Archive for the ‘Six-Pack’ Category

Wandering Around

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 17, 2009

Wandering the upper levels of the cable offerings last evening, I happened upon a boxing match on one of the premium channels. I’ve never watched a lot of boxing, but when I come across it by accident, I sometimes watch for a few minutes. I did so last evening, and I got to thinking about a time when boxing was on network television on a regular basis.

The program I recall was The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, airing Friday evenings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or so my memory told me. I didn’t really watch the show, but I sure remembered the theme song. Here’s a long instrumental version of the theme song that’s been used – for some reason – as a background for video of penguins. Here’s the theme – titled “Look Sharp – Be Sharp (Gillette March)” – as recorded in 1954 by the Boston Pops:

So, thinking about The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, I wandered over to Wikipedia, where I read that the show had run on Friday evenings into 1960 on NBC and had then moved to ABC. That made sense: I have vague memories of the show on NBC, but I also remember seeing prime-time boxing on KMSP, which was at the time ABC’s affiliate in the Twin Cities. (Watching shows on KMSP was sometimes an iffy proposition, as the station distinguished itself during the years of roof-top antennas by having the weakest signal of all four commercial stations in the Twin Cities.)

Wandering further into the topic, I checked the 1960-61 prime time TV schedule at Wikipedia and found no listing on ABC for The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Digging around a bit, I learned that ABC moved the show to Saturdays and renamed it Fight of the Week. Having resolved that, I spent some time looking at the prime time television schedules for 1959-60 and 1960-61.

And I found that fascinating, a real memory trip: National Velvet, The Red Skelton Show, Sugarfoot, Hong Kong, 77 Sunset Strip, Law of the Plainsman, Hawaiian Eye and on and on. I don’t recall watching them all, but I remember the titles. Of course, I did see some of those shows. One of my favorites was 77 Sunset Strip, a show about two detectives in Los Angeles that starred, among others, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who went on to star later in the 1960s and 1970s in The F.B.I., and Ed Byrnes, whose hair-combing character, Kookie, inspired the 1959 hit, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” which Byrnes recorded with Connie Stevens. The record went to No. 4. Here are Byrnes and Stevens during an appearance on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show from April 4, 1959 (not American Bandstand, as I originally guessed).

We’ve wandered a little afield here. I’m sure I didn’t see that particular performance, nor did I hear the record until many years later. My interest at the time was the drama – such as it was – on 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958 into 1964. Here’s a version of the theme from the show (I think it’s the original, but I’m not at all certain):

“77 Sunset Strip” written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston [1958]

And then, here’s a selection from 1960, which is the year that The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports moved from NBC to ABC:

A Six-Pack from 1960
“New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1003 [Peak: No. 6]
“Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, Decca 31141 [Peak: No. 1 in 1961]
“Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino, Imperial 5675 [Peak: No. 6]
“Theme from ‘The Apartment’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 231 [Peak: No. 10]
“Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2071 [Peak: No. 1]
“Last Date” by Floyd Cramer, RCA 7775 [Peak: No. 2]

Bonus Track
“A Fool In Love” by Ike & Tina Turner, Sue 730 [No. 20]

Well, throw in some Everly Brothers, a Johnny Horton tune, a Frankie Avalon tune, some Dion & The Belmonts, then add Elvis, Percy Faith and Connie Francis, and you’d have a pretty good idea of how 1960 sounded.

When I pulled the first six tracks to share today, I didn’t realize that all of them were Top Ten records. That tells me that radio listening might not have been as bad in 1960 as I tend to think it was. (I certainly don’t remember what pop radio sounded like in 1960; I turned seven that year, and I don’t recall listening to much of anything at all. So anything I know about music in 1960 – except for piano exercises by John W. Schaum – comes from learning about it long after the fact.) On the other hand, the year also provided listeners with “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dining and “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne, all of which went to No. 1. So call it a mixed bag.

Revised slightly on archival posting.

Barry Beckett, 1943-2009

October 30, 2015

Originally posted June 15, 2009

Not quite two weeks ago, I wrote about the song “Loan Me A Dime” and my explorations of its genesis. What I didn’t write about at the time was my visceral connection to the song.

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I played in a recreational band from about 1993 through 2000, playing a couple parties a year and a few gigs, though mostly playing for the joy of it. We played blues, R&B, vintage rock, jazz – whatever any of our members brought to the table over the years, and, combined, our musical interests ranged far afield.

One of the songs I brought to the band’s attention was “Loan Me A Dime,” as interpreted by Boz Scaggs on his self-titled 1969 debut album. I didn’t sing it; our lead singer was a better blues singer than I am. But we pretty well replicated the instrumental backing brought to the album by the crew at Muscle Shoals, starting with the performances of drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson. For a couple of years, we had a guitar player who’d made the study of Duane Allman’s performances one of the major efforts of his life. And for twenty minutes every couple of weeks – and during every one of our performances – I got to be Barry Beckett.

