Posts Tagged ‘Al Stewart’

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.

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Al Stewart, Country Joe & War

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 18, 2008

Thursday means YouTube, so here’s my first find: A live performance by Al Stewart of “Year of the Cat” from 1979. There’s a sign at the back of the venue off to the side of the stage that reads “Musikladen.” Does that give us any information about the venue? I’m guessing Germany or Holland, perhaps one of the Nordic countries. But does anyone know anything else?

Even if no more is known, it’s a pretty good performance. There’s a witty introduction by the pianist: Listen for the brief quote from “As Time Goes By” in that introduction, a winking reference to Casablanca, which is, of course, “a Bogart movie.”

Here’s a gem: A live performance from Country Joe and the Fish of “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine,” a track from Electric Music For The Mind And Body. The performance is from the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

“Low Rider” by War was in a Six-Pack here the other day. I couldn’t find a good clip of War performing that track, but here’s a clip from 1970 of Eric Burdon and War performing “Spill The Wine.”

Tomorrow, I’ll be digging into Grab Bag No. 2, with one of the three 45s offering one of the more odd Christmas tunes I’ve ever heard, a single from sometime in the late 1960s that wonders if old St. Nick is counter-cultural.

The Anniversary Of Flight

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 17, 2008

One of my favorite books when I was a kid was titled Men of Science or something like that. (It’s one of the few books from my childhood that has not stayed with me over the years, for some reason, so I’m not at all sure of the title.) I got it as a birthday present when I was eight, and it didn’t take me long at all to work my way through the biographies in the slender volume.

I recall reading the stories of Louis Pasteur, Alexander Fleming, Guglielmo Marconi, Enrico Fermi and the Wright Brothers. I think that the book also had chapters on Henry Ford and on Pierre and Marie Curie, but I’m not certain. (There were some scientists missing, if I recall the book correctly. I’d think that chapters on Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and a few others should have been there but weren’t, if my memory is accurate.)

Beyond broadening a young boy’s knowledge (and the book was, I recall, aimed specifically at boys in a way that it might not be today), I think that one of the goals of the book’s authors was to guide its readers toward science and scientific thinking as a career. Well, to me at age eight, a life in science wasn’t all that attractive. But the book did make me think: I remember reading the entry on Marconi, which presented the inventor’s internal thoughts as he prepared to test his mechanism for sending and receiving radio waves. “How do they know what he thought?” I wondered. “Who told them that?” In other words, what was their source? I was being a editor.

The book came to mind as I looked at today’s date. It was 105 years ago today that Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the first recorded powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (There are other claims to the Wrights’ achievement, says Wikipedia, but authorities favor the Wrights.) So it’s a good day for songs about flying.

A Six Pack of Flying

“Flying Sorcery” by Al Stewart from Year of the Cat, 1976

“Flying” by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy, 1971

“Learning To Fly” by Pink Floyd from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, 1987

“Come Fly With Me” by Wild Butter from Wild Butter, 1970

“Flying High” by Country Joe & the Fish from Electric Music For The Mind And Body, 1967

“Fly Baby Fly” by the Main Ingredient from Bitter Sweet, 1972

A few notes:

When it came out in 1976, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat was one of those LP’s that for a year or so was never far from my turntable. Like most U.S listeners, I was unfamiliar with the native of Glasgow, Scotland, until then, but the songs on Year of the Cat – melodic, filled with historic and cultural allusions and produced remarkably well by Alan Parsons – made me a fan. While I like the title song immensely, “Flying Sorcery” is, for those very reasons – the combination of melody, intelligent lyric and pristine production – my favorite Stewart track.

It Ain’t Easy was the album that helped Long John Baldry become lots more hip than he ever had been, at least in England, where he was well known as a folk-blues singer who had drifted over the years to the middle of the road. In the U.S., I would guess, he wasn’t known much at all. But 1971’s It Ain’t Easy – with Rod Stewart producing the first side of the LP and Elton John producing the second – brought Baldry back to attention in the U.K. and into the U.S. spotlight for the first time. The opening track, “Conditional Discharge/Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock & Roll,” was a staple of FM radio in the early Seventies. “Flying” was a track from the second side of the album, and Elton John’s work on both piano and organ are good, but to me, the long track works because of the byplay between Baldry and the background singers, led by Lesley Duncan, a studio stalwart in Britain in those years.

