Posts Tagged ‘Badfinger’

‘Scarf Now!’

December 27, 2012

I have – as we all do – consistent patterns and habits.

The Texas Gal first noticed that soon after we met, when our daily contact was still limited to computer chat and telephone calls. “What’s for lunch?” she asked one morning. Chili beans over hot dogs, I told her.

“You had that yesterday,” she said.

“Yes, and the day before that,” I replied.

There were reasons for the sameness of my lunch menu, I told her. First, I like chili beans over hot dogs. And then, I was at the time on a very limited budget. Chili beans were cheap, and a couple weeks earlier, the grocery store where I shopped had filled a small freezer in the meat department with one-pound packages of John Morrell’s German Brand hot dogs. They’d been frozen upon their arrival at the store some time earlier and had been forgotten in the main freezer until they were past their so-called freshness date. There was nothing wrong with the hot dogs, a sign assured shoppers; they’d been frozen since their arrival. But because of the date on the packages, the store was selling them at a dollar per one-pound package.

I’d never tried the brand, so I bought a package and had two or three that noon. Having approved, I went back to the store that afternoon and stocked up on, oh, fifteen pounds of German Brand hot dogs. And that became my preferred brand until the Morrell company discontinued them about five years ago. So I found another brand, and even with the addition to my lunchtime options earlier this year of several varieties of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee pasta, a bowl of chili beans over hot dogs still shows up frequently on my noontime table.

So what brought habits and patterns to mind this morning? My breakfast.

For a couple of years now, my breakfast has been the same. It starts with coffee, of course. (I’ve lately been drinking Gevalia’s Traditional Roast, my most recent attempt to find a regular coffee since the McGarvey Flame Room blend has once more disappeared from the shelves of the nearby supermarket.)

To represent the beginning of my breakfast, here’s Squeeze with “Black Coffee in Bed,” which went to No. 103 in 1982. The record isn’t much, but the video is entertaining for both the 1980s fashions and for the seeming disinterest with which the members of Squeeze go through the motions.

Once coffee is brewing, I head to the bread. If I ever took the time to make toast in the mornings, I could dig up a video for “Toast to the Fool” by the Dramatics or maybe “Toast and Marmalade For Tea” by Tin Tin, but I go with plain bread. So here’s a clip from the television show Solid Gold of Robert John performing his 1983 cover of the Newbeats’ “Bread & Butter.” The Newbeats’ version went to No. 2 in 1964, while John’s cover went to No. 68.

Speaking of habits, John made a habit of covering older hits. His 1972 version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which went to No. 3, was a cover of the Tokens’ No. 1 hit from 1961. (The Tokens’ version was reissued in 1994 and went to No. 50 after the song was recorded by South African artist Lebo M. as part of the soundtrack to the Disney film The Lion King.)* John also covered the doo-wop classic “Hushabye” in 1972. That cover went to No. 99; the Mystics’ version had gone to No. 20 in 1959. And in 1980, John released a version of “Hey There Lonely Girl,” which went to No. 31. That was, in fact, a cover of a cover: Eddie Holman’s take on the song went to No. 2 in 1970 while the original, Ruby & The Romantics’ “Hey There Lonely Boy,” had gone to No. 27 in 1963.

Anyway, once I have my bread (and I suppose we should be grateful that no record ever seems to have come close to the Billboard Hot 100 that has the words “whole grain” in its title), I slather it with peanut butter. Here’s the Marathons (who also recorded as the Olympics, as I noted in a post some time ago) with “Peanut Butter,” which went to No. 20 in 1961.

That takes care of one slice of bread. These days, the other gets a good coating of apple butter. (I used to use grape jam but switched for some reason a couple of years ago). There are no records that I could find specifically about apple butter (and I quickly dismissed the idea of pulling anything out of the “Apple Jam” portion of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass), but there are plenty about apples. Here’s a pretty good one from Badfinger, “Apple of My Eye,” which went to No. 102 in 1974 (and was released, happily enough for our purposes this morning, on Apple).

*The tangled history of the songs “Mbude” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is told well at All-Music Guide.

A Baker’s Dozen of caithiseach’s Favorites

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 24, 2008

(Our guest poster today is caithiseach, who generally hangs his hat at The Great Vinyl Meltdown.)

It must have been the frozen custard cake. We were eating it when whiteray asked me what my favorite single was. I thought for far too long, then I gave him an answer. A day later, with the custard still in his system, he invited me to guest-blog this Baker’s Dozen of my favorite singles. I could not pass up the opportunity to write in this blog, the first music blog I ever read, and the inspiration for my own blog, which deals with quirky old 45s I collected when I was a kid.