I posted it here just twelve days ago, but here’s Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime” once more. Listen to the piano part Beckett plays, from the slow bluesly stuff in the intro and the body of the song to the exquisite runs and triplets near the end of the song, when all hell is breaking loose.

And then take a moment. Barry Beckett is gone. He crossed over last Wednesday, June 10, at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was sixty-six. Several news reports said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later with thyroid cancer; he also suffered several strokes, including one in February from which he never recovered.

In 1969, Beckett and Hood joined Hawkins and Johnson in forming the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. The four had worked together for Rick Hall at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. Beckett stayed with the Muscle Shoals Sound until 1985, when he left to become an agent and then a music producer on his own.

The list of Beckett’s credits from his long career is remarkable. Starting with his early work with John Hammond, Etta James, Cher and Boz Scaggs and many more, Beckett’s work as a musician and a producer was part of the sound of American music for more than forty years.

I’ve written occasionally about my admiration for the Muscle Shoals crews, especially Beckett, and my love of the music they all created, together at Muscle Shoals and later on. There are plenty of remembrances and eulogies out on the ’Net, and I’m not sure I have any words to add to the discussion today. Probably the best thing I can do to pay my respects to someone whose music influenced me greatly is just to offer some of that music.

Here are a few early things from Muscle Shoals and a bonus track from the first years after Barry Beckett left Muscle Shoals.

A Six-Pack of Barry Beckett
“People Make The World” by Wilson Pickett from Hey Jude, 1969
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters” by Cher from 3614 Jackson Highway, 1969
“I Won’t Be Hangin’ Round” by Linda Ronstadt from Linda Ronstadt, 1972
“Hello My Lover” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972
“Breath” by Johnny Rivers from Road, 1974
“Sailin’” by Kim Carnes from Sailin’, 1976*

Bonus Track
“Damn Your Eyes” by Etta James from Seven Year Itch, 1988*

*(Also produced or co-produced by Barry Beckett)

Summer Enrichment

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 10, 2009

Summertime in the early and mid-1960s wasn’t just for fun. There was school, too. Every summer, from the time I was six until I was, oh, fourteen, I went to summer school to learn about stuff I didn’t get a chance to learn about during the school year.

Sometimes that was okay, as those things went. I remember taking Spanish for a couple of summers. (The only thing that has stayed with me is “Hola, Paco! Que tal?” I think that translates loosely into “How goes it, Joe?” and is a fairly useless bit of knowledge.) I took a class in World War II history and a couple of drama workshops. Those came during the last few years of summer school, when I was in junior high school. My first summer school experiences came on the campus at St. Cloud State.

There was, at the time, an elementary school on campus, the Campus Laboratory School, which the School of Education used to help train teachers. Like the public schools, the Lab School’s academic year ended in spring, but the college had classes year-round. So in order to have elementary students for the college education students to teach, the Campus Lab ran summer school programs. And I was one of the laboratory subjects for a couple of summers very early during my elementary school days. I remember very little of the subjects we covered during those eight week-sessions. But I remember the oddness of being in a different school, with different types of furnishings than we had at Lincoln Elementary (which reflected, though I did not know this, a different and more experimental approach to education than was used in the public schools). The Campus Lab School seemed like an alien environment, fascinating but unsettling as well.

I also recall a portion of two summers spent in classes at Washington Elementary, on the city’s south side. These particular summer gatherings were called “enrichment” programs and took place, I think, during the summers after fourth and fifth grades, in 1963 and 1964. Just a few kids from each of the city’s elementary schools – those judged to have the most academic potential – were pulled into the program each summer. (Not being certain of current educational lingo, I imagine we’d be called “gifted” these days.) During one of those two summers, our class studied the state of Alaska: its history, culture, geography, the whole works. Among our projects during the summer was to build – with flexible wood strips for the frame, covered with white paper – an igloo.

There is, in one of the boxes of stuff I’ve carried with me over the years, a newspaper clipping with a picture of that summer school class posing by its igloo. There, at the right end of the front row, with brutally short hair and a pair of new black-rimmed glasses, is a little whiteray.

Fourth Grade Summer Enrichment Class at Washington Elementary, St. Cloud, Summer 1963.

The kids around me from St. Cloud’s other schools were still no more than friendly strangers, but a couple of years ago, I looked at the picture for the first time in years, and I realized that almost all of those kids were the ones that populated my classes in high school, in the college prep program. We were our grade’s version, God help us, of the best and the brightest. That doesn’t alter the fact that I looked like a dork.

