the Hot 100.)

“Soul Shake” went no higher than No. 43, which I’ve always thought was a shame. Delaney & Bonnie had two hits reach the Top 40 – “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know” – but “Soul Shake” puts both of those away with its combination of rock, white gospel and R&B.

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and “Everything’s Tuesday” are two good records from the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown, where they’d been a crack writing and production team. “Sleeping” was the only Top 40 hit for 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), reaching No.8. “Everything’s Tuesday” only got to No. 38 for the Chairmen of the Board, who’d reached No. 3 earlier in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

My fondness for two of these records – “Indiana Wants Me” and “Julie Do Ya Love Me” – stems no doubt from time and place rather than from artistic merit. I mean, with the first, the sirens at the start are hokey enough, but the bullhorn at the end – “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up!” – tips the scales over. But I still like it. As for the Bobby Sherman tune, well, there was a Julie at school, and no, she didn’t love me, but it was nice to think about.


A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 3

August 10, 2011

Originally posted September 17, 2008

Wandering around the movie channels at the high end of the cable offerings last night, I watched the last forty minutes or so of National Lampoon’s Animal House as I munched on a late-night snack.

I’ve seen it before, of course, generally in bits and pieces like last night. In fact, I think the only time I saw the movie all in one serving was when it came out in 1978, most likely on a date in St. Cloud before my lady of the time had moved to Monticello. If my memory serves, she wasn’t amused; I was.

To a degree, I still am. Yes, it’s sophomoric and very often in bad taste. Portions of it are still very funny, though, or at least diverting enough to hold my attention while I nibble on a bowl of tortilla chips late at night. And seeing it is a random thing: I don’t check the cable channel to see when it’s going to be aired. But if I run into it while climbing the ladder of stations, I’ll watch it for a few minutes.

A couple of things cross my mind pretty much every time I see a snippet of Animal House these days:

First, the relatively large number of cast members who went became prominent in other films or other endeavors: Tom Hulce (who woumd up playing Mozart in Amadeus), Stephen Furst, Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon, Robert Cray (as an uncredited member of Otis Day’s band) and musician Stephen Bishop (as the earnest folksinger whose guitar is broken against the wall). There are others as well, I’m sure, but those are the folks who come to mind this morning.

Then there’s John Belushi. His brilliant, over-the-top performance as John “Bluto” Blutarsky is always tinted by the awareness of his self-destruction less than four years later. And then I mentally shrug as I change the channel or the credits roll.

Here’s some of the music that was around during the year the Tri-Delts amused at least some of us:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 3
“Thornaby Woods/The Hare In The Corn” by Magenta from Canterbury Moon

“I Can’t Do One More Two Step” by LeRoux from Louisiana’s LeRoux

“Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight” by Emmylou Harris from Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town

“Human Highway” by Neil Young from Comes A Time

“You Don’t Need to Move A Mountain” by Tracy Nelson from Homemade Songs

“Waiting For The Day” by Gerry Rafferty from City To City

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione, A&M single 2001

“Is Your Love In Vain” by Bob Dylan from Street Legal

“Cheyenne” by Kingfish from Trident

“Loretta” by Townes Van Zandt from Flyin’ Shoes

“Ouch!” by the Rutles from The Rutles

“Hold The Line” by Toto, Columbia single 10830

“Little Glass of Wine” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side

A few notes:

Canterbury Moon was a British folk-rock group very much in the vein of Steeleye Span but much more obscure. With vocal harmonies centered on three female voices, the group’s sound is unique.

LeRoux combined R&B, funk, jazz, rock, and Cajun music into a tasty stew that sold a few records back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Still active, the group had a couple of pretty well-known songs: “New Orleans Ladies,” from Louisiana’s LeRoux, and “Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin’ For The Lights),” a single that went to No. 18 in 1982.

I’ve offered three Baker’s Dozens from 1978, and each time, a track from Neil Young’s Comes A Time has popped up. That’s just fine with me: It’s one of my favorite albums.

