Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

Saturday Single No. 169

July 6, 2022

Originally posted January 2, 2010

Holidays tend to disrupt my internal clock. We spent yesterday doing very little: The Texas Gal read and worked on a quilt for a few hours; I read, played a little bit of tabletop baseball, puttered around with some mp3s and watched a fair amount of college football.

It was a Friday, yesterday was, but it felt like a Saturday. So when I got up this morning, I looked forward for an instant to a nice plate of bacon, our Sunday tradition. Then I realized that, damn, it’s Saturday, and I’ll have to wait another twenty-four hours for bacon. And I also realized that I’d put even less thought than usual into what I was going to do for a Saturday Single.

But that’s okay. Improvisation is good for the soul. Let’s take today’s date – 1/2 – and convert it into a 12. And then we’ll sort some 42,000 mp3s by running time, go to the middle of the pack and then go random twelve times from there. (I’ll use my usual framework when we get to No. 12: Nothing from before 1950, nothing after 1999, and nothing that will go into the Ultimate Jukebox. I generally exclude the very odd things I tend to collect, but not today. I’m feeling edgy.)

First up is “Mercury Blues” by the Steve Miller Band, a chugging 1968 track that was included in the soundtrack to a film called Revolution. Two other bands contributed to the soundtrack as well – Quicksilver Messenger Service and Mother Earth – and while dissing the soundtrack slightly, All-Music Guide notes: “[I]t is really difficult to knock an album that includes liner notes beginning with the following advice to the reader: ‘Next time you use the word revolution, you’d better include in your concept a beautiful blonde who went to San Francisco and illegally changed her name from Louise to Today.’”

From there we go to “Love Lament,” a traditional song of the Nez Perce Indians, who made their homes across the Pacific Northwest of the United States before being confined to a reservation in Idaho in the latter years of the Nineteenth Century. The song, performed by Len Weaskus, was included on a CD titled Lewis & Clark: Sounds of Discovery, which recreated the sounds – man-made and natural – that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their companions heard during their travels through the American wilderness during the years 1804-1806.

Next comes “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” by Barbra Streisand, which turns out to be a delicate and somewhat moody ballad from Streisand’s generally enjoyable 1971 album Stoney End. I’ve no doubt heard it before, but I might not have ever really listened to it, and there is a difference.

The Strawbs are one of my favorite Brit-folk groups, a group that began as a bluegrass band but which grew into a band with a broad understanding of folk descended from British traditions. That makes the Strawbs’ music more interesting than that recorded by those groups who hewed closer to the original sounds and instrumentation of British folk. The fourth song on this morning’s trek is “The Battle,” an epic story song from the Strawbs’ 1969 self-titled album.

From there, we dip into my supply of soundtracks for “A King Reborn,” written by Trevor Morris for the second season of The Tudors. And on we go for our sixth stop.

Wikipedia tells us that Old and In The Way “was a bluegrass supergroup in the 1970s.” Its members were Jerry Garcia, Dave Grisman, Peter Rowan, Richard Greene, Vassar Clements and John Kahn, with fiddler John Hartford filling in at times. The track we’ve found is the Rolling Stones’ tune “Wild Horses,” which was included on Old and In The Way’s self-titled album. Wikipedia says the album was released in 1975, while All-Music Guide says 1973. I’ve got the mp3s tagged with 1974, which I must have seen somewhere. I’ll maybe check out the discrepancy this week.

It only takes one or two notes of a song to recognize Bonnie Raitt’s voice. Her “Cool, Clear Water” from 1994’s Longing In Their Hearts is our seventh tune this morning, reminding me that I need to put the CD in the pile of things I plan to listen to in their entirety late at night. Raitt’s self-titled debut album from 1972 and her 1973 album Takin’ My Time are already in that pile.

Number Eight is “Rostemul” by the group Romashka from a 2005 CD entitled Gypsy Muzica for Dancing & Dreaming. I’ve recently found several blogs that focus on Eastern European folk music of all types. The stuff from Romashka is just okay, but I quite like the Latvian folk songs I found at one of the blogs.

The TV game show Name That Tune used to have a feature called “Bid A Note,” which had the host reading a clue about a song and the contestants bidding for the opportunity to name the tune in as few notes as possible. Even without a clue, I recognize Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello” at the first sound. The song was the flip side of the “Tangled Up In Blue” single, and during the autumn of 1975, I used to play it at least twice a week on the jukebox in the snack bar at St. Cloud State. Does “Even without a clue” mean I’m clueless? I have been at times.

Tenth is “Cocaine,” Eric Clapton’s 1980 cover of J.J. Cale’s subtle song about the perils of the drug. According to Wikipedia, Clapton once noted: “It’s no good to write a deliberate anti-drug song and hope that it will catch. Because the general thing is that people will be upset by that. It would disturb them to have someone else shoving something down their throat. So the best thing to do is offer something that seems ambiguous – that on study or on reflection actually can be seen to be ‘anti’ – which the song ‘Cocaine’ is actually an anti-cocaine song. If you study it or look at it with a little bit of thought… from a distance… or as it goes by… it just sounds like a song about cocaine. But actually, it is quite cleverly anti-cocaine.”

From there we find Brit singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine and his heartbreaking “Please Don’t Ask Me To Dance” from his 1999 CD Thanksgiving. I’ve not kept up with Hewerdine’s career for a few years, which is an error that I will soon correct.

