Posts Tagged ‘Aretha Franklin’

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2008

As the autumn of 1970 slid into view, things were changing around me. And I was changing, too.

I was a senior at St. Cloud Tech High, a member of a class that was half the size it had been three months earlier, when our junior year ended. The St. Cloud school district had opened a new high school on the north end of town – St. Cloud Apollo, home of the Eagles, named in honor of the space program – and what had been an 800-student class was suddenly split into two 400-student classes.

At the same time, freshmen joined the high school ranks instead of attending junior high school for another year, so each of the two high schools – Tech and Apollo – had about 1,600 students instead of the 2,400 or so that had clogged the corridors of Tech the previous year.

So there was more room in the halls, and it was easier to get to class. But I was aware as I wandered through those halls that most of my good friends were now across town. Oh, I found locker-room camaraderie as the head manager for the football team, but that seemed a little shallow to me (though I never said so). I made a few new friends, among them some young women from the sophomore class, but I began to spend a good deal of my time alone out of choice, not necessity.

For a long time, I’d worried what other people thought about me. That autumn, for the first time, I began to care more about what I thought about myself. I spent my free time reading what I liked – science fiction, astronomy, rock music history and criticism – and beginning to write bits of verse and lyrics (some of it inspired by the less-than-happy outcomes of my friendships with those sophomore girls). Even though I was flying solo in a world beginning to be defined by couples, I was pretty happy.

Sometime during the autumn, I filled out my lone college application, to St. Cloud State. I had thought for a brief time about the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, but I never bothered to apply. It was pretty well decided long before I was in high school that – like my dad and my sister before me – I would attend St. Cloud State. And it was just as well that I did: Learning how to survive college academically and socially was difficult enough in St. Cloud. I would have been utterly lost in the vastness of the University of Minnesota.

I should note that the college application dance in 1970 was a far different exercise for most of us than it is for today’s high school students. I imagine those applying to the more selective schools back then endured some anxiety. But St. Cloud State – and the other state universities – accepted pretty much anybody who’d shown basic proficiency in high school. The weeding-out that I think happens these days during the college application season began then during the fall quarter of college.

I recall sitting at my table and looking at St. Cloud State’s application form sometime during the latter weeks of September 1970, with the radio on the nightstand keeping me company. Here’s a selection of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 of September 19, 1970. I’m sure I heard at least one of these as I filled out my application.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4
“Our World” by Blue Mink, Philips 40686 (?) (No. 102)

“Border Song” by Elton John, Uni 55246 (No. 93)

“Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard, Reprise 0942 (No. 85)

“Funk # 49” by the James Gang, ABC 11272 (No. 68)

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping (In My Bed)” by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), Hot Wax 7004 (No. 52)

“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Atco 6756 (No. 43)

“Everything’s Tuesday” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9079 (No. 38)

“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, Rare Earth 5013 (No. 35)

“Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad, Capitol 2877 (No. 31)

“Joanne” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band, RCA Victor 0368 (28)

“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 (No. 21)

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers, Atlantic 2751 (No. 11)

“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 194 (No. 5)

A few notes:

Blue Mink, a British group, never made the Top 40, and I doubt that I heard any of their singles when they came out. But I’ve heard a few things in the past year or so, and they’re pretty good. “Our World” might be the group’s best record.

I’ve never understood why Little Richard’s 1970s work on Reprise didn’t do any better. With a rootsy, gritty sound not all that distant from that of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the resources of Reprise Records, you’d think music as good as “Greenwood, Mississippi” would have been a hit. But “Greenwood” spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and never got higher than No. 85. (“Freedom Blues” had gone to No. 47 in the summer of 1970, and three other Reprise singles released in 1971 and 1972 never reached the Hot 100.)

“Soul Shake” went no higher than No. 43, which I’ve always thought was a shame. Delaney & Bonnie had two hits reach the Top 40 – “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know” – but “Soul Shake” puts both of those away with its combination of rock, white gospel and R&B.

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and “Everything’s Tuesday” are two good records from the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown, where they’d been a crack writing and production team. “Sleeping” was the only Top 40 hit for 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), reaching No.8. “Everything’s Tuesday” only got to No. 38 for the Chairmen of the Board, who’d reached No. 3 earlier in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

My fondness for two of these records – “Indiana Wants Me” and “Julie Do Ya Love Me” – stems no doubt from time and place rather than from artistic merit. I mean, with the first, the sirens at the start are hokey enough, but the bullhorn at the end – “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up!” – tips the scales over. But I still like it. As for the Bobby Sherman tune, well, there was a Julie at school, and no, she didn’t love me, but it was nice to think about.

