Archive for the ‘Saturday Single’ Category

Saturday Single No. 138

February 11, 2019

Last Saturday, we looked at the June log of record purchases up through 1989, when I was about to leave Minot, North Dakota, after two years. The following June found me living in a small town about thirty miles outside of Wichita, Kansas, which turned out to be a city that did have, I discovered, some good used record stores.

And there were lots of garage sales.

The haul in June 1990 included LPs by the Average White Band, Long John Baldry, Phil Collins, Eric Carmen, Burton Cummings, Neil Diamond, Leon & Mary Russell, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Vassar Clements, Edith Piaf, Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, Sandy Denny, the Dream Academy, Levon Helm and Roxy Music. There were also some compilations and a few soundtracks made up of pop rock performance (American Gigolo was one of them). The best of the haul was likely Helm’s American Son album, although Sandy Denny’s Like An Old Fashioned Waltz is a treat, too.

And there was one major purchase. While at a garage sale somewhere southwest of Wichita, I bought a small record cabinet for $10 and got as well the seven classical albums and a few other things that were in the cabinet. I don’t have a lot of classical – at least not in comparison to other genres – but this haul included some very nice stuff: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished), and a record that included orchestral versions of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances.

By the time of June 1991, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, for the second time, working on a project that would complete my master’s degree and having dinner a couple of times a week in a Lebanese restaurant. I was a little too busy interviewing folks and writing to do much bargain hunting. But I found records by Steve Winwood, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin and the genius of Chess Records, Willie Dixon. None of those finds really stand out, although the best of them is likely Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints.

I was still settling into my apartment on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis – where I would stay for seven years – when June rolled around in 1992. I hadn’t yet become a super-regular at Cheapo’s, just five blocks away, so I would guess the few albums I got that month came from garage sales. I found LPs by Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Phil Ochs, Joe South, the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, Don Henley, Little Feat, Van Morrison, the Platters and Bob Seger. I also found a copy in very good condition of a 1983 reissue of Phil Spector’s Christmas album from 1963. The best of the bunch? Probably Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken. Van Morrison’s Hard Nose the Highway was probably the least impressive.

Oddly enough, in June of 1993, I bought no records. I somewhat made up for that lapse the next year when I brought home eighteen LPs in June. The best? Probably Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room or Rick Nelson’s Garden Party. The worst? Either Bawdy Songs Goes To College by Oscar Brand & Dave Sear (1955), or Bawdy Barracks Ballads by the Four Sergeants (1958). (I’d forgotten about those two LPs until this morning; I may have to pull them out soon to see if they qualify for an extended Jukebox Trainwreck.)

No LPs in June 1995. A year later, ten albums came home, including work by Judy Collins, Mike Post, Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, John Denver, Foreigner and Blood, Sweat & Tears. To me, the best is an idiosyncratic choice of Denver’s Whose Garden Was This? while the least valuable was Riperton’s Love Lives Forever.

More than twenty LPs came home with me in June 1997. My favorites were the two Bobby Whitlock albums, his self-titled release and Raw Velvet, both from 1972. I also liked Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Peter Gabriel’s So. I regret spending even a little bit of money at a garage sale for three albums by Renaissance. By the next June, in 1998, I was deep into my routine of thrice-weekly visits to Cheapo’s, and I brought home forty-nine albums. The best of them? Easily the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono, but I have great affection as well for Stephen Stills’ Manassas, Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Richie Havens’ Mixed Bag and the live collection, The Fillmore: The Last Days. The least of them? Most likely Ronnie Spector’s Siren, Joe Cocker’s Civilized Man and a record of Russian folk by singer Channa Bucherskaia.

By June 1999, I was preparing to move further south in Minneapolis, but that didn’t stop my visits to Cheapo’s. I would just have to find more boxes for the move, as I brought home seventy-three LPs that month. The best were probably two self-titled albums, Tom Jans and The Wild Tchoupitoulas. Much of the month’s haul was a little obscure or at least items from deeper in groups’ and artists’ catalogs than I’d dug before. I was also looking for hits collections by groups and artists I’d ignored before, so the weakest album of the month was likely the greatest hits collection from the Classics IV. (I’m not sure that five records in the Top 40 are enough to make a hits collection viable; one of those hits – “What Am I Crying For?” – isn’t even included on the LP.)

And when I moved away from Cheapo’s (and not coincidentally got my first CD player about the same time), the pace of record buying diminished greatly. I bought five records in June 2000: LPs by Head East, Lou Ann Barton, Cris Williamson, Laura Nyro and Pablo Cruise. The Lou Ann Barton album, Forbidden Tones, is a 1980s mess, so the best of that bunch is likely Head East’s Flat As A Pancake (a favorite of the Texas Gal, whom I’d met earlier that year).