And that brings us to our twelfth song of the morning:

It comes from Donovan’s 1970 album Open Road. The album was an interesting outing for the sometimes twee singer-songwriter, according to AMG: “Although it was a disappointing seller and signaled the start of Donovan’s commercial decline, Open Road could have been a new beginning for the singer. Stripping down to a Celtic rock format that managed to be hard and direct, yet still folkish, Donovan turned out a series of excellent songs, notably the minor hit ‘Riki Tiki Tavi,’ that seemed to show him moving toward a roots-oriented sound of considerable appeal. Unfortunately, he was derailed by record company hassles and perhaps his own burnout, and Open Road turned out to be a sidestep rather than a step forward.”

It’s not an album I know well, but that can be remedied. And that can start now, with today’s Saturday Single:

“Curry Land” by Donovan from Open Road [1970]

Defaulting To Random

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 16, 2009

Today’s post was going to be a look at December 1971. Not that I had any great tale to tell, but I’d recalled a brief anecdote onto which to hang a musical hat.

And the chart – from December 18, 1971 – looked good. I was particularly happy with the presence of “You Are Everything” by the Stylistics and “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” by the Temptations. I pulled the vinyl anthologies for both groups and got to work. Regrettably, both pieces of vinyl have skips. At least, I think so. I’m certain the Stylistics track does. Then there’s an odd rhythm at the beginning of the Temptations piece, and I think it’s a skip. I need to dig a little further.

But messing around with those two rips – the two tracks would have been great to share – has taxed my patience, and the brief tale I’m going to resurrect from the last month of 1971 will have to wait. I’m just going to cue up the third track I’d already selected from that week in December 1971 and go more or less random from there. By “more or less,” I mean that there’ll be nothing pre-1950, nothing post-1999, nothing I recall sharing recently, and nothing that might yet end up in the listing for my Ultimate Jukebox.

An update on that project, since it came up: It was relatively easy to find enough records to consider. It’s become quite difficult to pare them down to two hundred. The list right now numbers two hundred and thirty-five, and I hope to get down to two hundred within a week.

A Mostly Random Six-Pack
“So Many People” by Chase, Epic 10806 [1971]
“Maxwell Street Shuffle” by Barry Goldberg from Two Blues Jews [1969]
“Hobo Jungle” by The Band from Northern Lights/Southern Cross [1975]
“Sisters of Mercy” by Judy Collins from Wildflowers [1967]
“In The Light Of Day” by Steve Winwood from Refugees of the Heart [1990]
“Weather With You” by Crowded House from Woodface [1991]

Listening to it today, I’m startled that “So Many People” was essentially unsuccessful. Chase’s “Get It On” went to No. 24 during the summer of 1971, but “So Many People” peaked at No. 81 during the first week of 1972 and then took a week or so to tumble out of sight. And that’s too bad, because from here and now, it was a great horn-band single. But maybe the era of the horn band was ending. A note: I once was silly enough to write that Chase was a group without a guitar player because the review I was looking at mentioned everyone in the group but the lead guitarist. Of course, the group had a guitar player. On this track, it’s Angel South. Others here are Bill Chase, Ted Piercefield, Alan Ware and Jerry Van Blair on trumpets; Phil Porter on organ, Dennis Johnson on bass, Jay Burrid on drums and G.G. Shinn on vocals.

As All-Music Guide notes, Barry Goldberg “was a regular fixture in the white blues firmament of the mid-’60s that seemed to stretch from Chicago to New York.” His name popped up in album credits everywhere, as he played with Harvey Mandel, Mother Earth, the Electric Flag, Jimmy Witherspoon, B.J. Thomas, Maggie Bell, Stephen Stills, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and many more. Two Jews Blues was his own album, and it comes off pretty well, given that he got a lot of his friends to show up and help out. I’m not sure who does the guitar solo on “Maxwell Street Shuffle,” but the guitarists credited at AMG are Mandel, Bloomfield, Duane Allman and Eddie Hinton. (It’s not Allman, according to a Duane Allman discography that’s pretty reliable; the site says that Allman played on one track on the album, “Twice A Man.”)

As much as I love The Band, I’ve never quite figured out how I feel about the album Northern Lights/Southern Cross. Two of the songs on the album – “Acadian Driftwood” and “It Makes No Difference” – are among the group’s best and are so good that the rest of the album seems somehow wanting when taken as a unit. But when other tracks pop up individually – as “Hobo Jungle” did today – they seem better than I remember them being. Which might put The Band in a rare category as a group whose own lesser work still shines when placed next to the best work of a lot of other performers.

I wrote the other week about the albums my sister owned when she was in college, the albums she took with her when she left home. Judy Collins’ Wildflowers was one of them. Collins’ cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” is one of the most evocative tracks on the record; hearing it puts me back into late 1971, the period of time I was going to write about today. It’s evening, and I’m in the rec room in the basement, maybe playing tabletop hockey with Rick and Rob, maybe reading, maybe talking quietly with my first college girlfriend. Collins’ soprano and Cohen’s lyric – enigmatic as it may be – blended so well that “Sisters of Mercy” became one of the songs that made that rec room my refuge.

“In The Light Of Day” was the closing track to Steve Winwood’s Refugees of the Heart, an album that hasn’t been too well-respected over the years: AMG’s William Ruhlmann says, “The key to Steve Winwood’s solo career is inconsistency; Refugees of the Heart was a letdown. The distinction between a great Winwood album and one that’s only okay is dangerously small – it has more to do with performance than composition . . .” I admit to not being blown away when I got the album in 1990 and then again when I found the CD in a budget bin two years ago. But this morning “In The Light Of Day” – essentially a lengthy, grooved prayer – seemed pretty good. The saxophone solo is by Randall Bramblett.

