Posts Tagged ‘5th Dimension’

Johnny Rivers, Jim Webb & Balloons?

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 10, 2009

I got an interesting note yesterday. It turns out that the writer, Ted, had happened upon my corner of blogworld during the course of some research. He said he’s part of a small group that shares information, speculation and commentary about music.

One of the recent topics was a 5th Dimension song:

“I did ‘Up, Up and Away’ the other day, talking a little bit about Jim Webb writing ‘Up, Up and Away’ at the request of Johnny Rivers for the 5th Dimension.   One commenter . . . indicated that he had once heard that Johnny Rivers might have been involved in a balloon movie – which was never made but may have influenced his conversation with Jim Webb – or alternatively that Jim Webb may have been commissioned directly to write a balloon song for this movie that never happened.”

And Ted said he’s wandered around the Web and couldn’t find anything that pertained to “Up-Up and Away” and actual ballooning. He asked me if I knew anything about it. I replied, saying that I’d never heard that tale. “That doesn’t mean it’s not true,” I said. “I just don’t have it in the memory banks.”

And I told Ted that I’d ask my readers – who, I told him, “know far more than I do by myself” – if any of them had any information about Jim Webb, Johnny Rivers, a ballooning movie and the song “Up-Up and Away.” So, does anyone know anything about that?

And while you ponder that, here’s a mostly random selection of early 5th Dimension tunes. (In this case, “mostly random” means that I selected the starting tune and the ending tune and switched the order of the random selections in between.)

A Six-Pack of the 5th Dimension
“Up-Up and Away” from Up, Up And Away [1967]
“California Soul” from Stoned Soul Picnic [1968]
“The Magic Garden” from The Magic Garden [1967]
“Hideaway” from The Age of Aquarius [1969]
“Good News” from Stoned Soul Picnic [1968]
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” from The Age of Aquarius [1969]

Saturday Single No. 762

November 20, 2021

Parts of this post have likely shown up in bits and pieces over the years, but those bits all came together in a response the other week to, yes, another question at Facebook. Actually, it was three questions:

Do you remember the first five albums you bought (or at least chose for yourself)?

Do you remember the next five?

Do you listen to any of those albums today?

I’m going to add the words “pop, rock or country” into those questions because otherwise we’d spend time this morning talking about Al Hirt, the Tijuana Brass and John Barry’s James Bond soundtracks (all of which I still like but which likely have a less broad appeal to whatever audience I have here).

We start in the summer of 1969, probably right around the third week of August, when Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 2 and hit the Top Ten on KDWB. So Dad and I picked up a copy of Johnny Cash at San Quentin.

Here’s the next four of my first five. (The first two I selected but did not pay for; for the next two, I laid out my own cash, as I believe I’ve noted here before.)

The Age of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension
Abbey Road by the Beatles
Chicago (now called Chicago II)
Let It Be by the Beatles

That brings us into May 1970 and the end of my junior year of high school. Of those five, I listened most – back then and in the years since – to Abbey Road and the first two sides of the Chicago album.

Except for “25 or 6 to 4,” the third side of Chicago’s double album is inconsequential and the agit-prop of “It Better End Soon” on Side Four hasn’t aged well. (The thought occurs that it may become pertinent again, but it’s still ponderous.) Three of the four tracks on Side One, all of Side Two (including the monumental “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon”) and “25 or 6 to 4” are in the iPod and thus are part of my day-to-day listening.

Almost all of Abbey Road is as enjoyable today as it was back in the autumn of 1969; I have less tolerance now for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” than I did then, but when it pops up on random, I can click past it, and when I’m listening to the full album, it’s gone in 3:28. All of Abbey Road except “Maxwell . . .” is in the iPod.

As to the other three, well, I recently ripped the 5th Dimension album as a full album, but I haven’t listened to it yet. Memory tells me there are some things that work very well and others that don’t; I’m particularly interested in hearing the group’s take on “Sunshine Of Your Love” after at least a thirty-year gap. Two of its tracks – the “Aquarius” medley and “Wedding Bell Blues” are in the iPod.

