Posts Tagged ‘Bee Gees’

Complications With Fries On The Side

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 3, 2009

Just up the road from our place, right next to U.S. Highway 10, is a vacant building. Sometime in the last year, the auctioneer came by. They sold the booths and the counters, the grill and the deep-fat fryers, the hydraulic lifts and the gas pumps, the tool cabinets and all of the things that made the little building a gas station and restaurant for as many years as I can remember.

It was called Townsedge, and that was accurate enough in a practical sense. For many years, when folks would come into St. Cloud from the Twin Cities, Townsedge was the first gas station or restaurant they saw. They’d pass by a few other places – the marine shop, the masonry place and a used car lot or two – but if folks on the road had the usual travelers’ needs, Townsedge was the first place they saw where those needs could be met: Fill your tank, check the oil, buy a pack of smokes, sit down in a booth for a few minutes and have a cheeseburger straight from the grill, with a couple of pickle slices on the plate and a basket of fries on the side.

It was the kind of place you don’t often find anymore, and that’s truly a shame. There was another place like Townsedge across Highway 10, Fred’s Cafe, a classic American truck stop, and both Fred’s and Townsedge did well for many years. When Fred’s went out of business – that happened during the years I was away, but I think it was in the early 1990s – a chain convenience store/gas station took its place, and I’m sure that took business away from Townsedge. And when a franchised burger place opened up a couple of years ago about half a block from Townsedge, that pretty much told the tale.

After Dad retired, my folks went to Townsedge for coffee a couple of times a week, and after the Texas Gal and I moved here in 2002, I’d walk over and join them every once in a while. As we sat, I’d look around the place and gauge the ages of the customers. I’d see a few single moms with kids, but not many. Most of the time, I was the youngest person in the place (except for one or two of the waitresses). Once Dad was gone and Mom moved, I had no reason to go into Townsedge anymore, and not too long after that, I saw the “Closed” sign in the window as I drove by one day. And eventually, the auctioneer came by.

Places come and go, but Townsedge – as it was in the 1970s, not as it was in its last years – was a special place for a couple of reasons. First, the fries. The French fries at Townsedge – golden and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside – were among the best I have ever had. I’ve been to a few other places over the years whose fries were better, but when I was in high school, Townsedge had the best fries in town, and the little café was frequently the last stop during an evening spent out with friends.

Then there was the evening in early December 1970, during my senior year of high school. The St. Cloud Tech High School choirs had performed in concert, and a young lady and I were going to double up with another couple for burgers and fries at Townsedge. For some reason, the other guy had to cancel, so there were only three of us, my date and me on one side of the booth and the other young lady sitting across from us.

I dropped a quarter into the jukebox terminal in our booth. I have no idea what I played, but one of the other young folks elsewhere in the café had cued up the week’s No. 1 record, and that’s what we heard first. My date sang along for a few moments with the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.” We all laughed, and I realized that my life right then was about as complicated as it had ever been. None of us mentioned it, but all three of us – my date, the other young lady and I – knew that if I’d had my druthers, I’d have been sitting on the other side of the booth, next to the gal whose boyfriend hadn’t been able to join us.

Then the waitress brought us our burgers and fries, and life moved on.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, December 5, 1970)
“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family (No. 1)
“Yellow River” by Christie (No. 23)
“Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin (No. 44)
“Silver Moon” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band (No. 75)
“Lonely Days” by the Bee Gees (No. 81)
“Maggie” by Redbone (No. 100)

At the time, as I sat in that booth, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “I Think I Love You.” It was pop, but it wasn’t serious, I thought. Something like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” now that was serious pop. It said something. The Beatles’ “Let It Be” was serious. The Partridge Family was a fake group from a television show, for cripe’s sake! The fact is, though, “I Think I Love You” remains – despite its very odd middle section – a well-produced record with a killer chorus/hook, not to mention a memorable and unmistakable introduction. But still, it was hard in the late months of 1970 to take the record seriously. The fact that the song wasn’t written by its performers seemed to matter a great deal. (The song came from the pen of Tony Romeo, a fairly prolific writer whose credits also include Lou Christie’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” one of my favorite records.) Thirty-nine years later, that seems to matter very little, if at all. “I Think I Love You” was in its third and final week at No. 1 during the first week of December 1970.