I hit a few garage sales and thrift stores in June 2001, as well as buying a few records online: I got Smith’s Minus-Plus and two Gayle McCormick solo albums for the Texas Gal, a couple of Frank Sinatra 1950s LPs, and some work by Aretha Franklin, Delbert McClinton, Tony Joe White, Mary Hopkin and Johnny Rivers. Nothing really stands out, though if I’m in the right mood, the Sinatras are nice. A year later, I bought a couple of boxes of records at garage sales and came home with twenty-six LPs. The best were likely Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key Of Life and Delaney & Bonnie’s Home. The least interesting were Today – My Way by Nancy Wilson and the Chad Mitchell Trio’s Typical American Boys.

Another box at a garage sale in June 2003 brought me records by Al Hirt, Al Martino, Doc Severinsen, the Stanley Brothers and a 1976 self-titled album by a lesbian duo called Jade & Sarsaparilla. I also got the Undisputed Truth’s self-titled 1971 debut, which was the best in the box. And my last June acquisitions came two years ago, with records by blues/folk artist Mike Auldridge, Neil Diamond, Spanky & Our Gang and – from my pal Mitch – an early album by Duane & Gregg Allman (on which Gregg’s name is misspelled).

Many of the albums mentioned here are records I’ve already shared. Of those I have not, my favorite is likely Sandy Denny’s 1973 album, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. So here’s Track Four, which turns out to be “Friends” today’s Saturday Single.

Advertisements

Saturday Single No. 137

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 20, 2009

Well, we’re a little past the mid-point of June and right on top of the summer solstice. The actual moment, I learned this morning, will come at 12:45 a.m. tomorrow, so if I stay up past midnight for forty-five minutes, well, I can look at the darkmess outside and say “Somewhere on the other side of the world, the sun has reached its limit.” I doubt I’ll do that. I may be up at that hour, being somewhat of a weekend night-owl – as is the Texas Gal – but I don’t know that I’ll notice the passing of the moment.

But the middle of the month brings with it a regular feature here: A look into the LP log to see what records have made their ways home with me during the month. As usually, we’ll likely stretch this look over two weeks, 1970 to 1989 this week and then picking up from there next week.

My first June records were presents from my[future] brother-in-law for graduating from high school in 1971. Having been well-advised by my sister, he gave me Janis Joplin’s Pearl and the album Ram, which was credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. I still listen fairly frequently to both – on CD/mp3 more often than on vinyl and to Pearl more than to Ram – and that’s something I can’t say about every record I got back in my high school and college years.

In June of 1972, I laid one more brick in my wall of a complete Beatles collection when I picked up the disappointing Yellow Submarine, with its first side presenting “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love” bracketing four Beatles songs that the boys hadn’t bothered to use anywhere else. The second side was orchestral soundtrack work written and orchestrated by George Martin. Also in June of that year, I picked up a two-record set that probably led me to as much good music as any album has: Clapton At His Best, an anthology that led me to dig deeper into Clapton’s solo work as well as into Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos. As I’ve said before, I then followed the path to the music of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and eventually to the Allman Brothers Band (with an assist from others here and there). As I’ve also noted before, if there ever was an album that laid the foundation for my changing from a blank-faced receiver of music into an active, credit-reading and context-seeking listener, it was Clapton At His Best.

By June of 1973, I was being miserly, saving every bit of money I could for my adventure in Denmark, which would begin in September. The only LPs I got that month – in fact, all summer long – were gifts from a friend who was cleaning out his collection. He handed me Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die, a 1970 album whose opening tracks, “Glad/Freedom Rider,” I’d heard frequently while hanging around the college radio station, and the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., an album whose aesthetic I didn’t quite grasp at the time. I enjoyed it, but it would be a few years before I came to the judgment – one I share with many, I think – that Exile on Main St. can legitimately be included in the discussion when one talks about the greatest rock albums of all time.

After that, June fades away for a few years as a month for records. My next June purchases came four years later, in 1977: A new copy of Stage Fright by The Band, replacing a used copy I’d gotten in 1972; Before the Flood, a 1974 live package by Bob Dylan and The Band; and Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. I don’t listen to Stage Fright much anymore. I maybe should; it’s probably better than I remember, even if it isn’t quite as good as Music from Big Pink or The Band. The live double album, even thirty-five years later, still has some power. Of those three albums, however, I most frequently listen to Blood On The Tracks, a still potent album: In a recent Time magazine piece, reviewer Joe Klein called it Dylan’s “mature work of genius.”

We fast-forward to June 1980: A flea market visit brings me Simon & Garfunkel’s Wednesday Morning, 3 AM and two albums by the Carpenters: Carpenters and A Song For You. Why the latter two? For some names in the credits: drummer Hal Blaine and horn player Jim Horn. I’ve still got all three of the records, but they don’t get much play or much consideration when I ponder which LPs to replicate in my CD collection.