“Learning to Fly” is a track from Pink Floyd’s 1987 album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. A single edit was released and spent eight weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 that October and November, peaking at No. 70.

Anything I know about Wild Butter, I learned from Leonard at the blog Redtelephone66. When he posted Wild Butter’s self-titled 1970 album last February, Leonard wrote:

“Wild Butter was started in 1970 by drummer/lead singer Rick Garen and keyboard player Jerry Buckner. Garen had previously been in the Collection and recorded a demo called ‘Little Man.’ Former Rogues member Jerry was impressed and got Eric Stevens, WIXY program director and manager of Damnation of Adam Blessing, interested as well. Stevens took it to New York and after a week or two Buckner got a call saying the band had a LP recording deal with United Artists, only there was no band, yet, although UA didn’t know that. ‘Put a band together’ was the request [,] and Rick and Jerry talked to their Akron peers and found Jon Senne’ (guitar) and Steve Price (bass) willing to get on board. Wild Butter played a month or so before recording the LP at Cleveland Recording. ‘Little Man’ was not done, but a whole LP was, including excellent songwriting contributions from everyone. Considering the short time the band had to work up the songs, the high level of writing, musicianship, and vocals are amazing, and the LP is certainly a lost treasure of 1970 contemporary unpretentious melodic rock.”

One of the Rolling Stone album guides said something to the effect that in 1967, any self-respecting hippie had to own a copy of Electric Music For The Mind And Body. Given the number of vinyl copies of the album I’ve seen over the years in used music stores and pawnshops and at garage sales, that might be correct. “Flying High,” the album’s opening track, represents pretty accurately the ethos of the album and the group and most likely most young folks in California in 1967.

“Fly Baby Fly” is a nice bit of light pop-soul from the Main Ingredient’s Bitter Sweet album, the same album that included “Everybody Plays The Fool,” which went to No. 3 in 1972.

Edited slightly on archival posting.

Into The Junkyard On Friday Morning

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2008

I’ve got plenty of things waiting in the pile of music I eventually intend to post here. There’s one last Patti Dahlstrom record, three albums by Redwing, a country-rock group from the Seventies. Bonnie Bramlett, John Stewart. Michael Johnson, Kim Carnes, Gypsy. Malo, Romeo Void, Shawn Phillips and Steve Forbert.

That list could go much longer, as the records line up in the study, patiently waiting to be spun and heard once more. They’ll get their chances, but not today, at least not this morning.

In anticipation of the holiday weekend, the Texas Gal has taken the day off. While she will likely check in with her office via her newly issued laptop sometime during the day, we also plan to spend some time doing nothing together. And to get to that sooner, I won’t be ripping an album this morning or writing anything too deep or detailed.

Instead, here’s a random Walk Through the Junkyard, starting with a group that, surprisingly, has only popped up here three times, once with Bob Dylan.

“Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty, 1970

“Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys, Capitol single 5009, 1963

“Cattle and Cane” by the Go-Betweens from Hollywood, 1983

“A Thousand Miles” by Joy of Cooking from Closer to the Ground, 1971

“Ball of Twine” by Lightning Hopkins, Ash Grove, Hollywood, August 1961

“North Country Blues” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“Rise and Fall” by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band from The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, 1974

“A Sense of Deja Vu” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel, 1975

“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” by Michael McDonald, Warner Bros. single 29933, 1982

“For Your Love” by the Yarbirds, Epic single 9790, 1964

“Wallflower” by Doug Sahm from Doug Sahm and Band, 1973

“To The River” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Crystal” by Buckingham Nicks from Buckingham Nicks, 1973

“I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine, ABC single 12117, from the soundtrack to Nashville, 1976

A few notes:

“Truckin’” was released in two forms – the album version here and a single (Warner Bros. 7464) that ran 3:16, almost two minutes shorter than the album track. Considering the state of radio and the state of the culture at the time, I find it amazing that the single didn’t crack the Top 40, with its loopy and matter-of-fact tale of druggies and narcs, travel and blissful crash-pad paranoia. (When I hear the song, I can’t help flashing to Cheech & Chong a few years later: “Dave’s not here, man.”) All of which proves the truth in the song’s tagline: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

The Go-Betweens were a highly successful band in their native Australia and in Great Britain but were almost unknown in the U.S. during their early 1980s peak period. (The releases from those early years have since been released on CD in the U.S.) “Cattle and Cane” is a ballad with lush moments and an underlying edge that insinuates itself into one’s memory. For me, at least, it’s created an appetite for more.