Most of us who listened to “Yellow River” as it rolled out of our radio speakers in 1970 inferred, I am certain, that the narrator was just back from Vietnam or maybe – considering the narrator says his “war is won” – some mythical place like it:

So long, boy, you can take my place.
I got my papers, I got my pay,
So pack my bags and I’ll be on my way to Yellow River.
Put my gun down, the war is won.
Fill my glass high, the time has come.
I’m goin’ back to the place that I love: Yellow River.

The group Christie was made up of songwriter and singer Jeff Christie, guitarist Vic Elmes and drummer Mike Blakely. Wikipedia says that Christie first offered the song “Yellow River” to the group the Tremeloes, whose members included Blakely’s brother, Alan. The Tremeloes recorded the song but declined to release it and allowed Christie to use the backing track for its own version of the song. “Yellow River” spent eight weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 23. Christie’s follow-up, “San Bernadino,” barely edged into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 100.

(Note from 2022: I’ve read in the year since 2009 that Christie actually had the U.S. Civil War in mind when he wrote “Yellow River.)

Back in late 1970, not much came out of the radio or the jukebox quite so insistently as Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” with its thunderous introduction and haunting wail. The immigrants of the title were, of course, the historical Vikings, descending from Scandinavia to raid, plunder and eventually trade:

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow
Hammer of the gods, we’ll drive our ships to new land,
To fight the horde, sing and cry: Valhalla, I am coming!

The record spent ten weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 16.

“Silver Moon” is a countryish gem from Mike Nesmith, who came to prominence, of course, as a member of the Monkees in the 1960s. Just a few months earlier, Nesmith had reached the Top 40 when “Joanne” went to No. 21. But “Silver Moon” didn’t quite catch on, peaking at No. 42 in mid-January 1971 before tumbling out of sight. I can’t help wondering if Nesmith’s work would have fared better a few years later during the rather brief heyday of country rock. I think it would have.

Rick and I were fans of the Bee Gees, so we were quite pleased – and tickled by the odd ending – the first time we heard “Lonely Days” sometime in December 1970. The record came from the album 2 Years On, which reunited Robin Gibb with his brothers, Barry and Maurice, following a brief separation. During that separation, Robin released a solo album, Robin’s Reign, while Barry and Maurice released Cucumber Castle as a Bee Gees album. We thought – and I still think – that 2 Years On was better than the two releases that came during the brothers’ rift. “Lonely Days” climbed into the Top 40 and spent ten weeks there, peaking at No. 3 in early 1971.

Redbone’s swampy pop-rock was still a couple years away from chart success, but “Maggie” provided a perfect preview to what listeners would get in 1972 with “The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” which went to No. 21, and then again in 1974, when “Come and Get Your Love” would go to No. 5. “Maggie” rose to No. 80 and stayed there for two weeks as 1970 turned into 1971 before falling out of the Hot 100.

Are these tracks the same as the singles? In two cases, I’m pretty sure that’s the case. “Maggie” is the single edit offered as a bonus track on Redbone’s Potlatch CD. “I Think I Love You” was ripped from a Billboard compilation on LP; the LP label listed the same running time – 2:28 – as did the Bell 45 label, but the actual running time was longer at 2:47. I suspect label skullduggery, which – as we all know – was quite frequent. The other four of these mp3s were pulled from the various groups’ albums, but the running times – based on comparison to labels from 45s found online – are about the same as those of the singles. Are they the same mixes as on the 45s? I have no idea.

Saturday Single No. 159

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 7, 2009

I wrote earlier this week about my Ultimate Jukebox project, a series of posts that will list and comment on the two hundred songs I’d want in such a machine. Well, the research has begun, and I can already tell that trimming the list of records to that count of two hundred is going to be difficult.

As a result, I’ve been preoccupied this week. And in the absence of something more compelling to write about, I thought I’d limp on one of my favorite crutches of this past year and see what records I’ve acquired in November over the years. As is usual with this topic, I’ll look at the years from 1964 through 1989 this week and the succeeding years on another Saturday in November. (The calendar for the month’s weekends is already crowded; I have no doubt that I will find a Saturday that requires a quick and easy topic.)