In June of 1981, I was reading Anton Myrer’s novel, The Last Convertible, set in large part during the years between the two world wars. The book contains a long passage about big band music and its joys, with a comparison of the major bands of the time, a comparison that sets the music of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman above the work of all the rest. Interested in knowing more, I went to the sources and bought LPs of the music of those three, Miller, Ellington and Goodman, all titled Pure Gold. The music was good – at times, brilliant – but it wasn’t my era, and the records have gotten only occasional play.

While in graduate school in 1984, one of my duties was working as the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, a daily newspaper produced by faculty and students at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. During weeks when there were more new movies than my small staff of reporters could handle, I’d generally fill in and review one. One of those I reviewed was Streets of Fire, the Walter Hill-directed “rock & roll fable” starring Diane Lane and Michael Paré. I liked the movie and went and bought the soundtrack the next day. I still like the soundtrack, more as individual tracks than as a whole. As long as I was in the record shop, I picked up a copy of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a portion of which had been used as a theme for the film The Exorcist ten years earlier. That album doesn’t come off the shelf very often at all.

A year later, June brought me John Fogerty’s Centerfield, new that spring, and Al Stewart’s 1980 effort, 24 Carrots. The former has aged better than the latter. In June of 1987, I picked up Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, Dan Fogelberg’s Phoenix, and a used anthology titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll, the last notable only because in those pre-CD days, anthologies that included the full, original recordings of things like the Orioles’ 1955 hit, “Crying in the Chapel” and Duane Eddy’s 1958 hit, “Rebel Rouser,” to name just two, weren’t nearly as easy to come by as they are today.

A total of thirty-two records came my way in June 1988, as the days of bulk buys at garage sales and flea markets began (along with purchases of shiny new LPs on occasion). The best of the month? Probably the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks: 1964-1971, but that’s an anthology, so that’s maybe not fair. Of the rest, maybe the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty or John Cougar’s Scarecrow, an album that’s not a great record but is a better one than most folks remember.

In June 1989, I was packing to move back to Minnesota from Minot, and I bought only six LPs: Stuff by Peter Frampton, Stevie Nicks, James Taylor, the Cars and Enya, topped off by some Russian liturgical music. (Why that last? I have no idea.) None of those really stand out today, but they went into the boxes with the other records, as I hauled nearly six hundred LPs to Minnesota, having no clue that the years of vinyl madness were about to begin.

So, what track do I share? The best album I’ve mentioned here is likely Blood On The Tracks, and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is, to me, the heart of the record. But that seems too easy, as do selections from a lot of the albums mentioned above. (Others aren’t simply good enough.) So I’ve decided to share a moment: When I first heard Bob Dylan and The Band and their introduction to “Like A Rolling Stone” from Before the Flood, my jaw honestly dropped. The rest of the performance is tough and biting, but the opening moments are the kinds of moments for me that I think every music fan searches for: Something you want to hear again and again and again. So here’s today’s Saturday Single:

Video unavailable.

Saturday Single No. 136

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 13, 2009

I’m not exactly sure when I first heard the record that is today’s Saturday Single.

I used to think I knew: I was certain that the first time I heard Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” was in 1970 while I was in one of the traps at the local gun club, the semi-buried shelters where I spent four days each summer for three years.

I know I heard “Are You Ready?” while toiling at the trap shoot that year. I brought my radio every day, just like most of the other fellows who worked as “setters,” sitting in the dirty trap pits and placing targets on the whirring machines so they could be thrown into the air and then blown apart by shotgun blasts. I have a clear memory of the Pacific Gas & Electric tune coming from the speakers during one of the slow times, after one group of shooters was done and before the shooters in the next group had taken their places.

That gave me time to close my eyes and listen to the up-tempo record, to hear the background singers and the trippy guitar solo. Looking back over the years, as I’ve thought about the song, I’ve been certain that the first time I heard “Are You Ready?” was in that little pit, enduring the dust and grime and isolation for the sake of fifteen dollars a day (which was pretty good cash for a sixteen-year-old kid in 1970).

But that’s probably not the case. As I dug into the record’s history this week, I noticed that “Are You Ready?” entered the Billboard Top 40 on June 13, 1970, thirty-nine years ago next week. A week earlier, thirty-nine years ago today, it sat at No. 43 in the Billboard Hot 100. As much as I was listening to Top 40 at the time, I most likely heard the PG&E record around the beginning of June as it approached the Top 40, certainly by the middle of June, when it was climbing to its peak at No. 14.