“Weather With You” is one of my favorite Crowded House tunes, but then, CH was a group that rarely did anything I truly dislike. During their heyday – the late 1980s and early 1990s – I heard and read the term “Beatlesque” applied to the New Zealanders so often that it became a cliché instead of meaningful commentary. But “Weather With You” is bright, concise, melodic and infectious, and those are virtues no matter who you’re being compared to.

Quiet Time In ’89

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 29, 2009

The autumn of 1989 – twenty years ago – was a quiet one. I’d landed in Anoka, Minnesota, a town about twenty miles north of Minneapolis, after my two mostly unhappy years on the North Dakota prairie. I wasn’t in Anoka long, just a little more than ten months, but it was a good place to recharge my batteries and decide in which direction to go next.

I did a little bit of teaching at a nearby community college and spent half of my time working for a newspaper chain, reporting for a paper that covered the small towns of Champlin and Dayton. (Champlin has grown into a good-sized suburb in the twenty years since; Dayton is far more rural and has grown, too, but not as rapidly.) After one quarter of teaching, I left the community college and worked full-time for the newspaper chain, reporting and taking care of special projects.

It was a pleasant, undemanding time, which was exactly what I needed. Those months were made more pleasant by weekly visits from a lady friend from St. Cloud, who would stop by on Wednesdays for dinner on her way to teach a course at the same community college. I’m a pretty decent cook, and Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week during that time, what with the regular visits to the butcher shop and the bakery and the chance to cook for someone other than myself. We generally had chicken or fish although I do recall trying my wild rice and turkey curry – a favorite of mine – for the first time. Those weekly dinners were among the highlights of my life in Anoka.

We always had music playing, sometimes the radio but usually records on the stereo, and here are a few tracks from that year, some of which we might actually have heard while eating dinner.

A Mostly Random Six-Pack from 1989
“Texas” by Chris Rea from The Road to Hell
“Where’ve You Been” by Kathy Mattea, Mercury 876262
“Vanessa” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo In Me
“Have A Heart” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time
“No One” by the BoDeans from Home
“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from The Indigo Girls

“Texas” is a moody piece from a moodier album. I recall hearing “Texas” when the album was released; it got a lot of play on Cities 97, which was my radio station of choice during my months in Anoka. The Road to Hell and another Rea album from about the same era, 1991’s Auberge, remain among my favorites.

“Where’ve You Been,” a story song about soulmates, was pulled from Mattea’s Willow in the Wind album. I very well could have heard it on Cities 97, but I’m not sure. I wasn’t listening to a lot of country radio at the time, though, so that’s not the answer. I do know I heard it frequently during my months in Anoka, as the story resonated with me. And it’s a beautiful song: The next year, it won Don Henry and Jon Vezner a Grammy for Best Country Song, and Mattea walked away with a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

I know I never heard Alex Taylor during those dinners in the autumn of 1989, because his work was something I didn’t discover until years after it was recorded and years after he died in 1993. “Vanessa” is a fine piece of bluesy rock, as was the entire Voodoo in Me album, which turned out to be Taylor’s fifth and last released album. Taylor, whose siblings were James, Livingston and Kate, also recorded and released With Friends & Neighbors (1971), Dinnertime (1972), Third for Music (1974) and Dancing With the Devil (1989). I’ve heard them all but Third for Music. Anyone out there got a line on it?

The story of Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time is one of the great tales: A failed album in 1986 (Nine Lives), followed by work with producer Don Was, leading to a handful of Grammys, including the award for Album of the Year. As to “Have a Heart,” as a single, it went to No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart and to No. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The little note that pops up on the RealPlayer whenever I hear a tune by the BoDeans says, “The very definition of heartland music, the BoDeans’ rootsy pop rock is a cross between the Replacements and Tom Petty.” I suppose that’s not a bad description, but like most capsule characterizations, it skips the subtleties entirely. You actually have to listen to the music for those, and although I didn’t listen much back then, I do now, and like the work of the boys from Waukesha, Wisconsin, pretty well.

I’ve told the tale before, in another venue: I was sitting in a restaurant in Edina, Minnesota, during the late summer of 1989 when I heard a pair of young women in the next booth discussing the best new group they’d heard in a long time: The Indigo Girls. I jotted a note to myself, finished my lunch and then drove to a nearby record store and bought The Indigo Girls on LP. For twenty years, ever since the moment I heard the opening strains of “Closer to Fine,” the Indigo Girls have been among my favorite performers and The Indigo Girls has been one of my favorite albums.

Six At Random

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 7, 2009

Well, it’s time to open up the RealPlayer, flip the switch on the randomizer and see what we get for a Wednesday morning Six-Pack pulled from the years 1950-1999. (As is my usual practice, I’ll ignore songs that have been shared here recently. And for today, I’ll also ignore utter obscurities.)

A Mostly Random Six-Pack from 1950-1999
“Sway” by Alvin Youngblood Hart from Paint It, Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones [1997]
“Wrapped Around” by the Cates Gang from Come Back Home [1973]
“Where Have You Been” by Astrud Gilberto from Now [1972]
“Take It Or Leave It” by Foghat from Fool for the City [1974]
“Hospitals” by Pollution from Pollution II [1972]
“Lady Samantha” by Three Dog Night from Suitable For Framing [1969]

In the late 1990s, the House of Blues restaurant and entertainment chain issued at least three CDs with a simple concept: Have blues artists interpret the songs of major rock performers and songwriters. Paint It, Blue seems to have been the first of them; the two other House of Blues recordings that I have cover the songs of Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, and both date from 1999. I know there are other CDs with the same idea; I’ve seen one for the Beatles’ White Album, but I don’t know if that’s from the House of Blues or from another organization/label. And it seems as if determining the label for these can be somewhat confusing; the fine print on the Paint It, Blue CD case mentions Platinum Entertainment and Polygram Group Distribution, but at All-Music Guide, the labels mentioned are A&M and Ruf.