Early on, as I’ve noted along the way, I wasn’t always keeping track of when I got what records, and I had to estimate the months of some acquisitions. I’m pretty sure that November of 1964 brought me the soundtrack to the Disney movie Mary Poppins, home of the silly and utterly infectious “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the exquisite “Feed the Birds.” That’s the only November acquisition on which I have to guess; I know that I got my second Al Hirt album, That Honey Horn Sound, on a trip to Minneapolis in November 1965.

After that, I got a few years older and broadened my musical tastes before getting any records in November. In 1971, I got my copies of 13, the Doors’ greatest hits album, and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. The former is still a decent hits album, though my taste for the Doors has waned over the years. The Tull album – one I honestly haven’t heard very much for a long time – is one I enjoyed immensely at the time. I should cue it up someday and see how it holds up.

Sometime in the next year, I joined a record club, and on a November day in 1972, I opened a package that had a pretty good duo: Buffalo Springfield’s Retrospective and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. I also picked up a copy of John Lennon’s Imagine that month, but I find that one to be another record that’s lost its luster over time; I only have a few tracks from it in my digital files.

After another blank November in 1973 – there were better things to do in Denmark than to buy records – I found myself mostly home-bound in November of 1974. Rick came over one day with a few records to divert me: Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album, the Association’s Greatest Hits, the Bee Gees’ 2 Years On and Odessa, and Quincy Jones’ Ndeda. The best of those? Odessa is a great, if sprawling album. On the other hand, I never quite got into Ndeda although it still has its place on the shelves.

Bob Dylan’s New Morning came home with me in November of 1975. And then there’s another gap, this one a long one. I didn’t acquire another November record until 1982, when my haul was the odd pairing of The Richard Harris Love Album and Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill. The Harris album was an anthology that I bought because it included both “MacArthur Park” and “Didn’t We,” the only two performances by Harris I really like.

In the eleventh month of 1983, I got as a gift the Motown-studded soundtrack to the film The Big Chill. I’m not sure what it is about November, but there was then another gap of several years before the month brought me new music again.

That happened in 1987, and I brought home fifteen LPs that month. In no particular order, there was music from Willie Nelson, ABBA, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel, the Alan Parsons Project, Crosby Stills & Nash, the Sanford/Townsend Band, Bob Dylan, The Band, Joe Cocker, Gordon Lightfoot and Paul McCartney. There were also two soundtracks: The Big Easy and Dirty Dancing. The best album of the bunch remains The Band’s Music From Big Pink. At the other end of the spectrum, Allies by Crosby, Stills & Nash is a pretty weak effort.

I continued to haunt garage sales, used record shops and the few places that sold new vinyl in Minot, North Dakota, and in November of 1988, I found LPs by the Eagles, Aretha Franklin, Jigsaw, the Rolling Stones and England Dan & John Ford Coley. Go ahead and blink. I also grabbed a K-Tel compilation titled Superstars Greatest Hits, which lost its apostrophe somewhere.

In 1989, as the first half of the November chronicles come to an end, I was in Anoka, Minnesota, and a lady friend brought me some albums from her collection as gifts: John Denver’s Poems, Prayers & Promises, Loggins & Messina’s self-titled album, an album by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and an anthology of well-known hits from the 1950s and 1960s.

So what to share from this mélange of November acquisitions? Well, the best album out of all of these might be Willie Nelson’s Stardust or maybe The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and The Band. But Odessa, from 1969, remains a favorite. At least one of its tracks will show up down the road, but for now, here’s the opening track of Side Three, the lush “Lamplight,” as your Saturday Single.

12/02/2021

December 2, 2021

Take a look at today’s palindromic date: 12/02/2021. One can’t just ignore it, but on the other side, I’m not entirely sure what to do with it.

As I ponder that, I’m wondering how often such a perfect palindrome occurs on the calendar. Last year, we passed by 02/02/2020, and I think that the last time before that would have been 11/02/2011. That’s using U.S. notation, of course, with the month coming first; in those places where the date comes first – making today’s date 02/12/2021 and not at all significant —palindromes are a little more likely as they’d come, in this century, anyway, in years whose last digit is 0, 1 and 2. February 20, 2002, would have been 20/02/2002; February 10 the year before would have been 10/02/2001.

