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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.

A Radio Tale

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 12, 2009

It’s one of two things: Either I have the worst summer cold on record (okay, it would technically be a late spring cold), or something in our yard has developed a new and extremely allergenic pollen. Whichever it is I have been sneezing and sniffling for the last couple of days, and my head feels as if someone has stuffed wet rags inside it.

I don’t much care which of the two is the truth (or if in fact, the truth is a third option I’ve not considered). I just want it to stop. For one thing, it makes it hard to think. And if I can’t think, I can’t write, at least not without more of a struggle than usual. So I’m going to take the easy way out today. Yah Shure, caithiseach and I had a tri-cornered round of correspondence this week, sharing a few tunes and our thoughts on those tunes. Along the way, Yah Shure provided me with a single edit of one of my favorite 1970 records, an edit I’d likely not heard in thirty years.

That will show up here tomorrow as a Saturday Single.

He also tossed our way an interesting single from his years as a DJ at St. Cloud’s WJON, the radio station just down Lincoln Avenue from our place. That single’s tale begins, loosely, with memories from his time at WMMR, a student radio station at the University of Minnesota that had much the same purpose as did KVSC at St. Cloud State. I’ll let Yah Shure tell the tale from there.

My music director predecessor at the U’s WMMR was in town last weekend.  Of course, we had to dig out some of the Wimmer goodies from the late ’60s and beyond.  He mentioned a song I’d missed, which was the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest winner, “Ding-A-Dong” by Teach-In.  I downloaded it for a listen, and having discovered that the act was from the Netherlands, I countered with another Dutch tune he’d never heard.  And so begins the story:

“Late At Night” by Maywood had been a number one hit in the Netherlands in July of 1980 on EMI Records.  It took its dear, sweet time before finally washing ashore here, via the tiny L.A.-based Cream label.  To the best of my knowledge, Cream Records never had a hit, although the group Snail put out a decent album and single.  The label’s logo resembled a collision between a “got milk?” ad gone awry and the Sherwin-Williams logo.  Yes, it’s that awful.  Have a look.

Cream Records logo

Maywood consisted of two sisters from Harlingen: Alie and Edith de Vries (aka Alice May and Caren Wood) and their sound was right up ABBA Avenue.  The “Late At Night” single arrived at WJON on March 30, 1981, and the then-chief announcer promptly tossed it into the reject pile.

You-know-who regularly trolled the vinyl graveyard, and that “An EMI-Holland Recording” notation on the bottom of the Cream label warranted an immediate audition.  I thought the record was perfect for WJON, where all things ABBA and Boney M had worked wonders for several years.  But those days had been under a different PD/MD, who knew the market well.  I did manage to play “Late At Night” once on WJON as part of a special show, along with a handful of other new releases with a bit of a retro feel that were not headed for the regular playlist.  It turned out to be my swan song to St. Cloud, as I departed for Oklahoma City a few days later.

Needless to say, Cream Records couldn’t deliver the goods.  Even if WJON had added the record, it would have almost certainly been for naught.  As I’d learned during my days at Heilicher Brothers, the independent distributors rarely took chances on new, unproven labels.  They’d been stiffed too many times in the past when it came to getting credit for unsold returns from such fly-by-night outfits, so they wouldn’t even consider buying any product.  That, in turn, meant no stock in the stores, and no sales meant no airplay.  What a shame.  “Late At Night” was a great record and catchy as hell.  Most of Maywood’s EMI output is no longer in print.

And here’s the record: “Late At Night” by Maywood, Cream 8142 [1981]

The studio version of “Late At Night” is blocked in the U.S. by YouTube, but here’s Maywood performing the song on Dutch television:

(I’m not sure if I need to, but I’ll note for anyone who needs it that PD/MD is, I believe, radio shorthand for Program Director/Music Director.)

People, The Seekers, SCN & Chipmunks

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 7, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Here’s what appears to be a video produced for the People single “I Love You” upon its release in 1968.

I mentioned the Seekers the other day. As I was digging around this morning, I found a clip of “I’ll Never Find Another You” as performed at the group’s July 7, 1968, farewell concert in London.

Here’s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performing “Ohio” sometime during the group’s 1974 tour. It’s pretty much as I remember it from the group’s stop at the St. Paul Civic Center that summer.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s Alvin & the Chipmunks singing “Bad Day,” accompanied by some stills from the 2007 movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a look at Jubilation, the third and final CD released in the 1990s by The Band.

We Dialed BLackburn 1 . . .

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 12, 2009

When I was a sprout and one of the tasks at hand was for me to memorize our home phone number, the chore was helped immensely by the fact that part of our phone number was a word . . . and that was the case all over the U.S. at the time.