Lineage and ownership confusion aside, the three CDs I have are very good, and Paint It, Blue is likely the best of the three: Alvin Youngblood Hart and his versions of “Sway” and “Moonlight Mile” sit side-by-side with work from Luther Allison, Johnny Copeland, Junior Wells, Otis Clay, Taj Mahal, Gatemouth Brown and more. In the liner notes, Hart says, “I was a Stones fan during the Mick Taylor era (1969-76). Not to say I’m stuck on Mick Taylor, but the band as a whole was really cooking from Let It Bleed on. And, I used to do ‘Sway’ in a garage band. That’s how we approached it.”

I’ve written about my enjoyment of the Cate Brothers and I’ve shared a couple albums before; the Cates Gang recording here comes from work the brothers did before dropping the “s” and calling themselves simply brothers. This track is from the second of two albums released as the Cates Gang, and like the music that came later, it owes a lot to southern soul and R&B, with a touch of southern rock and – I think – the Everly Brothers stirred into the recipe. I found both Come Back Home and an earlier Cates Gang recording, Wanted, at the excellent blog Skydog’s Elysium.

Part of the attraction of the original version of “The Girl From Ipanema” was the unaffected vocal by Astrud Gilberto, who was either singing professionally for the first time or singing in English for the first time. (I’ve read the story both ways, but I lean toward the first.) The slight tone and the occasional uncertain shadings of pitch enticed one into the Stan Getz/João Gilberto performance. After that debut, Astrud Gilberto made good career out of the breathy vocals and slight tone, but nothing I’ve heard – and I’ve listened to a good portion of her catalog though not all of it – replicates the charm of her first performance. That’s not to say that Astrud Gilberto’s work – the most recent of her eighteen albums listed at AMG was released in 2002 – isn’t enjoyable. It’s just that I find her work – like that of many artists – more suited to hearing in random single doses than in a sustained presence. Of the albums of hers that I have heard, Now ranks pretty well, and “Where Have You Been” was one of four songs on the album that Gilberto penned herself.

Fool for the City was Foghat’s breakthrough album, with the band’s hard-rocking (for the times) boogie bringing home the group’s first Top 40 hit. (“Slow Ride” went to No. 20 in 1976.) Which makes “Take It Or Leave It,” the album’s closer, an enigma. I know it got some radio play (a hunch of mine confirmed by AMG), but until the closing vocal yelps, the song sounds more like something from Pablo Cruise or the Little River Band – both of which were still two or three years away – than something from Foghat. That’s not a slam at “Take It Or Leave It,” which I quite like, or at Pablo Cruise or the Little River Band, both of which I enjoy in measured amounts. It’s just a comment on cognitive dissonance caused by Foghat’s odd stylistic choice.

Beyond the fact that I enjoy the music, anything I know about the group Pollution comes from another great blog Play It Again, Max. One thing I did note, after reading Max’s comments about the band and digging a little further, is that among the players credited on both Pollution and Pollution II was Terry Furlong on guitar. Furlong is better known perhaps for his work with the Grass Roots, but he’s recognized in these precincts as a member of Blue Rose, a group for which I have some affection, based on my all-too-brief acquaintance with bass and guitar player Dave Thomson.

“Lady Samantha” is an album track from Three Dog Night’s second album, Suitable For Framing, a record that went to No. 16 on the album chart and threw off three Top 40 singles: “Easy To Be Hard,” “Eli’s Coming” and “Celebrate.” The intriguing thing about the song “Lady Samantha” is that it was an early piece of work by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, with John’s version released as a single in the U.K., says Wikipedia, six months before the release of John’s first album, Empty Sky. (John’s version of the song was also released twice as a single in the U.S., but failed to chart both times, Wikipedia adds, noting that the recording surfaced as a bonus track on a 1995 CD release of Empty Sky.) AMG says – if I read an amazingly awkward sentence correctly – that “Lady Samantha” was a hit for Three Dog Night, but the record is not listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, so I suspect an error. It might have been a good single although the three hits that came from Suitable For Framing were pretty darn good themselves.

The Joy of Yellow Pea Soup

May 27, 2022

Originally posted September 30, 2009

During my childhood and youth, one thing that was sure to bring a smile when I came home from a hard day at school was seeing the pressure cooker on the stove. While that might mean vegetable soup – which was a fine meal itself – more often than not the sight of the pressure cooker mean that we were having yellow pea soup for supper. (For folks like my parents and their forbears out on the farms, “supper” was the evening meal; “dinner” was what you had at noon and “lunch” was a snack at mid-afternoon.)

I loved pea soup, and in our house, it was always made with whole yellow peas, just as it had been by generations of my Swedish ancestors in Minnesota and in the Swedish province of Småland for years before that. It’s a simple dish – a large pot of yellow peas, an onion and some pork hocks – cooked for hours and then enjoyed for days, with the soup becoming thicker and thicker each day. The only other thing on our table on those evenings was saltine crackers, though I imagine my ancestors likely had brown bread of some sort.

For years after I left home, Mom and Dad made the occasional large kettle of pea soup, freezing much of it for later meals. During the time I lived away from St. Cloud, nearly every visit to Kilian Boulevard would end with Dad pulling containers of food out of the freezer for me to take home, and several of those containers would hold a good-sized serving of pea soup. I’d ration them carefully, trying to make them last until close to my next trip to St. Cloud. In their later years together, Dad did most of the cooking. He passed on six years ago, and since then, Mom’s moved into an assisted living center and doesn’t do much cooking at all. So there’s been no home-made pea soup for me or for Mom for at least six years.