As I said, I think that was in either 1963 or 1964. So here are some tunes from early June in the first of those two years.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 15, 1963)
“It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore, Mercury 72119 (No. 2)
“Come And Get These Memories” by Martha & the Vandellas, Gordy 7014 (No. 32)
“Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” by Rolf Harris, Epic 9596 (No. 58)
“Six Days On The Road” by Dave Dudley, Golden Wing 3020 (No. 75)
“Detroit City” by Bobby Bare, RCA 8183 (No. 87)
“Needles and Pins” by Jackie DeShannon, Liberty 55563 (No. 114)

One of these six was omnipresent enough for me to remember hearing it frequently, though I was not a pop-radio listener, and another of them was quirky enough for me to recall it. The single that was everywhere was, of course, Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which had spent the previous two weeks at No. 1. (Oddly enough, the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart.) How omnipresent was it? Well, my sister rarely bought current singles. When seventeen-year-old Lesley Gore’s first single hit, however, my sister went out and got herself a copy of it. But it wasn’t just our house: The record had such an amazingly simple and effective hook – “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.” – that it couldn’t help but insinuate itself into the broader grown-up culture that existed parallel to teen culture of the time. To put it more simply, even adults knew the record, and that was a rare thing at that time.

The other of these six that I recall hearing was the silly “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Aussie Rolf Harris. Being nine and unaware of Aussie usage, however, I struggled with the meaning of the title. Why did the singer want himself tied down? Like a kangaroo? As catchy as the song was, it didn’t make any sense to me. I just didn’t understand the song (and that was certainly not the last time that’s happened over the years). Harris’ record eventually climbed into the Top 40 and stayed there for nine weeks, peaking at No. 3. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the record was No. 1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, and that makes me wonder when the AC chart started. I’d always thought it was far more recent than that. (Someone out there knows the answer, I’m sure.)

“Come And Get These Memories” was the first hit for Martha Reeves and her girls, who ended up having twelve records reach the Top 40 between 1963 and 1967. During the second week of June, “Memories” was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 29 a week earlier. The record was well-done but sounded pretty much the same as a lot of girl group records, to my ears. That would change for Martha and the Vandellas with their next hit, as “Heat Wave” exploded out of the speakers and into the Top Ten in August.

I’ve shared Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” here before, but it was a year and a half ago, and that’s an eternity in blogtime. At that time, I decided that Dudley’s hit was likely the most influential record ever recorded in Minnesota, and nothing I’ve heard or read since then has changed that view. The record spent just four weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 32, but it went to No. 2 on the country chart and – as I noted in the earlier post – was the granddaddy of a whole lot of songs about truckers and their rigs. (Does that mean that without “Six Days,” there might have been no “Convoy” in 1975? I tend to think so.)

Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” which is about as country as they came in 1963, is another song that falls neatly into a genre. I imagine you could call it the “Wizard of Oz” or “There’s No Place Like Home” genre. In Bare’s song, it’s the story of the boy who left home for better things in the city and found out, sadly, that home is better. There are, I imagine, hundreds of such songs (nominations, anyone?), but I doubt if any of them are as twangy as Bare’s. The song, written by Mel Tillis, was first titled “I Wanna Go Home,” and was a No. 18 hit on the country chart for Billy Grammer in early 1963. Bare’s retitled version went to No. 6 on the country chart and peaked at No. 16 on the pop chart.

“Needles and Pins” is far better known as a record by the Searchers (No. 13 in the spring of 1964), but Jackie DeShannon was – according to Wikipedia – the first to record the song, written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono. DeShannon’s version peaked at No. 84, but Wikipedia notes that it reached the top of the charts in English Canada, going to No. 1 on the chart issued by Toronto radio station CHUM. While the Searchers might have had the hit (as did Tom Petty with Stevie Nicks in 1986), I’ve always liked DeShannon’s version a little bit more, with its very obvious Wall of Sound influence.

Revised slightly and picture added March 30, 2015.

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

“So Tired” by the Chambers Brothers from The Time Has Come [1967]
“Sick and Tired” by Chris Kenner, Imperial 5448 [1957]
“So Tired” by Eva from the Vanishing Point soundtrack [1971]
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand [1990]
“Things Get Better” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton [1970]
“Got To Get Better In A Little While” by Derek & The Dominos from Live at the Fillmore [1970 performance, 1994 release]

Finding My Way

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 3, 2009

My blogging colleague jb, whose musings and memories gather at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, closed his recent examination of No. 40 songs from several summers this way:

“By 1982, I had my first full-time radio job, and the summers that followed would rarely be remembered in their totality the way summers used to be. And life has never been quite the same since.”

I imagine most folks who read jb’s words this week will nod in agreement. On first thought, I was tempted to say that the shift he’s talking about happens when we and permanent work take our grips on each other, but I’m not sure that’s right. Having thought about it for a day or two, I think that the change in our lives is not so much the beginning of work but the end of preparing for that work, whatever it may be. And, yes, once that time comes, one summer seems very much the same as the next, as do winters, as do, eventually, years.