There are some tracks from Let It Be that I like very much: “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “Two Of Us,” Across the Universe,” “One After 909,” “For You Blue,” and the title track (though I like the single version produced by George Martin more than I do the album version finished with the heavy hand of Phil Spector). But there’s too much dross and silliness, and I prefer the single version of “Get Back,” so the album isn’t essential although some of the tracks are. The five tracks mentioned at the top of this paragraph are all in the iPod, as is the single version of “Let It Be.”

As to the Johnny Cash album, I’ve got it on CD (as I do all four of the others mentioned here), but I can’t recall the last time I purposefully listened to any of it. I don’t click out of the tracks if they pop up on the RealPlayer on random, but I don’t seek them out, and none of them are in the iPod.

I was going to look at the second five albums, too, but this has turned out longer than I anticipated, so we’ll look at those next Saturday. As for something to feature, we may as well make the 5th Dimension’s cover of “Sunshine Of Your Love” today’s Saturday Single.

Some Work

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 23, 2009

Hi. I ran some errands this morning, and my to-do list is approaching an unmanageable length. So here’s an appropriate selection for today. See you tomorrow!

A Six-Pack of Work/Busy
“Working In The Vineyard” by Jesse Winchester from Let The Rough Side Drag [1976]
“The Working Hour” by Tears For Fears from Songs From The Big Chair [1985]
“The Work Song” by Maria Muldaur from Maria Muldaur [1974]
“I’ve Been Working Too Hard” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from Better Days [1991]
“Working On A Groovy Thing” by the 5th Dimension from The Age of Aquarius [1969]
“Work To Do” by the Average White Band from Average White Band [1974]

Saturday Single No. 604

August 11, 2018

We’ve spent some time this week considering what I was hearing on the radio as I prepared for my senior year of high school in August 1970, and we’ve theorized about what my cousins in California were hearing on the radio at the same time.

So I wondered this morning as the Texas Gal and I ran a brief errand: What was I listening to in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard at that summer played out? Well, the playlist was pretty slender as far a pop and rock went. As August 1970 hit its mid-point, these were the pop, rock and R&B albums I had available:

The Age Of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension
Let It Be by the Beatles
Chicago by Chicago
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Best Of Bee Gees
Hey Jude by the Beatles

For more pop/rock, I could, if I wanted to, dig deeper into the crate where I kept my albums and supplement those six with Herman’s Hermits On Tour and Look At Us by Sonny and Cher, albums my sister had given me as gifts for birthdays in 1965 and 1966, and Beatles ’65, which we had received for Christmas in 1964. And for some changes of pace, there were always my Al Hirt and Herb Alpert records and my John Barry soundtracks.

(Then, too, there were my sister’s LPs, which ran a wide gamut: Jefferson Airplane, Judy Collins, John Denver, Glenn Yarbrough, some classical LPs and Traditional Jewish Memories, the tale of which I’ve told here before.)

Those all were in the mix as I lazed on the green couch during that summer of 1970, with the more recent pop and rock certainly getting more frequent play. And as I think about that list, I single out the album by the 5th Dimension, which I bought through our record club during the autumn of 1969, my first full season of listening to Top 40. And I wonder, not for the first time: What moved me to select it?

As I ponder the question, I come up with several reasons: I was hearing “Wedding Bell Blues” (No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in November 1969) with increasing frequency on the radio; during the summer of 1969, I bought the single “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” after it spent six weeks at No. 1 in April and May 1969; and most importantly, in October of 1969, I spent a couple hours in the fifth row or so for a concert by the 5th Dimension at St. Cloud State.

For as long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been dating the start of my pop/rock/soul LP collecting to May of 1970, when I brought home Let It Be and Chicago. I think the dividing line I drew was that I purchased those records with my own money. The 5th Dimension album, on the other hand, was one of the six each year that Dad bought for me from the record club.

On one side, the fact of laying out my own cash for records makes a difference: Those records were my investment. On the flip side, just selecting from the club an LP by the 5th Dimension shows that my tastes were changing, my ears bending toward new sounds.

So what does all that mean to a reader? Probably not much. But I use this place to not only share the music I love and the story of my life but to sort out that story. And this wandering post is going to conclude that I should date my pop/rock/soul LP collecting from the autumn of 1969 with The Age Of Aquarius.

