Archive for the ‘Chart Digging’ Category

Idle Hands & A Green Mini-bat

May 17, 2022

Originally posted August 28, 2009

As I’ve noted before, we have numerous oak trees on our lot. Which means, come this time of the summer, we have acorns. Lots of acorns. Almost every time the Texas Gal and I are outside for more than a moment – tending the garden, lugging in groceries or even sitting in the lawn chairs – we’re likely these days to be clonked on the head by a falling acorn. The lawn is covered with the nuts. If we’d intended to raise acorns, we’d have a bumper crop.

We had four oak trees in the backyard at Kilian Boulevard when I was a kid, and acorns were frequently thick on the lawn there. They’d start falling in mid-August, and we’d wait until late September before we spent a Saturday raking and bagging them. So they were thick on the ground during one August that I recall.

Sometime earlier that month – I think it was 1970, when I was sixteen – Dad had seen a green stick at the base of the driveway one evening. After parking, he investigated and found one of those foot-long baseball bats given away as souvenirs: A miniature Louisville Slugger. For some reason, it was green.

He figured a kid lost it somehow, perhaps having it fall out of a bicycle basket.  But which kid? No way to know. So he dropped it on the small table in our back porch and thought no more of it.

During one of the next few early evenings, I found myself with an empty hour or two. I sat on the lawn near one of the oaks, watching whatever traffic there was on Eighth Street or Kilian. Bored, I picked up a stick that had fallen from one of the oaks and swung it like a bat. Then I picked up an acorn, tossed it into the air and flailed at it with the stick. The acorn flew into the street. I thought for a moment, then went inside and grabbed the green Louisville Slugger. Back at my place on the lawn, I began flipping acorns in the air and whacking them with the bat.

As with anything, practice improved my performance: I fouled off a few, hit some grounders and easy pop-ups, and then began reaching the street regularly. Then, using an uppercut, I began to launch acorns across the street and into the yard of August and Rose, an older couple. (It was Rose who had started me collecting coins a few years earlier.) I sat there for an hour or so, happily whacking acorns, and did the same during a couple of other slow evenings during the rest of that summer. It filled some time, and it also got some acorns off the lawn, meaning there would be – by a small degree, to be sure – fewer acorns to rake when the time for that chore arrived.

September came, and school started. We spent a couple of Saturdays raking and bagging acorns and leaves. Sometime during that winter, the green minibat was tossed into a box in the closet and forgotten.

One afternoon during the following spring, August was out watering his garden when Dad drove up and parked. Dad walked across the street and spent a few minutes chatting with August, as neighbors do. Sometime during dinner, Dad mentioned August and his garden and lawn. It was all good, Dad said, “but he said, ‘You know, I don’t have any oak trees in my yard, and I can’t figure out how come I have so many oak seedlings over by the street.’” Looking at me, my dad added, “I just told him that seeds can travel in a lot of different ways.”

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, Aug. 29, 1970)
“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 [No. 19]
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” by the Temptations, Gordy 7099 [No. 30]
“The Sly, Slick, and the Wicked” by the Lost Generation, Brunswick 55436 [No. 37]
“Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol 4826 (The mp3 is from the CD rerelease of Silk Purse.) [No. 61]
“Funk #49” by the James Gang, ABC11272 [No. 79]
“As the Years Go By” by Mashmakan, Epic10634 [No. 97]

“Hand Me Down World” was the Guess Who’s first chart hit after Randy Bachman left the group, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, and to my ears, Bachman’s departure marked the end of the classic Guess Who era. From April of 1969 through April 1970, the group had five records in the Top 40, with four of those reaching the Top Ten and one spending three weeks at No. 1. Those five were “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Undun,” “No Time” and “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight.” (“American Woman” is listed as having reached No. 1, while “No Sugar Tonight” is not given an individual rank. It is, however, listed as having been in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks. Confusing.) Then Bachman left and – although the band had seven more Top 40 hits, with “Share the Land” and “Clap for the Wolfman” reaching the Top Ten – the stew just wasn’t as tasty. Still, “Hand Me Down World” is a pretty good single if not up to the quality of the string that came during that one year. It peaked at No. 17, but given the richness of the band’s catalog, it seems to be a bit forgotten by the programmers of the oldies stations.

About “Ball of Confusion,” All-Music Guide says: “Another excellent track in a brilliant run of Norman Whitfield-produced and -written, Sly Stone-inspired Temptations records from the late ’60s/early ’70s, ‘Ball of Confusion’ was one of the only Motown ‘protest’ records. The beguiling lyrics illustrate a tense America at the dawn of the 1970s, and include attacks on the Vietnam War, a corrupt government, drug addiction, and spirituality. It hit the nail on the head, much like P.F. Sloan’s excellent ‘Eve of Destruction’ in 1965. Musically, it’s an excellent funk record of the period, with some fabulous bass playing and a blaring horn arrangement. Of course, the Temptations’ gospel-inspired vocal trade-offs make the overall record even more powerful, and it has dated extremely well.” The record spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 3.

I don’t recall hearing the Lost Generation’s “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” during the summer of 1970, but it might have been one of those records that did very well in other places – I would guess that Chicago, the Lost Generation’s hometown, would have been one of those – and not so well in the Minnesota market. Or maybe I just missed it. The record sounds very much like the Chi-Lites (with the exception of a few production tricks, like the echo), and that’s not at all surprising, considering that both groups recorded for Brunswick. “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” was the Lost Generation’s only appearance in the Top 40. The record peaked at No. 30.

The first three chords of “Long Long Time” still, after thirty-nine years, make me draw a sharp breath of hurt. They always have, since long before I knew the sad tale told by the song’s words. Once I knew the words, I suppose I might have assigned their meaning to a young woman of my acquaintance. Whoever she was, she’s long gone from my life, but the emotional wallop of the song – especially those first three chords – has stayed with me. Meaning that Ronstadt’s performance of Gary White’s song is about as good as it gets. The record spent seven weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 25.

I have a suspicion that the James Gang’s “Funk #49” found airplay in 1970 based on some other chart than the Hot 100, because it remains one of the most identifiable tunes of that time with some unforgettable riffs. The single spent ten weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 59.

I know very little about Mashmakan, a group from Quebec, Canada, except for this record. Even that knowledge is lately found: When I saw the group’s name in a Hot 100 chart a while back, I noted my lack of knowledge about the record and the group, and one of my blogging friends sent me the mp3. It’s an odd, clunky record with an over-earnest lyric, and I am pretty sure I never heard it back when it was on the charts. It was in the Top 40 for four weeks and peaked at No. 31.

Afternote:
Despite my efforts, these may not be the versions of these records that went out on 45s. Take “Long Long Time” as an example. I don’t have the 45, but I’ve seen a fuzzy picture of the label and know that the record lasted just less than three minutes. The version on the album Silk Purse, as listed at AMG, runs 4:18. The version on the Silk Purse portion of the two-CD set The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, runs 4:22, and my only vinyl version, from Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits [1976], runs 4:21. That’s also the length – 4:21 – of the track as included on Different Drum, a 1974 anthology of previously released work. I know that the version of “Long Long Time” here is from the Capitol Years CD, and not knowing what else to do, I’ve tagged it as coming from Silk Purse, as it’s included in the version of Silk Purse in that two-CD package.

At The Ballpark Long Ago

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 3, 2009

I went to a baseball game forty years ago today. How do I know?

Because I saw something that day at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium that’s been etched in my memory ever since.

It was a Sunday, and I went to the ball game through a trip sponsored by St. Cloud State. I was fifteen, and my folks – Dad, of course, taught at the college – paid my way and sent me off on the bus to the Cities. It wasn’t the first Minnesota Twins game I’d gone to, but I hadn’t been to many of them. And I’d never gone to one essentially unsupervised. Yeah, there were adults on the bus, but none of them were going to keep track of me. I was basically on my own, and that made me feel pretty good.