On occasion, I’ve made soup with split peas, but it just wasn’t the same. I’ve intended for a while to try my hand at the real thing, so for some time, there’s been a pound of whole yellow peas in our pantry, waiting for me to get organized. I did so about ten days ago, first soaking the peas overnight and pouring off that water. Then I sliced a large onion and cut the slices into eighths. I took a pound of ham and cut it into cubes that were roughly a third of an inch square. (I prefer the flavor of pork hocks, but they’re quite fatty, so I deferred to a healthier choice.) I put the peas, the ham and the onion in a five-and-a-half quart crockpot, filled the pot with water and added two teaspoons of celery seed, and then set it to cook on “high” for about six hours.

It turned out pretty well. The Texas Gal and I had a meal from the pot, and there was still more than enough left to provide lunches for me for a few days. As good as those meals were, however, there were two things that I enjoyed above all: First, I’d forgotten how pleasing it is to walk into a kitchen filled with the aroma of cooking pea soup. And second, after years of getting my home-made pea soup from Mom, I set aside a container of soup for her and was finally able to return the favor.

And here are a few songs from one of the years when the aroma of pea soup in the kitchen would have brightened the end of a rough junior high day:

A Random Six-Pack from 1966
“Somebody To Love” by The Great! Society, recorded live in San Francisco.
“Ribbon of Darkness” by Pozo-Seco Singers from I Can Make It With You.
“Where Were You When I Needed You” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4029.
“Down In The Alley” by Elvis Presley from the soundtrack to Spinout.
“At The River’s Edge” by the New Colony Six, Centaur 1202.
“Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow?” by the Rolling Stones, London 903

Bonus Track
“Who’s Driving My Plane” by the Rolling Stones, London 903

The Great! Society was the band Grace Slick was in before she joined the Jefferson Airplane, and it was during her time with the Great! Society that she penned her two most famous songs, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” According to the notes from the Love Is The Song We Sing collection, the Great! Society released a 45 version of “Somebody To Love” on the Northbeach label in 1966, but it got little attention. The version offered here is a live performance during the summer of 1966 at the Matrix club in San Francisco’s Marina district. After Slick moved to the Airplane and she and her two best songs became famous in 1967, Columbia Records released the Great! Society album, Only In Its Absence, and included the live performance of “Somebody To Love.”

The Pozo-Seco Singers were a trio that came out of Texas and had a couple of Top 40 hits in the mid-1960s. (“I Can Make It With You” went to No. 32 in 1966, and “Look What You’ve Done” went to No. 32 as well in 1967.) Better known, perhaps, for being a starting place for country singer and songwriter Don Williams (“I Believe In You” was a No. 1 hit on the country charts in 1980) than for anything else, the Pozo-Seco Singers – Lofton Kline and Susan Taylor being the other two members – nevertheless are worth a listen for finding a middle ground in the folk/folk-pop spectrum that was evolving in the mid-1960s. As All-Music Guide notes, the Pozo-Seco Singers were “[n]ot as hip as Ian & Sylvia or Peter, Paul & Mary,” but “not as blatantly commercial as, say, the Seekers.” That’s not a bad place to find yourself as a musical group, and I’ve often wondered why the Pozo-Seco Singers didn’t have more success as they did.

There’s nothing too mysterious about the Grass Roots: Fourteen Top 40 hits between 1966 and 1972, starting with today’s choice, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which went to No. 28 during the summer of 1966. Nevertheless, the group was – and remains – kind of faceless; and the group’s history frustrates anyone trying to sort out the discography, as there were – according to AMG – “at least three different groups involved in the making of the songs” credited to the Grass Roots. AMG continues:

The Grass Roots was originated by the writer/producer team of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri as a pseudonym under which they would release a body of Byrds/Beau Brummels-style folk-rock. Sloan and Barri were contracted songwriters for Trousdale Music, the publishing arm of Dunhill Records, which wanted to cash in on the folk-rock boom of 1965. Dunhill asked Sloan and Barri to come up with this material, and a group alias under which they would release it. The resulting “Grass Roots” debut song, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” sung by Sloan, was sent to a Los Angeles radio station, which began playing it.

After that, Sloan and Barri went out to find a group that could be the Grass Roots and go on tour, and – with several groups playing the part of the band – the hits kept happening for about six years.

I always kind of liked the Grass Roots’ singles, and it didn’t matter to me, really, who was in the studio on the other end. The songs were good radio pop-rock, and some days, that’s more than good enough.

I may have posted Elvis Presley’s version of “Down In The Alley” before, but it’s good enough to get an encore. The song was originally an R&B tune written by Jesse Stone and the Clovers and released in 1956, and Presley – during a time when his recordings missed the mark as frequently as they hit it – found the groove in the song. I don’t have enough Elvis information in my library to find out, but I’d sure like to know who’s backing Elvis here.

One evening in Denmark, a bunch of us were trading music trivia back and forth. A fellow known as Banger asked me to name the two hits by the New Colony Six. I’d never heard of the group, so I just shrugged my shoulders. Turns out the group was from the Chicago area – and reached the Top 40 twice: “I Will Always Think About You” went to No. 22 in the spring of 1968, and “Things I’d Like To Say” reached No. 16 in the late winter and early spring of 1969. I’m not sure how much airplay either of the two records got in the Twin Cities; when I finally heard the records years later, they weren’t at all familiar. In any case, what I’m offering today is the third recording in my collection by the New Colony Six, “At The River’s Edge,” released on Centaur before the group was signed by Mercury. I like it better than I like the other two: It’s got much more of a garage band feel to it, while the two hits – though nice – are a little too buffed and polished.

“Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?” might be the loudest record the Rolling Stones ever made. When I ripped the 45 this morning – an earlier rip I offered here was one of the first rips from vinyl I ever made and had, to my ears, some flaws – it red-lined for nearly the entire song. I backed that off a bit, but still, the single has a loud and thick sound. This was the first Rolling Stones record I ever owned, but it’s not like I was savvy enough in 1966 to go out and get it: I got the record from Leo Rau, the guy across the alley who owned a series of jukeboxes in St. Cloud. As an extra, because I don’t see it around very often, I’m offering the flip side, “Who’s Driving My Plane,” as a bonus track.

Eight Mostly At Random

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 29, 2009

Like a runaway steamroller that no one wants to challenge – or perhaps more aptly, like the dancing brooms in Fantasia that the apprenticed Mickey Mouse had no idea how to stop – the number of mp3s in the hard drive charged past the 39,000 mark last week, settling last night on 39,156.

So, in the absence of anything more compelling to write about today, I thought I’d take a eight-track walk, mostly random, through the 1960s and 1970s this morning, just to see what we get to listen to. (In this case, “mostly random” means we’ll start off random and I’ll go along with the findings except in the cases of tunes that are less than 1:30 long, that we’ve shared here in the last year, that repeat performers, or that I judge just a little too odd.)

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Mississippi Fred McDowell from Shake ’Em On Down, recorded live in New York City, May 11, 1971. The fascinating thing about McDowell, who often gets lumped in with the blues folks who were “rediscovered” during the 1960s and 1970s, was that he never recorded during the first heyday of the country blues back in the 1920s and 1930s. So when blues hunters – I’ve mentioned it before, but you really could do a lot worse than reading Gayle Dean Wardlow’s Chasin’ That Devil Music to find out what it was like to be a blues hunter – when blues hunters found Fred McDowell on his farm in the 1960s, they found a slide guitar artist who was entirely new to the wider, national audience. While the live performances on Shake ’Em On Down are good, I think McDowell’s 1969 album “I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll” (recorded in Jackson, Mississippi) is his best collection.

“Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals, Philles 112, 1963. As I wrote almost two years ago: “The Crystals, of course, were one of the girl groups produced by Phil Spector. While ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ is not Spector’s masterpiece – I think that title goes to the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ – it’s still a propulsive, fun and highly charged piece of music. And, as almost always with a Spector production, that’s Hal Blaine on the drums.” And as time slides past, I like the saxophone solo – Steve Douglas, I think – more and more each year.

“Thing In ‘E’” by the Savage Resurrection, Mercury 72778 (1968 release), recorded in Hollywood, 1967. The Savage Resurrection came out of the garage rock scene in California’s East Bay, according to the box set Love Is The Song We Sing. After a stint at San Pablo’s Maple Hall, the five-man band was signed by Mercury and recorded what the box set calls “a strong, punkified, psychedelic rock ’n’ roll album.” But the notes go on to say that the band broke up under the pressure of promoting the album on a cross-country tour. “Thing In ‘E’” was the single pulled from the LP.

“In the Long Run” by Curtis Blandon, Wand 11241, 1971. Blandon, notes All-Music Guide, was born and raised in Alabama, leaving the south in the early 1960s to make music in New York City. After a few years of scuffling, Blandon went into the military for two years, after which came a few more years of scuffling from label to label. Eventually, says AMG, Blandon signed with Wand and went to Chicago for some recording sessions produced by Gene Chandler. “In The Long Run” was a product of those sessions and received some local regard but failed to take off nationally. (AMG says those sessions began in 1972, but I’ve seen several other sources that put a date of 1971 on the record, so there’s an error somewhere. I’m leaving it tagged as 1971.) AMG calls it “[a] buoyant, up-tempo soul tune notable for its regal brass arrangement and Blandon’s searing vocals.” I found the track on a British anthology called Deep Beats: Essential 60’s Northern Soul, Vol. 2, sitting sealed in the cheap seats at the Electric Fetus here in St. Cloud.

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni 55265 (from Elton John), 1970. Just the first few notes of the opening riff of “Your Song” is enough to put me back in the multi-purpose room at St. Cloud Tech, the one-time cold lunch room where the authorities installed a jukebox in the autumn of 1970, just as my senior year began. (It was, as I’ve written before, a decision that I think those authorities regretted very soon.) For me, Elton John’s first hit single – with all the romantic notions one could want supplied by Bernie Taupin’s occasionally awkward lyric – is indelibly tied to the memory of a cute sophomore with short blonde hair. While my efforts, alas, did not succeed in turning the young lady’s head, Elton’s single spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 8, and opening the floodgates: Through 1999, Elton John had fifty-eight more Top 40 hits, twenty-seven of them in the Top 10, with nine of them going to No. 1. (This is the version from the Elton John album, which may differ considerably from the single.)

“Santa Claus Retreat” by Hot Tuna from Hoppkorv, 1976. Hot Tuna was the rootsy offshoot from Jefferson Airplane crafted by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady that eventually became a full-time project, touring and releasing albums regularly into the 1990s (with archival and occasional new live releases since then). Hoppkorv, says AMG, marked a shift in the band’s approach, with more covers of vintage material – tunes by Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry – and fewer of Kaukonen’s originals. “Santa Claus Retreat,” however, is one of Kaukonen’s originals, a growling effort that fits without straining into the mid-1970s rock aesthetic.