Bob Dylan’s “North Country Blues” tells a tale of the iron mining milieu in which he grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota (home, for example, to the world’s largest open pit mine, essentially the world’s largest man-made hole in the ground). The song resonates with me, as I still see the occasional news piece about the hard life of mining in the northern part of the state and the hard times that come more and more regularly as the quantity and quality of the ore remaining in the ground continue to diminish.

The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – made up of the criminally ignored country rocker J.D. Souther, Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield – released three pretty good country-rock albums from 1973 to 1977. The self-titled first was likely the best, but the group never seemed to catch the attention of the listening public. All-Music Guide tags the ten songs on the album as a “collection of ten pleasant, if overall unremarkable tunes in the singer/songwriter, country-rock vein.” I think the record is a little better than that.

“For Your Love,” the single that drive Eric Clapton out of the Yardbirds because of its commerciality, is actually a pretty good record; it went to No. 6 in the U.S. No, it’s nowhere near the blues, but it’s a catchy tune, sonically (the lyrics are serviceable but nothing remarkable), and its memory can stay in a listener’s ear for a long time. For me, the song puts me in the halls of my junior high school, which is okay. As far as musical memories go, I’ve had better, but I have certainly had worse, too.

The sessions for Doug Sahm and Band, according to All-Music Guide, were something of a superstar jam session, with lots of famous friends of Sahm’s dropping in to hang out and lend a hand. Sahm, who first came to major public attention as the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1965 (“She’s About A Mover” went to No. 13), was a roots music enthusiast years before roots music (or Americana, if you prefer) was in vogue. Doug Sahm and Band is nothing other than roots music, ca. 1973. And yeah, that’s Bob Dylan on vocals; he wrote the song.

Back in the days when his manager called him Johnny Cougar and the Rolling Stone Record Guide called him “Meat Head” (1983 edition), who’d have thought that John Mellencamp would become an elder statesman of heartland rock? With his Rolling Stones meets Appalachia sound, Mellencamp has turned out a pretty good series of albums in the past twenty years (and some clinkers, too, but that happens in a long career). Human Wheels is a pretty bleak album, but it’s a good one, and “To The River” might be the best song on it.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Trains

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 7, 2008

Almost every night as I went to sleep during my childhood and youth, I’d hear the sound of trains. The tracks sliced through the east side of St. Cloud, with southbound trains heading for the Twin Cities and northbound trains heading for either the nearby passenger terminal or the rail yard across the river on the north side. As the trains neared the intersection with Seventh Street two blocks from our house, the engineers would let loose their horns, and so very often, I’d slide into sleep with the sound of a train and its horn easing my way.

The tracks on the east side back then were part of the Great Northern Railway, built in the late years of the nineteenth century from St. Paul and Duluth across the northern tier of the U.S. to Washington and Oregon. We kids would watch from the schoolyard as the trains roared past, most of the cars bearing the GN logo – a mountain goat standing on a rocky outcrop – and we’d wave as the caboose passed by. More often than not, the railroad men in the caboose would wave back.

(How long has it been since I’ve seen a caboose, much less waved at one? I have no idea, but it’s been years. Their absence isn’t the only change, of course: The railroad, after many mergers, is now called the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Its only business is freight. Amtrak uses the route for its passenger service, which stops here twice a day, heading east to the Twin Cities and Chicago in the early morning and heading west across the plains just after midnight.)

Paul Simon wrote, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance.” I’m not sure about everybody, but it’s true for me, and I imagine for a lot of the kids who grew up within earshot of the tracks on the east side. The Texas Gal and I live about a block from those same tracks, and trains provide a frequent, and pleasant, background sound. (When we’re watching television with the sliding door open, the sound coming across the little meadow can drown out the television; those are moments I’m grateful for the ability to pause the television.)

It’s a little less noisy these days, though: Trains coming through here are no longer allowed to blow their horns. Late last year, the two crossings nearest our home were reconstructed to provide greater safety, and the stretch of tracks through St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids (a smaller city adjacent to St. Cloud on the north) was proclaimed a “no horn” zone. That’s too bad, in a way. The horns could be intrusive, but they were also a part of the background of life here on the east side. Just moments ago, as I was writing this, I heard a faint train horn, maybe from over on the north side, and I realized I’ve missed the sound.