And the game promised to be something special, as well. The Twins were playing the Baltimore Orioles, and both teams were in first place as the last two months of the season got underway. That season, 1969, was the first year that the two major leagues were split into divisions, with the division winners set to face each other in playoffs after the regular season. So the series between the Twins and the Orioles was a preview of a likely post-season series.

There was an added attraction: The Orioles’ starting pitcher that Sunday, Dave McNally, had won fifteen games without a loss that season. If he won that Sunday’s game, he’d set a new American League record for consecutive victories at the start of a season. (He was tied at 15-0 with Johnny Allen, who’d pitched for Cleveland in 1937.)

In addition, by winning his sixteenth game in a row, McNally would tie an American League record, set by Walter Johnson in 1912 and tied by Smokey Joe Wood later that same season, as well as by Lefty Grove in 1931 and by Schoolboy Rowe in 1934. (The streaks by Johnson, Wood, Grove and Rowe had come after they’d lost games in those seasons.)

So McNally was trying to become the first American League pitcher to ever have a record of 16-0. (He’d then set his sights on Rube Marquard of the National League Giants, who in 1912 won his first nineteen decisions.)

I wasn’t yet an avid baseball fan, but I was learning. I knew as we drove from St. Cloud that morning about McNally and his chance for history. I also knew that the Twins and the Orioles were two very good baseball teams. A look at the box score from that day’s game reveals the name of four members of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew of the Twins and Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson of the Orioles. (There are also some names in the box score of at least two Twins who also deserve to be in the Hall: Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. Other Orioles? Probably not.)

[Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022. Note added May 13, 2022.]

I had a good seat, about fifteen rows above the third-base dugout, the Orioles’ dugout. And it was a tight game, as might have been expected. As the Twins came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, they trailed 1-0, and McNally had given up just four hits. But in that bottom of the seventh inning, the Twins managed two hits, and then a walk loaded the bases. Rich Reese came to the plate, pinch-hitting for Twins pitcher Kaat. I don’t remember how many pitches McNally threw to Reese, but the last one was decisive: Reese launched the ball over the right-field fence for a grand-slam home run. The Twins had a 4-1 lead, and McNally’s first loss was in sight.

McNally stayed in the game, which I find odd, both in memory and in baseball strategy. (I’m referring as I write this to a box score available at Baseball-Reference.com, an invaluable site, and I find that some details of the game have become fuzzy for me. But my main point, which I’ll actually address in a bit, remains clear.) In the top of the eighth inning, the Orioles closed the gap to 4-2, and McNally went back to the mound to pitch to the Twins in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Twins scored another run, and that was when Orioles manager Earl Weaver came on the field to take McNally out of the game.

The stadium was noisy as the Twins took that 5-2 lead and as Weaver came out of the third-base dugout, right in front of me. The noise lessened a bit as Weaver walked to the mound and took the baseball from McNally. And as McNally headed toward the dugout, his head down and his perfect season gone, two remarkable things happened:

First, the Minnesota fans – more than forty thousand were there that Sunday – stood and applauded. I’ve since learned, of course, that most sports fans in most cities acknowledge historic performances by opposing players, but this was the first time I’d seen that happen, and it made an impression on me. But that was only the first remarkable thing.

McNally crossed the third-base line as the crowd applauded him. He raised his head, and – in a gesture that’s remained vivid in my memory for forty years – took off his cap and tipped it to the fans in the stadium. If there were ever an object lesson in sportsmanship and grace, it came in that moment from Dave McNally.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, August 9, 1969)
“My Pledge of Love” by the Joe Jeffrey Group, Wand 11200 [No. 16]
“Choice of Colors” by the Impressions, Curtom 1943 [No. 24]
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen, Capitol 2482 [No. 44]
“Muddy River” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial 6638 [No. 45]
“Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2648 [No. 59]
“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” the Honey Cone, Hot Wax 6901 [No. 62]

Joe Jeffrey, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was from Buffalo, New York. There’s a bit more information at All-Music Guide, which notes that the singer, who was born Joe Stafford but changed his name (evidently to avoid confusion with Jo Stafford, even though Jo Stafford sang pop and was female) was a regular in clubs in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. “My Pledge of Love” was the only one of Jeffrey’s four singles on Wand to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 14.

As the late 1960s rolled on, Curtis Mayfield of the Impressions was becoming more and more explicit in his songwriting about the racial divide in the United States. “Choice of Colors” may have been the furthest extension of that progression. Listening to it today, I find it remarkable that the song did as well as it did, peaking at No. 21 on the pop chart and reaching No. 1 on the R&B chart. The record is a remarkably frank piece of work.

“Hurt So Bad” was the Lettermen’s remake of the 1965 hit by Little Anthony & the Imperials, which went to No. 10. The Lettermen’s version was more lightweight than Little Anthony’s; it peaked at No. 12 as it floated from radio speakers during the late summer and early autumn of 1969, speaking directly to the life and heart of at least one young listener in the Midwest. It was the Lettermen’s final Top 40 hit.

Johnny Rivers’ “Muddy River” was pulled from his remarkable album Slim Slo Slider, and it’s surprising to me that it didn’t do better than it did. Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” a single that’s high on my all-time list, had gone to No. 14 as 1967 turned into 1968, and “Muddy River,” while not quite of that quality, was a good single. But “Muddy River” sat at No. 45 for one more week and then jumped to No. 41 for a week before falling back down the chart. Rivers wouldn’t hit the Top 40 again until 1972 with “Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu,” which went to No. 6.

Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Joe” didn’t reach the Top 40, but it did prove once again that Pickett could to justice to pretty much any song. The record peaked at No. 59 on the pop chart, and went to No. 29 on the R&B chart. It’s also notable for the presence of Duane Allman on guitar. (If you listened to the mp3 before reading this, it’s likely you knew – or at least suspected – that already.)

“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” is one of the delightful confections with a groove that Honey Cone and the other members of the Invictus stable turned out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Formed by the one-time Motown team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Invictus and Hot Wax were also home to Freda Payne, Laura Lee, the Chairmen of the Board and others. “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” was, says Wikipedia, Honey Cone’s first single. It peaked at No. 62 on the pop chart and made it to No. 26 on the R&B chart. The group eventually had four Top 40 hits, including “Want Ads,” which went to No. 1 in 1971.

Smoking With Jumbo

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 22, 2009

I went to summer camp three times during my childhood and youth. I spent one week each of the summers of 1965 and 1970 at a Boy Scout camp a little more than an hour north of St. Cloud. The second time I was there, the camp was formally called Parker Scout Reservation, but, informally, everyone still called it Camp Clyde in honor – as I understood it – of the stuffed moose head called Clyde that presided from the wall of the mess hall.

My other camping summer was in 1968, when I spent something like twelve days at Bible camp, swimming, boating, crafting and more at a camp called the Shores of St. Andrew near the town of New London about forty-five miles southwest of St. Cloud.  St. Andrew wasn’t near as rustic an experience as Camp Clyde had been: We slept on bunk beds in a cabin instead of in canvas tents, and everything was located within, oh, a hundred yards of the lakeshore instead of being sprinkled throughout the piney woods as it was for the Boy Scouts.

A few things stick out from my time at the Shores of St. Andrew:

First, it was during those twelve days that my voice changed. When Mom and Dad dropped me off on a Sunday afternoon, I was still singing something close to soprano when we all gathered for sing-alongs in the evenings. Within a few days, that started to change. I felt constantly as if I needed to clear my throat. It never helped. Another few days went by, and I was a tenor. My range diminished slightly as my voice deepened, and as I struggled with the new sound of me, my fellow campers joshed me gently. When I greeted Mom when she arrived to take me home after those twelve days, the first thing she said was “What happened to your voice?”