“Over You” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Columbia 44644, 1968. I’ve always thought that this record is the one amazing anomaly in the Top 40 career of Puckett, who had six Top 40 hits – five of them in the Top 10 – in the less than two years between December 1967 and September 1969. On “Over You,” which rose to No. 7, Puckett shows some vocal finesse. Now, I love the hits “Woman, Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” “Young Girl” and “This Girl Is A Woman Now,” but I think we can all agree that if there were a career achievement award for the best cluster of four leather-lunged performances by a single artist, those four records would win Puckett the title. They’re great radio hits, but they are utterly unsubtle. (And then there’s the creepiness of “Young Girl” by today’s standards, but I’m not sure it’s fair to apply current attitudes to vintage material.) “Over You,” however, has moments when Puckett seems almost thoughtful in his reading of the lyric. The record spent ten weeks in the Top 40 during the autumn of 1968, peaking at No. 7.

“Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain from Mountain Live – The Road Goes Ever On, 1972. In the autumn of 1972, I was still bewildered by the immense variety of music I was going to have to learn about if I ever wanted to be as well-informed about rock and all its relatives as were the folks around the campus radio station. So when my folks let me order five or six LPs from our record club as a birthday present, I stretched out a bit. One of the records I ordered – and I’m not sure why I chose it – was Mountain’s live album. I wasn’t too impressed with the three selections on the first side – “Long Red,” “Waiting To Take You Away” and “Crossroader” – but I found myself falling deeply into the seventeen-minute version of “Nantucket Sleighride,” the title tune from the group’s second album a year earlier. Over the years, as I’ve gone back to the track – on vinyl and now on CD and mp3 – I wonder now and then if I’ll find myself tired of it, but I always enjoy it. (And I guess, as I look at the record jacket this morning, that the Tolkienish drawing and the Elvish runes on the album cover certainly piqued my interest in the album back in 1972.)

One Random Shot

January 19, 2022

For a quick visit this morning – the Texas Gal and I have errands to do and I have things to get to before that – I’m going to look for one track from iTunes. I’m going to sort the tracks by length, set the cursor at the shortest track – Al Shaver, long-time play-by-play guy for the long-gone Minnesota North Stars calling out “He shoots! He scores!” in one second – and click ten times.

We’ll see what we get.

We wander through some Beatles – “Cry, Baby, Cry” and “She Said, She Said” – and some Bread: “Baby, I’m-A Want You.” We get K.C. & The Sunshine Band (“That’s The Way I Like It”) and Eric Bibb (“Diamond Days”). And I click too fast to catch some of them.

But we end up on “South Street” by the Orlons from 1963. From Philadelphia, the group had a pretty good run for about a year in 1962-63 and then hung in there for a couple more years with declining success.

“South Street” was one of their big ones, coming out in early 1963 and going to No. 3 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the magazine’s R&B chart. The summer before, “The Wah-Watusi” did a little better on the pop chart, getting to No. 2, but it only got to No. 5 on the R&B chart, so it’s hard to say which of the Orlons’ hits was their biggest.

I’d go with “South Street,” if only because, for years, I mis-heard the first line. The line actually goes “Where do all the hippest meet?” But for a long, long time, ending today, I thought the Orlons were popping through a crease in the time/space continuum and singing about hippies.

The Tale Of Years (Again)

August 10, 2021

Wasting time on Facebook yesterday, I came across one of those memes with a question, essentially asking which portion of one’s life had the best music. The choices were split between school segments – junior high school, high school, college and so on – and then ages in adulthood.

Not being one to follow instructions well, I answered with a span of years – 1969-73 – noting that those years held my last two years of high school and my first two years of college. Nothing remarkable there. I’ve written many times before of my sweet spot, which is generally those same years and sometimes extends another couple of years further to 1975.

And those are the same years to which I pay the most attention here, as shown by the number of posts tagged with those years. Here are the current numbers starting in 1966 and going through 1977, a span of twelve years that took me from the age of twelve on January 1, 1966, to the age of twenty-four on December 31, 1977:

1966: 92
1967: 102
1968: 131
1969: 195
1970: 239
1971: 193
1972: 165
1973: 127
1974: 97
1975: 101
1976: 62
1977: 53

That’s about what I expected, and it’s a pattern that’s been holding true for the fourteen-plus years I’ve been offering stuff here. The only deviation from the classic bell curve is that I seem to like stuff from 1975 a little more than I do stuff from 1974. It’s a slight variation, and if it means anything at all, it might have to do with the fact that along with some of the best moments of my life, the year of 1974 also brought me some of the worst, whereas 1975 was – with only a few days set aside – one of the best years of my life.

I thought that at the time, but I was also aware that I had few adult years for comparison. I recall wondering as 1975 moved to its end how I would feel about it forty years hence; would it still be one of the best years of my life? Well, it’s been forty-five years, and yes, 1975 still stands out of one of the four or five best years of my life, with the others ranging from 1970 to 2018.

Anyway, we’ll end this somewhat pointless assessment by turning to iTunes and running randomly until we hit a track from 1975. (I could go to 1970, as that is the year about which I’ve written the most, but maybe we’ll do that later in the week.) It took a while, about thirty clicks, before we at last fall onto a 1975 record. It’s one we’ve featured here before, but that’s okay. It’s a good one. Here’s what I said about it eleven years ago when I included it in my Ultimate Jukebox:

I was sitting at The Table at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center in early 1976 when the 4 Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” came on the jukebox. My friend Stu shook his head. “Man,” he said, “what a great bass line. One of the best ever.” I took that judgment under advisement, and over the years, I’ve polished it to the point where I credit the 4 Seasons’ hit – it was No. 1 for three weeks – with having the best pop music bass line ever. And it is the bass line that moves the song along as it tells its tale of a one-night stand.