A Tale Of Shelves And A Saw

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 12, 2008

My dad, along with being an educator, was a craftsman. His undergraduate degree was in industrial arts, which he’d hoped to teach in a high school. Biding his time until there was a teaching position open somewhere near St. Cloud, he returned to the campus of St. Cloud Teachers College – now St. Cloud State University – after he graduated. (Family lore says it was the next day, but I’m not certain.) He took what was expected to be a temporary position and wound up retiring thirty-three years later from St. Cloud State as an assistant professor of learning resources. He never taught industrial arts.

But he put his industrial arts training and experience to good use, doing a lot of the maintenance on our home – painting, minor electrical work, some carpentry and more – when I was a kid and in the years after I was grown. One of his major projects was turning half the basement into a rec room when I was in junior high. Local contractors installed wall studs, electrical outlets and carpet, and Dad took it from there, wrestling paneling into place and nailing it to the studs, measuring and installing a hanging ceiling with its tiles, and all the rest, creating a room that was a haven for my sister and me and our friends during our teen years and later.

Along the way, Dad gathered together an immense collection of tools and equipment, and when we cleared out the place on Kilian after he died, some of it came my way: his Montgomery Wards tool chest – much larger and better stocked than the rudimentary toolbox with which I’ve been making do over the years – and some additional tools, including a power drill, a power sander and an electric sabre saw.

Power tools, for some reason, have always scared me – a lot. I’m not sure why. The only one I’d ever used was a borrowed power drill to install a set of mini-blinds about ten years ago, and even that small drill made me uneasy. I’ve never done a lot of carpentry or other work requiring tools, anyway. During the mid-1980s, I did design and build some simple bookcases, but that’s been about the limit of my work. And I did those jobs with handsaws and hand tools.

This week, as I was installing my well-traveled brick and board bookcase in the study, I realized I was going to put more records on it than ever before, so it would need more support, a column of bricks in the center of the shelves to match the columns at the ends of the shelves. I wandered around town yesterday and managed to find three additional large patio blocks that matched the ones I’d bought almost twenty years ago. (The sales agent at the masonry yard was disappointed I didn’t need more of them; he wanted to clear as many of the antiquated blocks from his storage as he could.) And the guys at the lumberyard gladly cut the additional pieces of wood plank I needed to put on my shelves under the new blocks to extend the blocks’ height so the shelves would accommodate LPs.

But I could not find one piece I required, another foot, as it were: a masonry piece to put on the floor, centered under the first shelf, that would match the height of the two thick masonry pieces that held up the ends of that first shelf. As I left the masonry yard and headed home with three bricks, six wood pieces to put under the bricks and more than six feet of extra wood, I realized that three thicknesses of that extra wood plank would equal the thickness of the two masonry pieces already serving as feet. All I had to do was saw off three pieces of the extra board I got at the lumberyard, and I could stack those pieces for the missing foot.

So after hauling everything inside, I took the extra board down to the rudimentary workbench left by earlier residents of the house, where I’d installed Dad’s toolbox and the other things that had been his. With the measuring tape, I marked off three lengths of five inches, and then I grabbed a saw and got to work. It went slowly, of course. And a third of the way into the first cut, I stopped. In a box on the shelf, I realized, was the sabre saw.

I shuddered a little, thinking of the mayhem a potential mishap could cause. Once I shooed the cats upstairs and closed the door, I got out the sabre saw and plugged it in. Wanting to get a sense of how it felt before I applied it to wood, I tentatively turned it on, then off. And then I got busy. A few minutes later, I had the three pieces of board I needed. I put the saw back in its box and the box back on the shelf, and I swept up the sawdust, honestly trembling a little.

A few hours later, the revamped shelves were up and loaded: three shelves of records topped by a shelf of books. The three inexpertly cut pieces of wood are hidden under the first shelf. I don’t know when I might next have an occasion to use the sabre saw. But now I know I can if I have to.