One of the girls in the little crowd that had gathered at the departure point giggled. “It changed,” she said simply. Mom looked at me, looked at Jill – and the fact that I recall my fellow camper’s name after forty-one years is a little surprising – and then back at me. She nodded, and then we put my stuff in the car, and I left my remaining camper friends behind.

Jill’s presence – and the presence of the other girls – is another thing that makes that time at camp memorable. Oh, there was no romance between us, although a few other couples among the older campers – the ages of campers ranged from about twelve to sixteen – paired up tentatively during our time there. But there were cross-gender friendships, which was kind of a new concept for a lot of us, I think, girls as well as boys. Those friendships were aided by a decrease in the number of campers after one week. Most of the kids who arrived the same Sunday I did had signed up for just one week; about a third of us – maybe twenty – had signed up for the twelve-day session. A few of the kids from the nearby city of Willmar who’d signed up for the single week extended their stays because we were all having so much fun, but the second portion of my time at camp still had a much smaller population, and I think that helped encourage the development of a wider range of friendships, including those that crossed the gender line.

But friendly or not, we were still boys and they were still girls. And one night after midnight, we boys decided to go visit the girls’ cabin. We didn’t go in, of course. We ran around the outside of the cabin and then banged on the windows, yelping and hollering. I was gratified to hear the sounds of laughter on the other side of the window where I stood, shouting what in effect were nonsense words. After about five minutes, we ran back to our cabin, where our counselors – who had not attempted to dissuade us from our plans – were waiting. Both Louie and Paul – More names! Amazing! – shrugged as we tumbled in, laughing. One of them said, “I hope it was fun, guys. You’ll pay for it tomorrow.”

And we did. After lunch, while the girls got to go outside and go swimming or do whatever they wished, we boys were issued buckets and scrub brushes and spent the afternoon cleaning the floor of the mess hall. That wasn’t all that bad; as we scrubbed, we talked and laughed.

I also recall the last night at camp. We had a dance in the craft room, which was on the upper floor of one of the buildings. The tables were folded and moved to the side, some basic decorations were installed and one of the counselors provided a radio. I might have danced once; I think I had a dance with Jill. But I spent a good chunk of the evening with a few other guys standing near the wall, watching the others dance. After a while, I slid along the wall to the door. Once outside, I made my way down the stairs.

I wasn’t the only one who’d gone outside. A guy whose real name I never knew – he was chunky and called himself “Jumbo” – was sitting atop one of the picnic tables smoking a cigarette. (Another thing I never knew was whether Jumbo truly chose that nickname for himself or accepted it with as much grace as he could when it was given to him.) “Dull dance,” I said as I approached and sat on the table top.

He shrugged and nodded. “But we can at least hear the music here,” he said, and we could. The front windows of the craft room were open, and the sound of the radio was clear.

Jumbo offered me a cigarette, my first. I took it and smoked it inexpertly, somehow not managing to inhale. (That, and the habit, would come to me during college.) And perched on top of a picnic table, we listened to the music and sat out the dance. As we did, I would guess we heard at least one of these records.

A Six-Pack from the charts (Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 27, 1968)
“The Look Of Love” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, A&M 924 [No. 16]
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, Dunhill 4134 [No. 23]
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals, Atlantic 2537 [No. 32]
“The Eyes Of A New York Woman” by B.J. Thomas, Scepter 12230 [46]
“The Snake” by Al Wilson, Soul City 767 [No. 110]
“This Wheel’s On Fire” by Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger and the Trinity, Atco 6593 [122]

“The Look Of Love,” the first hit for Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, was part of the soundtrack for the James Bond film Casino Royale. The title was the only one of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels to which producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli didn’t hold rights. Faced with the prospect of mounting a spy film without Sean Connery – secure in the role of the British spy in the Saltzman-Broccoli films – the producers of Casino Royale turned Fleming’s taut tale into a spoof and a shambles. According to the Internet Movie Database, the producers were Jerry Bresler and Charles K. Feldman; six people were listed as having directed portions of the film, and ten individuals were involved in the writing (six were officially credited, not including Fleming, who got the credit: “suggested by the novel Casino Royale”). The movie was a mess in which – according to my memory – actors David Niven and Peter Sellers were allowed to run amok. But it did have some good music, including “The Look Of Love.” The song went as high on the charts as No. 4 during an eleven-week run, and the group had two more Top 40 hits in 1968, both also done in a light and friendly Latin style.

I said the other day that “In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” is one of those records that one either loves like a first-born child or hates like mold. I imagine the same is true of “MacArthur Park,” the rambling and symphonic love song whose most famous line is “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” I happen to think that the combination of Jimmy Webb’s admittedly over-the-top songwriting with the astounding vocal range of Richard Harris makes “MacArthur Park” a great record. Top 50 of all time? Maybe, maybe not. But – using a measuring stick I used here at least once before – if I were selecting a hundred records for a classic rock and pop jukebox, I think “MacArthur Park” would be in it. The record – Harris’ only Top 40 hit – spent ten weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 2.

Here’s what Dave Marsh had to say about “People Got To Be Free” in his 1989 classic, The Heart of Rock & Soul: “Sung like a funky Italian boys choir, arranged like a cross between Dyke and the Blazers and the Buckinghams, written in the fullest immersion in the glorious naivete of the times. Does hearing Felix [Cavaliere] try to preach about ‘the train to freedom’ render ‘People Got To Be Free’ dated? Of course. But what a glorious date, and what a way of celebrating the part of it that’s eternal: ‘I can’t understand, it’s so simple to me / People everywhere just got to be free.’ Ask my opinion, my opinion will be: Dated but never out of date.”

The Rascals’ record was in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks and spent an astounding five weeks at No. 1.

For more than ten years, from 1966 into 1977, B.J. Thomas recorded reliably good singles, but all too often, when talk and thought turns to listing the great Top 40 performers, his name seems to get lost. I’m not sure why that’s so. The man had fourteen Top 40 hits, with two of them reaching No. 1: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in 1969 and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” in 1975. Three others – 1964’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” 1968’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and 1970’s “I Just Can’t Help Believing” – all reached the Top Ten. And I’d be amazed if at least one of those five songs doesn’t start running through your head as you read that list. (And no, Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling” does not count!) “The Eyes Of A New York Woman” didn’t quite reach the heights those five records did, peaking at No. 28, but it’s probably my favorite B.J. Thomas song. Why? I dunno. Some things just are.

Al Wilson’s “The Snake” was pulled from his Searching For The Dolphins album, which was released on Johnny Rivers’ Soul City label. Through the end of the summer and into the autumn of 1968, the sly and funny slice of R&B moved slowly up the chart, peaking at No. 27, where it sat for the first two weeks of October. It was Wilson’s first Top 40 hit; he’d reach the top spot five years later with “Show and Tell,” which spent a week at No. 1 during the autumn of 1973. Being a sucker for drums, I love the four-second riff that starts about six seconds into the song. Drummers on the album were Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon.

Julie Driscoll never had a Top 40 hit in the U.S., but her version of “This Wheel’s On Fire” (written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko of The Band), which she recorded with Brian Auger and the Trinity, went to No. 5 in her native Great Britain.  Shortly after that, Driscoll moved her career toward vocal improvisation and jazz, recording under her own name into the mid-1970s and in a variety of ensembles since then. In 1992, according to All-Music Guide, Driscoll re-recorded “This Wheel’s on Fire” as the theme to the smash BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.  

Lost On Campus

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 29, 2009

I was seven or eight years old when I had my first great adventure on the campus of St. Cloud State College (as it was titled then). If I were eight at the time, then it took place in mid-summer of 1961, and from this long distance, that’s close enough for our purposes.

I wrote a little earlier this summer about attending summer classes at the Campus Lab School at St. Cloud State, spending mornings there so the college’s education students had someone to teach as they pursued their college degrees. If I recall correctly, on most days, my dad would be waiting when I left the school, and I’d ride home with him in his beloved ’52 Ford. Then came the day of the all-college picnic.