Today I have been set a different task: to write about songs that you probably know. I had made my job somewhat easier by adding a marker to the digital filenames of my favorite Hot 100 hits. So I sorted out the favorites, some 400 of them. Then, in order not to think too much or too long, I culled any song I thought might be one of my thirteen favorites. I may have missed some really good songs that I didn’t mark, and surely I am skipping some superb singles that I don’t own or have not digitized, but I used the Force and let it tell me what to do with the material at hand.

One thing I looked for was songs that truly were singles. Crisp story lines, nicely rounded finishes, no sense that the song was hacked out of a larger work, the way a Pink Floyd single would be. I see an artistry in a perfect single that matches the magic of an excellent short story. It’s satisfying in itself, not incomplete and co-dependent like a chapter in a novel. As Oliver Wendell Holmes might have said, I know a real single when I hear one.

By accident I pulled out exactly forty finalists, which suits my way of thinking about music – in terms of countdowns. When I was ten, I started counting down my ten favorite hits, playing them in my mind when I mowed the lawn each Saturday. That short music chart had as much fluidity as a Billboard chart, but it also had a consistency that reflected the amount of thought I put into it. I remember such momentous decisions as replacing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at No.1 with “The Love You Save.”

Today’s Top Thirteen doesn’t have a lot in common with my final lawn-mowing Top Ten, because I stopped mowing the family lawn around 1982, when I graduated from college. But several songs from that era slipped into the forty candidates for this Baker’s Dozen, and I’m pleased that I still like the songs I enjoyed in my teen years. It would be awful to have outgrown myself completely.

I also started doing the DJ countdown thing on my record player when I was about eight. With just one turntable, that made for a lot of chatter between songs. That’s what you’ll get here; I’m going to explain my choices, rather than give valuable information about the artists, as whiteray does. And I’ll go bottom to top, so here goes:

13. “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond [Bang 578, 1970]

As much as I like other early Diamond hits, this song about betrayal and the response to it stuck with me as a clean discussion of the topic, with no self-pity to muck it up. The delicious Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich production, with the acoustic guitar accented by somber horns, meshed perfectly with the message.

12. “Shattered Glass” by Laura Branigan [Atlantic 89245, 1987]

This cut climbed only to No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100. What puts it here is ninety percent appreciation and ten percent desire to share a song you probably have never heard. I was rolling into Bloomington, Indiana after a very long drive, and I got stuck at a very long light at two a.m. This song, new to me then, came on the radio, and I cranked it to stay awake. My car was rocking on its springs already when Laura hit the climax notes of the chorus. The tsunami of sound left my brain unable to process all of the sound in real time. If you play this song loudly enough, her voice at that point will leave an impression on you that will never fade.

11. “No Matter What” by Badfinger [Apple 1822, 1970]

The story of Pete Ham and Tom Evans is tragic, and their band’s output was inconsistent, but they worked magic several times, most notably here. I am a sucker for songs that go silent abruptly and use a drumbeat to pull the music back in. I love the guitar work. I don’t tire of listening to Pete Ham singing. It’s a song about hanging in there. I wish people had hounded these two guys less relentlessly.

10. “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons [Warner/Curb 8168, 1976]

Three of my forty finalists were on the same chart in March-April 1976, and two of them are in the final thirteen. This song’s bass line has whiteray’s blessing as perhaps the best bass line ever, and that is what drew me to the song in the first place. An amazing piano part carries the song into the second vocal phrase, where the bass kicks in, and Gerri Polci’s turn as lead vocalist gives welcome respite from Frankie Valli. Apart from the message that not learning a lover’s name is an okay thing, the song chronicles a wondrous event without getting tacky. And you should fiddle with your graphic equalizer and isolate that bass line. Mmmmm.

9. “Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown [Atlantic 1125, 1957]

The year of 1957 was very good for me, musically. I wasn’t born yet, but Pérez Prado recorded “Why Wait” then (had it been an A side, it would be No. 2 here), and Ruth Brown gave us this bright shuffle that rolls along like a diesel engine with a hundred cars behind it. Any song that starts with a long, growly sax note gets my vote, and this one boasts the “No Matter What” silence as well. It would be a good song with anyone else singing it, but no one could put joy into a vocal the way Ruth Brown did.