What is it about the sound of a train, with or without its horn? I can’t answer for others, but to me, it’s the sound of exploration and adventure, the sound of another place calling me onward. I’m sublimely happy with where I am in all ways. But when a train comes by, the clatter of its wheels on the track calls me to come away.

I’ve done a very little bit of train travel in the U.S., mostly between St. Cloud and Minot when I was teaching in the North Dakota city twenty years ago. During my nine months in Europe while I was in college, I had a rail pass for two months and logged about 11,000 miles of train travel, from Denmark south as far as Rome and north as far as Narvik, Norway, the farthest point north one could travel on the rail lines in Europe. I suppose it’s the echo of those long-ago adventures I hear when the wheels clatter on the rails.

A Baker’s Dozen of Trains
“Mystery Train” by The Band from Moondog Matinee, 1973

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614, 1961

“Glendale Train” by the New Riders Of The Purple Sage from New Riders Of The Purple Sage, 1971

“Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas, Stax single 250, 1968

“Long Black Train” by Josh Turner from Long Black Train, 2003

“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. single 22685, 1989

“Southbound Train” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby, 1973

“When The Train Comes” by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Time Run Like A Freight Train” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, 1973/1991

“Last Train To Memphis” by Johnny Rivers from Last Train To Memphis, 1998

“The Blue Train” by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt from Trio II, 1999

“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International single 3524, 1973

“Trains” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

A few notes:

Moondog Matinee was The Band’s salute to vintage rock & roll and R&B. At the time, many listeners perceived it as a stopgap record, but to my mind, it’s a document of where some of The Band’s myriad influences lie. Some of the tracks on the album work better than others, it’s true, and “Mystery Train” might be the best of them all.

I don’t often share songs recorded after 1999, but Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” is so good I have to make an exception. Turner’s deep country voice and the moody backing track make the song sound as if it’s always been around and Turner discovered it in some back-road adventure.

Back in 1989, long after I’d written off Rod Stewart, he came along with “Downtown Train,” his stellar reading of the Tom Waits tune. There’s a nice version of the song by Everything But The Girl on its 1998 album Acoustic, but the Stewart version, I think, is the definitive one.

A while back, I shared “Page 43” from the Graham Nash/David Crosby album. “Southbound Train” is one of the two other superlative tracks from that album (“Immigration Man” is the other.) As I think I said then, of all the sub-combinations to come out of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young conglomeration, the pairing of Nash and Crosby might have been the best.

The Eric Andersen track was supposed to be on his Stages album, recorded in 1973. As I’ve related here before, CBS lost the tapes. Andersen re-recorded the song – and several others from Stages – for 1975’s Be True To You. After the Stages tapes were re-discovered in 1989, the album – with some additional songs – was released in 1991. As good as the 1975 version of “Time Run Like A Freight Train” was – and it is a good one – this version, the original, is much better.

This list is far less random than these usually are. As well as trimming out a few songs that were released after 1999, I skipped over four or five from the 1950s. (Trains were clearly a staple topic of country music then.) I’m glad I did, otherwise “Love Train” might not have made the list. Propulsive, joyous and very much of its time, “Love Train” is a great single.

I’ve read some critics of Al Stewart say that he over-reaches when he takes on history. Maybe, but sometimes he succeeds greatly. “Trains” is one his successes, taking the listener from schoolboy days in post-World War II England to 1990s commuter travel on the American East Coast, with stops along the way at the trenched front of World War I and the haunted rail spurs that brought innocents to their deaths in World War II’s occupied Poland.

Another Walk Through The Junkyard

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 18, 2008

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning (it will pass), and I am behind on household chores, so I’m not really going to write anything. But I thought I’d take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard (pre-2000) and see what we find. I’ll sort the songs by running time, and then start with the best song I see at about the midpoint of the collection, and we’ll go random from there.

“I’m Ready” by Muddy Waters from Fathers & Sons, 1969

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles from Beatles For Sale, 1964

“Not My Way Home” by Nanci Griffith from The Dust Bowl Symphony, 1999

“I’m Her Daddy” by Bill Withers from Just As I Am, 1971

“Feels Like” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

“Little Girl” by Billy Preston from Encouraging Words, 1970

“Quiet About It” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester, 1970

“The Woo Woo Train” by the Valentines, Rama single 196, 1956

“The Spa” by John Barry from the soundtrack to Thunderball, 1965

“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2430, 1967

“Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, Bell single 705, 1968

“High, Low and In Between” by Townes Van Zandt from High, Low and In Between, 1972

“If (I Could Be With You)” by Lavelle White, Duke single 198, 1958

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!, 1965

“The River” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free, 1972

A few notes:

Fathers & Sons was a Chess Records project that brought together Muddy Waters and piano player Otis Spann with three members of the Butterfield Blues Band: leader Paul Butterfield, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Sam Lay. Also sitting was Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MGs, while drummer Buddy Miles played on one of the live tracks that made up the final album. Such mergings of talent and generations don’t always work out, of course, which makes Fathers & Sons that much more of a treasure. It’s one of the great albums of Waters’ long career, and a milestone for the other musicians, as well.