So that’s kind of neat. But what to do with it? Games With Numbers, obviously, but how?

Well, during the years I’m most interested in, Billboard released a Hot 100 on December 2 – 12/02 – in 1967, 1972 and 1978. We dabble in 1972 a lot, probably more than any other years except the three years that preceded it, and there’s more interest here in 1967 than there is in 1978. But I think we’ll look at the Nos. 20 and 21 records on this date for all three years.

So, what were the No. 20 and 21 records on this date in 1967? Sitting at No 20 on this date fifty-four years ago was the Bee Gees’ “(The Lights Went Out In) Massachusetts,” and parked underneath it was Vicki Carr’s “It Must Be Him.” The Bee Gees’ record was on its way up the chart and would peak at No. 11. “It Must Be Him” was on its way down after peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and spending three weeks at No. 1 on the chart then called Easy Listening.

Let’s go to 1972. Perched at No. 20 fifty-one years ago was a country crossover, Donna Fargo’s “Funny Face,” and just below that was “Convention ’72” by the Delegates, a comedy cut-in record that wasn’t particularly funny. “Funny Face” would peak at No. 5 on both the Hot 100 and the Easy Listening chart and was No. 1 for three weeks on the country chart. “Convention ’72” was on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 8.

On this date in 1978, the No. 20 record was “Sweet Life” by Paul Davis, while the spot just below was occupied by “Don’t Want To Live Without It” by Pablo Cruise. Davis’ record would go just a little higher and peak at No. 17 and would peak at No. 7 on the Easy Listening chart, while the Pablo Cruise record would go no higher in the Hot 100.

Five of those six were familiar to me; I had to go the RealPlayer to remind myself of the Pablo Cruise record, but I still don’t remember it. Certainly the most successful among them was Donna Fargo’s, but it’s not really my thing. I’m pretty sure none of the six has been mentioned very often here, but the records by Carr, Davis and the Bee Gees are fine records, and I suppose that if I recalled ever hearing the Pablo Cruise record, it would be fine, too.

But I waded through the archives to check on “(The Lights Went Out In) Massachusetts,” and I learned that I have mentioned the record only once in the nearly fifteen years I’ve been cobbling things together here, and that was in a listing of a radio station’s top five. I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned either the Davis record or the Carr record any more than once each, but . . . well, here’s “(The Lights Went Out In) Massachusetts.”

Four At Random

July 15, 2021

Here are four for a Thursday. We’re going to let the computer do the work, drawing from the 2,900-some tracks I keep in iTunes for the iPod.

First up is the Bee Gee’s string-laden “To Love Somebody.” Released in June 1967, it was the second hit for the group to reach the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 17. (“New York Mining Disaster 1941,” released a couple months earlier, had reached No. 14.) What got to me when I first heard it a few years later was the harp in the intro, the feather-light vocals, and the light touch of the horns in a few places, all leading to the forceful “You don’t know what it’s like!”

And when the track plays, I still see the yellow cover of Best of Bee Gees, as that’s pretty much always been the source of the song for me. It actually came out on Bee Gees’ 1st, which was really the group’s third album but the first to be released internationally.

And that first time I heard the record – across the street at Rick’s, where a borrowed copy was residing for a few days – I thought the “No, no, no, no!” and the lush orchestration and the near wailing leading to the end of the record was all a bit overdone. But then I thought back to the previous school year and a certain violinist of my acquaintance and thought, “That’s about right.”

Then pop up the insistent horns announcing Chicago’s “Free,” a 1971 single from Chicago III. I recall it coming out of my radio in the early months of 1971 and not being overly impressed. (“Make Me Smile” was – and still is – my Chicago fave.) And then much later that year – after high school ended and college life began – I heard the track as part of the long “Travel Suite” from the album. And I liked it better in that setting.

But there was still something about the record that never quite felt right to me. It went to No. 20 in the Hot 100 – a disappointment, as three of the group’s four previous charting singles (“Make Me Smile,” “25 or 6 to 4,” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”) hit the Top Ten.