Think about this for a moment, as this is – at least for me – a quintessential 1960s event: A summertime picnic on the lawn, open to all students, all faculty and staff members, and all of their family members. The college was, of course, a much smaller place than is today’s sprawling institution, and then, summertime enrollment is always less than during other quarters. But still, a college-wide picnic! Barbecued chicken and beans and cole slaw for how many? Maybe five hundred people? It was a tradition that wouldn’t last much longer, as I don’t recall such picnics taking place during the summers I was a student on campus.

It was a different era, of course, one of freshman beanies and letter sweaters, with the young men mostly wearing dress slacks or khakis and the young women almost always wearing dresses, kind of like Faber College in Animal House (without the fascists or the slobs). I recall during one of those annual picnics looking across the street at a battered wooden building. It housed the campus bookstore and a student hangout called the Chatterbox.

The Chatterbox, probably ca. 1960. (SCSU Archives)

I asked a family friend, one of my dad’s student workers, what it was like inside, and he said it was crowded and noisy. He said they sold burgers and fries and coffee and malts. It was an honest-to-god malt shop! Except for the coffee, it sounded pretty good to a preteen whiteray, and I asked him if he’d take me in there someday. He shook his head no. A few years later the Chatterbox was gone, razed to make way for the new student center.

Anyway, on the day of the all-college picnic in 1961, I was supposed to meet my mom outside the Campus Lab School and we’d walk the three or so blocks or so to the picnic. I went out the door where I usually found Dad in his car. No Mom. I waited a few minutes, wondering what to do. And when she hadn’t shown up in ten minutes, I set out across campus, heading for Dad’s office. I wasn’t at all sure of the campus’ geography, but I knew Dad’s office was in the basement of the library, and if I could find the library, then I was in good shape.

So every once in a while, I asked a passing student where the library was. The college men chuckled at me, and one asked if I were going to do research for a term paper. The college women told each other I was cute, and a couple of them wanted to know if I wanted them to take me to the library. No, I said, I could find it myself, as long as I had good directions. And I did find it. And I found the stairs down to Dad’s office. The door was locked and the dark basement corridor was a little spooky.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but sitting in a dark basement corridor was kind of scary, and it wasn’t getting me any chicken. I clambered up the stairs, and went to the picnic. And that’s where I found my folks, who were of course, quite worried. (Though perhaps not as worried as parents in similar circumstances might be today; although a good portion of today’s horrors also existed back then, they were not placed nearly so firmly on our minds’ center stage then as they are today.) My mom told me she’d waited at the front door of the lab school for a fair amount of time; I told her dad had been picking me up at the side door.

And after a few minutes more of discussion, we got in line and filled our plates.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 26, 1961)
“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1008 (No. 1)
“Every Beat of My Heart” by the Pips, Vee-Jay 386 (No. 8)
“Peanut Butter” by the Marathons, Arvee 5027 (No. 23)
“Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 824 (No. 62)
“Theme from ‘Goodbye Again’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 319 (No. 85)
“Rainin’ In My Heart” by Slim Harpo, Excello 2194 (No. 99)

A couple of these are pretty well known: “Quarter to Three” and “Let’s Twist Again” are staples on any self-respecting oldies radio station, and they deserve to be so (although Checker’s original “The Twist” is a better single than “Let’s Twist Again”). Both of them, at the right moments, can get you out on the dance floor, and thus, they remain among the best that not only 1961 had to offer, but the entire era post-Holly and pre-Beatles. “Quarter to Three” spent two weeks at No. 1, and “Let’s Twist Again” peaked at No. 8 later in the summer.

Speaking of that era of American pop, the one that began with the plane crash in Iowa and ended with the Beatles playing on Ed Sullivan’s show: I’ve seen that era written off entirely. Now, it’s true there was a lot of bad pop and faux R&B being played on radio and racked in the stores – Fabian, anyone? – but there was still more good music than a lot of post-Sixties critics have recalled over the years. Some of the other records on that week’s Hot 100, stuff that I could have shared, were: “Tossin’ and Turnin’” by Bobby Lewis, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “Hello Walls” by Faron Young, “Cupid” by San Cooke, “I Like It Like That (Part 1)” by Chris Kenner and “Mama Said” by the Shirelles. And that’s just a quick glance.

Now, there’s no doubt that pop music slumped a little in those years, but my point is that it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be.

There’s a riddle surrounding “Every Beat of My Heart.” It’s listed twice on the Hot 100 for this week: Vee-Jay has a release credited only to the Pips (before Gladys Knight got top billing) at No. 8, and it’s also listed at No. 60 as a release on Fury Records, credited to Gladys Knight and the Pips. From everything I know, I have the Vee-Jay release here, but if anyone out there knows any better, let me know, please. According to The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, the Vee-Jay version peaked at No. 6, while the Fury version failed to make the Top 40.

Regarding “Peanut Butter,” writer Dave Marsh notes the strange tale: The Olympics and their producers, Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith, sold the single to Argo, a subsidiary of Chicago’s Chess Records. But as the group was still under contract to Los Angeles-based Arvee, the record was credited to the Marathons, a not-too-subtle change from the Olympics. And the song had a strong resemblance to the Olympics’ 1960 hit, “(Baby) Hully Gully.” So, without too much ado, the record wound up on the Arvee label anyway, and went to No. 20. Now, the tale is told quite a bit differently by Joel Whitburn in The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Whitburn says that with the Olympics on tour, Arvee brought in the Vibrations to record “Peanut Butter.” But the Vibrations were under contract to Chess/Checker, which stopped the Arvee release and then had the Vibrations record a version of the song for Argo, the Chess subsidiary. At which point, Arvee brought in another group – evidently neither the Olympics nor the Vibrations – to record “Peanut Butter” yet again. That third release, I guess, is what is offered here. And none of that matters when the lead singer calls out “Scarf now!”

The Ferrante & Teicher record was in its third week in the Hot 100 this week. It would linger in the lower levels one more week before falling off the chart. And in August, the piano duo would have their first Top 40 hit with the “Theme from The Apartment,” which would peak at No. 10.

“Rainin’ In My Heart” would eventually rise from the depths of the Hot 100 to become one of two Top 40 hits by Slim Harpo, whose real name was James Moore. “Rainin’ In My Heart” would rise to No. 34, and five years later, his “Baby Scratch My Back” would go to No. 16. Those were Harpo’s only Top 40 hits, but he may be better known for two songs covered by the Rolling Stones: “I’m A King Bee,” which was on the album The Rolling Stones in 1964 (and was covered by many others as well, including Muddy Waters), and “Shake Your Hips,” which wound up on 1972’s Exile on Main St. (Oddly, the Exile on Main St. jacket listed the song as “Hip Shake,” but the label on the record had the correct title.)

Rainy Day Make-Work

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 19, 2009

It was dreary and rainy the other day, and I looked out our front window at the lawn. It’s probably going to need mowing – which our landlord takes care of – this weekend. And the combination of the weather and the wet grass reminded me of part of the summer of 1971, the first half of which I spent as a member of the lawn-mowing crew at St. Cloud State.

There were days, of course, when it rained, and no mowing would get done. But the maintenance department, without question, could always find something for us to do. I recall spending three days that summer in a second-floor hallway in Stewart Hall, armed with chisels and chipping away at old and worn tile on the floor. It was tedious work, made more tolerable by actually being able to talk to one another. When we were out on the lawnmowers, the only people we could talk to was ourselves. (I wrote not long ago about how I addressed that quandary.)

But there, in the hallway, with only occasional supervision – our boss, busy with other stuff, wandered through every hour or so, just to make sure we were making some progress – we could talk as we chipped away. (The tile had likely been in place since Stewart Hall was built in the late 1940s, and in places it had worn away entirely; finding an edge to pry away the bits of tile near those worn spots was a challenge.) Our topics ranged broadly, but music was one we always came back to. During one of those days in the hallway, I recall one of my co-workers and I exchanging views on Ten Years After: He preferred Ssssh, while I held out for Cricklewood Green.