A Baker’s Dozen of Saws
“The Last Time I Saw Richard” by Joni Mitchell from Blue, 1971

“When I Saw You” by the Ronettes, Philles single 133, 1964

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic single 2864, 1972

“I Saw Her Again” by the Mamas & the Papas, Dunhill single 4031, 1966

“I Saw The Light” by Mason Proffit from Bare Back Rider, 1972

“Ride My See-Saw” by the Moody Blues from In Search of the Lost Chord, 1968

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” by the Neon Philharmonic from The Moth Confesses, 1969

“See Saw” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2574, 1968

“Jigsaw Puzzle of Life” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle, 1975

“Junior Saw It Happen” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future, 1968

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls, Bell single 1254 (UK?), 1972

“I Saw It On T.V.” by John Fogerty from Centerfield, 1985

“Crosscut Saw” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967

A few notes:

This is mostly a random selection. The only song I chose was the closer, Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” because it seemed appropriate.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was omnipresent during early 1972. Originally recorded for Flack’s First Take album in 1969, the song – written by British folksinger Ewan MacColl – was used as background music in Clint Eastwood’s film Play Misty For Me, which came out in late 1971. After that, Atlantic trimmed about a minute from the track and issued it as a single. The record entered the Top 40 in March and spent six weeks at No. 1, eventually earning Flack and MacColl Grammy awards for, respectively, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Bare Back Rider was the second and final major label release from Mason Proffit, one of the best bands never to make it big. In its review of Bare Back Rider, All-Music Guide notes: “You’d have thought that music this impressive could get a hearing, but Mason Proffit appeared at a time when music fans were more polarized than musicians, not only by music but by politics and culture. Despite the band’s evident affection for traditional country music, their left-wing political stance and status as hippie rock musicians meant they could never be accepted in Nashville. And their music was too overtly country for them to score a pop hit. Thus, they were doomed to appeal only on the country-rock-oriented Los Angeles club scene and to some music critics.”

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” is a nice bit of trippy pop from the Neon Philharmonic, better known for the same album’s “Morning Girl,” a sweet coming-of-age single that went to No. 17 in the spring and summer of 1969. The Neon Philharmonic, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a chamber-sized orchestra of Nashville City Orchestra musicians. Tupper Saussy did the writing and Don Gant handled the vocals. Bonus points for rhyming “restaurant” and “debutante.”

The McGarrigle sisters show up here now and then, and every time they do, especially when it’s a track from 1975’s Kate & Anna McGarrigle, I think back to the first time I read or heard about them, in the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide: “Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, they suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies can be dazzling.” Were/are they that good? Yes.

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls is a cover (from the United Kingdom, I believe; anyone know?) of the Ronettes’ version, which was released as a single on A&M in 1969. The Pearls’ version is not bad, but the echo on the record is a faint whisper of the echo in the Ronettes’ single, which itself was a faint whisper of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that made them famous.

As The End Of The Year Draws Near

August 5, 2011

Originally posted August 27, 2008

As August enters its last days, we’re coming to the end of another year.

Forget that December 31/January 1 stuff. That’s bookkeeping. For me – and for many, I think – the years turn over sometime during the first weeks of September.

During my school days, for thirteen years, the new year began on the day after Labor Day with the first day of school. For another six years – I went to college on the extended plan – the year began sometime in September when the fall quarter started. If I’d pondered that sense of timing at all in those days, I would have expected it to change when I went into the adult world. But it didn’t. Years still turned as August ended and September began.

Part of that was because of my work: Small town newspapers find so much of their content in the local schools that their calendars are tied to the schools’ calendars. In between my newspaper years, I went to graduate school and then taught and worked at several colleges and universities, so my life continued to be tied to a literal calendar that ran from September onward.

But it’s been more than ten years since I was a reporter. My day-to-day life has no connection with the schools, with colleges and universities, with the regular events that command the attention of reporters and editors. And still, it feels to me as if a year is ending in these few days. And it feels as if a new year is about to begin.

Maybe it’s conditioning from all those early years in school. Maybe it’s something so instinctive in the human mind, perhaps something tied to the harvest-time, that we’ve lost track of where it comes from. (It occurs to me that, if the perception of years turning at this time of year is innately tied to the harvest, folks whose forbears were native to the Southern Hemisphere would have a different perception. Anyone from those precincts have a thought?)

Whatever the reason, this time of year has always felt like a time of renewal and change. One such time, an August/September that stands out clearly (I know I’ve mentioned it before), came in 1969, when I spent daytimes of the last weeks of summer at football practice, lugging equipment and supplies around for the Tech Tigers and then hanging around the locker room, sharing ribald stories and the music that came from the training room radio.