I wrote long ago about my love for Chicago’s early work at the time it came out and my perception that the group soon ran out of ideas and energy, becoming stale and not much fun to listen to. That happened during the mid-1970s by my reckoning, but as I think of “Free” and Chicago III this morning, I think the signs were beginning to show. Or maybe my admiration for the silver album – whether you call it Chicago or Chicago II – still overpowers anything else the band did.

Don’t get me wrong: I like “Free” and Chicago III, but as I ponder them this morning, they seem to be just on the wrong side of the divide from the group’s earlier work.

And we drop back to 1964 and an early version of a tune the Youngbloods would make famous five years later: “Get Together” as recorded by Hamilton Camp. With an austere guitar backing and a harmonica solo, Camp’s October 1964 performance, included on his Paths Of Victory album, fits into a folky aesthetic that was already being overtaken and would not emerge again until the rise of the singer-songwriter in the early 1970s.

Even as I write that, though, I think to myself that the arrangement would have fit very nicely on Bob Dylan’s 1967 album John  Wesley Harding. But then Dylan always creates a problem when one tries to categorize styles and slide those styles into any kind of chronological pattern.

Camp’s performance is nice enough, pleasant as background, but his thin voice and the subdued arrangement aren’t enough for the song. Maybe if Jesse Colin Young had never found the song, I’d find Camp’s version more compelling. But I wouldn’t want to make that trade.

Last up for the day – having skipped a couple, the first because it’s too new and I haven’t really listened much to it yet and the second because it was “25 or 6 to 4” – is Lefty Frizzell’s “She’s Gone Gone Gone” from 1965. One of Frizzell’s last hits, it went to No. 12 on the Billboard country chart. I don’t know when I first heard it, but it was decades later, and all I really need to say about it is that it’s classic country.

Some Bits Left Out

December 23, 2020

We took a couple of hours the other day to catch up on the HBO documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. We enjoyed the music and the memories, learned a bit more about how the Brothers Gibb put together their sound, and – for my part, anyway – felt more than a little bit sad for Barry, the last surviving Gibb brother, as he talked about his memories of fellow Bee Gees Maurice and Robin and their kid brother, Andy.

Over the years, I’ve said something like “There are three parts to the arc of the Bee Gees’ career,” citing the Beatlesque phase of the mid- to late 1960s (covering the period from their first album and hits to 1969’s Odessa), the “pulling-it-back-together” phase from 1970 through 1974, and the disco/megastar phase from 1975 to 1980.

Probably over-simple, and I kind of missed one: The songwriting and production phase, which overlaps the last of my three phases. From 1978 on, the Brothers Gibb wrote and produced hits for so many folks that any hour on the radio was going to bring you two or three records with the Bee Gees’ fingerprints on them, stuff by Samantha Sang, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, and so many more (including brother Andy).

What I thought was just as interesting as the stuff the documentary reminded me about was the stuff that it left out entirely. There was no mention of the 1978 film version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an utter failure that featured Peter Frampton as well as the Bee Gees. (The best – and kindest – reaction I’ve ever read about the mess came from Beatle George Harrison: “I think it’s damaged their images, their careers, and they didn’t need to do that. It’s just like the Beatles trying to do the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones can do it better.”)

And there was at most a veiled mention of the period in 1969 and 1970 when the group split, with Robin Gibb trying out a solo career. No mention of Robin’s album Robin’s Reign or the album that Barry and Maurice put out at the same time, Cucumber Castle (a title taken from a track on the 1967 album The Bee Gee’s 1st). Neither of the two albums is very good, though I think Robin’s is the lesser of the two. On the other hand, that opinion might stem from the fact that I’d never heard Robin’s Reign until I found it online ca. 2007, while I first heard Cucumber Castle across the street at Rick’s in 1970 (and it made its way onto my shelves in 1989).

Given those caveats, the HBO film was well done and pleasant watching (and listening). I was especially tickled to learn that Barry’s falsetto – the group’s secret weapon during the period when they owned the world – was discovered pretty much by accident while recording “Nights On Broadway” for Main Course (which happens to be my favorite Bee Gees’ album).

Here, from 1970’s Cucumber Castle, is the quirky “My Thing.”

‘When I Was Small . . .’

May 1, 2020

Well, it’s the First Of May, which makes it a Bee Gees day here.