Here it is:

Saturday Single No. 745

July 17, 2021

So, what was I listening to forty-one years ago this week when I had the radio tuned to KDWB? Here’s the station’s Top Ten from the survey released on July 20, 1970:

“Band of Gold” by Freda Payne
“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night
“Question” by the Moody Blues
“Close To You” by the Carpenters
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton
“Ride Captain Ride” by the Blues Image
“Lay Down” by Melanie
“Teach Your Children” by CSN&Y
“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5
“Tighter, Tighter” by Alive & Kicking

As I look at those ten titles, I conclude that either that 1970 weekend or one of the two bracketing it was the weekend I spent at the Del-Tone Gun Club southeast of the city, working in the trap pits as the Minnesota State Trap Shoot ended its four-day run.

During the trap shoot, as I spent nine to ten hours of each day in the trap pits loading clay targets onto a whirring and scary machine, each of those ten records came and went numerous times on my old RCA radio perched near me on a table. So those records – and most of the rest of that week’s “6+30” survey from the station – are deeply embedded.

And eight of those – all but the singles from CSN&Y and the Jackson 5 – are in the iPod and thus are a part of my day-to-day listening. Why not those? Well, “Teach Your Children” carries with it some memories that were attached to it some years later, so that makes sense, but I have no idea why “The Love You Save” is excluded. I’ll likely add it this week.

The over-familiarity of those ten records makes it difficult to sort them out (and also means they’ve likely been mentioned and featured here more than once over the years). So we’re going to play Games With Numbers by taking today’s date of 7-17 and making that into 24 and then go see what No. 24 was on that long-ago KDWB survey.

And we find a listing for a record that, it seems, has never been mentioned in this space: “Baby Hold On” by the Grass Roots. I’ve written about the band only a little, most notably when lead singer Rob Grill died in 2011. And that’s a little surprising, given that I almost always liked the band’s stuff when it showed up on the radio during my Top 40 years.

I seem to have ignored “Baby Hold On” as well. There are ten tracks by the band in the iPod, but “Baby Hold On” is not one of them. That will be corrected soon. In the meantime, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Four At Random

July 15, 2021

Here are four for a Thursday. We’re going to let the computer do the work, drawing from the 2,900-some tracks I keep in iTunes for the iPod.

First up is the Bee Gee’s string-laden “To Love Somebody.” Released in June 1967, it was the second hit for the group to reach the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 17. (“New York Mining Disaster 1941,” released a couple months earlier, had reached No. 14.) What got to me when I first heard it a few years later was the harp in the intro, the feather-light vocals, and the light touch of the horns in a few places, all leading to the forceful “You don’t know what it’s like!”

And when the track plays, I still see the yellow cover of Best of Bee Gees, as that’s pretty much always been the source of the song for me. It actually came out on Bee Gees’ 1st, which was really the group’s third album but the first to be released internationally.

And that first time I heard the record – across the street at Rick’s, where a borrowed copy was residing for a few days – I thought the “No, no, no, no!” and the lush orchestration and the near wailing leading to the end of the record was all a bit overdone. But then I thought back to the previous school year and a certain violinist of my acquaintance and thought, “That’s about right.”

Then pop up the insistent horns announcing Chicago’s “Free,” a 1971 single from Chicago III. I recall it coming out of my radio in the early months of 1971 and not being overly impressed. (“Make Me Smile” was – and still is – my Chicago fave.) And then much later that year – after high school ended and college life began – I heard the track as part of the long “Travel Suite” from the album. And I liked it better in that setting.

But there was still something about the record that never quite felt right to me. It went to No. 20 in the Hot 100 – a disappointment, as three of the group’s four previous charting singles (“Make Me Smile,” “25 or 6 to 4,” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”) hit the Top Ten.

I wrote long ago about my love for Chicago’s early work at the time it came out and my perception that the group soon ran out of ideas and energy, becoming stale and not much fun to listen to. That happened during the mid-1970s by my reckoning, but as I think of “Free” and Chicago III this morning, I think the signs were beginning to show. Or maybe my admiration for the silver album – whether you call it Chicago or Chicago II – still overpowers anything else the band did.

Don’t get me wrong: I like “Free” and Chicago III, but as I ponder them this morning, they seem to be just on the wrong side of the divide from the group’s earlier work.

And we drop back to 1964 and an early version of a tune the Youngbloods would make famous five years later: “Get Together” as recorded by Hamilton Camp. With an austere guitar backing and a harmonica solo, Camp’s October 1964 performance, included on his Paths Of Victory album, fits into a folky aesthetic that was already being overtaken and would not emerge again until the rise of the singer-songwriter in the early 1970s.

Even as I write that, though, I think to myself that the arrangement would have fit very nicely on Bob Dylan’s 1967 album John  Wesley Harding. But then Dylan always creates a problem when one tries to categorize styles and slide those styles into any kind of chronological pattern.

Camp’s performance is nice enough, pleasant as background, but his thin voice and the subdued arrangement aren’t enough for the song. Maybe if Jesse Colin Young had never found the song, I’d find Camp’s version more compelling. But I wouldn’t want to make that trade.

Last up for the day – having skipped a couple, the first because it’s too new and I haven’t really listened much to it yet and the second because it was “25 or 6 to 4” – is Lefty Frizzell’s “She’s Gone Gone Gone” from 1965. One of Frizzell’s last hits, it went to No. 12 on the Billboard country chart. I don’t know when I first heard it, but it was decades later, and all I really need to say about it is that it’s classic country.