“I’ll Follow the Sun” is listed here as being from Beatles For Sale, and that is where it’s found these days in the CD racks. But I’ll always hear it as part of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol created during the group’s early years by trimming a few songs off a British release and adding some singles that weren’t on albums in the U.K.

The Dust Bowl Symphony was Nanci Griffith’s attempt to recast some of her more memorable songs as a suite, with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t always work, and most of the songs on the album are likely better heard in their original settings. (“Not My Way Home” was originally released on 1997’s Blues Roses From the Moons.) One track that works, and is worth seeking out, is “Love at the Five and Dime,” which Griffith recast as a duet with Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

The Valentines were one of those groups that sprang up on street corners all through New York City during the mid-1950s. According to Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, “The Woo Woo Train” was composed and arranged by the group in the recording studio’s men’s room the morning of the recording session. I think it’s a great track; I especially love the raucous sax solo.

Come June 1, it will be forty years since “Angel of the Morning” entered the Top 40. It’s still a gorgeous song – written by Chip Taylor – and a great record, and it’s certainly one of the most enduring of all one-hit wonders.

The bluesy R&B grit of “If (I Could Be With You)” is, to my mind, of a kind with most of the recordings coming from Texas-based Duke records in the late 1950s. (The label was also the home of legend Bobby “Blue” Bland.) Lavelle got her first success with the self-penned “If,” which she recorded while she was in her late 20s, if the date of 1958 is accurate (and it seems to be). White is still recording, and since 1994, has released three albums, two of them on the Antone’s label. The most recent of those is 2003’s Into the Mystic.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1976, Vol. 2

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 12, 2007

I’m gonna talk football a little bit today. A while back, I assessed the on-going season of the Minnesota Vikings – a team I’ve rooted for since its inception in 1961 – as pretty dismal. The boys in purple had been thrashed 34-0 by the Green Bay Packers the day before I wrote, an outcome that left many Minnesotans resigned to another season of mediocrity.

Something unforeseen has happened since then. The Vikings have won four games in a row and now have a 7-6 record. Tavaris Jackson, the young quarterback whom I dismissed as being too raw and maybe not being good enough for the pro game is beginning to look like a decent quarterback. I’m even beginning to think that the second-year coach, Brad Childress, might have had an idea of what he was doing all along.

It generally doesn’t take an awful lot for those of us who follow the Vikings to poke our heads out of our burrows with a sense of optimism. I’m being cautious, though, which only makes sense when one is a Vikings fan. After all, the Vikings share the record for the most Super Bowls lost, four, with the Denver Broncos, but the Broncos also have two Super Bowl victories to their credit. And we fans remember the two times we had great teams that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl: in 1975 through a blown call and in 1998 through what I still think was poor coaching. Then add 2000, when a fairly good Vikings team lost what appeared to be a winnable playoff game through what looked to fans like simple disinterest.*

So I’m being careful, at least a little bit, this time. During the successes of the past month, I’ve spend a fair amount of time trying to decide whether the improvement I see in the Vikings is real or whether it’s a confluence of luck and schedule, making the seeming resurgence one of the cosmic jokes that the football gods sometimes play.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know one thing that makes me nervous: People around the National Football League are starting to take the Vikings seriously. Peter King at Sports Illustrated put the Vikings into the seventh slot in his top fifteen this week. I heard someone say on television this week that the Vikings are the kind of team that no other team would want to play in the playoffs right now. And NBC has decided that the game between the Vikings and the Washington Redskins is significant enough to be the Sunday evening game on Dec. 23.