And the state trap shoot – the only event I ever worked out at the gun club – would have taken place no earlier than July. So I likely would have heard “Are You Ready?” on my radio at home or in the car before then, and I’m not sure why that particular hearing of that particular record sticks in my mind. I mean, it was a good radio record, but then, so were a lot of tunes at that time. Just to cherry-pick a few from the Top 40 of thirty-nine years ago today:

No. 5: “Love On A Two-Way Street” by the Moments
No. 7: “Make Me Smile” by Chicago
No. 12: “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image
No. 18: “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
No. 20: “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations
No. 25: “Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade
No. 34: “Spirit in the Dark” by Aretha Franklin

Some of the other records surrounding these are a little lame, in retrospect – the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Going, Billy?” limps considerably, as an example – but at the time, I found Top 40 radio speaking to me in every portion of my life. And one of my favorites at the time was, in fact, “Are You Ready?” So whatever the reason, something about that moment, that playing of the record, stuck in my mind.

So when I began collecting vinyl in the late 1980s, one of the songs I wanted to find was Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” But I couldn’t find the record as I remembered it. On the group’s album – also titled Are You Ready? – the track began with a long, slow and overly dramatic introduction: “There’s rumors of war . . . men dying and women crying . . .” Eventually, the track kicked into the up-tempo song I remembered, and that was fine. But it wasn’t what I remembered from the radio.

During the late 1980s and on into the 1990s, I looked on occasion for the original. I checked out stacks of 45s at used record shops, and I grabbed every anthology I found that listed “Are You Ready?” as one of its tracks. Same thing, every time: the long version with a running time of 5:49.

Now, it’s not like finding the original “Are You Ready?” was all-consuming. It was a search that popped up now and then, and the popups came less and less frequently as time went on. A couple of weeks ago, however, caithiseach and I were talking about long-sought records, and I mentioned “Are You Ready?” and its two versions. He said he thought he had the short version, the one that got radio play, on a 45. So he brought it over the other day, and – to the dismay of both of us – it turned out to be the long version.

Casting about to determine if the short version had ever been released commercially or if it had been distributed only to radio stations, we looked on Ebay. I’d looked there at other times, but one never knows. And there we found a listing for a white-label Columbia single of “Are You Ready?” with a running time of 2:40. The price wasn’t much – $5.99 plus shipping – but there are times when patience is in short supply.

“You know who might have that?” I asked caithiseach.

He nodded. “Yah Shure,” he said.

So we sent a note to our pal Yah Shure, explaining our quest of the moment. That evening, an mp3 rip of the short version of “Are You Ready?” arrived via email.

Yah Shure wrote: “Oh yeah… ‘Are You Ready?’  That one ranked right up there with People’s ‘I Love You’ in terms of getting a much l-o-n-g-e-r 45 than what was played on the radio, with an equally s-l-o-w-w-w-w and seemingly endless intro to boot.”

He confirmed our suspicions that the DJ 45 was, in 1970, the only source of the radio edit. His copy, he said, came from “the long-out-of-print 1996 Dick Bartley Presents Collector’s Essentials: The ’70s CD on Varèse Sarabande.  This is the same CD that contained the single version of ‘One Fine Morning’ . . . It also included the DJ 45 edit of ‘Beach Baby’ by First Class, as well as the edited side of the short/long ‘Radar Love’ DJ 45.  Oh, and the 45 version of Potliquor’s ‘Cheer,’ too.  No wonder this CD now commands $30-plus on the used market.”

I may have to save my shekels and look for that CD eventually. For now, though, I’m thankful to Yah Shure for the mp3. And here’s how “Are You Ready?” sounded coming out of the radio speakers in 1970, today’s Saturday Single:

Revised slightly on archival posting.

Saturday Single No. 135

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 6, 2009

I’ve written here before about my ambivalence toward the Doors. There are times when I think the group might come close to meriting the hosannas that have been sent its way over the past forty years, and there are times when I revert to my long-term judgment that Jim Morrison and his pals made up the most over-rated band in the history of rock.

When I sit down to slice those contradictory views apart to see what I can find inside them, I find that it’s the Doors’ singles that I appreciate, for the most part. And it’s the group’s album work that I find wanting.

As to the singles, back in the summer of 1967, no one – not even a dedicated follower of trumpet music and soundtracks – could escape “Light My Fire.” And that trumpet and soundtrack lover didn’t necessarily want to. What he heard was a record with a great introduction and a generally interesting sound. (As an aside, it’s fascinating to realize that, until I began actively listening to Top 40 music in the fall of 1969, most of the records I recall hearing were summertime records like “Light My Fire.”)

What the rest of the nation heard was something more compelling: “Light My Fire” spent fourteen weeks in the Top 40 and three weeks at No. 1. Three more Doors’ singles came and went without my noticing during the school year of 1967-68; the next summer, during the first state trap shoot I worked, “Hello, I Love You” began to get airplay. I thought it was pretty good. And beyond a brief exposure to a couple tracks off of Morrison Hotel, those were the only bits of the Doors’ canon I knew until my freshman year of college started in the late summer of 1971. Then came the autumn of The Soft Parade.