A while back, the album version of “Feels So Good” popped up during a random selection. Now, here’s Chuck Mangione’s single, which went to No. 4 in early 1978.

Dylan’s “Is Your Love In Vain” kind of plods along, almost as if it’s way too much work to get too involved. A lot of the Street Legal album was like that, loaded down with horns and background singers and never really taking off. And that’s too bad, as some of the songs on the album – “ Is Your Love In Vain” among them – were as good as anything Dylan had written in years. Cryptic, yes, and I think especially of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” but good.

Kingfish was a San Francisco band that originally featured Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. By the time the band recorded Trident, Weir had left, and the band’s sound had become more mainstream, although there are still echoes of the rootsy, countryish folk rock sound that the group’s earlier albums presented.


A Tale Of Shelves And A Saw

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 12, 2008

My dad, along with being an educator, was a craftsman. His undergraduate degree was in industrial arts, which he’d hoped to teach in a high school. Biding his time until there was a teaching position open somewhere near St. Cloud, he returned to the campus of St. Cloud Teachers College – now St. Cloud State University – after he graduated. (Family lore says it was the next day, but I’m not certain.) He took what was expected to be a temporary position and wound up retiring thirty-three years later from St. Cloud State as an assistant professor of learning resources. He never taught industrial arts.

But he put his industrial arts training and experience to good use, doing a lot of the maintenance on our home – painting, minor electrical work, some carpentry and more – when I was a kid and in the years after I was grown. One of his major projects was turning half the basement into a rec room when I was in junior high. Local contractors installed wall studs, electrical outlets and carpet, and Dad took it from there, wrestling paneling into place and nailing it to the studs, measuring and installing a hanging ceiling with its tiles, and all the rest, creating a room that was a haven for my sister and me and our friends during our teen years and later.

Along the way, Dad gathered together an immense collection of tools and equipment, and when we cleared out the place on Kilian after he died, some of it came my way: his Montgomery Wards tool chest – much larger and better stocked than the rudimentary toolbox with which I’ve been making do over the years – and some additional tools, including a power drill, a power sander and an electric sabre saw.

Power tools, for some reason, have always scared me – a lot. I’m not sure why. The only one I’d ever used was a borrowed power drill to install a set of mini-blinds about ten years ago, and even that small drill made me uneasy. I’ve never done a lot of carpentry or other work requiring tools, anyway. During the mid-1980s, I did design and build some simple bookcases, but that’s been about the limit of my work. And I did those jobs with handsaws and hand tools.

This week, as I was installing my well-traveled brick and board bookcase in the study, I realized I was going to put more records on it than ever before, so it would need more support, a column of bricks in the center of the shelves to match the columns at the ends of the shelves. I wandered around town yesterday and managed to find three additional large patio blocks that matched the ones I’d bought almost twenty years ago. (The sales agent at the masonry yard was disappointed I didn’t need more of them; he wanted to clear as many of the antiquated blocks from his storage as he could.) And the guys at the lumberyard gladly cut the additional pieces of wood plank I needed to put on my shelves under the new blocks to extend the blocks’ height so the shelves would accommodate LPs.

But I could not find one piece I required, another foot, as it were: a masonry piece to put on the floor, centered under the first shelf, that would match the height of the two thick masonry pieces that held up the ends of that first shelf. As I left the masonry yard and headed home with three bricks, six wood pieces to put under the bricks and more than six feet of extra wood, I realized that three thicknesses of that extra wood plank would equal the thickness of the two masonry pieces already serving as feet. All I had to do was saw off three pieces of the extra board I got at the lumberyard, and I could stack those pieces for the missing foot.

So after hauling everything inside, I took the extra board down to the rudimentary workbench left by earlier residents of the house, where I’d installed Dad’s toolbox and the other things that had been his. With the measuring tape, I marked off three lengths of five inches, and then I grabbed a saw and got to work. It went slowly, of course. And a third of the way into the first cut, I stopped. In a box on the shelf, I realized, was the sabre saw.