The medley that includes the title track was one of the selections in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox, so we’ll look elsewhere on the album this morning, finding one of my favorite deep tracks, making “The Winds Of Heaven” today’s Saturday Single.

First Wednesday: March 1968

March 9, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month (except for this month, when my schedule and memory failed me, delaying the post by two days. But we’re still calling it “First Wednesday”).

As had been the case for many of the months preceding it, and as would be the case for many of the following months, the month of March 1968 was dominated – at least in the U.S. – by news of the Vietnam War and of the presidential campaign just getting under way.

During the month’s first week, what is now called the First Battle of Saigon ended. The battle had started in January as part of the Tet, or New Year’s, offensive of the army of North Vietnam and the guerrilla Viet Cong. During the First Battle of Saigon, thirty-five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces attacked six specific targets in the capital of South Vietnam, then called Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.

As I’ve mentioned before, the fighting – in Saigon and elsewhere in South Vietnam – ended in a clear military defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, but those forces won the war of perception, as U.S. military and civilian leaders had been telling us here in the U.S. for some time that the enemy no longer had the ability to mount major military operations. Oops.

Back in the U.S., the war was the major topic of conversation in the presidential election, then just getting underway. President Lyndon Johnson won the Democratic side of the March 12 primary election in New Hampshire, the first in the nation. But the president’s slender victory – 49 percent to 42 percent – over anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy was received by the president as a repudiation of his policies, especially in Vietnam. Consequently, on the last day of March, he announced to a nation-wide television audience that he would not seek re-election.

Between the end of the Tet Offensive and the end of President Johnson’s presidential campaign came one of the U.S.’s darkest days in Vietnam. On March 16, a battalion of American soldiers was told to enter the villages Sơn Mỹ and find the hamlets called My Lai 1, 2, 3 and 4, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese sympathizers had been reported. Their orders, according to Wikipedia, were to “burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells.” The battalion’s Charlie Company was told by its commander, Captain Ernest Medina, that nearly all the civilian residents of the village would have left for the market that morning by seven o’clock, meaning that anyone in the village when the company arrived was almost certainly an enemy.

Wikipedia says that, in a later court martial, some of the soldiers in Charlie Company testified that they understood their orders as being “to kill all guerilla and North Vietnamese combatants and ‘suspects’ (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells.”

And that’s what they did. The toll? Even today, fifty years later, it’s unclear. Wikipedia says that the number of civilian deaths at My Lai was either 347 (according to the U.S. military) or 504 (according to a memorial at the site in Vietnam). The consequences? The U.S. military quickly initiated a cover-up of the massacre, a cover-up that eventually unraveled, thanks largely to a whistle-blower in the U.S. Army and to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Eventually, the U.S. Army tried one general for the cover-up and one soldier – Lt. William Calley – for the massacre. The general was acquitted; Calley was convicted and would up serving four and one-half months in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, during which time he was allowed routine and unrestricted visits by his girlfriend, according to a book by Aryeh Neier on war crimes and their effects.

By utter coincidence, on the same day as the massacre, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race.

Also in March 1968, according to Wikipedia:

A demonstration against American policies in Vietnam took place March 17 in London’s Grosvenor Square, site of the U.S. Embassy, and turned violent. A total of ninety-one people were injured and 200 were arrested.

On March 19, student protests began at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. The protests were marked by “the first building takeover on a college campus,” which Wikipedia says marked “a new era of militant student activism on American college campuses.” For five days, students staged a sit-in of the university’s administration building, temporarily shutting down the school. The impetus for the demonstration, according to Wikipedia, was the punishment of thirty-seven students who had disrupted the university’s Charter Day celebration on March 1. Additional causes of the protests were “the school’s ROTC program and military recruitment; the disproportionate number of African-Americans being sent into combat in the Vietnam War; and the lack of curriculum of African-American studies.”

In Nanterre, France, on March 22, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and seven other students “occupied the eighth-floor faculty lounge in the administration building at University of Paris X Nanterre, commonly referred to as the University of Nanterre,” an action whose consequences eventually brought France into a state of revolution in the month of May.