On another rainy day later in the summer, our crew and a few others were dispatched to the new Education Building, which would open for classes that fall quarter. There, in a large room on the second floor, stood at least three hundred file cabinets, still in their boxes. Our work that day would be to get the cabinets out of the boxes and distribute them to the offices that were their intended destinations. While we unboxed the cabinets, someone from one of the painting crews plugged in his radio – the painters were allowed to listen to music as they worked, as long as it wasn’t too loud – and that made the morning more tolerable. I assume the radio was tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities, but the only thing I recall hearing that morning was Peter Nero’s cover of the “Theme to ‘Summer of ’42’,” a record I welcomed, as I’d recently seen the movie.

As the day wore on and the empty file cabinet boxes piled up on the other side of the room, we might have heard some of these:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 19, 1971)
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists 50721 (No. 6)
“She’s Not Just Another Woman” by The 8th Day, Invictus 9087 (No. 20)
“Funky Nassau (Part One)” by the Beginning Of The End, Alston 4595 (No. 23)
“Get It On” by Chase, Epic 10738 (No. 50)
“Chicago” by Graham Nash, Atlantic 2804 (No. 61)
“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement, Decca 32818 (No. 91)

The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two Top Ten hits, and what great records they were! “Treat Her Like A Lady” was the first of them, riding that chugging guitar, superb hook and gospelish call-and-response all the way to No. 3. “Too Late To Turn Back Now,” which went to No. 2 during the summer of 1972, was also a good record, but it was smoother and somehow less demanding. If forced to choose, I’d give the decision to “Treat Her Like A Lady” on points, but both sounded great coming out of the car radio. (The group had two other Top 40 hits, “Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)” and “I’m Never Gonna Be Alone Anymore,” neither of which reached the Top Twenty.)

The second of these has to have an odd story behind it, but it’s a story I don’t know, and a quick riffle through my reference books this morning has left me uninformed. “She’s Not Just Another Woman” by the group The 8th Day went to No. 11 during the summer of 1971 and eventually went gold for the Invictus label. A slightly longer version of the same recording – an edit of 3:23 as opposed to the 3:04 of the single edit I present here – showed up, also in 1971, as an album track on Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, the debut album of the wonderfully named group 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), released on the Hot Wax label. Hot Wax and Invictus were sister labels, formed in 1969 by the trio of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland when the three left Motown Records. So the same recording, essentially, was credited to two different groups. It might be that the single edit I offer here is a bastard edit, created after the fact by license for packaging purposes, but either way, it’s still an edit of the same track that shows up on Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, giving us, as I said, the same recording credited to two different groups. Very odd.

I don’t know much about the Beginning of the End, which came from Nassau in the Bahamas, or about its hit, which went to No. 15 that summer. I do have a vague memory of hearing the record as I drove around town one evening in my 1961 Falcon, but that’s all. I’m sure there’s information out there, but not through the usual sources. The only thing All-Music Guide has to say is: “One of the very few soul groups from Nassau, the Beginning of the End had one hit in 1971, the scintillating ‘Funky Nassau.’ They [sic] recorded an album of the same name that year, then dropped out of sight.” Obscure or not, the record was pretty good.

“Get It On” by Chase was one of the great and somewhat forgotten records of the early 1970s. Tough vocals and foundation, great horn accents, the escalating tension and the glorious whirling horn runs: What more do you want? Well, a longer career for Bill Chase and his band; Chase and three members of the band were killed in a plane crash near Jackson, Minnesota, in August 1974. What’s left is the group’s one hit, which went to No. 24 during the summer of 1971, and the three albums, all of which have been released on CD.

Let’s say you asked a fan in 1971: Which of the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is least likely to release an overtly political single? My guess is that most fans would have responded with the name of “Graham Nash.” Not that Nash didn’t care about such things, but on Crosby, Stills & Nash and on Déjà Vu, Nash’s songs were more personal than political: “Marrakesh Express,” “Lady of the Island,” “Teach Your Children, “Our House.” So it was a little surprising when Nash’s solo album, Songs for Beginners, sandwiched its reflections about romance and personal growth (including the luminous “Simple Man”) with two clearly political songs: The opening track, “Military Madness” addresses the issue of the military’s influence on society in a general way (although it begins with a reference to Nash’s birth in Blackpool, England). Conversely, the album’s closing track, “Chicago,” is a more direct political statement, deploring the treatment of Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther party. During Seale’s trial for conspiracy and inciting to riot – charges that developed out of the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – one of Seale’s many outbursts led the judge to order Seale bound and gagged, inspiring Nash’s song. The record went to No. 35.

The Free Movement’s “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” – a good record and a somewhat accurate reflection of the morals and mores of the time as regards fidelity – had been languishing in the bottom section of the Hot 100 for five weeks at this time thirty-eight years ago. The song dropped out of the Hot 100 for two weeks, then re-entered on July 7 and began its long climb that took it eventually to No. 5.

The Seeds Of A Brand Loyalty

March 25, 2012

Originally posted April 1, 2009

On April 1, 1974, thirty-five years ago today, I was playing hooky in a big way. In fact, I was starting my second week of hooky from St. Cloud State’s classes in Fredericia, Denmark. Spring quarter had started Monday, March 25. Sunrise that day had found me in a youth hostel in Zermatt, Switzerland, looking out of the window at the Matterhorn. I knew it was the first day of class, but I also knew I had yet to travel through Switzerland and Austria to Vienna and I had yet to see Munich in what was then West Germany.

It wasn’t a tough choice. So a week later, on April 1, I was in Munich, standing in a square to watch the town hall tower’s ancient glockenspiel chime the hour. As I stood and waited for the top of the hour – ten o’clock, I believe – I saw one of my fellow St. Cloud State students, DJ, whom I’d not seen for nearly four weeks, since a raucous few days in Paris. He grinned and we caught up with each other as we waited. At ten o’clock, the bells in the tower chimed, and colorful carved figures danced and jousted.

The crowd thinned, and I turned to DJ. “So what are you gonna do now?” I asked.

“I’m heading to the Hofbräuhaus for lunch,” he said, “and then I’m heading back to Fredericia, but I’m going to visit a shoe factory along the way.”

A shoe factory?

He grinned and said he was heading for the world headquarters of adidas, the company whose shoes bore a distinctive three stripes.

I knew the shoes. I’d wanted a pair for years and, finally, for Christmas 1971, my folks gave me a pair: blue with the three stripes in white. I loved those shoes, and I wore them out. Then I bought another pair to bring with me to Denmark. I don’t think I was wearing them the day I ran into DJ, as I’d left Fredericia for spring break in early March, and it was still a bit chilly to wear the adidas shoes every day.

We went to the Hofbräuhaus, where we ate some baked liver loaf and each had a couple of beers. After we ate, we found an unattended door on the building’s lower level, and we each sneaked out with one of the Hofbräuhaus’ distinctive gray mugs, repeating an act of larceny committed by thousands of others over the years. From there, we went to the train station and headed to Nuremberg.

As we rode, DJ explained. The adidas company had its headquarters in a small town called Herzogenaurach. We’d have to take a train from Nuremberg to a city called Fürth, and there, we’d have to catch a train to a station called Erlangen-Bruck, near the smaller city of Erlangen. There, finally, we would catch a train that brought us to Herzogenaurach. Our goal, DJ said, was to get a tour of the factory and the company’s shoe museum.

As DJ had planned, our fourth train of the afternoon brought us into Herzogenaurach, but it was mid-afternoon by that time. “We might be too late,” he said, as we hurried down the street. I saw a sign in the street, like a traffic sign. One portion of the sign pointed to the right, and showed “adidas” and the familiar trefoil logo. The other portion pointed left, and read “PUMA” with the also familiar leaping cat. As we headed to the right, I asked DJ, “Puma and adidas?”