I shuddered a little, thinking of the mayhem a potential mishap could cause. Once I shooed the cats upstairs and closed the door, I got out the sabre saw and plugged it in. Wanting to get a sense of how it felt before I applied it to wood, I tentatively turned it on, then off. And then I got busy. A few minutes later, I had the three pieces of board I needed. I put the saw back in its box and the box back on the shelf, and I swept up the sawdust, honestly trembling a little.

A few hours later, the revamped shelves were up and loaded: three shelves of records topped by a shelf of books. The three inexpertly cut pieces of wood are hidden under the first shelf. I don’t know when I might next have an occasion to use the sabre saw. But now I know I can if I have to.

A Baker’s Dozen of Saws
“The Last Time I Saw Richard” by Joni Mitchell from Blue, 1971

“When I Saw You” by the Ronettes, Philles single 133, 1964

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic single 2864, 1972

“I Saw Her Again” by the Mamas & the Papas, Dunhill single 4031, 1966

“I Saw The Light” by Mason Proffit from Bare Back Rider, 1972

“Ride My See-Saw” by the Moody Blues from In Search of the Lost Chord, 1968

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” by the Neon Philharmonic from The Moth Confesses, 1969

“See Saw” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2574, 1968

“Jigsaw Puzzle of Life” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle, 1975

“Junior Saw It Happen” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future, 1968

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls, Bell single 1254 (UK?), 1972

“I Saw It On T.V.” by John Fogerty from Centerfield, 1985

“Crosscut Saw” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967

A few notes:

This is mostly a random selection. The only song I chose was the closer, Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” because it seemed appropriate.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was omnipresent during early 1972. Originally recorded for Flack’s First Take album in 1969, the song – written by British folksinger Ewan MacColl – was used as background music in Clint Eastwood’s film Play Misty For Me, which came out in late 1971. After that, Atlantic trimmed about a minute from the track and issued it as a single. The record entered the Top 40 in March and spent six weeks at No. 1, eventually earning Flack and MacColl Grammy awards for, respectively, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Bare Back Rider was the second and final major label release from Mason Proffit, one of the best bands never to make it big. In its review of Bare Back Rider, All-Music Guide notes: “You’d have thought that music this impressive could get a hearing, but Mason Proffit appeared at a time when music fans were more polarized than musicians, not only by music but by politics and culture. Despite the band’s evident affection for traditional country music, their left-wing political stance and status as hippie rock musicians meant they could never be accepted in Nashville. And their music was too overtly country for them to score a pop hit. Thus, they were doomed to appeal only on the country-rock-oriented Los Angeles club scene and to some music critics.”

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” is a nice bit of trippy pop from the Neon Philharmonic, better known for the same album’s “Morning Girl,” a sweet coming-of-age single that went to No. 17 in the spring and summer of 1969. The Neon Philharmonic, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a chamber-sized orchestra of Nashville City Orchestra musicians. Tupper Saussy did the writing and Don Gant handled the vocals. Bonus points for rhyming “restaurant” and “debutante.”

The McGarrigle sisters show up here now and then, and every time they do, especially when it’s a track from 1975’s Kate & Anna McGarrigle, I think back to the first time I read or heard about them, in the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide: “Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, they suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies can be dazzling.” Were/are they that good? Yes.

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls is a cover (from the United Kingdom, I believe; anyone know?) of the Ronettes’ version, which was released as a single on A&M in 1969. The Pearls’ version is not bad, but the echo on the record is a faint whisper of the echo in the Ronettes’ single, which itself was a faint whisper of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that made them famous.


As The End Of The Year Draws Near

August 5, 2011

Originally posted August 27, 2008

As August enters its last days, we’re coming to the end of another year.

Forget that December 31/January 1 stuff. That’s bookkeeping. For me – and for many, I think – the years turn over sometime during the first weeks of September.