The maudlin track showed up first in early 1969 on the group’s Odessa album, which entered the Billboard 200 on February 22 of that year, on its way to No. 20. It’s a somewhat baffling collection of lovely tracks covering almost every genre conceivable in 1969 (excluding hard rock). As I wrote almost thirteen years ago:

Perhaps the most sensible comment I’ve ever heard or read about Odessa came from the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which called it “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” noting that it “wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.”

I didn’t hear the album until a few years after it had been released, and I certainly don’t recall hearing “First Of May” on the radio after it was released as a single in early 1969. I wasn’t yet in full Top 40 mode, but the sounds were around me a fair amount of the time, and I think I’d remember the record. I’m not sure it charted on the Twin Cities’ KDWB or WDGY, based on the (incomplete) information offered at Oldiesloon.

The record did get into the Top 40 in Billboard, reaching No. 37, not major hit territory.

But right from the start, the song attracted cover versions. Second Hand Songs lists fifty covers. The earliest is from a group called Top Of The Pops in March 1969. I suspect a connection to the British television show; a glance at the album’s jacket kind of tells me that the recordings on the album are performed by studio musicians.

The first cover of “First Of May” by a known musician came from José Feliciano on his Feliciano/10 to 23 album released in June 1969. Covers followed into 1974 from names I know like Cilla Black, Matt Monro, Mel Carter, and Roger Whittaker, and from names I’m not familiar with like Jill Kirkland and Cornelia.

Instrumental covers by groups including the Mystic Moods Orchestra also came along in those five years after the Bee Gees’ release, as did covers in Danish, Italian, Portuguese and Swedish.

And even after that flurry, covers would come along every once in a while, with a spate of ten or so of them in the Oughts by performers whose names I do not recognize. (Except, that is, for Robin Gibb, who collaborated on a cover of “First Of May” with G4 in 2005.)

I’ve not heard a lot of those covers (the only covers of the song on the digital shelves are those from Feliciano and the Mystic Moods Orchestra), so I’m going to select one pretty much at random to mark the day.

Here’s Tony Hadley’s atmospheric and, frankly, odd cover from 1997. (Knowing that Hadley was the lead singer for Spandau Ballet makes the cover’s quirks a little more understandable.)

Back In ’71, Part 2

July 12, 2019

So what was I listening to at home during my summer of lawn-mowing and floor cleaning? Well, the radio, some of the time. But most of my free hours at home found me in the basement rec room, lazing (or reading) on the green couch and listening to albums on the RCA portable stereo.

And here are the albums I’d added to the cardboard box between May 1970, the last month of my junior year of high school, and July 1971:

Let It Be by the Beatles
Chicago (the silver album)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Best Of Bee Gees
Hey Jude by the Beatles
Revolver by the Beatles
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
The Band
The Beatles (White Album)
Symphony No. 5 in E Minor by Dvořák/The Moldau by Smetana
Crosby, Stills & Nash
St. Cloud Tech High Choirs 1971
“Yesterday” . . . and Today by the Beatles
Pearl by Janis Joplin
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney

Getting the least play, certainly, would have been the choir album. I imagine I listened to it once and then tucked it away. I still have it. And I had to be in the right mood for the Dvořák/Smetana LP, which offered me pieces I’d played in the high school orchestra.

The most played? Well, probably Pearl and Ram, the most recent additions. I know that the first LP of the Chicago album got a lot of play, usually the second side, with the long “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” but I also liked the first side. Sides three and four didn’t interest me all that much (and still don’t).

Obviously, the Beatles got a lot of play, and so did the self-titled album by The Band. The Bee Gees collection probably came in last among the pop-rock albums.

So, almost fifty years down the pike, which of those albums matter now? As always, we’ll measure that by seeing how many tracks show up among the 3,900-some on the iPod, which provides my day-to-day listening.

It’s hard to sort the Beatles’ tracks out, as the listings in the iPod show the album titles as they came out in Britain (or U.S. single catalog numbers), not the sliced and diced albums that came out in the U.S. A quick glance shows that all those Beatles albums are represented about equally in the iPod. Their music still matters to me a great deal.

The same is true of The Band, as ten of its twelve tracks are in the iPod. But I’ve trimmed the Chicago album down to “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” “25 or 6 to 4” and the single edit of “Make Me Smile.”