Even during a grim month in a grim year, there was always music for solace, though any kind of solace was becoming more difficult to find. Still, we listened, and in the first week of March, these were the top fifteen songs on WDGY in Minneapolis:

“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Valley of the Dolls” by Dionne Warwick
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by the First Edition
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Everything That Touches You” by the Association
“I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving” by Herman’s Hermits
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“Too Much Talk” by Paul Revere & the Raiders
“Baby, Now That I Found You” by the Foundations
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“We’re A Winner” by the Impressions

That same week, the top albums in the U.S. were:

Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross and the Supremes
Disraeli Gears by Cream

The top fifteen singles are not bad, maybe a little gooey in spots, especially the top spot. The albums are a great set, except for one. And no, it’s not the Paul Mauriat I dismiss. That’s still a pretty good album, for what it is. It’s the Rolling Stones’ record that doesn’t fit. I have digital versions of eight of those ten albums, and I have a Supremes anthology that includes the tunes on Greatest Hits. The only one of those ten albums unrepresented on the digital shelves is Their Satanic Majesties Request. Even when I had the vinyl, I never listened to it. It’s a mostly inconsequential album, with only “She’s A Rainbow” and, maybe, “2000 Light Years From Home” having any weight.

The album I’m sharing here today wouldn’t be released until September, so it doesn’t at all reflect the upheaval and anguish of April. But today’s album does represent a trend in pop music of the merging and mingling of styles.

The 5th Dimension first hit the charts in February 1967 with the single “Go Where You Wanna Go,” a No. 16 cover of the Mamas & the Papas song. Four months later, “Up-Up And Away” went to No. 7 while the album from which the singles had been pulled, Up, Up and Away, went to No. 8. (And no, I have no idea why the song title and the album title are punctuated differently; it’s bothered me for years.) The album and the singles were all produced by Johnny Rivers and released on his Soul City label.

The sound of the 5th Dimension has been described as what would happen if the Mamas and the Papas sang in Motown. That’s a little harsh and not quite right. Yes, the sound is at least partly a blending of California pop and R&B, and it’s true that the 5th Dimension’s music is not as gritty as were the sounds coming out of Detroit and Memphis. But rather than trying to create a Motown-Lite sound, I think what Rivers and the members of the 5th Dimension were trying to do was to bring several things – including Motown grit – into L.A.-based pop.

The three male members of the 5th Dimension hailed from blues- and R&B-drenched St. Louis, while Marilyn McCoo came from Jersey City and Florence LaRue Gordon was from Pennsylvania. Add that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella in New York City, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear bits of Philly-Jersey-New York girl groups and echoes of street-corner crooning in the 5th Dimension’s music, combined with a pop-soul sensibility and all laid over a bed of L.A. session work by musicians who clearly had been listening to Motown and Stax.

The group’s third album, Stoned Soul Picnic, came out in August 1968. (The group’s second album, 1967’s The Magic Garden, spun off the minor singles “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man” but otherwise failed to make much of an impact.) Three singles from Stoned Soul Picnic charted: “Stoned Soul Picnic” (No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart) and “Sweet Blindness” (No. 13 on the Hot 100) were both written by Laura Nyro, while the song-writing team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson created “California Soul,” which went to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went to No. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Those who pore over studio credits on the backs of album jackets found much to celebrate when they looked at the back of Stoned Soul Picnic. On guitars were Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasy and Ray Pohlman. Joe Osborn and Pohlman handled bass. Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles were on keyboards. Larry Bunker handled marimba, vibes and other percussion, and the drum work came from Hal Blaine. (Just listen to the fills and you’ll know that.) Also credited were the Sid Sharp Strings and the Bill Holman Brass. Marc Gordon, who was credited with Johnny Rivers as producer on Up, Up and Away a year earlier, was credited with “co-ordination,” while Rivers was called a “realizor” on Stoned Soul Picnic.

The album is a good one, falling into the genre that I call pop-soul rather than R&B: Lighter than a lot of things I listen to and certainly lighter than a lot of things that were being listened to in 1968. Heavy times need some lightness once in a while, though, and I think that’s what the 5th Dimension provided.

(The video includes a bonus track, “East of Java,” which one can only assume came from the same sessions.)