In a way that very little else does, music marks our years. And here are some tunes that are markers for me from late August and early September of that year.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1969, Vol. 3
“Goodbye Columbus” by the Association, Warner Bros. 7265 (No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100, August 23, 1969)

“Going In Circles” by the Friends of Distinction, RCA 0204 (No. 90)

“Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South, Capitol 2592 (No. 84)

“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” by Lou Christie, Buddah 116 (No. 66)

“Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, RCA Victor 0161 (No. 49)

“Keem-O-Sabe” by the Electric Indian, United Artists 50563 (No. 39)

“Share Your Love With Me” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic 2650 (No. 31)

“Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Atlantic 2652 (No. 28)

“Soul Deep” by the Box Tops, Mala 12040 (No. 24)

“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4203 (No. 18)

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, Reprise 0829 (No. 11)

“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 625 (No. 7)

“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon, Imperial 66385 (No. 6)

A few notes:

I’ve always been surprised that “Goodbye Columbus” – the theme from the film of the same name – didn’t do better. The record peaked at No. 88 on September 6 and then fell off the chart.

“Everybody’s Talkin’” is one of those tunes that has a few different versions out there. It was used in the film Midnight Cowboy, and two different versions of it are on the official soundtrack. Neither of them sounds like the one I remember coming from my radio. The version here is from Nilsson’s 1968 album Aerial Ballet, and I think this was the version that got airplay as the single, which reached No. 6. I could be wrong. Anyone know?

“Keem-O-Sabe” was one of those instrumentals that occasionally popped up in the Top 40, and the thought occurs that it likely wouldn’t have a chance of doing so today, given changes in attitudes. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that Electric Indian was actually a group of studio musicians from Philadelphia; some of them later were members of MFSB. The record peaked at No. 16.

I liked Kenny Rogers when he was with the First Edition; the group had four more Top 40 hits after “Ruby” peaked at No. 6. They were “Ruben James” and “Something’s Burning,” which I recall, and “Tell It All Brother” and “Heed The Call,” which I don’t. (I have “Heed The Call” but I don’t remember hearing it in 1970.) After those four, Rogers was absent from the Top 40 for seven years, until “Lucille” began his remarkable run of success as a country crossover artist, a string of tunes that didn’t interest me much.

I imagine that, if asked to pick the perfect CCR record, lots of folks would go with “Proud Mary.” Nothing wrong with that one, but something about “Green River” grabbed me the first time I heard that opening guitar riff, and it’s never let me go.

The Ronettes, Muddy Waters & Aretha

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 26, 2008

Did some YouTubing and found a not-so-great video of the Ronettes’ “You Baby,” but I did find a pretty good video from 1965 of the gals on Shindig, peforming what I think is their best song of all (and one of the great singles in rock & roll history), “Be My Baby.”

This intrigues me because the backing obviously isn’t the same as on the record; does that mean it was the Shindogs playing and Ronnie Bennett was singing live? Then why don’t the other two girls have microphones? Anyone know how this all went down?

I dipped into the Muddy Waters stuff and found this performance of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” It was evidently televised, based on the bug in the upper right corner of the screen, and from the clothing and Waters’ appearance, I’d guess it was sometime in the Seventies. It’s a pretty good look at Waters.

Video deleted

And here’s Aretha Franklin doing “Baby, I Love You” in a clip that appears to have come from a television show about 1967, when the song was on the charts.

Video deleted

Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

Aretha Takes On ‘Let It Be’

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 17, 2008

One of the joys of my junior year in high school – 1969-70 – was my first radio. An RCA model, it was boxy and clunky, and it came to me via my grandparents’ kitchen, where a newer, sleeker model had supplanted it. I’d guess the radio was maybe ten years old when I got it, and its only drawback was a slight balky response to the tuning knob. I was patient enough to deal with that, carefully tuning into WJON down the street in the early evening and then, after nine o’clock, finding the distant signal of WLS in Chicago.

From the first time I turned it on, sometime during the autumn of 1969, that radio became my guide to the world of Top 40, a world I’d just begun to explore. That exploration was spurred, as I’ve noted here earlier, by my new position as a manager for the St. Cloud Tech High football team; I had no wish to appear clueless when the talk turned to music, one of the two major topics of locker room conversation. (The other major topic, of course, was girls, a topic about which we were all equally clueless.)