During the summer, I attended an overnight orientation program aimed at helping new students find their ways around St. Cloud State’s campus. I didn’t need an orientation to learn the campus’ geography: Because my dad worked and taught there, I’d been wandering around the campus for most of my life. But I saw the overnight orientation as a way to meet friends, and in fact, I met the guys who would provide most of my social life for my freshman year. When school started, one of them – Dave – ended up paired with a roommate we’d not met, a guy named Mark.

I never did figure out which one of the two started it, but by the end of the first month of classes, the two guys were in the habit of dropping the Doors’ 1969 album, The Soft Parade, onto the turntable at least twice a day. As I – and other guys and a few gals – hung around a lot, the sounds of that album became a large part of the soundtrack of that first quarter of college. And I found a lot of it to be silly, especially the portion of “The Soft Parade” during which Jim Morrison declaims, “When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer . . . You CANNOT petition the Lord with prayer!” The song that follows is fine, but the introduction is ludicrous.

My initial reactions to “The Soft Parade” were confirmed over the years as I listened to the Doors’ other albums: As an album band, the Doors had been hugely overrated, most on the basis of Morrison’s lengthier pieces filled with mediocre poetry and over-wrought delivery. (I know there may be those out there who will want to shred me for that: Well, shred away. But it won’t change my mind or make Morrison’s long works any better.)

But the more I listened over the years, the more I liked the Doors as a singles band: “Light My Fire,” “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times,” “The Unknown Soldier,” “Hello, I Love You,” “Love Her Madly” and the long but effective “Riders On The Storm” were all good radio listening. And I found that I liked the album Morrison Hotel much better than anything else the group ever put out: Filled with concise songs, from “Roadhouse Blues,” the kick-ass opener, through the ethereal “Blue Sunday” and “Indian Summer” to the grunting and rocking closer, “Maggie McGill,” it was a very good – maybe even great – album.

For good or ill, though, when I hear the Doors mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is The Soft Parade and the sight of my pal Dave posing and lip-synching his way through “Wild Child” or “The Soft Parade.” It’s a tolerable memory, though, because there was one moment of redemption on the album that brought us all the urge to dance and lip-synch.

Thus, in one of those odd convergences of memory and merit, my favorite Doors song is “Touch Me,” which was liked enough elsewhere to rise as high as No. 3 on the Billboard chart. The writer and editor in me still cringes at the grammatical sin in the chorus, where Morrison sings, “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.” (It should be “for you and me.”) And though that still hurts my ears, “Touch Me” is nevertheless today’s Saturday Single.

“Touch Me” by the Doors, Elektra 456646 [1969]
4.4 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

Afternote
When I posted the song this morning, I wasn’t certain that the album mix – which is what I had – was the same as the single mix. Well, it’s not. Yah Shure dropped me an mp3 of the single mix, along with a note:

“The 45 version of ‘Touch Me’ (Elektra 45646) has never been issued on either LP or CD.  It features a completely different mix than the Soft Parade LP version.  Here are the two most obvious distinctions between the 45 and LP mixes:
“1) There is very little bass in the single mix.
“2) At the very end of the song, the ‘stronger than dirt’ Ajax Laundry Detergent jingle is both played and sung on the LP mix.  On the 45, it is played, but not sung.”

Thanks, Yah Shure!

Here’s the single mix:

Saturday Single No. 134

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited slightly on archival posting.

Saturday Single No. 133

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Single No. 132

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 16, 2009

For a time in the mid- to late 1960s, I – like many American boys – was fascinated by hot cars.

When I was thirteen or so, I got an Aurora table-top racing set, expanded with bridges and spirals and criss-crosses and more. My cars were a Ferrari, a Jaguar, a Maserati, a couple of Ford GTs, a Mercury Cougar, a Thunderbird and, for some odd reason, a dune buggy, which – even more oddly – I called “Hot Tuna.”

I drew awkward designs for cars (always in profile as my ability to draw in perspective was even more limited than my ability to draw in profile). I looked occasionally at the automotive magazines that made their way through the guys’ ranks at South Junior High. (They left me generally unsatisfied with their talk of torque and other – to me – arcane mechanical things; I was interested in design.) And I built some model cars: I recall a 1940s vintage Ford, a 1932 Chevrolet and a 1964 Thunderbird, on which I daubed royal blue paint so inexpertly that it looked like an experiment gone awry.

I never drove a cool car. My earliest vehicle was a 1961 Ford Falcon, followed by a 1967 Falcon wagon and then a 1973 Plymouth Duster, long after the Duster model had lost any cachet it might ever have had. Since then, the line of cars parked in my driveways has included Toyotas, Chevettes, a Mazda, an Oldsmobile and, now, a Nissan. Not one of them was ever a car that would have made the guys in junior high go “oooh” as I drove by.