He nodded as we hurried, and between breaths, he told me that the companies had been started by feuding brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, in the years after World War II. Adolf had used his nickname, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name to brand his shoes: adidas. Rudolf had chosen Puma as his brand name, and the headquarters for both brands were located in Herzogenaurach, a city that in 1974 had a population of around 15,000, maybe a little less.

We made our way through town to a group of buildings at the edge of town, with the most modern of them marked “adidas.” We went to that one, and at the door, DJ explained our mission. Eventually, the doorkeeper went away and brought back a man who was maybe in his forties, wearing a conservative coat and tie. He looked at the two of us, with our longish, untrimmed hair, and told us he was sorry, the factory was closed and it was too late to get a tour. He gave each of us his card and said that if we could come back early in the morning on a Thursday or a Friday . . .

Disappointed, DJ and I walked back into the center of the small town and went to the adidas factory outlet. He bought shoes and an athletic bag; I bought a t-shirt. And we headed back, via Erlangen-Bruck and Fürth, to Nuremberg, where we caught a train that would take us to Hamburg in northern West Germany. From there, it was only a few hours to Fredericia. We got home about mid-day on April 2, a week and a day late for class.

(We weren’t the only ones to be late for spring classes, nor were we the last ones back from spring break: Many of us had missed at least some class time that spring quarter, and a few others straggled in after DJ and I got back to Fredericia. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that our time in Denmark was St. Cloud State’s first attempt at a foreign study program, and although the administration had anticipated some absenteeism, our behavior at the beginning of the spring quarter was more widespread and blatant than expected. From then on, in all of St. Cloud State’s foreign study programs, an extended absence required a good reason. Those students without good reasons, I think, were sent back to the States. And I’m pretty sure that, “But I hadn’t been to Vienna yet!” wouldn’t have been a good enough reason.)

A couple of days later, I got a letter from a gal I’d met in Vienna who was studying in Poitiers, France, inviting me to visit for Easter, if my rail pass was still good. It was, and train schedules were good enough to allow me to get there, spend two days, and get back to Fredericia without missing any school.

In fact, I thought, as I looked at maps and train schedules, I could leave Wednesday afternoon and head south to Munich – where there was a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that I’d not seen while I was there – and then take a Thursday night train to Paris. I could still get into Poitiers on Friday, which is what my lady friend had suggested. I looked at my adidas shirt drying on the radiator and thought a little more.

And at 7:30 in the morning on April 11, a Thursday, I presented myself at the main building of the adidas shoe company. I gave the doorman the business card I’d gotten during my previous visit, and waited. The conservatively dressed fellow came to the door and did a double-take when he saw me. I reminded him that he’d essentially promised a tour if we came back early on a Thursday or a Friday. He nodded, smiling tightly, and escorted me into the building. He handed me off to a junior somebody, who took me around the factory and then through a small museum, where I saw – among other things – adidas shoes that had been used by Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali. I left the factory after about an hour, impressed with what I’d seen and carrying a bag of key chains and other trinkets, all marked “adidas.”

And this may be silly, but since that day, I’ve never worn a shirt or jacket or anything that displays the brand name of another shoe company. No Nike shirts or caps, no Puma, no New Balance, no Air Jordan. I’ve not always had sports shoes, but when I have, they’ve been adidas. I have several shirts with the adidas logo and none displaying any other shoe brand’s logo. I have a small collection of baseball caps, most of them displaying the logos of various athletic teams . . . and three with the adidas logo.

As I said, that brand loyalty might be kind of silly. I’m not an athlete, never really have been. But that loyalty satisfies something in me, and that’s all that matters.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 30, 1974)
“Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5, Motown 1286 (No. 40)
“On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, Asylum 11033 (No. 51)
“Star Baby” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0217 (No. 54)
“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 46007 (No. 64)
“Watching The River Run” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 46010 (No. 73)
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 (No. 97)

I don’t recall hearing any of these at the time. Readers might recall my mentioning the tape machine in the lounge of the youth hostel where I was living during the early months of 1974: We listened mostly to the Allman Brothers, the first Duane Allman anthology and Pink Floyd, with Graham Nash, the occasional slice of Bread and a few others being dropped in for variety. Radios were scarce at the hostel, and Top 40 was hard to come by.

Though I’m sure I’ve heard “Dancing Machine” before I ripped it from one of the Texas Gal’s CDs this week, I couldn’t tell you when. My tolerance for the Jackson 5 has been limited for years to “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” I don’t think “Dancing Machine” is quite up to the level of those, but it’s a pretty good, propulsive track, better than I thought it would be when I first chose it for this selection. The record went to No. 2 on the pop chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart, the last Jackson 5 record to climb so high on either chart.

When listeners dropped “On A Night Like This” on the turntable, they were hearing something that hadn’t been available on record before except on bootlegs: Bob Dylan in the recording studio with The Band. The single was the first track from Planet Waves, which surprisingly – given their long association – was the first album that found all five members of The Band in the studio with Dylan. (The facsinating Basement Tapes, showing what Dylan and the five members of The Band had been up to during Dylan’s recovery from a motorcycle accident, would come out in 1975.) A rollicking and grinning piece of Americana (long before, as I said the other day, that term was applied to popular music), the single nevertheless failed to reach the Top 40; by the end of March, it had been in the Hot 100 for six weeks and had peaked at No. 44. By April 6, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100.

For about two-and-a-half years, between early 1969 and the late summer of 1971, the Guess Who – a group out of Manitoba, Canada – had been a reliable hit-making machine, putting eleven singles into the Top 40, with five of them reaching the Top Ten. (The most successful of them, “American Woman,” spent three weeks at No. 1 in the spring of 1970.) In the spring of 1974, the Guess Who broke a three-year absence in the Top 40, as “Star Baby” – a catchy piece of radio pop – slid into the pop chart. As March ended, the record was on its way up, moving to No. 54 from No. 63. Three weeks later, “Star Baby” poked its head into the Top 40, sitting at No. 39 for two weeks before tumbling back down the chart. The Guess Who had two more hits in 1974 – “Clap For The Wolfman” went to No. 6 and “Dancin’ Fool” went to No. 28 – and then disappeared from the Top 40 for good.

From 1974 into the early 1980s, Chicago-based Earth, Wind & Fire released a series of catchy singles that laced R&B with funk and the occasional tender ballad. That brought the group – formed and led by drummer Maurice White – sixteen Top 40 hits, seven of which reached the Top Ten. One of those, “Shining Star” spent a week at No. 1 on the pop charts; seven of the group’s hits were No. 1 on the R&B chart. That string began with “Mighty Mighty” in 1974. During the week in question, “Mighty Mighty” was at No. 64 and was heading up the chart towards its peak of No. 29. All together, the song – a potent slice of radio R&B – spent fifteen weeks in the Hot 100.

It’s interesting that Loggins & Messina included “Watching The River Run” on their 1976 anthology, The Best of Friends, as the song got no further up the Hot 100 than No. 71 in a six-week run. But then, Loggins & Messina only had three Top 40 hits, which would make for a pretty skimpy anthology. And “Watching The River Run” is a good choice, maybe the quintessential Loggins & Messina track: melodic and mellow with a lyric that tells us that we’re all part of something sweet and good, something that will go one when we no longer do.

The growling, nearly incomprehensible lyrics of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” combined with the record’s Texas-style boogie, nearly got ZZ Top into the Top 40. “La Grange” crawled slowly up the chart after its March 30 debut, eventually reaching No. 41 in the last week of June 1974 and the falling out of the Hot 100 a month later after a nineteen-week run. Starting with “Tush” in the summer of 1975, ZZ Top would eventually have eight Top 40 hits, with two of them – “Legs” and “Sleeping Bag” – reaching the Top Ten in the mid-1980s. But as good as any of those were, I don’t think they match “La Grange.’ A-how-how-how-how!