8. “No One Is to Blame” by Howard Jones [Elektra 69549, 1986]

Almost an answer to No. 4 below, now that I think about it, I found this song heartbreaking at a time when I was heartbroken. Singing about the unattainable, Jones doesn’t get all of the words right, says I, but the melody, his soulful delivery, the percussion – it works for me in inexplicable ways.

7. “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies [Calendar 1008, 1969]

We’re getting to writhe-on-the-floor-in-ecstasy territory now, at least in the case of the upbeat songs. I blogged about this song, which was my one source of joy in 1969, a year that beat me to a pulp. I admire Jeff Barry beyond words, and if you forget the reasons why this song is so gentle, you’ll be able to appreciate the genius he injected into every beat.

6. “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones [London 910, 1969]

Charting simultaneously with “Sugar, Sugar,” this song gave my appreciation of music new range. Until then, I was too young for the Stones, but I figured them out here. The recurrent caithiseach theme of a horn section helps to reel me in, but I also love suspended fourths in any song, and the unified vision the guitars give to the subject matter round it all out. I always think about this being Brian Jones’ last work, and it tears me up.

5. “Misty” by Johnny Mathis [Columbia 41483, 1959]

The song is amazingly evocative poetry, and this arrangement, with artfully understated vocals, is the only version anyone needs to hear. Even so, I didn’t become familiar with “Misty” until 1984, when I waited table at the Raging Bull, a fine-dining establishment in Merrillville, Indiana, that provided music by pianist-singer Tony Liggins. He turned me on to the song, then I found the Mathis version on a Time-Life CD of 1959 hits. From there, the recording crept into my mind to the point that, after a bit of meditation, it wound up at No. 5 here.

4. “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez [A&M 1737, 1975]

As much as I enjoy her singing tunes by The Band, and as much as I could enjoy her singing almost any song, Joan accomplished something here that almost defies description, so forgive me if I fail you: She should be as bitter as Alanis Morrissette in these lyrics, but she is so graceful with her condemnation of Dylan that she soars above the situation and avoids sounding like a bitch. Start there, and add a chord progression that is as memorable (and inspired) as what Hoagy Carmichael came up with for “Stardust.” But “Stardust” does not have the eerie, haunting resonance of this song, of course. I don’t know how she could use any major chords in this song, but she chose exactly the right ones, at the right moments. I would crawl to where she is to thank her for the song, if I thought I could get past her bodyguards.

3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen [Elektra 45297, 1976]

I can explain this one. Freddie Mercury trusted his audience to be able to handle big words and big sounds. I enjoyed his work when he was alive, and I ache to have him back now that he’s gone. As a polar opposite to its fellow 1976 chart hit “December, 1963,” this song provided gravity without being maudlin or unlistenable in its pomposity. I think the song must have been a lot of fun to write and record, and I have always found it fun to listen to. My big problem with it came when my sister borrowed my single and scratched it in such a way that you could hear the entire song except for the gong, which is where it skipped. Thanks, Lisa.

2. “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA [Atlantic 3457, 1978]

In 1977-78, on Friday nights I watched Midnight Special. About two a.m., a truck would drop off Saturday newspapers for me to deliver. If I felt like it, I delivered the papers after the show rather than get up four hours later to do my job. Apart from almost getting shot once, it worked out fine. And one morning, I delivered my seventy-five papers with one song stuck in my head. Wolfman Jack had just played a string of ABBA promo clips, and he ended with their “new single,” which was three months away from its U.S. release. I had never heard an intro like the one to “Take a Chance on Me”: an a cappella female lead with male chant underpinning? Then the synth comes in, and finally the song explodes. A sweet message of at-some-point-to-be-requited love, the song is boundlessly cheery but not cloying. Another time, I was sitting in a disco in Salzburg, Austria, drinking expensive imported beer (Budweiser, their only beverage). The dance floor was empty. The DJ tossed on this song, the locals screamed, and before the chant started, there were a hundred couples grinding away. As they say, two hundred Austrians can’t be wrong.

1. “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals [Philles 106, 1962]

The vocalists are actually Darlene Love and the Blossoms. Phil Spector needed a Crystals record, and they weren’t available, and a voice is just a musical instrument, right? Well, I don’t think so. Gene Pitney’s composition captured the tug-of-war between leather-clad surly teens and frightened parents, with a girl’s arms as the rope, as succinctly as could be done. The girl’s choice is clear, which makes the song scarier for “adults” and an anthem for teens who want to push the envelope. Spector recorded some of his other songs very well, but this one includes a wistful piano, hot horns, a tasteful sax solo – and Darlene Love. She appeals to me more than any other Spector girl singer, and she took control of this song to a degree the actual Crystals might not have attained. From the time I became well-aware of this song, around 1970, it has ranged from first to third on my list of favorites. It’s time I admitted to myself that I don’t think any juxtaposition of lyrics, melody, vocals and arrangement tops this one.