I did have a short-term brush with sharp cars, though: For a couple of years as she finished high school and began college, my sister dated a fellow who raced stock cars at the local track. I went along a couple of times, so on those and a few other occasions, I got to ride in his cars, which included a Chevy Malibu and a Dodge Charger. None of the kids from school ever saw that, though, which diminished the joy slightly.

And when my sister entered her final quarter of college and moved from her 1961 Falcon to a 1968 Mustang, I bought the Falcon. It rattled a lot, it wasn’t fast and it didn’t look cool. But it got me where I needed to go, which was a far more important consideration. Anyway, although I still enjoyed the look of a nicely designed car, my interest in things automotive had waned.

All of this came to mind this week as I watched the U.S. auto industry continue to flail about in its efforts to remain viable. The closing of thousands of dealers by Chrysler and General Motors this week was only the most recent contortion. Among the earlier moves had come the announcement that GM would be ending production and sales of the Pontiac brand.

One of the spurs to the 1960s love affair between boys and cars might have been the huge presence on the radio of songs about cars and their drivers. The most prominent creators of such songs were, of course, the Beach Boys. From “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” through “Don’t Worry Baby” and “409,” cars were one-third of the perfect trinity of pastimes on which the Beach Boys relied for their inspirations (surfing and girls being the other two). Jan and Dean had their moments, too, with “Dead Man’s Curve” and a few others.

But the song I thought of the other week, when GM announced the end of the Pontiac, and one I kept thinking about this week, was an ode to an auto model that existed for only eleven years in its original form. The G.T.O., produced by Pontiac from 1964 through 1974 (and then from 2004 through 2006 by Australia’s Holden, a GM subsidiary), was – according to Wikipedia – the first “true muscle car.”

And in 1964, Ronny and the Daytonas went to No. 4 with “G.T.O.,” today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Singles Nos. 130 & 131

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 9, 2009

Today is one of the most-observed unofficial holidays of the year here in Minnesota: It’s the fishing opener!

Earlier this morning, as Friday changed into Saturday, the season opened across Minnesota’s 13,000 or so lakes. (Our license plates say “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but I don’t know if that’s Nordic modesty or if somebody miscounted the first time and the folks who came along after the second, more accurate count, said, “Close enough.”) That meant that Thursday and Friday, the highways leading from the Twin Cities to the northern part of the state showed a constant stream of traffic.

I’ve never done a fishing opener. Fishing has never been a pastime that’s attracted me much. But for about four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I went fishing once a year with my pal Larry. He and I met in late 1978 at a gathering of journalists; he was the editor of a weekly newspaper published in Isle, Minnesota, on the southeast corner of Mille Lacs Lake, one of Minnesota’s larger lakes and one of its most prime fishing spots. We saw each other regularly at our monthly meetings in St. Cloud, and after one of them, he invited me up for a day of fishing. So, one summer Saturday in ’79, I packed my rudimentary fishing gear – one rod and reel and a woefully stocked tackle box – into the car and headed north to Wahkon, the small town just outside of Isle, where Larry lived with his wife and young daughters.

He and I spent the day in his boat on Mille Lacs, trying to catch either walleye or northern. We got some sunfish and crappies, two smaller fish that are good eating (but tedious because of all the small bones). Sometime late in the afternoon, I lost a lure when it got caught on something underwater and my line broke. Larry offered to let me use one of the many he had in his deluxe tackle box. I declined, and spent the little that remained of the afternoon sipping beer, smoking cigarettes and talking with Larry about life and lures.

That afternoon started a tradition: Once a summer for the next four years, I’d head north. In the next year, Larry got a job editing a newspaper in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, another hundred miles further north, and the day trips became a weekend trip to visit Larry and Joyce and the girls. We’d spend Friday evening playing board games or just catching up with each other, and Saturday found Larry and me out on a couple of different lakes, usually Lake Pokegema south of Grand Rapids in the morning and then, in the afternoon, Trout Lake, just south of the nearby small town of Coleraine. I’d fish until I lost a lure, which was my signal to sit back, pop a beer and enjoy the day out on the boat.

Larry was a far more committed angler than I was. During those years in Isle and Grand Rapids, he’d slip away from the office whenever he could find time, taking his boat out on Mille Lacs in the first years I knew him and then out on Pokegama or one of the many other lakes in the Grand Rapids area in those later years. An editor in both cities, he christened his fishing boat Assignment so that if someone called for him at his office, his secretary could honestly say, “I’m sorry, but Larry’s out on Assignment.”