For me, the summer of 1977 would turn out to be the final act in my long tale of preparation. I’d returned to St. Cloud State in the spring, taking basic reporting and another course that quarter and looking ahead to some workshops in the summer. All of that would add up to another minor to add to my degree, one that I hoped would make me employable at some newspaper, somewhere. Along the way, during spring quarter, I’d blundered into becoming the Arts and Entertainment editor at St. Cloud State’s student newspaper, the University Chronicle. A major dispute during the winter quarter had led to the departure of the paper’s editors, leaving the editor-in-chief alone to shepherd the newspaper along with a diminished staff.

Maybe a week into the spring quarter, a friend of mine and I – whiling some spare time away in the snack bar at Atwood Center – glanced through the latest edition of the Chronicle. There were some pieces riddled with errors and others that were awkwardly written at best. The worst offenders were in the Arts section. My friend and I decided to go ask the editor – whom we knew only vaguely – if he thought things might get better.

Frazzled and harried, he sat at his desk and listened to our commentary, then shook his head. “Better? Not until I get some people in here who know what they’re doing.” He looked at me. “You wanna be the Arts editor?”

I said yes and found myself learning as I went. It was a time of shuffling through reams of press releases for arts stories on campus that would provide good copy and good photos, of all-night paste-up sessions, of recruiting writers, of struggling to write and edit reviews of movies, plays and music. It was also a great deal of fun. And I learned I was good at it. I stayed with the paper past spring and through the two four-week summer sessions, and sometime during the summer, my adviser and I met in his office. “I tell you,” he said, shaking his head, “when I heard in March that you were going to edit the Arts section, I was worried.” I nodded. I’d been a bit concerned at the start as well. “But I have to tell you,” he went on, “all spring and summer, that’s been the best part of the paper.”

To be honest, I’d had a similar thought a bit earlier. As quarter break ended and the first summer session began, I sat at my desk in the newspaper office and looked through spring quarter’s editions. “We did pretty well,” I thought. It hadn’t been perfect, but the errors – some of them mine alone, some shared – were things I could learn from, which was the point. Another eight weeks of the newspaper, I thought – accompanied by workshops in television news and filmmaking to sharpen my writing and editing skills – and I might even be ready to do this somewhere else and get paid for it.

And here’s a little bit of what was on the radio that week, as I thought I might have found the place I belonged.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 4, 1977)
“Mainstreet” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4422 (No.24)
“Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 10491 (No. 36)
“On the Border” by Al Stewart, Janus 267 (No. 51)
“The Pretender” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 45399 (No. 60)
“Fly at Night” by Chilliwack, Mushroom 7024 (No. 79)
“Feel the Need In Me” by the Detroit Emeralds, Westbound 209 (No. 93)

“Mainstreet” was the second of two great singles Bob Seger released from his Night Moves album, the other being the title track, which went to No. 4 in the early months of 1977. As June began, “Mainstreet” had just hit its peak of No. 24. Seger had sixteen more Top 40 hits, reaching into 1991, but to my ears, none of the others were ever as good as “Night Moves” or “Mainstreet.”

As June began, “Lido Shuffle” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 11, the third single from Scaggs’ Silk Degrees album to climb into the Top 40. If nothing else from this selection of six singles will wake you up, “Lido Shuffle” will.

“On the Border,” like many of the songs from Year of the Cat and 1978’s Time Passages, sounds like no one other than Al Stewart. “Year of the Cat” had reached No. 8 in early 1977, and “Time Passages” would go as high as No. 7 in late 1978. “On The Border” just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard in any record a more accurate prediction of where American life was headed than in the last verse of Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” which forecast the 1980s rise of the yuppie:

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender.
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Musically gorgeous and lyrically prescient in its pessimism, the record spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and peaked at No. 58

The Canadian band Chilliwack had found some success in its home country by the time mid-1977 came along, but the U.S. Top 40 was still out of the band’s reach. “Fly By Night,” with its ballad-into-boogie-and-back structure, seems now as if it should have hit, but the record had peaked at No. 75 and was in its last week in the Hot 100 as June began. Chilliwack would hit the U.S. Top 40 in 1981 with “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and in 1982 with “I Believe,” which went to Nos. 22 and 33, respectively.

The Detroit Emeralds’ “Feel the Need” almost didn’t make the Hot 100 at all, peaking at No. 90 and sitting in the bottom ten of the chart for five weeks. From what I can tell by sifting through some information on the ’Net, I think the record was a re-release or a new edit of a record that had been released a couple years earlier, but I’m not at all certain. I’m not even sure I have the catalog number correct. (Someone out there knows the story, I hope.) But man, it’s a nice piece of work, and I think it should have fared a lot better than it did. (The Detroit Emeralds had two hits in 1972, “You Want It, You Got It,” which went to No. 36, and “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms),” which reached No. 24.