Thanks, whiteray, for giving me this chance to think about the concept, and for the space to publish it. Thanks to you for reading what I wrote.

Some of the other songs I considered were:

“Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith

“What’s a Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You)” by Timi Yuro

“Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph

“Washington Square” by the Village Stompers

“Java” by Al Hirt

“Downtown” by Petula Clark

“Bus Stop” by the Hollies

“Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat

“Cecelia” by Simon & Garfunkel

“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5

“Be My Baby” by Andy Kim

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon

“The World Is a Ghetto” by War

“ I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by ABBA

“ Just Between You and Me” by April Wine

“Rosanna” by Toto

“Hello” by Lionel Richie

“Cherry Bomb” by John Cougar Mellencamp

Chicken Livers & Art Deco

April 28, 2010

During the 1960s and early 1970s, my family visited downtown Minneapolis something like four or five times a year. The suburban malls and all the hoo-ha that eventually developed around them were in their infancy at the time; when you wanted serious shopping, you went downtown, maybe to St. Paul but far more often to Minneapolis.

During one of those trips to Minneapolis – occasioned, I believe by an appointment for my dad at the nearby Fort Snelling Veterans Administration Hospital – my mom and I found ourselves on our own as lunchtime approached. I was maybe ten, so call it 1964. She took me to a cafeteria called the Forum. We made our way through the line, pushing our trays along their winding paths atop the tubular steel guides. I passed on meatloaf, Salisbury steak, hambugers and fries. Something had caught my eye, something creamy on a mess of golden egg noodles.

When I got there, the sign told me that the dish was chicken livers in cream sauce over noodles. It’s not a dish one would expect to find in a restaurant menu today, in downtown Minneapolis or even in downtown Olivia in the heart of Minnesota’s farm belt. But the Forum must have sold plenty of chicken livers over egg noodles back then, certainly enough to keep the dish on the menu for years to come. Because maybe two years after Mom took me to the Forum for the first time, I was allowed to wander free in downtown Minneapolis on our visits there, and whenever my wandering included lunchtime, I went to the Forum for chicken livers over noodles. And that went on for at least another eight years, until sometime after I graduated from high school.

There was another attraction to the place, beyond the draw of chicken livers in cream sauce: The Forum’s interior was a visual feast. In later years, I saw it described as one of the premier Art Deco interiors in the country. At twelve years old, I wouldn’t have known Art Deco from Art Shamsky, but I did know that I loved the unique interior of the Forum. It was simply fun to be inside a place where there was so much going on visually. And to eat lunch there was a highlight of many trips to Minneapolis over those years.

I thought about all that yesterday when the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on the newly reopened Forum, now a bar and restaurant. In 1975, the cafeteria closed down and the space was converted to a restaurant and disco, Scottie’s on Seventh. Eventually, urban renewal closed in on the building that hosted the Forum, and the building came down. But not until after the Art Deco interior was disassembled and saved. It was installed in the new City Center that went up on the site, and during the early 1980s, Scottie’s reopened there. By 1996, it was the turn of a restaurant called Goodfellow’s to take over the space, and five years ago, the space went dark.

It’s now the Forum again, a restaurant instead of a cafeteria, and it’s a place that the Texas Gal and I are making plans to see, likely for lunch during a planned August overnight in the Twin Cities. The newspaper says the interior has been lovingly restored and renewed (there’s a slideshow about the place’s design here), and that’s good news. I spent a few minutes this morning looking at the menu online, and the food sounds fine. No chicken livers, though.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 14
“California Girls” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 5464 [1965]
‘Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, RCA Victor 0161 [1968]
“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman, Track 2656 [1969]
“Day After Day” by Badfinger, Apple 1841 [1971]
“Get It On” by Chase from Chase (not the single Epic 10738) [1971]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly [1973]

None of these songs have any connection to downtown Minneapolis, to the Forum cafeteria or to creamed chicken livers on noodles, as far as I know. The only connection is the time. There is no doubt that during the months that the first two songs on this list were popular – and maybe during the brief popularity of the third song, too – a searcher could have found a young whiteray at least once and possibly more often sitting happily at a table in the Forum, enjoying a meal in the big city all on his own.