About two-thirds of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Déjà Vu are in the device; interestingly, among those absent from the first of those two albums are “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and the two Graham Nash compositions, “Marrakesh Express” and “Lady Of The Island,” and among the absent from the second are the two Nash compositions, “Teach Your Children” and “Our House.” I must not like Nash’s work as much as I like that of the others in that bunch. (And I make a mental note to see if I can find room in the iPod for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”)

About two-thirds of the Bee Gees’ collection shows up, too. And most of Ram is present, as is about a third of Pearl.

And all of that leaves me wondering: Are these albums over-represented in my day-to-day listening because they were among the first LPs I got when I became vitally interested in pop and rock? Or are they that good? I don’t know the answers to those questions.

So what do I feature from these albums that still matter to me almost fifty years after they came into my life? Well, here’s one of the strangest tracks from among those albums, the Bee Gees’ “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You.” It came originally from the 1967 album The Bee Gees 1st.

‘Dance Into May!’

May 1, 2019

Here’s a piece that ran here ten years ago. I’ve edited it just a bit. Happy May Day!*

It’s May Day again

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here.

I do recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times. How lively is the international labor movement these days? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered.

As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that the “earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.

Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 (1969)
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (1967)
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings (1970)
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web (1972)
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia (1998)

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

How could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from the Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

The Alan Parsons Project track “May Be A Price To Pay” is the opener to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the trio’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release one album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to AMG, “Julie Felix isn’t too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she’s been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hills of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.

*The information at Wikipedia may have altered over these past ten years. If this were a newspaper piece, I’d check. But it’s a blog post and not a very important one, either, so I’m leaving that stuff as it was ten years ago.

Six at Random

April 18, 2018

My iPod currently holds a total of 3,930 tracks, which – as iTunes helpfully tells me – is enough for ten days of listening. We’ll not run that type of marathon here; instead, we’re going to let iTunes supply us with six random tracks of music this morning, and we’ll see what we know and think about those six tracks.

First up is a lilting clarinet tune by Mr. Acker Bilk that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1962. “Stranger on the Shore” was originally titled “Jenny” but was renamed for the BBC television show that used it as a theme. I have vague memories of hearing the tune in 1962: I would have been eight, and it’s the type of record that would have found a good home on the Twin Cities’ WCCO as well as on St. Cloud’s local stations. I’ve heard it (and liked it) so many times over the years since that it’s impossible to say if I heard it back then, but I do know that when I started during the late 1980s to dig into the music of the early 1960s, “Stranger on the Shore” was familiar.

Our second stop is a track I first heard across the street at Rick’s house in early 1971. “Two Years On” by the Bee Gees was the title track to the album that was home to their No. 3 hit “Lonely Days.” The album was also the first since Robin Gibb had reunited with his brothers after a spat of two or so years, and we speculated that the title track was a reference to that time. It’s a good track, one that reminds me of the pleasant hours I spent across the street listening to albums, playing pool and pinball, and generally cementing a friendship that remains a vital part of my life after more than sixty years. (I also recall the bemused smile I got from Rick maybe a dozen years ago when he discovered Two Years On among my CDs.)

And we stay in that era, listening to a record that puts me in my own room with the sound of the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” coming from my old RCA radio. It’s probably an evening in early 1970 – the record went to No. 7 that March – and I’m holed up in my room after surviving another day of my junior year of high school. It’s a good record (despite the mournful intro) and not a bad memory, and I know it instantly, as I do most Top 40 hits from that season. But the record wasn’t a big deal to me then and it’s not now. Having come across it this morning, I’m likely going to pull it from iTunes and the iPod and replace it with a record that means something to me.

While restocking the iPod after last autumn’s external drive crash, I tried to include records from a wider time frame than I previously had. Since I’ve tended to slight the 1980s over the years, I consciously dropped more tracks from that decade into the playlist this time around. And this morning we fall on “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, a one-hit wonder* that went to No. 8 in 1982. So I look at the other tracks in the iPod from 1982 and think that including the mechanical-sounding cover of Sharon Jones’ 1964 record was a mistake. And I realize that having to stop and think about the tracks as they come up, rather than just letting them roll by in the background as I cook dinner or do some other task, makes me a great deal more critical. There might have been a time when I liked the Soft Cell track, but that time is past.