Some Kate Taylor News
I got a pleasant email yesterday from Sandy Hicks, Kate Taylor’s manager. She said “We are happy to supply folks with CDs of all her early albums.” Those interested, she said, should email her and she’ll write back with details, and buyers can settle up through Kate’s website.

Hicks added: “Kate’s nearly finished with her new album, due out in late July. For the first time in her career, the album is all her own original songs.” Release details, Hicks said, are on Kate’s website, as is a schedule of performances set for this summer and autumn in the U.S. Northeast.

A Quick Stop In 1972

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 22, 2009

I said we’d visit 1972 today, and so we will. But it’s one of those days, so I’m going to toss up a mostly random selection and then move off to the easy chair or someplace else more comfy.

A Six-Pack from 1972
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics, Avco 4603
“Brand New Start” by Jackie DeShannon from Jackie
“City, Country, City” by War from The World Is A Ghetto
“Pieces of April” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4331
“Blue River” by Eric Andersen from Blue River
“Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Atlantic 2897

I think that the entire Jackie album might show up here soon, as might Eric Andersen’s Blue River (depending on their availability elsewhere). Both are superb records, and “Blue River” might be the best thing Andersen has ever recorded. The War track is a long one that gives the guys a chance to stretch out. The other three tracks offered here all got plenty of airplay: The Stylistics’ record went to No. 10, the Three Dog Night record went to No. 19, and the Flack/Hathaway record went to No. 5. Beyond that, there are very few records that say “Summer of 1972” as clearly to me as does “Where Is The Love.”

A Summertime Plot

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 20, 2009

Well, we’re armed and ready to garden.

The Texas Gal stopped by at the end of her lunch break the other day to drop off the results of her trip to the garden store: chicken wire, wooden stakes, a hoe, a metal rake, some pruning shears and a hose. Add that to a few garden tools we bought about a week earlier, and we should be set for implements.

So we spent an hour that evening attaching chicken wire to the stakes and marking off a roughly twelve-foot square in the garden plot in the side yard (available for use, as well, to the folks in the adjacent apartments, where we used to live). The fence is less than artistic, but it marks our plot adequately, and it should keep all but the most persistent rabbits away from our vegetables this summer.

So what are we going to grow? That’s been partly determined by the packets of seeds the Texas Gal got free at her workplace. Her goal for the coming weekend is to get seeds planted for several varieties of vegetables: We’ll certainly plant yellow squash and zucchini, some cucumbers, some beets, maybe some cabbage and likely some tomatoes. We’ll probably get a couple of pots to grow some parsley and some catnip, and there is a small strip of garden between the house and the sidewalk where we’ll plant – more as ornaments than as consumables – green kale and red lettuce.

In addition, we’re planning to head out to one of the garden tents at either the grocery store or the discount store down the street and get some plants to set in: more tomatoes (in case the seeds don’t go well) and some peppers – green and chocolate for sure, maybe yellow and possibly some jalapeño. And I’m thinking about growing some eggplant, although the Texas Gal is skeptical, having never eaten it before.

I wonder if we’re not being a little too ambitious, given that this is our first time around the vegetable patch. We’ll likely find out as mid-summer approaches, when watering and weeding may be the last things we want to do on a hot evening or humid Saturday. If all goes well, though, we’ll have the pleasure and satisfaction of home-grown salads and stir-fry and more.

I might – and I emphasize “might” – even eat some beets.

A Six-Pack of Gardens

“Here In The Garden, Parts 1 & 2” by Gypsy from In The Garden [1971]
“Johnny’s Garden” by Manassas from Manassas [1972]
“Safe In My Garden” by the Mamas & the Papas from The Papas And The Mamas [1968]
“A Wednesday In Your Garden” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul [1969]
“Come Into The Garden” by Chimera from Chimera [1969]
“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen from Greatest Hits [1995]

Probably the least-known of these groups is Chimera, whose self-titled album was recorded in 1969. The record, featuring two female vocalists and a few British folk and rock notables, went unreleased for many years. You’ll find a slight history of Chimera and an affectionate assessment of its only album at Time Has Told Me, one of the great blogs for out-of-print rarities, many of them in the line of British psych-folk, as is Chimera’s work.

The tale of Gypsy, a Minnesota band that began as the Underbeats, showed up here in the early days. In The Garden was the group’s second album. (I noticed this morning, as I was going through earlier writings and my files, that I keep changing the year In The Garden was released, citing either 1971 or 1972. While the LP and its jacket seem not to have a date anywhere, All-Music Guide says the record came out in 1971. So I’ll go with that.)