As the months went on, I became pretty conversant with current music, and I found myself liking a great deal of what I heard. What started as a defensive measure had turned into one of life’s pleasures. Looking at the Billboard Top Fifteen from the first day of spring in 1970 is – to use a simile that I’ve employed before – like greeting a gathering of old friends:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel

“The Rapper” by the Jaggerz

“Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board

“Instant Karma” by John Ono Lennon

“Rainy Night In Georgia” by Brook Benton

“Let It Be” by the Beatles

“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by the Hollies

“Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse

“Evil Ways” by Santana

“Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” by the Delfonics

“Travelin’ Band/Who’ll Stop The Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Ma Belle Amie” by the Tee Set

“Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum

“ABC” by the Jackson 5

“House of the Rising Sun” by Frijid Pink

That week marked the first appearance of “Let It Be” on the chart, as it entered the Top 40 at No. 6. Blocked for the next couple of weeks by the Simon & Garfunkel powerhouse, “Let It Be” eventually was No. 1 for two weeks and in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks. A beautiful piece of gospel-tinged rock, the song was a sad signpost, coming out amid rumors that the Beatles were breaking up. The fact was, of course, that by the time the single was released, the group had long since fractured, as many books and articles have since chronicled. And while “Let It Be” was not the Beatles’ last single – or even their last No. 1 hit – it is to me the group’s last great record.

(A couple of notes: I much prefer the single release of “Let It Be,” produced by George Martin, to the album version produced by Phil Spector [an oddity for me, as I generally love Spector’s work]. As to “Let It Be” being the Beatles’ last great record, I’ve never had much regard for “The Long And Winding Road.” My first comment on “Road” back in 1970 – while it was on its way to No. 1 – was: “From anyone else, it would be a great song and a great record, but compared to everything else the Beatles have done, it’s almost mediocre.”

(As to how I could comment on the Beatles and their entire oeuvre when I’d only been listening attentively to pop and rock for a few months, well, the Beatles during the Sixties were one of a few groups and artists who were part of the environment and thus utterly inescapable; even those who spurned rock and pop – as I had – knew their hit songs.)

“Let It Be” has turned out to be one of the sturdier bits of the Beatles’ work, still sounding fresh when it pops up on the oldies station. And many musicians have covered the song: All-Music Guide lists 365 CDs on which the song appears. About forty of those listings are credited to the Beatles or Paul McCartney, leaving 325 listings of covers. Just a few names from that list: Billy Preston, the Mike Curb Congregation, the Nylons, Clarence Carter, and the Bwia Sunjet Steel Orchestra, which included the song on its album, Steel Band Music of the Caribbean. My own collection has covers of “Let It Be” from Bill Withers, Claudia Lennear, the Cate Brothers, Joe Cocker, Ike & Tina Turner, Richie Havens, Ray Charles and a Japanese group called Shang Shang Typhoon.

The cover version I like best, however, was recorded before the Beatles’ single was released. In the notes to the CD release of Aretha Franklin’s 1970 album, This Girl’s In Love With You, David Nathan writes, “A spring ’69 rumor floating around Atlantic’s London office had it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had written a song specifically for Aretha but that, on first hearing, she didn’t take to it.” The song, of course, was “Let It Be,” and Aretha got around to recording it in October 1969, putting it on the B side of “Don’t Play That Song,” which came out during the summer of 1970.

It could easily have been the A side, as it’s a very good version. Recorded in New York, “Let It Be” has Aretha on piano, being backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section: Roger Hawkins on drums, David Hood on bass, Barry Beckett on organ and Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Hinton and Jerry Weaver on guitar. The CD notes don’t list anyone else for that session – the last session for the album – so I don’t know who the backup singers were, but I’d guess that the saxophone solo came from King Curtis.

Aretha Franklin – “Let It Be” [1969]

From This Girl’s In Love With You [1970]

Aretha Sings For The Future Sir Cliff

June 20, 2011

Originally posted April 3, 2008

I’ve said before that I don’t get Cliff Richard. And I don’t. To me, there’s nothing of interest there – in the songs, in the person, in the act. The British, obviously, feel differently. He’s now Sir Cliff Richard, for pete’s sake! He’s has numerous hits, and a look at Wikipedia or places like that make it clear that he’s rarely been out of favor – and rarely been out of work, much of it hosting television shows. Here’s a clip from The Cliff Richard Show in 1970, Aretha Franklin performing “Don’t Play That Song For Me.”* At least he’s had good taste.

*The original video I posted was gone, but I found another, slightly different, video of the same performance. Note added June 20, 2011

A Baker’s Dozen Of ‘Song’

June 20, 2011

Originally published March 31, 2008

I did some record keeping yesterday as I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament.