And iTunes offers us the sharp and somewhat dissonant intro to “Home At Last” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album, Aja. Last September, noting the death of the Dan’s Walter Becker, I selected “Home At Last” as my salute to his passing: “I know that Steely Dan and a romantic notion seem as odd a pairing as cognac and Cheez Whiz, but it would be nice to think that Becker is – in whatever way he might have wished – home at last.” And my friend jb – who blogs at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and understands more about Steely Dan than I ever will – left a trenchant comment:

“Home at Last” seems like a good choice for him, as it’s not so much about finding an idealized home with Mom and chocolate chip cookies as it is getting past the place with the monsters that want to kill you and into a somewhat safer harbor. And if you’re not as free as you’d like to be (“still I remain tied to the mast”), who is?

And we end with one of the records of my life, one of those whose introductions make me take a sharp, short breath as memories instantly cascade. With some of those – and there may be hundreds in that category of “Records of My Life” – it’s the record alone; there is no tale from my years attached to them. Most, though, have a connection with my times, with my joys or sorrows, my roads and my homes. Jackson Browne’s “Late For The Sky” is one of the latter. The title track of his 1974 album, the song depicts a pairing once filled with hope gone hopelessly awry, a scene sadly familiar to me (as it no doubt has been to most of the folks who’ve listened to that tune and the other sad songs the album offers). Even as I live now in a better and sweeter time, the memories of those other times are potent, and I sometimes need those memories to remind myself how far the grace of my life has brought me.

Four At Random

April 10, 2015

I’m going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and let it do the work for me.

Right off the top we get some easy listening: “Emmanuelle” by Italian sax player Fausto Papetti, which turns out to be an instrumental version of the theme to the 1974 soft-core film Emmanuelle. The film was the first of seven chronicling the adventures of the character created in 1959 by French writer Emmanuelle Arsan (a pseudonym for Thai-born Marayat Bibidh Krasaesin Rollet-Andriane) and portrayed in four of the films by Sylvia Kristel. (All of that according to Wikpedia.) The song and the soundtrack for the first film were written by Pierre Bachelet. Papetti, who passed on in 1999, was known, Wikipedia says, for both his saxophone work and the covers of his albums, many of which featured attractive women in little or no clothing. Papetti’s 1977 version of the theme came to me in a 2009 collection titled 100 Hits Romantic Saxophone.

And then we head back to 1944 for “Opus One” by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra. The fox trot – as it’s described on the Victor label – was written by Sy Oliver, who became, says Wikipedia, “one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band” when he joined Dorsey’s band in 1939. It’s not my favorite track from Dorsey; that would be his theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” from 1935. As it happens, any of the 1930s and 1940s big band tunes remind me of the summer of 1991, when I was reporting and writing a lengthy piece about life in Columbia, Missouri, during World War II. On a lot of evenings at home that summer, as I sat at my desk and planned my next day’s work, I stacked some big bands – Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and more – on the stereo and tried to get my head at least a little into an era that I never knew.

From there, it’s another dip into the easy listening pool with Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” as filtered through the sound of Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra. The late Chacksfield was an English composer and conductor who is estimated, Wikipedia says, to have sold more than 20 million albums world-wide. Two of those albums reached the Billboard 200: Ebb Tide went to No. 36 in 1961 and The New Ebb Tide went to No. 120 in late 1964 or early 1965. Chacksfield and his orchestra had one single reach the magazine’s charts: “On The Beach,” the title song to the 1959 film, went to No. 47 in early 1961. Chacksfield’s take on Simon’s tune was a track on a 1970 album titled Chacksfield Plays Simon & Garfunkel & Jim Webb. It came to me in a 2005 collection titled The Lounge Legends Play Simon & Garfunkel.

Then up pop the Bee Gees with “Sun in My Morning” from 1969. The not terribly interesting track was the B-side to the group’s single “Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” which doesn’t make my list of vital Bee Gees’ tunes, either, even if it went to No. 54. There’s not a lot more to say as the tune plays itself out and this post limps to an end.

And there we see clearly the risk of letting random chance decide things.