Tracks:

Sweet Blindness
It’ll Never Be The Same Again
The Sailboat Song
It’s A Great Life
Stoned Soul Picnic
California Soul
Lovin’ Stew
Broken Wing Bird
Good News
Bobbie’s Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
The Eleventh Song (What A Groovy Day!)
East of Java (bonus track)

‘Orange’

August 6, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.

‘Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya’

November 29, 2011

We’re doing some rearranging around here, the kind of reorganization that involves moving heavy boxes from one level of the house to the other. We spent quite a bit of time on that task over the long Thanksgiving weekend, with the Texas Gal filling boxes in the loft and me taking them down to the basement.

At this point, those boxes still stand in the center of the basement floor. Their final destination will be one of the back corners, though that will have to wait maybe one more day until a few rarely used muscles tell me they are ready to cooperate once more. And when that is done, next weekend promises more boxes that need moving. I think – though I am not certain – that next weekend’s boxes will be filled with fabric rather than with scrapbooking materials, so they should be lighter.  And I also think – though again, I am not certain – that next weekend’s boxes will go to the main floor and not the basement, making the task easier.

The eventual outcome of the rearranging will find the Texas Gal’s quilting/sewing room on the main floor, just down the hallway from the Echoes In The Wind studios, so we’ll feel like we’re in the same house when we’re hobbying. Should we have anything to say to each other, sound will carry better down the hallway than it does up the stairway and around several corners.

All that brought to mind this morning one of my favorite tracks by the 5th Dimension: “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya” was the B-side of “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In (The Flesh Failures),” which was – as I’ve related before – the first music 45 I ever bought. That makes “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya” my first B-side, and I imagine I played it once or twice while the A-side was getting repeated plays. The tune also showed up on the album Age of Aquarius, which I got hold of sometime in the autumn of 1969.

And simply because I like to do these types of things, here’s an easy listening cover of “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya” by British bandleader Ted Heath, found on the posthumously released 1970 album The Big Ones.

First Friday: April 1968

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 4, 2008

Forty years ago this evening, I went into the living room to watch something on television. It was just after dinner and dishes, so it was somewhere between six and half-past six. Or maybe it was nearly seven o’clock. I’m not sure, and I have no idea what it was I was planning to watch that Thursday evening.

The television schedule for that evening shows nothing I’d have been interested in: Batman, The Flying Nun, Cimmaron Strip and Daniel Boone occupied the hour between half-past six and half-past seven. I’m sure I was planning to watch as much as I could that evening of a Minnesota North Stars playoff game from Los Angeles, but that would be later. When I turned the television on that evening, it was still light outside.

But almost as soon I turned the television on, it was dark. One of the national newscasters – I do not recall which one – told me and millions more that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed that evening in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been shot while on the balcony of his motel room, preparing for another evening of supporting the sanitation workers’ strike that had brought him to the city.

I was fourteen but already had – as I’ve noted before – a sense of news and a sense of history. I imagine I went and told my parents the news, but I know I sat in front of the television for a couple hours as the white men employed by whatever network I was watching tried to make sense of the assassination of a black leader. Except they couldn’t make sense of it, of course. It was one more brick of insanity falling in place in the mad wall that 1968 was building.

Campaigning in inner city Indianapolis that evening, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy found himself relating the news of Dr. King’s assassination to a crowd of black supporters. “It fell to Kennedy,” writes Tom Brokaw in his book, Boom!, “to deliver the news, which was so shocking and unexpected that it took everyone a few moments to absorb the enormity of the fact.”

Brokaw goes on:

“As he stood in the darkness, illuminated only by the lights of news cameras, Kennedy talked gently but intensely about the need to resist ‘hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction . . .’ he said, ‘or we can make an effort as Martin Luther King did to . . . remove that stain of bloodshed that spread across our land.”

In what Brokaw calls “one of the most powerful speeches of Kennedy’s career, delivered extemporaneously,” Kennedy told the crowd:

“Aeschylus once wrote: ‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country; whether they be white or whether they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.”