Note: For those interested in the history of adidas and Puma shoes and the feud between the Dassler brothers that led to the forming of two competing companies in one small German town, look into Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smit. Even if you don’t wear sports apparel of any kind, it’s a fascinating look at influence the two companies had in starting the amazingly huge business of marketing sports gear and apparel.

I Wore My Tiger Every Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Light Of A Rainy Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spoofing The Kennedys

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 13, 2009

American fascination with the Kennedy family is an on-going thing, as demonstrated by the recent kerfuffle about Caroline Kennedy and the seat in the U.S. Senate held most recently by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and occupied in the 1960s by Caroline’s uncle, Robert F. Kennedy.

That fascination may have started with Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, long before World War II. I don’t know. But I do know from my own memory that it burst into full bloom in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy as U.S. president. And that fascination meant media saturation, such as it was at the time: The Kennedys were the focal point of almost everything.

These days, the scrutiny given both public figures and private figures who happen to fall into the spotlight is more intense than ever. For some, the spotlight endures. For others, the light moves on, and the individuals so lighted can then move away from the public’s center of attention, most of them – I would guess – happy to do so.

But it seems that the Kennedys, having sought the nation’s attention long ago, have – as a family – never left that bright light. And, in the early years, some of the more frivolous things resulting from that bright light were a few records.

During John Kennedy’s last year as president, one of the best-selling records in the country was The First Family, a comedy record by Vaughn Meader, whose talents included the ability to do an uncanny impersonation of the president. The LP was released during the first week of December 1962, went to No. 1 in its second week, stayed atop the album chart for twelve weeks and won the Grammy for the Album of the Year. A second album went to No. 4.

Meader wasn’t the only comedian to spoof John Kennedy. In my small collection of 45s, I have a record by Joel Langram titled “I Really Wanted To Be A ‘Singar’” (Rori 714) that gives JFK and his family an affectionate nudge in the ribs.

But the jokes were no longer funny, of course, after John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

(I’ve never bothered to find out if it’s true, but I’ve heard for years that caustic comedian Lenny Bruce opened his show on the evening of John Kennedy’s death with the words, “Poor Vaughn Meader!”)

After JFK’s death, the Kennedy fascination settled on his widow and his two brothers, and that eventually resulted in the artifact that spurred these thoughts. In 1967, Senator Robert Kennedy became the object of “Wild Thing,” a record that featured comedian Bill Minkin impersonating the senator. With nods to Kennedy’s brother, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy, and to his family, the single – credited to “Senator Bobby” – chronicles a the recording of a record aimed at making the senator more interesting to young people.

The record, of course, is a cover of the Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” which was a No. 1 hit in 1966. Senator Bobby’s version of “Wild Thing” peaked at No. 20 in early February of 1967 and was still at that spot a week later, forty-two years ago this week. The record was actually pretty funny at the time, and then – after RFK was assassinated in a little more than a year – not funny at all for quite some time. Those of us of a certain age, I would guess, hear it these days with a sad smile.

A Six-Pack From The Charts
(Billboard Hot 100, February 11, 1967)

“Wild Thing” by Senator Bobby, Parkway 127 (No. 20)

“Are You Lonely For Me” by Freddie Scott, Shout 207 (No. 45)

“The Dis-Adadvantages of You” by the Brass Ring featuring Phil Bodner, Dunhill 4065 (No. 64)

“California Nights” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72649 (No. 71)

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Mojo Men, Reprise 0539 (No. 80)

“Feel So Bad” by Little Milton, Checker 1162 (No. 91)

There may have been other records spoofing the Kennedys. Those mentioned are just the three in my collection. Additionally, I know that other, similar, records were issued poking fun at other presidents and their families.

“Are You Lonely For Me” was one of two records by Freddie Scott to make the Top 40 chart: In 1963, “Hey Girl” went to No. 10. “Are You Lonely For Me” reached No. 39 at the end of February. Scott’s muscular performance of a very good song did, however, top the R&B chart for four weeks.

There are plenty of examples of an advertising jingle or song being turned into a hit: One example that comes to mind in an instant is “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” a 1972 hit for the Hillside Singers and the New Seekers. That song began life in a television commercial for Coca-Cola. “The Dis-Advantages of You” started its life as the backing music for a series of commercials advertising a new and longer cigarette. The commercial showed such disadvantages as getting one’s cigarette caught in an elevator door and so on. The music proved so popular that “The Dis-Advantages of You” was released as a single and on an album of similar music. The single went to No. 36 and was the second Top 40 hit for the Brass Ring, which was basically a group of studio musicians pulled together by saxophonist Phil Bodnar. (The first hit was “The Phoenix Love Theme [Senza Fine]” from the film, The Flight of the Phoenix. That single went to No. 32 in 1966.)

“California Nights” was the last hit for Lesley Gore, whose Top 40 run started in 1963 with “It’s My Party” going to No. 1. “California Nights,” which to me sounds very much like the folk-pop/pop-rock of the Mamas & the Papas from the same time, went to No. 16, the eleventh and last Top 40 hit for Gore.

“Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” a cover of the Stephen Stills song recorded by the Buffalo Springfield, was the only Top 40 hit for the Mojo Men, a San Francisco group. The record went to No. 36 and came to some prominence again in 1972 when Elektra Records legend Jac Holzman and music historian Lenny Kay chose the single as one of twenty-seven tracks on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, a collection that’s been the model for many anthologies in the ensuing thirty-seven years.

Little Milton, a Mississippi native who recorded for Chess, Stax and several other labels during the course of a long career, made the Top 40 only once: In 1965, with “We’re Gonna Make It,” a record that went to No. 25 on the pop chart but topped the R&B chart for three weeks. “Feel So Bad” never went higher than No. 91, but it’s a heckuva record.

The Ghosts Of Downtown

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 9, 2009

I misplaced a long-gone store in Saturday’s post. I talked about spending parts of some childhood Friday evening looking through the shelves of books at Fandel’s and said the building was on Fifth Avenue. Not long after, an email from former St. Cloud resident Yah Shure got me thinking. And I realized that Fandel’s was on Sixth Avenue, a block west of where I had placed it.

(If in fact, the bookstore/interior store had been on Fifth Avenue, it likely would have been right in the middle of a bar called the Red Carpet. It would take some years for me to find myself in the middle of the Red Carpet, but I have been there, too.)

When I realized my error, I was struck by the vividness of my memories of Sixth Avenue in St. Cloud in, oh, 1964. And I spent a few minutes thinking about the ghosts of downtown.

On St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – there was Dan Marsh Drug. We got our prescriptions there, had our photos developed there, bought greeting cards and giftwrap, discount records, pipe tobacco and pipe cleaners (Dad smoked until he survived a heart attack in 1974) and so much more. There was a restaurant/grill at the back of the store, a place that during the workweek’s daytime hours must have been home to lunch specials for the many folks who worked in what was a pretty bustling downtown.

After school and on Friday evenings, though, the restaurant was a gathering place for kids who gulped down French fries with cherry Cokes, chocolate Cokes, lime phosphates and other seemingly exotic potions. And on Friday evenings, as the clusters of kids came and went from Dan Marsh Drugs, other kids would drive up and down St. Germain, some revving the engines of their cars and others just looking at the other kids looking back at them.

Sometimes a cop directed traffic at the intersection of St. Germain and Sixth; other times, the police just put the four-sided portable sign, the one reading “No Left Turn,” in the middle of the intersection, and let the drivers and pedestrians otherwise fend for themselves. (For a few years in the early 1970s, the city made St. Germain a pedestrian mall for three blocks downtown and did as well some stupid things with traffic flow, and that pretty much killed downtown’s traffic . . . and a lot of businesses.)