I’m never sure, as long as we’re talking about indecision, whether to classify Manassas as a Stephen Stills album or as an album by the group Manassas. My sense of the album is that it was a Stills solo project that shifted in the process to a full band identity, but I’m not sure. I’ve tagged it as a Stephen Stills album because that’s what the record jacket and the CD cover say. I could easily go the other way, as AMG does, saying “Formed in 1971 from the sessions for what was going to be Stills’ third solo album, the chemistry of the musicians he gathered was so intense that before long they were a full-fledged band.” Either way, it’s still good tunes.

The tracks by the Mamas and the Papas and by the Guess Who are album tracks whose sounds fit into the groups’ canons without many surprises. Listening this morning, I realized once again how main Papa John Phillips and producer Lou Adler worked painstakingly on every detail, even on album tracks, creating a lush pop-folk sound that still sounds effortless today. The Guess Who track sounds like no other band, as well, but I’m not sure that “effortless” is the word I’d use for “A Wednesday In Your Garden” or in fact for many of the Guess Who’s recordings. Thinking about it, I always got the sense that Burton Cummings was working too hard at being a rock star. I may be forgetting one or three, but the only Guess Who record I can think of at the moment that sounded light and effortless at any point was “Undun.”

“Secret Garden” was one of three new tracks Bruce Springsteen recorded with the E Street Band for release on his greatest hits album in 1995. The other new recordings were “Blood Brothers” and “This Hard Land.” Also on the album was “Murder Incorporated,” a 1982 recording with the band that had never been released. Of the four, “Secret Garden” is my favorite.

Note: While I still love “Secret Garden,” I have to admit that in the past four years I’ve come to admire and enjoy “This Hard Land” more. While the former is a beautiful love song that could only have come from Springsteen’s pen, “This Hard Land” is a heartland plaint that clearly shows the connection between Springsteen and the music of Woody Guthrie, the fiction of John Steinbeck and the photography of Walker Evans. It might be worth noting that “This Hard Land” was recorded in January 1995, just a few months before Springsteen began recording The Ghost of Tom Joad, his minimalist album that focused on similar themes as “This Hard Land.” Note added June 28, 2013.

A ‘What If . . . ?’ From 1975

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 13, 2009

I won’t spend much time here today: I’m worn out. And I have things to get done and an appointment this afternoon.

But I had one more thought to share in connection with Monday evening’s Springsteen show. As we were driving home, while Monday turned into Tuesday, the Texas Gal and I were reviewing our favorite parts of the show.

I’ve mentioned in this space at least once that I came late to all things Springsteen. I was aware of him in 1975, when Born To Run garnered an incredible amount of publicity and attention, but I didn’t really dig into his work until Tunnel of Love came out in 1987.

And the thought occurred to me as we rode through the Central Minnesota darkness: If I had bought Born To Run when it came out, as I was tempted to do, my life would have been much richer. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it was an interesting idea to chew on as we drove through the dark toward home.

And here’s a generally random selection from 1975, the year I didn’t buy Born To Run.

A Six-Pack From 1975
“Song For The Fire Maiden” by Hot Tuna from Yellow Fever
“Don’t It Feel Like Heaven” by Brewer & Shipley from Welcome to Riddle Bridge
“Big Mac” by the Staple Singers from Let’s Do It Again
“Midnight Flyer” by Three Dog Night from Coming Down Your Way
“(To Say The Least) You’re The Most” by Tower of Power from Urban Renewal
“Primavera” by El Chicano from The Best of Everything

Hot Tuna began in 1969 as an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane, a place for Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady to explore their acoustic and blues inclinations. But by the time of Yellow Fever, acoustic blues were a small portion of the group’s work. “Song For The Fire Maiden” is a relatively soulless piece of mid-Seventies boogie and not the best place to go looking for the original spirit of Hot Tuna.

By 1975, Brewer & Shipley were polishing the country-rock hybrid they’d been exploring for more than five years, the same inclinations that brought them a hit in 1970 with “One Toke Over The Line,” a No. 10 hit that’s often dismissed – inaccurately – as a novelty record. “Don’t It Feel Like Heaven” is a sweet tune, and the album it comes from, Welcome to Riddle Bridge, is pretty nice, as well.

Let’s Do It Again was a Curtis Mayfield-penned soundtrack that the Staples Singers took on. It brought them their last hit in the title tune (No. 1 for one week) and an album that’s a good audio postcard from the time when funk/R&B was still a vital genre, even though alert listeners could hear the beginnings of its mutation into disco.

“Midnight Flyer” is a pleasant if inconsequential album track from a group that was finding itself irrelevant. From 1969 into 1975, Three Dog Night had been a hit machine, putting twenty-one records into the Top 40, eleven of them in the Top Ten. The last of those, “’Til The World Ends,” had come from Coming Down Your Way, but had gone no higher than No. 32. And while the group’s first nine albums had all made the Top 40, Coming Down Your Way was the second Three Dog Night album in two years to fall short.