(My bracket is still looking not too bad: I got three of the Final Four correct – North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas. I missed on only Memphis. From here on, I have Kansas and UCLA winning on Saturday and Kansas taking the title a week from today. The less said about the NCAA Division I hockey tournament, however, the better. Both St. Cloud State and the University of Minnesota were bounced in the first round. Things aren’t much better in Madison, Wisconsin, where my friend JB blogs; the UW Badgers lost a 3-2 overtime decision Sunday to the hated North Dakota Sioux.)

Anyway, as I said, I did some record keeping, and I learned that since I started this blog in January 2007, I have shared 115 albums, and I learned that twenty-one of those records came from 1970, the most from any one year

I didn’t do any work on the number of songs shared through Baker’s Dozens and so on, but that should be easy to estimate: Sixty-six Baker’s Dozens times thirteen equals 858; I’ve done nine Junkyards, but on only seven of those, I think, was every song shared, so call that 110; I’ve shared sixty-three Saturday Singles* and forty or so songs under the Tuesday Cover label. There were a few other songs shared with no label or plan, so let’s add ten to the total. We get 1,081 songs. (I know there were some repeated songs and at least one double Baker’s Dozen in there, but this is an estimate.) That’s a pretty impressive total.

Continuing my number-crunching this morning, I decided to look at the entire collection of mp3s and see which years command most of my attention. I hadn’t done this since, oh, October, but the general shape of the data didn’t change. If I were to put the numbers in a bar graph, the big bars would be from 1967 through 1973. (Is this a surprise? No.)

Here are the numbers of mp3s from those seven years and from the years immediately preceding and following them:

1966: 609
1967: 1029
1968: 1450
1969: 1680
1970: 1936
1971: 1789
1972: 1531
1973: 1092
1974: 724

A final set of numbers may be of interest. Here’s how the mp3s sort out by decade. (I have a total of nineteen mp3s from the years 1900-1919, so we’ll ignore those.)

1920s: 382
1930s: 412
1940s: 275
1950s: 920
1960s: 6552
1970s: 9384
1980s: 2056
1990s: 2763
2000s: 2645

As I was doing this, I was also casting about for a topic for today’s Baker’s Dozen, and I thought I ought to do something with a musical term. I asked the RealPlayer to sort for the word “music,” and it listed every one of the 25,338 mp3s. So I decided to gather a group of songs with the word “song” in the title.

A Baker’s Dozen of “Song”
“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, recorded in 1973, released in 1991

“Never Ending Song of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from Motel Shot, 1971

“Song of the Sun” by Robin Scott from Woman From The Warm Grass, 1969

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni single 55265, 1970

“Snake Song” by Townes Van Zandt from Flyin’ Shoes, 1978

“Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies from Ghosts That Haunt Me, 1991

“Just A Song” by Dave Mason from Alone Together, 1970

“Harvest Song” by Magic Carpet from Magic Carpet, 1971

“Everybody Knows (The River Song)” by O.V. Wright from If It’s Only For Tonight, 1965

“My Song” by the Moody Blues from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971

“Sing A Song Of Love To Me” by Chris Rea from Auberge, 1991

“Sleep Song” by Graham Nash from Songs for Beginners, 1971

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin from Aretha Live at Fillmore West, 1971

A few notes:

In 1972, Eric Andersen released Blue River, an extraordinary album that put him in position to be among the best of the singer/songwriters of the day, certainly in critical acclaim and possibly – depending on how his next record did – in sales and popularity. That next record, Stages, was nearly complete when the master tapes were lost, along with whatever momentum Andersen’s career had. He regrouped as well as he could, and in 1991, the tapes were found somewhere in Columbia’s storage rooms. Andersen recorded a few new songs and did a little bit of work on the old tapes before releasing Stages: The Lost Album. It’s a great album.

During my European travels, I spent about ten days wandering through northern Scandinavia with an Australian fellow named John. We spent one night in Kemi, a small town in Finland. The next morning, we learned we’d forgotten about a time zone change and had missed the first train back to Sweden. We had a couple hours to kill, so we sat in a café near the railroad station, drinking coffee and listening to the jukebox. At one point, a record came on that sounded familiar, but it took me a moment to place it. I have never heard anything else in my life quite as strange as “Never Ending Song of Love” sung in Finnish.

Robin Scott’s album, Woman From The Warm Grass, was assessed perfectly by All-Music Guide: “Scott’s vocals and songs were earnest and verbose, with the reflective fragile moodiness (and yearning, sometimes florid romanticism) found in many British folk/folk-rock singer/songwriters of the era.” AMG adds, “‘Song of the Sun’ has the poetic wordy gray melancholy very particular to this period of British folk.” Scott’s music isn’t bad, just a little bit of a downer.