During one of my visits, probably in 1982, I even caught a small northern. Somewhere in my boxes is a picture of me holding my catch. (I think it’s 1982 because I got the Yellowstone baseball cap I’m wearing in the picture during a trip west in 1981.) Larry did much better than I at fishing: pretty much every year, we headed back to his house with a good catch of walleyes, northern and smaller fish. I usually had a package of frozen fish to take home with me the next morning.

I last saw Larry in early 1987, when I took a couple days off from St. Cloud State and spent a long weekend in Grand Rapids. We didn’t go ice fishing. Instead, we went to a couple of hockey games and just sat around the house and caught up on things. That summer, I moved to Minot, and sometime that autumn, Larry left newspapering and moved west to Washington. Letters went back and forth for a few months, and then a letter sat unanswered on someone’s desk (probably mine) for too long, and we lost touch with each other. I heard, but I’ve never confirmed, that sometime in the 1990s, Larry had a heart attack and crossed over.

But wherever he is, I’d like to think that today, the fishing opener, he’s got a line in the water and a beer in one hand, out on Assignment.

Here are two versions of a perfectly appropriate song for Larry, today’s Saturday Singles.

“Fishing Blues” by Henry Thomas, Vocalion 1249 (Chicago, June 13, 1928)

“Fishin’ Blues” by Taj Mahal, from De Ole Folks At Home (Los Angeles, June 27, 1969)

Saturday Singles Nos. 128 & 129

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 2, 2009

Back on a November Saturday, stumped for a recording to share, I walked to the main record stacks and pulled out the first record – alphabetically – about which I knew little. That’s how a song by Barbi Benton – late 1960s and early 1970s Playboy fixture and (thanks, jb) regular on television’s Hee-Haw – came to grace this corner of blogworld.

Stuck again this morning, I went to the shelves and began poking. I have three tall shelf sets with five shelves each. In them, one finds most of the pop, rock, folk and R&B, running from ABBA in the upper left to Warren Zevon in the lower left (with the Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Band elsewhere on their own shelves). So I went to the third shelf in the middle stack, the center of the collection, as it were, to see what I could find.

Larry Long has been writing, recording and singing for years. His discography at All-Music Guide begins with 1988’s live album, It Takes A Lot Of People . . . and runs through 2000’s Well May The World Go. The record I pulled from the shelf was from 1981: Living In A Rich Man’s World, evidently Long’s first album.

On the insert that contains extensive credits and notes, Long writes:

Living In A Rich Man’s World was conceived the summer of 1979 when two friends, Louis and Francine, told me it was time to record an album. After the seed was planted I traveled to Colby, Kansas[,] to harvest wheat with a combine crew. The harvest took my camera, guitar and self from Buckburnett, Texas[,] to Scranton, North Dakota.

“When I returned home several months later with 2,000 slides, 100 hours of taped interviews and half a dozen new songs, the seed had taken root. It was time to record.”

And Long’s album, Living In A Rich Man’s World, is a musical documentary of the times of working men and women ca. 1979. I’ve played the record before. I know that because the record was in the stacks and not in the crates. But I’m thinking that maybe when I played it, I just heard it instead of listening to it. There is a subtle difference. Or maybe I’m hearing things differently these days because I might share them with the small portion of the world that stops by here.

But Long’s album began to dig its hooks in me this morning, with its populism, its hopefulness and its musicianship. I’ve going to have to drop it on the turntable soon and rip every one of its twelve songs. I’ve done two this morning.

Long is a local fellow, a Minnesotan at least, maybe even from St. Cloud. The jacket and notes tell me that the album was recorded in the Twin Cities, and the credits list many names that I recognize from the Twin Cities. It was released by Waterfront Records, a label based in Sauk Rapids, a smaller town just north of St. Cloud’s East Side. Some of the photos of folks on the back of the jacket – the collage includes photos of Long, his friends and some of the regular folks about whom Long sings on the record – are listed as having been taken in St. Cloud.

I don’t know that I’d heard about him before I found the record (at the Electric Fetus in downtown St. Cloud, according to the price tag). If I did, I wasn’t paying attention, and based on what I heard this morning, I should have.

The tracks I pulled from the record this morning are “Gotta Have Money To Make Money” and the title track, “Living In A Rich Man’s World.” Normally, I would have used the Track Four method to select tracks from an unknown album, but both of these are Track Five, one from each side. Why? Because in the credits for both of these tracks, I saw the name of drummer Bob Vandell, a well regarded Twin Cities musician who used to play the tympani behind me in the orchestra at St. Cloud Tech.

Other musicians on “Gotta Have Money To Make Money” are: Larry Long, vocals and guitar; Peter Watercott, fiddle; Prudence Johnson, harmony vocals; Billy Peterson, acoustic bass; and Butch Thompson, clarinet. Others on “Living In A Rich Man’s World” are: Larry Long, vocals and guitar; Pete Watercott, fiddle; Prudence Johnson, harmony vocals; John Hammond, electric guitar; and Sid Gasner, electric bass. (And no, I do not know if that John Hammond is the well-known John Hammond.)