During my school days, for thirteen years, the new year began on the day after Labor Day with the first day of school. For another six years – I went to college on the extended plan – the year began sometime in September when the fall quarter started. If I’d pondered that sense of timing at all in those days, I would have expected it to change when I went into the adult world. But it didn’t. Years still turned as August ended and September began.

Part of that was because of my work: Small town newspapers find so much of their content in the local schools that their calendars are tied to the schools’ calendars. In between my newspaper years, I went to graduate school and then taught and worked at several colleges and universities, so my life continued to be tied to a literal calendar that ran from September onward.

But it’s been more than ten years since I was a reporter. My day-to-day life has no connection with the schools, with colleges and universities, with the regular events that command the attention of reporters and editors. And still, it feels to me as if a year is ending in these few days. And it feels as if a new year is about to begin.

Maybe it’s conditioning from all those early years in school. Maybe it’s something so instinctive in the human mind, perhaps something tied to the harvest-time, that we’ve lost track of where it comes from. (It occurs to me that, if the perception of years turning at this time of year is innately tied to the harvest, folks whose forbears were native to the Southern Hemisphere would have a different perception. Anyone from those precincts have a thought?)

Whatever the reason, this time of year has always felt like a time of renewal and change. One such time, an August/September that stands out clearly (I know I’ve mentioned it before), came in 1969, when I spent daytimes of the last weeks of summer at football practice, lugging equipment and supplies around for the Tech Tigers and then hanging around the locker room, sharing ribald stories and the music that came from the training room radio.

In a way that very little else does, music marks our years. And here are some tunes that are markers for me from late August and early September of that year.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1969, Vol. 3
“Goodbye Columbus” by the Association, Warner Bros. 7265 (No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100, August 23, 1969)

“Going In Circles” by the Friends of Distinction, RCA 0204 (No. 90)

“Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South, Capitol 2592 (No. 84)

“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” by Lou Christie, Buddah 116 (No. 66)

“Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, RCA Victor 0161 (No. 49)

“Keem-O-Sabe” by the Electric Indian, United Artists 50563 (No. 39)

“Share Your Love With Me” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic 2650 (No. 31)

“Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Atlantic 2652 (No. 28)

“Soul Deep” by the Box Tops, Mala 12040 (No. 24)

“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4203 (No. 18)

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, Reprise 0829 (No. 11)

“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 625 (No. 7)

“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon, Imperial 66385 (No. 6)

A few notes:

I’ve always been surprised that “Goodbye Columbus” – the theme from the film of the same name – didn’t do better. The record peaked at No. 88 on September 6 and then fell off the chart.

“Everybody’s Talkin’” is one of those tunes that has a few different versions out there. It was used in the film Midnight Cowboy, and two different versions of it are on the official soundtrack. Neither of them sounds like the one I remember coming from my radio. The version here is from Nilsson’s 1968 album Aerial Ballet, and I think this was the version that got airplay as the single, which reached No. 6. I could be wrong. Anyone know?

“Keem-O-Sabe” was one of those instrumentals that occasionally popped up in the Top 40, and the thought occurs that it likely wouldn’t have a chance of doing so today, given changes in attitudes. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that Electric Indian was actually a group of studio musicians from Philadelphia; some of them later were members of MFSB. The record peaked at No. 16.

I liked Kenny Rogers when he was with the First Edition; the group had four more Top 40 hits after “Ruby” peaked at No. 6. They were “Ruben James” and “Something’s Burning,” which I recall, and “Tell It All Brother” and “Heed The Call,” which I don’t. (I have “Heed The Call” but I don’t remember hearing it in 1970.) After those four, Rogers was absent from the Top 40 for seven years, until “Lucille” began his remarkable run of success as a country crossover artist, a string of tunes that didn’t interest me much.

I imagine that, if asked to pick the perfect CCR record, lots of folks would go with “Proud Mary.” Nothing wrong with that one, but something about “Green River” grabbed me the first time I heard that opening guitar riff, and it’s never let me go.