I remember hearing on the Minneapolis station Cities 97 that at the time it came out, in 1991, and for maybe a year or so afterward. “Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies was the station’s most requested song. I’m not sure I get it. On the other hand, it’s a catchy song with a great hook, and I’ve found myself humming it as I finish this post.

You want hippie mysticism, sitar and all? Try Magic Carpet’s “Harvest Song.” The song, brief as it is, wears on one, and in general, the album is listenable only in small portions, mostly as a period piece. I’ve seen two dates for the record, 1971 and 1972, but AMG says the former, so I’ll go with that.

Chris Rea’s Auberge is a gloomy album, and “Sing A Song Of Love To Me” doesn’t change that. But no one does gloomy quite as well as Chris Rea.

*Given that a Saturday Single post would occasionally be deleted by the bloghost, the numbering of the Saturday Singles posts was at times out of sequence. At the time this post was originally written, I had shared – based on the archives thus far posted – sixty-four Saturday Singles. Note added June 20, 2011.

A Friday Walk Through The Junkyard

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 14, 2008

My to-do list has gotten longer as the week has progressed. Tomorrow is the annual tabletop hockey competition here, and I have much left to accomplish. I do have some interesting albums to rip: I’ve gotten five fairly rare albums in the mail in recent weeks, with another – the Blue Rose album I mentioned Wednesday – on the way.

But time is short today, so instead of trying to rush one of those albums along and botching it, I thought I’d take one of my regular random walks through the junkyard and see what we find from the years 1951-2000.

“Fridgidaire Woman” by Son Seals from Living In The Danger Zone, 1991

“Screamer for Phlyses” by Shawn Phillips from Contribution, 1970

“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco single 6147, 1959

“Sad, Sad Day” by Muddy Waters from King Bee, 1981

“Corrina” by King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar from Official Music, 1970

“Wild Horses” by Leon Russell from Stop All That Jazz, 1974

“Little Girl” by Redbone from Redbone, 1970

“Pleasure” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from The Great Conspiracy, 1968

“Make Love To You” by the Stills-Young Band from Long May You Run, 1976

“The Working Man” by Creedence Clearwater Revival from Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968

“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by the Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin, RCA single 14214, 1985

“Let Your Lovelight Shine” by the Buddy Miles Express from Expressway To Your Skull, 1968

“Don’t Make Promises” by the Beau Brummels, Warner Bros. single 7014, 1967

“Heavy Church” by Three Dog Night from Naturally, 1970

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione from Feels So Good, 1977

A few notes:

Every three years or so from 1973 through 2000, blues fans could count on a release from Son Seals, an Arkansas-born blues guitarist discovered in a Chicago nightspot by Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer. “Frigidaire Woman” comes from Living In The Danger Zone, which, in terms of quality, falls right in the middle of Seals’ nine-album series of works. Seals – who died in 2003 – never made a bad album; his best was most likely Midnight Son from 1976.

I heard “Mack the Knife” the other day as I pulled into the supermarket a parking lot. I waited to leave the car until the song ended, thinking, “I need to get that song into the blog,” and now, the universe has done that for me. The song originated in The Threepenny Opera, a 1928 piece of musical theater by writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. The story of Macheath and his murderous ways was eventually translated to film in the 1950s and continues to be presented on occasion as live theater. Darin’s swinging version of the show’s opening number contrasts greatly with the staid and stiff version I heard when I listened to a recording of the opera. Louis Armstrong recorded a similar version of the tune, but it was Darin’s version that was the hit, going to No. 1 for nine weeks in the autumn of 1959. (Darin’s version – as did Armstrong’s before it – name-checks “Miss Lotte Lenya” during the final verses. In the mid- to late Sixties, when I heard the song, I was confused, as I knew Lotte Lenya only as the haggard and unappealing actress who’d played Soviet agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Lotte Lenya had been Kurt Weill’s wife, had acted in various stagings of The Threepenny Opera and had earned a Tony award for one of them, in the mid-1950s.)

King Bee, produced by Johnny Winter, was – from what I can tell – the last album in the long career of Muddy Waters. For the most part, the album is new versions of Waters’ work on the Chess label (including “Sad, Sad Day”), but the album is still a pretty good way to spend some time.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was a Los Angeles-based psychedelic band, and The Great Conspiracy was the group’s second album. Some of the songs on the record stretch out a little into some trippy mid-Sixties noodling and jamming. “Pleasure” isn’t one of those; it’s a fairly concise song that’s typical of second-level psychedelic pop rock. Good for what it is.