There was no violence in Indianapolis that night, but riots broke out starting that night and over the next few days in more than a hundred U.S. cities in response to Dr. King’s murder, including – according to Wikipedia – Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. In an event that may or may not have been related but that added to the tension in the country, two days after Dr. King was murdered, a shootout in California between Oakland police and members of the Black Panthers resulted in several deaths, including that of Panther Bobby Hutton, who was sixteen.

Racial tension continued to spark riots through the spring, as in Louisville, Kentucky, in late May, where rumors that white authorities were intentionally delaying a plane that was bringing black leader Stokely Carmichael to Louisville triggered two days of rioting in the city’s west end. A year already bad was getting worse.

Also that month:

In Germany, Rudi Dutschke, the head of APO, a left-wing student organization opposed to the sitting government, was attacked and injured April 11 (he would die eleven years later from his brain injuries). The same day, German left-wing students blockaded the Berlin headquarters of the Springer Press. Many of them were arrested, including Ulrike Meinhof, who in the next few years would organize the Red Army Faction, a German revolutionary organization.

From April 23 through April 30, protestors at Columbia University in New York took over adminstration buildings and shut down the university. Wikipedia says the “protests erupted . . . after students discovered links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as their concern over an allegedly segregatory gymnasium to be constructed in a local park.”

From where I sat in the American Midwest, the world was falling apart. That wall of insane bricks the year was building, seemingly of its own accord, was getting larger. At the end of the month, there was an event that, looking back, provides a smile. At the time, though, it did nothing more for people of my parents’ generation than provide another bit of confirmation that the world was indeed going mad: On April 29, the musical Hair – with its songs about drugs and sex and its on-stage nudity – opened on New York City’s Broadway.

Within a year, despite its depravity, Hair would spin off four Top Ten singles for four different groups or performers: “Hair” by the Cowsills (No. 2), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension (No. 1), “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver (No. 3) and “Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night (No. 4).

But those hits came in 1969. What was it we were listening to during the first week of April 1968, when the bricks began to fall faster?

Here’s the Top 15 from Billboard for the first week of April 1968:

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Valleri” by the Monkees
“La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Georgie Fame
“Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Might Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” by Manfred Mann
“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Dance To The Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark

If nothing else, it was a great time to seek solace with a radio (with the probable exception of “Honey”; I can live with “Simon Says”). Some folks, of course, liked their music in long form. Here’s what the Top Ten album chart looked like during the first week of April 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/Soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Valley of the Dolls by Dionne Warwick
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack

If one were looking at that as a shopping list, there are only a couple of hitches. One could get by without The Graduate for the most part as long as he or she had three Simon & Garfunkel albums: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; and the forthcoming Bookends. That would give the listener all the S&G songs from the movie except for one version of “Mrs. Robinson.” Completists, of course, would need The Graduate. Other than that, the only album that’s not essential to get a musical sense of 1968 would be the Dionne Warwick record. The album’s two hits – the title song and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” – don’t gain anything by being heard in the context of the album, which has otherwise always seem extraneous to me. The Paul Mauriat album, on the other hand, has always been enjoyable, from the hit title song on down, a remnant of the times – not all that far gone – when the album charts were dominated by pretty music and not by rock.

The album I’m sharing here today wouldn’t be released until September, so it doesn’t at all reflect the upheaval and anguish of April. (I thought about posting Hair here today, but I couldn’t get a good enough rip; maybe next month. I also thought about posting Otis Redding’s The Dock Of The Bay, but that Stax album is basically a collection of previously released singles and holds little interest to me as an album.) But today’s album does represent a trend in pop music of the merging and mingling of styles.

The 5th Dimension first hit the charts in February 1967 with the single “Go Where You Wanna Go,” a No. 16 cover of the Mamas & the Papas song. Four months later, “Up-Up And Away” went to No. 7 while the album from which the singles had been pulled, Up, Up and Away, went to No. 8. (And no, I have no idea why the song title and the album title are punctuated differently; it’s bothered me for years.) The album and the singles were all produced by Johnny Rivers and released on his Soul City label.