Urban Renewal might be the best album that Tower of Power ever put together (although I imagine some folks might put their money on Back to Oakland). And “(To Say The Least) You’re The Most” shows off singer Lenny Williams and one of the tightest and funkiest horn sections to ever record a tune. Just nice stuff.

By 1975, El Chicano was another group that was past its peak, and The Best of Everything (not a hits album despite the title) was a little limp. Still, “Primavera” is a nice tune with a little bit of that Latin tinge that made El Chicano memorable.

Hoping To Hear One From The List

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 11, 2009

More than a year ago, on the Saturday when I would see Richie Havens in concert, I shared here a list started long ago of specific songs by specific performers that I hoped to see live. While it had never been written down until the day of that post, the list was something I’d started in the spring of 1972. My sister’s 1971 Christmas present to me had been two tickets to any concert I wanted to see in the Twin Cities. Eventually, I chose to go see Joe Cocker at the now-razed Metropolitan Sports Center. (He had two opening acts that evening: Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show and Bobby Whitlock.)

On our drive to the Cities, Rick and I talked, of course, of what we wanted to hear Cocker perform. My main selection was “Delta Lady.” I think he was hoping for “Bird On The Wire.” And we began to talk about what songs we’d like to hear by other performers, were we ever lucky enough to see them in concert. Since then, I’ve kept a list in my memory of such hopes.

As a caveat to the list, I wrote here in January of 2008:

“I should note that there are many other performers I’d like to see, many of them more current than those here on this list. Some that some immediately to mind are Joss Stone, Tift Merritt, Grace Potter & the Nocturals, David Gray, Colin Linden, Ollabelle and the Dixie Chicks. But I have no one song that immediately comes to mind for those acts.”

And then I shared, in no particular order, the song/performer pairings that have been on my list over the years. The notes in parentheses indicate the dates and places where in fact, I heard that entry.

“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (October 4, 1973, Århus, Denmark)
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (July 1989, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Yesterday” by Paul McCartney (September 2002, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Layla” by Eric Clapton
“American Pie” by Don McLean (Early 1987, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
“That’s The Way God Planned It” by Billy Preston (Spring 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Imagine” by John Lennnon (No longer possible)
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Angel of Harlem” by U2
“The Weight” by The Band (Summer 1994, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood
“Love at the Five and Dime” by Nanci Griffith
“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Summer 1974, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker (April 1972, Bloomington, Minnesota)
“She Was Waiting . . .” by Shawn Phillips (Early 1973, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
“Done Too Soon” by Neil Diamond (September 1971, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King (August 1995, State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota)
“Follow” by Richie Havens

When I shared that list, I was hopeful that I’d be able to enter a date and place for Havens’ “Follow.” But faced with a vast catalog from more than forty years of recording, Havens bypassed “Follow” in the course of a remarkable concert. Was I disappointed? Only a small bit.

Come sometime this evening, I should be able to add a date and place after “Born To Run” in the list above: The Texas Gal and I have tickets to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tonight at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. We’re pretty high up – in the highest section of the arena, I think – but we’re on the side of the stage and in the front row of our section. We’ll be pretty much directly across the arena from where we sat when we saw Paul McCartney, and those were pretty good seats.

So here, in anticipation, is a selection of five covers of Springsteen songs and his own idiosyncratic alternate take on “Born To Run.”

A Six-Pack of Springsteen Covers (Almost)
“Atlantic City” by The Band from Jericho [1993]
“Because The Night” by the Patti Smith Group from Easter [1978]
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by the Hollies from Another Night [1975]
“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from This Time It’s For Real [1977]
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication [1981]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen (live) from Chimes of Freedom [1988]

Spring ’68: School Bus Serenade

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 6, 2009

On a cool, rainy day in the spring of 1968, the fifty or so students in the two ninth-grade biology classes from St. Cloud’s South Junior High scrambled onto a bus. Joined by a few teachers – I’ve never for one moment envied teachers who have to supervise field trips – we headed out of St. Cloud.

I’m no longer entirely clear on our destinations that day. I think we drove through the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, parts of which are about thirty miles from St. Cloud. I recall getting out of the bus every now and then to look at trees and underbrush and look for evidence of small animals. We had a picnic lunch, if my memory is right, served by class moms in the yard of a classmate’s farm home. And we visited a tree farm near the end of the day.