Pretty much right from the start, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a great band. The misfortune that John Fogerty and his bandmates had to face was that, at the time, bands that recorded long, trippy songs full of obscure allusions sold lots of records and were taken seriously, while bands that recorded good three-minute singles were relegated to a less-serious room, kind of like eating at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving. But listening to CCR’s records today, even the stuff that wasn’t released as singles has aged an awful lot better than the work of a lot of those groups that were taken so seriously four decades ago. (Yeah, CCR stretched out sometimes, as on its version of “Suzy Q.” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” But those are the group’s less successful efforts, I think; the group’s strength was the three-minute single, and CCR did that about as well as anyone ever has. My favorite happens to be “Green River.”)

I think the 1985 collaboration between the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin tends to get lost in the memory of the Eighties as a decade of synths, drum machines and big hair (and the Eighties were all that). But “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” truly cooks. And it’s probably Aretha’s last great record.

I mentioned the other day the breadth of writers from which Three Dog Night got its material. “Heavy Church,” a record I’ve always liked a lot, ever since I got Naturally as a Christmas gift in 1971, was written by Alan O’Day, with whom I had a brief correspondence about “Rock & Roll Heaven” a while back. O’Day’s own version showed up on his 1973 album, Caress Me Pretty Music.

Chuck Mangione had a No. 4 hit in early 1978 with a single edit of “Feels So Good.” This is the nine-minute album version.

Saturday Single No. 60

June 15, 2011

Originally posted March 1, 2008

So, March comes and brings with it . . . what?

For Caesar, so long ago, it brought death on the Ides of March. For the Ides of March, at least according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, March brought nothing. The group’s hit – “Vehicle” – entered the chart in April of 1970. That would be for the national chart. But there are other charts, of course. According to the Big 10 Countdown dated March 1, 1971, from Chicago’s WCFL, the month did bring something for the Ides of March: The single “L.A. Goodbye” was at No. 29 as the month opened, up from No. 36 the week before.

What else do we find on that long-ago chart from the first day of March?

The No. 1 song was “Mama’s Pearl” by the Jackson 5, the sixth hit in a span of a little more than a year for Michael and his brothers. The rest of the Top Ten that week in that part of Chicagoland was:

“Sweet Mary” by Wadsworth Mansion
“Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed
“Have You Ever Seen The Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted” by the Partridge Family
“Proud Mary” by Ike & Tina Turner
“If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot
“Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)” by the Staple Singers
“Blue Money” by Van Morrison
“Just My Imagination” by the Temptations

Good radio songs all, though the Staple Singers record was appreciably more popular in Chicago than it was nationally (a peak of No. 27 in Billboard). Other than that, nothing out of the ordinary. There is one One-Hit Wonder in the group: Wadsworth Mansion’s “Sweet Mary,” which is kind of a favorite of mine, with its odd and clunky introduction.

(Readers may wonder why, as I live in Minnesota, I am examining a chart from Chicago. Well, I was looking for two things from a chart this week: The date of March 1, and a chart that was more than thirty songs long. The date requirement is obvious. But why more than thirty songs? So I could look at the chart – whatever year it might come from – and see what song was No. 31 on 3/1. And none of the charts I could find from the Minnesota stations that played Top 40 in my teen years fit those requirements. Nor did I find a WLS chart that worked, which disappointed me. That’s how I ended up at WCFL, a station that, as far as I know, I never heard through the static.)

So, what song was it that occupied the No. 31 slot at WCFL on 3/1 back in 1971? Well it’s actually a pretty good one: “You’re All I Need To Get By” by Aretha Franklin, which reached No. 19 on the Billboard chart a little later in the month. It came from the album Aretha’s Greatest Hits, an example of the dubious but common practice of putting new material on a hits album so as to make it essential for collectors. The version of the song on the Greatest Hits album is fine, but nothing to get excited about.

Just days after that chart came out, however, Aretha went to San Francisco and did three shows at the Fillmore West backed by a band led by King Curtis. The album Aretha Live At Fillmore West, released later in 1971, did not include the version of “You’re All I Need To Get By” recorded during the three-night gig. But a CD reissue put out in 2006 by Atlantic/Rhino includes that song and a few others that didn’t make the original album. And as nice as the studio version of “You’re All I Need To Get By” is, the live version cuts it to shreds.

And that’s a roundabout way of getting to today’s Saturday Single.

Aretha Franklin – “You’re All I Need To Get By” [1971, Fillmore West]