I think about that today, and I shudder. The downtown of a major American city is no longer a place where one would allow a twelve-year-old boy from out of town to wander freely. But forty-odd years ago, downtown Minneapolis was safe ground; the times were different. And I’m glad I grew up then instead of now.

By including “California Girls” in the selections for my mythical jukebox, I’m not by any means saying it’s one of the two-hundred and twenty-eight greatest records. It’s not. I do think it’s the Beach Boys’ greatest single, crowded for that spot only by “Surfin’ U.S.A.” And there was no real analysis or deliberation that led me to those rankings. Rather, it’s a visceral reaction. For most of their history, the Beach Boys have meant very little to me. The early stuff was pleasant but to me – looking back as I must, not having heard it much when it was on the radio – is unremarkable. The records I remember hearing as they came out, the later catalog, is stuff that I find to be artsy simply for the sake of being artsy, with “Good Vibrations” being the premier example. (Or maybe the premier example is SMiLE, the “long-lost treasure” that Brian Wilson completed and released in 2004. I should note that I rarely sell music – LPs or CDs. Once they’re home, they stay here, unless I need cash badly – as has happened at times over the years – or unless I find the music so unrewarding that I seen no need to keep it. A couple of years after I bought it, I sold SMiLE, and I didn’t need the cash.) Anyway, the thought of the Ultimate Jukebox without at least one Beach Boys’ record in it seemed odd, and I think this is the only selection I made to ensure a group’s presence in this list. Given that, I selected “California Girls,” which went to No. 3 in 1965, and I chose it partly because its essence is echoed in loving parody in the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” brings back echoes, of course, of the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which used the record in its soundtrack. I have a sense that Nilsson recorded Fred Neil’s song more than once, as it seems I’ve run across several different versions of the song. And to be honest, I don’t know which is the original and which, if any, were created for the film. I believe the original version is the one that Nilsson recorded for his album Aerial Ballet in 1968, which is where I get the date I listed above. And I think that was the version that was released as a single when the movie came out in 1969, with the single reaching No. 6 in the late summer and early autumn of that year. I’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy, and every time “Everybody’s Talkin’” pops up on the radio or on my player here at home, I tell myself that I have to put the movie’s title in my video queue. And I forget to do so every time.

Dave Marsh writes in The Heart of Rock & Soul: “Of all the sixties’ testimony to the necessity for immediate social revolution, “Something In The Air” is by far the most elegantly atmospheric.” The single – and the following album, which is almost as consistently good – was produced by the Who’s Pete Townshend, with Andy “Thunderclap” Newman on piano, Speedy Keen on drums, a young Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and – Marsh says – “Bijou Drains, a bassist with a giant beak, pipestem legs and unorthodox windmill playing style.” Drains, of course, was Townshend on a busman’s holiday. The single that resulted remains at moments thrilling, though there are also moments when it sounds as if the record – which barely pierced the Top 40, peaking at No. 37 in the autumn of 1969 – was patched together with Scotch tape. As clunky as some of the production is, it’s still a fascinating and fun record.

Badfinger’s “Day After Day” remains, nearly forty years later, a gorgeous song. Written by Pete Ham and produced by Todd Rundgren for Straight Up, the group’s third album, the single went to No. 4 as 1971 turned into 1972. Badfinger’s sad story is well-known, for the most part; those who are unfamiliar can find it here. For my purposes, it’s enough today to say that the group provided some fine singles and albums, and “Day After Day” might be the best.

I’ve written several times about the horn rock bands of the early 1970s, among which Chase might have had the most talent (and likely, too, the most horns, what with three trumpets). “Get It On” came curling out of radio speakers during the summer of 1971, when the record went to No. 24. Four (pretty good) albums and three years later, the story ended when Bill Chase and three other members of the band (and two pilots) were killed in an airplane crash in southwestern Minnesota. Even after all these years, the cascading trumpets give me a little bit of a chill.

I don’t know that I’d thought of exploring Roberta Flack’s music much until late in 1974, when a friend gave me a copy of Flack’s Killing Me Softly album. I knew the title track, of course, which had gone to No. 1 in early 1973. I knew Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” which closed the album. And even though I’ve listened to the record on and off for more than thirty-five years now, the rest of the record remains vague to me, with the exception of two tracks: “When You Smile” was the song that the ladyfriend who gave me the record quoted to me one evening over a quiet drink, a wish just short of a promise that never came true. And “No Tears (In The End)” is a loping piece of light funk that never fails to make me want to dance, and it’s home to a lyric that still talks to me today.

(Revised slightly, with one correction, since first posting.)