I’d rather no one noticed that the Vikings seem to be turning into a pretty good team. I’d prefer that the Vikes continue to sneak up on people. But visibility and relevance are nice worries to have, as it seemed just a month ago that the last weeks of the season would mean nothing at all here in the Northland. And, given the pleasant anxiety I and the rest of the Purple Faithful are beginning to feel, it seemed only right to share a Baker’s Dozen from 1976, which marked the last time the Vikings went to the Super Bowl.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1976, Vol. 2
“You Take My Heart Away” by DeEtta Little & Nelson Pigford from the soundtrack to Rocky

“Jeans On” by David Dundas, Chrysalis single 2094

“Lord Grenville” by Al Stewart from Year of the Cat

“Long May You Run” by the Stills-Young Band from Long May You Run

“Ride Me High” by J. J. Cale from Troubadour

“Show Me The Way” by Peter Frampton from Frampton Comes Alive

“Life Is What You Make It” by Side Effect from What You Need

“Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash” by Ian Thomas from Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash

“Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, RCA single 10827

“Rocky Mountain Music” by Eddie Rabbitt, Elektra single 45315

“Dance the Body Music” by Osibisa from Ojah Awake

“Sheldon Church Yard” by Larry Jon Wilson from Let Me Sing My Song to You

“Tuscumbian Lover” by Pete Carr from Not A Word On It

A few notes on some of the songs and artists:

“You Take My Heart Away” was used as source music in Rocky. During a love scene between Adrian and Rocky in his apartment, this is the song that’s playing on the radio. It was released as a single (United Artists 941) but didn’t make the Top 40. I think it’s a nice track, but then, I’ve long thought that Bill Conti’s soundtrack to Rocky was one of the better soundtracks ever written.

“Jeans On” is a nice little bit of fluff that provided David Dundas with his only hit. The record reached No. 17 after moving into the Top 40 in late November 1976. I recall hearing it that winter, my first winter on my own, as I lived in an old house without central heat on the north side of St. Cloud. For that reason and no other, the sound of Dundas’ voice gives me chills.

Finding both Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way” and Dr. Buzzard’s “Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” in this random list is entirely appropriate. The first of the two went to No. 6 in the spring and was the first of three Top 40 hits for Frampton in 1976. The Dr. Buzzard track hit the Top 40 in December and reached No. 27 in early 1977. A juxtaposition of the two gives one a pretty good idea of the range of sounds on radio that year, as disco was beginning to dance its way into the mainstream.

The title of the Ian Thomas track might need some explanation, though some of this can be inferred from the lyric. The title comes from a phrase used by Jimmy Durante (1893-1980), a singer, comedian and actor whose career began in vaudeville and continued through numerous radio and television shows and movies. Durante invariably closed his radio and television performances with the phrase, “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” He never explained who Mrs. Calabash was, and – having seen Durante on some television shows as a young child – I always thought that was kind of neat and maybe even poignant.

Several of the artists in today’s random selection are pretty obscure. Side Effect was an L.A.-based group that has a lot in common with Earth, Wind & Fire; Osibisa was a group from Ghana that mixed African and Caribbean influences into a fun sound; Larry Jon Wilson was a gritty southern singer-songwriter; and Pete Carr was, among other things, a member of the Hour Glass, Duane and Gregg Allman’s early band, and a well-known session guitarist.

*To that sad litany, Vikings fans can now add the fate of the 2009 team, when an ill-timed penalty for having twelve players in the huddle followed by the interception of an ill-advised pass by quarterback Brett Favre denied the Vikings a chance at a field goal that would have almost certainly put them in the Super Bowl. Note added May 25, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Winter

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2007

Through the window, I hear the skrik-skrik of someone scraping ice from a vehicle in the parking lot. We got another six inches of snow yesterday afternoon (on top of the six or so inches from Saturday), and it came in the afternoon, causing havoc during what passes for rush hour here in St. Cloud.

It looks like this winter is going to be a tougher one than the past few have been. At least, it’s starting out that way, with two six-inch snowfalls in four days and another storm heading our direction for tomorrow. The past few years haven’t seen much snow at all, and it’s generally come later in the season. And some of those winters have seemed to bring fewer days of sub-zero cold, the kind of cold that makes snow squeak under your feet and makes your cheeks burn.

Were winters colder when I was a kid? I don’t know. I remember walking in some pretty cold weather during my elementary school days. For the seven years I went to Lincoln School (kindergarten through sixth grade), I walked the five blocks from Kilian Boulevard to the school almost every day. On those winter days when the wind came from the north or northwest, we’d turn around and back our way to school, whole clusters of kids walking in reverse along Fifth Avenue Southeast.