It was at the tree farm that someone took pictures of the group, which was large enough that it took three shots to get us all. The photographer overlapped the three shots, so if one wanted to, one could overlap the three prints and have a wide-screen image, as it were, showing all of us at once. (These days, that could be done with digital tools and only a little bit of effort. Forty-one years ago, it would have required a bit of darkroom legerdemain.) The best thing I remember about the picture, though, was that one of our teachers, Mr. Lemke, hoisted one of the girls, Patty, onto his shoulders for the picture. They stood at the back of the group on the left, and when the photographer had finished with that side of the group, Mr. Lemke walked behind the group and stood with Patty on his shoulders on the right side of the group. That bit of mischief allowed Mr. Lemke and Patty to seemingly be in two places at once.

On the way back to St. Cloud, one of our classmates astounded all of us by sliding his arm around the girl he’d evidently been dating for a while. Back then, at the ages of fourteen and fifteen, that was an amazingly bold public display of affection. The girls sitting around the couple spent the last five or so minutes of the ride back to school serenading the two of them and the rest of us with a lively version of “Somebody To Love,” the Jefferson Airplane hit from the year before.

The girls might have been singing just because there was no radio playing, but I don’t think so. Had there been a radio on the bus, though, here’s some of what we might have heard.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, May 4, 1968)
“Sweet Inspiration” by the Sweet Inspirations, Atlantic 2476 (No. 18)
“Soul Serenade” by Willie Mitchell, Hi 2140 (No. 30)
“I Will Always Think About You” by the New Colony Six, Mercury 72775 (No. 44)
“I’m Sorry” by the Delfonics, Philly Groove 151 (No. 77)
“I Love You” by People, Capitol 2708 (No. 85)
“Brooklyn Roads” by Neil Diamond, Uni 55065 (No. 124)

Even though they recorded a series of solid soul/R&B albums on their own – seven between 1967 and 1979 for the CCM, Atlantic, Stax and RSO labels – the Sweet Inspirations were likely better known as one of the top groups of background vocalists in the mid- to late 1960s. According to All-Music Guide: “The group evolved from the ’50s gospel group the Drinkard Singers. At various points soul singers Doris Troy, Judy Clay, Dionne Warwick, and sister Dee Dee Warwick were members. By the time they began to record on their own in 1967, their leader was Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney), and the women were renamed the Sweet Inspirations.” Singing along with Houston on “Sweet Inspiration” – taken from the group’s first album – are Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell and Myrna Smith. This week marked the record’s peak position, No. 18, nine weeks after the record first entered the Hot 100. Over the next three weeks, the record would slide to No. 32 and then drop out of the Hot 100 entirely. “Sweet Inspiration” would be the group’s only Top 40 hit.

“Soul Serenade,” which peaked at No. 23 the week after this chart came out, was Willie Mitchell’s second Top 40 hit; “20-75” had gone to No. 31 in 1964. Mitchell’s finest time was still to come, as he spent the last years of the 1960s building a stable of performers, the greatest of whom was Al Green, and refining a sound as recognizable as any in pop music. That Hi Sound, behind O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and especially Al Green, became an inescapable part of the soundtrack of the Seventies.

The New Colony Six was a soft-rock sextet from Chicago that had two Top 40 hits in 1968 and 1969. “I Will Always Think About You” peaked at No. 22 in the first week of June 1968, and “Things I’d Like To Say” went to No. 16 not quite a year later. The group, as a couple of college friends always told me, was much more popular in its home territory: “I Will Always Think About You” was No. 1 at Chicago’s WLS for one week in March of 1968 and ranked No. 31 in the station’s ranking of the year’s top singles.

“I’m Sorry” was the immediate follow-up to the Delfonics’ “La-La- (Means I Love You),” which had gone to No. 4 and was ranked at No. 26 when “I’m Sorry” entered the Hot 100. It strikes me that issuing a follow-up single – even a single as good as “I’m Sorry” – while the group’s first single is still ranked that highly is being a little hasty. Maybe not; I’ve never been an A&R guy. At any rate, “I’m Sorry” didn’t have the impact “La-La” did: It got as high as No. 42, where it stayed for three weeks before tumbling out of the Hot 100. The Delfonics would reach the Top 40 three more times in 1968 and 1969 before getting back to the Top 10 in 1970 with the luminous “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).”

“I Love You” was the second Capitol single by People, a sextet from San Jose, California. According to the notes to the four-CD set Love Is The Song We Sing, after the group’s first single went nowhere, “the band took an obscure Zombies flipside and smothered it in Vanilla Fudge.” The single – one of my favorites from that era – went to No. 14 in June 1968 and was the group’s only Top 40 single.

Here’s what Neil Diamond says about “Brooklyn Roads” in the notes to his In My Lifetime box set: “I had just signed with MCA Records and wanted to stretch my creative wings. This is the most literal and personal story I had written up to that point. ‘Brooklyn Roads’ told of my youth and my aspirations. I loved the freedom of being able to write something without the charts in mind.” A week after “bubbling under” at No. 124, “Brooklyn Roads” slid into the Hot 100, eventually making it to No. 58.