The sound of the 5th Dimension has been described as what would happen if the Mamas and the Papas sang in Motown. That’s a little harsh and not quite right. Yes, the sound is at least partly a blending of California pop and R&B, and it’s true that the 5th Dimension’s music is not as gritty as were the sounds coming out of Detroit. But rather than trying to create a Motown-Lite sound, I think what Rivers and the members of the 5th Dimension were trying to do was to bring several things – including Motown grit – into L.A.-based pop. The three male members of the 5th Dimension hailed from blues- and R&B-drenched St. Louis, while Marilyn McCoo came from Jersey City and Florence LaRue Gordon was from Pennsylvania. Add that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella in New York City, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear bits of Philly-Jersey-New York girl groups and echoes of street-corner crooning in the 5th Dimension’s music, combined with a pop-soul sensibility and all laid over a bed of L.A. session work by musicians who clearly had been listening to Motown and Stax.

The group’s third album, Stoned Soul Picnic, came out in August 1968. (The group’s second album, 1967’s The Magic Garden, spun off the minor singles “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man” but otherwise failed to make much of an impact.) Three singles from the album charted: “Stoned Soul Picnic” (No. 3) and “Sweet Blindness” (No. 13) were both written by Laura Nyro, while the song-writing team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson created “California Soul,” which went to No. 25. The album itself went to No. 21 on the Billboard chart.

Those who pore over studio credits on the backs of album jackets found much to celebrate when they looked at the back of Stoned Soul Picnic. On guitars were Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasy and Ray Pohlman. Joe Osborn and Pohlman handled bass. Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles were on keyboards. Larry Bunker handled marimba, vibes and other percussion, and the drum work came from Hal Blaine. (Just listen to the fills and you’ll know that.) Also credited were the Sid Sharp Strings and the Bill Holman Brass. Marc Gordon, who was credited with Johnny Rivers as producer on Up, Up and Away a year earlier, was credited with “co-ordination,” while Rivers was called a “realizor” on Stoned Soul Picnic.

The album is a good one, falling into the genre that I call pop-soul rather than R&B: Lighter than a lot of things I listen to and certainly lighter than a lot of things that were being listened to in 1968. Heavy times need some lightness once in a while, though, and I think that’s what the 5th Dimension provided.

(This rip, which I found online a few months ago, is from the now out-of-print CD release and contains a bonus track, “East of Java,” which I can only assume came from the same sessions. My thanks to the original uploader, though I have forgotten who that was.)

Tracks:
Sweet Blindness
It’ll Never Be The Same Again
The Sailboat Song
It’s A Great Life
Stoned Soul Picnic
California Soul
Lovin’ Stew
Broken Wing Bird
Good News
Bobbie’s Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
The Eleventh Song (What A Groovy Day!)
East of Java*
*bonus track

5th Dimension – Stoned Soul Picnic [1968]

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moving

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2007

Although many people in the U.S. and the rest of the world that observes Christmas are now at their destinations, I’d wager that nearly as many are still in motion, heading toward their holiday celebrations with that odd mixture of anticipation, anxiety and exasperation that holiday travel brings.

When I was a kid, our holiday traveling was simple: driving about a hundred and thirty miles from St. Cloud to my grandfather’s farm near the small southwest Minnesota town of Lamberton. Some years, we’d go down to the farm a week or so before Christmas, and then – during my teen years and later – we’d head down on Christmas Eve.

Either way, we marked Christmas Eve with a dinner of creamed lutefisk over potatoes. Lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish, one that tends to put off those not raised in the Nordic tradition. It begins with dried whitefish that is then rehydrated in solutions of first, cold water; second, water and lye; and third, cold water again. The rehydrated fish is then baked, flaked and stirred into a cream sauce and served over potatoes. The aroma of lutefisk baking is pungent and distinctive; it is also for me the scent of Christmas Eve at Lamberton. If I ever smell it again, I will in an instant be in that farmhouse two miles outside of town where I spent my first eighteen Christmases.

Looking back, although the times we went to the farm in the days before Christmas were fun – there was always something to explore out in the barnyard, and trips into town with Grandpa almost always resulted in a treat of some kind – my memory tends to settle on those years when we made the three-hour trek to Lamberton on Christmas Eve itself. Each of the small cities on our route had its holiday decorations up, brightening the way through town, and along the way – in the cities and out on the farms that we saw across the snowy fields – houses, other buildings and trees were strung with brightly colored lights.