So here’s Larry Long and this week’s Saturday Singles:

“Gotta Have Money To Make Money” by Larry Long from Living In A Rich Man’s World [1981]

“Living In A Rich Man’s World” by Larry Long from Living In A Rich Man’s World [1981]

Note
While I was writing this, I wandered over to Amazon and learned that Living In A Rich Man’s World was released on CD in 1995 with six additional tracks. That CD should be here within a week or so, and as it’s out of print, I’ll likely (depending on sound quality) share the whole thing here.

Saturday Single No. 127

June 20, 2012

I spent a couple evenings this week watching – on DVD – the first three episodes of Mad Men, the drama about a top-tier advertising agency in New York in the late 1950s. The show began its run on cable network AMC two years ago; I’ve always intended to watch it, but never managed to even remember to program the DVR to record the show.

In some ways, though, I think that being able to watch episodes in clusters, rather than a week at a time, is better. The experience, the drama, the focus on the character’s lives is more concentrated. Anyway, I found the first three episodes fascinating and can hardly wait until the second disc of the show arrives in the mail.

Part of that enjoyment and anticipation is for the drama itself. The main characters are interesting, from the somewhat mysterious ad exec Dan Draper, who seems to be the hub of the show, through his various co-workers, some of whom are seemingly destined to be very bad news, to Draper’s family and neighbors on their tree-lined suburban street. One anticipates all sorts of possible story lines. And the writing is generally sharp and sometimes witty. I haven’t yet heard a line that makes me gape at the screen in admiration for the writer, but the quality of the scripts pretty much promises me that I will.

But what makes Mad Men so interesting to me is the details, the peripheral things that become so crucial in producing a period piece: the scene-setting, costuming, art decoration and set decoration: From the clothing to the cars, from the martini-lubricated dinners in the best restaurants to the cigarettes that fill the air everywhere, from the hi-fi cabinet at the end of Draper’s couch to the jarring sight of a polio-crippled boy lurching through a living room with his crutches and braces, Mad Men gets it right and shows a world of urban gloss and suburban certainty.

And I find it fascinating, on three levels. First, the writer and viewer in me anticipate that neither that gloss nor that certainty will run very deep: I expect shiny surfaces to crack and unexamined beliefs to wither as the first season runs on.

Then, the historian that I am nods at references to events and pop culture, to mentions of new products and long-gone institutions. (I wonder how many viewers knew what an Automat was?) The show’s website says the show begins in 1960, and the entry for the show at Wikipedia says the first episode is set in March of that year. There is talk around the ad agency – but so far no action – of working for Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign. Right Guard show up as the first aerosol spray deodorant, and in the very first episode, Draper is struggling to advertise cigarettes in light of a federal ruling that advertising can no longer say cigarettes have health benefits.

And finally, inside me, the boy who once was stares at the world he once lived in: The mix of stylish tail-finned late model cars and the boxy post-war models that had once seemed so stylish themselves. The snippets of television sound – familiar voices, both dramatic and commercial – one hears occasionally in the background. The casual and unthinking sexism, racism and other types of discrimination. And seemingly a thousand small details, like using an opener on a can of beer. All of it added up to make those three hours this week a visit to that other world, a world that was already beginning to change, mostly in ways that we here – nearly fifty years later – will approve.

As I watched, there came both a sense of foreboding and an odd, almost yearning, sense of something that was not quite grief; call it melancholy. The foreboding was for the characters on the screen, for the writing had done its job: I care about them and wonder what lies in store. The sense of melancholy was, I think, because that world on the screen, the world of tailfins and television shows, of braces and bottle openers, was the world around me when I became self-aware. We all live in different worlds as we age, sequential but different as the years pass. And much of the world of Mad Men is the first world I lived in, and I recall it only a little. Seeing it onscreen this week in its full and foolish glory was like opening a long-lost scrapbook in which I keep those memories.

That scrapbook is not entirely benign: Some of those memories I’d just as soon not have. Others are more pleasant to recall, gentle dispatches from a world that went away long ago.

I’ve been listening to a lot of late 1950s Sinatra this week, and I thought I might find something there, perhaps “Willow, Weep For Me.” But I looked a bit deeper into the digital files and found a Dinah Washington recording from 1959 for today’s Saturday Single.

This Bitter Earth

This bitter earth:
What fruit it bears.
What good is love
That no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose,
What good am I?
Heaven only knows.

This bitter Earth:
Can it be so cold?
Today you’re young,
Too soon you’re old
But while a voice
Within me cries,
I’m sure someone
May answer my call,
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all.

“This Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington, New York City, 1959 (Mercury 71635)

Revised slightly on archival posting.