A Baker’s Dozen Of Columbia Singles

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 25, 2008

It was about four in the afternoon yesterday when the Texas Gal and I took a break. We’d hauled four carloads of stuff over to the house – following five loads on Saturday – and I’d made another trip to the big-box home center, followed by the assembly of two more sets of utility shelves in the basement.

We’re beginning to envision how the living room will be arranged, and the Texas Gal has a handle on where things will go in the loft, which will be her quilting and sewing space. I can see that my study will have room to have my keyboard out, which means I can make some music again, and we’re negotiating colors for the bedroom. We’ve agreed on a Scandinavian motif for the kitchen.

Those things are much more vision than reality now, and much heavy lifting remains before the gap between those two words is bridged. This will be the first house the Texas Gal has lived in as an adult; she’s been an apartment dweller. And though I shared a house with some fellows during my late college years (I’ve lived in mobile homes and apartments since), this feels like my first house, too. So we’re trying to take in all of the process that gets us home, even the drudgery of piecing together plastic shelf sets and of sorting out boxes of fabric.

As we took our break in what is still a sparely furnished kitchen, she drinking a Dr. Pepper, me sipping a Summit India Pale Ale, we looked at the bare walls and saw the décor that will soon be there; we looked through the archway into the empty dining room and saw the table and chairs that will soon welcome dinner guests. And we smiled at our house-to-be and at each other.

Translating that to music can be sketchy, but I went to my favorite song about smiles, and moved on from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Columbia Singles

“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127, 1970

“My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, Columbia 44163, 1967

“My Back Pages” by the Byrds, Columbia 44054, 1967

“Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 45719, 1972

“Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10090, 1975

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 11072, 1979

“Going Down To Liverpool” by the Bangles, Columbia 04636, 1984

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674, 1963

“Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45180, 1970

“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414, 1967

“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde, Columbia 44590, 1968

“Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand, Columbia 45236, 1970

“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After, Columbia 45457, 1971

A few notes:

“Make Me Smile” still grabs me by the collar and says “Wake up, we’re playing music here!” The same is true, of course, for many of Chicago’s early singles. (Take a look at what JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ had to say about “25 or 6 to 4” recently.) Unhappily, the band didn’t keep up this level of quality. When did I give up on Chicago? Maybe with “Wishing You Were Here” in 1974, but certainly by the time of “If You Leave Me Now” in 1976. For a few years, though, Chicago had a good hold of my collar.

“My World Fell Down” comes from the confectionary talents of Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, the producers behind Sagittarius. A little too cloying, maybe, but the single is worth noting because the 1997 CD release restored an avant-garde bridge of noise that had been brutally edited when the LP was released in the Sixties.

The Dylan track was the single from Slow Train Coming, the first of Dylan’s three Christian albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with production from Barry Beckett and guitar provided by Mark Knopfler, Slow Train Coming is far better – and far more enjoyable – than the two albums that followed. (Dylan earned a Grammy for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” for “Gotta Serve Somebody.”)

“Silver Bird” was one of two great radio singles Mark Lindsay released in 1970 after leaving Paul Revere & the Raiders. “Arizona” was the other, and it went to No. 10 in the early months of 1970. “Silver Bird,” which entered the Top 40 in July, reached only No. 25. They were Lindsay’s only Top 40 hits. I don’t recall the last time I actually heard either one of them on the radio, but they still sound plenty good popping up on the player.

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the Avant-Garde was the duo of Elkin “Bubba” Fowler and Chuck Woolery. “Naturally Stoned” was one of those rare hits that almost wasn’t: The record reached No. 40 in its only week on the chart. The book doesn’t say what happened to Elkin after that, but Woolery, the book notes, went on to host TV games shows like Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection and Greed. Even with all that, it’s not a bad record although it’s certainly a period piece.

I’ve never been much of a Streisand fan, but she and producer Richard Perry got it right with “Stoney End.” The record did well, too, going to No. 6 after entering the Top 40 in December 1970. (The similarly titled album came out in February 1971, which explains the seemingly contradictory tags on the mp3.)