North of St. Germain on Sixth was, I think, a funeral home. I recall clearly, however, the book and stationery store, a place of pens and pencils, ledgers and typing paper, erasers and sharpeners, the kind of place that entranced me then and can still do so today.

South on Sixth, Fandel’s and Herberger’s, two department stores, took the corner spots. Fandel’s is long gone, and Herberger’s – in an insane attempt at urban renewal during, I think, the 1980s – was allowed to build a mall across Sixth Avenue, so Sixth is now blocked at St. Germain. Herberger’s continues in business, but the other stores and restaurants in that mall haven’t thrived over the years.

Beyond Herberger’s, on the east side of Sixth, is a blank for me. I cannot recall what stood there. Beyond Fandel’s on the west side of Sixth was the building that held Fandel’s bookstore and interiors, the place where I got my copy of Born Free after seeing the movie, and where I bought Dad a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim for his birthday.

All of those businesses except Herberger’s are gone. Most of the buildings are gone as well. And next to the Fandel’s book and interiors building stood another lost gem, the Eastman Theater, with its blue and white marquee. It was one of three movie houses in St. Cloud at the time. (There are none in the city these days; we now drive west into the adjacent city of Waite Park for a movie, although films are occasionally screened in the refurbished Paramount Theatre). I went to numerous movies at the Eastman, not many of them memorable. What I remember most clearly is waiting for the movie in the theater, with a series of colored lights projected from somewhere, walking their way up and down the theater on the side walls.

I do remember one film I saw at the Eastman, though: The Longest Day, the tale of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy during World War II, was released in 1962. It came back through town during early June in 1964, and my parents okayed my request to see it. So one day – a Saturday? I’m not sure – I bicycled across the Mississippi and into downtown, to the Eastman. I locked my bike to the rack and then, as I bought my ticket, asked the woman there if the film had come back out because of the twentieth anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy Invasion.

She blinked and looked down at me, a short and bespectacled ten-year-old. “How do you know about that?” she asked me.

I might have shrugged. “I dunno,” I likely told her. “I just do.”

“Okay,” she said as I handed her my quarter and she handed me my ticket. “Enjoy the show.” I did.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 6, 1964)

“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels, Columbia 43000 (No. 18)

“Wish Someone Would Care” by Irma Thomas, Imperial 66013 (No. 32)

“Yesterday’s Gone” by Chad & Jeremy, World Artists 1021 (No. 64)

“The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz/João & Astrid Gilberto, Verve 10323 (No. 87)

“Remember Me” by Rita Pavone, RCA Victor 8635 (No. 94)

“Dang Me” by Roger Miller, Smash 1881 (No. 126)

What? No Beatles? I can hear readers wondering as I write. There’s no doubt that they dominated the charts in 1964, especially during the week of April 4, when they held the top five spots in the Billboard Hot 100. (In order: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.”) And the Beatles did have a considerable chart presence during the first week in June, with three singles in the Top 40, an EP “bubbling under” at No. 105, and “Sie Lieb Dicht,” a German version of “She Loves You,” also bubbling at No. 108.

But there was so much more going on in 1964, at least in this chart. The British Invasion that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones triggered was underway, with Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Dave Clark Five and Gerry and the Pacemakers in the Top 30. And there was more. In fact, just look at the Top 20 for June 6, 1964, and you’ll see a snapshot of a time when popular tastes were in flux:

“Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups
“Love Me Do” by the Beatles
“My Guy” by Mary Wells
“Love Me With All Your Heart” by the Ray Charles Singers
“Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong
“A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon
“Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick
“Little Children” by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas
“(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by the Reflections
“P.S. I Love You” by the Beatles
“Do You Love Me” by the Dave Clark Five
“People” by Barbra Streisand
“Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway
“Diane” by the Bachelors
“Cotton Candy” by Al Hirt
“It’s Over” by Roy Orbison
“I Get Around” by the Beach Boys
“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels
“Once Upon A Time” by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells
“Tell Me Why” by Bobby Vinton

Wow! Girl groups, R&B from Motown and elsewhere, tunes from Broadway, pop instrumentals, British pop-rock, teen idol pop, folk and more – all of it underscored by the “skritch-skritch” of Warwick’s “Walk On By” and capped off by Orbison’s operatic finish as the Beach Boys rev the engine and head to the drive-in.

And in June of 1964, I waited to turn eleven late that summer, knowing – oddly enough – more about World War II than I knew about pop and rock music. Some of the songs in the Top 20 were familiar, certainly: I knew “Hello, Dolly,” “Cotton Candy” (though it’s one of the few Al Hirt tunes I’m not all that not fond of), and “Today.” And I might have known about “Walk On By.” The most fondly remembered is “Today,” with its sweet melody and its lyric predicting nostalgia, presented in a ersatz commercial folk style that owes more to Mitch Miller and the Fifties than to any folk music that ever came from the likes of Pete Seeger. Knowing all that now doesn’t diminish my affection for the recording because when I hear “Today,” I’m not hearing the record. I’m hearing the soundtrack of a time when a ten-year-old kid could bicycle by himself to a movie theater in the downtown of a small city, see a movie and get himself home safely with nothing greater to worry about than a flat tire. We have gained much in the past forty-five years, but we have lost much, too.

Anyway, “Today” marked the last bit of chart success for the New Christy Minstrels, as it happened. The record went as high as No. 17 and was the last of three Top 40 hits for the group. (“Green, Green” and “Saturday Night” were the others.) It’s of interest, too, that among the members of the New Christy Minstrels – organized by Randy Sparks – were Kenny Rogers, Barry McGuire and Kim Carnes.

Irma Thomas is still singing soul and R&B today after almost fifty years in the music industry, starting with her first single, 1960’s “You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man” on the Ron label, based in her native Louisiana. “Wish Someone Would Care” was her only record to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 17.

“Yesterday’s Gone” is pleasant folk-pop: light and insubstantial candy for the ear. It also serves as a reminder that not all the performers who followed the Beatles and the Stones across the Atlantic rocked. (The best/worst example of that might be Freddie and the Dreamers.) “Yesterday’s Gone” went only to No. 21, but its follow-up, “A Summer Song,” went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1964. After that, the two singers – who had been credited up to that point as Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde – gave up their last names and became Chad and Jeremy, scoring five more Top 40 hits into August 1966.

The story about “The Girl From Ipanema” says that the charming and somewhat affectless vocal by Astrud Gilberto was one of those happy accidents that sometimes happen in the studio. As I understand it, sax player Stan Getz and singer and guitarist João Gilberto were working on the track for their Getz/Gilberto album (1963) when they decided that “The Girl From Ipanema” needed a vocal. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, who spoke no English, learned the words phonetically, and an international hit was born. The record went to No. 5 and won the Grammy for 1964’s Record of the Year. (That’s the story as I understand it. Anyone out there have any corrections or clarifications?)

I know next to nothing about Rita Pavone, only that I found one of her albums in a box of LP’s I bought in bulk at a flea market in February of 1989. I listened to it and was not impressed, but I figured it had little resale value, so I stuck it in the stacks. And there it’s stayed for almost exactly twenty years. But when I saw her name at No. 94 on the Hot 100, I went to the stacks and learned that the LP – titled simply Rita Pavone – in fact included her single. It’s a girl group-kind of tune, although Rita seems to often intone the lyrics rather than sing them. But there you are.

“Dang Me” was the first of twelve Top 40 hits for Roger Miller, reaching No. 7 during the summer of 1964. The record – and several of his others – are tagged in the Billboard books as novelties. I’m not sure that’s right. Miller’s style was quirky, but it was refreshing. Those of his hits not tagged as novelty records – “England Swings,” “King of the Road,” “Engine Engine” and more – are not that far removed from what he was doing with “Dang Me,” “Kansas City Star” and more. It doesn’t matter, I guess. Miller is long gone, having died in 1992.