(One very clear recollection that points out how times have changed is that the girls were still required to wear skirts or dresses in school. They could wear slacks under their dresses or skirts when they walked to school, but those slacks had to come off once they got inside.)

On very frigid days, those snow-squeaking days when the temperature was at twenty below zero or colder (that’s about twenty-nine degrees below zero Celsius), my mom or dad would drive us – my sister was three years ahead of me – the five blocks to school, often picking up classmates of ours along the way. And on occasion during my first few years of elementary school, I’d get a ride to school from Ed, the college fellow who lived in the next block and was the quarterback for the St. Cloud State Huskies football team.

Do kids still walk to school in any season? I don’t know. I do have a sense that kids no longer do as much outdoors as we used to do. Forty years ago, there were two city-maintained outdoor skating rinks within walking distance of our house: one right across the highway from Lincoln School (with a walking bridge over the highway providing easy access), and another about six blocks south of us on Kilian Boulevard. I was never a very good skater, but I spent my time with Rick and the other neighborhood kids scuffling around the two rinks. And on occasion, we’d go downtown where the city maintained a skating surface on Lake George.

And once every couple of weeks, we’d grab our saucer sleds and head down to the big hill in Riverside Park for a weekend afternoon of sliding, coming home cold and wet, tired and happy.

The rink on Kilian is long gone now, its location having become part of a permanent rose garden. I don’t think there’s a rink near Lincoln anymore. The open area that was flooded each winter is still there, but the warming house is long gone. And the old warming house on Lake George came down years ago, too. I suppose kids who want to skate do so in the ice arenas that were built during the years I was gone.

I would imagine, though, that kids still slide down the hill in Riverside Park. I hope so. And this year, it looks as if there will be plenty of snow for them.

A Baker’s Dozen of Winter

“The First Chill of Winter” by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Winterlude” by Bob Dylan from New Morning, 1970

“A Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends, 1968

“Song of Winter” by Françoise Hardy from One Nine Seven Zero, 1970

“Winterlong” by Neil Young, unreleased, 1974

“Wintery Feeling” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side, 1978

“The Coldest Winter in Memory” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“In The Winter” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Song For A Winter’s Night” by Gordon Lightfoot from The Way I Feel, 1967

“The Winter is Cold” by Wendy & Bonnie from Genesis, 1969

“Lion in Winter” by the Bee Gees from Trafalgar, 1971

“Winter Winds’ by Fotheringay from Fotheringay, 1970

“Sometimes In Winter” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and artists:

I’ve posted the Hewerdine and Smith album Evidence here before, but I could not resist starting this list with “The First Chill of Winter,” which is one of my favorite songs.

The album One Nine Seven Zero, the source of French chanteuse Françoise Hardy’s “Song of Winter,” was originally released in 1969 in South Africa under the title of English 3. A year later, it was released in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as One Nine Seven Zero. In the U.S. and Canada, the album’s title was Alone. I don’t think there’s any difference between the albums, but the source I had for the album called it One Nine Seven Zero, so that’s what I’ve called it.

The Neil Young track, “Winterlong” was included on Decade, his 1977 retrospective. The only other place the song shows up officially is on the 2006 release, Live at the Fillmore East, which documents a 1970 performance by Young with Crazy Horse.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter Night” may be more familiar in a version by Sarah McLachlan. Her nicely done cover of the song was released on the soundtrack of a 1994 remake of the Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street, although the recording was not used in the film.

“The Winter Is Cold” comes from one of the more remarkable one-shot recordings of the 1960s. Genesis came from San Francisco-based sisters, Wendy and Bonnie Flowers, who were seventeen and thirteen, respectively, at the time. It was released on the Skye label, which folded soon after the record came out, dooming any chances for the record to gain any attention. “The Winter Is Cold” is one of the lesser tracks on the album, I think, but the album – re-released on the Sundazed label in 2001 with bonus tracks – is worth finding.

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

Saturday Single No. 18

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 23, 2007

Being kind of a history buff, I am fascinated by certain historical periods in specific places. I find myself drawn, for example, to the time and place of the Vikings: Scandinavia in the years from, oh, 800 to 1066. The Civil War era and the opening of the Great Plains that followed it fascinate me too, as does life in rural Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s.