As we drove through the gathering dark of the late December afternoon, we listened – as did nearly all Minnesotans, as I’ve mentioned before – to WCCO, the Minneapolis radio station. With our headlights slicing through the dimness ahead, we’d hear the announcer note, on a regular basis, that military radar had once again observed the presence of a high-flying object setting out from the North Pole. By the mid-1960s, my sister and I no longer believed in a flesh and blood Santa Claus, but I think that we both smiled every year when we heard the radio bulletin. It was part of our Christmas Eve.

And so was movement. We drove through the late afternoon, heading toward lutefisk and then a church service, then gifts, and the next day, a large family dinner. Christmas itself meant resting in a familiar place, but Christmas Eve meant moving, whether it was the motion of a fictional Santa Claus from the North Pole or the motion of the mid-1960s auto carrying me and my sister toward our place of Christmas rest.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moving
“Diamond on the Move” by Pete Rugolo from Music From Richard Diamond, 1959

“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town” by Little Milton from We’re Gonna Make It, 1965

“She’s About A Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe single 8308, 1965

“Move to Japan” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

“I’m Movin’ On” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Train Keep On Movin’” by the 5th Dimension from the Up, Up and Away sessions, 1966 & 1967

“Move ’Em Out” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from D & B Together, 1972

“We Shall Not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples from We’ll Never Turn Back, 2007

“She Moves On’ by Paul Simon from The Rhythm of the Saints, 1989

“You Got To Move” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from One Foot in the Groove, 1997

“Moving” by Howlin’ Wolf from The Back Door Wolf, 1973

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380, 1978

“Something In The Way She Moves” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort from Second Spring, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

“Diamond on the Move” is from an album of music from a late 1950s television show. Richard Diamond, Private Detective was on first CBS and then NBC during the years 1957 to 1960, following a stint on radio from 1949 to 1953. I don’t recall ever seeing the show, but I came across a rip of music from the soundtrack some time ago and thought it was kind of cool.

The Sir Douglas Quintet was the vaguely British-sounding name that producer Huey Meaux gave to Doug Sahm and his band in 1965 in order to compete with the vast number of hits coming into the U.S. from England during what was called the British Invasion. There was nothing of the Mersey River in the work of Texans Sahm and his band; their river was the San Antonio. But the song went to No. 13 and musical polymath Sahm had a long career until his death in 1999.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” comes from one of 2007’s greatest albums, Mavis Staples’ extraordinary tribute to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, We’ll Never Turn Back. With help from the original vocalists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – called in the 1960s the SNCC Freedom Singers – as well as from South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and roots musician extraordinaire Ry Cooder, Staples’ album is both a joy and a moving historical document. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an adaptation of the old song “I Shall Not Be Moved,” which some sources list as traditional but that other sources credit to the Charley Patton, the Delta bluesman of the 1920s and 1930s. I don’t normally post things recorded so recently, but this is too marvelous to pass by.

The Howling Wolf track comes from The Back Door Wolf, the last album the massive bluesman recorded before his death in 1976.

It’s Election Day: Go Vote!

November 2, 2010

I was going to write about a 1961 stocking stuffer, a 1964 LP and a certain form of magazine advertising today – and yes, they all link together – but I realized it’s Election Day.

I shifted gears and tried to write about the sorry state of our election process, and find I can’t do that without being either so milquetoastish that I say nothing significant or so angry that I offend a good portion of the readers I think I have.

So I’m just going to say to those of my readers here in the United States: Go vote. It matters.

Now, you and I might not support the same candidates, and we might have markedly different ideas about how best this nation can make its way through the difficulties it now faces. But I have to believe that whoever we vote for, our votes are cast in good faith. If your vote and mine cancel each other, that’s fine. That’s part of the bargain of democracy.

I have my hopes for today’s vote, and you, my readers, have yours. Whatever those hopes are, go express them at the ballot box sometime today.

And here’s a medley that might remind you – if you need it – where we came from, how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go.

The 5th Dimension:
“Medley: The Declaration [of Independence]/A Change Is Gonna Come/People Gotta Be Free”

From Portrait [1970]