In St. Cloud, that word was “BLackburn” and our phone number – a number still in use – began with BLackburn 1. My mom has had that phone number for more than fifty-two years, since some time before we moved from Riverside Drive to Kilian Boulevard. She told me this morning that she thinks that sometime during the nine years on Riverside, the phone number changed from 332OJ to the current one.

Sometime in the 1960s – maybe as early as 1966, using the title of Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789” as a rough historical guide – the alphabetic prefixes to phone numbers were discontinued, and phone numbers became all numeric. I imagine the change had something to do with the technology for direct dialing of long distance calls. But in a way, it’s too bad. There was something kind of neat about those prefixes.

I remember a couple of exchange names beyond BLackburn (which was taken from the name of a city in northern England), mostly from movies and television: MUrray Hill and ALgonquin. The Glenn Miller song “Pennsylvania 6-5000” refers to a phone number. But there had to be thousands of prefixes in use. Many of them are cataloged at the Telephone EXchange Name Project, which is a fascinating place to rummage around. Do you remember your phone number’s prefix? If so, feel free to leave a note.

This came to mind this week, of course, because the RealPlayer landed on “Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes. I posted it here once before, but when it sparked memories of BLackburn, I figured I’d post it again, so I went and found a Billboard Hot 100 from the song’s time on the chart.

A Six-Pack From The Charts
(Billboard Hot 100, September 1, 1962)

“Party Lights” by Claudine Clark, Chancellor 1113 (No. 5)

“The Wah Watusi” by the Orlons, Cameo 218 (No. 24)

“Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54065 (No. 39)

“Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” by the Rivingtons, Liberty 55247 (No. 59)

“The Ballad of Paladin” by Duane Eddy, RCA Victor 8047 (No. 67)

“Lolita Ya-Ya” by the Ventures, Dolton 60 (No. 74)

“Party Lights” is a combination of R&B and the girl group sound, and its success was an accident. The hit was supposed to be the other side of the record, a Jerry Ragovoy tune titled “Disappointed.” Since the B-Side was supposed to be no big deal, according to writer Dave Marsh, the folks at Chancellor let Clark record and produce one of her own songs – “Party Lights” – for the flipside. But “Disappointed” stiffed, and a deejay somewhere flipped the record over. “Party Lights” entered the Hot 100 on June 30, 1962, and a little more than two months later, it peaked at No. 5.

Nonsense sounds! “Wah-Watusi!” “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow!” And you could throw “Lolita Ya-Ya” in there as nonsense, too. The watusi was a dance, of course, and the Orlons’ record found its place in a long line of records about dances that includes “The Stroll” by the Diamonds in 1958, Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” in 1960 and 1961 and continued all the way through the years to Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” in 1996. (That’s obviously a quick and incredibly incomplete list; anyone want to add other dance-titled records?) “The Wah-Watusi” was on its way back down as September started. It peaked at No. 2 in July, being blocked from the top of the charts by Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red.”

As to the Rivingtons’ record, by the end, I don’t think the singers have found out what the title means, except that it sounds good on a record. The record reached only No. 48, which I find a little startling for something that was so much fun. If you want more on “Poppa-Oom-Mow-Mow,” the aforementioned Dave Marsh dissects the relationships between it, the Rivingtons’ 1963 record “The Bird’s The Word” (No. 52) and the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” (which went to No. 4 in 1963) in The Heart of Rock & Soul.

The Ventures’ record – even with its nonsense sounds – is a different kind of animal. If it reminds me of anything at all, it’s French pop from about the same time, the kind of music examined lovingly at the blog blowupdoll, for one. And that makes some sense. The Ventures’ record was a cover of a single by Sue Lyon (MGM 13067) pulled from the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film, Lolita. Lyon played the title role in Kubrick’s film. By the start of September, the Ventures’ “Lolita Ya-Ya” had been in the Hot 100 for five weeks, and it moved up to No. 61 two weeks later and then fell from the chart. (I have no idea how well the Lyon version of the song did on the charts, and I’d be interested to know.)

“The Ballad of Paladin” was the theme to a TV western, Have Gun – Will Travel, which starred Richard Boone and ran on CBS from 1957 through 1963. Boone played a bounty hunter and hired gun who used the alias of Paladin. Eddy’s instrumental version of the theme went to No. 33. On the show, the theme was sung by the suspiciously named Johnny Western:

“Have Gun – Will Travel” reads the card of a man,
A knight without armor in a savage land.
His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind.
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.
Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam.
Paladin, Paladin, far, far from home.

As one might guess, Have Gun – Will Travel was regular Saturday evening viewing at our home.

As to the Marvelettes’ single, it’s a nearly perfect bit of early Motown R&B. It was the fourth of ten Top 40 singles for the Marvelettes, peaking at No. 17, and might be the best things the girls from Inkster, Michigan, ever did. (Though “Please, Mr. Postman” and “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” were close to sublime, too.) The only quibble I have is that the title should have been “BEechwood 4-5789”)