But the first historical era – events in a certain time and place – that I really examined to any great degree was World War II in Europe and the Holocaust. Triggered mostly, I imagine, by having seen some of the locales where those events took place and by knowing people who lived through them, I read about the war and the Holocaust voraciously in the mid- to late 1970s. I still pick up a new volume about those events now and then. Right now, I’m reading 1945: The War That Never Ended by Gregor Dallas. The book is an account of the final year of World War II in Europe that postulates that the events of World War II continued to resound in world history and politics longer after the end of hostilities than anyone realized. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, and about midway through the book, I can’t disagree with him.

And while I was pondering World War II yesterday, I happened to glance at the calendar and realized that yesterday was the anniversary of one of the truly world-changing events of the Twentieth Century. It was on June 22, 1941, that Adolf Hitler sent the Wehrmacht, the German army, across the line that separated the territory occupied by Germany from that occupied by the Soviet Union. The invasion – which took place along a front about nine hundred miles wide – caught the Soviets off-guard. (Why it did is one of the fascinating questions about the war; prevailing theory seems to be that Soviet leader Josef Stalin wanted so badly to avoid war with Germany that he ignored a multitude of signs that the invasion was imminent. And in a nation ruled by one cruel and vicious man, if the leader does not believe a specific thing will take place, no one else is allowed to prepare for that event.)

The invasion, which the Germans called “Operation Barbarossa” after an early German king, triggered one of the world’s great tragedies inside the greater tragedy of World War II. During the war, the Soviet Union had its most populous areas conquered and occupied, and more than twenty million Soviet citizens died, the vast majority of them civilians. (I do not know if that total includes the more than two million Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union who died in the Holocaust.)

The death and destruction the Nazis caused in the Soviet Union would be enough, but that’s only part of what I had in mind when I called the German invasion “world-changing.” I used that term mostly because the invasion of the Soviet-held territory that started sixty-six years ago yesterday ensured the downfall of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi henchmen and thus influenced much of the shape of today’s world.

We rarely think of World War II today. Maybe we pass a memorial in a city park or see a bit of a Veteran’s Day ceremony on television, but when we do think of it, we see it as an organic whole, albeit in several acts: The Germans started it in Europe, the Japanese started it in Asia, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we sent troops to England and the Pacific, we and the British invaded Europe and knocked down Hitler with the help of the Russians, and then we dropped two A-bombs on Japan. Final Curtain.

But as it was going on, for those who lived during those times, it was not nearly that simple. For many long years there was no guarantee of victory for those opposing Hitler and Germany. For most of 1940 and half of 1941, Britain stood alone, preparing for a German invasion across the English Channel. Why Hitler did not invade Britain is a question that has been discussed, parsed, chopped and sprinkled for the past sixty years. I imagine there’s a reason somewhere in the archives, but that’s not important here. My point is that the instant Hitler turned away from Britain and invaded Soviet-held territory, he lost the war. That didn’t happen right away, of course, but the failed invasion doomed the Nazis. Eventually, with the Allied invasion of France, Hitler was fighting on two fronts and the Germans’ own mistakes began to catch up to them. The Soviets – despite all the mistakes of their own leadership – eventually stopped the Germans and began what one book I read called “the long walk to Berlin.”

Again, that’s a bare bones outline, with an ending that was not at all visible until long after the fighting started. And it’s difficult to sort through the tales of armies and commanders and arrows on maps to find the individual soldiers. Some movies and books have done a good job of that: Saving Private Ryan on the screen and Band Of Brothers as a book and an HBO series come to mind.

But one of the most moving accounts of a front-line soldier in the war in Europe was a little-noticed song on Al Stewart’s 1974 album Past, Present and Future. That song, “Roads to Moscow,” tells in first person the tale of a Soviet soldier, a Russian who lived through the German invasion and made that “long walk to Berlin” only to be sent at the end to a Soviet labor camp because he had the bad luck to have been captured by the Germans for a day. (That was the fate of almost any Soviet soldier who was ever captured; those who somehow survived German prison camps were almost all sent to Soviet labor camps after the war. A pretty good analysis of Stewart’s historical allusions [was] available here.)

Stewart’s song wanders hauntingly through the soldier’s narrative. It draws the listener in and allows him or her to feel not only the horror of war but the difficulty of accepting events that make no sense – for war makes as little sense as does the remanding of one’s own people to labor camps – and the numbness that comes when events of that type pile on top of each other time after time. That’s why “Roads to Moscow,” which begins with the world-changing events of sixty-six years ago yesterday, is this week’s Saturday Single.

Al Stewart – “Roads to Moscow” [1974]